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Middle East and Nort Africa (MENA) News Updates - News from Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain

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  • Zafar Khan
    SYRIA Syrian security forces crack down on Friday of Martyrs At least three people are killed and scores injured during protests across the country Katherine
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2011

      Syrian security forces crack down on 'Friday of Martyrs'
      At least three people are killed and scores injured during protests across the country
      Katherine Marsh in Damascus
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 1 April 2011 19.46 BST


      Security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Syria two days after President Bashar al-Assad delivered an uncompromising address aimed at restoring rigid order in a country that rarely witnesses dissent.

      At least three people were killed and scores more injured as thousands protested across the nation on a day dubbed the "Friday of Martyrs".

      The widespread presence of demonstrators on the streets of the country's towns and cities had been called for by organisers incensed by Assad's stiff address, which offered none of the concessions hoped for earlier in the week.

      The southern city of Deraa was again at the vanguard of a nascent reform movement, which continues to be rallied through social media and by activists who have been galvanised by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

      Security forces were seizing mobile phones, which had been used to film clashes, to decrease the risk of further incriminating images being transferred on the internet.

      The new security crackdown had been widely expected by demonstrators in the wake of Assad's speech, which was seen as a clear message that continued dissent would not be tolerated.

      Several officials from the ruling Ba'ath party had pointed to new committees being set up to explore lifting the state of emergency rule which has banned dissent or political opposition for 48 years. Assad was thought likely to announce the move, and other reforms, on Wednesday.

      However, his address was instead calibrated to send a signal that he would not capitulate to a restive nation that has shown no defiance similar to the scenes of the past fortnight since an ill-fated Islamist uprising in 1982.

      Deaths in Syria as protests continue
      Several reported killed in anti-government rallies as security forces respond with live rounds, tear gas and batons.
      Last Modified: 02 Apr 2011 05:30


      'Assad announced himself a dictator'
      Syria's president addressed the nation to appease growing protests - but his words failed to ease Syrian anger.


      Syria braces for mass demonstrations
      Protesters ready for "Friday of Martyrs" rallies as authorities announce measures aimed at meeting some demands.


      Robert Fisk: Assad: The Arab Spring stops here
      While Syria's protesters demand freedom, President has stark message for his people
      Thursday, 31 March 2011


      He was not a humble President. He did not give way. There were hints, of course – an end to emergency legislation, "reforms" – but when he spoke yesterday, trying to calm a crisis that has seen more than 60 people killed in a fortnight and threatens his very office, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria did not give the impression of a man on the run.

      Was it Libya that gave him the "oomph" to go on, the encouragement to stand up and say that "reform is not a seasonable issue" – an accurate translation of his belief that Syria does not have to conform to the Middle East revolution? Either way, the Baath party is going to fight on. Assad remains the President of Syria. No change.

      Well, of course, we shall see. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya is not a wise example to follow in time of need. Friday is another day, the traditional day of memorial and trial and questioning. If he can get through tomorrow without further killing in Deraa and Latakia, Assad may make it. He is young, his wife – wrongly derided by those who hate Syria – is a great asset to him, and his rule has banished the worst excesses of his father, Hafez. But – and it is a big "but" – torture does continue, the iniquities of the mukhabarat security services continue, freedom in Syria is as hard to find as an oasis in the desert, and the Syrian parliament remains, in the words of Al Jazeera's analyst Marwan Beshara, "a circus of support".

      Syria's Assad warns of 'conspiracy'
      Syrian president fails to lift emergency laws in his first speech since security forces curbed anti-government protests.
      Last Modified: 31 Mar 2011 10:28


      Syrian president set to address nation
      Bashar al-Assad expected to unveil reforms in first public speech since security forces curbed anti-government protests.
      Last Modified: 30 Mar 2011 08:22


      Syrian loyalists take to streets in support of Assad
      Hundreds of thousands show backing for President Assad as he prepares to announce further concessions to protesters
      Associated Press
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 29 March 2011 12.29 BST


      Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Syria's hardline regime have poured into the streets of the capital Damascus and at least four other major cities, waving pictures of the president and flags, as the government tries to show it has mass support in the face of protesters' demands for more freedoms.

      President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has controlled Syria for four decades and has a history of crushing dissent, is trying to calm protests by making concessions. He is expected to address the nation in the next 24 hours to announce he is lifting a nearly 50-year state of emergency and moving to annul other restrictions on civil liberties and political freedoms.

      Syria's independent al-Watan newspaper said the cabinet was expected to resign on Tuesday, a move that would be viewed as another concession to the protesters. However, the resignations will not affect Assad, who holds the lion's share of power in the regime.

      Assad, 45, is facing down the most serious threat to his family's long-standing authority in this predominantly Sunni country ruled by the minority Alawite sect.

      Assad, who has been president for 11 years and is one of the most anti-western leaders in the Middle East, is wavering between cracking down and compromising in the face of protests that began in a southern city on 18 March and spread to other areas. There was a swift crackdown by security forces and at least 61 people have been killed, according to Human Rights Watch.

      The unrest in this country of 23 million could have implications well beyond its borders, given its role as Iran's leading Arab ally and as a frontline state against Israel.

      The government-sanctioned rallies on Tuesday brought hundreds of thousands into the streets in the provinces of Aleppo and Hasakeh in the north and the central cities of Hama and Homs.

      Schoolchildren were given the day off while bank employees and other workers were given a two-hour break to attend the demonstrations.

      "The people want Bashar Assad!" chanted protesters in a central Damascus square. Men, women and children gathered in front of a huge picture of Assad put up on the Central Bank building.

      "No to sectarianism and no to civil strife," read one placard.

      When the Middle East protests hit Syria, it was a dramatic turn for Assad, a British-trained eye doctor who inherited power from his father in 2000 after three decades of iron-fisted rule. In January, he said his country was immune to such unrest because he was in tune with his people's needs.

      The unrest was prompted by the arrest of several teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the southern agricultural city of Deraa, and quickly spread to other provinces. The protests and violence have eased in the past few days but tensions persist in Deraa and the Mediterranean city of Latakia.

      Troops on Monday fired teargas into a crowd of some 4,000 people in Deraa who were calling for more political freedoms, witnesses said. They also fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the crowd.

      Anger sweeps Syria after deaths
      Deaths of 20 young men during anti-government protests spark outrage in Sanamin.
      Last Modified: 28 Mar 2011 03:17


      Syrian protesters torch offices
      By Ben Mitchell, PA
      Saturday, 26 March 2011


      Protesters against the government of Syria set fire to offices of the ruling party today while hundreds of political prisoners were released in a bid to appease the rioters.

      Presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told reporters that demonstrators attacked a police station and offices of the Baath party in the town of Tafas, six miles (10km) north of the city of Daraa, epicentre of more than a week of anti-government protests.

      The Baath party offices in the Mediterranean city of Latakia had also been targeted.

      This afternoon, President Bashar Assad pulled back police and soldiers from Daraa and released hundreds of political prisoners in an attempt to appease demonstrators furious about the violent government crackdown on dissent.

      Daraa has been the centre of protests, with more than a week of demonstrations leading to nationwide unrest yesterday when tens of thousands of protesters marched in cities across the country.

      Abdul-Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian Human Rights League, said that 260 political

      Syrian police shoot nine people dead in attack on area sheltering protesters
      • Six die in assault on mosque in southern city of Deraa
      • Activists call for mass demonstration on 'Dignity Friday'
      Associated Press in Deraa
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 March 2011 18.11 GMT


      Gaddafi regime starts talks with the west to end conflict
      Rebels offer ceasefire as doctor says seven civilians have been killed in an air strike
      Peter Beaumont , Chris McGreal in Benghazi and Nicholas Watt
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 1 April 2011 20.17 BST


      The regime of Muammar Gaddafi has initiated a concerted effort to open lines of communication with western governments in an attempt to bring the conflict in the country to an end.

      Libya's former prime minister, Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, told Channel 4: "We are trying to talk to the British, the French and the Americans to stop the killing of people. We are trying to find a mutual solution."

      Although the regime last night rejected a rebel offer of a ceasefire if Gaddafi withdraws his military from Libya's cities and permits peaceful protests, senior British sources said the Gaddafi government was open to dialogue.

      "If people on the Gaddafi side want to have a conversation, we are happy to talk," one said. "But we will deliver a clear and consistent message: Gaddafi has to go, and there has to be a better future for Libya."

      The regime rejected the rebels' ceasefire conditions, saying government troops would not leave cities as demanded.

      However, signs that the regime was looking to reach out to the west came after the Guardian reported that a meeting had taken place between Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide to Gaddafi's influential son Saif al-Islam, and British officials on Wednesday in London. Ismail is a fixer who has been used by the Gaddafi family to negotiate arms deals and has considerable contacts in the west.

      Ismail and Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain on Wednesday night, are not the only current and former supporters of the regime to have been in contact with Britain.

      British officials have been in contact with a number of Libyan officials in recent weeks in behind-the-scenes diplomacy, according to a spokesman for David Cameron. He stressed that Britain had not been negotiating any possible trade-offs aimed at sealing Gaddafi's exit from power. "There are no deals."

      The disclosure of the dialogue came as the revolutionary leadership in the east laid down conditions for a ceasefire, after a visit by the UN's special envoy Abdelilah al-Khatib to the rebel capital, Benghazi.

      "We agree on a ceasefire on the condition that our brothers in the western cities have freedom of expression and also that the forces that are besieging the cities withdraw," said one of the leadership, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. "Our aim is to liberate and have sovereignty over all of Libya."

      The rebels' initiatives were announced as the first credible report of civilian casualties from the western air campaign emerged. Suleiman Refadi, a doctor who has worked with the rebels, told reporters that seven civilians, including three girls from the same family aged 12 to 16, were killed on Wednesday in an air strike.

      Refadi said three youths and a fourth girl were also killed when missiles hit a government ammunition lorry and destroyed two houses about nine miles from Brega and what is now the frontline. About 25 people were injured. The report was not independently confirmed.

      In Tripoli, gunfire was heard near Gaddafi's compound. Reuters reported that residents said they saw snipers on rooftops and pools of blood on the streets.

      The rebels made it clear their offer of a ceasefire should not be seen as a sign of weakness. In an attempt to finally bring order to its chaotic military campaign, the leadership deployed the first of its newly trained troops in the move on Brega, which was seized by the government earlier this week, and hauled up rocket launchers.

      They were also seen to have communications equipment, which the rebels have asked foreign governments to provide.

      The newly uniformed soldiers included officers who, the rebels said, would establish lines of command to end shambolic confrontations in which revolutionaries have only been able to move forward under the cover of western air strikes and have been unable to hold ground because they lack plans for defence.

      While the rebels prepared for a new offensive in the east, Gaddafi's forces meanwhile launched a fresh assault on Misrata, the last enclave in the west still under the revolutionaries' control. Libya's third largest city was hit with tank and artillery fire.

      "It was random and very intense bombardment," a spokesman, called Sami, told Reuters by telephone. "We no longer recognise the place. They are targeting everyone, including civilians' homes."

      Libya: Defections in the ranks
      Is the defection of the country's foreign minister a sign that the Gaddafi regime is crumbling from within?
      Inside Story Last Modified: 02 Apr 2011 07:07


      More 'defections from Gaddafi inner circle'
      Gaddafi's choice as ambassador to UN says he will not serve, amid reports of more defections from Libya leader's regime.
      Last Modified: 01 Apr 2011 16:48


      Gaddafi forces recapture Ras Lanuf
      Without coalition air strikes, outgunned rebels fall back through Ras Lanuf and complain about lack of support.
      Last Modified: 31 Mar 2011 05:11


      Libyan rebels facing tough fight for Sirte
      Rebels are attempting to seize control of Muammar Gaddafi's hometown, but government forces are gathered to stop them.
      Last Modified: 28 Mar 2011 16:35


      Video shows Libyan rebels being beaten
      Captured pro-democracy fighters seen being assaulted by government troops.
      Last Modified: 28 Mar 2011 23:13


      Gaddafi forces on the run as rebels advance
      Horrific scenes as government units destroyed by air strikes
      By Kim Sengupta in Brega Gate
      Sunday, 27 March 2011


      Muammar Gaddafi's presidential bolt-hole
      By Kathryn Westcott
      BBC News


      Bab al-Aziziya, the nerve centre of Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime, has long been a symbol of the Libyan leader's defiance.

      The sprawling presidential compound in central Tripoli houses Col Gaddafi's private quarters as well as military barracks and other installations.

      At its heart is the shell of his former residence, partially destroyed by American laser-guided "smart" bombs in 1986.

      Col Gaddafi claimed that his adopted baby daughter Hanna had been killed in the attack, ordered by former US President Ronald Reagan. The Libyans had been accused of the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque in which two American GIs were killed.

      The building has not been rebuilt and has been renamed House of Resistance. In front of it stands a giant, gold, clenched fist crushing an American plane.

      In the past few months, the iconic building has formed the backdrop for Col Gaddafi's televised addresses, as it did in 2001 when the Libyan leader spoke out angrily against the Lockerbie verdict.

      And it is here that this week ordinary Libyans rallied in support of Col Gaddafi, scaling the monument and straddling the plane in front of the cameras of the invited media.

      About a quarter of a mile away, nestling among the trees, stands Col Gaddafi's Bedouin-style tent, one of his homes for the past four decades. It was here, in 2004, that the then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was entertained as he became the first German chancellor to visit Libya.

      Libya reporters see 'proof' of attacks on civilians
      Foreign journalists taken to see 'evidence' of attacks, but coalition claim there have been no civilian casualties


      Libyan leader 'using hitmen'
      Libyan anti-government rebels claim Gaddafi is using hitmen to carry out targeted killings.
      Last Modified: 26 Mar 2011 04:26


      Libyan rebels facing tough fight for Sirte
      Rebels are attempting to seize control of Muammar Gaddafi's hometown, but government forces are gathered to stop them.
      Last Modified: 28 Mar 2011 16:35



      Protesters demand Mubarak face trial in Egypt
      Protests dubbed "Friday for rescue of revolution" amid calls for ousted president and former officials to face justice.
      Last Modified: 01 Apr 2011 17:02


      Thousands of people have rallied in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to call for ousted president Hosni Mubarak and members of his former administration to face justice.

      The demonstration, dubbed "Friday for the rescue of the revolution," was organised by the Youth Revolution Coalition, a group founded by the young activists who started the January 25 protests that led to the end of Mubarak's rule.

      The protest on Friday called for remaining members of Mubarak's government to be put on trial, namely Fathi Serour, the former parliament speaker, Zakariya Azmi, head of the presidential palace, and Safwat al-Sherif, the former secretary-general of the ruling party.

      'Difficult challenge'

      Al Jazeera correspondent Mike Hanna, reporting from the midst of the rally in Tahrir square, said the protest was a strong message to the supreme armed forces from demonstrators.

      "They say that the aim of the revolution has not yet been completed," our correspondent said. "There is so much that still needs to be done. The primary call from the crowd at this stage is for action to be taken against those from the previous regime. In particular, Hosni Mubarak himself, as well as those allied with him."

      Since Mubarak has a military background, the willingness of the military to put a former soldier on trial is seen by some Egyptians as a test of its commitment to change.

      "For the military rulers to take actions against somebody they supported and backed in the past is a very difficult challenge and a major test of whether this military council, in this post-revolutionary period leading to the handover back to civilian rule, is going to listen to the people and to what extent it's prepared to do so," said Hanna.

      Protesters included members of the National Assembly for Change, which comprises representatives of the opposition forces in Egypt whose primary objective is to bring about constitutional amendments and the achievement of social justice in the country.

      "We want to put on trial those officials and confiscate their money, remove the National Democratic Party, and stop exporting gas to Israel," said one of its members, Mohamed Al-Khodier.

      Salafis seek power in Egypt
      Banned from politics under Hosni Mubarak, the religious movement is trying to shape Egypt's future.
      Last Modified: 30 Mar 2011 20:39


      For a group that has never taken part in political life, the religious Salafi movement is now emerging as a new force in Egypt.

      As they establish a platform based on Islam as a system of governance, however, many secular and liberal activists fear the emergence of a religious state following their country's ousting of long-term leader Hosni Mubarak.

      Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports from Alexandria on the ideological battle to fill the vacuum left in the wake of Egypt's revolution.

      Egypt is still Mubarakstan
      Hosni Mubarak was only the visible tip of an iceberg of corruption – the state he created in his image remains
      Amira Nowaira
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 29 March 2011 10.15 BST


      More than two months after the start of the popular uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians are increasingly fearful that although he is gone, his regime is still alive and kicking.

      Egyptians now realise that Mubarakstan, the virtual edifice created by Mubarak and his coterie to ensure the continued dominance of a closed circle of politicians and businessmen, hasn't collapsed along with the fall of its head and protector.

      It is also distressingly evident that Mubarak was nothing more than the visible tip of an iceberg of corruption, for Mubarakstan is in fact a full-fledged state – a colonial power in every sense of the word, a state with its own colonial discourse, its propaganda machine and its brutal militia. It even has its own capital in the city of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the ruling elite eat their imported dinners and lounge on sumptuous sandy beaches.

      In Sharm el-Sheikh a parallel universe has been created, a lavish and elaborate underwater tank where the noises of the people can't filter through. That's why it has become the emblem of the rift between the decision-makers, whose decisions were taken only in support of their own interests, and the population they governed, whose angry shouts remained totally muted.

      Mubarakstan has created its little Sharm el-Sheikhs in many other locations, small enclaves of gated communities in the most spectacular places in the country, leaving the rest of the "natives", 40% of whom live way below any recognisable poverty line, to languish in a huge country-wide ghetto.

      The state of Mubarakstan even boasts its own bank. The Arab International Bank, which stands on Egyptian soil, is nonetheless an offshore business enterprise that is completely outside the Egyptian government's jurisdiction.

      This was where Egypt's billionaires deposited their loot without the possibility of ever being found out. How and when was such a bank established? Why is it still operating? These are questions that nobody is answering at the moment.

      The military council that took power following the overthrow of Mubarak pledged an end to corruption. Nothing on the ground, however, suggests that the desired change is happening. For one thing, Mubarak and his family seem no closer to prosecution today than they have ever been.

      It is true that a few figures have been offered as sacrificial lambs, including the interior minister who had given the orders to fire at demonstrators. But Mubarak's close associates, who had been implicated in flagrant abuses of the political system and had amassed huge fortunes, are still at large.

      More serious still, state television and newspapers are still headed by the same pro-Mubarak propaganda team who falsified facts during the protests. Egyptians can't forget how state TV falsely accused protesters of being foreign spies who had been paid to destabilise the country.

      Why are these officials still occupying their positions? No credible answer has been given. What is particularly worrying is that the military council and the new government of Essam Sharaf, who was himself given an overwhelming vote of confidence in Tahrir, seem to be adopting the same strategy of selective deafness that the Mubarak regime had used.

      Another bewildering phenomenon is the security situation. Almost daily we hear of prisons being forcibly opened, of fires breaking out in sensitive establishments, including the interior ministry and the Central Bank. These are often glossed over with no information provided.

      Equally ominous is the unleashing of Islamists of various affiliations on the Egyptian scene. A few days before the referendum on constitutional amendments (which was turned intentionally, it seems, into a holy war) some radical Islamists were released from prison, including Aboud al-Zomor who had been implicated in the murder of Sadat.

      Not only was he set free at this particular juncture, but he was also given a hero's welcome on TV and in the papers. Every time I changed the TV channel, he was there spewing out some criminal nonsense, such as the legitimacy of murdering people if religious scholars permitted it.

      Was the publicity given to Zomor and other Islamic radicals an innocent coincidence? This is hardly likely. The message to the Egyptian population and to the world was clear. It was the message that Mubarak was trying to give throughout his 30 years in office. If Egyptians didn't accept Mubarak's terms of stability, the beasts would be let out of their cages.

      The ruling military council has repeatedly reassured the Egyptian people that all their legitimate demands will be fulfilled. I sincerely hope so – not only for the sake of the military's credibility, which hangs in the balance, but also for the sake of the country.

      But should the military or the government believe that they can still ignore public opinion and continue to provide no adequate answers to all these queries, they will be making a historic mistake.

      I don't think that the tide of change can turn back no matter how hard Mubarak and his fallen regime may resist. A few years ago, the government imposed a mandatory course on human rights throughout Egyptian universities, in an attempt to whitewash the regime's abhorrent record on human rights. The course was taught as lifeless texts that students were required to learn off by heart and reproduce verbatim in the examination paper at the end of the year. Today, as I walk on the street and hear people of all ages and backgrounds discussing police brutality, incarceration without charge and the constitution, I realise that the past two months have certainly been a hugely successful learning experience for all Egyptians. It has made them vastly more aware of their rights as citizens than any textbook and has led them to understand better than ever before the significance of collective resistance.

      The fallen Mubarak regime may fight as hard as it can to retain its hold on power, and it may score some limited victories. But in the end nothing can take away Egyptians' sense of empowerment that resulted from their collective action.


      Thousands demonstrate in Yemeni capital
      Anti-government protesters pack the streets of Sanaa to commemorate those killed in weeks of street demonstrations.
      Last Modified: 31 Mar 2011 19:31


      Thousands of anti-government demonstrators have packed the streets of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, to commemorate dozens of people killed in weeks of street protests.

      The protesters turned out in 'Change Square' on Thursday to chant slogans against Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, who withdrew an offer to step down by the end of the year as political talks collapsed.

      Meanwhile, tribe members opposed to the embattled president attacked electricity pylons in the central province of Maarib, triggering power outages in parts of the capital.

      The blackouts, lasting up to two hours, also hit the southern port of Aden and the Red Sea city of Hudeida.

      A government official said the tribesman in Maarib had opened fire on the electricity towers.

      One official accused tribe members "of the opposition party" of being behind the attacks. It was the second such incident in two weeks.

      Mass protests have been shaking Yemen for weeks, with demonstrators inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

      Opponents of Saleh's regime complain that the government has failed to meet the basic needs of the country's 23 million people.

      Unemployment is about 35 per cent and 50 per cent for young people. Oil wealth is dwindling and water is running out.

      Saleh, who has served for 32 years, has co-operated closely with the US in the battle against al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, which has used areas of the country that have long been out of state control to launch attacks.

      The president is also battling regional rebellions in the north and south, with the opposition accusing him of exploiting Western fears that al-Qaeda could rise to fill a vacuum if he were ousted.

      State control in Yemen has diminished sharply this month as the massive demonstrations continued to swell in major cities and the government pulled police from many towns.

      In an attempt to arrange a peaceful transition, the head of Yemen's largest tribe, of which Saleh is a member, has guaranteed that the president would not be harmed if he steps down.

      On Tuesday, Saleh held talks with Mohammed al-Yadoumi, head of the Islamist Islah party, once a partner in his government.

      Saleh is looking for avenues to stay on as president while new parliamentary and presidential elections are organised by the end of the year, an opposition source said.

      The talks have stalled and it was not clear how they could restart. Saudi Arabia has resisted Yemeni government efforts to involve them in mediation.

      Yemen's Saleh 'makes new offer to protesters'
      President reportedly offers to transfer powers to caretaker government till next elections.
      Last Modified: 30 Mar 2011 18:48



      Tunisia graduates struggle to find work
      Country's economy was among strongest in the region, yet youth finding it hard to land a job.
      Last Modified: 30 Mar 2011 09:27


      One of the root causes of the protests that toppled Tunisia's president was his government's inability to deal with unemployment.

      This, despite the fact that the country's economy was among the strongest in the region.

      Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri reports on the ongoing stuggle for the young and unemployed in Tunisia.


      Scores killed in Iraq attack
      Many dead as armed men storm a provincial council building in northern city of Tikrit.
      Last Modified: 29 Mar 2011 11:57


      At least 55 people have been killed and 95 injured after armed men stormed a government building in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit immediately after a suicide bomber detonated explosives that cleared the way for the attack.

      "A suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt outside the provincial council building in Tikrit, and immediately after that gunmen stormed into the building," a police official told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.

      Another provincial official said the men, who wore security forces' uniforms, threw hand grenades and opened fire at a checkpoint of the Salahuddin provincial council building before they managed to storm it.

      Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from the capital Baghdad, said officials told her none of the hostages were spared.

      "They were shot at point-blank range, execution style ... and in a rather horrific account, the council spokesman said the bodies of three councilmen, who were among the hostages, were set on fire after they were killed."

      Our correspondent said all the assailants involved in the attack were killed.

      There has been no claim of responsibility, but the spokesman of the council, Mohammed Al Assi, told Al Jazeera that the attack "clearly bears the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq because of its nature, and the use of suicide vests".


      Our correspondent said this was the first such attack since the siege on a Baghdad church in November.

      "A police official told me that the assailants were highly trained, and the incident resembled that of a Hollywood action film," she said.

      According to military officials, some US soldiers "received minor wounds," when responding to the attack.

      "Iraqi forces took control of the scene and conducted further operations to secure the area. [We] are not aware of any US troops being directly involved in these operations. Our assistance has been limited to providing aerial surveillance of the scene and keeping our soldiers on site to receive further requests for assistance if needed," the army said in a statement.

      The attack has also claimed the life of a freelance journalist working for the Reuters news agency.

      Sabah al-Bazee suffered shrapnel wounds in an explosion, according to his cousin Mahmoud Salah.

      Salahuddin province, home to Saddam Hussein's family, continues to suffer frequent attacks by fighters opposed to the the government in Baghdad.

      In mid-January, a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed at least 50 people in a crowd waiting outside a police recruitment centre in Tikrit.

      That blast, which also wounded up to 150, was the first major strike in Iraq since the formation of a new government on December 21.

      Iraq's security forces are now solely responsible for the country's security, with the US having declared a formal end to combat operations in the country at the end of August.


      Unrest in Jordan
      What does the future hold for the Jordanian government and the king who appointed it?
      Inside Story Last Modified: 28 Mar 2011 09:42


      On the 24th of this month, Jordanians demanding democratic reforms established a tent camp in Amman's Jamal Abdel Nasser roundabout.

      Naming their movement after the date, March 24, the protesters said the sit-in would continue until their call for political change was met.

      But within 24 hours clashes were underway at the camp as riot police and civilians identified as government supporters attacked the demonstrators - killing at least two and injuring dozens more.

      One of the demonstrators' demands is that the prime minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, resign, but he has refused to do so and has claimed that the protests are being orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and its Jordanian offshoot the Islamic Action Front.

      On this episode, we ask what the future holds for the Jordanian government and the king who appointed it.

      Joining us to discuss this are: Sabri Samirah, a political analyst and leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan; Adnan Hayajneh, a professor of political science at Hashemite University; and Feras Mahadin, a member of the March 24 movement.

      Two dead, scores hurt in Jordanian clashes
      Two killed and 100 injured in clashes in Amman as kingdom's prime minister warns of chaos and consequences.
      Last Modified: 25 Mar 2011 22:55



      Bahraini activists plan Friday 'day of rage'
      Mainstream Shia opposition groups have distanced themselves from the demonstrations fearing violence.
      Last Modified: 25 Mar 2011 08:40


      Pro-democracy activists in Bahrain are preparing to hold protests across the country, defying a ban on public gatherings under martial law declared last week.

      However, it was not clear who was behind the marches, named Friday "day of rage", plans for which were circulated by email and internet on Friday.

      Neither the mainstream Shia Muslim opposition group Wefaq nor the February 14 Youth Movement, which led the earlier protests at Pearl Roundabout, were involved.

      Wefaq, which draws crowds in tens of thousands when it calls for a protest, distanced itself from the demonstrations on Friday.

      "Wefaq affirms the need to protect safety and lives and not to give the killers the opportunity to shed blood," it said on Thursday.

      Nine demonstrations appear to be planned, across different parts of Bahrain, including one headed toward the airport and one that aims to "liberate" Salmaniya hospital, one of the focal points of protests.

      Security forces had raided Salmaniya hospital in the crackdown, removing several tents set up by protesters in the past.

      Doctors and human rights groups say strict security has hampered medical access and that four medical staff have been arrested.

      'Security is priority'

      Demonstrators demanding political and constitutional reforms, mostly members of the Shia majority, began mass protests against the Al Khalifa ruling family last month, drawing strength from the protest movement that has swept the Arab world in recent months.

      Last week Bahrain called in troopsfrom its fellow Sunni-ruled neighbours, declared martial law and launched a crackdown that drove the protesters from the streets.

      Troops and police have fanned out across Bahrain and the government has said security is now the priority.

      It has banned all marches, but security forces have not broken up the funeral processions of civilians killed in the crackdown.

      More than 60 per cent of Bahrainis are Shias, and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy.

      Calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed Sunnis, who fear the unrest helps Iran, a Shia state separated from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain by only a short stretch of Gulf waters.

      Saudi-led Gulf Co-operation Council troops, which aided Bahrain police in a violent crackdown against the protesters in this tiny island kingdom, have since been stationed here.

      Western countries appeared to be taking the plans for Friday marches seriously. The British Foreign Office updated its travel advice to warn against travel to Bahrain and to inform Britons going there about the protests.

      Bahrain lodges complaint

      Meanwhile, Bahrain has made a formal complaint to the Lebanese government over Hezbollah's offer of support to mainly Shia protesters in the Gulf island nation.

      Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Bahraini foreign minister, said his country would not tolerate threats from what he termed a terrorist group and would consider lodging a complaint to "international sides" if Lebanon was not able to act.

      The warning highlights growing tensions in the world's largest oil-exporting region between Sunni-ruled Arab countries and non-Arab Shia power Iran.

      Bahrain has withdrawn top diplomats from Iran in protest over criticism of last week's crackdown on demonstrations, while Iran had recalled its ambassador earlier.

      Bahrain has suspended flights to Lebanon and warned its nationals not to travel there after Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah the leader, criticised Arab states for backing Bahrain's rulers while supporting the rebels in Libya.

      Crackdown in Bahrain: Notes from the field
      Despite the protests, the Al Khalifa family does not look like it will be dethroned, but that may come with a cost.
      Michael Hudson Last Modified: 21 Mar 2011 17:35


      MANAMA — Against all advice, I flew to Bahrain to witness first-hand the confrontation between the royal authorities and the thousands of protesters in the streets.

      It took a while to get a taxi, because roadblocks have discouraged people from driving. We drove through the eerily empty streets and easily passed through two makeshift checkpoints manned by teenaged shebab.

      My young driver was full of enthusiasm about the protest, explaining that the demonstrations were peaceful and not driven by Sunni-Shia sectarianism, which was just a pretext for the regime to justify its control.

      As we neared the Pearl roundabout – the epicentre of the protest – I asked him if it would be safe for me to go there.

      He assured me that it would be perfectly safe and that I would find whole families – including women and children – peacefully camped out there.

      They were there because the ruling Al Khalifa family so far had failed to persuade them that they are sincere about political reform.

      While the crown prince had offered to meet the opposition (the Shia Wifaq party and other groups) had refused, insisting that the rulers first make a good will gesture such as accepting a constitutional reform committee of their choosing.

      Instead the king took the highly provocative step of calling in outside military forces (the mostly Saudi "Peninsula Shield" of the Gulf Cooperation Council). So the protests continued.

      My driver seemed optimistic that "people power" would bring democracy to Bahrain as it had in Tunisia and Egypt.

      How wrong he was.
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