Algerian chief of staff says army will tackle crisis

Noureddine Bedoui, center, is trying to form a new government to pacify the protests. (AFP/File)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Algerian chief of staff says army will tackle crisis

  • One of the leaders said they do not support the PM because the people reject the system
  • President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he will remain in office until a new constitution is adopted

ALGIERS: Algeria’s army should take responsibility for finding a quick solution to its political crisis, its chief of staff said on Monday, in the most overt signal of potential military intervention since mass demonstrations erupted three weeks ago.

“The army will remain a fortified fortress for the country,” the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaed Salah, said on state TV. “We should be responsible for finding solutions as soon as possible. There is no problem without solution.”

He added: “I’m confident the Algerian people are wise and able to overcome all difficulties.”

Meanwhile, 13 independent Algerian unions have refused to back the newly appointed prime minister’s efforts to form a government he hopes will placate protesters who are pressuring President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his inner circle to step down.

“We will not hold discussions with this system, we belong to the people and the people said ‘No’ to the system,” Boualem Amora, one of the leaders of the education sector unions, told reporters.

Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui has promised to create an inclusive government of technocrats, taking in the military and business representatives, in a country dominated by veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France. But union leaders said they refused to enter a dialogue when he reached out to them.

Many Algerians, who have been demonstrating for more than three weeks, have rejected overtures by Bouteflika, 82, who has reversed a decision to stand for another term after 20 years in power.

On Sunday some workers at Algeria’s biggest natural gas field staged a protest against extending the president’s fourth term, an energy official said, referring to a proposal by Bouteflika to stay in office until a new constitution is adopted.

Output at the Hassi Rmel field was not affected, said an official from state oil and gas company Sonatrach.

Algeria is an important gas supplier to Europe, mainly Italy, Spain and France. Several foreign firms operate in the country including BP, Total and Repsol.

In the 1990s, oil and gas production did not stop despite the country’s descent into chaos during a civil war between security forces and militants.

Since returning from medical treatment in Switzerland the president has in recent days been losing allies, including senior members of the ruling National Liberation Front party, known by its French acronym FLN.

Protests have been mostly peaceful and the military, which is expected to keep playing its influential behind-the-scenes role as a power broker, has stayed in the barracks.


Amnesty urges Lebanon to help end domestic worker abuse

An Asian domestic worker walks her employer's dog in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, on April 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 48 min 23 sec ago
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Amnesty urges Lebanon to help end domestic worker abuse

  • Ethiopia and the Philippines have banned their citizens from domestic work in Lebanon, but still their citizens find ways to come

BEIRUT: Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Lebanon to end what it described as an “inherently abusive” migration sponsorship system governing the lives of tens of thousands of foreigners working in private homes.
Domestic workers in Lebanon are excluded from the labor law, and instead obtain legal residency though their employers’ sponsorship under the so-called “kafala” system.
But activists say this leaves the maids, nannies and carers at the mercy of their employers and unable to leave without their permission, including in numerous documented cases of abuse.
“Amnesty International is calling on the Lebanese authorities to end the kafala system and extend labor protections to migrant domestic workers,” the London-based rights group said.
“The Lebanese parliament should amend the labor law to include domestic workers under its protection,” including to allow them to join unions, the group said.
Lebanon hosts more than 250,000 registered domestic workers from countries in Africa and Asia, the vast majority of them women.
In a report released Wednesday titled “Their house is my prison,” Amnesty surveyed 32 domestic workers employed mostly in and around Beirut, revealing “alarming patterns of abuse.”
Among them, 10 women said they were not allowed to leave their employer’s house, with some saying they were locked in.
Twenty-seven said their employers had confiscated their passports.
Many worked overtime, 14 were not allowed a single day off each week, and several had their monthly salaries revoked or decreased, despite it being a breach of their contracts.
The labor ministry introduced a standard contract for domestic workers in 2009, but the forms are often written in Arabic, a language they cannot read.
The government in late 2018 said it had translated the contracts into several other languages.
Amnesty registered eight cases of forced labor and four of human trafficking, the report said.
Six reported severe physical abuse, while almost all had been subjected to humiliating treatment and several were deprived of food.
“Sometimes I would get so hungry... I used to mix water with sugar when I was hungry and drink it,” one worker said.
With the abuse taking a toll on their mental health, six said they had contemplated or attempted suicide.
Only four of those interviewed had private rooms, while the rest were relegated to living rooms, storage rooms, kitchens or balconies.
“There is a man in the house who can enter the living room any time he wants,” said one worker who was forced to sleep in the living room.
Activists accuse the Lebanese authorities of being lax in bringing abusive employers to account.
Ethiopia and the Philippines have banned their citizens from domestic work in Lebanon, but still their citizens find ways to come.
In 2008, Human Rights Watch found that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon were dying at a rate of more than one per week from suicide or in failed escapes.
Many other countries in the Arab world also follow the “kafala” system for household workers.