Protesters reject Algeria’s interim president, demand change

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A student carries a placard that reads in Arabic “... my country is drowning in a sea of corruption” during a demonstration in Algiers on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AFP)
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Algeria’s parliament appointed on Tuesday the upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president for the next 90 days. (AFP)
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Protesters are calling for transitional institutions to be set up to implement reforms and guarantee free elections. (Reuters)
Updated 10 April 2019
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Protesters reject Algeria’s interim president, demand change

  • It is the seventh straight week of protests in the capital
  • Abdelkader Bensalah was named as interim leader for a maximum of 90 days until a new election can be organized

ALGIERS, Algeria: Algerian protesters rejected the interim leader named Tuesday to replace former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, shouting “out with the system” as they called for the end of the political hierarchy that has led the country for two decades.

Tuesday’s student protest was timed to coincide with the parliamentary decision to name as interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, a key ally of Bouteflika and the leader of parliament’s upper chamber. Within the hour, police moved against the demonstrators, dousing them with tear gas and water cannons, and using batons to break up the crowd of thousands on a central avenue.

It was the seventh straight week of protests in the capital.

As called for by the Algerian Constitution, Bensalah was named as interim leader for a maximum of 90 days until a new election can be organized. He can’t run for the post himself. Members of the opposition abstained from Tuesday’s vote.

“I am required by national duty to take on this heavy responsibility of steering a transition that will allow the Algerian people to exercise its sovereignty,” Bensalah said.

Algeria’s powerful army chief, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, was due to speak later Tuesday. It was Gaid Salah’s pulling of support for Bouteflika last week that tipped the balance. The military chief of staff’s response to Tuesday’s decision is paramount to the future of the gas-rich country.

Bensalah is one of three figures appointed by Bouteflika to key posts that protesters are demanding leave, dubbing them the “three Bs.” The others are Noureddine Bedoui, appointed last month as head of government, and the head of the Constitutional Council, Tayeb Belaiz.

Bensalah, 77, has cultivated a low-key profile despite holding numerous positions over the past quarter-century. With a career as a devoted public servant, he has no political weight, and his powers as transitional leader are reduced. 

Bedoui has a starkly different profile. He was among the early promoters of a fifth mandate for the ailing Bouteflika — the trigger for the crisis. Mohamed Saidj, a political science professor, says that as interior minister Bedoui also was behind forbidding doctors and human rights organizations from protesting.

As for Belaiz, “everyone knows that he is Bouteflika’s man,” Saidj said in a recent interview. 


‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

Updated 20 min 21 sec ago
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‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

  • Unscrupulous construction contractors illegally stripping beaches of sand
  • Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP

MOHAMMEDIA: Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanizing its coastline.

“The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

“At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry — some 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) — is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

“But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable forty-something.

Sand accounts for four-fifths of the makeup of concrete and — after water — is the world’s second most consumed resource.

Exploitation

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure,” according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors — beaches themselves,” the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

FASTFACT

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers. “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he said.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia.”

But “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organized networks, operating with the complicity of some officials.”

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities — lawmakers or retired soldiers — hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas,” he added.

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organized mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated,” and falls short of basic building regulations.

These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels... they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash,” this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade.”

A simple smartphone helps visualize the extent of the disaster.

Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 km south of Casablanca.

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinized each parcel of land.

“Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometers. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged.

Adnane pointed to another area — exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares.”

But instead, he “took kilometers” of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

Asked by AFP about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated.”

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programs and (a) high status,” she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.