Saturday, 30th September 2023

North Africa

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A United Nations expert on Tuesday urged Algeria to pardon people convicted or detained over their involvement in the pro-democracy protests of 2019-20 and to ease restrictions on gatherings.

The Hirak protests broke out in February 2019, forcing longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down two months later.

The movement continued to press for deep reforms, but it waned during the Covid pandemic. 

"I urge the government to abandon charges and pardon those people convicted for their involvement in the Hirak," UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule said at the end of a 10-day mission to the North African country.

"This will also reflect recognition of Hirak as a turning point in Algeria's commitment to move forward," he told journalists.

"The government must loosen tight restrictions on assemblies and associations to bring laws and practice into conformity with the national constitution and international human rights law," added the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Asssembly and Association.

Dozens of people are still detained in Algeria over links to Hirak or human rights activism, according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees.

In February the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, confirmed the dissolution of leading rights group Youth Action Rally which had been at the forefront of the Hirak protests.

It also suspended the Democratic and Social Movement, which was also involved in the pro-democracy movement, and ordered the closure of its premises.

Voule called on Algeria to "address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges" against individuals and organisations "under overly restrictive laws, including anti-terrorism legislation contrary to Algeria’s international human rights obligations".

The UN rapporteur also sought the repeal of an article of the penal code and 2021 amendment that broadened the definition of terrorism.

Since then, the authorities had invoked that article to prosecute activists and journalists for crimes linked to terrorism, according to non-governmental organisations.

"Algeria must guarantee... the right of its population to assemble and associate freely, to exchange views and ideas and defend specific interests, including in collaboration with partners within and outside the country," Voule said.

He will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2024.

-Africa News

Egypt will hold a presidential vote on December 10 to 12, 2023, the country's election authority announced Monday.

Walid Hassan Hamza, chairman of Egypt's National Election Authority, said the winner will be declared on December 18. 

"The final results of the presidential elections will be announced and published in the official newspaper no later than January 16th. Therefore, the entire election process will conclude before January 17th, 2024."  

Although yet to formally announce his candidacy, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is widely expected to win reelection. 

Economic crisis

Experts had predicted that Sisi would move forward the 2024 election, ahead of a predicted switch to a flexible exchange rate which could exacerbate tensions. 

The votes comes as the country battles an economic crisis, with inflation sky-rocketing in recent months and the currency losing half its value since March 2022. 

The government has kept the exchange rate pegged since early this year. 

Decade-long reign

Sisi, 68, has been in power since 2014, when he was first elected. He won again in 2018 against one of his own political allies. 

He further consolidated his power in 2019 following a change to the constitution which allows him to stand for a  third term. The changes also adjusted the length of presidential terms from four to six years, allowing Sisi to stay in power until 2030 should he win.

-Africa News

The damage is huge, it's hard to describe or measure it" says the military strongman in Libya's eastern administration, Khalifa Haftar as thousands are feared dead or missing after huge flash floods devastated eastern regions. The devastation with a surge of muddy river water ripping away entire neighbourhoods in one coastal city, local authorities and international aid groups said.   **

Nearly 3000 people have been confirmd dead and up to 10,000 people are missing with twice as many displaced according to Libya’s Red Crescent spokesman Taqfiq Shukri.

Massive destruction have been captured in images published online from the port city of Derna, home to 100,000 people, where multi-storey buildings on the river banks collapsed and houses vanished in the raging waters after two upstream dams broke. 

The disaster in the country was caused by torrential rains from Storm Daniel, which made landfall in Libya on Sunday after earlier lashing other Mediterranean countries, especially Greece but also Bulgaria and Turkey.

The coastal city of Derna, 250 kilometres (150 miles) west of Benghazi, is ringed by hills and bisected by what is normally a dry riverbed in summer, but which has turned into a raging torrent that also swept away several major bridges.

"The death toll is huge and might reach thousands," warned Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, echoing reports from local leaders who said 2,084 people had died.

"We confirm from our independent sources of information that the number of missing people is hitting 10,000 persons so far," Ramadan told reporters in Geneva via video link from Tunisia, which borders Libya.

Footage on Libyan TV showed dozens of bodies, wrapped in blankets or sheets, on Derna's main square, awaiting identification and burial, and more bodies in Martouba, a village about 30 kilometres to the southeast.

More than 300 victims were buried Monday, many in mass graves -- but vastly greater numbers of people were feared lost in the waters of the river that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

- 'Catastrophic' situation -

Libya, an oil-rich country in north Africa, is still recovering from the years of war and chaos that followed the 2011 NATO-backed popular uprising which toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The country is now divided between two rival governments -- the UN-brokered, internationally recognised administration based in the capital Tripoli in the west, and a separate administration in the eastern region impacted by the flood disaster.

Access to the eastern region is limited, and phone and online links have been largely severed, but the administration's prime minister Oussama Hamad has reported "more than 2,000 dead and thousands missing" in Derna alone.

The military strongman backing the eastern administration, Khalifa Haftar, issued a similar warning, though the toll had yet to be confirmed by emergency or medical services.

A Derna city council official described the situation as "catastrophic" and asked for a "national and international intervention", speaking to TV channel Libya al-Ahrar.

Rescue teams from Turkey have arrived in eastern Libya, according to authorities, and the UN and several countries offered to send aid, among them the United States, Italy, France, Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia.

- 'Harrowing images' -

The storm also hit Benghazi and the hill district of Jabal al-Akhdar, and flooding, mudslides and other major damage were reported from the wider region, with images showing overturned cars and trucks.

Libya's National Petroleum Company, which has its main fields and terminals in eastern Libya, declared "a state of maximum alert" and suspended flights between production sites where it said activity was drastically reduced.

Libya's UN-brokered government under Abdelhamid Dbeibah announced three days of national mourning on Monday and emphasised "the unity of all Libyans" in the face of the disaster.

Aid convoys from Tripoli were heading east and Dbeibah's government announced the dispatch of two ambulance planes and a helicopter, as well as rescue teams, canine search squads and 87 doctors, as well as technicians to restore power.

Alarm has spread globally, with many foreign leaders voicing their condolences.

European Council president Charles Michel, writing on X, formerly Twitter, noted the "harrowing images from Libya following deaths & destruction caused by floods, especially in the east ... EU stands ready to help those affected by this calamity."

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller also offered "sympathies and condolences" to those affected and said Washington was working with the UN and Libyan authorities to help relief efforts.

-Africa News

The president of Tunisia criticised European Union monitors who were hoping to speak to the families of Tunisian prisoners.

Kais Saied also blasted the naming choice of the Mediterranean storm that hit neighbouring Libya last week, in scathing remarks in Tunis on Tuesday.

"Anyone who comes from abroad to monitor us is unwelcome and will not enter our land," Tunisian President Kais Saied in a video released by the Tunisian presidency. 

Saied was also critical of the choice of name picked for the Mediterranean storm that caused deadly flooding across eastern Libya earlier this month.

The name, Daniel, was one that should have been questioned, Saied said and added: "He's a Hebrew prophet."

"The Zionist movement has infiltrated and the intellect and thinking have mostly been hit. We have become in a state of cognitive coma," he said.

"From Abraham to Daniel, it is very clear," he said, referring to the Abraham Accords that Israel eventually concluded with four Arab nations to normalise ties.

"I have no place for the term 'normalisation,' that they talk about, since normalisation is a major betrayal of the Palestinian people's rights to Palestine, to all of Palestine," the Tunisian president said.

Israel had reached diplomatic accords with four Arab countries under the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020 and is now hoping to establish official ties with Saudi Arabia.

The Palestinians view the pacts as a stab in the back from their fellow Arabs and a betrayal of their cause for a Palestinian state.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinians want all three territories for their future state. Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and cultural heartland of the Jewish people.

There have been no serious or substantive peace negotiations in over a decade, and Israel is currently led by the most nationalist and religious government in its history, making any move toward Palestinian statehood almost unimaginable.

Volunteers and rescue workers remain mobilised in Morocco on Tuesday to try and find any survivors, even though hopes are dwindling more than 72 hours after the earthquake that killed almost 2,900 people.

The epicenter of the quake, which killed 2,862 people and injured 2,562, according to a latest report on Monday evening, is located in a mountainous area of the High Atlas, where landslides have made access to the affected villages even more difficult.

Moroccan rescue workers, supported by foreign teams, are trying to speed up the search for survivors and provide shelter for hundreds of families who have lost their homes. 

But in some isolated areas, the inhabitants claim to have been abandoned to their fate.

In the village of Imoulas, perched in the High Atlas, residents seem lost amid the rubble of their homes.

"We feel completely abandoned here, no one has come to help us. Our houses have collapsed and we have nowhere to go. Where are all these poor people going to live?" laments Khadija, a resident of this hard-to-reach village, masking her face with her veil.

"The state didn't come, we didn't see anyone. After the earthquake, they came to count the number of victims. Since then, not a single one of them is left. No civil protection, no assistance force. No one is here with us," says Mouhamed Aitlkyd amid the rubble.

Helicopters have been flying back and forth to bring food to quake survivors in some of the small, isolated villages, as AFP journalists have observed.

- Solutions on the drawing board -

The head of the Moroccan government, Aziz Akhannouch, chaired a meeting on Monday devoted to the reconstruction of homes destroyed in the disaster zones.

"Citizens who have lost their homes will receive compensation (...) a clear offer will be announced shortly", he declared.

According to him, solutions are currently being studied for the homeless.

Meanwhile, the villages closest to the epicenter of the earthquake remain inaccessible due to landslides.

The Moroccan army has set up field hospitals to treat the injured in isolated areas, such as the village of Asni, in the stricken province of Al Haouz, just over an hour from Marrakech.

More than 300 patients have already been admitted, Colonel Youssef Qamouss, a physician, told AFP.

"We assess severity, so serious patients are sent to Marrakech. We also have a radiology unit, a laboratory and a pharmacy," he told AFP.

On Sunday evening, Morocco announced that it had accepted offers from four countries to send search and rescue teams: Spain, the United Kingdom, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

According to AFP correspondents, Spanish rescue workers were present on Monday in two quake-stricken localities south of Marrakech, Talat Nyaqoub and Amizmiz.

"The big difficulty lies in remote, hard-to-reach areas like here, but the injured are being helicoptered in," Spanish team leader Annika Coll told AFP.

"It's hard to say whether the chances of finding survivors are diminishing, because for example in Turkey (hit by a very violent earthquake in February), we managed to find a woman alive after six and a half days. There is always hope," she added. "It's also important to find the lifeless bodies because the families need to know and grieve".

-Africa News

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