Archive for March, 2013


March 08, 2013

PRIJEDOR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — There were days when she prayed for a bullet to end her suffering. When she thought she was dying of a heart attack, she whispered “Thank you God.”

A young judge, Nusreta Sivac was one of 37 women raped by guards at a concentration camp in Bosnia. They never discussed the nightly traumas — their pained glances were enough to communicate their suffering. She also witnessed murder and torture by Bosnian Serb guards — and was forced to clean blood from walls and floors of the interrogation room.

She told herself to memorize the names and faces of the tormentors so that one day she might bring them to justice. Today, it’s partly thanks to Sivac’s efforts to gather testimony from women across Bosnia that rape has been categorized as a war crime under international law. Thirty people have been convicted at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague and another 30 cases are ongoing. She personally helped put the man who raped her repeatedly during her two months in captivity behind bars.

“Most of the strength I took from the idea that one day this evil would be over,” she told The Associated Press this week ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday. The U.N. Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict said Sivac and other victims are helping to make sure wartime rapists pay for their crimes.

“The courage these women have shown coming forward and sharing their stories demonstrates the need to break the silence and stigma surrounding sexual violence in conflict,” said Zainab Hawa Bangura. “These survivors are helping to end impunity by making sure perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Bosnia’s 1992-95 war was the bloodiest in the series of armed conflicts that erupted when the Yugoslav federation fell apart and its republics began declaring independence. It took over 100,000 lives and devastated the region. According to the UN, between 20,000 to 50,000 Bosnian women were raped — many in special rape camps — during the war that was fought between the new country’s Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

African conflicts have seen even more harrowing figures: Between 250,000 and 500,000 were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and hundreds of thousands more in conflicts in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sivac’s ordeal started in the spring of 1992 when Bosnian Serbs took control over her native Prijedor, in the northwest of Bosnia and threw Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats in concentration camps. Alongside the women were 3,500 male prisoners, hundreds of whom were killed.

Sivac, a Muslim Bosniak, would start the day counting the bodies of the men who were tortured to death overnight. “Their bodies lay there in the grass in front of the building. Sometimes 20, sometimes 30 of them,” she recalled outside the factory in Omarska where she was held for two months.

During the long days of forced labor in the camp’s restaurant, the women listened to tortured prisoners screaming, calling for help and begging for mercy with voices that would become weaker until they went silent. Then the guards would force the women to clean the interrogation rooms, strewn with bloody pliers and batons. At night, guards would come to take the women away one by one — to rape.

Her captivity ended in August 1992 when a group of foreign journalists found the facility. The images of skeletal prisoners behind a fence and naked bodies beaten black and blue shocked the world and prompted an avalanche of reactions that forced the Serb leadership to release the prisoners.

Sivac’s pre-war colleague from the Prijedor court, prosecutor Jadranka Cigelj, was also among the 37 Omarska women. The two escaped to neighboring Croatia, where they began collecting testimonies from hundreds of women who had been raped.

They spent years transcribing testimonies, convincing victims to break their silence and putting together legal dossiers which they then presented to the investigators at the International Tribunal for War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague.

During this process, she said, “it became obvious how many women from all over Bosnia were affected. But I wasn’t surprised by the big number.” For centuries, rape was considered a byproduct of wars — collateral damage suffered by women, horrors often overshadowed by massacres. Even though the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibited wartime rape, no court ever raised charges until Sivac and Cigelj presented their overwhelming evidence.

The effort finally paid off in June 1995 when the two traveled to The Hague to take part in preparations for the first indictment by the Yugoslav war crimes court. Their collected evidence exposed the magnitude of rape which courts could no longer ignore. According to the United Nations, it was a major “turning point” in recognizing rape as a war crime.

Sivac remembers the sunny July day the two realized their work would be soon rewarded. They enjoyed a coffee in an outdoor cafe in The Hague and wrote a few postcards back to their torturers in Prijedor.

“Dear Friends,” they wrote. “We hope you will soon join us in this wonderful city.” A year later, the tribunal indicted eight Bosnian Serb men for sexual assault in eastern Bosnia — a verdict based on testimonies collected by Sivac and Cigelj.

It was the first time in history that an international tribunal charged someone solely for crimes of sexual violence. Nerma Jelacic, spokeswoman for the Yugoslav war crimes court, recalls the “shocking” testimony in subsequent cases where some victims were as young as 12.

“We had cases where both mother and daughter came to testify and both were subjected to same kind of torture and kind of crimes,” she told AP. Sivac who has since testified in several cases, including against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, is satisfied with what she has achieved, although she wishes the ongoing cases would accelerate. “It’s slow, very slow,” she said. “But it is a start.”

One of the Omarska guards she testified against was released in 2005 after he served two-thirds of his seven-year sentence. Sivac ran into him on the street one day in Bosnia. “We stared at each other,” she said. “He was the first one to lower his head.”

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March 06, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s accelerating humanitarian crisis hit a grim milestone Wednesday: The number of U.N.-registered refugees topped 1 million — half of them children — described by an aid worker as a “human river” of thousands spilling out of the war-ravaged country every day.

Nearly 4 million of Syria’s 22 million people have been driven from their homes by the civil war. Of the displaced, 2 million have sought cover in camps and makeshift shelters across Syria, 1 million have registered as refugees in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, and several hundred thousand more fled the country but haven’t signed up with the U.N. refugee agency.

The West has refrained from military intervention in the two-year-old battle to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, a conflict that has claimed more than 70,000 lives, and many Syrians hold the international community responsible for their misery.

“The refugee numbers swelled because the world community is sitting idly, watching the tyrant Assad killing innocent people,” said Mohammed Ammari, a 32-year-old refugee in the Zaatari camp straddling Jordan’s border with Syria. “Shame, shame, shame. The world should be ashamed.”

Despite an overall deadlock on the battlefield, the rebels have made recent gains, especially in northern Syria. On Wednesday, they completed their capture of Raqqa, the first major city to fall completely into rebel hands, activists said.

But with no quick end to the conflict in sight, the refugee problem is bound to worsen, said Panos Moumtzis of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. The number of uprooted Syrians is still lower than those displaced in other conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, but the Syria crisis will likely be protracted, and widespread devastation will make quick repatriation unlikely.

“We fear that the worst may not have come yet,” Moumtzis said. The exodus from Syria picked up significantly in recent months, turning into a “human river flowing in, day and night,” he added. The number of registered refugees doubled since December, he said, with some 7,000 fleeing Syria every day.

Many refugees moved from shelter to shelter in Syria first before deciding to leave the country, while others were driven out by the increasing lack of basic resources, such as bread and fuel, in their hometowns. In the hardest-hit areas, entire villages have emptied out and families spanning several generations cross the border together.

On Wednesday, a 19-year-old mother of two became the one-millionth Syrian refugee to register with UNHCR. She would only give her first name, Bushra, because she feared reprisals. Bushra waited with several others at a U.N. office in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli to sign up. Along with her 4-year-old daughter, Batoul, and 2-year-old son, Omar, she fled fighting in the central city of Homs more than two weeks ago.

“Our life conditions are very bad. It is very expensive here (in Lebanon) and we cannot find any work,” Bushra said. Only about 30 percent of the 1 million registered refugees live in 22 camps — 17 in Turkey, three in Jordan and two in Iraq — and the rest live in communities in host countries, Moumtzis said.

Zaatari, one of the largest, is home to some 120,000 people. Refugees have been struggling with harsh desert conditions, including cold and floods in the winter, and scorching heat, along with snakes and scorpions, in the summer.

Moumtzis said he recently met a woman in Zaatari with an ID that shows her to be 101 years old. The woman, from the southern Syrian town of Daraa, was carried by her relatives, he said. The U.N. refugee agency needs money to help overstretched host countries cope. Of the $1 billion in refugee aid pledged at a donor conference in Kuwait in January, only $200 million has come through, officials said.

“We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched,” said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, adding that “Syria is spiraling toward full-scale disaster.”

The uprising against Assad began in March 2011 with peaceful protests, but soon became a civil war. The rebel takeover of Raqqa, a city of 500,000, would consolidate opposition gains in the northern towns along the Euphrates River, which runs from Turkey to Iraq.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said rebels seized control of the military intelligence headquarters and another security building after three days of fighting with regime holdouts.

In southern Syria, rebel fighters detained about 20 U.N. peacekeepers Wednesday, said U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey. The peacekeepers are part of a force that monitors a cease-fire between Israel and Syrian troops on the Golan Heights.

In video circulated by the Observatory, a rebel identifying himself as a fighter from the “Yarmouk Brigade” walks along an armored U.N. vehicle. He accuses the peacekeepers of helping regime soldiers redeploy in an area near the Golan that the fighters had seized a few days earlier.

Del Buey said the U.N. observers were on a regular supply mission when they were stopped by the rebels. He said a team was dispatched to try to resolve the issue. The Observatory quoted rebels as saying the peacekeepers, all Filipinos, would not be released until regime forces withdraw from a village called Jamla.

The U.N. Security Council demanded their immediate and unconditional release. Peter Bouckaert, a researcher for the international group Human Rights Watch, said he is investigating suspicions, based on amateur video, that the same group of rebels was involved in the execution of captured regime soldiers in the area several days ago.

In Belgium, the top rebel commander renewed an appeal to the international community to send weapons to the opposition. Gen. Salim Idris, head of the rebels’ Supreme Military Council, asked for anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to protect Syrian civilians from Assad’s warplanes.

He said Russia and Iran are aiding the regime, while the West, while calling for Assad’s ouster, is not doing enough to help the rebels. “The people don’t understand why the international community just looks at the news on their TVs,” he said. “They just speak in the media and say, ‘that is not good and the regime must stop and must go, Bashar must go.’ And they don’t act.”

Britain seemed to be stepping up its support. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his country would provide armored vehicles, body armor and search-and-rescue equipment to the opposition. But he said Britain is sticking to the European Union’s sanctions against Syria, which include an arms embargo.

In Cairo, the 22-member Arab League gave a diplomatic boost to the opposition. The League’s chief, Nabil ElAraby, offered Syria’s seat to the opposition, provided it forms a representative executive council. The League had suspended Syria’s membership in 2011, after Assad’s government did not abide by an Arab peace plan.

Associated Press writers Barbara Surk, Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam in Beirut; Jamal Halaby in Amman; David Rising in Berlin; Don Melvin in Brussels; Jill Lawless in London; and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

March 04, 2013

PORT SAID, Egypt (AP) — The military intervened in clashes between thousands of protesters and police in a restive Egyptian canal city on Sunday, the latest in a cycle of violence that killed two security members and two civilians, and which continues to rock Egypt two years after the uprising that ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Also on Sunday, a court ruled that Mubarak will face a new trial next month on charges related to the killings of hundreds of protesters during the revolution that forced him from power. Around 5,000 protesters threw rocks and firebombs at police in Port Said late Sunday, the scene of a civil strike now in its second week. Riot police responded with tear gas and bird shot in street battles that lasted for hours.

The battle outside the police and government buildings started early Sunday and continued until past midnight. At one point, Egyptian soldiers intervened by forming a line between the two sides, as protesters climbed the tanks chanting support for the country’s armed forces that, unlike the police, have not cracked down on rioters in the city. “The people and the army are one hand!” the demonstrators shouted, urging the soldiers to side with them.

Late on Sunday, the military spokesman denied that soldiers were firing at the police in a short statement indicating the tense situation. “The armed forces personnel are on the scene to protect the government building and to separate the protesters and the interior ministry force,” military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali said in a statement posted on his official Facebook page.

Health official Helmy el-Afani said 325 people were injured in the clashes. Most suffered tear gas inhalation while others were wounded by bird shot. The Interior Ministry said one policeman was killed by gunfire, and one soldier and at least 10 policemen were wounded. A medical official in Port Said later said one of the policemen died of his gunshot wounds and two civilians were killed but the cause of their deaths was not immediately clear. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Many residents of Port Said are demanding retribution for what they claim was excessive police force that led to the deaths of more than 40 civilians in late January. Most were killed during what the security forces said was an attempt by some to storm a prison there.

The embattled Interior Ministry, which oversees Egypt’s police force, was unable to contain the anger in the city at the time and the president leaned on the military to protect key installations and buildings. Sunday was the first time the army intervened between police and protesters in Port Said since the military was put in charge of securing the city in late January. The police had all but disappeared since.

Protests swept the city Jan. 26 after a Cairo court issued death sentences against 21 people, most from Port Said, for their part in Egypt’s deadliest soccer riot in February 2012. The latest street battles broke out when word emerged that 39 defendants in the case had been transferred to prisons outside the city. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the case, said the transfer was necessary to ensure calm before a March 9 court hearing that is expected to issue new verdicts for police officers and other Port Said defendants also charged in connection with the soccer incident.

In Cairo, die-hard soccer fans of the Al-Ahly club, known as the Ultras, are also gearing up for the March 9 verdict. They staged protests around the capital on Sunday that blocked traffic going to the airport, and closed off an area around the central bank.

Most of those killed in the Port Said stadium were Al-Ahly Ultras fans, and the group is pressing for retribution from Port Said soccer fans as well as security officials. In Cairo, police briefly cleared protesters from Tahrir Square — once the epicenter of protests against Mubarak. The demonstrators, who have held a sit-in there for the past three months, returned soon after, burning two police vehicles near the famed Egyptian Museum. By nightfall, a handful protesters and riot police continued to clash along a major street near the square.

Amid the tension, President Mohammed Morsi met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Cairo for more than two hours on Sunday, a day after the top American diplomat met six opposition figures out of 11 who were invited. The other five declined to meet Kerry because of Washington’s insistence that all Egyptians take part in next month’s elections.

Morsi and his government argue that parliamentary elections will help put the country on the right track, enabling him and the legislature to tackle a deteriorating economy. But the opposition argues that elections are likely to inflame the already tense atmosphere and have called for a boycott of the vote. The mostly liberal and secular opposition accuses the Islamist president of failing to seek consensus over critical issues, such as the drafting of the constitution and the elections law. Morsi opponents accuse him of working to empower his Muslim Brotherhood and ensuring its lock on power.

Meanwhile, the opposition has threatened to escalate its anti-government street campaign and organize its boycott of the elections. The retrial of Mubarak, beginning April 13, is likely to intensify the tense political atmosphere in Egypt. It is due to start about a week before the beginning of parliamentary elections.

Many Egyptians want to see a conviction against Mubarak that leads to a death sentence for the former autocrat for his role in the crackdown that killed nearly 900 people during the 2011 uprising against his regime. Mubarak, 84, has been in detention since April 2011 and is currently being held in a military hospital.

He and his former interior minister were each sentenced in June to life in prison for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators during the 18-day uprising that ended his 29-year rule. In January, an appeals court overturned the sentences and ordered a retrial, raising public anger over what was seen as a shoddy prosecution in the first case.

Morsi promised during his election campaign that he would put former regime officials back on trial if new evidence was discovered. The proceedings in Mubarak’s retrial could help resolve unanswered questions over who ordered the crackdown and who executed it. Nearly all security officials were acquitted in separate trials related to the deaths of protesters.

In January, the appeals court ruled that during Mubarak’s first trial, the prosecution’s case lacked concrete evidence and failed to prove the protesters were killed by the police, indirectly giving credence to the testimony of top Mubarak-era officials that “foreigners” and others were behind the killings between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, 2011.

Authors of a recently concluded confidential report by a fact-finding mission appointed by Morsi told reporters that they have established the use of deadly firearms by the police against protesters. Judge Samir Aboul-Maati said the retrial before a criminal court will include six other senior security officials who were acquitted in the first trial.

Mubarak’s two sons and a business associate also will be retried on corruption charges. The sons, onetime heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa, are in jail while on trial for insider trading and using their influence to buy state land at a fraction of its market value. Their business associate, Hussein Salem, was tried in absentia. He is currently in Spain.

El Deeb and Associated Press Writer Aya Batrawy contributed reporting from Cairo.

March 03, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Following rebel gains, the leader of the Syrian opposition made his first visit Sunday to areas near the embattled northern city of Aleppo as fighters trying to oust President Bashar Assad captured a police academy and a border crossing along the frontier with Iraq.

Assad, meanwhile, lashed out at the West for helping his opponents in the civil war, delivering a blistering rebuke to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the U.S. will for the first time provide medical supplies and other non-lethal aid directly to the rebels in addition to $60 million in assistance to Syria’s political opposition.

Aleppo, the nation’s largest city, has been a major front in the nearly 2-year-old uprising. Government forces and rebels have been locked in a stalemate there since July. Mouaz al-Khatib met Sunday with Syrians in the two rebel-held Aleppo suburbs of Manbah and Jarablus, a statement said. The stated goal of his trip — his first since being named the leader of the Syrian National Coalition late last year — was to inspect living conditions.

But his foray to the edge of Aleppo also could be an attempt to boost his group’s standing among civilians and fighters on the ground, many of whom see the Western-backed political leadership in exile as irrelevant and out of touch.

The areas along Syria’s northern border with Turkey are largely ruled by rival brigades and fighter units that operate autonomously and have no links to the political opposition. Al-Khatib’s visit came as rebels captured a police academy west of Aleppo after an eight-day battle that killed more than 200 Syrian soldiers and rebels, activists said. Anti-Assad fighters also stormed a central prison in the northern city of Raqqa and captured the Rabiya border crossing in the east along the border with Iraq, activists said. Iraqi officials said the crossing in northern Ninevah province has been closed.

The territorial gains are a significant blow to Assad, although his forces have regained control of several villages and towns along a key highway near Aleppo International Airport — an achievement that could signal the start of a decisive battle for Syria’s commercial capital.

Also Sunday, the government troops launched an offensive in central Syria, sweeping through Latakia and Hama provinces, trying to dislodge rebels from towns and villages. The army also shelled opposition strongholds around Damascus, pounding areas such as Harasta, Daraya, Douma and Zbadani with artillery and airstrikes in what opposition groups said were the regime’s “desperate attempts” to reverse the rebel advances.

The rebels have trying to storm the capital for weeks, pushing ever closer to Assad’s seat of power. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group, said the rebels seized the police academy in Khan al-Asal after entering the sprawling government complex with captured tanks.

At least 120 regime soldiers and 80 rebels were killed in the fighting, according to Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman. He said the rebels control all buildings inside the complex, which was abandoned by Assad’s forces early Sunday.

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad’s authoritarian rule, then turned into a full-blown civil war after the rebels took up arms to fight a government crackdown on dissent. The United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Assad maintains his troops are fighting “terrorists” and Islamic extremists seeking to destroy Syria, and he accuses the West and its Gulf Arab allies of supporting them in achieving their goal. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Assad criticized the U.S. and Britain for sending financial and other non-lethal aid to the opposition. He set harsh terms for talking to his opponents, dialing back earlier hints of flexibility about talks.

He told the British newspaper that he is ready for dialogue with armed rebels and militants, but only if they surrender their weapons. Recently, the Syrian government offered to participate in talks, but didn’t address the question of laying down arms.

“We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms. We are not going to deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons to terrorize people, to kill civilians, to attack public places or private enterprise and to destroy the country,” Assad said in the interview, conducted in Damascus. “We fight terrorism.”

The opposition, including fighters on the ground and the Syrian National Coalition umbrella group, has rejected talks with Damascus until Assad steps down, a demand he has repeatedly rejected. Kerry met Thursday with Syrian opposition leaders in Italy, where he said the U.S. will for the first time provide the non-lethal aid directly to the fighters in addition to $60 million in assistance to the political opposition.

Assad said the “intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal.” He bitterly criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron’s push for peace talks as “naive, confused, unrealistic” while London tries to end the European Union’s arms embargo so that the rebels can be supplied with weapons.

“We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter,” he said, dismissing any notion that Britain could help end the civil war. “How can we ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarize the problem?”

Britain’s aim to send aid to moderate opposition groups was misguided, Assad said, adding that such groups do not exist in Syria. Arming the rebels would have grave consequences, he warned. “We all know that we are now fighting al-Qaida, or Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaida, and other groups of people indoctrinated with extreme ideologies,” he told the newspaper.

Jabhat al-Nusra fighters have been the best organized and most effective force on the opposition side, leading successful rebel assaults on military installation around the country. Al-Nusra has also claimed responsibility for car bombs and suicide attacks on government institutions in Damascus. The U.S. has designated the group a terrorist organization, saying its fighters have ties with al-Qaida.

British Foreign Secretary Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad’s comments were proof that the Syrian leader was out of touch with reality. “I think this will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times,” Hague said in an interview Sunday with the BBC.

Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

March 04, 2013

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Members of Pakistan’s Shiite community were digging Monday through the rubble of a massive car bombing in Karachi looking for loved ones as the death toll from the blast the day before reached 45, a Pakistani doctor said.

The explosion on Sunday evening targeted members of the minority sect leaving a mosque in this port city, and underlined the increasing threat faced by Shiites as Sunni militant groups target them in ever-bolder attacks.

At least 146 people were also wounded in the explosion and 32 of them remain in serious condition, said Pakistani surgeon, Jalil Qadir. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Sunni militant groups who do not consider Shiites to be true Muslims have carried out such attacks in the past.

This was the third mass casualty attack since the beginning of the year against Shiites. The first two killed nearly 200 people in the southwestern city of Quetta, which is home to many Hazaras. They are an ethnic group, mostly made up of Shiite Muslims, who migrated from Afghanistan more than century ago.

Those attacks were claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group known for its virulent hatred of Shiite Muslims. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to attack Shiites.

Karachi shut down on Monday for a day of mourning to honor the dead. Markets, gas stations and transportation were closed as security officials patrolled the streets. At the site of the blast, family and friends were looking through the rubble for family members missing after the explosion.

“I am here to look for my relative,” said Farzana Azfar. “People say he was here. But people say they have no idea about him. It appears that some bodies are still in the rubble.” With three massive attacks against Shiites in as many months this year, many Pakistanis are questioning why the government does not seem able to protect them.

“Go ask the sleeping government to wake up. Our brothers and sisters are dying every day. But the government is doing nothing. This government is sleeping,” said Shagufta Rasheed.

Associated Press writer Muhammed Farooq contributed to this report.

2013-02-01

Rabat – Rival protests were held on Friday outside a military tribunal in the Moroccan capital where 24 Sahrawis accused of killing members of the security forces in the Western Sahara in 2010 are being tried.

The politically charged trial, which is being attended by a number of independent foreign observers, has been repeatedly delayed, with the defendants held in custody for more than two years.

The authorities say 11 people died in the clashes, among them members of the security forces, which broke out as the army moved to dismantle the Gdim Izik camp where thousands of local Sahrawis were living in November 2010.

The Sahrawis arrested during the unrest are accused of violence against the security forces, of pre-meditated killing and of mutilating the victims’ bodies.

Some 100 people demonstrated outside the court in Rabat on Friday, among them families of the victims, pro-Saharwi activists and relatives of the accused, many of whom were allowed to attend the trial, an AFP journalist said.

Some relatives of the victims remained outside the tribunal, waving banners that read: “We know who the killers are, so where is justice?”

Ahead of the trial, observers and rights groups expressed concern over allegations the defendants were tortured in custody, about the case being tried by a military court, and about the possible death penalty facing the accused, if convicted.

At dawn on 8 November 2010, Moroccan security forces moved to dismantle the Western Sahara camp, near the territory’s main city of Laayoune, which thousands of Sahrawis had set up in protest over their living conditions.

The intervention sparked clashes that spread to nearby Laayoune, where businesses and public buildings were looted and torched.

The authorities said 11 were killed in the unrest, while the Algeria-based Polisario Front separatists said dozens of people lost their lives.

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, in a move never recognized by the international community.

The Polisario Front launched its struggle for independence even before the annexation, with the resulting war lasting until 1991 when the UN brokered a ceasefire, but a settlement of the conflict still remains elusive.

– AFP

Source: News24.

Link: http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/Morocco-Protests-as-24-Sahrawis-tried-20130201.

Jan. 31, 2013

CAIRO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Egyptian national interests should prevail over partisan and personal viewpoints, the secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party said.

Egyptian opposition groups initially shrugged off calls from President Mohamed Morsi to have a national dialogue. Hussein Ibrahim, secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said Islamist politicians were interested in broad-based talks, however.

“We really need to give priority to the interests of the country over intellectual and partisan agendas and narrow personal interests,” he was quoted on the party’s website as saying. “Politicians and party leaders have to compete to offer programs to rebuild Egypt that can positively change the living conditions of citizens.”

Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood. His election in June sparked concerns over the role that Islam has on post-revolutionary politics in Egypt.

Morsi declared a state of emergency in parts of Egypt last week. Frustration boiled over, leading to deadly protests as the country marked the second anniversary of an uprising that unseated longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian leaders next month start preparations for parliamentary elections.

“Is it coincidence, though, that the repeated waves of spiraling violence and attempts to spread chaos and lawlessness precede each election event, where the ballot box is the arbitrator?” Ibrahim asked.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2013/01/31/Egypts-FJP-keen-on-dialogue/UPI-17231359659349/.

March 01, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Activists say the bodies of 10 men, most of them shot in the head, have been found on a road outside of the Syrian capital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the bodies were dumped on the road between the Damascus suburbs of Adra and Dumair. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said on Friday that all of the bodies were of men who appeared to be between the ages of 30 and 45. He said one of the men had been decapitated.

The identities of the men were not immediately known.