Archive for January, 2015

January 24, 2015

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Thousands of ethnic Albanians protested in Kosovo’s capital Saturday against a minority Serb politician’s denial of war crimes against them and demanded the government take over the management of the country’s crucial mining complex.

Waving Albanian flags and banners, they called for the dismissal of the Serb Minister Aleksandar Jablanovic, whose comments minimizing Serbia’s role in the 1998-99 Kosovo war especially angered the families of some 1,000 ethnic Albanians still missing.

Police estimated 12,000 protesters showed up. A handful threw rocks at the government building in Pristina, breaking several windows. Jablanovic is part of the governing coalition along with former Kosovo guerrillas who fought a separatist war against Serbia. Some 10,000 people died in the war when Serbian troops launched a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians. The violence was halted by NATO’s 78-day bombing of Serbia, which forced Serb troops in 1999 to give up control of the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian territory.

Saturday’s protest follows a week of demonstrations throughout Kosovo organized by opposition parties. Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008 but Serbia has never accepted its independence. Many ethnic Albanians fear Belgrade is gaining a foothold in Kosovo fifteen years after the end of the war.

The protests also followed a strike by over 400 miners at Kosovo’s Trepca mining complex demanding the government takes over the administration to stop the mine from being liquidated. Protesters also want to keep Serbia from having a say about the mine’s future. Trepca’s riches are considered government property but the mine is administered by the Kosovo Property Agency, an independent body set up back when Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia.

by Arnaud De Borchgrave, Upi Editor At Large

Washington DC (UPI)

Oct 01, 2014

With world attention riveted on U.S. and friendly Arab air strikes against Islamic State bases in Syria, Pakistan, one of the world’s eight nuclear powers, was yet again a bubbling geopolitical cauldron.

The Pakistani army has ruled Pakistan for half of its independent existence since 1947. It has, in effect, taken over again to block Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who would like to bring TTP, Pakistan’s Taliban, into some form of coalition government.

Nawaz, as he is known (Sharif is as common as Smith in the Anglo-Saxon world), harbors a visceral dislike (some call it hatred) for the United States.

TTP is a jihadi organization, in league with Afghanistan’s Taliban underground, and is responsible for some 35,000 deaths in terrorist attacks in recent years.

TTP is also backing IS and some of its terrorists have already made their way to Iraq and Syria to fight “the enemies of Islam.”

In a recent four-hour session, Pakistan’s top Corps commanders decided to give Nawaz one more chance to end political and economic chaos. If he fails, which is widely expected, the army will respond to what public opinion clearly favors, and take over the reins of power — for the fifth time since independence in 1947.

“Meanwhile,” reports long-time observer and scholar of the Pakistani scene Ammar Turabi, “the army is going to crush the remains of TTP and Al Qaeda with still more dedication and zeal.”

The army knows that Nawaz is not about to give up his old ambition to be Amirul Mominin, or Amir of the entire Muslim Caliphate,” adds Turabi, “armed with the nuclear power which only Pakistan possesses in the entire Muslim world.

The only problem with Nawaz’s ambitions is that Pakistan’s nukes are under army control. And the generals are now biding their time to see where Nawaz goes with his suspected sympathies for IS, openly praised by TTP.

Round the clock protests for six weeks in the forbidden zone around parliament and the presidency, organized by Imran Khan, the former cricket star turned political leader, and unknown cleric Qadri, have kept Pakistani politics at a boil.

A sampling of opinion among the demonstrators, Turabi says, “shows overwhelming support for Nawaz’s political exit and an army takeover.”

Punjabi Taliban leader Asmatullah Muaweya appears to have seen the writing on the wall of public opinion. He announced his group was renouncing violence and urged his followers to continue fighting for Taliban in Afghanistan.

In Turabi’s opinion, “this decision was motivated by Nawaz trying to buy time against any further military action against Punjabi-based terrorists.”

Contrary to Nawaz’s thinking, Pakistan’s generals and many political leaders do not want the Afghan Taliban as the sole power in Afghanistan after the bulk of U.S. forces leave at the end of this year.

A Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, they say, would revive the old Afghan plan for Pushtunistan, or a merger of the Pushtun of Pakistan and Afghanistan — under the banner of jihad, bolstered by the growing appeal of IS in Iraq and Syria.

Unlike Nawaz, the army and public opinion are firmly opposed to Taliban achieving complete power after the U.S. withdrawal. Instead, they favor an Afghan peace settlement based on power sharing between the Taliban and the non-Pushtun ethnic groups of Afghanistan.

What Pakistanis favor for the future of Afghanistan may not swing much weight in a new era of religious terrorists.

Pakistan’s madrassas where, hundreds of thousands of 8 to 16-year-olds are brainwashed to believe that Taliban-IS-religious extremists are the wave of the future, will have more of an impact than today’s middle classes.

Pakistan’s generals know that Afghanistan’s post-2014 survival depends on continued foreign western foreign aid. Almost 90 percent of the Afghan national army’s budget this year comes from the U.S. and, to a much smaller extent, from other foreign donors. Without this aid, the Afghan state would collapse, as South Vietnam in did in the mid-1970s when Congress suddenly cut off any further assistance to the anti-Communist army in Saigon.

With a new costly air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the prospect for open-ended military assistance to Afghanistan is not looking good.

Without such aid, says Turabi, “Afghanistan faces the prospect of no state at all — opening more blind alleys of ethnic violence and anarchy, demolishing a frail and lawless Afghanistan for which the United States has fought, bled and spent for 13 years the costliest war in its history.”

Source: Space War.


January 06, 2015

RAWASHID, Iraq (AP) — Sunni residents of this tiny village north of Baghdad are all gone. Their homes now have Shiite graffiti scrawled on the walls. Shiite banners, many emblazoned with images of revered saints, are hoisted on the roofs.

The only people here now are Shiite fighters, who nearly two weeks ago helped Iraqi forces wrest the town from the Islamic State group. Outside one of the homes the fighters have occupied, their leader sat with his men on a recent day, warming themselves by a fire where tea brewed.

He made it clear: They have no intention of allowing the Sunnis back, accusing them of supporting the extremists. “If we allow the residents of this village to return to their homes, they will do it all over again to us,” said Adnan Hassan, 59. The militants used the village to fire mortars at the nearby, mainly Shiite city of Balad — and they still hold villages only a few miles away.

“These are our lands. They were taken away from us centuries ago,” he told The Associated Press, pointing to the orchards and lush farmlands surrounding the village’s relatively affluent homes. Hassan’s claim of Shiite ownership of the lands is tenuous at best. But his comments expose a grim side of Iraq’s fight against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State group: The war is being used by Shiite militiamen to change the demographics of Sunni areas, in an attempt to solidify Shiite control. The practice appears mostly focused on Sunni areas astride roads leading to important Shiite shrines to the north and south of the capital, Baghdad.

The apparent sectarian cleansing plants the seeds of future conflict — or even an outright civil war that could eventually break up the nation along sectarian and ethnic lines, a fate that a growing number of Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, see as the solution to the nation’s bloody turmoil.

Tens of thousands of Iraq’s Sunnis fled their home regions over the past year to escape the brutal rule of the Islamic State group. The militants swept over much of the north and west of Iraq, overrunning Sunni-majority regions all the way down to the doorstep of Baghdad.

Shiite-led security forces and militias made up of Shiite volunteers have since driven the militants out of some of those areas. But the Sunni residents have mostly been prevented from returning, on the grounds that the regions are not yet safe. In many cases, they have been unable to return because their homes have been destroyed in the fighting or blown up by militiamen.

Sunnis who stayed put and endured Islamic State governance face a worse predicament when Shiite forces recapture their areas. They are accused of helping the militants, often their homes are blown up, men jailed or entire families banished, with their properties given to Shiites.

The militiamen appear to be the ones enforcing the demographic change, unsettling the Shiite-led government. The danger is real enough that Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has spoken forcefully about the need for national unity. Addressing graduating army cadets Tuesday, he called for residents of liberated areas to be allowed to return to their homes, so that their suffering ends. In an unusually bold gesture of reconciliation, he visited the capital’s two landmark Sunni and Shiite shrines on Friday.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the excesses of militiamen in a fatwa, or an edict, issued last weekend, specifically citing the theft of property in areas liberated from the Islamic State group.

“What we are dealing with here is a real attempt at demographic change, coupled with blatant abuses,” Sunni politician Hamed al-Mutlaq told The Associated Press. “It is now extremely difficult for the Sunnis to return to their homes” — not because their homes have been destroyed, he added, “it is genuine fear that is stopping them.”

The sectarian shift comes on top of one that occurred in the wave of vicious sectarian fighting sparked in 2006, when Sunni militants blew up the Shiite shrine of Imam al-Askari in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. That conflict became a virtual civil war, and it purged Baghdad of most mixed neighborhoods, leaving it sharply divided between Shiite and Sunni districts.

In Diyala province, northeast of the capital, Islamic State militants have almost completely been driven out, but Sunni Arab families have not been allowed back, said Raad al-Dahlaki, a Sunni lawmaker from the province. The province is a major route for Iranian pilgrims traveling overland to shrines in Iraq.

“They say they will only allow ‘loyal’ residents to go back. This is an excuse to change the demographics of the province,” al-Dahlaki said. Al-Mutlaq and other Sunni politicians said the area around Balad, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Baghdad, is also targeted to keep out Sunnis.

Balad is home to the shrine of one of the imams revered by Shiites and sits on the main highway from Baghdad to Samarra. While many of the larger towns in the area have Shiite majorities, the surrounding countryside along the Tigris River is dotted with Sunni towns and villages like Rawashid. Over the past weeks, Iraqi forces backed by Shiite volunteer fighters swept across the area, pushing back the extremists and trying to clear a corridor to Samarra.

Iraqi federal police and Shiite volunteers battled for five hours late last month to retake Rawashid. On Saturday, when AP journalists visited, the police were gone, and the volunteers led by Hassan were settled in, taking over several houses. Other houses were blackened, possibly by fire or shelling, or flattened by airstrikes.

It is not clear whether the village’s estimated 1,000 residents fled when the Islamic State militants took over in the summer or when the village was retaken. Either way, none were in sight Saturday. Laith Ahmed, an official with the “Popular Mobilization Authority” — the state agency overseeing the volunteers — painted the entire village population as Islamic State supporters.

“They own some of the most fertile farms in Iraq, so it’s beyond me why they chose to take the side of the armed militants,” he said. Anti-Sunni bias is just as pronounced in Balad. There, Shiite residents successfully kept the Islamic State militants at bay during a weeks-long siege in June and July. The city’s small Sunni population fled.

“By God, I will never allow the Sunnis to come back to Balad,” said Mudhafar Abdul-Reddah, a Shiite in his 50s. “They were in contact with the Islamic State during the siege.” “We are better off without any Sunnis in our midst,” said restaurant owner Hussein Shamel. “We (Shiites) all know each other and we are like one family,” he said. During the IS siege, he said, Balad residents shared the little food they had and organized resistance, manning sand barriers set up around the city.

All along the highway from Baghdad to Balad, the depopulation is clear — along with the sectarian nature of the fight. Shiite banners and images of saints fly over every military checkpoint and vehicle. Graffiti on concrete barriers and walls speak of Shiite victory. Farmland and homes along the road showed no sign of life.

Salah al-Karkhy, a farmowner, said that in late July Shiite militiamen came to his home village of Roufayaat near Balad and told its Sunni residents to leave as the Shiites fought IS nearby. Al-Karkhy, his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren moved to Baghdad’s Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah where they remain.

“Death awaits us if we return,” he said, speaking of a “deliberate plan to force Sunnis from their homes.” “We never supported (the Islamic State),” he said, “but, as always in Iraq, the innocent are made to pay.”

Associated Press reporter Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report from Baghdad.

06 January 2015 Tuesday

Turkey plays an extremely important role in the protection of refugees, the UN’s top refugee official said Tuesday.

Addressing the “Seventh Annual Ambassadors Conference” in Turkish capital Ankara, Antonio Guterres said: “It is essential to recognize that Turkey has experienced one of the largest refugee influxes in the world of the past few decades.”

Turkey has adopted an open-door policy for civilians fleeing from war in its conflict-ridden neighbors, Syria and Iraq.

It has given refuge to at least 1.6 million Syrians since the beginning of the civil war in March 2011, according to UN figures. Ankara also spent more than $5 billion on refugees so far, according to the Turkish Finance Ministry.

“This is to a large extent the result of your generous open door policy in relation to Syrian refugees,” Guterres added.

Saying that the international community has largely lost its capacity to prevent and to solve conflicts, Guterres said, “It is important to think what can be done.”

“Only with a structured, multipolar world and with strong multilateral institutions, I think it would be possible to mobilize the international community to address the challenges of our time,” he said.

Source: World Bulletin.


06 January 2015 Tuesday

Due to the heavy snowfall nationwide, Turkish elementary and high schools have been closed Tuesday in Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul as well as in several other cities.

Schools were also closed in the provinces of Malatya, Kastamonu, Bingol, Ordu, Bitlis and Tunceli because of strong winds and snowfall.

The Istanbul municipality said it had taken precautions against ice and traffic congestion Monday night with over 2,000 people and about 1,000 vehicles removing snow.

Many roads across the country have also been closed.

The eastern Erzurum-Bingol highway has also been closed to traffic due to an avalanche. Meanwhile, at least four vacationers in the Kartepe ski center of northwestern Kocaeli province were wounded in an avalanche.

Turkish Airlines announced that it had cancelled 39 domestic flights and five arriving international flights due to the bad weather conditions.

Source: World Bulletin.


06 January 2015 Tuesday

Turkey’s first domestic seismic vessel for oil exploration in the Black Sea, which is currently being constructed in Tuzla shipyard, will be on the water in March 2015, said Taner Yildiz, Turkey’s energy and natural resources minister.

“By September to October, the vessel will start its operations on the open seas,” Yildiz said during a ceremony marking the start of drilling operations in the Black Sea by a joint venture between Turkish Petroleum, TPAO, and Royal Dutch Shell.

For this project another vessel – Globetrotter II – passed through the Bosporus strait on Tuesday en route to the Black Sea where it will start drilling for oil in the coming weeks.

During the ceremony held at Ciragan palace in Istanbul, the partners in the $300 million project said if the drilling is successful, it could materially increase Turkey’s domestic oil and gas production.

“We want to get see a return for the $300 million investment that we will spend for exploration in the Black Sea. We will spend this money because we believe there is oil there,” Yildiz said.

However, the partners stressed that no concrete reserves had been found yet, and they urged transparency with the public on such a challenging project that will require perseverence to realize its aims.

“We couldn’t reach the intended results in explorations with BP, Exxon or Petrobras. This time we are hopeful to find hydrocarbons. If there is oil, we will find it,” he asserted.

During 2014, 45 oil companies made 220 drillings in offshore and onshore Turkey, covering an area of 301 thousand square kilometers.  As a result of these drillings, 188 wells were opened with a 33 percent accuracy ratio.

“From these operations, Turkish Petroleum imported $1.9 billion less oil and natural gas in 2014,” Yildiz said.

“Natural gas, oil and coal will still remain a main energy source of the world,” the minister said, and added that Turkish Petroleum will continue to work with national and international companies for such exploration.

Turkish Petroleum Deputy General Director Besim Sisman said that despite the fall in oil prices, the country still needs 700 thousand barrels of oil per day regardless of the cost, and therefore, the country needs to run explorations independent of oil prices.

“Our oil revenues decreased by half as oil prices dropped. We took some precautions by concentrating on projects in Turkey. We suspended some of our operations abroad but we didn’t cancel them. We will continue our operations after the oil prices recover again,” Sisman said.

“The Black Sea is a very big area so it is not possible to find reserves with just a few drillings,” Sisman said.

According to Sisman, the North Sea has become a reserve after 30 to 35 drillings and the oil business is all about patience.

“We couldn’t find concrete reserves yet, but we found indications of oil and gas in every drilling,” he added.

Ahmet Erdem, Turkey Country President of Shell said that Turkey should continue its oil exploration projects despite low oil prices.

“Turkey’s benefits from low oil prices doesn’t change the reality that Turkey still has to pay huge amounts for oil imports,” he added.

When asked if lower oil prices could work against the Black Sea project, the head of the project said Shell has a long-term vision that is not directly affected by changes in the oil market over one or two years.

Joris Grimbergen, Shell Upstream Turkey General Manager added that these kind of projects “requires patience, persistence in studying data and needs careful allocation of investment capital.”

Source: World Bulletin.


Mursitpinar, Turkey (AFP)

Sept 29, 2014

Turkey on Monday deployed tanks and armored vehicles to reinforce its border with Syria amid escalating violence by the Islamic State group, as parliament was set to consider whether to authorize military action against the jihadists.

The army moved tanks and armored vehicles to the border town of Mursitpinar, which lies across from the key Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, after some stray bullets hit Turkish villages, sparking retaliation from Turkey’s military under its “rules of engagement”.

The government said Monday it would shortly submit motions to parliament authorizing the armed forces to take action in Iraq and Syria, so Ankara can join the US-led coalition against the IS fighters.

“The motions have not yet been sent to parliament. They may come tomorrow (Tuesday),” parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek was quoted as saying by NTV television.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said the motions will be debated on Thursday.

– Turkey not in US-led coalition –

Turkey had refused to join a broad anti-IS coalition led by the United States while dozens of its citizens including diplomats and children were being held by IS militants having been abducted from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

After securing their freedom in a top-secret operation which reportedly resulted in the release of 50 IS fighters, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country’s position had changed, signalling a more robust stance towards the IS group.

“We will hold discussions with our relevant institutions this week. We will definitely be where we need to be,” Erdogan said on Sunday.

“We cannot stay out of this.”

The government hopes parliament will approve the military action before the Muslim Eid holiday which begins on Saturday.

On Monday, Erdogan said the Islamic State — blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara since October 2013 — has nothing to do with Islam, which he said “does not legitimize such savagery or violence”.

“Attributing terrorist actions in the Middle East to Islam means nothing other than distorting the truth,” he said in a speech in Istanbul. “Our religion is a religion of peace.”

In a rare move, Turkey’s top general, Necdet Ozel, will speak to the cabinet on Tuesday followed by a security summit chaired by Erdogan.

Turkey has so far accepted over 160,000 Syrian refugees who fled the IS assault near the town of Ain al-Arab, and has called for creating a safe buffer zone to help civilians inside Syria.

Turkey has already taken in more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees who fled the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Up to 15,000 refugees crossed to Turkey on Monday, a Turkish official told AFP, saying that the border was “open to civilians, as well as to their cars and animals.”

On Monday, at least three mortar shells fired from Syria landed in Turkish soil — up to two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the border gate at Mursitpinar, an AFP photographer reported. They caused no damage or casualties.

But a mortar shell that hit a house in a Turkish village on the Syrian border late Sunday left three people wounded, the military said on its website, adding that the armed forces had responded in kind.

Source: Space War.


January 05, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon turned back Syrians trying to cross the border Monday under strict new visa regulations, saying it simply cannot handle any more people displaced by the ongoing civil war.

The policy, requiring Syrians to obtain visas that sharply limit the time they can stay in Lebanon, effectively narrows one of the few escape routes left from a conflict that has displaced a third of Syria’s pre-war population and shows no sign of ending.

Humanitarian groups dealing with Syrian refugees say authorities should not close the doors on people who are desperate to leave. Leading politician Walid Jumblatt said there should be difference in dealing with “refugees who are fleeing death and destruction in Syria after they lost their homes,” and those who come to Lebanon for political activities.

“The vast majority of them left Syria because of fear of war, and they are innocent,” Jumblatt said in comments published Monday in his party’s weekly Al-Anbaa. The violence in Syria between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and those opposed to his rule have caused more than 3 million people to flee the country, mainly to neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Western countries have only accepted small numbers of refugees, and hundreds of people have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on rickety smuggler ships. More than 200,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in 2011.

Lebanese officials say they can’t absorb any more, estimating there are about 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon, about one-quarter of the total population. Some 1.1 million are registered with the U.N.’s refugee agency.

“We have enough. There’s no capacity anymore to host more displaced,” Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said at a televised news conference. The United States warned against creating more challenges for Syrian refugees and urged Lebanon to work with U.N. officials to ensure that those fleeing violence and persecution would still be able to enter the country.

“We will continue to strongly encourage the governments of the region to provide for a refuge for asylum seekers,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Lebanese security officials had no exact numbers on how many Syrians were turned back Monday at the border. The flow of Syrians through one popular crossing appeared to be lower than normal.

In recent months, several thousand Syrians had been crossing into Lebanon every day, the officials said. There are no plans to forcibly repatriate those Syrians already in Lebanon. The changes establish new categories of entry visas for Syrians — including tourism, business, education and medical care — and sharply limit the time they can stay in Lebanon.

For decades, Syrians were freely given six-month visas, and many simply crossed the porous border without any paperwork. When the Syrian uprising turned into a civil war, hundreds of thousands poured into Lebanon. The influx overwhelmed water and power supplies, pushed up rents and depressed the economy in rural areas, where Syrians compete with impoverished Lebanese for scarce jobs.

Tent cities have sprouted in the countryside, with many of the refugees confined to flimsy shelters that are being buffeted by winter rains and snow. Public opinion has sharply turned against the Syrians, and many see them as threats to the sovereignty of Lebanon, which has long been dominated by its larger neighbor.

Patricia Mouamar, communications manager at World Vision Lebanon, said the country “cannot close the door in the face of Syrian refugees.” “It is the right of every person to seek refuge in a country that protects him from violence,” she said.

Lebanon has been hosting hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees since Israel’s creation in 1948, and their presence was a central factor in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. The conflict in Syria has already escalated tensions between Lebanon’s Shiites and Sunnis, and many fear the influx of the mainly Sunni refugees could again aggravate its delicate sectarian balance.

Lebanese border officials began informally restricting the entry of Syrians in October, causing a 50 percent drop in people seeking to register with the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR. “We are looking at these new procedures with some interest, because those procedures don’t make mention of the agreement of the government to continue to allow the most vulnerable cases to come through,” said UNHCR’s regional spokesman Ron Redmond.

Even after last year’s informal limitations were introduced, he said the Lebanese government was still allowing in Syrians they deemed “urgent cases” — single women fleeing with their children, those needing urgent medical care, and children separated from their families.

“We didn’t see any reference to that in these new regulations,” Redmond said. “We want to get some kind of official documentation and description of how that’s going to work.” A Lebanese security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the press, said urgent humanitarian cases could still enter, and that Syrians could make use of a medical care category and a 48-hour visa that would allow them to apply for asylum at foreign embassies.

On Saturday, Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim urged Lebanon to coordinate its new measures with Damascus. Amid wide approval in Lebanon for the restrictions, a prominent newspaper editorial urged the country to act humanely.

“We know that the burden of the Syrian crisis, open to an abyss, is greater than what Lebanon can bear,” Talal Salman wrote in As-Safir. “But it is able, certainly, to carry some of its weight.” The refugees, he added, “left with their faces etched in worry, to the closest asylum they know.”

January 05, 2015

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s largest political party chose a veteran from the country’s former dictatorship as its candidate for prime minister Monday and he began work immediately on forming a coalition government.

Habib Essid, 65, was asked by the newly elected president to form a coalition and name a Cabinet over the next month. He previously held several posts under former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, including in the Interior Ministry, which manages the police. After the 2011 revolution that overthrew Ben Ali, Essid also served as interior minister in one of the transitional governments.

Tunisia completed its political transition with a string of elections in 2014, with the most votes going to Nida Tunis, a party that includes many members of the old regime and has promised stability after a transition marked by unrest.

President Beji Caid Essebsi, who formed the party, was inaugurated last week. Nida Tunis must form a coalition with several other parties in the parliament to gain a majority. “From today, we will start the consultations with the parties, national institutions and civil society,” Essid said.

U.S. President Barack Obama called President Essebsi Monday to congratulate him on his victory in the presidential election and invite him to visit Washington, the White House said. It said Obama commended the Tunisians for the spirit of peaceful compromise that has prevailed throughout their historic democratic transition of the last four years and underscored the United States’ readiness to assist the incoming government.

Tunisia’s moderate Islamists, who won the election immediately after the 2011 revolution, remain the second largest party in the parliament but are not expected to be part of the coalition.

Text and photos by Maria Tahri for Magharebia in Casablanca


Street vendors have long been part of the economic landscape in Morocco, but for some of those working in the “informal economy”, trash is treasure.

Other people’s cast-offs and garbage provide them with an income. These itinerant traders know that for every discarded or broken item, there is a potential buyer.

“This is the source of my daily livelihood,” street salesman Abdul Hadi says about the items laid out on the sidewalk. Empty bottles once used for ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard, plastic containers used for oils or mineral water, old clothes: this is merchandise, not garbage. And people are willing to pay for it.

Another merchant, Mohamed Ibrahim, says he keeps everything – from broken games to broken cups – inside his house for later re-sale. He saves empty boxes, iron screws and other odds and ends retrieved from the garbage.

“We do not compete with any of the merchants, not even street vendors, because our goods are not their wares and we do not reap huge profits,” the father of three tells Magharebia.

“They are only daily pennies, enough for us to meet our needs and not beg.”

Abdullah, on the other side of the sidewalk running the length of the famous Souk El Kouriaa market in Casablanca, sells old CD cases. Even though many are cracked, people buy them.

Other sellers stand behind cardboard and wooden boxes filled with rusty keys, picture frames, broken toys, and many things that appear to have no meaning or use. These Moroccan street vendors are of a different breed than those selling vegetables or clothes. Their customers are looking for something that cannot be found in stores or traditional market stalls.

Here, junk sells.

Mustafa a father is poking around among a pile of nails and bolts. “A small screw went missing from the cover of the pressure cooker my wife uses in the kitchen,” he explains. “The pot is no good anymore, since she can’t tighten the lid, so I am looking for a small screw to replace the lost one.”

“I could buy a new cooker for thousands of dirhams, but if I can find the right screw here, it will only cost me two or three dirhams,” he says.

Farid is under 30 but has to support his retired father, an elderly mother and several young brothers. He worked as a porter, a travelling salesman and a security guard at a Casablanca building but ended up jobless. One day, a friend proposed that he accompany him to a garbage dump. Everything has a use, his friend explained.

He took the advice and went into business. “Now I keep everything I find until someone comes along to buy it,” Shaab says.

“I pick up glass containers, and then wash and clean them to offer in the market,” he tells Magharebia. “The price is very low but it is significant for me, because I do not want to remain idle and complain about my condition.”

“Perhaps one day I may have to resort to other means to get money, but for now, I prefer working out here. My joy is great when someone finds exactly what he is looking for,” he says with a broad smile.

A woman haggles over an outdated juice machine without a cover, while another holds an old alarm clock. It still has numbers and clock hands, but she and the seller go back and forth over her demand for a reduction in price. After all, she says, it may continue to work or break after a couple days. There’s no way to tell until she gets it home.

The scrap market is not only frequented by the poor. Citizens from all social circles come here because they may not find what they need anywhere else.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says merchant Ibrahim Guidoum. “You find young people looking for a specific item. They may not know what it’s called, but they know it as soon as they see it.”

He adds: “Those who frequent the scrap metal sellers are trying to find wires, devices, tools – all the old home necessities they can’t find in shops, or where the spare part cost is too high.”

Rabia, an employee, says she goes to the junk market without embarrassment, to find something valuable at a low price, or a piece suitable to fix a kitchen appliance.

“I’m obsessed with frequenting these haphazard spaces,” Rabia tells Magharebia. “They give me the pleasure of shopping and digging and searching for what is rare.”

A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Trade revealed that Morocco has 238,000 street vendors, 90% of whom are men. And since some 70% of them never went beyond primary school, their employment options are limited.

Abdul Razzaq is like many of his peers who sell goods on the street. He was in desperate need of a job, but doors closed in his face and he nearly lost hope in life. Then his uncle suggested he accompany him to the market.

Within a year, he had absorbed the secrets of the profession and become self-reliant through the collection and resale of junk and scrap metal.

The Moroccan government is paying particular attention to helping these itinerant merchants. Economic Affairs Minister Nizar Baraka told Magharebia that help is on the horizon: “The main thing is to bring about a transition from the informal to the formal sector, that’s what needs to happen.”

Local authorities, meanwhile, have been working to regulate Moroccan street vendors within special areas, Abdul Razzaq says.

“They’ve been showing a kind of indulgence recently, as if they understand our situation and our unemployment,” he says.

“We hope to get a permanent space,” the young scrap salesman says. “That would help us earn a livelihood without resorting to begging or theft or falling into problems we can do without.”