Ban voices deep concern over continuing violence in Egypt
Publisher: UN News Centre
Story date: 27/11/2011
Language: English

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced deep concern over the continuing deadly violence in Egypt in recent days and urged the country''s transitional authorities to ensure that all citizens can enjoy basic human rights.

More than 30 people have been reported killed by security forces during clashes involving demonstrators in many cities and towns calling for a return to civilian rule. The first phase of parliamentary elections are slated to begin in Egypt on Monday.

Mr. Ban spoke by telephone yesterday with Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the Chair of the Supreme Council of the Egyptian armed forces.

The Secretary-General deplored the loss of life and the high number of injured, according to information released by his spokesperson.

He reiterated his earlier calls for transitional authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights and civil liberties for all Egyptians, and for an inclusive and peaceful transition that meets Egyptians'' legitimate aspirations through transparent and credible elections that lead to the establishment of civilian life.

Egypt''s long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February after weeks of protests over his rule, echoing the popular movement across the Middle East and North Africa that has also led to the downfall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, and to protracted violence in Syria.

Egypt votes in first post-Mubarak elections
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 27/11/2011
Language: English

Egyptians are voting in the opening stage of the first elections since former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

As dawn broke, people were already queuing to cast their ballots outside polling stations in the capital, Cairo.

But protesters who want the vote to be postponed still occupy Tahrir Square.

The head of the country's military council, which took over after Mr Mubarak was unseated, has said the country is "at a crossroads".

"Either we succeed – politically, economically and socially – or the consequences will be extremely grave and we will not allow that," Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said in a statement on Sunday.

He urged top presidential candidates Mohammed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa to give their support to his nomination for prime minister, 78-year-old Kamal Ganzouri.

Monday's voting begins an election timetable which lasts until March 2012.

The first stage of the poll, running until January, covers elections to the 508-member People's Assembly.

For Egypt's military rulers the decision to press ahead with these elections was a gamble – taken in the anxious days last week when demonstrators were dying in hails of buckshot under clouds of tear gas on the streets of Cairo.

The early indications from polling stations in and around the Egyptian capital is that the gamble has a real chance of paying off.

Long, orderly queues began to form two hours before the official start of voting – an indication of the appetite for democracy here pent-up under decades of autocratic government. At one polling station it was 800m long.

The new parliament is likely have a strong Islamist bloc led by the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal groupings and some reconditioned relics of Hosni Mubarak's old party.

Over the last nine days there has been a revival of the protest movement which forced Mr Mubarak from office, with hundreds gathered at its hub, in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

At least 41 protesters have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded as tensions flared in recent days.

The protesters fear the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) – which is headed by Field Marshal Tantawi and is overseeing the transition to democratic rule – is trying to retain power.

"We reject any resolution taken by the military council – except for the handover of power to an authority that we approve. Then we will be making the decisions in Egyptian politics," said protester Samira Hosni.

Mass demonstrations – in Cairo and beyond – had called for military rule to end before parliamentary elections were held.

There have also been smaller gatherings expressing support for the country's interim military rulers.

'Dangerous hurdles'

On Monday morning the numbers in Tahrir Square were small, while queues were forming outside polling stations in the city before they opened at 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT).

"It was no use to vote before. Our voices were completely irrelevant," one woman in central Cairo told the AFP news agency as she went to vote for the first time in her life.

Another first-time voter said she was "voting for freedom". "We lived in slavery. Now we want justice in freedom," Iris Nawar told AP news agency.

"We are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we lived for 30 years under Mubarak, we will live with them too."

Analysts say the voting procedure is complex and there has been little time for campaigning, so it is unclear how many people will cast ballots.

There are some 50 million eligible voters in the country who will choose candidates from 50 registered political parties.

The new parliament is likely have a strong Islamist bloc led by the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal groupings and some reconditioned relics of Hosni Mubarak's old party, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Cairo.

The system is so complicated and protracted that there will be no results until March, he adds.

In a separate development early on Monday, a pipeline in Egypt which supplies Israel and Jordan with natural gas was attacked by saboteurs, Egypt's Mena state news agency said.

Witnesses reported seeing masked men driving away from the pipeline, close to the town of Arish, before two blasts were heard. It is the ninth such attack on the pipeline this year.

Arab League approves sanctions against Syria
Publisher: The Washington Post
Author: By Alice Fordham,
Story date: 27/11/2011
Language: English

BEIRUT — The Arab League on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a series of economic sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including freezing the assets of senior figures, banning high-level Syrian officials from visiting Arab nations and ending dealings with the country's central bank.

The decision is the first of its kind by a body that is often perceived as divided and indecisive. Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria did not vote on the sanctions.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Saturday that Iraq had "reservations" about sanctions, and analysts doubt that Iraq, which has a strong trade relationship with Syria, would implement them. And Lebanon, whose government is dominated by groups that support Assad, including the militant political group Hezbollah, also is unlikely to enforce the sanctions.

But the move, announced at a news conference in Cairo by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, could nonetheless have a significant impact on the Syrian government and businesses, and represents a hardening stance of Arab countries against Assad.

The tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar was active in the international effort to remove Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from power. It now holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League and has been playing a leading role in the unprecedented package of sanctions.

Halting dealings between the central bank and Arab countries will make international trade more difficult for Syria, because it means the bank won't be able to underwrite such deals, said Chris Phillips of the Economist Intelligence Unit, as will a likely ban on commercial flights between Syria and Arab countries, which the group is considering. This could impact the business community that has benefited from Assad's liberalization measures and has thus far remained largely supportive of the government.

Phillips said, however, that the chance of the business leaders joining a growing but fractured coalition of defected soldiers and anti-government gunmen working to overthrow the leadership was very slim.

"The sanctions will put pressure not just on the institutions targeted but on the whole economy, and will certainly destroy what remains of investment confidence," said a banker in neighboring Lebanon, where public rev­enues have been heavily impacted by the turmoil in Syria.

"It is going to have tangible effects as well as a very strong political message," he added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Within Syria, anti-government activists said they welcomed the action taken by the Arab League, but some sought more international involvement, calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on the country and support the group of army defectors and armed dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army.

An activist in the city of Homs, who goes by the name Hadi al-Abdullah, said the violence was growing worse daily, with sectarian fighting and clashes between security forces and armed anti-government groups claiming dozens of lives daily.

"We call for militarized buffer zones on the borders and a no-fly zone," he said. "Every hour matters. We are seeing our loved ones die."

Violence is reaching new levels, according to activists. Rami Abdulrahman, of the London-based Syrian Human Rights Observa­tory, said more than 100 people have been killed in protests and clashes since Thursday.

And, along with fellow activists in the capital, Damascus and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, Abdullah expressed concern that food and fuel shortages, already harsh, particularly for the poorest people, would worsen with tightened economic sanctions.

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