Morocco farmers mourn loss of date palms in border standoff

Morocco farmers mourn loss of date palms in border standoff
Moroccan farmers protest after Algerian authorities expelled the date growers from a border area. (AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2021

Morocco farmers mourn loss of date palms in border standoff

Morocco farmers mourn loss of date palms in border standoff
  • The oasis, a three-hour drive to the nearest towns of Oujda and Errachidia, struggles to attract tourists

FIGUIG: Moroccan farmers in an isolated oasis on the Algerian border are bearing the brunt of regional tensions after Algiers expelled them from date groves they have worked for generations.
The border between the arch-rivals has been closed since 1994, but Algeria had allowed some residents of the Moroccan frontier town of Figuig to cross into the date groves of Al-Arja, known to Algerians as the Laaroda oasis.
In recent days, Algeria has withdrawn that right, deploying soldiers to enforce the move.
“Everybody feels wronged,” said Mohamed Jabbari, an unemployed 36-year-old who joined a protest in Figuig against the move.
“Agriculture is the only resource we have. There’s no work here, no factories.”
On Thursday, some 4,000 people — around half of Figuig’s population — attended an angry demonstration against Algeria’s decision.
Morocco’s regional authorities organized a meeting to “examine possible solutions to mitigate the impact” of a decision they said was “temporary.”
The Figuig oasis, sitting on a caravan route on the edge of the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert, was settled in ancient times.
Trade began to decline after the border was drawn in 1845, and diplomatic disputes between Algiers and Rabat soon turned Figuig into a dead end.
Before the border was drawn, the tight-knit Berber community had moved freely in the area.
Now, to reach relatives just a short distance over the sealed border, residents say they have to first take a plane to Algiers.
Algeria has justified the latest move by claiming farmers have failed to comply with regulations and that drug-trafficking gangs were operating in the area.
Figuig residents have strongly rejected those allegations.
“The expulsions are a political decision,” said Mohamed El Jilali, head of a local association.

BACKGROUND

Before the border was drawn, the tight-knit Berber community had moved freely in the area. Now, to reach relatives just a short distance over the sealed border, residents say they have to first take a plane to Algiers.

The expulsions coincide with a rise in tensions between the two countries in recent months over the disputed Western Sahara.
Rabat considers the territory to its south a sovereign part of the kingdom — a position given Washington’s seal of approval in the final days of the Trump administration.
Algeria has backed the Polisario Front which seeks independence for the territory.
Hundreds of kilometers away in Figuig, residents have more immediate concerns: Their livelihoods.
The oasis, a three-hour drive to the nearest towns of Oujda and Errachidia, struggles to attract tourists.
That is despite its beautiful architecture and landscapes, which residents hope will eventually earn it a UNESCO World Heritage listing.
That leaves many residents reliant on date palms for a living.
Over the years, farmers have planted dates in areas beyond the wadi, or valley, that marks the border, taking advantage of the area’s groundwater.
The more recently planted areas produce a better harvest than traditional gardens surrounded by adobe walls and irrigated by a complex network of hand-built canals, farmers say.
The area evacuated this week covers around 1,500 hectares and includes sought-after Aziza date palms.


Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
Updated 14 min 8 sec ago

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
  • Lebanon’s worsening fuel shortages translating into few or any hours of state-backed power a day

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers convened Monday to confirm the country’s new government following a power outage and a broken generator that briefly delayed the start of the parliament session.
It took some 40 minutes before electricity came back on. The incident, which underscored the deep crisis roiling the small Mediterranean country amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, was derided on social media.
Lebanese have been suffering electricity blackouts and severe shortages in fuel, diesel and medicine for months, threatening to shut down hospitals, bakeries and schools. Lines stretching several kilometers (miles) of people waiting to fill up their tanks are a daily occurrence at gas stations across the country.
The economic crisis, unfolding since 2019, has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world in the last 150 years. Within months, it had impoverished more than half of the population and left the national currency in freefall, driving inflation and unemployment to previously unseen levels.
A new government headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was finally formed earlier this month after a 13-month delay, as politicians bickered about government portfolios at a time when the country was sliding deeper into financial chaos and poverty.
The new government is expected to undertake critically needed reforms, as well as manage public anger and tensions resulting from the planned lifting of fuel subsidies by the end of the month. Lebanon’s foreign reserves have been running dangerously low, and the central bank in the import-dependent country has said it was no longer able to support its $6 billion subsidy program.
The government is also expected to oversee a financial audit of the Central Bank and resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package.
Few believe that can be done with a government that leaves power in the hands of the same political parties that the public blames for corruption and mismanagement of Lebanon’s resources.
Lawmakers are to debate the new government’s policy statement before a vote of confidence is held on Monday evening — a vote which Mikati's proposed Cabinet expects to win with the support from majority legislators.
Mikati, one of Lebanon’s richest businessmen who is returning to the post of prime minister for the third time, pledged to get to work immediately to ease the day-to-day suffering of the Lebanese.
“What happened here today with the electricity outage pales in comparison to what the Lebanese people have been suffering for months,” Mikati told lawmakers after power returned and the session got underway.
The session is being held at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace so that parliament members could observe social distancing measures imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.
“What can I say, it’s a farce,” lawmaker Taymour Jumblatt, the son of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, said when asked about the electricity outage.
“It is not a good sign,” said lawmaker Faisal Sayegh. “We need to light up this hall, to say to people that we can light up the country.”


Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
Updated 5 min 40 sec ago

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
  • Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption
  • Lebanon is running out of fuel and gas to medicine and bread

DUBAI: Lebanese expats in the wealthy UAE, many of them riven with guilt, are scrambling to ship essential goods and medicine to family and friends in their crisis-stricken home country.
“How can I sit in the comfort of my home in air-conditioning and a full fridge knowing that my people, my friends and family, are struggling back home?” asked Jennifer Houchaime.
“Oh, the guilt is very, very real,” said the 33-year-old resident of Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates which is home to tens of thousands of Lebanese.
“It’s guilt, shame and nostalgia.”
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption.
Its currency has plunged to an all-time low, sparking inflation and eroding the purchasing power of a population denied free access to their own savings by stringent banking controls.
Lebanon is running out of everything, from fuel and gas to medicine and bread, and more than three-quarters of its population is now considered to be living under the poverty line.
Social media platforms are filled with posts by Lebanese appealing for contacts abroad to send basic goods such as baby formula, diapers, painkillers, coffee and sanitary pads.

Aya Majzoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said trust in the Lebanese government is at an all-time low.
“It is unsurprising that local and grassroots initiatives have sprung up to fill this gap while bypassing the government that they view as corrupt, inefficient and incompetent,” she told AFP.
With no faith in the Lebanese authorities, expats have taken it upon themselves to transport aid.
Houchaime and a number of her Lebanese friends fill their bags with over-the-counter medication and food items every time they travel home.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates is allowing an extra 10 kilos (22 pounds) of baggage for passengers to Beirut from certain destinations until the end of this month.
For Dima Hage Hassan, 33, a trip to Lebanon opened her eyes to the unfolding disaster.
“I was in Lebanon, and I had money, and I had a car with fuel, and I went around from pharmacy to pharmacy unable to find medicine for my mother’s ear infection,” she said.

A fellow Lebanese, Sarah Hassan, packed for her second trip home in less than two months, taking only a few personal items while the rest was supplies for family and friends.
This time, the 26-year-old was taking a couple of battery-operated fans, painkillers, sanitary pads, skin creams, and cold and flu medication.
“A couple of my friends are going as well to Lebanon, so all of us are doing our part.”
It’s the same story in other parts of the Gulf, where Lebanese have long resided, fleeing from decades of conflict and instability in their own country.
“It’s hard not to feel guilty. When I went to Lebanon a month ago, I hadn’t been for two years. When I stepped out into the city, I was so shocked,” said Hassan.
“Then you come back here to the comfort of your home and everything is at your fingertips... it’s such an overwhelming feeling of guilt.”

 


East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
Updated 20 September 2021

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad

CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.


Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
Updated 20 September 2021

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
  • Regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he would meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.

The NATO members and regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that Turkey was an important partner in tackling any new migration challenge to Europe and needed support.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for New York, Erdogan said Turkey, which hosts some 4 million refugees — most of whom are Syrians — was “suffering the biggest burden and the heaviest downsides” of migration, adding that Turkey would take the necessary steps if its counterparts did not.
The Turkey’s president also said his country was ready for talks with Armenia but added Yerevan needed to take steps toward opening a controversial transport link through its territory.
Armenia and Turkey never established diplomatic relations and their shared border has been closed since the 1990s.
The ties have deteriorated due to Turkey’s support for its regional ally Azerbaijan, which fought with Armenia last year for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
But earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Yerevan was prepared to hold discussions on repairing relations with Ankara.
“If he (Pashinyan) would like to meet with Tayyip Erdogan, then certain steps should be taken,” Erdogan said.
He was referring to the creation of a transit corridor that would have to go through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakchivan enclave that borders Turkey and Iran.
“We are not closed to talks (with Armenia), we will hold the talks,” Erdogan said.
“I hope that not a negative but a positive approach will prevail there,” he said. “God willing, the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be overcome with the opening of the corridors.”


Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2021

Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats

RABAT: Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, which was thrashed at last week’s elections, on Sunday denounced “violations and irregularities” at the polls.
The party had headed Morocco’s governing coalition for a decade but saw its support collapse at the Sept. 8 vote, dropping from 125 of parliament’s 395 seats to just 13.
Local elections held the same day confirmed the party’s crushing defeat.
The party “denounces the violations and irregularities” at the polls, including “massive use of money,” “manipulation of reports” and “names crossed off the electoral lists or appearing twice,” it said in a statement following Saturday’s extraordinary session of the party’s national council.
These “forms of electoral corruption ... led to the announcement of results that do not reflect the substance of the political map and the free will of the voters,” the statement added.
Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit has said the voting process took “under normal circumstances” apart from isolated incidents.

SPEEDREAD

• Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit says the voting process took ‘under normal circumstances’ apart from isolated incidents.

• On voting day, the Islamists had alleged ‘serious irregularities,’ including ‘obscene cash handouts’ near polling stations and ‘confusion’ on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats.
On voting day, the Islamists had alleged “serious irregularities,” including “obscene cash handouts” near polling stations and “confusion” on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.
The National Rally of Independents has started coalition talks, but the Justice and Development Party has announced that it would switch to its “natural” position as the opposition.
The party “is at an important turning point,” outgoing secretary-general Saad-Eddine El-Othmani said Saturday at the party’s closed-door meeting.