News and Comments 10 Feb 2012


Much Ado About Mali

Azawad Rebels

Azawad Rebels

Mali continues to feature in the media, with lots of conflicting statements from all quarters.
Despite the arrival of dozens of US troops in Mauritania, Reuters is reporting that the United States has delayed annual counter-terrorism training for its allies in the Sahara region. The U.S. embassy in Bamako said on Friday Flintlock 2012, its counter-terrorism exercise bringing together African and Western nations and was due to start later this month and run through March, had been delayed while Mali tackled the rebels.
“Mali’s participation in Flintlock 2012 is critical to its success and we understand the need to focus necessary efforts on maintaining its security,” said U.S. Ambassador to Mali Mary Beth Leonard. No details were given for when the training would take place.

Mali is no stranger to rebellions – this is the fourth led by the mainly Tuareg nomads of the north since the country gained its independence from France in 1960. The last ended only in 2008. But this time the turbaned rebels’ arsenal is rumoured to include SA-7, SA-24 and Milan portable missile systems, according to a Malian soldier who faced them. And rather than just melting back into the desert after an attack, the new firepower has emboldened them to take on the army on three fronts and resist helicopter gunships.

A Malian military official has allegedly told Reuters that Malian helicopter gunships bombed rebel positions and troops used heavy weapons fire against them near the key northern town of Kidal today, but they didn’t provide a body count. “Five of our helicopters have been bombing the rebels … to take out the attackers,” the official said, adding that raids had taken place about 15 km from the town. A second military source said: “We are not waiting for them to attack us anymore. Now it is us going on the offensive.” The rebels said 20 people have been killed and thousands have fled Kidal. However, the “Azawad Women of Kidal” movement has said they are not leaving under any circumstances and will stand their ground even if they face being arrested.

MNLA released a statement today, thanking France for it’s support for the rebellion. Speaking to Al Jazeera, the French FM quickly and firmly denied that they were providing any support and called for an immediate ceasefire and talks. Algeria has done the same, even mediating between Mali government and representatives of the May 23 movement. Sadly for all concerned, the MNLA objected to the fact that they had not been invited, though they did welcome the move.

Statements from various officials of Algeria, Mauritania and Mali show a lack of consensus regarding the relationship between MNLA/May23/Azawad/Tuareg (4 confusing names is hardly better than being rebels without a name!) and AQIM. The MNLA have rejected claims of a relationship and have previously indicated they are prepared to neutralize the AQIM threat in the region.

Mauritania’s Aziz told French newspaper Le Monde, “We are talking about a small enemy (in AQIM) of no more than 300 men. That should be within the capabilities of any country.” He also said that Mali’s north had practically become a “free zone” for terrorists and called for countries to take concrete steps to tackle the group. Big words from the head of a military dictatorship that can’t even rescue one kidnapped gendarme. I doubt they are his own words. The man has “puppet” written all over him in gold braid.

Aid agencies are the busiest of all interested parties, releasing new daily accounts of rapidly increasing numbers of refugees from Mali reaching Nigeria, Algeria and Mauritania, along with reports of an escalating food crisis across the Sahel. Perhaps their efforts herding tens of thousands of displaced people around Africa like pawns on a giant sand strewn chessboard will be even more critical to Flintlock 2012 than anything the Malian army is doing right now.

Strong Support for Syrian People from Mauritanian Youth

10 Feb 2012 Mauritanian youth show support for Syria

10 Feb 2012 Mauritanian youth show support for Syria

After last week’s protest, Mauritanians gathered once again after prayers in the large Nouakchott mosque to show their support for Syria. During the prayer the Iman received a call from a Syrian counterpart, but unfortunately the connection was not very reliable and it was not possible for everyone to hear him speak. However, what really matters is that people in Syria know that they have support, and that message did get through.

After prayers, everyone gathered in the inner courtyard and there were rousing chants expressing solidarity with the struggle against the brutal regime in Syria that has lasted almost a year. There is a small group of Syrians currently living in Nouakchott, and they were present as always, leading or joining in the chants, and infecting everyone with their remarkable spirit and energy.

There was also a massive march for Syrian people in Tunisia today. [FaceBook video]

News is currently breaking that Saudi is tabling a motion on Syria before the UN General Assembly condemning the human rights violations (that’s rich, coming from the brutal kingdom of repression) and supporting the Arab League proposal for power transfer (which was mainly Saudi’s idea anyway)..


The Pope “Not Going to Iran”



Duh.  Right up there with “Queen Elizabeth Not Joining Space Shuttle Programme”. In case you thought it might be on the cards, the Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI receives many invitations and that a trip to Lebanon is under consideration but that there are no plans for a visit to Iran.

The Italian news agency ANSA on Wednesday quoted Iran’s ambassador to the Holy See as saying Iran issued an invitation to the pope in 2010 and that he would be welcomed to that country with “enthusiasm.”

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says the pope does have a Middle East trip “under study,” a possible September visit to Lebanon to present a document on the future of the church in the region.

Does Putin Use Nested Trolls?

Russian trolls

Russian trolls

No surprise that emails released by hackers shows a youth organisation acting as a front to stage cyber campaigns to boost and defend Putin’s popularity and making payments to journalists and bloggers. They’re all at it, of course Russia will be, too.

The Guardian reports on a pro-Kremlin group which runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous.

The group has uploaded hundreds of emails it says are to, from and between Vasily Yakemenko, the first leader of the youth group Nashi – now head of the Kremlin’s Federal Youth Agency – its spokeswoman, Kristina Potupchik, and other activists.

What Makes Female IDF Soldiers Lose Sleep?



It’s not their remote-control weapons targeting unarmed kids collecting gravel near the wall around Gaza, so they can scrape together enough money to buy a meal, and help support the building projects that are stunted by Israel’s blockade. No, it’s having to occupy a barracks that is infested with rats. The Beersheba base, which is home mostly to female soldiers, has been facing a rat assault for five months now, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday.

“It’s terrible. They swarm the offices, the bedrooms, the dinning hall and the sewage system,” one soldier at the base said.  We’re so scared that we can’t sleep at night,” one soldier said, adding: “Nobody treats us seriously.”

Could be worse. Could be moles. Or man-eating cyber-rats.

Racial Poverty Trap

Poverty among Americans at all-time high

Poverty among Americans at all-time high

This headline “Are many whites tumbling into a new underclass?”  from Nik Kristof was one of the first things I read this morning and it put me in a sour mood all day.  Poverty is a fact of life for so many people, I felt so angry that anyone would view it through the prism of racial difference, and especially someone who is positioned as a leading exoert on the subject. Also, indignant that a journalist would conjure up the spectre of “poor white people” like that was something new in America. Poor is poor.

In September of last year, AP reported that the ranks of America’s poor swelled to almost 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment left millions of Americans struggling and out of work. The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in more than two decades. AP didn’t see any need to highlight skin tone, they know it gives the impression that everyone is perfectly comfortable with poverty as long as it only affect those who are black, brown, yellow or basically any colour but white.


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