Archive for September 11, 2015


August 30, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Big crowds of protesters returned to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to demand the resignation of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over a financial scandal, after the first day of the massive rally passed peacefully.

The protesters camped overnight wearing yellow shirts of the Bersih movement — the coalition for clean and fair elections — even after authorities blocked the organizer’s website and banned yellow attire and the group’s logo in a bid to deter the rallies, which were also held in other Malaysian cities.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has been spearheading calls for Najib’s resignation, added momentum to the rally when he made a surprise brief appearance late Saturday with his wife to loud cheers from the crowd, and telling protesters to “carry on.”

Najib has been fighting for political survival after leaked documents in July showed he received some $700 million in his private accounts from entities linked to indebted state fund 1MDB. He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East, fired his critical deputy and four other Cabinet members as well as the attorney general investigating him.

He slammed the protests for tarnishing Malaysia’s image. “Those who wear this yellow attire … they want to discredit our good name, scribble black coal on Malaysia’s face to the outside world,” Najib was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama.

Police estimated Saturday’s crowd at 25,000, while Bersih says 200,000 participated at its peak. The rally was scheduled to last until midnight Sunday to usher in Malaysia’s 58th National Day. “This is a watershed moment. Malaysians are united in their anger at the mismanagement of this country. We are saying loudly that there should be a change in the leadership,” said protester Azrul Khalib, who slept on the street with his friends.

He said he was aware that the rally will not bring change overnight, but he wants to be “part of efforts to build a new Malaysia.” Some used colored chalks to scrawl their demands on the street: “We want change,” and “We want clean and fair (elections).”

Scores of police barricaded roads leading to the Independence Square, a national landmark that authorities declared off-limits to protesters ahead of the national day celebrations on Monday. Previous two Bersih rallies, in 2011 and 2012, were dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons.

Analysts said the rally attracted a largely urban crowd with a smaller participation of ethnic Malays, which could be the reason why the Najib government allowed it to go on. “They feel safe because it has not really affected the rural Malay segment, their bedrock support,” said political analyst Ibrahim Suffian. However, he said this doesn’t mean that rural Malays are happy with the government, as many are upset with the plunging currency and economic slowdown.

A nation of 30 million, Malaysia is predominantly Malay Muslim with significant Chinese and Indian minorities. Its ambitions to rise from a middle income to a developed nation this decade have been stymied by slow-paced reforms and Najib’s increasing authoritarianism.

Support for Najib’s National Front has eroded in the last two general elections. It won in 2013, but lost the popular vote for the first time to an opposition alliance. Concerns over the political scandal partly contributed to the Malaysian currency plunging to a 17-year low beyond 4 ringgit to the dollar earlier this month.

Apart from Najib’s resignation, the demands being sought are institutional reforms that will make the government more transparent and accountable.

August 29, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Defying authorities, thousands of Malaysians wearing yellow T-shirts and blowing horns began gathering Saturday in Kuala Lumpur for a major rally to demand the resignation of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The crowds were undeterred by heavy police presence after authorities declared the rally illegal, blocked the organizer’s website and banned yellow attire and the logo of Bersih, the coalition for clean and fair election that’s behind the protest.

Najib has been fighting for political survival after leaked documents in July showed he received some $700 million in his private accounts from entities linked to indebted state fund 1MDB. He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East, fired his critical deputy and four other Cabinet members as well as the attorney general investigating him.

Protesters in yellow Bersih T-shirts and headbands converged at five different locations, in preparation to march to areas surrounding the Independence Square, where celebrations to mark Malaysia’s 58th National Day will be held Monday.

Scores of riot police have sealed off roads leading to the square, which authorities have said is off-limits to protesters. Some activists were carrying canvas bags with the words “My Prime Minister Embarrasses Me.” Some held placards saying “We will not be silenced,” while others chanted “Bersih” and waved Malaysian flags.

In one area near the square, a comedian entertaining the crowd poked fun at Najib. Dressed up as an Arab, he pretended to hand over a multi-billion-ringgit check as a donation to a rally participant. “Stop treating us like fools, Mr. prime minister,” said businessman Tony Wong. “We deserve to know the truth about 1MDB. Where has the money gone to?”

1MDB, set up by Najib in 2009 to develop new industries, has accumulated 42 billion ringgit ($11.1 billion) in debt after its energy ventures abroad faltered. Critics have voiced concern about 1MDB’s massive debt and lack of transparency.

Concerns over the political scandal partly contributed to the Malaysian currency plunging to a 17-year low, beyond 4 ringgit to the dollar, earlier this month. Apart from Najib’s resignation, the rally, which will go on overnight, is also demanding institutional reforms that will make the government more transparent and accountable.

A nation of 30 million, Malaysia is predominantly Malay Muslim with significant Chinese and Indian minorities. Its ambitions to rise from a middle income to a developed nation this decade have been stymied by slow-paced reforms and Najib’s increasing authoritarianism.

This is the fourth rally organized by Bersih, and the third one since Najib took power in 2009. Tens of thousands of people turned up for the last two rallies in 2011 and 2012, which were dispersed by authorities using tear gas and water cannon.

Bersih activists said rallies were also held simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Kuching in Malaysia’s Sarawak state and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah state. Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed has warned police will take action if the rally turns violent or protesters break the law. He has said that protesters should show their unhappiness with the government at the ballot box, not in the streets.

Support for Najib’s National Front has eroded in the last two general elections. It won in 2013, but lost the popular vote for the first time to an opposition alliance.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Nine more members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Egypt, Anadolu has reported. In the same session, four other members of the movement were each sent to prison for four years.

Those convicted by the Criminal Court in Ismailiyah included a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Office, Mohamed Taha Wahdan, and the local spokesman for the movement in the city, Ali Abdullah, in addition to the main Brotherhood official in the governorate, Sabry Khalafallah.

All were arrested following the dispersal of a pro-democracy demonstration in December 2013. They were accused of attempting to undermine Egypt’s security, public safety, taking part in an illegal demonstration and being affiliated with Egypt’s largest Islamic movement.

A source in Ismailiyah added that the Appeal Court had released a number of pro-Brotherhood individuals on bail.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20736-more-brotherhood-members-get-life-sentences.

September 09, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Thousands of Lebanese demonstrators braved a sandstorm and oppressive humidity to take to Beirut streets on Wednesday and rally against government dysfunction, as politicians met for the first round of talks aimed at averting a political crisis that stemmed from a trash crisis that has engulfed the country’s capital.

Activists near the parliament building, which was closed off by security forces, shouted “thieves!” and hurled eggs as politicians’ convoys drove by. Tensions rose further after a morning gathering of lawmakers and senior politicians ended without results, while the Cabinet convened late into the night to discuss the deadlock. Outside the government building, protesters chanted: “Revolution, revolution against the system.”

Just before midnight, the government said it had approved a plan that promises to end the trash crisis. “They are feeling the sand shifting under them,” Elias Nassour, a 28-year-old protester, said of the government leaders. “Nothing will pass so easily anymore. They can’t belittle us anymore.”

The trash crisis has ignited the largest Lebanese protests in years and has emerged as a festering symbol of the government’s paralysis and failure to provide basic services. It was sparked by popular anger over the heaps of trash accumulating in Beirut’s streets after authorities closed the capital’s main landfill on July 17 and failed to provide an alternative.

The protests quickly moved beyond just the trash in the streets to target an entire political class that has dominated the country and undermined its growth since the civil war ended in 1990. Lebanon has a confessional power-sharing system that often leads to incessant bickering and cronyism among the country’s politicians.

Thousands of people have taken part in huge demonstrations over the past two weeks. Among other things, they are demanding new parliament elections, to be followed by presidential elections. The country has been without a president for over a year, and members of parliament have illegally extended their term twice amid disputes over an election law.

After meeting for three and a half hours, leaders of Lebanon’s various sectarian blocs issued a brief statement, saying the talks would resume in a week. “They did not even bother to meet tomorrow or the day after, they postponed it for a week and came out without any decision,” said Assaad Thebian, an organizer with the main group behind the protests, which calls itself “You Stink.”

“They showed that they are indifferent and should not be in leadership positions,” he told The Associated Press. “This dialogue is a joke. They are meeting to see how they can split the cheese,” said Marwan Basha, a 57-year-old engineer taking part in the sit-in near parliament, as riot police stood nearby. His T-shirt had Arabic words on the front, asking: “Where is the water, where is the electricity, where are the job opportunities?”

On the barbed wire that separates protesters from the building, activists pinned a large banner with the pictures of the 128 members of parliament reading: “You have failed at everything … Go Home.”

So far, the only response to the growing protest movement has been a promise by the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, for the high-level talks among the politicians. His call has been backed by the main political leaders, who attended the meeting Wednesday, but it was unclear how such talks among the same veteran politicians being vilified by the protesters would help break the deadlock.

The leaders are deeply divided over core issues, such as what a new election law would look like, and whether it should be passed before or after a president is elected. Following the meeting, a government official said they discussed the urgent need to elect a president. Adnan Daher said the next dialogue session would be held on Sept. 16.

At Beirut’s main Martyrs’ Square, thousands waved red-and-white Lebanese flags and chanted anti-government slogans as night fell. “The people want to topple the regime,” many shouted — a chant common during the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.

Ahmad Amhaz, a 23-year-old activist who is among eight who have been on a hunger strike for days, called for the resignation of the environment minister. “This dialogue is a failure. If they agree, we starve and if they disagree we get killed,” he said. His flip-flops were plastered with photographs of Lebanese politicians.

Earlier on Wednesday, 61-year-old Albert Aswad who owns a printing house, brought more than two dozen eggs and a bag of tomatoes and hurled them at the politicians’ convoys as they passed by on the way to their meeting. “Politicians in this country have no morals,” he said.

Just before the morning meeting, Prime Minister Tammam Salam urged the politicians to make every effort to help end the paralysis. He then called for a Cabinet meeting. “I hope at the Cabinet meeting today … there will be an immediate solution to rid the country of garbage as a way to propagate trust in the country,” Salam told journalists.

After nearly six hours of Cabinet meeting, and shortly before midnight, minister of Agriculture Akram Chehayeb said a plan has been approved to remove trash from the streets, open new landfills and allow municipalities to manage the portfolio previously handled by the government.

Details of implementation are still unclear, but the plan meets some of the protesters demands, such as passing the trash handling to the municipalities level.

Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Beirut.

Thursday, 03 September 2015

More than 20 Jordanian parties on Wednesday criticized the new election law for 2015, which was announced by the government two days ago. The government said that it adopted the election law of 1989, Quds Press reported.

In a press conference held in the head office of the United Jordanian Front, the representative of the parties said that lawmakers did not adopt the mixed electoral law, which maintains involvement of political parties in the political and parliamentarian life.

The opposition parties said that the “adoption of this law [of 1989] does not achieve the interests of the country or citizens in the upcoming parliamentarian elections and the parties will re-evaluate their positions towards the elections.”

In addition, the parties said that this law does not contribute to the development of the country or the reformation of the political process, which has been ongoing for a long time. They called on MPs to turn down this law for the sake of the country.

The parties said that the new law is based on prioritizing social representation over political processes.

The Islamic Action Front, which is the largest acting party in the country, in addition to other Islamist, secular and leftist parties, has been vocal in its opposition to the law.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20840-jordanian-parties-criticise-election-law.