Violent protests in Egypt prompt worry about election
Publisher: the Washington Post, USA
Author: By Leila Fadel,
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

CAIRO — Egyptian security forces and protesters fought pitched battles Sunday, the second day of deadly clashes that plunged the country into a political crisis that could imperil Egypt's first post-revolt elections, just a week away.

After an emergency meeting Sunday night, Egypt's interim military leaders issued a statement expressing "regret over what the events have led to." But they resisted demonstrators' demands that they step aside quickly and turn power over to a civilian government, suggesting instead that they would stick to an announced timetable, which could keep them in charge until 2013.

In a separate statement, the military-backed cabinet said the Nov. 28 parliamentary elections would not be delayed, and it accused anti-military demonstrators of provoking the violence in an attempt to derail the vote.

But the unrest appeared to unnerve at least some senior officials. Culture Minister Emad Abu Ghazi submitted his resignation Sunday, citing the police response to the protests. At least 12 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured over two days, according to the Health Ministry, including at least 80 members of the security forces.

Egypt's military was applauded nine months ago when the army helped demonstrators push President Hosni Mubarak from office. But the ruling military council, led by Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who served as defense minister under Mubarak, has increasingly become the focus of criticism, as Egyptians worry that its members have taken advantage of the revolution to protect their own interests.

By late Sunday, protests had spread to the coastal cities of Alexandria and Suez and to other parts of the country. But as military leaders stood their ground, they called on Egyptians to "band together" to help with the slow transition of power. The military might be banking on its continued popularity in much of Egypt at a time when many here have soured on the revolutionaries and see the armed forces as the backbone of a country in the midst of political and financial crises.

"We won't accept any calls to postpone elections, and we affirm that the armed forces and the police are capable of securing the process and leading Egypt through this ditch we're stuck in," Gen. Mohsen el-Fangary, a member of the ruling council, said in a phone call to state television Sunday.

Campaigns suspended

As night fell over Cairo, fires raged in the capital's iconic Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 18-day revolt that led to Mubarak's downfall in February. Policemen set ablaze tents and other items belonging to protesters, as rock-throwing demonstrators battled riot officers on side streets.

Several political groups suspended their campaigns, and questions grew over whether the election would be postponed or marred by violence.

"This benefits the military. They're going to be saying, 'There is chaos and instability in the streets of Egypt, and that's why we need to stay in power — to protect stability, to protect security in the nation,' " said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center. "The last thing we need is more violence one week before the election. We're going to hear more and more calls for postponement in the coming days. That would be a disaster for Egypt."

The clashes were preceded by a massive protest Friday dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organized political force, and Salafists, followers of a rigid form of Islam. They took to the streets to demand a quick transition to civilian rule and the retraction of a draft document floated this month that would guide the writing of a new constitution and broaden the military's powers.

The Islamists, who until recently appeared reluctant to confront the military rulers, mostly left the square by Friday night, but a small group of protesters remained. On Saturday and Sunday, police attempted to dislodge them with tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot, prompting others to take to the streets.

"This is a war for freedom," said Sara Mohammed, a 19-year-old college student. She said she had slept in the square Saturday and returned after a midterm exam Sunday to drop off food and medicine for the wounded. "We didn't complete our revolution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is in power, and they were with Hosni Mubarak for 30 years. We stayed 18 days and we got Mubarak out, and we'll do it again."

The wounded were ferried by mopeds to a makeshift clinic in the square as police intermittently fired into the crowds. Protesters accused the Interior Ministry of using live ammunition Sunday, a charge the ministry denied.

Streets were littered with debris, shops around the square were closed, and parts of central Cairo were transformed into battlefields, as protesters predicted a second revolt, this time against the military leadership.

By late Sunday, thousands of people remained defiant in the square. It was reminiscent of the days when Egyptians — liberals and Islamists, young and old — united to battle riot police and protest Mubarak's authoritarian rule.

Dramatic video of Sunday evening's crackdown that was broadcast on Arabic satellite television showed police carrying long sticks and beating unarmed protesters. One video showed military police dragging what appeared to be a dead or unconscious demonstrator to the side of the road and leaving him in a pile of trash. In Alexandria, angry demonstrators ripped campaign posters from walls.

"I'm scared that this will mar the election," said Mahmoud Salem, a prominent blogger and activist running for parliament. He said he put his campaign on hold and is spending all his time in the square. "How can we hold elections with this violence?" he said.

At least two other prominent candidates suspended their campaigns in solidarity with the protesters: the founder of the reformist Kefaya movement, George Ishaq, and the co-founder of the liberal Egypt Freedom Party, Amr Hamzawy. A coalition of revolutionary parties called the Revolution Continues also froze its campaign.

In addition, a news conference scheduled for Monday by the State Information Service, to present final arrangements for voting day, was abruptly postponed, and a new date was not set.

'It's a time to stand together'

Angry protesters and activists were broadly united Sunday in calling for the immediate resignation of the caretaker government, and most denounced the heavy display of force. But they differed on what should come next.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party continued campaigning Sunday night, saying it supported the protesters but would not accept a delay of the vote. Analysts predicted that any delay would prompt members of the group to take to the streets in protest.

Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief who is a front-runner in the presidential race, said in an interview that the voting for parliament must go on as scheduled, with a presidential election as soon as possible after that.

"Postponement will trigger a lot of negative reactions," Moussa said. "This is one of the worst things Egypt has met since January 25, but this is not the end of the road."

Moussa said the military council was speaking with him and with various political factions and youth groups to seek help in resolving the crisis.

Islam Lotfy attended Sunday's funeral in Alexandria for his friend Bahaa el-Senussi, who was shot and killed during the clashes. Together they had co-founded the Egyptian Current Party, part of the Revolution Continues coalition, and for now, campaigning is off.

"Everything is on hold," Lotfy said. "Now is not the time for campaigning, it's a time to stand together against all this persecution."
 

Ashraf bientôt fermé
Publisher: La Tribune de Genève
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: Français

L'ambassade d'Irak auprès des institutions européennes a confirmé l'intention des autorités de fermer, d'ici à la fin de l'année, lecamp d'Ashraf, au nord de Bagdad,où vivent quelque 3400 réfugiés iraniens opposés au régime de Téhéran, a-t-on appris hier à Bruxelles. Les Moudjahidines, qui sont des opposants résolus au régime iranien, sont un sujet de contentieux entre Bagdad et Téhéran. Plus d'une centaine de députés européens sont opposés à la fermeture de ce camp. Et selon l'eurodéputé écossais Struan Stevenson, la décision de l'ambassade irakienne s'apparente à «une virtuelle déclaration de guerre» et à «une condamnation à mort» des résidents d'Ashraf.
 

EU says Iraq-UN cooperation key to closing Iran exile camp
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

The European Union urged further cooperation between UN negotiators and Iraqi officials in "difficult" efforts to press ahead with the closure of a camp inside Iraq housing some 3,400 Iranian dissidents.

"The EU is following very closely the current negotiations between the UN, UNHCR and the government of Iraq about camp Ashraf," said a statement issued by the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"These negotiations are very difficult but we trust the UN negotiators to conduct them with the safety of the residents as their main preoccupation," it added.

In Baghdad, officials said earlier that talks were underway on relocating the exiled Iranians from the camp north of Baghdad after it hosted members of the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) since the 1980s.

Iraq wants to reclaim it by year's end.

"The EU is also in regular contact with the Iraqi authorities and encourages them to be as flexible as possible with the modalities of the evacuation and to cooperate with UNHCR in order to facilitate the relocation of the residents," the EU statement said.

Earlier in Brussels, the head of the European parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq challenged the country's determination to close the camp as "a virtual declaration of war on the UN and international community and a death warrant" for Ashraf residents.

A letter co-signed by all of the parliament's political groups, with the exception of the Greens, urged Ashton to step in to obtain a delay in the camp's closure to give time to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others to screen and resettle residents.

The camp, an accident of history that has become a thorny international problem, has been in the spotlight since an April raid by Iraqi security forces left 34 people dead and scores injured, triggering sharp condemnation.

In a note to the EU, the Iraqi embassy in Brussels labelled the dissidents "terrorists", and denied they had refugee status or could claim protection under the Geneva Convention.

The camp was set up when Iraq and Iran were at war in the 1980s by the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) and was later placed under US control until January 2009, when US forces transferred security for the camp to Iraq.

The PMOI has been on the US government terrorist list since 1997 – though removed from the EU list – but has received support from leading US figures in its battle to obtain international supervision of Camp Ashraf's closure, timed to take place as US forces pull out of Iraq.

A foreign policy advisor for the Greens, Sabine Meyer, said the party did not join the European parliament petition as it perceived the PMOI as being a "sectarian" group that "manipulates and holds hostage" the camp's residents.

"Iraq has the right to reclaim this camp which is on its territory," she told AFP. "Some of the Mujahedeen leaders aided and abetted Saddam Hussein and should be judged for crimes against humanity."
 

The killing in Syria
Publisher: International Herald Tribune
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

The brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has left more than 3,500 people dead. International pressure for his removal is finally building — but not fast enough.

On Monday, King Abdullah of Jordan became the first Arab leader to urge Mr. Assad to relinquish power. On Tuesday, a senior Saudi prince, Turki al-Faisal, called Mr. Assad's exit ''inevitable.'' The same day, Turkey announced that plans for a Turkish oil company to explore for new deposits in Syria had been canceled. The government, which is sheltering some leaders of the Syrian opposition as well as thousands of Syrian refugees, also warned that Turkish power lines to Syria might be cut.

The Arab League also appeared ready, finally, to take a stand. On Saturday, it gave Damascus until Wednesday to end the violence or have its membership suspended. The killing has worsened. Instead of making good on its threat, on Wednesday, the league gave Mr. Assad a three-day reprieve, offering to send monitors to Syria to determine if the government was abiding by a league-brokered peace plan to end the crackdown.

He isn't. The league needs to do what it said, suspend Syria and then impose muscular penalties for Mr. Assad's brutality.

We know the league is dominated by autocrats. But they should at least understand self-interest. There are growing fears of civil war in Syria, and prolonged instability there will threaten the entire region. On Wednesday, army defectors allied with the Syrian opposition attacked a military intelligence facility near Damascus in a new escalation of the conflict.

The United States and the European Union have imposed their own tough penalties. But Russia and China have blocked the United Nations Security Council from imposing sanctions or even issuing a full-throated condemnation of Mr. Assad's bloody reign.

Moscow and Beijing need to stop their enabling and agree to tough sanctions on Mr. Assad and his cronies in the military and business community.

The Council should refer Mr. Assad and his henchmen to the International Criminal Court for prosecution for crimes against humanity.

Mr. Assad has left no doubt that he is willing to destroy his country to maintain his hold on power. His neighbors and all civilized countries need to stand with the Syrian people, before it's too late.
 

Record numbers flee Somalia, Ethiopia for Yemen: UN
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

Yemen has seen a surge of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia, with a record 12,545 arriving by sea last month as they fled unrest, famine and persecution, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.

The October total – the highest since UNHCR records began in 2006 – brings the number of people who arrived in Yemen by boat this year to 84,656, well above the 2009 high of 77,000.

Of the arrivals roughly three quarters were from Ethiopia and the remainder from Somalia.

"We are really experiencing a surge," said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Somalis said conflict, insecurity, drought and famine were driving them to leave their country, while Ethiopians cited a lack of economic opportunities, with some saying they had fled in fear of persecution in their region.

The UNHCR said it was concerned that most arrive in Yemen unaware of the insecurity and fighting in many parts of the country "which makes further movement difficult and risky."

"We are concerned about an increasing trend of abductions, extortions, kidnappings and sexual assaults targeting refugees, and particularly Ethiopian migrants," a statement said.

Between 2006 and 2008, Somali refugees accounted for the majority of all arrivals in Yemen, but Ethiopian migrants have since constituted the largest group among those crossing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The United Nations on Friday downgraded famine declarations in three Somali regions, but warned the crisis remains the worst in the world with nearly 250,000 people facing imminent starvation.

Much of southern Somalia is controlled by Islamist Shebab rebels, who are battling both the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and Kenyan troops in the far south, after Nairobi sent troops across the border last month.
 

Refugee influx to Yemen reaches record high: UN agency
Publisher: Xinhua News Agency
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

GENEVA, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) – The number of refugees and migrants reaching Yemen by boat totaled 12,545 in October, the highest level on record, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

The number broke the previous monthly record of 12,079 arrivals in September, bringing the total arrivals so far this year to 84,656, overtaking the earlier annual record of 77,000 in 2009, the Geneva-based agency said.

"With the autumn sailing season still in full swing, we expect the numbers for 2011 to grow further," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said at a press conference.

Somalia and Ethiopian are two major sources of outbound refugees and migrants. Of this year's arrivals, 23,079 are from Somalia, as people keep fleeing the country due to prolonging conflict, insecurity, drought and famine.

The remaining 61,577 people are Ethiopians, who left home for lack of economic and livelihood opportunities, as well as persecution or insecurity in their regions of origin.

"Most arrive in Yemen unaware of the situation there, where insecurity makes further movement difficult and risky," Fleming said, citing an increasing trend of abductions, extortions, kidnappings and sexual assaults targeting refugees, particularly Ethiopian migrants.
 

UN: Record Numbers of Somalis, Ethiopians Flee to Yemen
Publisher: VOA, Voice of America
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

The United Nations says a record number of refugees have fled Ethiopia and Somalia for Yemen, despite the instability there.

The U.N. refugee agency reports that nearly 85,000 refugees from the Horn of Africa countries have boarded smuggler boats and made the risky trek across the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea this year.

That figure is 8,000 more than the previous record set in 2009.

During a press conference in Geneva on Friday, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming noted the number of Ethiopians migrating to Yemen has now surpassed the number of Somalis.

According to the agency, most Ethiopians have said they left their country because of a lack of economic and job opportunities. Others have said they fear persecution and insecurity in their homeland.

Most Somalis have indicated they left to escape conflict, insecurity, drought and famine.

The United Nations has said many new arrivals to Yemen are apparently unaware of the unrest in that country.

The Yemeni government has clashed with activists calling for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.
 

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