Kuwaiti emir calls for crackdown on protests
Publisher: BBC News
Author: By Camilla Hall in Abu Dhabi
Story date: 17/11/2011
Language: English

The ruler of Kuwait has ordered the authorities to take "all necessary measures" to safeguard national security after protesters stormed parliament in the most dramatic act yet in a long-running campaign to oust the prime minister.

Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, the Emir of Kuwait, gave the order after an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday amid the most significant protests to hit the Gulf state since unrest began to sweep across the Middle East earlier this year.

Ali Fahad Al-Rashid, minister of state for cabinet affairs, said: "National responsibility calls for stricter measures to confront this chaotic behaviour."

The target of Wednesday's demonstrations was Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, the prime minister. Protesters called for him to be deposed and tried to reach his house, according to local media.

Kuwait has been in political stalemate for some time, with the dissolution of the parliament a regular event and critical reforms, including plans for economic development, stalled. Tension increased this summer after a group of lawmakers were accused of receiving bribes, and in May two members of parliament tried to question Sheikh Nasser for alleged misuse of public funds, a charge he denies.

Kuwait, which has the most active parliament in the Gulf, with MPs having more powers than their counterparts elsewhere, and which recently announced social spending totalling $7.6bn, has largely avoided the political upheaval that has spread to other Gulf states, including Bahrain and Oman. However, observers said the protests signalled that even countries able to distribute such largesse were not immune from the sentiments sweeping the Arab world.

Christopher Davidson, reader of Middle East politics at Durham University in the UK, said: "A fear barrier has been broken across the region."

Kuwaitis, who are relatively wealthy, have aimed their protests at what they allege is corruption in the system, criticising the use of the country's oil funds and questioning why the country's economy has fallen behind regional rivals in recent years.

Some reports said thousands of peopletook part in Wednesday's protests, and photographs posted on the internet showed scores squeezed inside the parliament building.

Five police and national guard officers were injured in the clashes, the interior ministry said on Thursday in a statement. It is unclear whether any protesters were hurt
 

Armed Groups Are on Rise in Syria, as Are Civil War Fears
Publisher: the New York Times, USA
Author: By NADA BAKRI
Story date: 17/11/2011
Language: English

BEIRUT, Lebanon — For the second day in a row, deserters from the Syrian Army carried out attacks on symbols of the Assad government's centers of power, targeting the youth offices of the ruling Baath Party on Thursday after firing rocket-propelled grenades on a military intelligence base on Wednesday, activists said.

The attacks, along with fraying relations among Syria's religious communities, growing international pressure and a relentless crackdown, prompted Russia, Syria's closest ally, to say that the country was moving closer to a civil war.

The attacks may have been more symbolic than effective, but could mark the increased ability of a growing number of defectors to publicize their exploits. Attacks on government installations — in the southern town of Dara'a and the central city of Homs, for instance — have been reported since the start of the uprising.

The attacks themselves paled before the bloodiest episodes of Syria's last uprising in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Then, insurgents stormed the office of the Aleppo Artillery School, killing 32 cadets. It was unclear whether anyone was killed or wounded in these attacks, but the constituency of armed strikes and the bold choice of targets has heightened the profile of Syria's armed insurgency.

The Syrian government did not mention either attack, which activists reported, citing the accounts of local residents. But even without a firm picture of any damage, the attacks were, at a minimum, indicative of determination on the part of military defectors in the face of a crackdown that the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people.

Army desertions — which have been reported since the start of the uprising and may now number in the thousands — have yet to undermine the unity of Syria's military. But the continued flow increases the pool of recruits for the armed defector groups. And some analysts said the defections might be increasing as Syria's last remaining allies peel away, including the Arab League, which has threatened to suspend Syria's membership in coming days if it does not abide by its call to stop the killing.

"It's a huge boost to whoever wants to stand against the regime, both on a military level and on the level of civilians," said Hussein Shobokshi, a columnist with Asharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper published in London. "This regime has expired, and the move will set the round for further defections, civilian protests and maybe even military intervention. It will also allow the international community to take further action like creating safe haven or no-fly zones."

There is no unified opposition driving events in Syria. Many of the leaders calling for the downfall of the government have voiced concerns over the attacks and warned that they could lead to internal strife, similar to what happened in Syria's neighbors Lebanon and Iraq.

"I am opposed to internal fighting; the people of one country should not kill each other," said Fayez Sara, an influential opposition figure in Damascus. "The operations against government forces should stop."

On Thursday, the civilian toll continued to mount. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said at least 19 people had been killed across Syria, including four army defectors, seven civilians and two minors.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said that the international community should call on all sides in Syria to stop the bloodshed. "There are more and more weapons that are being smuggled in from neighboring countries," Mr. Lavrov said. "Today I saw a television report about some new so-called rebel Free Syrian Army organizing an attack on the government building, on the building belonging to Syria's armed forces."

"This was quite similar to a true civil war," he added.

In Turkey, once Syria's ally and now a sharp critic, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the lack of effective action against the Damascus government, questioning whether international players were ignoring the bloodshed because the country offered no precious resources.

"Syria might not be generating the level of reactions seen in Libya because it does not have that much petrol," Mr. Erdogan said in a televised speech at the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Summit in Istanbul. "However, I would like you to know that those who are killed in Syria are as human and living souls as those who died in Libya."

At the United Nations, Germany, France and Britain were circulating a draft General Assembly resolution endorsing the Arab League-brokered peace plan calling on Syria to halt all violence and withdraw armed forces from civilian areas, moving to further quarantine Syria internationally as well as in the Arab world. Several Arab countries expressed interest in helping to sponsor the measure, the German mission said in a statement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group operating in exile, said that armed fighters believed to be members of the Syrian Free Army launched an attack with rocket-propelled grenades on a building housing the youth offices for the Baath Party in the city of Maarat al-Noaman in the northwestern province of Idlib. The group said clashes ensued between the fighters and security forces who were outside the building.

Abo Moayed, an activist from Idlib who said that he was in contact with fighters, said that the attack was launched after receiving signals from soldiers inside the building. "Around 250 fighters participated in this attack. And after the attack, 60 soldiers who were in the building defected and left the town."

There was no way to independently verify his account.

The attack on the intelligence installation, in the Harasta suburb of Damascus, was one of several clashes claimed Wednesday by the Free Syrian Army. But at the time, the Local Coordination Committees said the attack was most probably an act of vengeance by protesters who were imprisoned and interrogated there. Another group said only two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the building, and there was no apparent damage.

Omar Idlibi, an activist with the Local Coordination Committees, said that at least two dozen soldiers had left their ranks in the city of Hama on Thursday.

In October, the Security Council failed to pass a toothless resolution condemning the violence, in the face of a rare veto by both Russia and China. A nonbinding General Assembly resolution in support of the Arab League demands would carry even less weight.

But since all 193 member states can vote, the outcome would reflect global opinion. Syria, already embarrassed that its Arab credentials are being questioned, has also long put stock in the General Assembly as reflecting international legal opinion over issues important to it, particularly the return of the Golan Heights by Israel.

"We hope it will show Assad just how isolated he is," Peter Wittig, Germany's representative to the United Nations, said in a statement.

Hwaida Saad and Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from Beirut, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.
 

Fresh challenges for migrants in Yemen
Publisher: Yemen Times
Story date: 17/11/2011
Language: English

Thousands of Africans continue to seek refuge in Yemen, despite continuing conflict and increasing xenophobia. Some know the risks, but believe Yemen will still be better than the war and food crisis they left behind. Others do not know or understand the situation, say analysts. Accusations by both the government and the opposition that African migrants are engaged in the conflict in the capital, Sana'a – an allegation widely reinforced by local media – have fuelled the situation. The ongoing conflict has also affected the ability of aid agencies to help them. Yet September saw the highest number of new monthly arrivals – more than 12,000, an average of 400 a day – since 2006, bringing the total of new arrivals from January to September to 72,111, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Other impacts "Smugglers are taking advantage of the lack of proper governance resulting from the overall insecurity in the country," said Sarah Saleh, deputy country director of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), which helps new arrivals on the Yemeni coast.

With a smaller government presence, new arrivals are landing in more locations and more frequently – making it difficult for aid agencies to locate and assist them. These challenges have been compounded by a fuel shortage, linked to the political crisis, which has limited the movement of aid agencies and their ability to operate generators amid electricity shortages.

Refugees and migrants who come to Yemen by boat from the Arabian Coast are normally transported to Kharaz camp through the Abyan governorate, but agencies have been forced to take a longer, safer route, which has slowed the frequency of transportation and forced newcomers to stay in transit centers longer than usual. The route from Ahwar to Kharaz, for example, used to take two to three hours; now it can take eight hours, Saleh said.

The trip from Mayfa'a to Kharaz – normally seven hours – now takes up to 17 hours, according to Nasser Salim Bajanoob, head of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), which transports new arrivals from reception centres to the camp. "Operationally, things have become exceedingly difficult," Saleh said. "We're all frustrated, to be honest.

People do not wait for the trucks to take them to Kharaz [camp]. Sometimes, they say 'to hell with it' and they just go on foot." Stuck at the border According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 12,000 migrants are stuck in the border region, unable to enter Saudi Arabia – due to increased smuggling fees and tightened security – and unable to return to Sana'a. The IOM has evacuated more than 6,000 in the past year.

But since September, flights have been grounded, leaving migrants in a "critical" condition at the border. "They are threatened physically. Sometimes they are assaulted, beaten, robbed," said IOM. "In some cases they have no means to feed or take care of themselves," Edward Leposky, UNHCR public information officer in Yemen, said. "Some are sick, hungry, dehydrated, living in open areas and exposed to the elements." Zeinab Hassan, a 26-year-old Ethiopian who had camped out in front of UNHCR in protest of the refugee situation for four months despite her pregnancy, said she did not have shelter, water, sanitation or maternal healthcare.

Despair "Everyone is more desperate at the moment," said Jonathan Gray, head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) sub-office in the southern city of Aden. The refugees, he added, were following the lead of Yemenis and others across the Arab world in using protests to air their grievances. Some asylum-seekers want to go back home, according to DRC's Saleh. "A lot of them are saying they want to go back to Somalia, which is in many cases actually worse than Yemen." The experience has taken quite a psychological toll on them, Gray added. "A lot of Somalis will say 'wherever we go, we're involved in war'." And yet more keep coming. "It is a real challenge to get the message to the grassroots level that Yemen is not a viable option," the IOM's Chauzy concluded.
 

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