Iraqi protesters torch Iranian consulate after Abdel Mahdi fall

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An Iraqi demonstrator carries the national flag in Najaf on Sunday, where protests continued to rage. (Reuters)
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Iraqi mourners carry the coffin of Haidar Ahmed Kazem, a high school student who was killed a day earlier, during his funeral procession in Tahrir square in the capital Baghdad, on Dec. 1, 2019. (Sabah Arar/AFP)
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Medical crew carry a wounded man during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf Sunday, (Reuters)
Updated 02 December 2019

Iraqi protesters torch Iranian consulate after Abdel Mahdi fall

  • Abdel Mahdi said he would submit resignation following spike in the death toll among protesters
  • Iraqi protesters set fire to Iranian consulate in Najaf for second time in a week

BAGHDAD: Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in Najaf on Sunday for the second time in a week, as demonstrations continued despite the confirmation of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s resignation.
More than 420 people have been killed in a violent Iranian-orchestrated response to two months of protests against corruption, economic hardship and failed public services.
In a victory for the protesters, a police major was sentenced to death and a lieutenant colonel was jailed for seven years for killing seven civilians in the southern city of Kut in November.
Pope Francis on Sunday joined criticism of the crackdown. “I am following the situation in Iraq with concern. It is with pain that I have learned of the protest demonstrations of the past days that were met with a harsh response,” said the pope, who wants to visit Iraq next year.
Meanwhile, funerals took place for dead protesters, and mourners marched for the first time in Salaheddin, a Sunni-majority province north of Baghdad.
Eight Shiite provinces also announced a day of mourning during which government offices would remain shut.
Clashes continued in Najaf, where armed men in civilian clothes fired on protesters who had torched part of a Shiite shrine.
Abdel Mahdi resigned last week under pressure from the influential Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and Parliament on Sunday confirmed the fall of his government. President Barham Saleh will now be asked to name a successor.
Protesters demanded wider change. “Abdel Mahdi should go — and so should Parliament and the political parties and Iran,” said one demonstrator in Baghdad.

Iraq’s parliament voted on Sunday to accept the resignation of Abdul Mahdi. His decision to quit on Friday came after a call by Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani for parliament to consider withdrawing its support for Abdul Mahdi’s government to stem the violence.
“The Iraqi parliament will ask the president of state to nominate a new prime minister,” a statement from parliament’s media office said.
MPs said Abdul Mahdi’s government, including the prime minister himself, would stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government is chosen.
Under the constitution, President Barham Salih is expected to ask the largest bloc in parliament to nominate a new prime minister to form a government, a move expected to trigger weeks of political wrangling.
 


Moroccan capital’s boatmen row against tides of modernity

Updated 01 October 2020

Moroccan capital’s boatmen row against tides of modernity

  • For decades, the boatmen have used elbow grease to ply their trade, rowing their bright blue boats, decked out with cushions and carpets and shaded by parasols

RABAT: Rowing their wooden boats across an azure river mouth, Moroccan ferrymen battle not just winds and currents but also rapid urban development which is threatening their traditional way of life.

This year the coronavirus and a sharp drop-off in tourism have further conspired against the water taxis across the Bou Regreg river estuary, between the capital Rabat and its twin city of Sale.

For decades, the boatmen have used elbow grease to ply their trade, rowing their bright blue boats, decked out with cushions and carpets and shaded by parasols, across the choppy waters below the medieval Kasbah of the Udayas.

“Our boats have always been part of the history of the two cities and yet we have no support,” sighed Adil El-Karouani, one of the 72 professional boatmen who shuttle back and forth between the river shores from dawn to midnight.

“We feel marginalized and abandoned.”

Karouani, 45, said he was 11 when he started in the business and vowed to “fight so that this profession, inherited from my father, does not disappear.”

But he faces a tide of modern development as the once flood-prone estuary has undergone a 1.5 billion euro development program, launched in 2006 by King Mohamed VI with the help of renowned architects such as Marc Mimram and Zaha Hadid.

Since then swamp areas have been reclaimed, overpasses built and a luxury real estate project with a marina has transformed the Sale riverfront. Since 2011, a tram supplements the bus network, used by the thousands who commute daily from residential Sale to their jobs in the capital.

Some regulars still prefer the gentle bobbing of the small boats driven by muscle power.

“We breathe fresh air ... it’s better than the traffic jams of taxis or the bustle of the tramway,” said Tarek Skaiti, who enthused that he likes to “lose the feeling of gravity” during the short river crossing.

On weekends, the quays of the Bou Regreg still draw crowds of visitors, many of whom take boat tours to the ramparts of the UNESCO-listed medieval fortress where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. From the new Marina de Sale, motor yachts now offer faster and more expensive tours. Jet-skis roar across the river “without worrying about the danger,” complained Nouredine Belafiq, who has worked as a boatman for 26 years.

“With the coronavirus, there are almost no tourists,” lamented Driss Boudy, a vigorous 62-year-old man who proudly introduced himself by displaying his professional boatman’s license.

“We do an endurance job: It takes strength and heart to move a one-and-a-half ton boat with 400 kilo of passengers, especially when the tide is high,” said his colleague, Khalid Badkhali.

“I’ve tried other jobs, but I’ve always come back to the river,” said the 50-year-old, who pointed out that his precarious job doesn’t entitle him to any social security cover.

On neighboring piers, trawlers unload their haul of sardines, surrounded by flocks of seagulls — the last vestige of what was, until the beginning of the 20th century, Morocco’s largest river port.

Impoverished by the public health crisis that has paralyzed life in Morocco for many months, the fishermen feel as “marginalized” as the boatmen, said one of them, Adil El-Karouani.

“Many have lost their jobs and some are leaving clandestinely with their boats” in the hope of reaching the Spanish coast, he said, corroborating local media reports of “illegal immigration mafias” operating from Sale.

Desperate migrants hoping for a better life in Europe pay between 2,000 and 4,000 euros for the risky journeys.

The river boat crossing costs just 2.5 dirhams (about 0.2 euros), says a faded sign on the pier. The price, set by the authorities, has not changed for years.