Tunisia grinds to a halt as unions challenge president

Tunisia grinds to a halt as unions challenge president
Supporters of Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) carry flags as they gather during a national public strike outside their headquarters in Tunis. (REUTERS)
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Updated 16 June 2022

Tunisia grinds to a halt as unions challenge president

Tunisia grinds to a halt as unions challenge president
  • Police were present in large numbers outside UGTT headquarters as strikers began to rally
  • Strike comes as Tunisia prepares to enter formal talks with IMF on a new bailout plan for its debt-laden economy

TUNIS: Flights were canceled, public transport ground to a halt and government offices were closed in a nationwide strike by Tunisia’s main trade union confederation Thursday, that piled pressure on a president already facing a string of crises.
The powerful UGTT confederation had called on up to three million public sector workers to strike, halting work at 159 state agencies and public companies to demand concessions on salaries and threatened reforms.
The action appeared to be widely observed in the capital Tunis, where post offices and public utilities were closed.
Police were present in large numbers outside UGTT headquarters as strikers began to gather for a rally.
Public television played repeats and carried an announcement that staff were taking part in the strike.
At the capital’s main airport, check-in desks were empty and frustrated passengers gazed at screens showing rows of canceled flights.
“This strike is the culmination of a collective failure by more than 10 Tunisian governments, the UGTT, the International Monetary Fund and Tunisia’s international partners” to restructure the economy, said Tunisian economist Fadhel Kaboub.
“It will serve as a reminder to the IMF that working people in Tunisia can only sustain so much economic pain.”
The strike comes as Tunisia prepares to enter formal talks with the IMF on a new bailout plan for its debt-laden economy.
Tunisians are facing soaring inflation and the UGTT has demanded a new deal to raise public sector salaries, including retroactively for last year.
While the UGTT’s opponents say it is ignoring the country’s deep financial woes, its leverage has been boosted by the IMF making a bailout deal conditional on trade union support.
The government has presented a reform plan to the global lender which includes a freeze on the public sector wage bill, progressive cuts to some subsidies and a restructuring of publicly owned companies.
But the UGTT, which has warned against “painful reforms” aimed at pleasing the IMF, has demanded guarantees that state sector firms, including some monopolies, will remain publicly owned.
The UGTT said Wednesday that its strike action aimed to defend workers’ economic and social rights after the “dithering of the government in the face of their legitimate demands.”
Employment Minister Nasreddine Nsibi said the government reserved the right to requisition some workers to allow essential services to operate.
While the UGTT insists the strike is not political, it comes as President Kais Saied faces intense criticism for excluding opposition forces from his “national dialogue” — part of a push to overhaul the Tunisian state and consolidate an ongoing power grab.
The president sacked the government and suspended an elected parliament in July last year, before dissolving the legislature in March and sacking scores of judges by decree earlier this month.
The UGTT was invited to take part in the national dialogue, but refused on the grounds that key political forces were not. It also argued that the process aimed to push through “conclusions decided unilaterally in advance.”
The UGTT, a co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in a previous national dialogue in the wake of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, had originally backed Saied when he sacked the government and suspended parliament.
But it has become increasingly critical as Saied has extended his power grab, which some of his rivals describe as a coup in the only democracy to emerge from the Arab uprisings of 2011.
Kaboub said democratization had failed to deliver key economic reforms such as boosting food and energy sovereignty and investing in high value-added industries.
“It’s time for the IMF, the Tunisian government and the UGTT to formulate an alternative vision for economic development in Tunisia,” he said.


Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM

Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM
Updated 11 sec ago

Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM

Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM

DUBAI: Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa met with Japan’s Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The crown prince discussed the depth of Bahrain-Japan relations, emphasizing Bahrain’s commitment to strengthening bilateral relations between the two nations.

Kishida and Prince Salman also agreed to explore opportunities that would aid the advancement of Bahrain and Japan’s strategic partnership in various fields.

The two leaders discussed the latest regional and international economic developments, and issues of common interest.

Bahrain’s PM attended ABE Shinzo’s state funeral on Tuesday and extended condolences to Abe’s wife, Akie Abe, and their family.

 

*This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.  


Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return
Updated 4 min 22 sec ago

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return
  • Kuwait has held 18 elections since the parliamentary system was adopted in 1962
  • Parliament has been all-male since the only woman MP lost her seat in December 2020

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait will hold its most inclusive elections in a decade Thursday with some opposition groups ending a boycott after the oil-rich country’s royal rulers pledged not to interfere with parliament.
The polls are the sixth in 10 years, reflecting the repeated political crises that have gripped the only Gulf Arab state with a fully elected parliament.
The elections come after Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah announced the dissolution of parliament in June following disputes between lawmakers and the government, the fourth to be named in two years.
Several opposition MPs had been on strike in protest at delays to parliamentary sessions and the failure to form a new government. A core source of friction is MPs’ demand for ministers from the royal family to be held accountable for corruption.
Kuwait, which borders Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran and is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, has held 18 elections since the parliamentary system was adopted in 1962.
But when he dissolved parliament, Sheikh Meshal promised there would be no interference by authorities in the election or the new parliament.
“We will not interfere in the people’s choices for their representatives, nor will we interfere with the choices of the next National Assembly in choosing its speaker or its committees,” the crown prince said.
“Parliament will be the master of its decisions, and we will not be supporting one faction at the expense of another. We will stand at the same distance from everyone.”
Opposition figures have stayed out of elections over the past 10 years, accusing executive authorities of meddling in the workings of parliament.
One of them, People’s Action Movement candidate Mohammad Musaed Al-Dossari, said he had been persuaded to stand again by the crown prince’s promises.
Sheikh Meshal’s speech “reassured” Kuwaitis and “encouraged the political groups and MPs who had been boycotting to return to run in the elections,” Al-Dossari said.
Thursday’s vote also comes after the country’s emir issued an amnesty last year for political opponents who had been tried on various charges.
Some 305 candidates, including 22 women, are competing for 50 seats in five constituencies. Parliament has been all-male since the only woman MP lost her seat in December 2020.
Women represent 51.2 percent of the 795,920 voters. About 70 percent of the population of around 4.2 million is made up of expatriates.
While the last elections were affected by anti-coronavirus measures, this time candidates have been able to open electoral offices and hold live hustings. Security services have stepped up their monitoring of vote-buying.
The election results are expected to be announced on Friday. The opposition, mostly Islamist politicians, won 24 seats out of 50 in the last polls.


Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
Updated 31 min 56 sec ago

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
  • Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government

BAGHDAD: Supporters of Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr again stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone government area Wednesday as the Iraqi parliament holds session on the resignation of its speaker.
Associated Press journalists saw those supporting Sadr waving flags as security forces gathered around them.
Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government. His followers stormed the parliament in late July to prevent their rivals from Iran-backed Shiite groups from forming the government.
With ensuing rallies, clashes with security forces, counter-rallies and a sit-in outside parliament, the government formation process has stalled.
Al-Sadr has now been calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections and has been in a power struggle with his Iran-backed rivals since the vote.


Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
Updated 51 min 4 sec ago

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
  • The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya
  • Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack

KOYA, Iraq: Iran launched a new drone bombing campaign Wednesday targeting the bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq amid demonstrations engulfing the Islamic Republic, Kurdish officials said.
The strikes early Wednesday focused on Koya, some 60 kilometers (35 miles) east of Irbil, said Soran Nuri, a member of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. The group, known by the acronym KDPI, is a leftist armed opposition force banned in Iran.
The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya, Nuri said. Nuri described the attack as ongoing.
An Associated Press journalist saw ambulances racing through Koya after the strikes.
Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack. On Saturday and Monday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard unleashed a wave of drone and artillery strikes targeting Kurdish positions.
The attacks appear to be a response to the ongoing protests roiling Iran over the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who was detained by the nation’s morality police.
The United Nations Secretary-General called on Iran early Wednesday to refrain from using “unnecessary or disproportionate force” against protesters as unrest over a young woman’s death in police custody spread across the country.
Antonio Guterres said through a spokesman that authorities should swiftly conduct an impartial investigation of the death of Mahsa Amini, which has sparked unrest across Iran’s provinces and the capital of Tehran.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric in a statement. “We underline the need for prompt, impartial and effective investigation into Ms. Mahsa Amini’s death by an independent competent authority.”
Protests have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran. State TV reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began Sept. 17.
An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, said it documented the arrests of at least 23 journalists as the clashes between security forces and protesters heated up.
CPJ in a Wednesday statement called on Iranian authorities to “immediately” release arrested journalists who covered Amini’s death and protests.
Dujarric added that Guterres stressed the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association during the meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on September 22nd.


Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
Updated 47 min 21 sec ago

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
  • The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin”
  • The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters

RAMALLAH: Three Palestinians were killed Wednesday during an Israeli West Bank raid targeting alleged militants, including the brother of a man blamed for a deadly attack in Tel Aviv, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The Palestinian health ministry recorded three deaths during the raid in Jenin, including Abed Hazem, brother of Raad Hazem, named as the killer of three Israelis in a Tel Aviv shooting spree on April 7.
The Israeli army confirmed troops had shot dead “two suspects involved in a number of recent shooting attacks.”
The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin,” a militant stronghold that has suffered near daily violence. It did not immediately provide further details of the raid.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of operations in the northern West Bank, including Jenin and nearby Nablus, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters.