Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

Updated 28 December 2013
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Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

OUJDA, Morocco: Until three months ago, petrol smuggling literally drove Morocco’s neglected eastern region, where the subsidized liquid smuggled in from Algeria fueled the local economy.
But in June, Algiers took drastic measures to curtail the illegal trade, clamping down on traffic across its border with Morocco, which has officially been closed since 1994.
“Since the Algerians shut the border my car hasn’t budged,” one Moroccan resident of the area told AFP.
The unofficial cross-border movement of people and goods has long been a feature of daily life here, with members of the same families living either side of the divide and much money to be made from contraband.
Algiers beefed up its border controls in a bid to stem the haemorrhaging of cheap Algerian fuel, through which the state was losing $1.3 billion a year, according to energy ministry figures.
Before the clampdown, some 600,000 cars were estimated to be running on Algerian fuel smuggled into neighboring countries, notably Morocco.
It remains unclear what prompted the move by Algiers, although it coincided with an outburst of particularly hostile rhetoric from senior officials in both countries.
In energy-rich Algeria, petrol and diesel cost as little as 23 dinars (0.23 euros) and 13.4 dinars (0.13 euros) a liter respectively.
By contrast, its western neighbor and regional arch-rival imports virtually all its energy needs, with motorists paying more than one euro for a liter of petrol.
So the Algiers move had serious implications for the Oriental region of Morocco, as it is known, with its population of more than two million.
“My car carried up to one ton of diesel, two or three times a week. Today it’s good for nothing,” complained one man in his 30s, sipping tea near the Zouj-Bghal border post.
Since acceding to the throne in 1999, King Mohamed VI has sought to promote development in the remote region, launching projects from factories to infrastructure, including a motorway connecting Oujda to the capital Rabat, 520 kilometers (320 miles) away.
But decades of neglect and its remote location, far from Morocco’s commercial centers on the Atlantic coast, have made the region heavily dependent on covert trade — and remittances from Moroccans living abroad.
The first painful consequence of Algeria’s new policy was a jump in contraband fuel prices, 30-liter cans of diesel nearly tripling in price and fares charged by the ubiquitous white Mercedes taxis rising with it, by 20 percent.
“We are fed up with this situation. One day we’re going to take over the streets with our cars and block everything,” said Fathi Miri, one of thousands of taxi drivers now struggling to survive.
Because of the reinforced border controls, and ditches that smugglers say have been dug by the Algerian authorities since June, the only viable way to haul goods across the border now is by donkey.
Loaded with jerrycans, the pack animals travel after dusk in their hundreds, through olive groves and along steep winding paths that they follow instinctively, transporting their precious cargo.
But it can be a dangerous journey.
“The Algerian army recently fired at some donkeys and killed them. Fortunately they were unaccompanied on the Algerian side,” said one Moroccan living near the border.
But given the new challenges to transporting fuel, some smugglers have turned to people trafficking.
“I help Moroccans into Algeria and Algerians into Morocco,” said one.
“I get 300 dirhams (28 euros) for each client transported across the border. But with the onset of winter, there will be no one,” he added.
Until Algeria tightened its border controls, more than 18,000 people lived off fuel smuggling, said Hassan Ammari of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), who questions what they will do now.
As a stopgap measure, the Moroccan government is sending around 700 tons of fuel to the region daily.
But this is a drop in the ocean, compared with the 300,000 tons that used to arrive from Algeria, said Mohamed Benkaddor, president of the region’s consumer protection association.
Oujda’s Islamist MP Abdelaziz Aftati, contacted by AFP, called for an official reopening of the border, which has been closed at considerable cost to both sides since 1994, after a guerrilla attack on a hotel in Marrakesh which Rabat blamed on Algerian intelligence.
“Cooperation between our two countries is necessary, whatever the differences,” Aftati said.
However, this view does not seem to resonate in Algeria, where government officials earlier this month hailed the clampdown on smuggling, saying it was starting to “bear fruit.”


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.