Algeria lends $300m to Tunisia

Algeria lends $300m to Tunisia
A Tunisian man checks newspapers on a stand in the capital Tunis on Tuesday, one day after Tunisia’s president extended his months-long suspension of parliament until new elections in December 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2021

Algeria lends $300m to Tunisia

Algeria lends $300m to Tunisia
  • President Kais Saied had signed off a deal reached on December 9 for "a loan worth $300 million"
  • Tunisia's public finances have been battered by a decade of political instability, low investment and structural problems
  • Tunisia opposition condemns extension of parliament freeze

TUNIS: Tunisia said Tuesday it had received a loan from its neighbor Algeria, the day before a visit by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
The official journal said that President Kais Saied had signed off a deal reached on December 9 for “a loan worth $300 million,” around 266 million euros.
Tunisia’s public finances have been battered by a decade of political instability, low investment and structural problems, with debts approaching 100 percent of GDP and unemployment at 18 percent.
Saied on July 25 sacked the government and seized an array of powers, but has not laid out a plan to rescue the country’s dire economy, despite announcing plans on Monday night for constitutional reforms and new elections in 2022.
Tunisia’s economy has grown at just 0.6 percent a year since its 2011 revolution, while inflation has surged at six percent a year.
An unwelcoming business environment has discouraged investors.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the situation in the North African country far worse, slashing jobs in the vital tourism sector, high commodity prices have hurt reserves, and a drought has battered farmers.
Tunis has received economic aid from the European Union and is seeking its fourth aid program in 10 years from the International Monetary Fund, aiming to receive a loan of nearly $4 billion before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Saied’s opponents on Tuesday slammed his decision to extend a months-long suspension of parliament, accusing him of dealing another blow to the country’s nascent democracy.
The former law professor announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “draft constitutional and other reforms” ahead of a referendum next July 25.
That will mark one year since his power grab, which came as the North African country wallowed in political and economic crises compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
Saied had in October moved to rule by decree, escalating fears for the only democracy to have emerged from the 2011 Arab uprisings.
He said on Monday that parliament would remain suspended until new elections on December 17 next year, the anniversary of the start of the revolution that chased dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power.
That further isolated his nemesis, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which has played a central role in Tunisian politics since Ben Ali’s fall.
Many Tunisians, tired of a system seen as dysfunctional and corrupt, welcomed Saied’s moves, but he has also faced growing opposition in the form of demonstrations at home and pressure from abroad.
The envoys of the G7 powers plus the European Union had urged Tunisia on Friday to set a timeline for a return to democratic institutions.
Political analyst Slaheddine Jourchi said Saied was “determined to push through his political project to the end.”
Opponents have accused Saied of seeking to extend his one-man rule and unilaterally rebuild the political system.
Noureddine Taboubi, head of the powerful UGTT trades union, criticized the lack of a vision for tackling the country’s pressing social and economic woes.
In a speech to union members, he said the union had supported Saied’s July 25 moves but that “we didn’t give (him) a blank cheque.”
Yet some in Tunis welcomed Saied’s latest move.
Nizar ben Ahmida, a 37-year-old teacher, stressed the importance of announcing a timeline.
Tunis resident Nidhal said the election date was too far away.
Saied said a consultation on constitutional reforms would be launched on January 1, via custom-built electronic platforms.
These proposals would then be examined by a committee of experts appointed by the president, before being put to referendum.
But former Ennahdha MP Samir Dilou said the idea would “make Tunisia an object of ridicule.”
“The street isn’t reassured. The economic situation is what concerns the Tunisian public,” said Jourchi.


British man died in Qatar after detention, torture by secret police: Report

British man died in Qatar after detention, torture by secret police: Report
Updated 6 sec ago

British man died in Qatar after detention, torture by secret police: Report

British man died in Qatar after detention, torture by secret police: Report
  • Marc Bennett, 52, was found hanged in a hotel in 2019 after 3 weeks without charge in jail
  • British coroner ruled there was ‘no specific evidence of suicidal intent’

LONDON: A British travel industry expert found hanged in Doha in 2019 told friends he had been arrested and tortured by Qatari secret police 10 weeks before his death, The Times reported on Thursday.

Marc Bennett, 52, had been hired by Qatar Airways to work on improving tourism to the Gulf country ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

He was arrested at the company’s Doha headquarters, blindfolded and handcuffed, and told friends he had been stripped, hosed, assaulted, and subjected to sleep deprivation over a period of three weeks in detention.

He was then prevented from leaving the country after his release, not knowing if he would be re-arrested, and placed in “legal limbo,” according to his family.

His arrest came after he resigned from Qatar Airways and received a job offer from a Saudi travel firm, something a former colleague said had been taken as a “massive insult” by figures within the company.

Qatar Airways said Bennett, who worked closely with the airline’s CEO Akbar Al-Baker, was discovered to have sent “highly confidential documents” to a private email address, which was reported to police.

Bennett was released on Nov. 2, 2019, the day before a UN legal team was due to visit Qatar to inspect the state of the country’s detention centers over allegations of human rights abuses.

The team from the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention was denied access to the facility he was held at.

Bennett was left at a hotel in Doha with no documents relating to his arrest or any legal proceedings he might face.

A Qatari coroner ruled Bennett’s death suicide, but a British coroner said there was “no specific evidence of suicidal intent” and “the circumstances of the months leading up to his death remain unclear.”

Bennett left no suicide note, and despite being popular, with a wide circle of friends and family, gave no indication of intending to take his own life.

The night before his death, he was described as “laughing and joking” during a video call with his family back in the UK.

His widow Nancy Bennett, 51, told The Times: “There are so many questions. He left here with the whole world ahead of him.”

The UN legal team investigating human rights abuses in Qatar has said there are “credible allegations” that the unit that detained Bennett engages in extra-judicial arrests and mistreatment of prisoners.

“When the working group decided to visit one of the state security detention facilities, in relation to which it had received credible allegations of prolonged detention without judicial control and of ill-treatment, it was prevented from doing so,” it said.

“Equally, when the working group visited some other places of deprivation of liberty, it found these facilities nearly empty and received credible reports that detainees had been transferred to other facilities prior to its arrival.”

An investigation into Bennett’s treatment and death by the UK Foreign Office was closed, despite the findings of the coroner and concerns of the family, by Liz Truss, a week after she became foreign secretary in September 2021.

Truss, now the UK’s prime minister, visited Qatar in October that year for “strategic dialogue,” and to foster “deeper co-operation on security, development, trade and investment.”

In May 2020, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, announced a £10 billion ($10.845 billion) investment package for the UK.

Qatar has faced routine accusations of mistreatment of foreign workers in the build up to the World Cup.

The Mail on Sunday reported that of the approximately 30,000 recruited to build infrastructure for the tournament, 2,823 foreign laborers have died in Qatar since 2011 in unexplained circumstances, with another 551 committing suicide.

One British businessman told The Times: “Whether you’re a Pakistani laborer or a well-to-do British guy, you will be treated like dirt if your employer turns against you.

“It feels like you’re a slave. You can’t even leave the country for a weekend away without the permission of your employer.”

A Foreign Office spokesman told The Times: “We provided assistance to the family of a British man following his death in Doha.”


Iran celebrities warned against inciting Mahsa Amini protests

Iran celebrities warned against inciting Mahsa Amini protests
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

Iran celebrities warned against inciting Mahsa Amini protests

Iran celebrities warned against inciting Mahsa Amini protests
  • A number of Iranian sportsmen as well as actors and filmmakers have put their support behind the movement
  • Iran’s judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei has criticized celebrities over their actions

TEHRAN: Iranian celebrities were warned Thursday against coming out in support of protests that flared across the country over the death of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody.
A wave of unrest has rocked Iran since the 22-year-old died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for reportedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
The street violence has led to the deaths of dozens of people — mostly protesters but also members of the security forces — and hundreds of arrests.
“We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots,” Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri said, quoted by ISNA news agency.
A number of Iranian sportsmen as well as actors and filmmakers have put their support behind the movement, asking authorities to listen to the people’s demands.
Iran’s two-time Oscar winning director Asghar Farhadi on Sunday urged people around the world to “stand in solidarity” with the protesters.
“They are looking for simple yet fundamental rights that the state has denied them for years,” Farhadi said, in a video message on Instagram.
At a football match against Senegal in Vienna on Tuesday, the entire Iranian team remained dressed in black during the anthems rather than exposing the national strip.
In an Instagram post, star forward Sardar Azmoun condemned the authorities and appeared to complain of a gag order against the team, before retracting his statement.
Another former prominent player, Ali Karimi, has repeatedly supported the protests and condemned Amini’s death on Instagram and Twitter, saying not even holy water could “wash away this disgrace.”
Iran’s judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei has criticized celebrities over their actions.
“Those who became famous thanks to support from the system have joined the enemy when times were difficult, instead of being with the people,” said Ejei.
“All of them should know that they have to pay back the material and spiritual damage caused to the people and the country,” he added.


Iran using ‘ruthless violence’ against protesters: Amnesty

Iran using ‘ruthless violence’ against protesters: Amnesty
Updated 55 min 3 sec ago

Iran using ‘ruthless violence’ against protesters: Amnesty

Iran using ‘ruthless violence’ against protesters: Amnesty
  • Secretary-general calls for UN probe into Tehran’s behavior, including use of sexual violence
  • ‘The crisis of systemic impunity that has long prevailed in the country must end, and it must end now’

LONDON: Iran has used “unlawful force and ruthless violence” in its repression of popular protests across the country following the death of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights group said its investigations into the regime’s behavior, which has left “dozens” of people dead, revealed the use of live ammunition and sexual violence against women as tools to quell dissent.

It urged the world to take action by signing its petition to establish a UN Human Rights Council investigation into the events of the past few weeks.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said in a statement:

“We see the images of Iranian people from across the country bravely standing up to security forces, of women cutting off their hair and setting their scarves on fire,” said Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard.

“Dozens of people, including children, have been killed so far and hundreds injured. The voices of the courageous people of Iran desperately crying out for international support must not be ignored.”

Amini’s death in custody followed her arrest by Iran’s so-called morality police for incorrect wearing of her headscarf.

This prompted mass protests, including by women removing their headscarves and cutting their hair.

As well as live ammunition and sexual violence, birdshot, metal pellets and beatings have also been used liberally against protesters by the Iranian authorities in response, as well as mass arrests of “protesters and bystanders … journalists, political activists, lawyers and human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists and those belonging to oppressed ethnic minority groups.”

One witness in Tehran told Amnesty: “The security forces did not show mercy to anyone.” The group says it is continuing to identify more people killed in the clashes.

“Iran’s discriminatory laws, decades of repression of any form of dissent, and systemic impunity for unlawful killings during protests and behind prison walls, have triggered this unprecedented nationwide outrage,” Callamard said.

“We ask all the people of the world to sign our global petition and demand decisive action from their leaders.

“An independent investigative and accountability mechanism must be established by the UN Human Rights Council for the most serious crimes under international law committed by the Iranian authorities.

“People in Iran deserve more than empty words. The crisis of systemic impunity that has long prevailed in the country must end, and it must end now.”


Lebanese parliament fails to elect new head of state

Lebanese parliament fails to elect new head of state
Updated 29 September 2022

Lebanese parliament fails to elect new head of state

Lebanese parliament fails to elect new head of state
  • Michel Aoun’s mandate runs out at the end of October
  • No candidate has emerged as a front-runner among the hopefuls

BEIRUT: The Lebanese parliament failed to elect a new head of state on Thursday to replace President Michel Aoun when his term ends on Oct. 31, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he would call another session when consensus emerged on a candidate.

The bulk of votes cast by lawmakers at Thursday’s session — 63 — were blank. Christian politician Michel Moawad won the backing of 36 of 122 lawmakers who attended.

Unless consensus emerges on a candidate, the presidency looks set to fall vacant when Aoun’s term ends, at a time of deep financial crisis.

Reserved for a Maronite Christian in Lebanon’s sectarian system, the presidency has fallen vacant several times since the 1975-90 civil war.

Anticipating a presidential vacuum, politicians have stepped up efforts to agree a new cabinet led by the Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Najib Mikati — who is currently serving in a caretaker capacity — to which presidential powers could pass until a president can be agreed.


Rockets hit central Baghdad for second day in escalating unrest

Rockets hit central Baghdad for second day in escalating unrest
Updated 29 September 2022

Rockets hit central Baghdad for second day in escalating unrest

Rockets hit central Baghdad for second day in escalating unrest
  • A similar attack on Wednesday wounded seven members of the Iraqi security forces in the Green Zone

BAGHDAD: Four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad on Thursday landed around the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, home to government buildings and foreign missions, police said, as political unrest intensified.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the strikes and no claim of responsibility, two police officers said. A number of Shiite Muslim militant groups have offices and supporters in eastern Baghdad.
A similar attack on Wednesday wounded seven members of the Iraqi security forces in the Green Zone, and appeared to add a new dimension to a contest among power-hungry politicians.
Rocket attacks on the Green Zone have been regular in recent years but they are normally directed at Western targets by Iran-backed militia groups.
Those attacks have been rare in recent months. Wednesday’s attack took place as parliament was holding a vote to confirm its speaker.
The political crisis has left Iraq without a government for nearly a year after elections last October.
The crisis broadly pits the powerful populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, a political, religious and militia leader, against an array of mostly Iran-aligned political and militant groups.
Sadr, the biggest winner of the election, withdrew all his lawmakers from parliament in June and has sworn not to let parliament convene, fearing other parties will form a government without him.
The standoff spiralled into street clashes killing dozens of people in central Baghdad in August. Many Iraqis fear the same could happen again.