North Africa remains unstable
The situation is far from stabilizing in the main countries of North Africa.
In Tunisia, new violence in the centre of Tunis is similar to that seen in the Jasmine revolution of January. On the night of May 7 to 8, gangs of youth looted a poor suburb of the capital. Islamists are said to have intervened in an attempt to restore order. A curfew was declared in Tunis and its suburbs from 9:00 p.m. To 5:00 a.m. But the next day, May 8, several hundred protesters gathered in Avenue Habib Bourguiba demanding more reforms. The police only managed to disperse the crowd after firing tear gas. During the unrest, several police stations and national guard buildings were burned in the capital, its suburbs and in cities across the country. This instability raises fears that elections may not be able to be held as scheduled on July 24.
The deterioration in the situation followed controversial remarks made by a former minister of internal affairs, who stated that the army would be ready to stage a coup d'etat in the case of victory by the Islamists in the elections. The disorder also coincides with the conviction by a court in Tunis of the nephew of Ben Ali, to 2 years in prison and a fine of 2000 dinars for drug use. Many Tunisians are surprised that this man, involved in major corruption, does not incur more severe penalties.
In Morocco, fearing that the attack on April 28 in Marrakech may halt the reforms initiated by King Mohammed VI, some 5,000 people demonstrated on May 8 in the large southern city. They called for more democracy - the only way according to them to "fight terrorism". As in previous meetings (20 February, 20 March and 24 April), the demonstrators were mainly young people, this time they travelled from several cities of the kingdom. However, observers say, the Islamists were less present. In addition to shouting "No to terrorism!", the slogans of the protesters remain the same: "A king who reigns but does not govern", "For a new constitution," "Social Justice", "No to corruption". After a halt in front of a police station to denounce torture and at the café ''Argana'' target of the bombing in the ''Jamaa El Fna'' square, the protesters dispersed peacefully.
In Libya, the conflict continues between loyalist and anti Gaddafi forces. The fighting has already caused thousands of deaths, according to the prosecuter for the International Criminal Court. More than half a million people, mostly foreign workers have fled the country since mid-February. Some have attempted to do so by boat. The small Italian island of Lampedusa received more than 2,100 new refugees from Libya during the weekend of May 8.
For weeks the rebels have been asking for arms in order to resist the army loyal to the dictator which they have been fighting since mid-February.
The struggle is fierce around Misrata, the major coastal city 200 km east of Tripoli which is besieged by government forces.
In Benghazi, the second largest city and seat of the rebellion, the vice-president of the National Transitional Council (CNT) said that Italy would supply weapons to insurgents fighting against Colonel Qaddafi. Like France and the United Kingdom, Italy has already sent a few military advisers to Benghazi to help the insurgents to organize their efforts.
In neighboring Egypt, a new outbreak of violence against Coptic Christians is a cause for concern. Ten people were killed and over one hundred injured when, on the evening of May 7, Muslims attacked a church in a popular district of Cairo on the grounds that a Christian supposedly wanting to convert to Islam is detained there. Another church was burned in this area where large numbers of police were deployed.
The tension between the two religious communities has lasted several months, but the Egyptian army (in charge of the country since the overthrow of President Mubarak, February 11) reacted quickly this time: it announced it had arrested 190 people linked to the violence. They will be brought before military tribunals.
Only Algeria seems untouched by instability. At least in appearance. It is true that the government has substantial financial reserves thanks to soaring oil prices and do not skimp on subsidies to calm potential challengers: May 5, a supplementary budget law for 2011 was adopted, providing a 25% increase in public spending. This increase represents $23.8 billion (16.4 billion euros) mainly for the compensation of officials, additional subsidies for basic commodities (wheat, milk, oil, sugar) and projects for youth, employment and housing.
Terrorism hits Morocco hard in Marrakech
A violent terrorist attack struck the tourist city of Marrakesh, Thursday, April 28.
It appears that a man appeared in a cafe in the famous Jemaa el Fna and, after ordering an orange juice blew himself up. Another version says that the bomber had deposited a bag in the café before leaving. In total, 17 people, (including the alleged bomber), were killed by the explosion and there were about twenty others wounded. Among the victims are tourists, including 8 French.
King Mohammed VI has ordered a prompt and transparent investigation. For its part, the Moroccan Ministry of Communication, says that "Morocco is facing the same threats as in May 2003 and these will be faced with diligence and in a proactive manner. "
The Casablanca bombings (16 May 2003), carried out by Islamic extremists, killed 45 people including 12 suicide bombers. In a video posted on YouTube last week, men posing as members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had threatened to attack Moroccan interests in protest against the detention of Islamic militants. In the aftermath of the attack, investigators, however, assume no direct link between the two events.
A few days ago, probably unrelated to the attack, peaceful demonstrations were attended by several thousand people in cities across the kingdom on Sunday 24. It was the third time since the beginning of the year 2011 that protesters rally to call for more democracy. King Mohammed VI has already attempted to meet these aspirations by announcing a constitutional reform and by freeing political prisoners.
Algeria: new pressures on Christians in Oran and in Kabylia
According to ''Christian International Christian Concern'' (ICC), two Algerians were arrested April 14 in Oran, after sharing their faith with neighbors. They are to be tried for blasphemy and proselytizing, punishable with a prison sentence of 5 years. Their trial which was originally scheduled for April 27 was postponed.
One of two men, Sofian, was released the day after his arrest, while his friend Krimo remained in jail for 3 days.
Krimo organised weekly prayer meetings in his home and local Christians assume that he was being watched. The police also raided Krimo's home, searching for Bibles and other Christian materials.
The Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) has hired a lawyer to defend the two men.
Also, April 23, after the worship service of the Church of Makouda in Kabylia, three plain-clothes police officers asked the pastor to sign documents ordering him to close the premises within 48 hours. This is linked to a request from the landowner who, according to local Christians, had been pressured by the police commissioner of the region.
The church of Makouda, whose place of worship has been open for ten years, is officially affiliated to the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). But apparently this status is considered illegal by the commissioner.
Libya sandwiched between military stalemate and a search for diplomatic solutions
Four weeks after initiation of international military intervention in Libya, the situation remains uncertain on the field. Insurgents opposed to Colonel Gaddafi seem well established in the West, based in the country's second city, Benghazi. However loyalist forces who support the dictator remain well positioned in the east where they even seem to be retaking ground between the Tunisian border and Tripoli. Mounting evidence is showing how intense the fighting has been. The strategic cities of Ajdabiya and Misrata have been pounded by "continuous and savage attacks" in the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Even if the intervention of the international coalition aircraft is a valuable support for the insurgents, it is proving insufficient. Only 7 of the 28 NATO countries (USA, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway and the UK) are conducting strikes against Libyan tanks and ammunition depots. The Paris-London axis remains adamant: French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister, David Cameron, agreed on the need for greater "military pressure" on Gaddafi.
But the international community is divided over these events and refuses any military engagement with larger shipments of weapons or troops on the ground.
For many commentators, only a diplomatic arrangement will avoid a serious stalemate. Colonel Gaddafi's opponents continue to demand his departure before any cease-fire and as a prerequisite for any discussion. Some NATO countries, including France, can not imagine a solution where Colonel Gaddafi would remain in power. The negotiations are ongoing. Washington would seek a country of refuge for the dictator who would then be safe from the International Criminal Court.
Meanwhile, financial support for the insurgents is growing. At a meeting in Doha, the contact group on Libya has decided to set up a fund to aid the rebels. Consisting of twenty countries, this group aims to coordinate all efforts of the international community in favor of Libya.
Algeria: democratization according to president Bouteflika
In a speech to the nation on the evening of April 14, President Bouteflika confirmed the reforms that had already been announced in principle on March 19. Apparently weakened, the Algerian head of state recalled his achievements since taking office in 1999 before committing to undertake a series of democratic reforms.
Two years before the end of his term, after 12 years of uncontested reign which is beginning now to be challenged in the street, the Algerian president has embarked on a process of opening up.
This will begin with a review of the electoral code to meet the aspirations of the Algerian people "to exercise their electoral right under the best circumstances: democratic and transparent, to choose the representatives in their elected assemblies, " according to the President's words.
A reform of the law on political parties is to follow. The adoption of a law to strengthen the "representation of women in elected assemblies," then a review of the Wilaya laws (relating to Algeria's departments).
The whole is to be completed by a revision of the Constitution, the work of a commission comprising representatives of the various political movements and legal experts.
All this could take a year. Meanwhile, President Bouteflika announced the "decriminalization of press offenses," a gesture to media professionals.
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