Category: Uncategorized

November 30, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Europe’s Muslim population will continue to grow over the next several decades even if all immigration to the continent should stop, according to a study published Thursday. The Pew Research Center report modeled three scenarios for estimating the number of Muslims who would be living in Europe by 2050. All three used a mid-2016 estimate of 25.8 million as a baseline, but assumed different future migration rates.

Under the “zero migration” scenario, an estimated 30 million Muslims would make up 7.4 percent of Europe’s population by 2050 compared to the 4.9 percent they comprised last year, the report projected. The researchers said that is mostly because Muslims are on average 13 years younger than other Europeans and also have a higher birthrate, the Pew researchers said.

The study estimates 58.8 million Muslims would account for 11.2 percent of the population in a “medium migration” scenario that has migration maintaining a “regular speed” — defined by the Pew researchers as migration motivated by economic, educational and family reasons — but not for seeking asylum as a refugee.

In the “high migration” scenario, the study projects that the record flow of migrants who came to Europe between 2015 and 2016 would continue indefinitely, resulting in 75 million Muslims in Europe, a 14 percent increase, by the middle of the century.

Even with the most immigration, Muslims would “still be considerably smaller than the populations of both Christians and people with no religion in Europe,” the researchers concluded. Muslim immigrants have been a politically sensitive topic in Europe following the influx of newcomers in 2015 and 2016. Some countries have seen backlashes that have included populist parties campaigning on anti-Islam messages.

The study was based on census and survey data, population registers, immigration data and other sources. The 30 countries it covered include the 28 European Union members, plus Norway and Switzerland.

Not all countries would be affected evenly by future immigration, according to the Pew report. In the high migration scenario, Germany and Sweden would have the biggest increases because both countries took in the most asylum-seekers during the height of the refugee crisis two years ago.

While Muslims made up 6 percent of Germany’s population last year, their proportion would go up to 20 percent by 2050. Sweden’s Muslims, who were at 8 percent in 2016, would account for 31 percent of the population in that same scenario.

Meanwhile, some countries that had comparatively few Muslim residents in 2016 would continue to have few by 2050 in all three scenarios.

October 10, 2016

Morocco’s King Mohammed today named Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister for a second term after his party won the most seats in last week’s election, a senior party member said.

After five years in government, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) party won 125 seats while the rival Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) took 102, in a tight race for the 395-seat parliament that will complicate the formation of a coalition.

The elections were a test for Morocco’s constitutional monarchy, five years after the king devolved some powers to an elected government to ease Arab Spring-style protests demanding democratic change. The king still holds most executive authority and names the premier from the winning party in elections.

“I can confirm his majesty named him as the new prime minister,” Mustapha Ramid, outgoing justice minister and a senior PJD party official, told Reuters, after attending the nomination of Benkirane in Casablanca.

Benkirane confirmed his nomination to local news websites.

Under Morocco’s multi-party system, no one party can secure an outright majority, and must negotiate with others to form a coalition government. The PAM’s strong position means the PJD must join with at least three other parties to have a house majority.

Since being appointed prime minister in 2011, Benkirane has pursued economic reforms to reduce the budget deficit and tackle subsidies. The PJD has been popular for its anti-corruption message. No party in the vote directly challenged the palace.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Abu Dhabi UAE (SPX)

Dec 04, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build a strategic partnership in the field of space exploration.

The MoU was inked by Chairman of the UAE Space Agency Khalifa Mohammed Al-Rumaithi and General Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency ROSCOMOS Igor Komarov.

The deal allows for extensive cooperation in space policy, human capital development and training, as well as in future development, ground station operations support and general awareness, the UAE agency said in an e-mailed statement.

The UAE Space Agency is keen to benefit from the expertise of other space programs, Al-Rumaithi said at his meeting with Komarov.

The meeting aimed to discuss ways of boosting cooperation between the UAE and Russian programs in the space industry and exploration, Al-Rumaithi added.

Conquering space is part of the UAE’s strategy to diversify the economy of the country, a major oil supplier, away from oil.

The UAE, which already developed several research and observation satellites, aims to launch a Mars mission by 2023.

Source: Space Daily.


April 11, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Pakistan’s parliament voted unanimously Friday to stay out of the Saudi-led air campaign targeting Shiite rebels in Yemen, offering instead to mediate a solution, in a blow to Saudi Arabia’s attempts to build a Sunni front in an increasingly sectarian conflict.

Pakistan’s decision is unlikely to greatly affect the Saudi-led coalition’s military capabilities. But it was an embarrassment to the kingdom from a traditionally close ally, now reluctant to get pulled into a conflict that is threatening to escalate into a new proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia had been seeking to expand the coalition, made up of fellow Gulf nations as well as Egypt and Sudan, which has waged a nearly 3-week campaign of airstrikes against the rebels, known as Houthis, and is reportedly considering a ground incursion. At the same time, Shiite powerhouse Iran, which backs the Houthis, also lobbied Pakistan and other Sunni nations to back a cease-fire and a negotiated end to the conflict.

A senior official in the United Arab Emirates — a member of the coalition — lashed out angrily at Pakistan, accusing it of choosing Iran over the Gulf nations at a time when they face an “existential confrontation” in the Yemen conflict.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said on his Twitter account that Pakistan should look out for its strategic relations with Gulf nations, pointing to the Gulf’s economic and investment help to the South Asian nation.

“Contradictory and ambiguous positions in this existential matter will cost (Pakistan) dearly,” he wrote. Airstrikes along with escalated fighting on the ground between the Houthis and supporters of Yemen’s beleaguered president threaten to push Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, into collapse. On Friday, the U.N. and International Committee of the Red Cross succeeded in bringing in the first two plane loads of aid, delivering tons of medical and humanitarian supplies to the capital, Sanaa, to relieve hospitals overburdened by casualties.

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States, accuse Iran of arming the Houthis. The Gulf countries view the rebels’ power grab as a move by Iran to establish a stronghold on their southern flank. Iran says it backs the rebels politically and with humanitarian aid but denies sending weapons. The Houthis have full or partial control over 11 of Yemen’s 22 provinces, backed by military units loyal to ousted autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The current president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was forced to flee the country last month, leaving a shaky collection of forces on the ground to fight the Houthis — including military units still loyal to him, militiamen and Sunni tribesmen. Al-Qaida’s Yemen branch is also fighting the Houthis.

The coalition is reportedly considering a ground incursion, likely including Saudi and Egyptian forces, once airstrikes have sufficiently weakened the Houthis and Saleh’s forces, a process that could take weeks. On Friday, Egypt’s defense minister met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh to discuss the coalition’s operations.

According to Pakistani officials, Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan to send troops to take part in the campaign. Pakistani troops have considerable experience fighting militants in mountainous terrain similar to Yemen’s.

After the parliament vote Friday, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Ahmed Asiri, still held out hope the Pakistani government would choose to participate. But he said even if it didn’t, other coalition forces are as well trained as the Pakistanis. “Not joining on the ground, sea or sea level will not obstruct the coalition operations,” he told reporters.

The debate put Pakistan in an awkward position. It has long had military ties to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sheltered by Saudi Arabia after the coup that overthrew him in 1999. For weeks, Sunni hard-liners, including a group linked to militants, have organized rallies around Pakistan denouncing the Yemeni rebels and urging Islamabad to join the coalition.

But participation threatened to enflame Pakistan’s own sectarian divisions. Pakistan is predominantly Sunni but has a Shiite minority that is frequently targeted by Sunni extremists. It also has important ties with Iran, with which it shares a long border. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was in Islamabad for several days before the vote, meeting Pakistani officials and calling for a cease-fire and negotiations on creating a broad-based government in Yemen.

On Friday, after days of debate, Pakistan’s legislature declared the country “should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict” so that it can help negotiate a diplomatic solution. Sirajul Haq, the head of Pakistan’s powerful Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan party, said Islamabad could “play the role of a mediator.” Sharif was present, suggesting his support for the decision.

It called for Pakistan’s diplomats to “initiate steps” before the U.N. Security Council “to bring about an immediate cease-fire in Yemen” and warned of regional implications if the conflict becomes an all-out sectarian war.

In a nod to Saudi Arabia, they expressed “unequivocal support” for the kingdom and vowed to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with it if its territory or people came under threat. Yemeni political analyst Sami Ghaleb said Pakistan’s position was “disappointing” but won’t cause cracks in the coalition. However, he said, it could prompt Saudi Arabia to “reconsider” its approach. “The airstrikes alone are not yielding results so far,” he said.

Despite airstrikes that targeted weapons depots, installations and command center of the rebels and allied forces, their fighters still managed to make significant territorial gains on Thursday, capturing Ataq, the capital of oil-rich Shabwa province. The area is also a stronghold of al-Qaida.

On Friday, a suicide bomber hit a police department in Shabwa’s Bayhan district, controlled by the Houthis, tribal officials said. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack, saying dozens were killed and injured, though the casualties could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, humanitarian groups are struggling to cope with the rising casualty numbers and shrinking food and fuel supplies. The World Health Organization said Wednesday that at least 643 civilians and combatants have been killed since March 19, before the air campaign began. At least 2,226 have been wounded, and another 100,000 have fled their homes.

“The humanitarian situation in Yemen is getting worse by the hour,” the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, told reporters in Geneva on Friday. He urged all parties to agree to “an immediate humanitarian pause” to deliver life-saving aid.

The two aid planes, sent in by the ICRC and the U.N. Children’s agency, were the first international assistance deliveries to arrive in Sanaa. A smaller delivery made it into in the southern, port city of Aden by boat earlier this week.

The cargos totaled 32 tons (35 U.S. tons) of supplies, enough to treat up to 1,000 wounded, provide water for 80,000 people and micronutrients for 20,000 children, according to officials from the two organizations.

“The supplies we have managed to bring in today can make the difference between life and death for children and their families — but we know they are not enough, and we are planning more of these airlifts,” the UNICEF representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, said from the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Ground fighting between Hadi loyalists and rebel and allied fighters continued in the port city of Aden, Yemen’s second-largest city and a main bastion of Hadi’s allies. Aden’s oil refinery, the main source of fuel for the city, was shut down after Hadi loyalists stormed it, accusing it of shipping fuel to their rivals, a refinery official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Cairo, Aya Batrawy in Dubai and Cara Anna in New York contributed to this report.

By Donna Abu-Nasr

Jul 9, 2014

Iraqi laboratory technician Younes was smoking a shisha water pipe and playing cards with his friends in the Iraqi city of Mosul last week when a dozen men with Kalashnikov rifles over their shoulders showed up.

“They told the cafe owner that allowing such forms of entertainment was sinful and they didn’t leave until he pledged to ban it,” said Younes, 30, who was too scared of reprisals to give his full name. “We’re hurtling fast toward the unknown.”

The group, dressed in baggy pants and long shirts, were members of the Islamic State, extremists who set up a caliphate in the Sunni Muslim heartland. Younes had been among the Sunnis who had welcomed the takeover of Mosul last month, believing it would liberate them from the military grip of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

The Islamic State is now starting to alienate the people who cheered its swift takeover of their cities and towns as it imposes a strict Islamic lifestyle. Since their takeover, the militants haven’t been able to compensate state workers who haven’t been paid or restore government-supplied water and electricity, which have been scarce.

Euphoria Over

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government halted salaries for employees living in areas under Islamic State’s control, said Noureddin Qablan, vice chairman of the council in Nineveh province, whose capital is Mosul.

The Islamic State called itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS, until the end of last month. It may eventually try to form its own social welfare system to win local support, emulating Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and the Palestinian Hamas faction, Qablan said.

“But they won’t succeed because people don’t want to live the kind of life that will come with the welfare system,” he said. At the start of the crisis, people cheered “but that was the euphoria of winning. Now, people realize it’s not only about winning, it’s also about making things work,” he said.

Unlike after the U.S.-led invasion, the al-Qaeda breakaway group may be able to survive local displeasure with no American troops on the ground for moderate Sunni Iraqis to turn to, said Austin Long, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“So even if the population in Mosul gets fed up, it’s not clear they will be able to then fight back against the Islamic State very effectively,” Long said in a telephone interview. “The Islamic State is nothing if not a very ruthless and effective military organization.”

The Awakening

The Islamic State evolved from al-Qaeda in Iraq, which U.S. troops and Sunni militias defeated after its powers peaked in 2006 to 2007 in a campaign that was known as the awakening. It regrouped and was able to expand last year in Syria, where a civil war has raged for more than three years, attracting fighters from Chechnya, Afghanistan and Europe.

The group’s push into Mosul last month came at a time of discontent among Iraqi Sunnis who feel marginalized by the Shiite-dominated government of Maliki. Though they don’t share the same militant values as the Islamic State, some Sunni clans joined the group, driven by anger at Maliki, whom they accuse of excluding Sunnis from government.

Now, some tribes in Salahuddin province have formed armed groups to fight the Islamic State, tribal leader Wanas al-Jabbar told al-Mada Press. He said the groups voluntarily took up arms and are not coordinating with the government, according to the Iraqi news agency, which says it’s independent.

Al-Jabbar said the Islamic State “deceived” some people in the early days of its takeover, “but those who have been duped have rebelled against its atrocities.”

Economic Grievances

Some of the complaints have economic roots, said Mohsin Khan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. The Maliki government has been hiring workers steadily over the past seven years, with most of the jobs going to its Shiite supporters, Khan said.

“Sunnis have economic grievances that the Maliki government has largely ignored,” said Khan. “Without the support of dissatisfied Sunni tribes, ISIL would not have been able to gain traction and achieve such rapid success.”

The Islamic State will have to decide at some point if it wants to consolidate power and govern or just be a war machine, said Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Hezbollah and Hamas are “ruling over their own people, whereby these people are coming from the outside,” Nasr said. “It creates an open question: ISIS can only govern if it’s able to do so by recruiting locals.”

Tired People

Younes said he’s not interested in any kind of social services the Islamic State could provide. What he wants is a fair government in Baghdad that would treat its citizens equally irrespective of their religious sect.

“The people are tired,” he said by telephone.

The evenings that follow fast-breaking meals of Ramadan, in previous years dedicated to family or gatherings at cafes or entertainment parks, are now spent close to home.

“I don’t go to any cafes anymore,” said Younes. “I just sit with my friends on the pavement in front of my house so that if ISIL comes we can immediately disappear into our homes.”

Source: Bloomberg.


04 October 2014 Saturday

Campaigning for Tunisia’s parliamentary election officially kicked off Saturday, which marks the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast.

Parties and candidates will campaign for 21 days for the October 26 poll, the second since a popular uprising ousted long-serving president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Tunisia has about 5.2 million voters eligible to cast ballot for 13,000 candidates vying for a seat in the 217-member National Assembly.

There are 190 political parties in Tunisia, most of which emerged following the 2011 uprising that ended Ben Ali’s rule.

Tunisia will also hold presidential election on November 23.

Source: World Bulletin.


15 August 2014 Friday

Police in Crimea have reportedly started targeting Muslim women with headscarfs with identification checks ahead of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s to the Black Sea peninsula on Thursday.

Muslim women in the capital Simferopol (Akmescit) and Bakhchysarai accused Russian police of pulling women with headscarfs over for passport checks and treating them as if they were ‘enemies’ on their Facebook profiles.

Eider Ismailov, the assistant mufti of Crimea, said that the Islamic Religious Affairs authority in Crimea had not received any official complaints, but said the measures may have been taken for security reasons.

“This shows that Russian police do not trust headscarfed women and see them as a separate group the the general public. This is nothing but an insult against our beliefs as Muslims,” Ismailov said.

Meanwhile, madrasas (religious schools) in Crimea are being searched for banned reading materials, another assistant mufti, Esadullah Bairov, told the Qirim News Agency.

Three madrasas were searched during August 13, ahead of a law that will come into force in 2015 that bans a number of popular Islamic books.

“The book are removed as a warning, as the law is not in force in Crimea yet. Still no extremist literature was found in Crimean madrasas that were searched,” Bairov said.

Some Islamic books that have been banned include the work of popular 20th century Turkish scholar Said Nursi and the famous ‘Fortress of the Muslim’ book of supplications of the Prophet Muhammad, which was collected by ancient Muslim scholar Saeed bin Ali bin Wahf Al-Qahtani. A certain biography of the Prophet Muhammad is also banned.

Around 300,000 Muslims in Crimea, mainly native Crimean Tatars, are having to adjust to new laws enforced by Russia after their homeland was annexed from Ukraine following a referendum in March.


Since the annexation in March, around 3,000 Crimean Tatars have left the peninsula for mainland Ukraine.

The U.N. has also pointed to the erosion of human rights in Crimea, which remains under the occupation of pro-Russian militias who particularly threaten the Crimean Tatars.

Crimean Tatars have complained that they have been targeted for speaking their Turkic language in public and have had their homes marked by pro-Russian militiamen.

The Crimean Tatar Mejlis (Parliament) was also threatened with closure after they organized protests for former Mejlis head Mustafa Jemilev, who has been barred from entering the peninsula for five years along with current leader Refat Chubarov.

Earlier this month, Qirim News Agency general coordinator Ismet Yuksel was also given the same five-year ban.

The Crimean Tatars have largely opposed the annexation of Crimea by Russia, fearing a repeat of the events of 1944 when they were completely expelled as part of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s policy.

They gradually started returning in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, but still live as a minority in their homeland as they were displaced by ethnic Russian settlers who migrated there later on.

Since the annexation, Russia has been granting Russian citizenship to the people of Crimea in replacement of their Ukrainian nationality. Crimean Tatars, who have campaigned to reject Russian citizenship, reserve the right to remain as Ukrainian citizens, but will by default become foreigners in their homeland.

Source: World Bulletin.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Despite the well-known difficulties of estimating large crowds, it is clear that the numbers game was played by the opposition and the military to orchestrate and justify the coup d’etat against President Mohamed Morsi. For whatever reason, several external parties also used the numbers claimed to validate their support for the military intervention.

The Army presented a video to the media taken by military helicopter of demonstrations in Cairo to justify their coup; emphasizing that the entire population had risen up against President Morsi and as such, it had no choice but to align itself with the people. No one questioned the fact that some of the video footage presented as evidence against Morsi was actually the filming of a pro-Morsi demonstration.

Disturbingly, certain countries in the west and leading political figures supported the argument without confirming the veracity of the figures quoted. They went along with the coup, which to all intents and purposes targeted not just the elected president but the entire process of democratic transition in Egypt, on the basis that this was the will of the overwhelming majority of the people.

To give their statistics an air of respectability and credence, the anti-Morsi alliance claimed that their crowd statistics were obtained from coverage and analyses conducted by Google Earth. Though never confirmed by the satellite giant, the estimates given ranged from 14.3 million to 33 million demonstrators. A search of the net revealed no official statement by Google Earth to confirm these claims. Meanwhile, MEMO requested a comment from Google but has not received a reply.

What made matters even more dubious was the intervention by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said that the army had to choose between “intervention or chaos”. He added that while “seventeen million” on the streets is not an election, “it is an awesome manifestation of people power.”

Ten years ago, on 15 February 2003, the organizers and media reported that two million British citizens marched in London against the war in Iraq. The Metropolitan Police estimated the crowd to be at least 750,000. Notwithstanding, Mr Blair ignored his people with consummate disdain. The enormity of that historic demonstration was recorded by a Metropolitan Police helicopter. At the time, London was not alone in its opposition to the invasion. There were simultaneous demonstrations in 800 other cities around the world, and an estimated 30 million protesters participated in what was considered the largest global demonstrations in one day in the history of mankind. That said, comparing the videos of these demonstrations to that of 30/6, it seems highly improbable that 30 million people or even a tenth of that figure were mobilized in Egypt on 30 June.

Although Google is yet to confirm the huge figures quoted by the Salvation Front and Tamarod, western researchers had previously used Google Earth Ruler to measure the capacity of Tahrir Square and the accessible spaces surrounding it. Having used this method himself, Dr Clark McPhail an emeritus professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois, and an expert in the science of crowd-sizing, ruled out the possibility of fitting one million people into the square.

While Cairo is by no means representative of Egypt it has, like most capitals, been the center of major national protests. The area of Tahrir Square is 53,000 square meters. While the area from its peripheries to the other side of the Nile across the Nile Palace Bridge is 13,000 sq m. The area from Tahrir Square to the 6 October Bridge is 20,000 sq m. Accordingly, the total area that contained the demonstrators was 86,000 square meters.

Assuming that the highest number of people which can be squeezed into one square meter is four, it means that the maximum capacity of Tahrir Square and its environs on 30 June was 344,000 demonstrators.

As for the area of the Presidential Palace and its environs, the video shown by the opposition revealed that the length of the demonstration was 1,400 meters (just under a kilometer and a half); it had a width of 45 meters, giving a total area of 63,000 sq m.

Added to this, there was another demonstration north of the palace in an area of 9,000 sq m. Altogether, therefore, the total area accessible to the demonstrators in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace was 72,000 square meters.

Accordingly, the total number of demonstrators around the Presidential Palace, using the base figure of four people per square meter, would be 288,000. The grand total from Tahrir Square and the Presidential Palace area would therefore be about 632,000 protesters on the day. These calculations are consistent with findings of various researchers and bloggers.

Even if the figures are stretched, the number of June 30 protesters could not have been more than a few million people in the whole country. In fact, no credible media, even those which inflated the numbers and exaggerated them, ever used anything other than the vague term, “millions of protesters”. The Egyptian media, however, were not as restrained in their reporting. Muhammad Hasanayn Heikal, the veteran Egyptian writer and former information minister under Gamal Abdel Nasser described the demonstrations on June 30 as “unprecedented in the modern human politics, larger than whatever England or France had witnessed.”

However, there is nothing in the conduct of the Egyptian media prior to June 30 that suggests that they would offer an impartial estimate of the crowds on the day. Their anti-Morsi and anti-Brotherhood campaign throughout last year and even after his overthrow, as well as the media’s role in endorsing, publicizing and cheering Tamarod’s actions from its inception until the realization of its aim, all prevent us from regarding the Egyptian media as a neutral and reliable source on the June 30 protests.

It is incredible that the coup plotters’ reference to Google Earth has never been viewed critically in Egypt, the Middle East or indeed in the west. People in positions of authority and influence have accepted the figures without any critical analysis or corroboration. Whether this was on account of their own laziness or because of complicity with the anti-Morsi opposition is anyone’s guess.

What is absolutely certain is that today Egypt stands perilously close to the brink of national disaster. With no constitution, no parliament and a civilian president handpicked by the military, the country has become politically paralyzed and polarized. Although the process of democratic transition which started on 25 January 2011 has clearly suffered a setback, it has not been aborted. The revolutionary Egyptians who brought down the Mubarak regime in 18 days will, in the fullness of time, regain the initiative and restore democratic legitimacy for the greater good. Unsubstantiated Google Earth estimates cannot replace the ballot box in ascertaining the real democratic will of the people.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


November 27, 2012

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh held a day of mourning Tuesday for the 112 people killed in a weekend fire at a garment factory, and labor groups planned more protests to demand better worker safety in an industry notorious for operating in firetraps.

The national flag flew at half-staff in government buildings. The country’s factories were closed as a mark of respect, and prayers for the dead were held in places of worship across the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.

Relatives and colleagues gathered near the site of Saturday’s blaze, many wearing black badges as a sign of mourning. “I’ve lost my son and the only member to earn for the family,” said Nilufar Khatoon, the mother of a worker who died. “What shall I do now?”

Some labor organizations planned rallies later Tuesday. About 15,000 workers protested Monday blocks away from the gutted factory, blocking traffic on a major highway in a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.

In a statement issued Tuesday the European Union deplored the loss of lives in the fire and urged the Bangladesh government to improve working conditions in garment factories. “The European Union has always been very clear about the need to improve working standards and safety in this sector,” said the statement. European market is a major export destination of Bangladesh textiles.

The fire was the deadliest of many to hit garment factories in Bangladesh in recent years. The industry has grown from nothing to become the country’s dominant exporter in little more than three decades, but factories often ignore safety in the rush to supply major retailers in the U.S. and Europe. More than 300 people have died over the past six years in Bangladesh garment-factory fires.

Wal-Mart said Monday that the factory, owned by Tazreen Fashions Ltd., had been making clothes for the U.S. retail giant without its knowledge. Tazreen was given a “high risk” safety rating after a May 2011 audit conducted by an “ethical sourcing” assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a document posted on the website of Tazreen’s parent company, the Tuba Group.

Wal-Mart said the factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart but that a supplier subcontracted work to it “in direct violation of our policies.” The retailer said it stopped doing business with the supplier Monday.

“The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh,” Wal-Mart said in a statement.

Survivors of the weekend fire said an exit door was locked, fire extinguishers didn’t work and apparently were there just to impress inspectors, and that when the fire alarm went off, bosses told workers to return to their sewing machines. Victims were trapped or jumped to their deaths from the eight-story building, which had no emergency exits.

Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director, said investigators suspect a short circuit caused the fire. But he added that if the building had had even one emergency exit, “the casualties would have been much lower.”

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which has offered $1,250 to each of the families of the dead, urged investigators not to rule out sabotage. “Local and international conspirators are trying to destroy our garment industry,” association President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said. He provided no details.

Investigator Mainuddin Sarkar said the government is “looking into all possibilities, including sabotage.” Police said Tuesday they were questioning a woman accused of trying to set fire to another factory in the area on Sunday. Local police chief Habibur Rahman said police also arrested a man who the woman says paid her to set the fire, and that police were investigating whether the two are linked at all to the Tazreen fire.

Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories. The country earns about $20 billion a year from exports of garments, mainly to the U.S. and Europe.

Associated Press writer Al Emrun Garjan contributed to this report.

Algerian healthcare unions threatened new strike actions next month, El Watan reported on Thursday (September 29th). A work stoppage, with the exception of emergencies, is slated for October 9th. The strikes will then increase by one day each week. Healthcare professionals are complaining of unsatisfactory working conditions. Earlier this year, Algerian paramedics staged a 2-day walkout to demand that the government comply with its promise to implement a salary-related “special status” change.
Source: Magharebia.