Violence, protests mar Algeria’s disputed presidential elections

Violence, protests mar Algeria’s disputed presidential elections
Five candidates are in the running, all of them widely rejected as “children of the regime.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2019

Violence, protests mar Algeria’s disputed presidential elections

Violence, protests mar Algeria’s disputed presidential elections
  • All 61,000 polling stations around the North African country opened as planned
  • No opinion polls have been published but observers expect an extremely low turnout nationwide

ALGIERS: Algeria held a tense presidential election on Thursday meant to bring stability after a year of turmoil, but voting was marred as protesters stormed polling stations and thousands rallied in the capital.

The unpopular vote comes almost 10 months after a people power movement ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, after two decades in office, and as demonstrators keep pushing for an end to the military-backed political system.

Tens of thousands rallied in central Algiers, defying a heavy police presence backed by water cannons and helicopters, and despite the arrests of at least 10 activists meant to prevent a repeat of the previous day’s anti-election rallies.

“The people want independence,” they chanted after breaking through a police cordon and filling the streets outside the Central Post Office, their symbolic meeting place in more than 40 weeks of rallies.

A group stormed a polling station in the capital, suspending voting there for about half an hour, before police pushed them out again, AFP reporters witnessed.

Unrest also erupted in the northern mountain region of Kabylie, home to much of the country’s Berber minority, where groups “ransacked the ballot boxes and destroyed part of the electoral lists” in Bejaia, a resident said.

Video footage shared on social media, purportedly from a polling station there, showed dozens of people tossing ballot papers into the air and stamping on them, while clips from other cities showed large demonstrations.

Crowds also surrounded a government building in Tizi Ouzou, where security forces fired teargas to repel them.

The ballot features five candidates, all of them widely rejected as “children of the regime” by the protesters.

Among them are two of the ousted leader’s former prime ministers — Abdelmajid Tebboune, 74, and Ali Benflis, 75 — and a former minister, Azzedine Mihoubi.

While only a trickle of voters cast their ballots in some districts, national television showed longer queues elsewhere, leading some online commentators to wonder “how much they have been paid.”

Voter turnout stood at just over 20 percent at 1400 GMT, seven hours after polls opened, said electoral committee chief Mohamed Charfi.

That was below the 23 percent recorded at the same time of day in elections five years ago, when total participation reached 50.7 percent.

Whoever wins will struggle to be accepted by the electorate in the north African country, where many citizens see the government as inept, corrupt and unable to manage the flagging economy.

“None of the five candidates can hope to be considered legitimate” in the eyes of the protesters, said Anthony Skinner, Middle East and North Africa director at risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft.


Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
Updated 15 April 2021

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
  • Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places

AMMAN: Jordan on Wednesday condemned Israeli police for sabotaging door locks at four Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets in a bid to silence the Muslim call to prayer.

The move came after waqf officials, who oversee Jerusalem’s holy sites, refused to turn off loudspeakers on the first day of Ramadan. They said the Israelis had wanted it quiet while new soldiers prayed at the Buraq (Western) wall.

Jordanian officials claimed employees of the Jordan-run Jerusalem waqf and Al-Aqsa affairs department were harassed during the police operation.

Daifallah Al-Fayez, spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, described the Israeli actions as a provocation against Muslims around the world and a violation of international law and the historical status quo.

He said that Al-Aqsa Mosque was a “pure” Islamic holy site and that the Jerusalem waqf department was “the sole authority” tasked with supervising all of its affairs.

A source at the Jerusalem Waqf Council told Arab News: “This is the first time since 1967 that Israeli occupiers have sabotaged locks in order to enter the minarets and physically cut off the electricity to the loudspeakers. And they pursued waqf officials and staff who refused to carry out their demands.”

Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places.

An Israeli siren was sounded in Jerusalem at 8 p.m. on Tuesday as a tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers with that day’s call for isha prayer in the city being at 8:29 p.m.

Hanna Issa, head of the Islamic-Christian Committee for Jerusalem, told Arab News that the Israeli action had been a violation of the 1998 Rome Convention and called on the international community to hold Israel to account.

Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, told Arab News that the incident was an attempt to stifle religious freedoms and represented an attack against Islamic holy places.

“In addition, this is a reflection of a racist policy of the Israeli occupiers that can’t accept anyone who is not Jewish,” he said.

Ahmad Tamimi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, urged international action to put an end to Israeli violations of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.


Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
Updated 3 min 34 sec ago

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
  • Kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two friends is latest attack by the Houthis on dissidents

AL-MUKALLA: Iran-backed Houthis plan to launch a criminal investigation against Entesar Al-Hammadi, a young Yemeni model and actress, who was abducted from a Sanaa street on Feb. 20, the model’s lawyer Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal said on Wednesday.

The kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two of her friends is the latest in a string of attacks by the Houthis on dissidents and liberal women in areas under the group’s control.

Al-Kamal told Arab News that a prosecutor from the rebel-controlled West Sanaa court will question Entesar on Sunday.

“My client was arrested without a warrant,” Al-Kamal said by telephone, giving no information about the Houthis’ explanation for the abduction.

Yemeni officials said the three actresses were traveling to shoot a drama series when the rebels stopped their vehicle on Sanaa’s Hadda Street and took them to an unknown location.
 


Al-Hammadi was born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother and pursued her ambition to become a model despite growing up in a conservative society. The 20-year-old first caught the public’s attention after she published images showing off traditional Yemeni costumes and she later appeared on a local television show talking about her dream of becoming an international supermodel.

The Houthis accused the abducted actresses of violating traditional Islamic dress codes.

Their detainment has sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as human rights activists and government officials compared Houthi suppression of women to similar activities by terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.


Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen's minister for information, culture and tourism, said the rebels have launched a “systemic and organized” crackdown on Yemeni women in areas under their control.

“We call on the international community, the UN, the US envoys to Yemen and the women's protection organizations to condemn this crime and pressure the terrorist Houthi militia to immediately release the abductees,” the minister wrote on social media. “They must stop the extortion of women and release all disappeared women from their secret prisons unconditionally.”

Al-Hammadi told a local TV station last year that she wished she could travel abroad to work as a model, citing parental and societal resistance at home.

“It would be great if I was given an opportunity outside Yemen,” she said.

 

 


Social media users have blasted the Houthis for snatching women from the street.

Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni activist, said that the abduction of Al-Hammadi is part of “a dirty” campaign by the rebels against women.

“My solidarity is with my dear Entisar and with all male and female abductees inside the militia’s prisons,” she wrote on Twitter.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, chairwoman of the Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, told Arab News that the Houthis have “brazenly” committed crimes against dissidents and women amid “unexplained” silence of international rights organizations.

“The Houthis have abducted models and female activists and committed flagrant violations of human rights before the eyes and ears of the UN, human rights organizations, and everyone else,” she said.

 

 


WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan
Updated 15 April 2021

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan
  • In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations

CAIRO: The World Health Organization expressed concern on Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the Middle East and North Africa during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Detected cases of COVID infection in the region rose 22 percent last week, while deaths rose 17 percent, said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the Cairo-based chief of the WHO for the eastern Mediterranean.

Mandhari said the situation in the vast region reflects a “worrying trend.” “We are especially worried that the current situation may worsen during Ramadan if people don’t follow and adhere to the proven social measures that work,” he told an online news conference.

Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, began in most Muslim countries on Tuesday. Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, and traditionally gather with family and friends to break their fast.

“This year, like last year, people may feel that the spirit of Ramadan has changed because of social distancing and lockdowns,” said Mandhari. “But the actions that need to be maintained to help contain the pandemic are in line with the basic tenets of Islam: Take care of your physical health and do no harm to others.”

Dalia Samhouri, WHO’s regional head of emergency preparedness, said the international organization wanted “countries to do a risk assessment in order to prevent the dissemination of the infection.”

She suggested measures that could be taken around mosques during Ramadan, including physical distancing, ventilation, and regular disinfection. People who felt sick were advised to stay at home, along with the elderly and sufferers of chronic disease, she said.

Mandhari said all countries in the region had received vaccines, but that those with the most limited access were Yemen and Syria.

“Although progress has been made with starting vaccination around the world, there remains a shocking imbalance in the distribution of vaccines,” he said. “This is especially true in our region.”

In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations, only 360,000 have been delivered.


Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’
Updated 15 April 2021

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’
  • He said the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness in the nuclear talks
  • US says indirect nuclear talks with Iran to resume on Thursday

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran’s announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent purity “provocative,” saying the step raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna.
Iran has said it will enrich uranium to 60 percent — a big step closer to the 90 percent that is weapons-grade from the 20 percent maximum it has reached so far — in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility.
“We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent,” Blinken told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, referring to Iran.
The European countries party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also told Tehran that the step was contrary to efforts to revive the accord.
“I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard the nuclear talks, just as it underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” Blinken said, referring to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The nuclear deal has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to US withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and Washington’s reinstatement of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday Iran has “almost completed preparations” for 60 percent uranium enrichment.
Last week, Iran and fellow signatories held what they described as “constructive” talks to restore the deal ditched by the former Trump administration.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that indirect talks in Vienna would reconvene on Thursday.
“Our understanding is they (the Iranians) plan to attend tomorrow. We are also very open-eyed about how this will be a long process. It is happening through indirect negotiations but we still feel that it is a step forward,” she added.
Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday dismissed initial offers at talks in Vienna to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal as “not worth looking at.”
The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, came after a day that saw Iran’s president similarly ratchet up pressure over the accord. European powers meanwhile warned Tehran its actions were “particularly regrettable” and “dangerous.”
(With Reuters, AFP and AP)


GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks
Updated 15 April 2021

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks
  • Nayef Al-Hajraf told P5+1 talks in Vienna should not be limited to the Iranian nuclear program
  • Arab League says Iran talks should also address the concerns of Arab countries

LONDON: The Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna must address the concerns and interests of Gulf countries to enhance security and stability in the region, the GCC secretary general said on Wednesday.
The comments by Nayef Al-Hajraf came in letters sent to the foreign ministers of the permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, UK, France, china and Russia — and Germany.
The talks in Vienna are aimed at finding a way for the US to re-enter Tehran’s nuclear agreement with world powers and have Iran comply again with its limits.
Al-Hajraf said the GCC is a major contributor to strengthening the security and stability of the region, and that the negotiations currently underway in Vienna should not be limited to the Iranian nuclear program, but rather should include Iran’s destabilizing behavior, ballistic missiles, and paths.
The talks have been thrown into disarray by a weekend attack on Iran’s main Natanz nuclear enrichment site suspected to have been carried out by Israel. Tehran retaliated by announcing it would enrich uranium up to 60 percent — higher than it ever has before but still lower than weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
The GCC chief warned that Iran’s announcement of uranium enrichment is a dangerous and worrying indicator for regional and international security.
Saudi Arabia similarly issued a statement, saying enriching at that level “could not be considered a program intended for peaceful purposes.”
Al-Hajraf also called on the “international community to shoulder its responsibilities toward this dangerous and threatening development to regional and global peace and security.”

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said he was “deeply concerned” over Iran’s announcement of uranium enrichment, saying it is a “clear and certain step” toward developing a nuclear weapon and increases doubts about the real goals of Tehran’s nuclear program.
He also said that ongoing negotiations in Vienna should not be restricted to the nuclear aspect, but should also address the concerns of Arab countries regarding Iran’s destabilizing policies in the region and its continuous interference in their internal affairs.
(With AP)