Saturday, March 12, 2011

Demonstrations have spread across parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Here is the latest from each country and the roots of the unrest.

Friday developments:

Hundreds of people were injured in Bahrain Friday, when rival groups clashed over an attempted march in the town of Riffa, a residential area where the ruling Al-Khalifa family lives.

The national health ministry said 774 people were injured and 107 were hospitalized in the wake of the fighting.

Roots of unrest:

Protesters initially took to the streets of Manama to demand reform and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy. But some are now calling for the removal of the royal family, which has led the Persian Gulf state since the 18th century. Young members of the country's Shiite Muslim majority have staged protests in recent years to complain about discrimination, unemployment and corruption, issues they say the country's Sunni rulers have done little to address. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said authorities launched a clampdown on dissent in 2010. It accused the government of torturing some human rights activists.


Hundreds turned out in two Saudi Arabian cities Friday to protest on what had been billed as a "day of rage," according to activists, though a planned demonstration in the Middle Eastern nation's capital failed to materialize. 

The protests -- both made up largely of Shiite Muslims calling for the release of Shiite prisoners -- occurred despite a Saudi government ban on all kinds of public demonstrations.

Demonstrators in Hofuf, a city about 300 kilometers (185 miles) east of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, began their march after Friday prayers, two activists told CNN.

By Friday night, about 200 people were out demonstrating near Qatif, a predominantly Shiite city in eastern Saudi Arabia where several protests have taken place in recent days.

These protests come a day after three people were injured when Saudi security forces fired on scores of protesters in the city of Qatif, according to two witnesses and an activist.

Roots of unrests:

The protests in the majority Sunni kingdom have followed similar demands across the Arab world for more freedom and democracy. Activists have been calling for reform and the release of people jailed without charge or trial. King Abdullah announced a series of sweeping measures late last month aimed at relieving economic hardship but protests have continued.


John Brennan, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official and an assistant to President Barack Obama, spoke with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, calling on all sectors in the country to engage in serious dialogue to end the current impasse, a White House statement said Friday.

Saleh said he hoped the opposition in Yemen would participate in talks with the government and promised not to use violence against peaceful protesters, the statement said.

Roots of unrest: 
Protesters have called for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978. High unemployment fuels much of the anger among a growing young population steeped in poverty. The protesters also cite government corruption and a lack of political freedom. Saleh has promised not to run for president in the next round of elections.


The military forces of Moammar Gadhafi on Friday pounded Ras Lanuf, the key oil port once in the hands of rebel forces, with its leadership confidently vowing to retake all territory from the opposition despite growing international pressure.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said Friday that Libya has suspended diplomatic relations with France, one day after the French government recognized the newly created Libyan opposition movement as the sole representative of the country.

U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated Friday that he wants the Libyan leader to "step down." He added that he "won't take (the) decision lightly" to decide whether to use military force, including helping enforce a no-fly zone, saying it is critical to "balance costs versus benefits." 

Roots of unrest:

Protests in Libya started in February when demonstrators, fed up with delays, broke into a housing project the government was building and occupied it. Gadhafi's government, which has ruled since a 1969 coup, responded with a $24 billion fund for housing and development. A month later, more demonstrations were sparked when police detained relatives of those killed in an alleged 1996 massacre at the Abu Salim prison, according to Human Rights Watch. High unemployment and demands for freedom have also fueled the protests.



Morocco's King Mohamed VI has pledged sweeping constitutional reforms as neighboring nations face violent uprisings demanding more democracy.

In a rare television appearance on Wednesday, March 9, the king said reforms would include a prime minister elected from the party that wins the most seats in parliament.

The U.S. government applauded the moves, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying the decision marks "a moment of profound change."

Roots of unrest:

Thousands of Moroccans took to the streets last month to demand reforms from King Mohamed VI, who has ruled the north African nation for 12 years.


A Tunisian court issued a ruling Wednesday, March 9 dissolving the Rally for Constitutional Democracy, the party of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

This is "an accomplishment to the Tunisian revolution and to the Tunisians who had always suffered from this party," said Rabeea Ben Taareet, a Tunisian lawyer.

This comes after Tunisia's Interior Ministry announced Monday, March 7 that it is dissolving its "political police" and the entire State Security Division, which was widely unpopular under the former regime, according to the country's news agency, Tunis Afrique Presse.

Roots of unrest:

The revolt was triggered when an unemployed college graduate set himself ablaze after police confiscated his fruit cart, cutting off his source of income. Protesters complained about high unemployment, corruption, rising prices and political repression.

An interim government came to power after an uprising prompted autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to leave the country on January 14. Those demonstrations helped spark protests around North Africa and the Middle East.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei announced that he will run for president in upcoming elections. The dissident reformist who served as director-general of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency from 1997 to 2009, announced his decision on ONTV, a privately owned Egyptian television channel.

Pro-democracy activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square endured waves of attacks by people armed with machetes, knives, Molotov cocktails and horsewhips, according to opposition forces and witnesses.

The assaults, which began late Tuesday, March 8, left at least 44 people injured, opposition activists said.
The violence continued into Wednesday, March 9, in the square, which was the center of the Egyptian protest movement that led to the removal of President Hosni Mubarak last month.

Roots of unrest:

Complaints about police corruption and abuses were among the top grievances of demonstrators who forced President Hosni Mubarak from office. Demonstrators also were angry about Mubarak's 30-year rule, a lack of free elections and economic issues, such as high food prices, low wages and high unemployment. Since Mubarak's departure, several thousand people have protested in Cairo's Tahrir Square to urge Egypt's new rulers to implement promised reforms. They pressed Egypt's Supreme Council to end an emergency law and release political prisoners, among other things. They also demanded civilian representation in government.


A group of 133 United Arab Emirates nationals have petitioned the president of the country for direct elections, one of the petitioners said Wednesday, March 9. The group includes academics, former government officials, journalists and activists, said Ahmed Mansoor, one of the petitioners.

Roots of unrest:

Despite widespread political unrest across the Middle East and North Africa, there have been no protests in the UAE. Demonstrations aren't technically illegal, but police never grant permits for them.


At least 18 people were injured Tuesday, March 8, during protests in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, a hospital official said.

Riot police with tear gas and sticks cracked down on a peaceful sit-in organized by hundreds of youth in the heart of the capital. Police occupied a city square and prevented the youth from coming to it. 

Rabi Ould Idoumou, one of the leaders of the opposition movement, said protests will continue as long as the people endure unemployment and poverty.

"Social, political and economic reforms must be made in Mauritania as soon as possible. Otherwise, the protests will continue," he said.

Roots of unrest:

In January, a man set himself on fire in front of Mauritania's presidential palace, according to news reports -- a self-immolation in the same spirit as others in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere. There have been two bloodless coups since 2005 in the country, which borders Algeria and Mali, with ex-Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz serving as president since 2009. 


Security forces in Iran's capital used tear gas to disperse protesters near Revolution Square Tuesday, March 8, according to the website of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi. 

Iran's opposition movement called for demonstrations to mark International Women's Day, and the security presence and car honking was widespread throughout Tehran.

Thousands of Basij security forces patrolled Revolution Square and other major squares and intersections in Tehran. Security agents were seen ripping off the license plate of one car that was honking.

The driver apologized and the plate was returned. Two young women in a car said something to several members of the Basij. The agents took out cell phones and photographed their license plate before they drove off. 

Some of those patrolling appeared to be teens.
Roots of unrest:

Opposition to the ruling clerics has simmered since the 2009 election, when hundreds of thousands of people filled Tehran streets to denounce President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election as fraudulent. Iranian authorities began rounding up many government opponents in February amid calls for protests like those that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East.


A prominent Syrian human rights lawyer has been released from prison.

Attorney Haitham Maleh -- arrested in October 2009 during a government crackdown on lawyers and activists -- has been freed, his son told CNN Tuesday, March 8.

"I just talked to him on (the) phone and he was on his way home," Iyas Maleh said, confirming the release.
The release came as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued pardons for prisoners, including some who are elderly and ill. Such pardons are made annually during this time of year, the anniversary of the Baathist party seizure of power in Syria.

The 80-year-old Maleh and other prisoners were not identified in a Syrian News Agency report announcing the pardons. The move comes amid demands by many restive citizens for more economic prosperity, political freedom and civil liberty.

Roots of unrest:

Opponents of the al-Assad government allege massive human rights abuses, and an emergency law has been in effect since 1963.

Masked attackers burned tents of protesters overnight in the main city of Iraq's Kurdistan region, police said Sunday, March 6.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered later in the day in Sulaimaniya for another protest against Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government, witnesses told CNN.

The unrest in northern Iraq that erupted three weeks ago has killed five people and injured 158 so far, said the head of the emergency health department, Dr. Nozad Ahmed.

Separately, the head of an independent Kurdish radio station in Kalar, 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Sulaimaniya, said that gunmen attacked the broadcast facility and destroyed or stole equipment overnight.
Protesters in the Kurdish region, mostly in Sulaimaniya, are demanding political reforms from Barzani's regional government and the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party. Like protests in other areas of Iraq, the demonstrators also complain of corruption, unemployment and poor public services.

Roots of unrest:

Demonstrations in Iraq have usually not targeted the national government. Instead, the protesters are angry over corruption, the quality of basic services, a crumbling infrastructure and high unemployment, particularly on a local level. They want an end to frequent power outages and food shortages.


Sporadic demonstrations have erupted in recent weeks in other Middle Eastern and northern African nations, such as Algeria, Djibouti, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait and Sudan, and in the Palestinian territories.


Post a Comment