Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies
Bouteflika had suffered a stroke in 2013 that had badly weakened him. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 September 2021

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies
  • Bouteflika became president of Algeria in 1999 as the former French colony emerged from a decade of civil war that killed nearly 200,000 people

ALGIERS: Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled Algeria for two decades before resigning in 2019 as huge protests engulfed the country, died on Friday aged 84, public television announced.
The former strongman had left office in April 2019 under pressure from the military, following weeks of demonstrations over his bid to run for a fifth term in office.
After quitting, he had stayed out of the public eye at a residence in western Algiers.
Bouteflika became president of Algeria in 1999 as the former French colony emerged from a decade of civil war that killed nearly 200,000 people.
Dubbed “Boutef” by Algerians, he initially won respect for helping foster peace, notably with an amnesty law that prompted thousands of Islamist fighters to hand in their weapons.
Bouteflika went on to be elected for three more consecutive five-year terms, most recently in 2014.
Journalist Farid Alilat, who has written a biography of Bouteflika, says that at the height of his rule in the early 2000s, the president had “all the levers of power.”
Crucially, he was backed by the army and the intelligence services.
“He became an absolute president,” Alilat told AFP.
Algeria was largely spared the wave of uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011, with many crediting still-painful memories of the conflict in the 1990s for keeping a lid on tensions.
But Bouteflika’s rule was marked by growing corruption, leaving many Algerians wondering how a country with vast oil wealth could end up with poor infrastructure and high unemployment that pushed many young people overseas.
In his later years, Bouteflika’s ill health started weighing on his credibility as a leader.
Despite suffering a mini-stroke in April 2013 that affected his speech and forced him to use a wheelchair, he decided to seek a fourth mandate despite growing public doubts about his ability to rule.
His bid in 2019 for a fifth term sparked angry protests that soon grew into a mass movement against his regime.
When he lost the backing of the army, he was forced to step down.
The Hirak mass protests continued, with demands for a full overhaul of the ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.
But while some key Bouteflika-era figures were eventually jailed in corruption cases, including Bouteflika’s powerful brother Said, the long-sought changes did not happen.
Bouteflika’s successor Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected in late 2019 on record low turnout, with the Hirak calling for a boycott.
A referendum on a constitutional amendment seen as aiming to torpedo the Hirak generated even less interest from voters.
But the protest movement was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic and has struggled to regain momentum as the government cracks down on opposition.
According to the CNLD prisoners’ group, around 200 people are in jail in connection with the Hirak or over individual freedoms.
And with the Bouteflika-era old guard still largely ruling the country, the legacy of two decades of his rule is mixed.
“For his entire life, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was driven by two obsessions: take power and keep it at any price,” said Alilat.
“But it was this obsession... that sparked the revolt that drove him from power.”


UNICEF says 10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015

UNICEF says 10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015
Updated 6 sec ago

UNICEF says 10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015

UNICEF says 10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015
  • Four out of every five children need humanitarian assistance in Yemen
  • Hundreds are trapped by fierce fighting between government and Houthi forces
GENEVA: Ten thousand Yemeni children have been killed after the Iran-aligned Houthi group ousted the government in 2015, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Tuesday.
“The Yemen conflict has just hit another shameful milestone. We now have 10,000 children who have been killed or maimed since ... March 2015,” UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told a UN briefing in Geneva after returning from a visit to Yemen.
“That is the equivalent of four children every single day,” Elder said, adding that many more child deaths or injuries went unreported.
Four out of every five children — a total of 11 million — need humanitarian assistance in Yemen, while 400,000 are suffering from acute malnutrition and more than 2 million are out of school, Elder said.
UN-led efforts to engineer a nationwide cease-fire have stalled as Saudi Arabia and the Houthis both resist compromise to end more than six years of a war that has caused what the UN calls the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Hundreds of Yemenis are trapped by fierce fighting between government and Houthi forces in the northern Marib governorate, residents and a local official said last week, after battles for control of the gas-rich region displaced some 10,000 people.

Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister

Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister
Updated 17 min 55 sec ago

Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister

Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister

DUBAI: Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has appointed Ali Bin Ahmad Al-Kuwari as finance minister in a government reshuffle, according to a statement issued by the emiri court on Tuesday.

Al-Kuwari had been serving as commerce and industry minister and as acting finance minister before the reshuffle.

Qatar's emir created an environment and climate change ministry on Tuesday, naming Faleh bin Nasser al-Thani as its minister. 

Two women were handed cabinet posts for education and social development. They join Health Minister Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari, who had been the only woman in the cabinet.

 

(with Reuters)


Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo
Updated 19 October 2021

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo
  • There were 2.1 million aircraft passengers in July

CAIRO: There were 18,500 flights into and out of Egypt in July compared to 6,500 in the same month last year, an increase of 185 percent, according to the country’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

In June there were some 14,000 flights, compared to 500 in the same month last year.

There were 2.1 million aircraft passengers in July, more than quadruple the 500,000 passengers in the same month last year.

In June there were 1.6 million passengers, compared to 300,000 in the same month last year.

There were 19,200 tons of cargo transported by plane in July compared to 16,700 in the same month last year, an increase of 13 percent.

In June 21,300 tons were transported compared to 16,100 in the same month last year, an increase of 32 percent.


Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue

Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue
Updated 23 min 3 sec ago

Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue

Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue

CAIRO: Lebanon's parliament voted on Tuesday to hold legislative elections on March 27, parliamentary sources said, giving Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government only a few months to try to secure an IMF recovery plan amid a deepening economic meltdown.
Lebanon's financial crisis, labelled by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history, had been compounded by political deadlock for over a year before Mikati put together a cabinet alongside President Michel Aoun.
The currency has lost 90% of its value and three quarters of the population have been propelled into poverty. Shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicines have made daily life a struggle.
Mikati, whose cabinet is focused on reviving talks with the International Monetary Fund, had vowed to make sure elections are held with no delay and Western governments urged the same.
But a row over the probe into last year's Beirut port blast that killed over 200 people and destroyed large swathes of the capital is threatening to veer his cabinet off course.
Some ministers, aligned with politicians that lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar is seeking to question over the explosion, last week demanded that the judge be removed from the probe.
Mikati has since said the cabinet will not convene another meeting until an agreement is reached on how to deal with the matter.
On Thursday, Beirut witnessed the worst street violence in over a decade with seven people killed in gunfire when protesters from the Hezbollah and Amal Shi'ite movements made their way to demonstrate against Judge Bitar.
The bloodshed, which stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons.
The early election date - elections were originally expected to be held in May - was chosen in order not to clash with the holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Once a new parliament is elected, the Mikati cabinet will only act in a caretaker role until a new prime minister is given a vote of confidence and tasked with forming a new government. 


Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
Updated 19 October 2021

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
  • Explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people
  • ‘Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system’

BEIRUT: They may often squabble but Lebanon’s political parties seem united in rejecting an investigation into Beirut’s massive port explosion that they fear could threaten their survival, analysts say.
The explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people, wounded thousands and ravaged half the capital.
In the aftermath of mass protests in late 2019 demanding the ouster of the traditional ruling class, many said the disaster was just the latest example of official incompetence and corruption.
But months into a domestic investigation, no one has been held accountable.
Politicians have repeatedly obstructed the work of judge Tarek Bitar by refusing to show up for questioning, filing legal complaints against him or calling for his dismissal, which last week sparked deadly violence in the heart of Beirut.
Analyst Lina Khatib said hopes were fading of holding those responsible for the port blast accountable.
“The ruling class in Lebanon is in agreement about wanting the port probe to be abandoned and they will use all available means to derail it,” said Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank.
The country’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah has spearheaded a campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of political bias.
The debate over his future, which comes after the previous investigator was removed in February, has already triggered the postponement of one cabinet meeting despite the urgency of addressing Lebanon’s acute economic crisis.
Nadim Houry, executive director at the Arab Reform Initiative, said that the whole ruling class felt under threat in what he described as “an essential battle in Lebanon for rule of law.”
“A section of society has decided that they want to go all the way and ask for truth,” but they face “a political class that is willing to use threats, use violence, use even launching into another civil war to prevent that quest for truth from leading to a result,” he said.
It emerged after the port blast that officials had known that hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate had for years been left to linger in a warehouse near residential neighborhoods.
Families of the victims see in Bitar the only hope for justice in a country where impunity has long been the norm.
After the 1975 to 1990 civil war, Lebanon issued a broad amnesty that benefited the country’s warlords, allowing many of them to become political leaders.
“Regardless of what Bitar finds, it’s the idea itself that any of them can somehow be held accountable that they are resisting,” Houry said.
Any success in the blast probe would set a precedent and unravel a “impunity regime” under which each party agrees not to pursue the other for its crimes, as long as it is not targeted itself.
Tensions came to a boil last week after a rally against Bitar organized by Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal descended into violence that killed seven of their supporters.
The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades trapped residents indoors for hours, reviving memories of the civil war.
Hezbollah accused snipers of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, of causing the bloodshed, but the latter has denied this.
The army, meanwhile, is investigating a video circulated on social media that appears to show a soldier shooting at protesters.
“Hezbollah is increasingly acting as the praetorian guard of the regime that has come into place since the 1990s,” Houry said.
The Iran-backed movement, the only one not to have disarmed after the civil war, is at least partly blacklisted by most Western governments but holds seats in parliament.
While political parties have publicly supported an investigation, analysts say they ultimately wish to protect their own interests.
“Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system... and they therefore oppose any steps to reform it or to instil accountability within it,” Khatib said.
A spokesman for the families of blast victims quit on Saturday, after many feared he had been intimidated into toeing the Hezbollah line and calling for Bitar to step down.
Ibrahim Hoteit, who lost his brother in the explosion, lives in a Shiite-majority neighborhood.
The following day, many refrained from taking part in a protest to mark the second anniversary of the now-defunct 2019 protest movement, fearing further violence.
“Ultimately, the ruling class want to push the Lebanese to conclude that the price of accountability is too high,” Khatib said.