Palestinians recall envoy after rally with radical Pakistan cleric

Hafiz Saeed, the head of the hard-line Jamaat-ud-Dawa movement, addresses an anti-US and Israel an earlier rally in Lahore on December 17. (AFP)
Updated 31 December 2017
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Palestinians recall envoy after rally with radical Pakistan cleric

ISLAMABAD: The Palestinians have withdrawn their envoy to Pakistan after he appeared at a rally with a radical cleric linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Palestinian envoy Walid Abu Ali shared the stage with Hafiz Saeed, the head of the hard-line Jamaat-ud-Dawa movement, at Friday’s rally, which was held to protest US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The rally in Rawalpindi, attended by thousands, was organized by the Defense of Pakistan Council, an alliance of religious parties dominated by Saeed’s group. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is believed to be a front for Lashker-e-Taiba, a militant group that fights Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir, and which was blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people.
Saeed, the founder of Lashker-e-Taiba, is wanted by the US, which has offered a $10 million reward for his arrest, but Pakistan has refused extradition requests and allows him to operate relatively freely. He was recently placed under house arrest for 11 months but was released after a court ruled in his favor.
Saeed denies involvement in the 2008 attacks, and Pakistan says India has not provided enough evidence to charge him. US officials have long accused Pakistan of harboring extremists, allegations denied by Islamabad.
In a statement Saturday addressed to India, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the envoy’s participation “in the presence of individuals accused of supporting terrorism” was “an unintended mistake, but not justified.” It said the envoy has been recalled.
India had lodged a protest with the Palestinians earlier Saturday, calling the envoy’s association with Saeed “unacceptable.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry defended the envoy, saying it welcomed his “active participation in events organized to express solidarity with the people of Palestine.”
Near-daily rallies have been held in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month, a move seen as siding with the Jewish state against the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.