Archive for July 5, 2012

Wed Sep 14, 2011

Jordanian protesters have gathered outside the US Embassy in the capital, Amman, burning Israeli and American flags and demanding an end to relations with Tel Aviv and Washington.

Chanting anti-US slogans, demonstrators on Wednesday condemned Washington’s policy in the Middle East and called for the expulsion of Americans from their country.

The rare protest was reportedly held over WikiLeaks cables suggesting Washington had covert plans to turn Jordan into a home for Palestinian refugees.

The protest was held ahead of a planned million-man march in front of the Israeli Embassy in Amman on Thursday. Organizers say the protesters will try to break into the Israeli Embassy and bring down its flag.

Israel has announced a state of alert at its embassies around the world after protesters stormed its embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Friday and forced its ambassador to flee.

Source: PressTV.

Karlos Zurutuza

TRIPOLI, Sep 9 2011 (IPS) – The Libyan revolution has been devastating for 20-year-old Alybe Nally from Nigeria, as it has been for countless others from Africa seen by the rebels as Gaddafi loyalists. “When the rebels took over Tripoli two weeks ago they took my money, my mobile, my passport…All I have is what you see now,” he says, pointing to his mismatched pair of sandals.

Alybe left Nigeria three years ago to work in Tripoli washing cars. He now finds himself in the makeshift refugee camp Sidi Bilal by an abandoned port on the outskirts of the city.

Alybe says he and more than a thousand others in the camp had taken to drinking seawater before Doctors Without Borders began distributing drinking water last Saturday. Conditions are hellish at the camp, but the refugees here are afraid to leave.

“They grabbed me at gunpoint at the entrance of the camp ten days ago,” says 27-year-old Nigerian Eddy Ohasuyi. “I was kept in jail for ten days. They would call me ‘mercenary’ and beat me every morning, and then force me to clear debris and garbage from the streets.” All he has to wear is a thick black coat.

Stories of forced labor are common in Sidi Bilal. People speak of being taken by force, or promised a salary they never get. Most are back in the camp in a day or two. But others like Monday Abiyan are still missing.

“My brother was taken at gunpoint ten days ago but he hasn’t come back yet,” says Osama Abiyan sitting under the shade of a sunburnt wooden hull. The 23-year-old Ghanian fears his brother might have been tortured, or even killed.

Many in the camp speak of sexual assaults on women. Patience, from Ghana, says she squeezes between two male friends and hides under a blanket to sleep.

Fights over scarce supplies are becoming more frequent. As this IPS correspondent visits the camp, a group gathers to listen to reassurances from government envoy Ibrahim Ali.

“We’re working to protect you and guarantee your security,” the Stabilization Committee representative told a group of sub-Saharan Africans gathered around him. “Once you’ve made a list with your full name and passport number, we’ll try to get you out of here as soon as possible.”

“There’s still a war going on in the country. It’s not easy to cope with this crisis but the National Transition Council (Libya’s de facto new leadership) is really tackling the issue,” Carlos Afonso, a European Commission representative accompanying the NTC representative tells IPS.

Staff at many humanitarian organizations are not so sure. Humans Rights Watch has called on the NTC to stop the “arbitrary arrests and abuse of African migrant workers and black Libyans assumed to be mercenaries.” It said in a report last Sunday that the “widespread arbitrary arrests and frequent abuse have created a grave sense of fear among the city’s African population.”

As Ibrahim Ali finishes delivering his reassurances, the meeting is abruptly interrupted by people yelling at the entrance of the camp. Two armed man are forcing two black people into an orange car they came in. They hide their weapons as they see foreign reporters about. They are quickly surrounded by angry black men.

“You see? If it weren’t for you they would have kidnapped these two young guys. This is happening everyday,” Martins Osa, 19, tells IPS.

The NTC envoy pulls the unexpected visitors aside and escorts them back to their car. When asked by IPS whether the authorities would take any legal measures against the two armed men, Ibrahim Ali replies with a smile that the whole incident had just been “a misunderstanding.”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has organized the evacuation of more than 1,600 migrant workers on chartered boats out of Tripoli over the past two weeks. But the IOM says there are still hundreds waiting for a way out. The position of people from sub-Saharan Africa widely suspected of being mercenaries is particularly dangerous.

The conditions at the camp are also setting off fights among the refugees. At one place a fight breaks out between two refugees over a new water tank. A few minutes later, two armed Libyans on a pickup barge in and fire in the air, then directly to the ground.

Nobody got hurt, but refugees say such display of violence is not unusual. Young Libyans on the prowl often descend on the camp at night looking for women, refugees at the camp say.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Rebecca Murray

BAGHDAD, Sep 13 2011 (IPS) – When a middle-aged mother took a taxi alone from Baghdad to Nasiriyah, about 300 kilometers south earlier this year, her 20-year-old driver stopped on the way, pulled her to the side of the road and raped her. And that began a telling legal struggle.

“She is not a simple case,” says Hanaa Edwar, head of the Iraqi rights-based Al-Amal Association, established in Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

“She came from an affluent family, held a professional job, and told her family about the rape. They had the police arrest the driver,” Edwar says. “Then she came to us for legal help. She said, ‘I want my rights back, and what he has done to me, he will do to others. I want this perpetrator punished’.”

The rape victim lost her case. “The judge had a male mentality. They think you should not make a scandal, but be silent. He prompted the accused with questions like, ‘You did this when you were drunk – yes?’ This is how they intimidate,” Edwar said. “Now we are making an appeal.”

The Al-Amal Association is one of a handful of women’s advocates in Iraq fighting for female equality in marriage and divorce, and opposing a draconian penal code that favors perpetrators of domestic abuse and of honor killings within households.

According to United Nations statistics, one in five women from 15 to 49 years old has suffered physical violence at the hands of her husband. “The real numbers are likely higher,” says UNDP. “Reporting of gender-based violence cases is generally low, as women fear social stigmatization and lack confidence that authorities will investigate complaints.”

“The deterioration of security has promoted a rise in tribal customs and religiously-inflected political extremism, which have had a deleterious effect on women’s rights both inside and outside the home,” says a Human Rights Watch report published this year. “Iraq’s penal code considers ‘honorable motive’ to be a mitigating factor in crimes including murder. The code also gives husbands a legal right to discipline their wives.

“For Iraqi women, who enjoyed some of the highest level of rights protection and social participation in the region before 1991, these have been heavy blows.”

Although Iraq’s 1959 sectarian-based personal status laws that govern marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance through the judicial system heavily favored men, hard-fought amendments had moderately improved women’s rights.

But when Iraq’s devastating wars and international sanctions smashed the country’s infrastructure, Saddam Hussein courted religious groups to maintain power, reversing some of Iraqi women’s hard- won gains.

After Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, religious authorities’ attempts to replace the inequitable personal status law with Sharia law were successfully fought off by female advocates. However, Article 41 in the new Iraqi Constitution has again introduced family law for religious interpretation by different sects.

Al-Amal’s Hanaa Edwar explains the new reality. “There is a lot of marriage and divorce that takes place outside of the court. While the law says 15 years is the minimum age for boys and girls to marry with the consent of their fathers and a judge, those under 15 years are marrying outside the court. Religious men will take about 200 dollars for it.”

“The war has raised the violence in the state,” says Sundus Hasan, director of the Woman’s Leadership Institute (WLI). “When there is a war, it always reflects on the people and families.

“Before 2003 every family sent all to schools,” she says. “Now everyone has to make sure about protection for girls to go to school. Sometimes it costs too much. That is why early marriage is a new phenomenon in Iraq – with girls at 10 or 12 years old. The legal age is 18 years old, but nobody respects the law.”

Hasan, who has been personally threatened by militias for her advocacy work, lost a good friend who was kidnapped and raped. “When her family paid her ransom, she returned home and called me. ‘I am dying’, she said. I told her to go to sleep, that everything would be okay. But the next day when her family found her, she had killed herself in her room. I feel certain that when she returned she saw sadness in the eyes of her husband and family. I am sure she saw herself in the same light.”

WLI is working to integrate critical international treaties like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – of which Iraq is a signatory – into Iraqi legislation, and with others to push through a draft law against gender-based violence.

A positive starting point is the 25 percent quota for female parliamentarians. However, Hasan says, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is very weak, and there are only two females ministerial posts out of 48, counting the state ministries. “Before there were six, then four, now two. It’s going the wrong way.”

Amnesty International warns, “Even if greater stability and peace return soon to Iraq, levels of violence against women may remain high if the authorities continue to allow men to kill and maim women with impunity, and if gender segregation and discrimination against women become further entrenched.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

By Abderrahim El Ouali

CASABLANCA, Sep 14 2011 (IPS) – Morocco’s offer of autonomy to Western Sahara to stave off demands for full independence is boomeranging on the kingdom with other regions now demanding similar freedom.

The autonomy proposal for Western Sahara was made at the United Nations in April 2007 to resolve a movement for independence simmering in the former Spanish colony.

The proposal has been consistently rejected by the Polisario front which will settle for nothing less than independence for the resource-rich territory, annexed by Morocco in 1975.

Polisario, which fought a guerrilla war until 1991 to press independence, wants the issue to be resolved through a referendum. Eight rounds of negotiations between both parties in New York have failed.

But, the Moroccan initiative has encouraged activists to launch movements for autonomy in two other regions – northern Rif and Sousse in the south of the country.

In contrast to Western Sahara’s half a million people, Rif has 2.4 million inhabitants while Sousse has a population of approximately three million, according to the last official census carried out in 2004.

Both Rif and Sousse are populated by the Amazigh, an indigenous people, whose language was recognized as an official one along with Arabic under the new constitution, adopted on Jul. 1 this year.

But the problem is not just a linguistic one. “It is completely inconceivable that a single region enjoys autonomy,” Ahmed Khanboubi, Amazigh activist and researcher in political and economic sciences, told IPS.

“If autonomy is applied in one region, it has to be there in the others. Otherwise, it would amount to discrimination against other regions and citizens,” he said.

Other experts swear by the “advanced regionalisation” plan offered by King Mohamed VI in a speech on Mar. 9.

Habib Anoune, an expert in social and economic sciences, told IPS that autonomy for regions other than Western Sahara is a “long-term hypothesis which can be part of reality as well as imagination.”

Advanced regionalisation envisages division of the country into 12 regions with each one of them having an elected council, empowered to make local policies independently of the center.

Khanboubi, however, said that regionalisation has to “emanate from citizens, to serve their interests” and not imposed on them from above. The reference was to the fact that the committee, tasked with drawing up the project, was appointed by the king and not elected democratically.

“It is necessary to take the opinion of citizens, instead of undertaking a cartographic division of the country from air-conditioned offices in Rabat,” Khanboubi said. Rabat, the capital, is 90 km north of Casablanca.

Regionalisation is not a completely new idea in Morocco. In 1971, the kingdom was divided into seven regions, and then 27 years later in 1996 King Hassan II further divided the country into 16 regions.

While a law governing regional councils was also voted in by parliament alongside, they have remained practically without any authority. “All the decisions are taken by governors,” Khanboubi said.

Governors are not elected but directly appointed by the king. The new constitution, approved in July, stipulates governors are appointed by the government.

“We have to end this supervision and let regional councils practice their full competence,” he added.

Anoune’s view is that advanced regionalisation will allow the modernization and democratization of the state by devolving authority from the center to the region.

The sticking point seems to be where to draw the line on democratization.

“The Moroccan state rushed in advanced regionalisation as a response to the movement for autonomy,” said Khanboubi. “In the future the fight for democracy will be in the regions – to establish autonomy.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

By Jack Phillips
September 13, 2011

Thailand affected by mass floods from same monsoon rains

Still rebuilding after last year’s devastating floods, Pakistan was pounded with another round of heavy Monsoon rains, causing flooding in its biggest city, Karachi, and other areas in the south. The same heavy rains have affected thousands in Thailand as well.

The United Nations estimates that more than 220,000 people have been displaced due to flooding in Pakistan and another 5 million have been negatively affected. At least 200 people have died.

Aid groups say that more than 700,000 families are still living in temporary shelters after they were forced to leave their homes in the 2010 floods that affected the whole country, impacting some 20 million people. Around one-fifth of the country was submerged underwater, causing more than $10 billion in damage.

Since late August of this year, the floods have destroyed or damaged nearly a million homes and inundated 4.2 million acres of land, mostly in the southern province of Sindh.

Zafar Iqbal Qadir, the head of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, called on the international community for aid relief before the disaster worsens, as more rain is on the way. “The help is to be provided now before this disaster consumes more human lives in the country,” he appealed in a statement.

The U.N. World Food Program said it is transporting a half million food rations to affected persons, while the Pakistani government has provided 512,000 food rations. More than 4,000 camps have been set up, while the government is trying to secure another 100,000 tents.

“Now is a crucial time to stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, and build on the lessons learned from the recent 2010 floods response to support the Government of Pakistan in their ongoing monsoon relief efforts,” stated Timo Pakkala, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.

Aid groups have warned that the Pakistani government needed to improve on its infrastructure to prevent further floods to avoid another disaster. Two months ago when the monsoon season began, aid group Oxfam released a report saying that some families started to dismantle their homes and move to higher ground.

Floods Affect Thailand

The same monsoon rains assailing Pakistan have also caused mass floods in Thailand, although the damage does not look to be as severe. As of Tuesday, there were 82 confirmed deaths attributed to the floods.

The Thai Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation warned that heavy rains could cause forest runoff and mudslides in 35 of the nation’s 76 provinces, adding that people living in lowlands should remain alert, according to the Bangkok Post.

More than 570,000 people have already been affected due to the floods in 16 provinces, the Department said.

In Ayutthaya province in central Thailand—home to the ruins of Siam’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya, a UNESCO Heritage World Site—at least 100 elephants had to be evacuated to higher ground after two nearby rivers swelled and flooded several nearby communities.

Source: The Epoch Times.


While crowds in Cairo cheer, leaders fear rivalry; Turkey PM’s regional hopes come at cost of Egypt’s status in Arab world analysts say.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived Monday night in Cairo to crowds of cheering Egyptians, but analysts said he was likely to get a less enthusiastic reception in the corridors of power, encountering resistance to his bid to make his country the leading regional power.

Erdogan’s confrontational policy with Israel- topped off with remarks made on the eve of his visit that Israel’s raid on the Mavi Marmara last year was a casus belli – won him fans in the Arab Street. The crowds greeting him waved the flags of Egypt, Libya and Turkey. Some chanted, “Egypt,Turkey – one fist,” while others raised large portraits of the leader captioned “Turkey-Egypt – hand in hand to the future.”

But, analysts say Erdogan’s regional ambitions can only come at the cost of Egypt’s standing as the Arab world’s leading power. Faced with a slumping economy and an uncertain political future, Cairo may be in a weak position to compete with Ankara, but it is likely to resist becoming the junior member of a partnership.

“This isn’t going to be an easy relationship to manage. These countries have been competitors in the game of regional influence, with Egypt wanting to play a lead role in the Arab world and Turkey trying to increase its influence,” Sinan Ulgen, director of Turkey’s Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (Edam) and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Institution, told The Media Line.

Erdogan has sought to build a network of political and trade ties with the region as he leverages Turkey’s massive and growing economy and his credentials as an Islamic leader friendly to democracy. The Arab Spring has upset some of these plans by threatening the rule of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and other friends, but it has also created new opportunities by weakening potential rivals like Egypt

Erdogan has staked a lot on the trip. It is only the third overseas visit the prime minister has made – following the traditional must-visit stops in Turkish Cyprus and Azerbaijan – since he won a third term as prime minster in June. Erdogan has a busy schedule while in Egypt, the first leg of a North Africa trek that will take him to Tunisia and Libya – two other countries stumbling to recover after revolutions that ousted long-time leaders.

On Monday, Erdogan addressed the 22-member Arab League, held talks with the military council steering Egypt and met with the Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar. He was also to deliver a speech at Cairo University outlining his Middle East vision, the same platform US President Barack Obama used to address the Muslim world in 2009.

The Turkish and Egyptian prime ministers are slated to sign an agreement establishing a Turkish-Egyptian strategic council. Ulgen said the agreement would be something short of a strategic partnership. He preferred to term it a “strategic relationship.”

Erdogan has cut a figure as a swashbuckling Arab hero, speaking out strongly against Israel and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. While he was slow in opposing Libyan strongman Muamar Al-Gaddafi, he spoke out early and strongly against Al-Assad, who the United Nations says has killed more than 2,600 Syrians trying to put down an anti- government rebellion, winning kudos from opposition leaders across the Middle East.

“We need to preserve our relations with Turkey and all the countries that want to help the Arab world and take advantage of them to create a stronger political front to enhance the Arab states’ position against Israel,” Mohammed Adel of the April 6 movement that led the protests that brought down Egyptian President Husni Mubarak last February told Reuters news agency.

But Maha Azzam, an associate fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank said that Erdogan’s fan base in the street was likely a cause for concern among Egypt’s military rulers, who have grown increasing unpopular as they have rolled back some of the democratic gains of the post-Mubarak era.

“There is a strong sense of discomfort that he may be indirectly pushing an agenda that is in line with popular sentiment but certainly not in line with present leadership in Egypt and other states in the region that have not had changes in regime,” she told The Media Line.

Erdogan’s problems in cementing closer ties with Egypt are further complicated by Egyptian domestic politics. Egypt’s military is ruling the country but has been hesitant to take major political initiatives before an elected government takes office in the next few months, analysts said.

The Turkish prime minister’s decision not to make a controversial side trip to the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip reflects these divergent interests of the two countries, said Ulgen.

Facing pressure from Washington and Jerusalem, Egypt, which is also in the midst of a diplomatic crisis with Israel, was apparently behind Erdogan’s backtracking. While Turkey is a member of the Western NATO alliance, it is less beholden to Western interests than Egypt, which now more than ever needs the $2 billion in annual US aid to shore up its flagging economy.

Alon Liel, a former Israeli chargé d’affaires to Turkey, said last week Turkey may try to dilute American influence by offering its own aid package to Egypt.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be Turkish economic aid, maybe military aid, offered to Egypt,” Liel told reporters in Jerusalem, adding that with Al-Assad’s regime threatened by protests, “Turkey needs a regional ally and will invest a lot of money in Egypt to get it.”

Source: The Jerusalem Post.

Tue Sep 13, 2011

Turkey has developed a new system for its US-made F-16 fighter jets that will allow them for the first time to fire at Israeli targets, a report says.

The new Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) — an identification system designed for command and control — developed by Turkey’s Military Electronics Industry (ASELSAN) will replace the US version of the system that was being run on the fighter jets so far, Turkey’s Star Gazete newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The US system identified all Israeli targets as a ‘friend,’ thus preventing the Turkish fighter jets from firing at them automatically, even if the Turkish pilots were ordered to fire at them, the report said.

The new system, however, will allow Turkey to define its enemies itself, the report said.

The Turkish IFF will be mounted on all Turkish fighter jets, military vessels and submarines in the near future.

The report noted that the new IFF system has been developed in a time of increasing tension between Ankara and Tel Aviv.

The US-made IFF, categorized all Israeli targets, alongside NATO targets, as ‘friend,’ despite the fact that Israel is not a member state of NATO.

Source: PressTV.