19 rescued, about 40 missing after ship sinks off Yemen

Updated 07 December 2016
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19 rescued, about 40 missing after ship sinks off Yemen

ADEN: Around 40 people were missing off the Yemeni island of Socotra on Wednesday after a cargo vessel carrying islanders home from the mainland sank in the Indian Ocean, authorities said.
Nineteen people were rescued from the water after a major search operation was launched in the early hours, Yemeni Fisheries Minister Fahd Kavieen told reporters.
The first two survivors were rescued by a passing Austrian vessel and an Australian ship, the government’s sabanew.com website reported.
Kavieen did not give details of how the others were rescued.
Although long ruled from Yemen, Socotra lies closer to the coast of Africa than it does to the Arabian Peninsula.
The waters around the island lie at the exit of a busy shipping lane from the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean.
For years it was prey to piracy from the lawless coast of nearby Somalia and it is now one of the most heavily patrolled sea areas in the world.
Kavieen did not specify whether warships of the international counter-piracy operation were taking part in the search for survivors.
He said that the ship had been missing for five days and its sinking had been confirmed on Tuesday.
“The search is ongoing,” he said. “Vessels have been combing the area since the early hours and there is significant hope that the passengers have survived.”
The Yemeni mainland has been ravaged by conflict for the past two years disrupting transport links to the archipelago.
The port of Mukalla, from which the freighter departed for the islands, was controlled by Al-Qaeda for a full year until April.
Air links to Socotra from elsewhere in Yemen have been virtually halted as the beleaguered government has battled rebels who still control the capital.
There are no regular passenger ferries either, forcing islanders to seek berths on the occasional cargo vessel.
Throughout the devastating conflict that has pitted forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against Shiite rebels and their allies, Socotra has remained loyal to his Saudi-backed government and has been spared the fighting.
The island has enormous tourism potential which has never been realized because of the repeated conflicts that have gripped Yemen.
Its isolation from the landmasses of both Africa and Asia has led to the evolution of unique plant life, much of it found nowhere else on earth.
Among the most renowned is the dragon’s blood tree, a bizarre umbrella-shaped species that earned its name from its blood-red sap which was much sought after as a dye in the ancient world.
Persistent unrest in the nearby Horn of Africa has meant that the waters around Socotra have seen a steady flow of Ethiopian and Somali migrants ready to risk the perilous sea crossing in the hope of reaching Yemen’s energy-rich Gulf neighbors.
At least 79 people have perished while attempting to cross the Gulf of Aden this year, the UN refugee agency said.


Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.