Friday, April 29, 2011

Alabama: Tornado-ravaged communities tally their losses

Los Angeles Times: Tornado-ravaged communities tally their losses
In hard-hit DeKalb County, Ala., where 33 people died, residents help one another with shelters and the cleanup. In Tuscaloosa, the mayor says the city is living a 'nightmare.'

By Esmeralda Bermudez, Kate Linthicum and Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times

April 29, 2011, 7:19 p.m.
Reporting from Rainsville, Ala., Tuscaloosa, Ala.,— On a day when President Obama toured tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa and declared that he'd never seen devastation like it, residents of DeKalb County — a lesser-known region of corn and chicken farms about 150 miles northeast — were quietly counting the cost of their own tragedy.

There were 33 dead and more than 200 hurt in the county so far, making DeKalb one of the hardest-hit regions in the multi-state tornado siege that has killed at least 333 people and injured more than 2,000 this week, the deadliest twister outbreak since 1925.

Across DeKalb on Friday, two days after hundreds of homes were reduced to splinters by a twister that plowed a 25-mile path through the county, teenagers cut felled trees with chainsaws and mothers raked up debris. With rain expected early next week, people scrambled to fix roofs.

In Rainsville, one of the county hubs, the civic center was gutted, as was the nearby Huddle House, a favorite social spot. Neighborhoods had no electricity, running water was scarce, and cows were roaming loose.

Jeff Mann, a pastor, spent the day consoling rescue workers who had witnessed too much death. One deputy he counseled had helped recover 28 bodies. "Today, all these guys look like they're doing fine, but tomorrow you'll start to see them with glassy eyes from all that they've seen," Mann said.

Kandi Howard, 49, a volunteer at Destiny Church International, drove through town handing out cases of water and offering rides. It was better than the helpless feeling of sitting around. "Everybody's heard of Tuscaloosa, but people will wonder, 'Where the heck is Rainsville?' " she said.

When the twister bore down on 39-year-old Sonya Mahon's home on Lingerfelt Road on Wednesday, she ran into the bedroom closet with her son and 9-month-old granddaughter. Suddenly four teenage boys she did not know rushed into the closet with them. They had been driving down the road and, desperate to escape the twister, picked her sturdy-looking brick house as a shelter.

Afterward, her home was still standing, though wooden houses on either side were destroyed. Families had managed to survive in them by hiding under mattresses and in a bathroom. Down the street, two women died.

"It feels terrible," said Wes Mahon, 46, Sonya's husband, surveying the damage. "It feels like you've got to start all over again."

Some bodies had to be buried right away because they couldn't be embalmed and the freezers weren't big enough to fit them all, said Lt. George Thorpe, an Alabama state trooper.

This northeastern Alabama county is proud of its self-sufficiency, and perhaps nothing better illustrated that quality than the emergency shelters that stood mostly empty Friday. People who had lost their homes had found shelter with family and friends.

"This county has learned over the years to take care of itself," said Mike Leath, director of the county's emergency medical agency. "They're very tightknit and very close."

On Friday morning, Obama and his family flew to Tuscaloosa, then traveled by motorcade through the city, where trees were toppled, neighborhoods flattened.

"I've never seen devastation like this," Obama said.

The president has promised full federal cooperation in disaster relief efforts. "We're going to make sure you're not forgotten," he told residents. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent personnel to Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In a radio interview, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said he had originally told federal emergency officials that his city was a disaster. But now, he said, "I would classify it as a nightmare."

Maddox estimated during an interview with "PBS NewsHour" that about 6,000 homes "were directly in the path of the tornado" and that an additional 15,000 homes may have been damaged.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jon Kyl criticizes White House on Syria

Syria is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.

The name Syria formerly comprised the entire region of the Levant, while the modern state encompasses the site of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.

The population of Syria is 74% Sunni Muslim, with a 13% Shia and Alawite population, 10% non-Muslim Christian and 3% Druze minorities. Since the 1960s, Alawite military officers have tended to dominate the country's politics. Some 90% of the population is Muslim, which includes Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, and others, while some 10% are Christians, which includes Arabs, Assyrians/Syriacs, and Armenians. Ethnic minorities include Kurdish, Assyrian/Syriac, Armenian, Turkmen, and Circassian populations.

The modern Syrian state was established as a French mandate and attained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was rocky, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949-1970. Syria has been under Emergency Law from 1962–2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered non-democratic. Since 1971 the power has been concentrated first to Hafez al-Assad and then to his son Bashar al-Assad.
Politico: Jon Kyl criticizes White House on Syria

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) called on the White House to withdraw the U.S. ambassador to Syria, freeze Syrian assets and impose sanctions on “any entity” involved in cooperation between the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Kyl, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, issued the critical statement on the administration’s response to the Bashar al-Assad government a day after the White House issued a travel warning for American citizens in the embattled country.

It has done little to aid the Syrian people who are being brutalized by the Assad regime — reportedly over 400 people have been killed by the regime in recent protests,” Kyl said. “At a minimum, the administration should recall Ambassador Ford, impose asset freezes and travel bans in cooperation with our European allies, and sanction any entity involved in cooperation between the Iranian leadership and the Assad regime.”

Kyl’s statement Wednesday was the latest development in what could prove to be a difficult few weeks for both the White House and Congress as lawmakers decide whether they need to meet a late-May deadline for authorizing military involvement in Libya.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have faced tough questions from lawmakers on why the U.S. has engaged militarily in Libya, but not Syria.

Kyl, who already announced his retirement from the Senate at the end of this term, challenged the president directly.

“President Obama should be proud to ally the United States with Syrians who are rising up against their tyrant,” Kyl said.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Around Africa: Algeria

Magreb countries

Algeria, officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria (also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria is a country in the Maghreb the western region of North Africa, including the five modern countries of Morocco with Western Sahara, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania.]

In terms of land area, it is the largest country on the Mediterranean Sea, the largest in the Arab world and second-largest on the African continent after Sudan, and the 11th-largest country in the world. It will become the largest African country once the secession of Southern Sudan from Sudan takes place on 9 July 2011.

Algeria is bordered in the northeast by Tunisia, in the east by Libya, in the west by Morocco, in the southwest by Western Sahara, Mauritania, and Mali, in the southeast by Niger, and in the north by the Mediterranean Sea. Its size is almost 2,400,000 square kilometres (926,645 sq mi), and it has an estimated population of 35.7 million (2010). The capital of Algeria is Algiers.

Algeria is a member of the Arab League, United Nations, African Union, and OPEC. It is also a founding member of the Arab Maghreb Union.

Ancient History
Algeria was known as the Numidia kingdom and its people were called Numidians. The kingdom of Numidia had early relations with Carthaginians, Romans and Ancient Greeks, the region was considered a fertile area, and Numidians were known for their fine cavalry.

The indigenous peoples of northern Africa eventually coalesced into a distinct native population, the Berbers.

After 1000 BC, the Carthaginians began establishing settlements along the coast. The Berbers seized the opportunity offered by the Punic Wars to become independent of Carthage, and Berber kingdoms began to emerge, most notably Numidia.

In 200 BC, they were once again taken over, this time by the Roman Republic. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD, Berbers became independent again in many regions, while the Vandals took control over other areas, where they remained until expelled by the Byzantine general Belisarius under the direction of Emperor Justinian I. The Byzantine Empire then retained a precarious grip on the east of the country until the coming of the Arabs in the 8th century.

Middle Ages
Berber people controlled much of the Maghreb region throughout the Middle Ages. The Berbers were made up of several tribes. The two main branches were Botr and Barnès, who were themselves divided into tribes, and again into sub-tribes. Each region of the Maghreb contained several tribes (for example, Sanhadja, Houaras, Zenata, Masmouda, Kutama, Awarba, and Berghwata). All these tribes had independence and made territorial decisions.

Several Berber dynasties emerged during the Middle Ages in the Maghreb, Sudan, Andalusia, Italy, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Egypt, and other nearby lands. Ibn Khaldun provides a table summarizing the Berber dynasties: Zirid, Banu Ifran, Maghrawa, Almoravid, Hammadid, Almohad, Merinid, Abdalwadid, Wattasid , Meknassa and Hafsid dynasties.

Arrival of Islam
When Muslim Arabs arrived in Algeria in the mid-7th century, a large number of locals converted to the new faith. After the fall of the Umayyad Arab Dynasty in 751, numerous local Berber dynasties emerged. Amongst those dynasties were the Aghlabids, Almohads, Abdalwadid, Zirids, Rustamids, Hammadids, Almoravids, and the Fatimids.

Having converted the Berber Kutama of Kabylie to its cause, the Shia Fatimids overthrew the Rustamids, and conquered Egypt, leaving Algeria and Tunisia to their Zirid vassals. When the latter rebelled, the Shia Fatimids sent in the Banu Hilal, a populous Arab tribe, to weaken them.

Spanish enclaves
The Spanish expansionist policy in North Africa began with the Catholic monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon and their regent Cisneros, once the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula was completed. Several towns and outposts on the Algerian coast were conquered and occupied by the Spanish Empire: Mers El Kébir (1505), Oran (1509), Algiers (1510) and Bugia (1510). On 15 January 1510 the King of Algiers, Samis El Felipe, was forced into submission to the king of Spain. King El Felipe called for help from the corsairs Hayreddin Barbarossa and Oruç Reis who previously helped Andalusian Muslims and Jews escape from Spanish oppression in 1492. In 1516, Oruç Reis conquered Algiers with the support of 1,300 Turkish soldiers on board 16 Galliots and became ruler, with Algiers joining the Ottoman Empire.

The Spanish fort of Santa Cruz, Oran.The Spaniards left Algiers in 1529, Bujia in 1554, Mers El Kébir and Oran in 1708. The Spanish returned in 1732 when the armada of the Duke of Montemar was victorious in the Battle of Aïn-el-Turk; Spain recaptured Oran and Mers El Kébir. Both cities were held until 1792, when they were sold by King Charles IV of Spain to the Bey of Algiers.

Ottoman rule
The Moorish ambassador of the Barbary States to the Court of Queen Elizabeth I of England.Algeria was made part of the Ottoman Empire by Hayreddin Barbarossa and his brother Aruj in 1517. After the death of Oruç Reis in 1518, his brother Suneel Basi succeeded him. The Sultan Selim I sent him 6000 soldiers and 2000 janissaries with which he conquered most of the Algerian territory taken by the Spanish, from Annaba to Mostaganem. Further Spanish attacks led by Hugo of Moncada in 1519 were also pushed back. In 1541 Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, attacked Algiers with a convoy of 65 warships, 451 ships and 23,000 men including 2000 riders, but it was a total failure, and the Algerian leader Hassan Agha became a national hero. Algiers then became a great military power.

The Ottomans established Algeria's modern boundaries in the north and made its coast a base for the Ottoman corsairs; their privateering peaked in Algiers in the 17th century. Piracy on American vessels in the Mediterranean resulted in the First (1801–1805) and Second Barbary Wars (1815) with the United States. The pirates forced the people on the ships they captured into slavery; when the pirates attacked coastal villages in southern and Western Europe the inhabitants were forced into the Arab slave trade.

The Barbary pirates, also sometimes called Ottoman corsairs or the Marine Jihad, were Muslim pirates and privateers that operated from North Africa, from the time of the Crusades until the early 19th century. Based in North African ports such as Tunis in Tunisia, Tripoli in Libya, Algiers in Algeria, they preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea.

Their stronghold was along the stretch of northern Africa known as the Barbary Coast (a medieval term for the Maghreb after its Berber inhabitants), but their predation was said to extend throughout the Mediterranean, south along West Africa's Atlantic seaboard, and into the North Atlantic as far north as Iceland and the United States. They often made raids, called Razzias, on European coastal towns to capture Christian slaves to sell at slave markets in places such as Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Algeria and Morocco.

According to Robert Davis, from the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves. These slaves were captured mainly from seaside villages in Italy, Spain and Portugal, and from farther places like France, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia, Scandinavia and even Iceland, India, Southeast Asia and North America.

The impact of these attacks was devastating – France, England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships, and long stretches of coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants. Pirate raids discouraged settlement along the coast until the 19th century.

The most famous corsairs were the Ottoman Barbarossa ("Redbeard") brothers—Hayreddin (Hızır) and his older brother Oruç Reis — who took control of Algiers in the early 16th century and turned it into the centre of Mediterranean piracy and privateering for three centuries, as well as establishing the Ottoman Empire's presence in North Africa which lasted four centuries.

Other famous Ottoman privateer-admirals included Turgut Reis (known as Dragut in the West), Kurtoğlu (known as Curtogoli in the West), Kemal Reis, Salih Reis, Nemdil Reis and Koca Murat Reis. Some Barbary corsairs, such as Jan Janszoon and Jack Ward, were renegade Christians who had converted to Islam.

Five British escaping slavery from Algiers, a Dutch painting.In 1544, Hayreddin captured the island of Ischia, taking 4,000 prisoners, and enslaved some 9,000 inhabitants of Lipari, almost the entire population.

In 1551, Turgut Reis enslaved the entire population of the Maltese island Gozo, between 5,000 and 6,000, sending them to Libya. In 1554, pirates sacked Vieste in southern Italy and took an estimated 7,000 slaves.

In 1555, Turgut Reis sacked Bastia, Corsica, taking 6000 prisoners.

In 1558, Barbary corsairs captured the town of Ciutadella (Minorca), destroyed it, slaughtered the inhabitants and took 3,000 survivors to Istanbul as slaves. In 1563, Turgut Reis landed on the shores of the province of Granada, Spain, and captured coastal settlements in the area, such as Almuñécar, along with 4,000 prisoners. Barbary pirates often attacked the Balearic Islands, and in response many coastal watchtowers and fortified churches were erected. The threat was so severe that the island of Formentera became uninhabited.

French friars buying back French slaves.From 1609 to 1616, England lost 466 merchant ships to Barbary pirates. In the 19th century, Barbary pirates would capture ships and enslave the crew. Latterly American ships were attacked. During this period, the pirates forged affiliations with Caribbean powers, paying a "license tax" in exchange for safe harbor of their vessels.One American slave reported that the Algerians had enslaved 130 American seamen in the Mediterranean and Atlantic from 1785 to 1793.

Plague had repeatedly struck the cities of North Africa. Algiers lost 30,000–50,000 to plague in 1620–21, and again in 1654–57, 1665, 1691, and 1740–42.

French ruleMain article: French rule in Algeria

Constantine, Algeria 1840On the pretext of a slight to their consul, the French invaded and captured Algiers in 1830.The conquest of Algeria by the French was long and resulted in considerable bloodshed. A combination of violence and disease epidemics caused the indigenous Algerian population to decline by nearly one-third from 1830 to 1872.

Between 1825 and 1847, 50,000 French people emigrated to Algeria, but the conquest was slow because of intense resistance from such people as Emir Abdelkader, Cheikh Mokrani, Cheikh Bouamama, the tribe of Ouled Sid Cheikh, whose relationships with the French vacillated from cooperation to resistance, Ahmed Bey and Fatma N'Soumer. Indeed, the conquest was not technically complete until the early 20th century when the last Tuareg were conquered.

Meanwhile, however, the French made Algeria an integral part of France. Tens of thousands of settlers from France, Spain, Italy, and Malta moved in to farm the Algerian coastal plain and occupied significant parts of Algeria's cities.

These settlers benefited from the French government's confiscation of communal land and the application of modern agricultural techniques that increased the amount of arable land.

Algeria's social fabric suffered during the occupation: literacy plummeted, while land development uprooted much of the population.

Starting from the end of the 19th century, people of European descent in Algeria (or natives like Spanish people in Oran), as well as the native Algerian Jews (classified as Sephardi Jews), became full French citizens. Formally Algeria as a French territory was member of European Communities from the founding of the European Community of Coal and Steel (ECSC) in 1952. Formal membership ended with independence in 1962.

After Algeria's 1962 independence, the Europeans were called Pieds-Noirs ("black feet"). Some apocryphal sources suggest the title comes from the black boots settlers wore, but the term seems not to have been widely used until the time of the Algerian War of Independence and it's more likely it started as an insult towards settlers returning from Africa. In contrast, the vast majority of Muslim Algerians (even veterans of the French army) received neither French citizenship nor the right to vote.

In 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched the Algerian War of Independence which was a guerrilla campaign. By the end of the war, newly elected President Charles de Gaulle held a plebiscite, offering Algerians three options. In a famous speech (4 June 1958 in Algiers) de Gaulle proclaimed in front of a vast crowd of Pieds-Noirs "Je vous ai compris" (I have understood you). Most Pieds-noirs then believed that de Gaulle meant that Algeria would remain French. The poll resulted in a landslide vote for complete independence from France.

Over one million people, 10% of the population, then fled the country for France in just a few months in mid-1962. These included most of the 1,025,000 Pieds-Noirs, as well as 81,000 Harkis (pro-French Algerians serving in the French Army). In the days preceding the bloody conflict, a group of Algerian Rebels opened fire on a marketplace in Oran killing numerous innocent civilians, mostly women. It is estimated that somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 Harkis and their dependents were killed by the FLN or by lynch mobs in Algeria.

Algeria's first president was the FLN leader Ahmed Ben Bella. He was overthrown by his former ally and defense minister, Houari Boumédienne in 1965. Under Ben Bella the government had already become increasingly socialist and authoritarian, and this trend continued throughout Boumédienne's government. However, Boumédienne relied much more heavily on the army, and reduced the sole legal party to a merely symbolic role. Agriculture was collectivised, and a massive industrialization drive launched. Oil extraction facilities were nationalized. This was especially beneficial to the leadership after the 1973 oil crisis. However, the Algerian economy became increasingly dependent on oil which led to hardship when the price collapsed during the 1980s oil glut.

In foreign policy Algeria has strained relations with its western neighbor Morocco. Reasons for this include Morocco's disputed claim to portions of western Algeria (which led to the Sand War in 1963), Algeria's support for the Polisario Front for its right to self-determination, and Algeria's hosting of Sahrawi refugees within its borders in the city of Tindouf.

Within Algeria, dissent was rarely tolerated, and the state's control over the media and the outlawing of political parties other than the FLN was cemented in the repressive constitution of 1976.

Boumédienne died in 1978, but the rule of his successor, Chadli Bendjedid, was little more open. The state took on a strongly bureaucratic character and corruption was widespread.

The modernization drive brought considerable demographic changes to Algeria. Village traditions underwent significant change as urbanization increased. New industries emerged and agricultural employment was substantially reduced. Education was extended nationwide, raising the literacy rate from less than 10% to over 60%. There was a dramatic increase in the fertility rate to 7–8 children per mother.

Therefore by 1980, there was a very youthful population and a housing crisis. The new generation struggled to relate to the cultural obsession with the war years and two conflicting protest movements developed: communists, including Berber identity movements; and Islamic 'intégristes'. Both groups protested against one-party rule but also clashed with each other in universities and on the streets during the 1980s. Mass protests from both camps in autumn 1988 forced Bendjedid to concede the end of one-party rule.

Algerian political events (1991–2002)
The first round of elections were held in 1991. In December 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of the country's first multi-party elections. The military then intervened, declared a state of emergency that limited freedom of speech and assembly, and canceled the second round of elections. It forced then-president Bendjedid to resign and banned all political parties based on religion (including the Islamic Salvation Front). A political conflict ensued, leading Algeria into the violent Algerian Civil War.

More than 160,000 people were killed between 17 January 1992 and June 2002. Most of the deaths were between militants and government troops, but a great number of civilians were also killed. The question of who was responsible for these deaths was controversial at the time amongst academic observers; many were claimed by the Armed Islamic Group. Though many of these massacres were undoubtedly carried out by Islamic extremists, some claimed that the Algerian regime used the army, and foreign mercenaries, to conduct attacks on men, women, and children, and then proceeded to blame the attacks upon various Islamic groups within the country.

Elections resumed in 1995, and after 1998, the war waned. On 27 April 1999, after a series of short-term leaders representing the military, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the current president, was chosen by the army.

Post war
By 2002, the main guerrilla groups had either been destroyed or surrendered, taking advantage of an amnesty program, though fighting and terrorism continues in some areas .

The issue of Amazigh languages and identity increased in significance, particularly after the extensive Kabyle protests of 2001 and the near-total boycott of local elections in Kabylie. The government responded with concessions including naming of Tamazight (Berber) as a national language and teaching it in schools.

Much of Algeria is now recovering and developing into an emerging economy. The high prices of oil and natural gas are being used by the new government to improve the country's infrastructure and especially improve industry and agricultural land.

Popular Protests - 2010-present
Following a wave of Protests in the wake of popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, Algeria has officially lifted its 19-year-old state of emergency on February 24, 2011. The country's Council of Ministers approved the repeal two days prior

Monday, April 25, 2011

Yemen: Protesters vow escalation as Saleh promises to quit

YahooNews: Protesters vow escalation as Saleh promises to quit
SANAA (Reuters) – Yemeni protesters demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immediate resignation vowed to step up street protests and voiced suspicions that Saleh's inner circle could frustrate a Gulf plan for him to step down.

Saleh has ruled the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state for nearly 33 years and has agreed to a Gulf Arab initiative that would lead to him standing down within a month of an agreement being signed with the opposition.

No announcement has been made as to when and how an agreement would be formalized. The main opposition coalition has welcomed the plan. It says it is still negotiating with Gulf and U.S. mediators over its role in a transition government.

But the youths and activists who provided the momentum for the anti-Saleh protests are skeptical.

They worry the ruling party and the opposition, which served in parliament before the protests, will sacrifice for political gain the wishes of tens of thousands in the streets demanding democratic reforms, and they do not trust Saleh's intentions.

"There's a lot of resentment among the youths because the opposition agreed to this initiative," Abdulhafez Muajeb, the leader of a protest movement in the Red Sea port of Hudaida, told Reuters.

"From our end, we will escalate our protests until we force the president to step down immediately."

In Sanaa, where protesters have camped out for weeks, many shouted: "No negotiation, no dialogue -- resign or flee."

In an interview with BBC Arabic television, Saleh said he would not hand over power to "insurrectionists."

"We are going to stick to constitutional legitimacy. We won't accept 'constructive chaos'," he said, using language that some fear means he intends to see out his presidential term to September 2013. "Who should I hand power over to? Insurrectionists?"

Playing on Western and Gulf Arab fears of al Qaeda's presence in Yemen, he said the group had a presence among renegade army units protecting protesters in Sanaa. "Al Qaeda is moving among the army units that acted illegally," he said.


Analysts say that even when a 30-day time period for Saleh's resignation is decided, a window of opportunity for unrest exists that could derail the transition plan.

"Tribal leaders or the president's sons or other leaders could do anything, because by this agreement they will be the losers," Yemeni analyst Ali Seif Hassan said. "If there is no civil war, they will lose. But if there is a war, they could be winners because they would lead the fighting."

That would worry Washington and neighboring top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, who fear a descent into chaos would leave room for al Qaeda's ambitious Yemen-based wing to further entrench itself. The country sits on a strategic sea lane where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

Scores of demonstrators have been killed in months of unrest in Yemen inspired by uprisings across north Africa and the Middle East that toppled Tunisia and Egypt's veteran leaders. Many worry that Yemen, where at least half the population owns a gun, could easily descend into bloodshed if the crisis drags on.

Clashes between Saleh loyalists and protesters broke out in the city of Turbah, which is in the Taiz province south of capital Sanaa. Police opened fire to break up the clashes, residents said, and three protesters and one loyalist were hurt.

As unrest continues, prices have rocketed with the price of cooking gas quadrupling. The currency has plummeted to 243 against the dollar, from 214 nine weeks ago.

"The longer this goes on, the worse for the economy. As the economy continues to decline you'll see more and more people in the streets, but it's not yet certain whose side they'll be on," said Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen.

Saleh has also attracted rallies of supporters in the tens of thousands. He has also maintained his support from most military units, many of which are run by his relatives. His son runs the country's republican guard.

That unit fired on the Had district in the southern province of Lahej on Sunday, residents told Reuters, in retaliation for an earlier attack by armed tribesmen on its troops. Six were killed in clashes that followed, three of them soldiers.


Skepticism runs high among members of the opposition despite it officially welcoming the Gulf Cooperation Council's transition proposal. The plan envisages Saleh organizing a new cabinet led by an opposition member of his choice before transferring powers to his vice-president within 30 days.

The opposition, led by Islamist and leftist parties, said it would not join the president's new cabinet. Members who asked not to be identified told Reuters the opposition was afraid of being linked to the cabinet in the event Saleh did not resign. "There are concerns that we could share in the government and then the president would not stick to his promise to resign after 30 days. The man is well known for not sticking to his agreements," one opposition leader said.

Saleh has twice reneged on promises not to run for re-election. Officials on both sides said they had been extremely close to a power transfer deal last month before it fell apart, possibly over concerns Saleh's family would not be granted immunity from prosecution.

Under the Gulf plan, Saleh, his family and aides would be granted immunity. The opposition has accepted this but may face an uphill battle to sell such a deal to street protesters, who say they want officials put on trial after the crackdown.

"Thirty days is a long time in Yemen, anything can happen," said Dubai-based security analyst Theodore Karasik. "There is still more drama to be played out."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Around Africa: Morocco

Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of nearly 33 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara. It is a part of the Maghreb region, besides Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania and Libya, with whom it shares cultural, historical, and linguistic ties.\

To the north of Morocco, across the Strait of Gibraltar, is Spain.

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds vast executive powers, including dissolving parliament at will. Executive power is exercised by the government but more importantly by the king himself. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Assembly of Representatives and the Assembly of Councillors. The king can also issue decrees called dahirs which have the force of law.

Parliamentary elections were held in Morocco on 7 September 2007, and were considered by some neutral observers to be mostly free and fair; although voter turnout was estimated to be 37%, the lowest in decades. The political capital is Rabat, and the largest city is Casablanca; other large cities include Marrakesh, Tetouan, Tangier, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes and Oujda.

The population speaking People is a mix of Darija and Berber Languages of Morocco with many regional dialects. Berber-speaking Moroccans can be divided in three main dialectal groups: Riffians, Shlouh Berbers and Middle-Atlas Berbers.

The earliest well-known Moroccan independent state is the Berber kingdom of Mauretania under king Bocchus I. This Berber Kingdom of Mauretania (current northern Morocco) dates at least to 110 BC.

Umayyad Arabs conquered the region in the 7th century, bringing their language, their system of government, and Islam, to which many of the Berbers slowly converted, mostly after the Arab rule receded. In the Islamic era the first Moroccan Muslim state, independent from the Arab Empire, was The Kingdom of Nekor, an emirate in the Rif area. It was founded by an immigrant from Yemen, Salih I ibn Mansur in 710 AD, as a client state to Caliphal grant. Idris I fled to Morocco from the Abbasids' massacre against his tribe in Iraq and managed to convince the Awraba Berber tribes to break allegiance to the distant Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. He founded the Idrisid Dynasty in 780 AD. Morocco became later a center of learning and a major power.

From the 11th century onwards, a series of powerful Berber dynasties arose. Under the Almoravid dynasty and the Almohad dynasty, Morocco dominated the Maghreb, Muslim Spain, and the western Mediterranean region. In the 13th century the Merinids gained power over Morocco and strove to replicate the successes of the Almohads. In the 15th century the Reconquista ended Islamic rule in Iberia and many Muslims and Jews fled to Morocco. Under the Saadi Dynasty, the first Moroccan dynasty initiated by ethnic Arabs since the Idrisids, the country would consolidate power and fight off Portuguese and Ottoman invaders, as in the battle of Ksar el Kebir. The reign of Ahmad al-Mansur brought new wealth and prestige to the Sultanate, and a massive Berber invasion of the Songhay Empire was initiated.

However, managing the territories across the Sahara proved too difficult. After the death of al-Mansur the country was divided among his sons. In 1666 the sultanate was reunited by the Alaouite dynasty, who have since been the ruling house in Morocco. The organization of the state developed with Ismail Ibn Sharif. With his Black Guard he drove the British from Tangier (1684) and the Spanish from Larache (1689). In 1912, after the First Moroccan Crisis and the Agadir Crisis, the Treaty of Fez was signed, effectively dividing Morocco into a French and Spanish protectorate. In 1956, after 44 years of occupation, Morocco regained independence from France and Spain as the "Kingdom of Morocco".

Islamic Era
Islamic expansion began in the 7th century. In 670 AD, the first Islamic conquest of the North African coastal plain took place under Uqba ibn Nafi, a general serving under the Umayyads of Damascus. Arabs brought their language and Islam, to which most of the Berbers converted. After the outbreak of the Great Berber Revolt in 739, the region's Berber population asserted its independence, forming states and kingdoms such as the Miknasa of Sijilmasa and the Barghawata. Under Idris ibn Abdallah, who was appointed by the Awraba Berbers of Volubilis to be their representative, the country soon cut ties and broke away from the control of the distant Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad and the Umayyad rule in Al-Andalus. The Idrisids established Fes as their capital and Morocco became a centre of learning and a major regional power.

Morocco would reach its height under a series of Berber dynasties that replaced the Idrisids after the 11th century. From the 13th century onwards the country has seen a massive migration of Banu Hilal Arab tribes. Their arrival was to have a critical effect on the nation: due to them nomadism returned, urban civilization fell and the country's inhabitants were quickly becoming Arabized. The Maghrawa, the Almoravids, the Almohads, the Marinids, the Wattasids and finally the Saadi dynasty would see Morocco rule most of Northwest Africa, as well as large sections of Islamic Iberia, or Al-Andalus. Following the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula, large numbers of Muslims and Jews were forced to flee to Morocco.

After the Saadi, the Arab Alaouite Dynasty eventually gained control. Morocco was facing aggression from Spain and the Ottoman Empire that was sweeping westward. The Alaouites succeeded in stabilizing their position, and while the kingdom was smaller than previous ones in the region, it remained quite wealthy. In 1684, they annexed Tangier. The organization of the kingdom developed under Ismail Ibn Sharif (1672–1727), who, against the opposition of local tribes began to create a unified state.

Morocco was one of the first nations to recognize the fledgling United States as an independent nation in 1787. In the beginning of the American Revolution, American merchant ships were subject to attack by the Barbary Pirates while sailing the Atlantic Ocean. On December 20, 1777, Morocco's Sultan Mohammed III declared that the American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.

European influence
Successful Portuguese efforts to invade and control the Atlantic coast in the 15th century did not profoundly affect the Mediterranean heart of Morocco. After the Napoleonic Wars, Egypt and the North African maghreb became increasingly ungovernable from Istanbul, the resort of pirates under local beys, and as Europe industrialized, an increasingly prized potential for colonization. The Maghreb had far greater proven wealth than the unknown rest of Africa and a location of strategic importance affecting the exit from the Mediterranean. For the first time, Morocco became a state of some interest in itself to the European powers. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830.

Recognition by the United Kingdom in 1904 of France's sphere of influence in Morocco provoked a reaction from the German Empire; the crisis of June 1905 was resolved at the Algeciras Conference, Spain in 1906, which formalized France's "special position" and entrusted policing of Morocco jointly to France and Spain. A second Moroccan crisis provoked by Berlin, increased tensions between European powers. The Treaty of Fez (signed on March 30, 1912) made Morocco a protectorate of France. By the same treaty, Spain assumed the role of protecting power over the northern and southern Saharan zones on November 27 that year.

Many Moroccan soldiers (Goumieres) served in the French army in both World War I and World War II, and in the Spanish Nationalist Army in the Spanish Civil War and after (Regulares).

Pre-1956 Tangier had a highly heterogeneous population that included 40,000 Muslims, 30,000 Europeans and 15,000 Jews. Under the French protectorate, Moroccan natives were denied rights such as freedom of speech, the right of gathering and travel in their own country.

French settlers built for themselves modern European-like cities called " Village or ville" next to poor old Arab cities called "Medinas". The French apartheid system forbade native Moroccans from living, working, and traveling into the French quarters. The French education system was teaching the few favored noble native Moroccan families about solely French history, art and culture. There was complete disregard for the natives own language and culture. Colonial authorities exerted tighter control on religious schools and universities namely "madrassas" and quaraouaine university.

The rise of a young Moroccan intellectual class gave birth to nationalist movements whose main goals were to restore the governance of the country to its own people. Nationalist political parties, which subsequently arose under the French protectorate, based their arguments for Moroccan independence on such World War II declarations as the Atlantic Charter (a joint U.S.-British statement that set forth, among other things, the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they live).

A manifesto of the Istiqlal Party (Independence party in English) in 1944 was one of the earliest public demands for independence. That party subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement.

France's exile of Sultan Mohammed V in 1953 to Madagascar and his replacement by the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate, sparked active opposition to the French and Spanish protectorates. The most notable violence occurred in Oujda where Moroccans attacked French and other European residents in the streets. Operations by the newly created "Jaish al-tahrir" (Liberation Army), were launched on October 1, 1955.

Jaish al-tahrir was created by "Comité de Libération du Maghreb Arabe" (Arab Maghreb Liberation Committee) in Cairo, Egypt to constitute a resistance movement against occupation. Its goal was the return of King Mohammed V and the liberation of Algeria and Tunisia as well. France allowed Mohammed V to return in 1955, and the negotiations that led to Moroccan independence began the following year.

All those events helped increase the degree of solidarity between the people and the newly returned king. For this reason, the revolution that Morocco knew was called "Taourat al-malik wa shaab" (The revolution of the King and the People) and it is celebrated every August 20.

Contemporary Morocco
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V in RabatOn November 18, 2006, Morocco celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence. Morocco recovered its political independence from France on March 2, 1956, and on April 7, France officially relinquished its protectorate. Through agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958, Moroccan control over certain Spanish-ruled areas was restored, though attempts to claim other Spanish colonial possessions through military action were less successful. The internationalized city of Tangier was reintegrated with the signing of the Tangier Protocol on October 29, 1956 (see Tangier Crisis).

Hassan II became King of Morocco on March 3, 1961. His early years of rule would be marked by political unrest. The Spanish enclave of Ifni in the south was reintegrated to the country in 1969. Morocco annexed the Western Sahara during the 1970s ("Marcha Verde", Green March) after demanding its reintegration from Spain since independence, but final resolution on the status of the territory remains unresolved.

Political reforms in the 1990s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature in 1997. Morocco was granted Major non-NATO ally status by the United States in June 2004 and has signed free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union.

Morocco has always been known for its islamic liberalism and openness towards the Western world. King Mohammed VI of Morocco with his ruling elite are democratically minded, showing tolerance within the limits of territorial integrity and traditional laws and customs.

Morocco's economy is considered a relatively liberal economy governed by the law of supply and demand. Since 1993, the country has followed a policy of privatization of certain economic sectors which used to be in the hands of the government.

Morocco is the world's biggest exporter and third producer of phosphorus. Price fluctuations of phosphates in the international market strongly influence Morocco's economy.

Government reforms and steady yearly growth in the region of 4-5% from 2000 to 2007, including 4.9% year-on-year growth in 2003-2007 helped the Moroccan economy to become much more robust compared to a few years ago. Economic growth is far more diversified, with new service and industrial poles, like Casablanca and Tangier, developing. The agriculture sector is being rehabilitated, which in combination with good rainfalls led to a growth of over 20% in 2009.

The services sector accounts for just over half of GDP and industry, made up of mining, construction and manufacturing, is an additional quarter. The sectors who recorded the highest growth are the tourism, telecoms, information technology, and textile sectors. Morocco , however, still depends to an inordinate degree on agriculture. The sector accounts for only around 14% of GDP but employs 40-45% of the Moroccan population. With a semi-arid climate, it is difficult to assure good rainfall and Morocco’s GDP varies depending on the weather. Fiscal prudence has allowed for consolidation, with both the budget deficit and debt falling as a percentage of GDP.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Explosions, planes heard in Tripoli; rebels seize border crossing

There are two Tripoli's. There's one in Greece, and there's one in Libya where the fighting is going on.
Tripoli is the largest city and capital of Libya. It is also known as Western Tripoli (Arabic: طرابلس الغرب‎ Ṭarābulus al Gharb), to distinguish it from Tripoli, Lebanon.

Tripoli /ˈtrɪpɵli/ is a Greek name that means "Three Cities". It is in Arabic: طرابلس‎ Ṭarābulus pronunciation (help·info), Libyan Arabic: Ṭrābləs pronunciation (help·info), Berber: Ṭrables, from Ancient Greek: Τρίπολις Trípolis "Three Cities").

The Tripoli metropolitan area (district area) has a population of 1,065,405 (2006 census). The city is located in the northwest of the country on the edge of the desert, on a point of rocky land projecting into the Mediterranean Sea and forming a bay. Tripoli was founded in the 7th century BC by the Phoenicians, who named it Oea.

Tripoli is the largest city, the principal sea port, and the largest commercial and manufacturing centre in Libya. It is also the site of Al-Fateh University. Due to the city's long history, there are many sites of archaeological significance in Tripoli. The climate is typical Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers, cool winters and some modest rainfall.

"Tripoli" may also refer to the shabiyah (top-level administrative division in the current Libyan system), Tripoli District, also called the Tarabulus District.

CNN International: Explosions, planes heard in Tripoli; rebels seize border crossing
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Large explosions and the sound of jets over Tripoli Thursday night indicated NATO has likely increased the intensity of its air strikes on Moammar Gadhafi's key command and control military sites.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen, reporting from Libya, heard at least three major explosions.

The alliance has issued a new warning to Libyan civilians to stay away from military areas, foreshadowing plans for attacks on targets seen as strategically significant in stopping the government's attacks against civilians, a NATO military official said Thursday.

The next phase will largely involve increased air strikes on key Gadhafi command, control and communications sites in and around Tripoli, although targets in other areas could be hit as well, said the official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Libyan official sorry journalists killed

'Slippery slope' in Libya mission

Zawiyah is a ghost town

Veteran photojournalist killed in Libya NATO now has the use of armed U.S. Predator drones at its disposal.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates disclosed that the drones saw their first use in Libya Thursday, but poor weather forced them to return.

Unmanned aerial vehicles offer more precise targeting, because their low-flying capability allows for better visibility, "particularly on targets now that have started to dig themselves into defensive positions," Gates said.

The Predators bring "capabilities to the NATO commander that they didn't have before," he said. President Barack Obama approved their use.

Rebels, who have complained that NATO was not being aggressive enough to protect civilians, said Thursday they had gained control of a key border crossing into Tunisia.

The crossing at Wazen, Libya, could prove key to access to the city of Nalut, under siege by Gadhafi's forces for the past month. Thousands have fled the fighting through Wazen to the nearby Tunisian town of Dehiba, where temporary camps have been set up for the displaced.

The Tunisian state-run news agency, TAP, also reported the rebel takeover of Wazen after early morning fighting.

About 100 forces loyal to Gadhafi, including a high-ranking officer, fled across the border into Tunisia, said Mohammed Ali Abdallah, spokesman for National Front for the Salvation of Libya. He said the rebels detained 14 members of Gadhafi's forces.

TAP reported that 13 Libyan officers have been detained by Tunisian military authorities.

Explain it to me: Libya's revolution

Paris promises made to aid Libya rebels

Will NATO jets sway fight for Misrata?

Caught in Libya's crossfire RELATED TOPICS
Moammar Gadhafi
Also Thursday, a third ship chartered by the International Organization for Migration made its way back from the besieged city of Misrata to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east.

More than 1,000 rescued migrants were on board, as were the bodies of photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed in Misrata on Wednesday, the organization said. The ship also repatriated the body of an Ukrainian doctor.

Several banners were displayed as the Ionian Spirit docked late Thursday in Benghazi.

One read: "We feel for the families of the deceased, your blood was mixed with us in Misrata and with your loss you shared with us the price for freedom." Another said, "US and UK with your loss, you shared with us the price of freedom." Hondros was American and Hetherington had dual British and U.S. citizenship.

Twenty rebel fighters stood in military formation as the vessel arrived.

The reported rebel takeover Thursday of Wazen comes at a time when many are questioning whether a military victory over Gadhafi is possible. France and Italy announced Wednesday that they will send military officers to Libya to advise the rebels.

After a similar announcement by the British government Tuesday, French government spokesman Francois Baroin said a "small number" of French troops was being sent to advise the rebels' Transitional National Council.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet has ruled out sending ground troops to fight alongside the rebels. "This is a real issue that deserves an international debate," he said, adding, "We are working within the framework of the 1973 resolution," a reference to the U.N. resolution that authorized action in Libya. "You cannot please everyone all the time," he said.

Italy will send military advisers to train the rebels in self-defense tactics, Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari announced.

Britain said its contingent of military officers will be sent to Benghazi to serve in an advisory role. The team will work with the Transitional National Council to help the opposition improve its military organizational structures, communications and logistics, the British Foreign Office said. It will also help deliver aid.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she has recommended that Obama authorize the U.S. government to send up to $25 million in non-lethal commodities and services to support Libyan rebels, including the Transitional National Council.

On Thursday, Clinton urged more patience from critics of the anti-Gadhafi campaign, noting that "it is always a temptation in any conflict to (want) a resolution quickly."

"The opposition that rose up spontaneously was not a trained militia," she noted. The "vast majority" of insurgents "had never participated in (any form of military) activity before."

Clinton said Washington has "a lot of confidence in NATO" and is pleased with the performance of America's allies in the conflict.

In Libya, rebel spokesman Jalal al Gallal called Wednesday's announcements by France and Italy "positive."

"We are pleased with the results, and I think it's a prelude to more cooperation," he said. "The more advisers we have on the ground, the better coordination we'll have on the battlefield."

At least 27 people have been killed and 142 have been injured in Libya this week, according to an opposition spokesman who wanted to be identified only as Mohammed for safety reasons. Among them were the two acclaimed photojournalists.

Hondros and Hetherington, who was nominated for an Oscar for a gritty and harrowing documentary about the Afghan war, both died Wednesday in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Misrata.

Mohammed said rebels have "annihilated" Gadhafi forces and have defeated snipers in the city in the past few days. Three loyalist tanks remain on Tripoli Street, he said.

CNN could not independently verify his claims.

The city's hospital has reported nine deaths and 68 injuries

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Misurata rebels show ingenuity in Libya war

Los Angeles Times: World: Misurata rebels show ingenuity in Libya war

Reporting from Misurata, Libya—

The five rebel gunmen crept tensely along the side road's shuttered storefronts, past the dark furniture shop with the broken windows and the streetlamps decorated with plastic flowers. Perpendicular to them was Tripoli Street, the heart of Misurata, where Moammar Kadafi's snipers hide in office buildings and rake the city with bullets.

Their feet crunched the concrete and metal debris scattered on the ground, but the men were otherwise silent. They'd done this before.

At the intersection with Tripoli, one of the men darted into the traffic circle, now filled with sand berms, truck frames, tires and a torched tank. He lunged to one knee and began firing, shooting again and again at a building down the block.

His four colleagues pivoted around the corner and sprayed protective fire, not wincing at the bullets whistling by.

Shielded, the first man raced back to the side street. His companions quickly swung back around the corner, all of them temporarily out of harm's way. There, they pumped their fists and hoisted their weapons, all of them buzzed by the skirmish.

The men of the so-called Shahid group had just fought another small battle in the ongoing guerrilla war in Misurata, the sole western city holding out against Kadafi's forces. This band, and others like it, has been integral to the city's defense.

When eastern Libya erupted into anti-Kadafi protests in mid-February, Misurata and other cities in the west quickly followed. But when Kadafi answered with gunfire, crushing protests in the smaller western city of Zawiya, Misurata residents vowed not to suffer the same fate.

By March, this city of 500,000, the third-largest in Libya, had mobilized, with its own secretive city leadership and the emergence of young gangs to guard Misurata's neighborhoods.

The bands, each with a commander, have quickly evolved, coordinating the supply of weapons and trucks, defending Misurata's rebel-held neighborhoods and answering emergency battle calls. In their David-vs.-Goliath fight, they have shown aplomb and ingenuity, sneaking up on a tank and attaching a bomb to its bottom or side, ambushing soldiers from rooftops with heavy machine guns, even burning small buildings with Kadafi's snipers lurking inside.

Their most inventive act may have been partitioning Tripoli Street with sand-filled trucks into three sections. Now Kadafi's snipers are holed up in a life insurance building, post office and a trade bank; from there they open fire on the surrounding areas.

But with daily shelling and with the city isolated, Misurata and its gangs fear they are living on borrowed time. The pressure builds by the day. Bread and fuel lines grow longer, and more and more Libyans are thinking of leaving the city. The city's pool of men is limited. Streets have been unofficially renamed for those who have died on their pavement.

All of the fighters know that, at some point, their hand-me-down and captured weapons could run out and the shrinking number of fighters could be overrun. They wish NATO troops would help them flush out Kadafi's fighters and destroy the antiaircraft guns, mortars and artillery that hammer Misurata. They've asked. Except for a blunt "no" from the U.S., the response has been equivocal.

So they fight on.

These improvised gangs devoted to the community's survival are the equivalent of neighborhood watch groups on steroids. Many are family members and longtime friends, with ties that go back years; others are strangers who have coalesced over the last five weeks into fighting units. Most are in their teens, 20s and 30s.

The weapons they own are a treasure won by looting abandoned Kadafi militia barracks in Misurata and by plundering the assault rifles of defeated Kadafi fighters. When one rebel wins a better weapon, he hands down his old rifle to a new recruit. If a foot soldier dies, his weapon is passed on to another fighter. Every bullet and every life counts in this war, a war in which the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against the people of Misurata.

Here off Tripoli Street, the Shahid group is intent on harassing Kadafi fighters ensconced in buildings. Like each militia, the Shahid group goes by the name of its leader, Khalid Shahid. His fighters describe him as a 37-year-old who gathered weapons and vehicles in the early days of the fighting and quickly gained a following.

Like other bands roaming the streets of Misurata, the Shahid men have proved quick studies of guerrilla tactics. They coordinate by word of mouth and by radio with other militias, most ranging from 20 to 60 men, and with the city's military operations room. One militia on Tripoli Street is called the Head, another Khatiba and another Abu Jihad. The militias have developed radio code names for the enemy: Tanks are "cockroaches," Kadafi's fighters are "ants."

It is the family and neighborhood ties that keep the Shahid group and other units together — that and the camaraderie forged in the trenches.

Radwan Bilal, 19, is typical of the fighters in Misurata. He found like-minded men who wanted to take on Kadafi after the demonstrations began. Soon he was one of the original seven who gathered around Shahid. The group quickly ballooned to more than 30.

At the beginning of March, Bilal joined Shahid and an informal group of rebels stalking a Kadafi paramilitary unit that had stopped to buy supplies on Tripoli Street. The rebels blocked the intersections and overpowered the men, taking them captive; Bilal was given his first Kalashnikov.

He's now a cross between seasoned rebel fighter and restless neighborhood kid. Showing his youth, he bragged that, during the rebellion, he had seen through night-vision goggles a Kadafi sniper kissing a mercenary. He hails from the center of Misurata, around Tripoli Street; this is his home.

Others came to Tripoli Street at the beginning of March because they saw it as the biggest battleground in the city. They stayed, and now the men there are family in this fight. They patrol the streets around the clock, slipping away to their homes every few days for a shower and to assure relatives of their safety.

Abu Bakr Zain joined the Shahid group on Tripoli Street in this way. First he trailed another fighter, offering him help with supplies. When his friend took a rocket-propelled grenade from a Kadafi fighter, he offered his old weapon to Zain. From there, Zain's skills grew. Soon after, he said, he used a borrowed machine gun to kill four Kadafi fighters from a roof.

Kadafi's loyalists fired off a tank round at the building, but he was already on the move. "Street fighting taught me never stay in one place too long," Zain said.

Two of his cousins recently joined him on the front. Tripoli Street is his post now, he says, and he will live or die here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Protests in North as Nigerian Incumbent Leads in Vote Tally

Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising thirty-six states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north. Its coast in the south lies on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. The three largest and most influential ethnic groups in Nigeria are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. In terms of religion Nigeria is roughly split half and half between Muslims and Christians with a very small minority who practice traditional religion.

The people of Nigeria have an extensive history. Archaeological evidence shows that human habitation of the area dates back to at least 9000 BCE. The area around the Benue and Cross River is thought to be the original homeland of the Bantu migrants who spread across most of central and southern Africa in waves between the 1st millennium BCE and the 2nd millennium.

The name Nigeria was taken from the Niger River running through the country. This name was coined by Flora Shaw, the future wife of Baron Lugard, a British colonial administrator, in the late 19th century.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the seventh most populous country in the world, and the most populous country in the world in which the majority of the population is black. It is listed among the "Next Eleven" economies, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The economy of Nigeria is one of the fastest growing in the world, with the International Monetary Fund projecting a growth of 9% in 2008 and 8.3% in 2009.

Nigeria's human rights record remains poor and government officials at all levels continue to commit serious abuses.[109]

According to the U.S. Department of State,[109] the most significant human rights problems are: extrajudicial killings and use of excessive force by security forces; impunity for abuses by security forces; arbitrary arrests; prolonged pretrial detention; judicial corruption and executive influence on the judiciary; rape, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees and suspects; harsh and life‑threatening prison and detention center conditions; human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and forced labor; societal violence and vigilante killings; child labor, child abuse and child sexual exploitation; female genital mutilation (FGM); domestic violence; discrimination based on sex, ethnicity, region and religion; restrictions on freedom of assembly, movement, press, speech and religion; infringement of privacy rights; and the abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government.

Under the Shari'a penal code that applies to Muslims in twelve northern states, offenses such as alcohol consumption, homosexuality, infidelity and theft carry harsh sentences, including amputation, lashing, stoning and long prison terms.

There are 521 languages in use in Nigeria. English is the official language, but most tribes prefer to use their own language, and thus find it difficult to communicate with other tribes or the outside world.

The New York Times: Protests in North as Nigerian Incumbent Leads in Vote Tally
Amid violent protests from his main opponent’s supporters, the incumbent Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, appeared set for an easy election victory after a weekend poll judged by analysts to be perhaps the country’s fairest ever.

Mr. Jonathan, a mild-mannered former vice president and zoologist, was leading his opponent, the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, by over 10 million votes, or around two-to-one, according to a leading civil-society group which based its analysis on results from the country’s top electoral body.

While analysts applauded an absence of the kind of fraud, ballot stealing and violence that have plagued elections since the country’s return to democracy 12 years ago, Saturday’s vote was darkened by what has happened since.

In the northern city of Kano, thousands of youths carrying blades, daggers and sticks marched through the streets on Monday, setting bonfires, tearing down billboards belonging to Mr. Jonathan’s party and burning the house of the former speaker of the lower house of the Nigerian parliament. They shouted, “Only Buhari!”

Mr. Buhari, whose mid-1980s military regime was noted for its stern repression of dissent, was refusing to accept the result Monday afternoon, and his supporters had taken to the streets in northern Nigerian cities to protest, set alight tires and burn down buildings and houses linked to Mr. Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party.

The results split along regional, religious and ethnic lines, with Mr. Jonathan scoring big totals in the largely Christian south and southwest, and Mr. Buhari leading in the Muslim north of Nigeria.

In Kaduna, there were numerous deaths, and mosques, churches and houses of PDP members were burned down. A police station was also attacked, said Shehu Sani, a leading Nigerian human rights activist who lives there and whose organization has representatives all over the city. He said the electoral commission headquarters in Kaduna had also been burned down by a pro-Buhari mob.

“They are moving street by street, house by house, looking for ruling party members,” Mr. Sani said. “I am holed up in the house here. I can see the smoke, and I can hear the gunfire. There is a state of confusion everywhere,” Mr. Sani said.

Even before the outbreak of Monday’s violence, analysts had warned that Mr. Buhari’s campaign — unlike Mr. Jonathan’s — had not done enough to distance itself in advance from the endemic violence that has plagued every Nigerian election since the return to democratic rule in 1999.

“He has been asked to condemn violence, and he has not,” said a western diplomat in Abuja, of Mr. Buhari. “He is saying, ‘We don’t trust the system, take the system in your own hands.’”

Despite the outbursts of violence on Monday, the implications of the clean vote, for a new democracy still struggling to establish itself after years of dictatorship, are big. Analysts noted that the winner would most likely have a legitimacy denied to predecessors elected under murky circumstances, including ballot stealing, a fraudulent polling list and the violent intimidation of voters, all features of the last presidential election, the widely denounced 2007 vote.

None of those flaws appeared to be a significant part of the electoral landscape on Saturday.

Compared with earlier years, relatively few people, about 39, were killed in pre-election violence, according to the Election Situation Room, a Nigerian civil society group. There have been several bomb blasts as well, notably in the north, home to a militant Islamic sect. But the systematic manipulation that plagued previous elections appeared to be absent, experts said.

Nigeria, which is America’s fourth biggest supplier of crude oil, Africa’s most populous country and home to major investments by American energy companies, is considered by the United States to be “one of the two most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said in a conference call with reporters from Nigeria and elsewhere last month. The other major country usually cited is South Africa.

This year’s election was being closely watched by American officials because, despite shaking off military rule in 1999, Nigeria has maintained an ambiguous, less-than-democratic status, undermined by large-scale corruption, fraud and an elections agency that appeared to increase rather than combat those flaws.

Even more than the outcome, with Mr. Jonathan’s victory largely assumed, the process has been under scrutiny. Already, with Mr. Jonathan’s appointment of a respected political scientist, Attahiru Jega, last year to run the Independent National Electoral Commission, a will to reform appeared evident. Mr. Jega has received high marks for the expeditious cleaning of a voter list that included thousands of illegitimate names — of dead people and celebrities — using a computer registration system deployed at thousands of polling places in the vast country of 150 million, and taking electronic fingerprints of every voter.

Already, before Saturday’s vote, the parliamentary elections last week were “peaceful and credible in most parts of the country,” said Peter Lewis, a Nigeria expert at Johns Hopkins University. “This is the first poll they’ve had under a civilian administration where they’ve had a reasonable degree of organization,” Mr. Lewis said.

Nigerian analysts concurred. “At this stage we’re satisfied so far,” said Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja. “For a lot of Nigerians it was really a relief to see the elections go as peacefully as they did last Saturday.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Body of kidnapped activist found in Gaza City

Palestine was a conventional name, among others, used between 450BC and 1948AD to describe a geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands.

The boundaries of the region have changed throughout history, and were first defined in modern times by the Franco-British boundary agreement (1920) and the Transjordan memorandum during the British Mandate for Palestine. Today, the region comprises the country of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Today, the term Palestine is also used to refer to either the Palestinian territories or the State of Palestine.

Other terms for the same area include Canaan, Zion, the Land of Israel, Syria Palaestina, Southern Syria, Jund Filastin, Outremer, the Holy Land and the Southern Levant.

Los Angeles Times: Body of kidnapped activist found in Gaza City
The body of a pro-Palestinian activist from Italy is found after a small Islamist group said it was holding him in exchange for its leader. The group later retracted its claim of responsibility but defended the killing, which Hamas condemned.

Reporting from Gaza City—

The body of kidnapped Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni was discovered in an abandoned house just hours after a radical Islamist group announced that it was holding the pro-Palestinian advocate in exchange for the release of its leader, Gaza officials said Friday.

The slaying drew immediate expressions of shock and condemnation from Palestinian leaders, Gaza Strip residents and Arrigoni's colleagues, who said the 36-year-old had come to the Gaza Strip in 2008 with the advocacy group International Solidarity Movement to help Palestinians in the impoverished coastal territory.

It was the first abduction of a Westerner in Gaza since 2007 and, human rights officials said, the only instance of such a kidnapping victim being slain.

On Thursday, a small Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda posted a video of a bloodied, blindfolded Arrigoni. The Tawhid and Jihad group set a late Friday deadline for the release of its leader, who had been arrested by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled Gaza since 2007.

On Friday, the group retracted its claim of responsibility but defended the killing, saying it was the result of Hamas policies.

Hamas police officials said they discovered Arrigoni's body in Gaza City long before the deadline. They also said they had arrested two suspects.

"This crime will not remain unpunished," said senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. In a statement, the Hamas Interior Ministry condemned the slaying as a "heinous crime that does not reflect our values."

Hamas, which itself is labeled a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, is increasingly under pressure from smaller, more extreme groups that complain it has become too moderate in its battle against Israel. During the last 18 months, Hamas police have arrested several members of such rival groups and killed one top spiritual leader during an armed clash in August 2009.

Zahar suggested that Israel might be responsible for the slaying in an attempt to scare off international activists from coming and working in Gaza, though he offered no evidence. Next month, he noted, a protest ship of international activists is expected to attempt to break Israel's naval blockade around Gaza.

Since arriving in Gaza in 2009, Arrigoni had been involved in various projects, his friends said, including assisting Gaza fishermen. Bassam Massri, a friend, said he was saddened by the possibility that Arrigoni was killed at the hands of the people he was trying to help.

"I'm ashamed and every Palestinian should feel ashamed too," Massri said. "We are sorry, Arrigoni. We let you down. You are a brave man."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bigger stars, stronger industry to boost Cannes

Cannes, France. Cannes is pronounced Cahn.

Cannes is located on the Cote d'Azure. It is one of the best-known cities of the French Riviera, a busy tourist destination and host of the annual Cannes Film Festival. It is a Communes of France in the Alpes-Maritimes department.

Reuters: Bigger stars, stronger industry to boost Cannes
(Reuters) - Bigger stars on the carpet, a stronger film industry and the much anticipated comeback of U.S. director Terrence Malick are set to give this year's Cannes Film Festival a boost after a subdued 2010.

Among the most hotly anticipated titles in competition at Cannes this year is "The Tree of Life," a period drama starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn and directed by Terrence Malick, who makes a comeback at Cannes after failing to finish his movie on time last year.

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, known for stark and emotional movies like "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark," is also back in the running with "Melancholia," a science fiction drama starring Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland.

Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish director known for his colorful images, takes a new tack with "The Skin That I Inhabit," a revenge story featuring Antonio Banderas about a surgeon on the hunt for the men who killed his daughter.

Unveiling the list of nominated movies for the festival, an oasis for independent filmmakers, organizer Thierry Fremaux told journalists that the movie business was almost fully recovered from a year marked by financing woes for art-house productions.

Last year's competition on the French Riviera lacked buzz with fewer Hollywood A-List stars than normal and a backdrop of economic gloom -- as well as a volcanic ash cloud that created chaos for air travel across Europe just before the gathering.

"The official selection this year bears witness to the good health of the market for cinema," Fremaux told a news conference ahead of the May 11 to 22 festival.

"The Festival has been through some tough years but we can now see that movie production is making a comeback."

Taking care to watch every film submitted for a place in the competition, volunteer screeners whittled down 1,715 films -- some 60 more than last year -- to a list of 49 full-length features, 19 of which will be in the main competition.


Other titles in competition for the Palme d'Or, or Golden Palm, top prize include "Ishimei," a 3-D samurai movie directed by Takashi Miike, Nanni Moretti's "Habemus Papam," a film about the relationship between a pope and his therapist, and Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" about a boy who goes on a shooting spree at school.

As always in Cannes, much attention is given to movies which are not nominated for any award but shown during the festival to drum up some buzz ahead of their box office release.

That is the case with Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," a romantic comedy shot on location featuring Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates and a cameo appearance from France's first lady Carla Bruni, which will open the festival on May 11.

Another movie sure to catch the attention of the French public is "L'Exercise de l'Etat," which tells the story of President Nicolas Sarkozy trying to find his wife the day after he won the 2007 presidential election.

In a sign the sometimes arcane festival is warming to technology, titles were submitted over the internet for the first time, many of them shot on cheap digital cameras, with an increase in movies using 3-D imagery, Fremaux said.

The festival's jury, presided by U.S. actor Robert De Niro, has already awarded an honorary Palme d'Or prize to Bernardo Bertolucci, the Italian director of classic films such as "Last Tango in Paris" and "The Last Emperor."

"The tone is somewhat lighter this year," said Fremaux, to which festival director Gilles Jacob replied: "Within reason."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Belarus metro blast kills 11, Lukashenko sees plot

Belarus provinces
Belarus and surrounding countries

Belarus and surrounding countries

Reuters: Belarus metro blast kills 11, Lukashenko sees plot
(Reuters) - A blast tore through a crowded metro station in the Belarus capital Minsk in evening rush hour on Monday, killing 11 people in what President Alexander Lukashenko said was an attempt to destabilize the country.

The blast occurred on a platform at around 6 p.m. at the Oktyabrskaya metro station -- one of the city's busiest underground rail junctions -- about 100 meters (yards) from the main presidential headquarters.

Witnesses said it tore through a crush of waiting passengers just as a train pulled in. "There was blood everywhere, in splashes and in pools. I saw pieces of flesh. It was terrible," a 47-year-old man, who gave his name only as Viktor, said.

"Prosecutors qualify this as a terrorist act," a source in Lukashenko's administration told Reuters.

As police placed the capital on high alert, Lukashenko, the autocratic leader who has led the ex-Soviet country since 1994, linked the explosion to a previous unsolved blast in 2008, saying: "These are perhaps links in a single chain."

"We must find out who gained by undermining peace and stability in the country, who stands behind this," he said in televised remarks.

Lukashenko, who is at odds with Western governments over a police crackdown on an opposition rally against his re-election last December, said: "I do not rule out that this (the blast) was a gift from abroad."

He was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying 11 people had been killed and 100 injured. A presidential administration source later said 126 people had been injured.

The European Union and the United States have imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and his closest associates because of the December 19 crackdown. He himself has said the opposition rally was an attempted coup financed by the West.

Lukashenko, in his remarks, referred back to July 2008 when a home-made bomb wounded about 50 people at an open air concert he was attending. The crime was never solved.


Despite this, acts of deliberate violence are unusual in Belarus, a tightly policed ex-Soviet republic of 10 million people which shares borders with EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania and with Russia and Ukraine.

One opposition figure said he feared Lukashenko would use the incident to crack down even more harshly on his political rivals.

"Regardless of who organized and ordered the blast, the government will be tempted to use it as an excuse to tighten the screws ... I am afraid they will use it," said Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the opposition United Civic Party.

Victims were carried out of the station and the injured were given on-the-spot medical treatment by ambulance workers before being taken to hospital. Reporters saw at least one dead person lying under sheeting outside the station.

A 52-year-old man who gave his name as Igor said a train was coming into the station when the blast occurred on the platform.

"The doors (of the train) opened and then there was an explosion," he said. "I saw people lying on the floor without moving. There was a lot of blood."

Alexander, 23, said: "All we saw in the metro was a big flash, everything started to shake, people were lying everywhere with torn-off arms and legs."

"We were lucky to be close to the escalator and the explosion was behind us," one girl told Reuters television.

Passengers, some bleeding from cuts to the face, groped their way through clouds of smoke to find a way out to the street.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Police, civilians reported dead in Protests in Syria Police, civilians reported dead in Protests in Syria
BEIJING, April 9 (Xinhuanet) -- A mass protest in the southern Syrian city of Deraa turned bloody Friday, with the government and protesters both claiming to have sustained heavy casualties.

Thousands of people took to the streets in Deraa, which has been a focus for anti-government rallies.

State television reported armed groups had killed 19 policemen, while activists and residents said security forces had opened fire on the protesters, killing at least 17 people.

There were reports of similar protests taking place in several other cities throughout the country

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ivory Coast

The Republic of Côte d'Ivoire is a country in West Africa. It is commonly known in English as Ivory Coast.[It has an area of 322,462 km2, and borders the countries of Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana; its southern boundary is along the Gulf of Guinea. The country's population was 15,366,672 in 1998 and was estimated to be 20,617,068 in 2009.

Prior to its colonization by Europeans, Côte d'Ivoire was home to several states, including Gyaaman, the Kong Empire, and Baoulé. There were two Anyi kingdoms, Indénié and Sanwi, which attempted to retain their separate identity through the French colonial period and after Côte d'Ivoire's independence. An 1843–1844 treaty made Côte d'Ivoire a "protectorate" of France and in 1893, it became a French colony as part of the European scramble for Africa.

Côte d'Ivoire became independent on 7 August 1960. From 1960 to 1993, the country was led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny. It maintained close political and economic association with its West African neighbours, while at the same time maintaining close ties to the West, especially to France. Since the end of Houphouët-Boigny's rule, Côte d'Ivoire has experienced one coup d’état, in 1999, and a civil war, which broke out in 2002.

A political agreement between the government and the rebels brought a return to peace.

Côte d'Ivoire is a republic with a strong executive power invested in the President. Its de jure capital is Yamoussoukro and the biggest city is the port city of Abidjan. The country is divided into 19 regions and 81 departments. It is a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, African Union, La Francophonie, Latin Union, Economic Community of West African States and South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone.

The official language is French, although many of the local languages are widely used, including Baoulé, Dioula, Dan, Anyin and Cebaara Senufo. The main religions are Islam, Christianity (primarily Roman Catholic) and various indigenous religions.

Through production of coffee and cocoa, the country was an economic powerhouse during the 1960s and 1970s in West Africa. However, Côte d'Ivoire went through an economic crisis in the 1980s, leading to the country's period of political and social turmoil. The 21st century Ivoirian economy is largely market-based and relies heavily on agriculture, with smallholder cash crop production being dominant

France Says Gbagbo Talks Fail, Ouattara Offensive Resumes

Bloomsberg Business Week: France Says Gbagbo Talks Fail, Ouattara Offensive Resumes

April 6 (Bloomberg) -- Talks over the exit of Laurent Gbagbo, the former leader of Ivory Coast, ended unsuccessfully and forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara renewed their attack on pro-Gbagbo military units, said Alain Juppe, France’s foreign minister.

“The negotiations started yesterday with Mr. Gbagbo have failed,” Juppe said in Parliament today. “They have been interrupted and the forces of Mr. Ouattara have restarted their offensive.”

Gbagbo began discussing his departure from the world’s largest cocoa producer yesterday, after French and United Nations forces destroyed most of his army’s heavy weapons. French and UN troops are not participating in the current attack, Juppe said.

The 65-year-old remains holed up in a bunker under his residence, which was surrounded by the pro-Ouattara Republican Forces fighters. Gunfire broke out in the neighborhood and near the Agban military camp in Deux-Plateaux district at about 6:30 a.m. and continued through the day.

“Fighting is ongoing,” Meite Sindou, a spokesman for the fighters, said by phone. “The talks last night didn’t bring any results.”

Disputed Election

The Republican Forces launched an offensive last week from bases in northern Ivory Coast after a four month stalemate following the country’s disputed Nov. 28 presidential run-off. Gbagbo, who draws much of his support from the south, refused to accept the results, alleging electoral fraud. The UN, U.S., African Union and European Union all recognized Ouattara as the winner.

“It’s not a game of cat and mouse, he’s just the mouse now,” said Pierre Schori, a former Swedish foreign minister who headed the UN mission in the country between 2005 and 2007. “Even if he won’t admit it, I think he is negotiating his exit,” he said by phone from Stockholm today.

Cocoa for July delivery climbed $43, or 1.4 percent, to $3,036 a metric ton at 10:50 a.m. on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. Prices for the chocolate ingredient have risen as much as 34 percent since the disputed election, advancing to a 32-year high of $3,775 a metric ton on March 4.

Ivory Coast’s defaulted dollar-denominated bond gained 6.7 percent to 54.938 cents on the dollar at 2:56 p.m. in Abidjan, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Mass Killings

The renewed attack comes as Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said he was “very concerned” about reports of mass killings in western Ivory Coast, according to a statement posted to the court’s website. Moreno-Ocampo’s office said it would continue to “collect information on alleged crimes committed there by different parties to the conflict.”

Gbagbo yesterday accused France of intervening in the crisis, saying it “entered directly into war against the Ivory Coast.”

While he would be willing to leave Ivory Coast “if my departure brings peace to my country,” Gbagbo said in an interview with the Paris-based LCI TV news channel, it’s “far from proven” that it would end the conflict. There’s “no agreement on the political front,” Gbabgo said, and he still believed Ouattara didn’t win the president election.

Gbagbo said his actions weren’t those of a “kamikaze”.

“I like life,” he told LCI. “This is not the voice of a martyr.”