Thousands Still Afraid to Return Home to #Libya

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Photo: Zahra Moloo/IRIN
A group of women from Tawergha. Some claim their family members were taken by militias to detention centres in Misrata.

Six months after an uprising brought down Muammar Gaddafi’s government, thousands of displaced Libyans are still living in abandoned construction sites, empty student dormitories or with host families, too afraid to return to their homes.

“We want to go back but cannot,” said Abdul Aziz al-Irwi, who lives in Sidi Slim camp in the capital, Tripoli. “Some people from another camp tried to return about two months ago, but about seven of them were captured by forces from Zintan and imprisoned.”

Al-Irwi is from the Mshashiya community, an ethnic group from the Nefusa Mountains in Western Libya who were targeted during the uprising by opposition fighters from Zintan, allegedly for being allied with pro-Gaddafi forces. Zintan is a small city also located in the Nefusa Mountains area.

“I am here because Gaddafi’s forces came to the town of Mshashya, so we had to leave,” he told IRIN. “They used our town to bomb other areas. We went to Gharyan, and then came to Tripoli.”

Records from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, show that an estimated 14,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living in Tripoli as of March. Across Libya, the total number of those still displaced is estimated at 70,000.

Apart from the Mshashiya, others included the Qawalish, also from the Nefusa Mountains, the Tawergha, a group of Touareg families from the west, and those perceived as being loyal to the previous regime from al-Zawiya, Bani Walid and Sirte.

A sizeable group of the displaced living in Tripoli and Benghazi cities were Tawergha. They were accused of participating in Gaddafi’s assault on Misrata, murdering and raping thousands of people. Reprisal attacks ensued, forcing their entire town of more than 30,000 to flee their homes. Today, the Tawergha-Misrata case remains a particularly sensitive one in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Until recently, the dark-skinned Tawergha minority – former slaves brought to Libya in the 18th and 19th centuries – lived in a coastal town of the same name 250km east of Tripoli. With the rise to power of the rebels, the Tawergha are now on the defensive. The sign leading to their city has been changed to New Misrata and its population told not to return.

Source: IRIN news service

#Mauritania massive 2 May 2012 protest rally and sit-in

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Police attacked the protesters at around 3am, just a few minutes after I closed this blog post.

Sorry about the video quality, but it’s really hard to upload video in Mauritania because the connection speeds are abominable, so we must be patient and understanding.


If he thought he could dampen people’s enthusiasm for the latest mass rally called by the group of opposition parties in Mauritania, or divert their attention, Aziz got it dead wrong. Despite his efforts to (re)position himself as a man of the people, a “president of the poor” to echo his election campaign statement, and regardless of news promising jobs and pay increases, tens of thousands of people still turned out to deliver the same message: “leave”. This time, in fact, they were joined by even more youth movements.

This video of the march is just as impressive as the ones from March and April.

And here are the February 25 Movement protesters in fine form

When Biram ould Abeid, the president of anti-slavery group IRA, decided to burn some books of Islamic jurisprudence because they mentioned slavery, it was all over state TV. But this huge rally, like the others, was given about 45 seconds of airtime.

Here is a gallery of images from the events of the day so far – remember they intend to stage a sit-in, they have erected tents, brought supplies, and even arranged a water truck, and are hoping to survive the night. There have been several stories going around about the police planning to kick them out, or attack the camp in the early hours. Most of these images came from the Mauritanie Demain and February 25 Movement FaceBook pages. you can also find more news and updates on Twitter under the #Mauritania hashtag, and if you read Arabic or can cope with half-baked Google translate, on this blog and from these Twitter users: @medabdou, @ahmedj85, @ahmedbah, @Rev25fev, @nahmedou, @babadeye, @sidimedlemin, @darchhr, @eddennine, @mahmoume, @tahabib    @mauritaniedem1

#Somalia Gov Warning to Spoilers Bent on Disrupting Peace Process

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Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (AP file photo)

Transitional Federal Government Spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman told journalists in Mogadishu on Tuesday that the current administration was ready to end the current transition form of administration into a fully functional unity government.The government in Somalia has sounded an unequivocal warning to “spoilers” bent on disrupting the country’s peace process and derail what it called the “swift sailing” of the current transition period.

“Both the Somali government and the international community are clear on this issue. The current transitional period must end in August 2012 and any person seen going contrary to this will be added to the list of spoilers and will face local and international sanctions” the TFG Spokesman said.

The roadmap was the construct of a political agreement between several established political stakeholders in Somalia that seek a consensus among the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), regional administrations, civil society members, moderate religious groups, traditional leaders and business community with observers from the international community.

African Union, United Nations and IGAD has on Tuesday threatened individuals or groups in and out of Somalia trying to jeopardize the roadmap for ending the transition.

The United Nations, the African Union and IGAD jointly issued an unequivocal warning to all potential spoilers and non-compliance of the roadmap saying that such individuals or groups will be referred to the IGAD Council of Ministers for the immediate imposition of measures and restrictions.

In a press release, the three bodies said requests for further sanctions against spoilers may simultaneously be referred to the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea in order to open an investigation under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1844 of 2008, adding that they will be taking concrete action in the coming weeks.

They said they will take measures against those who seek to prevent or block a peaceful political process, who threaten the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFls) of Somalia by force, or whoever takes action that undermines stability in Somalia or the region.

They said they are moving closer to key benchmarks, such as the convening of the Constituent Assembly, adoption of a new Federal provisional Constitution, selection of a new Parliament, and remain greatly concerned that the roadmap continues to be jeopardized by the actions of individuals and groups in and out of Somalia working to undermine the fragile progress they have collectively made in recent months.

“This communication should act as both a warning and a final opportunity for those standing against peace and progress in Somalia to cease their actions against the process” read a part of the statement.

Source African Press Agency

#Mauritania’s Bonfire of the Vanities

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It took considerable self-control to suppress my gag reflex at the sight of Abdel Aziz rushing from the palace to greet the protest march against Biram Ould Abeid’s sacrilegious act, dressed in full al-dara’a and head scarf traditional dress. I know he said that they should forget democracy, that Mauritania is Islamic, and promising swift and sure action.  There was also something about secularism, but I confess, I was too dazzled by the crispness of his powder-blue cotton Marabout costume to pay attention. I assume that was the idea in any case. A pretty stage show to mollify the mob. Not only was Aziz in the palace on a weekend, conveniently dressed in his “man of the sands” fashion mockery, he was also able to reel off the names of several distant locations where protests had also “spontaneously” erupted. The president’s new media advisor certainly seems to be earning his keep.

The first time I read about anything being purposefully burned in Mauritania, beneath that scorching desert sun, it was from 2009, and the prescription medicines that the government destroyed because they were either out of date, or illegally imported pseudo-meds, in both cases highly dangerous. They had a bonfire, same as the little springtime ceremonies in Nouadhibou, where police torch impressive quantities of illicit drugs captured from the well-established trafficking routes. The drugs trade bonfires are likely timed to coincide with a visit by representatives of a source of international funding for the prevention of trafficking.

And the last time I read about anything being burned in Mauritania, it was not books of Islamic jurisprudence, it was approval being granted for Chinese residents to build funeral pyres to cremate their dead. There are a lot of Chinese store owners, business people and workers in Mauritania, and China is an essential trading and investment partner. So we need not be concerned or surprised by the double standard of allowing burial rituals that are not in the Islamic tradition, while simultaneously telling people to forget democracy, Mauritania is a nation of Islam, and they are all soldiers in the fight to defend their faith.

The book burning was televised, yet the area was surprisingly free of police or security, and the entire scene played out without them appearing. This is highly unusual, as the police are the constant shadows of the media in Mauritania, and indeed have frequently harassed, abused, physically assaulted and arrested journalists and photographers, especially when they are covering protests or issues that Aziz would prefer were kept out of the spotlight. Clearly this was not such a time. In my archive I have a growing collection of videos from protests created by citizen journalists and a few independent local media outlets, showing the police cracking out the tear gas and batons as soon as the first discarded tyre begins to smoulder. In many cases the police don’t even wait for anyone to start a fire; they just attack.

The level of public outrage is doubly impressive when you consider that about 50% of the population is illiterate. That doesn’t explain why 99% of commentators fail to mention any specific content in the books while raging about their destruction, or why all the focus is on Maliki’s text – as I write, someone just created a “We are all Maliki” Facebook page. Only those who have read them will know that the books do indeed contain reference to slavery. But there is another reason to keep discussion of this hot topic on the back burner, and keep those pots of boiling invective and racist insults frothing and bubbling at the front. The last thing any pious rent-a-pitchforker wants is to have to admit that slavery exists, that it is an ongoing issue, that it is written in the Quran, or that Maliki or anyone else wrote about it. No one is going to bother mentioning that slavery is also mentioned in elaborate detail in the Bible, and also in the Torah – I believe there’s a reference to maidservants, which intimates child slavery, right after the commandments. They do not know how to eliminate it, so they choose to avoid it.

Why do we not see such generous media coverage when people go out onto the street to protest the many injustices in this country? Why does Aziz not rush to meet protesters outside the palace promising swift action for inequality and corruption instead of sending his thugs to greet them with tear gas and beatings?

What does it mean to burn something? It’s an outward expression of anger, a violent act. Fire can be a tool of oppression, of protest, of control. But it also contains an aspect of hopefulness. There are many alternative methods of destruction, but only fire has that deep significance and special symbolism earned as man’s constant companion since the dawn of humanity, of being both destroyer and life-giver, of being the prelude to new beginnings. Of the many things that have burned in Mauritania, I hope this event signifies an end to isolationist principles and egoism, and the birth of a new period of reflection and reconciliation.

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Note: I do not condone the destruction of books and especially not those which have special religious significance because it is hateful and intended to insult believers, which is a form of victimisation or religious persecution. For these reasons, I condemn it totally. As symbolism, it represents too many things I despise. As an act, it is puerile and vulgar.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is a novel by Tom Wolfe about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980’s New York