Archive for February, 2012

Wed Aug 31, 2011

Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni protesters have staged demonstrations across Yemen on Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, calling for the implementation of their revolution’s goals, Press TV reported.

Chanting anti-government slogans on Tuesday, protesters in the capital Sana’a called on the newly established national council to expedite the implementation of the objectives of the popular uprising in the Middle Eastern state.

“We as protesters confirm our determination to continue our revolution and we call for the swift implementation of our uprising’s goals,” a protester said.

The demonstrators condemned the security forces’ clashes with the country’s tribesmen, calling for an end to Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule.

Similar rallies were held in other cities, including Taizz, where at least one protester was killed and many others injured in clashes with regime forces.

Earlier on Monday, Yemen’s Saleh claimed that he was again ready to conditionally sign an agreement proposed by the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council ([P]GCC), to “diffuse” the political crisis in his country.

The plan, drafted by the [P]GCC in April, includes three steps to be taken by both the opposition and the government. Embattled Saleh has already backed out of signing the deal three times.

However, on Monday, anti-government protesters took to the streets in the capital and rejected the initiative, calling it a US-Saudi plot to crush their revolution.

Hundreds of thousands of people have turned out for regular demonstrations in Yemen’s major cities since late January, calling for an end to corruption and unemployment and demanding Saleh’s ouster.

Hundreds of protesters have been killed and many more injured in the regime’s brutal crackdown on Yemen’s popular uprising.

Source: PressTV.

By Karlos Zurutuza

WAZZIN, Libya, Aug 24, 2011 (IPS) – “I’m 60 years old and I never thought I’d see this moment with my own eyes,” Najib Taghuz tells IPS from the Tunisian-Libyan border. The engineer from the recently liberated town Gehryan is headed for Tunisia – his wife needs surgery on the left hand. But he hopes to return to a new Libya.

“When Gaddafi falls Libya will gain the right to say she has finally entered the 21st century,” adds Taghuz. He wonders if he’ll be let into Tunisia with a souvenir he’s just grabbed on his way here – the shell of an anti-tank missile. “I really need to get this one across the border for my memories.”

With the northern border between Tunisia and Libya closed – it was held by Gaddafi until a few days back – the southern rebel-held border crossing remains the only way in and out in the west of the war- torn country. The Dehiba-Wazzin post was taken over by rebels in April and controlled ever since as a vital hub for supplies into Libya’s Nafusa mountains.

With the Brega and Misrata fronts in a state of stalemate for months, Nafusa mountaineers have played a key role in the fast move towards Tripoli.

Activity at the border is hectic. But the joy of refugees returning home from the west of the country contrasts with the dismay of those still forced to flee Libya. “We did not feel safe back home in Tripoli,s so we drove all the way down here,” Tripoli resident Hassan Harem tells IPS at the crossing.

“Conditions have been terrible for the last months: constant bombing by NATO aircraft, no fuel, often no food… after what we’ve all gone through we realized that we couldn’t cope with the shooting in the streets,” adds Harem, a 32-year-old clerk who quit his job two months ago. But with a bit of luck, he says, he could return in just a few days.

Libyans are not the only ones fleeing across the southern border. Kadir Harthem, an ophthalmologist from Egypt, is one of the legion of foreign workers waiting to be evacuated by sea.

“Some colleagues said they were going to jump into a boat. As soon as I saw the opportunity I took my car and came down here.” After seven years of working in Tripoli, he hopes to find a job back in Cairo.

Unlike the long and tiresome passport checks on the Tunisian side, the operation speeds up significantly on the side controlled by Libyan rebels: no need to fill forms, or open luggage for inspection. The rebel officer in command registers the passport in a database, and we are already in Libya.

Just three miles from there lies the town of Wazzin, which has very likely suffered the most among towns scattered around this bastion of stone 1,000 feet over the Libyan desert. Wazzin paid a price for its proximity to the disputed border. Attacks by Gaddafi’s forces turned this into a ghost town in ruins.

Just three weeks ago, this IPS reporter wasn’t able to find any Wazzin local to speak with. But after the recent NATO bombing of Ghezaia from where Gadaffi’s rockets were launched towards Wazzin, some locals have returned to rebuild their houses.

Just over 50 miles further into Libya is the checkpoint Nalut. Here three guerrilla fighters sitting under the shade beside the road are following the Tripoli events on live television.

“After driving away Gaddafi’s loyalists from their bases in the desert two weeks ago we managed to restore electricity. We needed seven days to repair the whole net but electricity is back to stay,” a smiling rebel fighter in a Barcelona FC t-shirt and wearing a hat with the rebel flag tells IPS.

These are the days of Ramadan fasting. After sunset, and after prayers, guerrillas and local civilians gather daily in the town’s main square where the Red Crescent serves free dinner.

Rebel Akram says he will return his rifle back as soon as he can, and get back to reopening his grocery store.

“I am 40 years old, two less than Gaddafi’s rule. I have not known any form of government other than his. I’ve always wondered what democracy was like and how long will we have to wait to enjoy it here in Libya.” He may not have to wait long now.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

By Emad Mekay

CAIRO, Aug 25, 2011 (IPS) – Egypt’s most organized political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is tapping crowds as a new financing method for its nascent TV station and media outlets to be able to compete with well-oiled challengers in corporate and government- run media.

All television stations in Egypt are either owned by rich businessmen who made their wealth through close links to the former Hosni Mubarak regime, or by the government. The new financing model adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood could start a wave of public channels that resemble National Public Radio in the U.S. where the public, rather than the government or the rich, funds news content.

The group, that was once outlawed, has soft-launched its Misr 25, a round-the-clock general interest TV channel.

Named after the first day of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, it has been broadcasting non-stop footage of Tahrir Square flag-waving protests that unseated Mubarak after 30 years in office, all with patriotic songs eulogizing the achievements of the Egyptian people.

Hazem Ghurab, a veteran journalist who is running the channel, says Misr 25 differs profoundly from its business-funded competitors. “Our funding is crowd-sourced,” he said in an interview. “Our model is the BBC and (Japan’s) NHK.”

Misr 25 owners hail from the Brotherhood’s vast pool of members across the country who each invest a small amount or make a donation.

“This way we are far more professional and far more independent than those owned by businessmen who can be easily manipulated, intimidated or bought by regimes,” said Ghurab, who last worked for Al Jazeera channel in Doha, Qatar.

On top of the public funding plan, Ghurab still sees major advertising market potential. People are waiting “impatiently”, he says, to watch the Muslim Brotherhood channel. He believes they also constitute a sizable untapped advertising market made of the pious, who were mostly ignored by the country’s business elite and the former regime.

Television critic Mohammed Said of Shashaty weekly says the new funding model adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood sets it apart from the wave of new channels that have launched or are being prepared for launch after the fall of Mubarak.

“Most of the new entrants in the market so far are business people who were in bed with the previous regime,” said Mohammed Said. “Their TV channels and the jobs they offer to reporters and top newspapers’ editors is their way of constructing a buffer zone between themselves and public oversight of their practices under Mubarak.”

After the success of the revolution and under public and media pressure, several corruption investigations were opened into the practices of the country’s business elite under Mubarak. Some are now in jail or face further probes. Some of the possessions obtained fraudulently under Mubarak were ordered by courts to be returned to the state.

Fearing further public scrutiny and more damage to their investments, many businessmen who were closely associated with the corrupt Mubarak regime and who had no experience in media ownership have rushed to set up their own channels and media outlets.

One of Egypt’s richest people, Naguib Sawiris, whose family made billions in telecommunications and construction under Mubarak, is sponsoring two new TV channels. The channels will join his media holdings such as the news and public affairs channel OTV. The family have shares in various local newspapers.

Mohammed Al-Amin Ragab, business partner of one of Mubarak’s business symbols, real estate tycoon Mansour Amer, who was a member of the now disbanded National Democratic Party that ruled Egypt for 30 years, has launched a suite of channels under the name Capital Broadcasting Center, CBC.

Businessmen such as Al-Amin and Sawiris join a family of other money barons who discovered the power of media holdings since the time of Mubarak.

Among them is Sayed Al-Badawi, a pharmaceutical tycoon turned media investor. He owns Al-Hayat channels line-up that initially rallied against the anti-Mubarak revolution.

Cement mogul Hassan Rateb, who owns Al-Mehwar television, devoted airtime to discredit democracy activists during the first days of the revolution as foreign agents paid by Jews, Israel and the United States.

The country’s state-owned media-services company, Media Production City, now reports unprecedented boom in business. All of its studios have been rented out. The company, which owns sprawling cinematic sets on the outskirts of Cairo, will now build even more studios to cater or the rising demand.

“It is old money at it again. Businessmen are just buying clout. It is a classic case of conflict-of- interest,” Mohammed Said of Shashaty said.

“This is why the crowd-sourced model of the Muslim Brotherhood promises to offer less biased news coverage than those channels owned by people who benefited under Mubarak. We are waiting to see what that will look like.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

By Karlos Zurutuza

NALUT, Libya, Aug 24, 2011 (IPS) – “We grabbed all these weapons from Gaddafi’s compound just before NATO shelled the whole place,” says rebel fighter Massud Askar in downtown Nalut. The 50-year-old rebel displays an Italian light semi-automatic rifle in his right hand and a hand grenade in the other.

“We broke into the compound at around 3 pm. We got all this stuff from Bab Aziziyah’s main entrance,” adds the exultant fighter before heading out for the three-hour trip back to Tripoli, about 150 miles to the north.

Since the first rebel troops entered Libya’s capital a few days ago, this Berber mountain village has worked as a hub for fresh fighters bound for the country’s capital. In Nalut, heavy machine guns atop sand-camouflaged pick-ups are everywhere.

“We’re all heading down to Zawiya and Tripoli for the final battle, and we need all the Kalashnikovs and Fal rifles we can gather. Security is Nafusa is not an issue today as Gaddafi’s last followers are too busy on Tripoli’s outskirts to care about what we’re doing up here,” rebel commander Essam Assad tells IPS.

The breaking news coming from Gaddafi’s strongholds has been the focus of attention. But others already venture to look ahead. Said Hafiz is concerned about his children’s schooling.

“They’re going to start school earlier than normal after the summer vacation but I wonder if that will be enough for the kids to catch up with the lessons,” Hafiz tells IPS. Most local children have attended classes in makeshift tents in the middle of the Tunisian desert for the last five months.

“It’s not just about wasted time. Are the young generations going to stick to the propaganda boosted by the regime’s curriculum?” asks Ibrahim Walid, a local teacher until last February. Walid says he’s ready to help remove “Gaddafi’s cosmology” from the school books.

But a 55-year-old local teacher has a more ambitious dream. “We’ve spent the last four decades under a regime that hated us, the Amazig people. I hope I can catch up with schooling in our own language before I retire.”

The Amazig – also called “Berbers” – form Libya’s largest minority. They are estimated to be five to 10 percent of the Libyan population of six million. Living apart in the mountains – often in self-imposed exclusion – has helped keep alive their ancient language Tamazight.

Everyone wants to seize the moment. Walid Essam, a 30-year-old former lawyer, has been unemployed since the revolution started, like most local shopkeepers, clerks, lorry drivers and others.

“We have only two choices: either we languish in the middle of the Tunisian desert, or we take up a gun and fight the regime,” Essam tells IPS next to his pick-up turned into to a war hot-rod, as he heads out to Tripoli.

The upper hand in the war has dramatically swung to the rebels’ side over the last few days. But a key question still remains unanswered: Where is Gaddafi?

“I’m sure he left for the Chadian border a week ago, otherwise we would have already grabbed him in Tripoli,” local shopkeeper Abdul Rahman tells IPS.

Speculating about Gaddafi’s potential shelter, possibilities emerge from Algeria to Venezuela and from South Africa to Chad. Others venture further east.

“I might be wrong but he might well be in Syria. Whatever the case, I’m sure America is well aware of his whereabouts,” 17-year-old Ahmed tells IPS in English he has “picked up from American TV series.”

Following reports of four Italian journalists reportedly kidnapped in Zawiya on Wednesday after their driver was shot, concerns have grown about safety on the road to Tripoli.

“Journalists were jumping into cars bound for Tripoli in their dozens. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more incidents like this,” Juma Khan, a Nalut resident, tells IPS.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

By Rebecca Murray

BAGHDAD, Aug 27, 2011 (IPS) – Rania was 16 years old when officials raped her during Saddam Hussein’s 1991 crackdown in Iraq’s Shia south. “My brothers were sentenced to death, and the price to stop this was to offer my body,” she says.

Cast out for bringing ‘shame’ to her family, Rania ran away to Baghdad and soon fell into living and working in Baghdad’s red light district.

Prostitution and sex trafficking are epidemic in Iraq, where the violence of military occupation and sectarian strife have smashed national institutions, impoverished the population and torn apart families and neighborhoods. Over 100,000 civilians have been killed and an estimated 4.4 million Iraqis displaced since 2003.

“Wars and conflicts, wherever they are fought, invariably usher in sickeningly high level of violence against women and girls,” Amnesty International states.

Rania worked her way up as a sex trafficker’s deputy, collecting money from clients. “If I had four girls, and about 200 clients a day – it could be about 50 clients for each one of them,” she explains.

Sex costs about 100 dollars a session now, Rania says. Many virgin teenage girls are sold for around 5,000 dollars, and trafficked to popular destinations like northern Iraq, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Non-virgins are about half that price.

Girls who run away to escape domestic violence or forced marriage are the most vulnerable prey for men working for pimps in bus stations and taxi stands. Some girls are also sold into marriages by family relatives, only to be handed over to trafficking rings.

Most of Iraq’s sex traffickers are predominantly female, running squalid brothels in neighborhoods like the decrepit Al-Battaween district in central Baghdad.

Six years ago, a raid by U.S. troops on Rania’s brothel brought her nefarious career to an abrupt end. The prostitutes were charged along with everyone else for abetting terrorism.

Imprisonment changed Rania’s life. While she served time in Baghdad’s Al-Kadimiyah lock-up – where more than half the female inmates serve time for prostitution – a local women’s support group befriended her. Today she works for them as an undercover researcher, drawing on her years of experience and connections to infiltrate brothels throughout Iraq.

“I deal with all these pimps and sex traffickers,” Rania says, covered in black, with black, lacquered fingernails and gold bracelets. “I don’t tell them I’m an activist, I tell them I am a sex trafficker. This is the only way for me to get information. If they discover that I’m an activist I get killed.”

In one harrowing experience, Rania and two other girls visited a house in Baghdad’s Al-Jihad district, where girls as young as 16 were held to cater exclusively to the U.S. military. The brothel’s owner told Rania that an Iraqi interpreter employed by the Americans served as the go-between, transporting girls to and from the U.S. airport base.

Rania’s co-workers covertly took photos of the captive teenagers with their mobile phones, but were caught. “One girl went crazy,” Rania recalls. “She accused us of spying. I don’t know how we escaped,” she exclaims. “We had to run away – barefoot!”

Before the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq enjoyed the highest female literacy rate across the Middle East, and more Iraqi women were employed in skilled professions, like medicine and education, than in any other country in the region.

Twenty years later Iraqi women experience a very different reality. Sharia law increasing dominates everyday life, with issues like marriage, divorce and honor crimes implemented outside of the court system, and adherence to state law.

“Many factors combined to promote the rise of sex trafficking and prostitution in the area,” a Norwegian Church Aid report said last year.

“The US-led war and the chaos it has generated; the growing insecurity and lawlessness; corruption of authorities; the upsurge in religious extremism; economic hardship; marriage pressures; gender based violence and recurrent discrimination suffered by women; kidnappings of girls and women; the impunity of perpetrators of crimes, especially those against women; and the development of new technologies associated with the globalization of the sex industry.”

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) estimates 800,000 humans are trafficked across borders annually, but statistics within Iraq are very difficult to pin down.

Although the Iraqi constitution deems trafficking illegal, there are no criminal laws that effectively prosecute offenders. Perversely, it is often the victims of trafficking and prostitution that are punished.

IOM is currently working with an inter-ministerial panel to lobby for a new reading of the revised counter-trafficking law, which has been stalled by the government since 2009.

“We have reports about trafficking both inside and out of Iraq,” says senior deputy minister, Judge Asghar Al-Musawi, at the Ministry of Migration and Displacement.

“However, I admit that Iraqi government institutions are not mature enough to deal with this topic yet, as the departments are still in their growing phase.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the government has done little to combat the issue. “This is a phenomenon that wasn’t prevalent in 2003,” says HRW researcher, Samer Muscati.

“We don’t have specific statistics. This is the first part to tackle the problem; we need to know how significant and widespread the problem is. This is something the government hasn’t been doing. It hasn’t monitored or cracked down on traffickers, and because of that there is this black hole in terms of information.”

Zeina, 18, is an example of an invisible statistic. According to the local Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), she was 13 when her grandfather sold her to a sex trafficker in Dubai for 6,000 dollars. She performed only oral sex with customers until a wealthy man paid 4,000 dollars to take her virginity for one night.

After four years of prostitution, Zeina finally escaped the United Arab Emirates and returned back to her parents in Baghdad. She approached the authorities and took her grandfather to court. However, Zeina has since disappeared. OWFI has learned she was sold again, this time by her mother to a sex trafficker in Erbil.

OWFI director Yanar Mohammed says her office has been threatened for their advocacy against the lucrative trafficking industry, especially reporting on an infamous brothel owner in Al-Battaween district known as Emam.

“In each house there are almost 45 women and it is such a chaotic scene where women get treated like a cheap meat market,” describes Mohammed. “You step into the house and see women being exploited sexually, even not behind closed doors. So the woman who runs these houses makes an incredible income, and has a crew around her to protect what she does.”

Emam is said to enjoy close ties with the Interior Ministry, and has never had one of her four houses shut down. Despite OWFI’s expose, her operations are unaffected.

Mohammed sighs. “Iraq has a whole generation of women who are in their teens now, whose bodies have been turned into battlefields from criminal ideologies.”

Source: Inter-Press Service.

By Cam McGrath

CAIRO, Aug 30, 2011 (IPS) – Amr El-Beheiry’s trial in a military court lasted just five minutes. The 33-year- old Egyptian was arrested on Feb. 26 and sentenced without a lawyer present to five years in prison for breaking curfew and assaulting a public official during a demonstration in Cairo.

He is just one of thousands of civilians tried in military courts since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power in February during the uprising that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak. The special courts, which often group dozens of defendants together before a military judge, are notorious for their quick and severe sentences. Defendants are regularly denied access to legal counsel and verdicts cannot be appealed.

Mubarak used such intrinsically unfair trials against citizens who challenged his regime: Islamists, disobedient workers, and various political opponents. Egypt’s military rulers appear to have borrowed from the ex-dictator’s playbook.

“Military trials are a tool in the SCAF’s hand,” says lawyer Ahmed Ragheb, executive director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. “They are using military courts because they provide more control than civil courts, which have independent judges and legal accountability.”

According to Ragheb, over 12,000 Egyptians have been sentenced in military courts in the last six months. By comparison, less than 2,000 civilians were tried in military courts during Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

“Unfortunately, military trials have become the norm and civil trials the exception,” Ragheb told IPS.

Activists who have seen their peers arrested and tried in military courts, often on what they claim are trumped up weapons and assault charges, say the wholesale use of military trials in recent months is aimed at sending a strong message: criticism of the regime will not be tolerated.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, protesters have demanded faster reforms and accused the ruling military council of seeking to protect its own interests, as well as members of the former regime. They say the SCAF has attempted to discredit the revolution by labeling civil protesters thugs and foreign agents.

One group of female protesters arrested in March was allegedly forced to undergo “virginity checks” and threatened with prostitution charges.

“They want to beat us and humiliate us to make people afraid to join demonstrations,” says 23-year-old Eman Hussein, whose parents have tried to prevent her from joining protests.

Rights organizations have warned of recurrent abuses of civilians serving sentences in military prisons. Former detainees speaking at press conference said they were subject to frequent beatings and humiliation by their jailers, including being forced to strip naked in front of their cellmates.

“It is very humiliating to stand naked in front of 180 people,” said Mohamed Soliman, a civilian detainee who was released after spending nearly two months in a military prison.

Military leaders have denied allegations of torture and abuse.

The SCAF recently acknowledged the right to a fair trial enshrined in the UN International Declaration of Human Rights, but said military trials were necessary due to the spiraling crime rates that accompanied the uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster. It insisted that only cases of “thuggery” associated with weapons, rape or assault of military personnel were being referred to military courts.

“No civilian should be tried in front of military courts,” SCAF member Major-General Mamdouh Shaheen told reporters. “But in this emergency situation… military courts took the place of civilian courts until they were able to work.”

Adel Ramadan, a lawyer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, claims security has improved and the country’s civil courts are capable of handling the additional caseload. He says all citizens, even suspected thugs, are entitled to a fair trial and those sentenced in military courts should be released or retried in a civil court.

He also voices concern over what amounts to a parallel justice system. While civilians have been referred to military courts for hasty trials, Mubarak and his former security officials are being tried in civilian courts on charges of killing nearly 850 protesters during the uprising.

“There is a perception that fair trials are only for the privileged,” says Ramadan.

The SCAF has done little to dispel this perception. Military courts continue to rule on cases ranging from petty theft to violent crime, handing down sentences of six months to 25 years in prison. At least a dozen defendants, including minors, have received death sentences.

Reversals are rare, but do happen. Earlier this month the SCAF pardoned blogger Loai Nagati, who was arrested while documenting clashes between police and protesters in Cairo on Jun. 28, and activist Asmaa Mahfouz, who was accused of inciting the public against the military council in a posting on her Twitter account. They were released followed a massive outcry over the charges. The release appeared aimed at appeasing the public.

Mona Seif, coordinator of the ‘No to Military Trials’ campaign, says the military council has calculated its response, releasing a handful of prominent activists while showing no clemency for thousands of poor and disenfranchised detainees.

“The only cases in which the army released civilian detainees or promised a retrial were those in which it faced intense media pressure,” she says. “Media and social networking campaigns have helped secure the release of a few political activists, but now we are trying to draw attention to the thousands of regular citizens still in military prisons who are not part of these networks.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

George Haddad
Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Global Arab Network – An armored Syrian force surrounded a town near the city of Homs and fired heavy machineguns after the defection of tens of soldiers in the area, activists and residents said.

One woman, 45 year-old Amal Qoraman, was killed and five other people were injured, they said, adding that tens of people were arrested in house to house raids in the town of 40,0000.

Since the demise of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, activists and residents have reported increasing defections among Syrian troops, as well as more intense street protests in a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al Assad.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied army defections have been taking place. They have expelled independent media since the uprising began in March.

Activists say there have been desertions in eastern Deir al-Zor province, northwestern Idlib province, the Homs countryside and the outskirts of Damascus, where security forces fought gunbattles with defectors Sunday.

At least 40 light tanks and armored vehicles, and 20 buses of troops and military intelligence members deployed at dawn at the entrance of Rastan, 20 km (12 miles) north of Homs and began firing heavy machineguns at the town, two residents said.

“The tanks deployed at both banks of the highway, which remained open, and fired long bursts from their machineguns at Rastan,” one of the residents, who gave his name as Raed, told Reuters by phone.

He said defections began in the town when it was stormed by tanks three months ago to crush large street protests against Assad in an assault that killed dozens of civilians.

Security forces killed Monday a former officer who had played a key role in coordinating army defections, activists said.

Mostapha Selim Hezbollah, a former air force officer in his 40s’, was shot dead when his car was ambushed near the town of Kfar Nubul in Idlib province, which borders Turkey, they said.

“It was a targeted assassination. A companion who was with him in the car was badly wounded but we managed to get him to a hospital. The attack happened just before ‘iftar’ (breaking of fast). We don’t know yet if it was security police or troops who fired at them,” one of the activists told Reuters by phone.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said five other people were killed earlier in military assaults on several towns in Idlib.

Source: Global Arab Network.

– Asmaa Malik
Monday, 29 August 2011

Global Arab Network – Algeria could be swept by an Arab Spring-style revolt if the government does not urgently fix social and political problems, the country’s leading Islamist opposition politician said.

Sheikh Abdallah Djaballah, 54, head of a party called the Front for Justice and Development, said the government had tried to appease anger by handing out cash, but had failed to address a lack of democracy at the root of Algeria’s problems.

“The sources of tensions may unify and become a tsunami that will destroy everything,” Djaballah told Reuters in an interview.

“The regime wanted to fix the problem financially by saying that the crisis is social and that raising wages will be enough… It is true that the social aspect of the crisis is real, but the key problem remains political.”

Algeria, an important gas supplier to Europe and a U.S. ally in its fight against al Qaeda, has been shaken by unrest and strikes since the beginning of this year, with people demanding better pay and lower prices.

The government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 74, feared the strikes and protests could lead to the kind of revolt which toppled long-standing rulers in Egypt and neighbouring Tunisia.

Bouteflika responded by using energy revenues to give hefty pay rises for almost all public employees and to raise subsidies on basic foodstuffs.

To relieve pressure for political change, he also lifted a 19-year-old state of emergency, promised to give the opposition a voice in state media and set up a commission to recommend political reforms.

Since then the number of protests has fallen sharply, but the problems are still there, said Jaballah, who wears a beard, like most Islamists, but also dresses in Western clothes.

“If someone has cancer, you cannot just give them a sedative and this is what the government has been doing so far,” he said.

Source: Global Arab Network.

Beijing (AFP)
Aug 30, 2011

China has banned pigeon flying and tightened airport security in the run-up to an international trade fair in Xinjiang after a series of deadly attacks in the restive region, state media said Tuesday.

A low-altitude no-fly zone over the provincial capital Urumqi also prohibits kites and hot-air balloons during the China-Eurasia Expo which begins Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency and local government said.

Airports in a dozen cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai, have increased security checks for Urumqi-bound flights, requiring passengers to remove their belts and shoes, Xinhua and airport officials said.

The new measures reportedly caused lengthy queues, flight delays and even fights among frustrated passengers at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday.

Armed police are guarding the convention center in Urumqi where leaders from China and neighboring countries will meet, while an elite police counter-terrorism unit had been deployed to Kashgar and Hotan which were hit by the recent violence, Xinhua said.

“Security is paramount,” Yu Xiudong, a senior member of the China-Eurasia Expo organizing committee, was quoted saying.

“We should make meticulous preparations against all security emergencies to ensure a safe expo.”

Xinjiang has seen several outbreaks of ethnic violence in recent years as the mainly Muslim Uighur minority bridles under what it regards as oppression by the government and the unwanted immigration of ethnic Han Chinese.

Tensions boiled over again in July when two knife attacks as well as clashes between ethnic Uighurs and police killed more than 40 people in the resource-rich and strategically vital region.

Officials and state media have blamed the unrest on “terrorists” but some experts say the government has produced little evidence of an organized terrorist threat, adding the violence stems more from long-standing local resentment.

In July 2009, China was hit by its worst ethnic violence in decades when Uighurs savagely attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi — an incident that led to deadly reprisals by Han on Uighurs several days later.

The government said around 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured.

The trade convention in Urumqi will be held from September 1-5 and is expected to attract leaders from regional countries including Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who is due to arrive in China later Tuesday.

Source: Space War.

SRINAGAR, KASHMIR (BNO NEWS) — Families and relatives of more than 73 youth who were arrested during clashes on Saturday protested outside the police station in downtown Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday, the Hindustan Times reported.

Female protesters with sticks in their hands blocked the main road in the city center, causing a major traffic jam and affecting shoppers. The women condemned the arrests and accused police of arresting innocent people.

Police claimed that 300 motorcycle-borne youth pelted stones at Nowhatta police station in the city center at about 10.30 p.m. local time on Saturday. “The miscreants were riding motorcycles and tossed two petrol bombs on police. Six policemen were injured and two of them are in serious condition,” a police officer was quoted as saying.

However, eyewitnesses’ accounts contradict the police’s version. A local said police confronted a group of youth who marched on the streets raising pro-freedom slogans after finishing night prayers. “They were confronted by the police, which resulted in a clash. Suddenly, the police started rounding up whoever was on the road,” the local added.

Inspector general of police Shiv Murari Sahai told the Hindustan Times that the cases are being looked in. “Sit-ins will not deter us. We will book those involved in the stone-pelting incident. But if there are minor charges, youth will be released. So far no final decision has been taken,” said Sahai.

The court on Monday granted bail to 40 youth while 33 were sent to judicial remand. However, those who were granted bail have not been handed over to their families as of late Tuesday.

The arrests came shortly after chief minister Omar Abdullah announced amnesty to youths involved in over 1,200 cases of stone pelting in last summer’s unrest.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.