Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens
Demonstrators carry flags and copies of Tunisian constitution during a protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers on Sept. 26, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens
  • President Kais Saied gives himself power to rule by decree two months after he sacked the prime minister

TUNIS: About 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Tunis on Sunday under a heavy police presence to protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers in July and called on him to step down.
Saied this week brushed aside much of the 2014 constitution, giving himself power to rule by decree two months after he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority.
“The people want the fall of the coup,” they chanted in the center of Tunis along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, a focal point of the demonstrations that ended the rule of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011. “Step down.”
The crisis has endangered the democratic gains that Tunisians won in a 2011 revolution that triggered the “Arab spring” protests and has also slowed efforts to tackle an urgent threat to public finances, worrying investors.
Saied has said his actions, which his opponents have called a coup, are needed to address a crisis of political paralysis, economic stagnation and a poor response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has promised to uphold rights and not become a dictator.
Nadia Ben Salem said she traveled 500 kilometers from the south to express her anger in the protest.
“We will protect democracy... the constitution is a red line,” she said, holding up a copy of the constitution.
Saied still has wide support among Tunisians, who are tired of corruption and poor public services and say his hands are clean.
He has not put any time limit on his seizure of power, but said he would appoint a committee to help draft amendments to the 2014 constitution and establish “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign.” Tunisia’s largest political party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, has called Saied’s moves “a flagrant coup against democratic legitimacy” and called for people to unite and defend democracy in “a tireless, peaceful struggle.”
Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that led to the ousting of its long-time president, playing a role in backing successive coalition governments.
But Saied’s coup has left it facing a severe split: More than 100 prominent officials of Ennahda, including lawmakers and former ministers, resigned on Saturday in protest at the leadership’s performance.
Tunisia’s influential labor union on Friday rejected key elements of Saied’s action and warned of a threat to democracy as opposition widened against a move his foes call a coup.
A first protest against Saied since his intervention on July 25 took place last week. It consisted of several hundred people.
“The language of dialogue has been disrupted with Saied...He does not like dialogue,” said independent lawmaker Iyadh Loumi.
“He wanted to isolate everyone and he is taking all power...Saied must be sacked and put on trial.”
Four other political parties issued a joint statement condemning Saied on Wednesday and another large party, Heart of Tunisia, has also done so.


Date set for Iran nuclear talks

Date set for Iran nuclear talks
Updated 14 sec ago

Date set for Iran nuclear talks

Date set for Iran nuclear talks
  • EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said at the weekend he was ready to meet Iranian leaders
  • The 2015 deal collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions

JEDDAH: Talks aimed at reviving the collapsed Iran nuclear deal will resume this week, two Iranian members of parliament said on Sunday.

After a private meeting with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, MP Ahmad Alirezabeigui said “talks with the 4+1 Group will restart on Thursday in Brussels.” Another Iranian MP, Behrouz Mohebbi Najmabadi, said negotiations would resume “this week.”

The 4+1 Group consists of four UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany. They began negotiations with Iran in Vienna in April over reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions.

That deal collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions, and Iran responded by breaching the deal’s restrictions on its enrichment of uranium.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden is keen to revive the deal and the US is taking part indirectly in the Vienna talks. However, discussions have been suspended since June in a stalemate over who concedes first — Iran by complying with the agreement, or the US by lifting sanctions. US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, are also concerned that the agreement fails to address wider issues such as Iran’s ballistic missiles and its malign regional activities.

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said at the weekend he was ready to meet Iranian leaders. “The goal remains to resume negotiations in Vienna as quickly as possible,” his spokesman said.


Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM
Updated 17 October 2021

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM
  • Health minister announced a second arrival of 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Cairo airport
  • The doses were provided by the US through the global COVAX initiative

CAIRO: Unvaccinated government employees will be banned from entering their workplace, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said, as the health minister spoke of the quantity and variety of jabs available and the expansion of specialist centers administering them.

“It must be ensured that all workers in the administrative authorities of the governorates are vaccinated, and soon any employee who has not been vaccinated will not be allowed to enter, especially with the wide availability of vaccines,” he told a meeting.

He called for awareness campaigns in governorates explaining the importance of vaccines, especially since the Ministry of Health was ready to provide any required quantity during this stage.

“We have 60.5 million doses of vaccines and, by the end of this month, the number of available vaccines will reach 70 million," said Dr. Hala Zayed, who is the minister of health and population. 

She acknowledged the importance of awareness campaigns and in taking the necessary measures to encourage citizens to get jabbed.

She said the number of vaccination centers had been increased and that, in the coming period, they would be established in areas frequented by citizens. These locations would include courts, traffic departments, metro stations, trains, and in front of mosques and churches on Fridays and Sundays.

The centers were for any governorate that requested them and the goal was to vaccinate citizens quickly.

Zayed said Egypt had started manufacturing vaccines and that, starting next week, the manufacturing technology would be transferred from its Chinese partner.

She also announced a second arrival of 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Cairo International Airport, provided by the US through the global COVAX initiative.

Khaled Megahed, from the ministry, said the Pfizer vaccine had approval for use from both the World Health Organization and the Egyptian Drug Authority.

The shipment of vaccines received would be analyzed in the authority’s laboratories before being distributed to 1,100 vaccination centers.

The first shipment of Pfizer vaccines, also 1.6 million doses, was received last September as part of a series of shipments provided by the US to Egypt.


Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
Updated 17 October 2021

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
  • The US has called on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib
  • The coalition announced on Saturday that it had killed 160 Houthis and destroyed 11 military vehicles in Abedia

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Sunday that 165 Houthis had been killed and ten military vehicles destroyed in operations in Marib’s Abedia district.

The coalition said it had carried out 41 operations targeting Houthis in Abedia and surrounding villages during the last 24 hours.

Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23, hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.

The Houthis continue to carry out their terrorist operations against civilians and prevent medical aid from reaching patients in Abedia, the coalition said.

On Saturday, the US called on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib, and listen to the urgent calls from across Yemen and the international community to bring this conflict to an end and support a UN-led inclusive peace process.

“The Houthis are obstructing movement of people and humanitarian aid, preventing essential services from reaching the 35,000 residents of Abedia,” a US State Department statement said.

“The US urges the Houthis to immediately permit safe passage for civilians, life-saving aid, and the wounded. As the UN stated this week, it stands ready with its partners to provide this much needed assistance to the people of Marib,” the statement added.

The coalition announced on Saturday that it had killed 160 Houthis and destroyed 11 military vehicles in similar operations in Abedia.


Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy
Updated 17 October 2021

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy
  • Syrian government and opposition co-chair meeting for first time, agree to launch process for drafting constitutional reform
  • Pedersen says the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process but will not be able to solve the political crisis itself

BEIRUT: Syria’s government and opposition in the war-torn country have agreed to start drafting constitutional reforms, the UN Syria envoy announced Sunday, a major step after a nine-month hiatus of talks and several fruitless rounds.
UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen didn’t say what was behind the agreement or offer details of what comes next. The drafting sessions formally begin Monday.
Pedersen met Sunday with the co-chairs of a committee which includes figures from fourth-term President Bashar Assad’s government, as well as exiles and civil society representatives. The two sat together for the first time to discuss how to proceed, and plans for the week ahead, Pedersen said.
Thirty representatives divided between the two sides, along with 15 members of civil society, will be meeting with Pedersen in Geneva until Friday.
“I have been negotiating between the parties to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward. I am very pleased to say we have reached such consensus,” Pedersen told reporters, appealing to all parties to maintain the spirit.
“My appeal for the 45 (members) is that we work as we have agreed to, and that we now start the drafting process of the constitutional committee,” he said.
The last round of talks ended in January without progress. Pedersen announced late September an agreement on “methodology” for a sixth round. It’s based on three pillars: respect for rules of procedure, the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles” ahead of the meeting, and regular meetings of the co-chairs with him before and during the meeting.
Syria’s 10-year conflict has killed over 350,000 people and displaced half the country’s pre-war 23 million population, including more than 5 million refugees mostly in neighboring countries.
At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution.
The 2012 United Nations’ road map to peace in Syria calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with UN-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
After the fifth round of negotiations failed in late January, Pedersen hinted the Syrian government delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.
The United States and several Western allies accused Assad of deliberately stalling and delaying the drafting of a new constitution until after presidential elections to avoid a UN-supervised vote, as called for by the Security Council.
In late May, Assad was re-elected in what the government called a landslide for a fourth seven-year term. The West and his opposition described the election as illegitimate and a sham.
Pedersen said the need for “a genuine intra-Syrian dialogue” was reportedly discussed by Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently in Moscow, “and through this, a genuine process of Syrian political reform.”


Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria
Updated 17 October 2021

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

CAIRO: Jordan’s Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission said that there are no current plans to operate flights between Jordan and Syria, state news agency PETRA reported on Sunday.
Jordan’s state carrier, Royal Jordanian, said in September it would resume direct flights to Damascus for the first time in nearly a decade, in what would have been the latest step to restore extensive business ties with Syria.

More to follow...