- Free media training by foreign “experts”; more powers for press authority; unprecedented churn in state media at all levels; funding problems for independent media.
- New legislation to gag whistleblowers and bloggers approved by Aziz, to be ratified by a government severely weakened by the opposition election boycott.
- Aziz, sanctioned by the African Union after leading the last coup, is now in charge of the African Union
- A 10,000-strong UN “peacekeeping” force plus additional police is now planned for deployment in CAR – taking control of 6,000 African Union troops, and with 2,000 French troops “allowed” to support.
- Calls from the political fringe in Libya, hastily and enthusiastically echoed by France, for border security, using troops from neighboring countries AND non-neighbor Mauritania.
- Patrol vessels and helicopters from Spain‘s gendarmerie to be deployed in Mauritania for border security against smuggling and illegal immigration, after claiming the first Spanish military arrivals a few months ago were there for a “training exercise”
- The USA, after years of maintaining a “hands-off” policy, is now engaged in joint patrols with Mauritania border security.
- Reportedly rejected by Algeria, France is said to want to establish a military surveillance and monitoring base in Atar, Mauritania
The world has changed in many ways in the past 50 years. Global population has doubled, and well over half of the people alive in the world today were born after the United Nations requested, in 1965, that Spain de-colonise the territory of Western Sahara, which it had occupied since the late 19th century. But Spain would not relinquish the last colonial country in Africa so readily, and for the next 7 years the request for Spain to organise a referendum to establish the will of the people with regard to the future of Western Sahara was an annual fixture on the UN agenda.
To break out of this state of political limbo required more than a yearly repetition of the referendum request. The POLISARIO (Frente Para la Liberación de Saguia Al Hamra y Rio de Oro) was established in 1973 to force a change in tempo, by voicing the demands of the Saharawi and confronting the Spanish military. The initial impact seemed promising: the following year the first census was conducted and hopes began to rise that a lasting solution for independence was at hand. Those hopes evaporated as neighbouring Mauritania and Morocco replaced Spain as occupiers in 1976, and began a military pincer movement against the Saharwi. Increasingly, local inhabitants were driven into desert regions or to Algeria as refugees, victims of ambitious geopolitical competition between Morocco, which continues to uphold its territorial claims, and Mauritania, which eventually relinquished and withdrew.
And that is where we find the Saharwi today. Trapped in the sand behind a gigantic berm 2,700 kilometers long, laced with unknown thousands of landmines, heavily guarded by an estimated 100,000 Moroccan troops, with UN peacekeeping force MINURSO deployed to ensure the 1991 ceasefire agreement is upheld. Despite voting in favour of it, the Kingdom of Morocco has still not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty and, while both sides have agreed to cooperate with MINURSO to identify and remove mines and other unexploded ordnance, the berm is not included in the agreement. All major settlements, including the capital, are on the side occupied by Morocco, which encourages settlers and enters into trading agreements for Western Saharan resources such as phosphates, oil, fisheries, and even the sand. Goods produced in the occupied territory are regularly discovered being mislabelled “Made in Morocco”. All of these infractions are vigorously denounced by activists, with some notable successes in recent years.
On the other side of this monstrous wall the Saharwi wait to reclaim their rights, while their resources are plundered. They live on the goodwill of others, humanitarian assistance and charitable donations, while the wealth of their land lines the coffers of Morocco. It is estimated that between 90,000 and 165,000 people are living in the 5 camps they created over thirty years ago, when they fled the fighting. A reliable population census would facilitate the referendum these people were promised, which explains the wide gap between the lower estimate from Morocco and the upper estimate from the Saharwi. They didn’t expect to be living in these camps for so many years, decades even. Some of them have family on the other side of the barrier they have not seen for 30 years. MINURSO tries to arrange reunions, but the list is long and only a few people at a time can be granted this brief respite.
The record of human rights abuse against the Saharwi is appalling, including aerial bombardment, the use of white phosphorous, arbitrary detention, torture, persecution, and rape. Although this situation has existed for many years, the UN envoy requested an extension of MINURSO’s mandate after the brutal repression of a mass demonstration and sit-in at Laayoune on 10 November 2010. Some keen-eyed observers have labeled this event as the true beginning of the uprisings that have engulfed the region since then, the so-called “Arab Spring”. After a two-year delay, Saharwi activists were given sentences ranging between 20 years and life in a military trial, condemned by Amnesty International as “flawed from the outset.” The protests, and the military repression against them, continue. The UN mission is not documenting human rights abuses in Western Sahara, so activists have created their own crowdsource space to gather reports and evidence.
Most fascinating, that in this desert wilderness against a backdrop of despair, democracy has bloomed. The POLISARIO has a functioning government supported by local committees, and a refreshingly progressive attitude towards equality and discrimination on gender, education, disability, and religion. Communities had no choice but to adapt to develop, improving in stages with each successive generation of these fiercely independent and strong-willed people. As often happens under extreme hardship and oppression, creative pursuits, especially music and community events, play a very important role in Saharwi culture. One of the best-known musical artists, Mariem Hassan, is welcomed around the world. This October, a repeat of the hugely successful FiSahara Film Festival is planned. The project is run by the Spanish Network of Organizations in Solidarity with the Western Sahara (CEAS), a non-profit NGO based in Spain with humanitarian projects in the Saharwi refugee camps. Organisers are currently processing registrations, and making arrangements to house visitors with refugee families from 8 to 13 October in the Tindouf camp. They are looking for volunteers to help with everything from maintaining the website to promoting the event.
How much longer can this situation endure? With the increasing availability of the internet facilitating information sharing, and the development of online social and support networks, the story of the Saharwi is beginning to spread despite these long years of ignorance, and Morocco’s determination to suppress information. Those monitoring the situation in Mali also have a wary eye on Western Sahara, and some analysts probe the possible dynamics of relationships between the POLISARIO rebels, the MNLA, and sundry Islamist groups currently occupying large areas of northern Mali, especially as the 3 aid workers kidnapped from the Tindouf camp in October 2011 were in the hands of such groups. As Saharwi youth become increasingly frustrated with the status quo, some feel the time is right for a change, even breaking the truce, if the UN can’t get its act together and force a referendum in the very near future. This makes them a choice target for recruitment by the rebel gangs who support their antics by trafficking people, drugs, contraband, and weapons across the Sahel region.
- Finding Permanent Solution To Western Sahara conflict – UN (spyghana.com)
- Western Sahara: Human rights in the occupied Western Sahara (ionglobaltrends.com)
- Behind the protests in Western Sahara (dailystar.com.lb)
- Roundtable Introduction: Beyond Dominant Narratives on the Western Sahara (jadaliyya.com)
- The Last Colony: Photo Essay on Western Sahara (jadaliyya.com)
- Gallery by photojournalist Paulo Nunes dos Santos “Sahrawi: Maghreb’s forgotten refugees“
Spanish protesters enraged with austerity cutbacks and tax hikes clashed with police near the country’s Parliament, while the nation’s borrowing costs increased in an auction of its debt.
More than 1000 riot police blocked off access to the parliament building in the heart of Madrid, forcing most protesters to crowd nearby avenues and shutting down traffic at the height of the evening rush hour.
Police used batons to push back some protesters at the front of the march attended by an estimated 6000 people as tempers flared, and some demonstrators broke down barricades and threw rocks and bottles toward authorities.
Television images showed officers beating protesters in response and several people being dragged away by police, one with his head bloodied.
Spain’s state TV said at least nine people were injured, including one officer, and that 15 were detained.
The demonstration, organised with an Occupy Congress slogan, drew protesters from all walks of life weary of nine straight months of painful economic austerity measures imposed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his solid majority of politicians. Smaller demonstrations overnight attracted hundreds of protesters in Barcelona and Seville.
Angry Madrid marchers who got as close as they could to parliament, 250 metres away, yelled “Get out!, Get out! They don’t represent us! Fire them!”
Their message is clear.
“The only solution is that we should put everyone in parliament out on the street so they know what it’s like,” said Maria Pilar Lopez, a 60-year-old government secretary.
Ms Lopez and others called for fresh elections, claiming the government’s hard-hitting austerity measures are proof that the ruling Popular Party misled voters when it won power last November in a landslide.
While Mr Rajoy has said he has no plans to cut pensions for Spaniards, Ms Lopez fears her retirement age could be raised from 65 to as much as 70. Three of her seven nieces and nephews have been laid off since Mr Rajoy ousted Spain’s Socialists, and she said the prospect of them finding jobs “is very bleak.”
Spain is struggling in its second recession in three years with unemployment near 25 per cent. The country has introduced austerity measures and economic reforms in a bid to convince its euro partners and investors that it is serious about reducing its bloated deficit to 6.3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2012 and 4.5 per cent next year.
The deficit reached 50.1 billion euro ($62.51 billion), equivalent to 4.77 per cent of GDP, through August, the government said overnight. Secretary of State for the budget Marta Fernandez Curras said the deficit “is under control.”
Spain has been under pressure from investors to apply for European Central Bank assistance in keeping its borrowing costs down. Mr Rajoy has yet to say whether Madrid will apply for the aid, reluctant to ask since such assistance comes with strings attached.
Concerns over the country’s public finances were evident when the Treasury sold 3.98 billion euro in short-term debt but at a higher cost.
It sold 1.39 billion euro in three-month bills at an average interest rate of 1.2 per cent, up from 0.95 per cent in the last such auction August 28, and 2.58 billion euro in six-month bills on a yield of 2.21 per cent, up from 2.03 per cent.
The government is expected to present a new batch of reforms later tomorrow as it unveils a draft budget for 2013.
- Spain’s anti-austerity protest turns violent (itv.com)
- Thousands in #Spain turn out for Madrid anti-austerity protests (lissnup.wordpress.com)
- Protesters clash with police in Spain (sfluxe.com)
- Anti-Austerity Riots Rock Madrid (joemygod.blogspot.com)
- Photos: Anti-austerity protestors clash with police in Spain (photos.mercurynews.com)
- Photos: Anti-austerity protestors clash with police in Spain (photos.denverpost.com)
- Riot police clash with anti-austerity demonstrators in Madrid after thousands take to the streets to protest cuts (dailymail.co.uk)
- Anti-austerity violence: Video of riot police clashing with protesters in Madrid(otpglobal.wordpress.com)
- ‘Democracy kidnapped!’ Spanish protesters surround Congress in Madrid (rt.com)
Tens of thousands of people from all over Spain rallied in the capital on Saturday against punishing austerity measures enacted by the government, which is trying to save the country from financial collapse.
Spain is stuck in a double-dip recession with unemployment close to 25 percent. The conservative government of the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has introduced sharp cuts and raised taxes in a move to reduce the deficit and to reassure investors and officials from the 17-nation euro zone.
The marchers in Madrid unfurled banners with slogans like “Let’s go! They are ruining the country and we have to stop them.”
“This government’s policies are causing too much pain,” said a union leader, Ignacio Fernández Toxo. “It’s a lie that there isn’t another way to restore the economy.”
The situation looks to get worse. At a meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Cyprus, Spain announced that it would present a new set of economic reforms by the end of the month. The move raised expectations that Spain might soon ask for financial help.
The economic plan will be unveiled by Sept. 27, and it is expected to be the starting point for Spain’s tapping of a new European Central Bank bond-buying plan.
Just before Saturday’s march began, buses transporting protesters blocked several major roads in the Spanish capital. The main organizers were Social Summit, an association of more than 150 organizations, and the Workers’ Commissions and General Workers trade unions.
The Interior Ministry’s regional office said it had expected more than 500,000 people to reach a central Madrid square, but it later said that 65,000 had attended to listen to speeches made by protest leaders.
Mr. Toxo called for a referendum on the government’s austerity and bailout plans, saying the measures were so different from the ruling Popular Party’s election pledges that Spaniards should have the right to express an opinion on them.
The Madrid protest comes four days after another antigovernment gathering in Barcelona that attracted about 1.5 million demonstrators, according to estimates by the police.
“We’ve had our pay cut. We don’t get the firefighting training and equipment we need. There are more students and fewer teachers in our children’s classrooms, and health care is also being cut,” said a firefighter, Carlos Melgaves, while marching in a group of about 50 firefighters. “We can’t take it anymore.”
The prime minister has accepted a loan of up to 100 billion euros, or about $130 billion, to help ailing banks hurt by a collapse of the country’s real estate and construction industries. The government also has faced punishingly high interest rates while raising money on bond markets to keep the economy in liquidity.
The country is widely expected to ask to sell its bonds to the European Central Bank, but the conditions attached have been the subject of continuing negotiations.
In Portugal, another package of recently announced government austerity measures could turn the nation’s sullen acceptance of belt-tightening into an explosion of anger similar to that seen in Greece over the past two years.
In less time than it takes for an apartment pineapple to ripen, a new government of national unity has been formed in Mali in the latest effort to restore stability after the military coup in March. It follows 5 long months of political tug-of-war between the ready-meal interim government and the frozen-dinner coup leadership headed by Captain Sanogo. The Captain was persuaded to release his grip a little, after his palms were oiled with a palatial home and “former head of state” status – including a generous allowance. The cabinet has 31 ministers, including five from Sanogo’s camp. The head of the interim government, Cheick Modibo Diarra, stays on as prime minister. For now.
During this incubation period, interim President Dioncounda Traore was attacked, and spent several weeks recovering in Paris. No doubt he spent more of that time in the briefing room of Boulevard Mortier than in recovery. Shortly after Dioncounda returned to Mali, one of the former President’s elite Red Beret guards, Staff Sergeant Amadou Traore, was murdered in his barracks. That signal seems to have been received loud and clear; no further attacks on the interim president have been reported yet.
Last month, the regional bloc ECOWAS threatened to expel Mali unless a unity government was installed, according to the BBC. Yesterday, there were news reports of ECOWAS and Algeria [ar] barring military shipments to Mali. Meanwhile, Major General Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi, Libya’s former Deputy Director of Military Intelligence and Chairman of the Republican Guard in Benghazi, reveals that, when there was a weapons amnesty and surrendering of arms in Libya last year, his unit alone boycotted the deal and instead their weapons passed to mercenaries from Egypt, for onward transfer to AQIM in Algeria and Mali. Doubly painful, as it was the ousted former president Touré, aka “ATT”, who said in February that they needed more military hardware to respond to the MNLA’s attacks, widely reported to be using massive fire-power brought back from Libya.
Weapons in 30 Days or Your Next Government Half Price
We need to wait to see if the formation of a new unity government defrosts the supply of arms, and whether they’ll be delivered by shipment or in person. Just last weekend, Al Jazeera Arabic reported a training exercise in Libya (irony alert) of 2,000 troops including 800 special forces from Great Britain, France, Spain and Italy, in preparation for an incursion into Malian territory. The training programme lasted from February to June. Here’s the video:
There are many competing theories about what is going on in Mali. One school of thought insists that the plan is, and always has been, to get the boots of foreign troops on the ground. However, just as with the reports of armed rebels severing someone’s hand as a punishment for stealing (and the victim later dying), and of their threat-or-promise to repeat the exercise with hundreds more after the Eid holiday, or even of the beheading* that UNHCR’s spokesperson Melissa Fleming claimed to have happened, there’s no way of knowing if the scenario portrayed in this video sheds light on the actual situation.
How can we figure Mali out? To butcher the old standard, “follow the ransom money” and we find food for thought. For example, fresh claims of Swiss support for the rebels appeared last week. This was denied by the MNLA as a rumour created by a Swiss journalist and promoted to a fact by a website in Mauritania, where the media has carved a niche for exclusive revelations about Mali.
I was anticipating more mention of Switzerland, after a Swiss woman was apparently taken hostage in Timbuctu by a private militia who planned to trade her to AQIM. The lady was reportedly “rescued” by Ansar Dine and released for an alleged 1 million Euro, in a deal where they demanded to liaise directly with the Swiss officials, rejecting the offer of a human rights NGO to mediate. That event was soon followed by a spectacular betrayal of MNLA by Ansar Dine, who hijacked the uprising and forced the secular separatists into a retreat from which they have yet to emerge. Speculation about how the more radical supporters of religion achieved this feat includes the investment of ransom capital to buy supporters. There have been other kidnappings: three Westerners abducted nearly nine months ago by AQIM in Mali, seen today urging their governments to help free them in an Al-Jazeera television exclusive video, and the seven Algerian diplomatic staff taken from the embassy in Gao, three of whom were returned last month, shortly after the release of one Italian and two Spanish hostages. This last exchange was said to be accompanied by a few more million Euro and the release of two more prisoners – one assumed by some to be connected to the POLISARIO – who were being held in Mauritania for their part in the kidnapping of the three Europeans.
Within days Mauritania benefited from a capitulation by the EU (Note: the EU Africa team is led by a Spaniard) finally agreeing to their exorbitant new terms for renewing the fishing agreement, and an agreement from Spain to salvage the small aircraft “donated” to Mauritania in June last year to help in the fight against illegal immigrants, and which had remained, unairworthy and stranded on the tarmac, more or less the whole time.
This brings me to another stranded plane – the famous “Air Cocaine” Boeing jet from South America which landed/crashed just north of Gao in a village called Tarkint at the end of October 2009, and was reportedly torched by the smugglers after their cargo of drugs had been retrieved. The local mayor was known as an intermediary with AQIM for the release of kidnap victims.
“Air Cocaine” was registered in Saudi Arabia, rented in Venezuela, and had made previous trips from Colombia under a licence issued by Guinea Bissau, but which had expired at some point. The drug trafficking was said to be linked to AQIM, and this flight’s cargo could have been worth anything between 150 and 300 million Euro. Some of these details only became apparent much later, after WikiLeaks’ cables release, as the original investigation was handled by the intelligence services and shrouded in secrecy. There were dozens of arrests, but few detentions or convictions in connection with this scandal. Then last week, we learned that the last two suspects, one French, one Spanish, had been released in Mali. The drug smuggling case against the Spaniard was thrown out. This chap is a real charmer: a former Madrid policeman, until he was busted for trafficking, drugs, explosives, weapons, and counterfeit identity documents. He also had a suspended sentence in Mali connected to the gruesome murder [es] of a Colombian with a forged Ukrainian passport. He apparently plans to stay in Mali. One would hope he is short of alternatives but why leave Mali, when half the world is ready to come to you?
Additionally, a wealthy businessman from Tilemsi in the Gao region – Mohamed Ould Awaynat – who had been sentenced to one year in prison for his part in the trafficking scandal, was reportedly released in January this year, in an alleged deal with the Malian government. In exchange for his freedom, he is said to have paid to recruit and train northern fighters to boost the ranks of the army against the MNLA. They do say money makes the world go around. If you add massive cash flows from drug trafficking it begins to spin put of control. That is certainly what appears the be the case in Mali.
If you enjoy bizarre details – and you’ve got this far, so I should take that as given – then you might be further entertained by the fact that the article in the previous link, by Andy Morgan in Think Africa Press, was posted on FaceBook in a now lifeless MNLA group, requiring 14 comments to post in its entirety. The comment poster uses the name Ghazi Agizul and, although his bio says he’s a proud Amazigh from Tunisia, I found it odd that “Ghazi” used a translation tool to render the English original into French, which should be a natural language for him. That he didn’t post a link to Google Translate or use a Note instead of 14+ comments is not mysterious, only irritating. If it transpired that Andy Morgan and Ghazi Agizul were one and the same person, that would be interesting. It would also raise many general questions about the clandestine online and offline activities of certain people who present themselves publicly as working in the media, but that is a whole other story. Going back to the article itself, it’s too lengthy to analyse in depth but there are some factual errors, which always has the effect of eroding credibility. For example, Mr Morgan claims to have spent years in northern Mali, yet placed Kati near Timbuktu. I wouldn’t blame him if the article was simply too long for him to cope with when it got to proof-reading.
Also in the WikiLeaked cable, we learn of another incident involving a plane: US military making a “hard landing” 65 miles from Bamako, and receiving assistance. ATT was happy to help because “he knew the United States was coming to help Mali”. Sadly, nothing could be done to help the three US military and their three civilian companions who died in a vehicle accident in April this year. Will the US be coming to help again; will they feel they no longer need an invite?
Short of the IAEA declaring that there are nuclear weapons hidden in the barren wastelands of northern Mali, I wonder how many more UN agencies or NGOs can enter the fray, wringing their collective hands over the many unverified domestic dramas that they claim are engulfing this most coveted of would-be war zones, declaring every incident a war crime, and clamouring at the gates to be allowed in to rescue Mali from itself and the horrors of Sharia law’s unjust desserts.
As ATT noted in February, with a prescience we have yet to fully to appreciate: “There are many rumors. If we are not careful, we’ll fall into the hands of those who are attacking Mali and who want to oppose the government.”