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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain

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  • Zafar Khan
    SYRIA Lebanon stops ship with Syria-bound weapons Vessel originally from Libya, loaded with arms reportedly destined for Syrian opposition, is stopped by
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2012
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      Lebanon stops ship with Syria-bound weapons
      Vessel originally from Libya, loaded with arms reportedly destined for Syrian opposition, is stopped by Lebanese navy.
      Last Modified: 28 Apr 2012 19:17


      The Lebanese navy has reportedly intercepted a ship loaded with three containers of weapons destined for Syrian opposition forces.

      The cargo vessel, which originated from Libya, was found on Saturday. Pictures released by the army showed dozens of crates inside the containers, some of them filled with belts of heavy ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades.

      Military prosecutor Saqr Saqr said an investigation was under way, adding that the 11 crew members were being questioned by Lebanese military police.

      Labelling on one box said it contained fragmentation explosives, and several identified them as coming from Libya.

      Syria’s Assad 'finished,' Tunisian leader says
      By AGENCY
      Published: Apr 24, 2012 13:29 Updated: Apr 27, 2012 19:43


      BEIRUT: Bashar Assad’s international allies must realize the Syrian president is “finished” and persuade him to step down to avoid further bloodshed, Tunisian President Moncef Al-Marzouki said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday.

      “The Russians and Chinese, and the Iranians must understand that this man is finished and they cannot defend him. They must persuade him to leave power and hand over to his deputy,” Marzouki told the regional Arab newspaper Al-Hayat.

      Assad “will go one way or another ... dead or alive,” he added.

      Addressing the Syrian leader directly, he said: “It’s better for you and your family to leave alive, because if you decide to leave dead, that means that you have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents. Enough blood has been shed.”

      Tunisia, whose peaceful revolution a year ago sparked the Arab Spring uprisings that saw off autocratic leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, offered to give Assad political asylum in February to stem the violence in Syria, where the United Nations says government forces have killed 9,000 people.

      Syrian authorities say they are fighting foreign-backed Islamist militants, who they blame for killing more than 2,500 soldiers and police.

      UN observers are launching a monitoring mission in Syria to oversee an April 12 cease-fire agreement brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

      Fewer than a dozen from a planned mission of 300 observers have arrived so far, and the violence has continued. Activists said 30 people were killed across Syria on Monday.

      Marzouki said the mission had little chance of ending the killings. “I do not expect it to succeed, because the number of observers is very small. Three hundred people cannot do anything,” he said. “In Kosovo there were thousands of observers.”

      Syria's ethnic Circassians seek Russia return
      Minority from Russia's northern Caucasus fear reprisals if Syrian government replaced by opposition.
      Last Modified: 24 Apr 2012 16:05


      Tens of thousands of Circassians, an ethnic group originating from Russia's northern Caucasus region, are believed to be living in Syria.

      Many of them are now trying to return to their ancestral homeland to escape the ongoing violence in Syria.

      The majority of the Circassian community supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and they fear reprisals if the opposition takes over.

      Al Jazeera's Sue Turton reports from Nalchik in the northern Caucasus.

      Annan says Syria violence 'unacceptable'
      Peace envoy alarmed by reports that government targeted people in areas where UN monitors met civilians.
      Last Modified: 25 Apr 2012 12:43


      Annan: Syria resuming violence as monitors leave
      By the CNN Wire Staff
      April 24, 2012 -- Updated 2346 GMT (0746 HKT)


      (CNN) -- The Syrian military is halting violence in areas entered by U.N. observers but resumes attacking once the monitors leave, the U.N.-Arab League joint special envoy said Tuesday.
      "I am particularly alarmed by reports that government troops entered Hama yesterday after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people," Kofi Annan told Security Council members.
      "If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible."
      CNN obtained a transcript of Annan's remarks from Security Council diplomats.
      Annan added that Syria's foreign minister told him heavy weapons and troops had been withdrawn from population centers and military operations had ended -- as called for by a six-point peace plan laid out by Annan and accepted by the Syrian government.

      UN team tours Syria amid reports of violence
      Damascus suburb reportedly stormed by government forces, as envoy Kofi Annan urges both sides to "put down weapons".
      Last Modified: 22 Apr 2012 20:34


      Syrian troops backed by tanks have stormed a Damascus suburb, activists said as an advance team of UN ceasefire observers continue their tour of flashpoint areas to lay the groundwork for an expanded monitoring mission.

      Activists said that explosions shook the town of Douma early on Sunday as soldiers launched an operation there to crush an armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

      "Regime forces backed by tanks stormed Douma under heavy gunfire," Damascus Revolutionary Council, an activist network, said in a statement.

      Activist video posted online showed columns of smoke billowing into the sky over Douma, 10km north of Damascus. Three people have reportedly been killed there.

      The reports of violence comes as Kofi Annan, the Arab-UN envoy, asked the Assad government and the opposition to immediately halt violence and the use of heavy weapons.

      "I urge all forces whether governmental, opposition or others to put down their weapons and work with the United Nations monitors to consolidate the fragile cessation of violence in all its forms," Annan said in a statement.

      "The government in particular must desist from the use of heavy weapons and, as it has committed, withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centres and implement fully its commitments under the six-point plan."

      Annan welcomed a UN plan to expand monitoring mission to Syria, saying: "The work of the mission should help create the conditions conducive to launching the much-needed political process, which would address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people."

      The UN Security Council approved a resolution to deploy 300 ceasefire observers, mandated to monitor an April 12 truce mediated by Annan.

      A smaller team is already in the country and has been touring flashpoints. Violence seems to stops when they are present.

      Satellite images show ruined deserted Homs
      The imagery, commissioned by Al Jazeera, provides snapshots of the Syrian city's dire situation.
      Last Modified: 21 Apr 2012 08:01


      Syria's carnival that ended in bloodshed
      A year on, Syrians are remembering the sit-in in Homs' New Clock Square and the ensuing crackdown that left several dead.
      Basma Atassi Last Modified: 18 Apr 2012 20:27


      Syrians in Homs are remembering a day that began with a funeral, developed into a sit-in and ended in bloodshed.

      The events in the New Clock Square on April 18, 2011, evoke both bitter and sweet memories for the thousands who participated in the largest demonstration in the city centre since the country-wide uprising against President Bashar al-Assad had started.

      "It was a day where we thought the Syrian regime was two days from collapsing. A day when all remaining barriers of fears were broken," Ammar, an employee at an internet cafe in Homs, said.

      The sit-in in the New Clock Square began as a funeral for seven anti-government protesters killed by the regime forces a day earlier. Tens of thousands participated in the burial at al-Kateeb cemetery.

      "On our way back from the cemetery, we started chanting ‘to the clock, to the clock’ and ‘sit-in, sit-in’. And when we passed by the Christian neighbourhood of Hamidiyeh we started chanting “the Syrian people are one’," Aboudi, a 17-year-old student in Homs, said.

      "Our Christian brothers were throwing rice, rose petals and water drops from the balconies. It was beautiful."

      People began flocking into the square from all directions. Protesters from other neighborhoods entered the city centre with no apparent resistance from security forces. Soon enough, the square was transformed into a carnival.

      "We set up tents, we brought food, we listened to speeches, we chanted. It was like a dream come true," Aboudi said.

      Because the square was surrounded by banks and companies equipped with surveillance cameras, activists quickly wrapped them in plastic bags to prevent security forces from using the footage to identify the demonstrators.

      "Some people suggested we break the cameras. But we decided it to use bags instead. This is how organised and civilised the Homs sit-in was," Ammar said.

      'Shot in cold blood'

      Majd, a 21-year-old Homs resident, said people were surprised the regime was allowing them to carry out the protest without interference.

      "There were policemen watching us from a distance. That was it. But we were still very suspicious," he said.

      "Religious leaders started asking us to leave. They also felt the regime was up to something."

      And they were right.

      The crowd was dispersed by security forces after midnight, at around 1:45am, with intense rounds of live bullets. Several people were killed.

      Ammar said he believed the security forces first began shooting in the air. But later they shot at people as they ran away.

      "People were running in all directions. Many of us hid in commercial buildings and slept there overnight. The sounds of bullets were unbelievable".

      Majd said a man shouted ‘I want to curse the family of Assad’.

      "They shot him. They shot him in cold blood," he said.

      There is no verified death toll from the crackdown on the protest. A local activist group says tens were killed, but has only documented the names of eight.

      The uprising against Assad had only started about a month earlier and there were no established activist networks which could effectively document deaths, Abou Rami, an activist in Homs, said.

      "The regime made it so difficult for people to find out the fate of those who could not run away. They removed the bodies and the square was cleaned overnight from all the blood and glass pieces," he said.

      "They cleaned it as if nothing had happened a day earlier."

      'Angry city'

      However, despite attempts to restore the business-as-usual mode, Ammar said Homs was forever changed.

      "Homs became an angry city. While the upper class had not yet been very involved in demonstrations, the sit-in near their homes moved them. They became an integral part of the protest movement in the city," he said.

      The brutal crackdown on the sit-in, Ammar said, was meant to deter activists from attempting to occupy the city centres of the capital, Damascus, and Aleppo, the country’s second city Aleppo.

      "I think that Assad saw the new trend of sit-ins and wanted to stop it. Before the Homs protest, there had been a large rally in [the coastal city of] Latakia and another one in [the Damascus suburb of] Douma, but they were not comparable in numbers to the New Clock Square sit-in.

      "Assad wanted to teach a lesson to all Syrians through Homs."

      One year on, many Homs neighbourhoods are unrecognisable. Opposition strongholds have been shelled by government forces trying to wipe out the armed resistance that emerged months into what began as a peaceful uprising. Activists say hundreds have been killed in the city.

      Since the sit-in, residents of Homs have tried on several occasions to recreate the city centre rally by calling on people to "crawl to the New Clock Square", but the heavy security around the area and the presence of snipers on the rooftops around the square have made it impossible.

      However, Abu Rami and many others who participated remain defiant and hopeful that they will return to what they now call "Freedom Square".

      "For us in Homs, the regime has fallen," he said. "Re-occupying the square is only a technicality. I see this day coming soon."

      Follow Basma Atassi on twitter: @Basma_

      Syria Street, Lebanon
      Sentiment about Syria in Lebanon is mixed, as refugees flood in and survive thanks to goodwill.
      Last Modified: 19 Apr 2012 07:58


      UN chief says Syria has broken ceasefire
      Ban Ki-moon calls for an expanded observer mission, saying Damascus has failed to adhere to agreed peace plan.
      Last Modified: 19 Apr 2012 20:38


      Syrian forces 'shell districts of Homs'
      Several people wounded in overnight bombardment of two central districts in the flashpoint city, activists say.
      Last Modified: 14 Apr 2012 11:13


      Robert Fisk: Shot in the heart - the journalist Assad made into a martyr
      Mourners demand answers over fate of cameraman killed on the Lebanese border


      They buried Ali Shabaan as a martyr-reporter yesterday, another journalist of the Syrian war to die in action – but a Lebanese this time, unknown in the West but loved in his little south Lebanon village, not least by the girl to whom he was to have become officially engaged this Saturday.

      Fatima Atwi clung to the railings of the balcony over the road from the beautiful village cemetery – all ficus trees and firs – crying tears that splashed on her yellow-and-black blouse. She wore a black veil and was inconsolable. All Shabaan's three sisters could do was embrace her. Shabaan – I met him once, briefly, in 2006, during the Israeli-Hezbollah war – had worked this past weekend on the Lebanese-Syrian border so that he could have next weekend off for his engagement ceremony.

      Shot in the heart. By the Syrians. Forty bullets hit the cameraman's car and that of his fellow crew at Wadi Khaled. A quick death, I suppose. A quick funeral, of course, according to Muslim tradition. They said the fatiha prayer to the soul of Shabaan and placed his body in the dark earth of the little cemetery.

      Every journalist who dies in violence in Lebanon is called a martyr. Not a bad description of all of those who die trying to report the truth, that subtle narrative that must name the guilty party. But Al-Manar, the television station of the Hezbollah – Syria's ally – did not speak of Shabaan as a "martyr" but as a "victim" of a battle between Syrian troops and "terrorists". As one of Shabaan's employers said yesterday, he was wiped off the news agenda of Hezbollah as a victim of "crossfire", the old explanation of Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israelis. "But for God's sake," he said, "this wasn't an Israeli television station – this was a Hezbollah station!"

      In the Husseinia mosque, a portrait of Imam Moussa Sadr, the Lebanese imam murdered by Muammar Gadaffi's killers in Libya more than three decades ago, was larger than that of Iranian Messers Khomeini and Khamanei. There was a guard of honour from the Lebanese internal security police and a strong clutch of local Shia imams and two representatives of the Hezbollah and a larger clutch of Lebanese journalists who believed that this was the result of – I quote one in particular – "a planned murder, Don Corleone-style". According to them, and to New TV (NTV) officials, Shabaan's killing was "a message".

      But what was this message? Tahsin Khayat and his son Karim are overwhelmed. Shabaan's dad is Tahsin Khayat's driver. His sisters were cared for by Karim Khayat's sister and his brother-in-law. In Lebanon, companies really are families. The Khayat family's television station has always carried a Syrian "point of view" – they were even allowed into the Syrian city of Deraa at the beginning of the Syrian revolution and their senior cameraman in Deraa was Shabaan. The Khayat family, all Shia, are demanding a "full investigation" – whatever that means – and they have received the support of the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman.

      But why did Shabaan die? He and his crew had passed the Lebanese customs at Wadi Khaled in northern Lebanon on Monday to film the border and shouted across to the Syrian immigration officers that they were filing for New TV on the Lebanese side of the frontier. The story from his colleagues yesterday was straightforward: after they had identified themselves, the crew began filming and were then told to stop by uniformed Syrian troops. These soldiers reportedly shouted: "Go back." The crew was reversing its car when a fusillade of bullets crashed into it – at least 40 hit the vehicle – and Shabaan was hit by the first round. NTV's staff is adamant that at no point did they enter Syrian territory. Thanks to the old post-war 1914-18 French mandate, the border was not delineated as carefully as it might have been – but that's no reason to kill journalists.

      There was a range of feeling in Maifadoun yesterday. "We are with the Hezbollah when they fight Israel," one villager said, "but we are not with the Syrians when they kill their people."

      Ahmed Shabaan watched the body of his only son placed in the earth. Muslims out here have no coffins. And oh yes, Syria sent its official condolences.


      Egypt terminates gas deal with Israel
      Top official insists decision was not political as Israel says it overshadows peace agreement between the two countries.
      Last Modified: 23 Apr 2012 20:36


      The head of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company has said it has terminated its contract to ship gas to Israel because of violations of contractual obligations, a decision Israel said overshadowed the peace agreement between the two countries.

      Mohamed Shoeb, the gas company's top official, said Sunday's decision was not political. "This has nothing to do with anything outside of the commercial relations,'' Shoeb said.

      He said Israel had not paid for its gas in four months. Yigal Palmor, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, denied the claim of not paying.

      The 2005 Egypt-Israel gas deal has come under strident criticism from leaders of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, the longtime Egyptian president, last year.

      Critics charge that Israel got bargain prices, and Mubarak cronies skimmed millions of dollars off the proceeds.

      The sale of gas to Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, has always been controversial in the Arab world's most populous country. It was the largest trade deal between the two former foes.

      Egyptian radicals have blown up the gas pipeline to Israel 14 times since the uprising.

      The country's military ruler was quoted by the MENA news agency as saying that the Egyptian armed forces would defend the borders with Israel if necessary.

      Addressing troops in the Sinai Peninsula during annual field exercises on Monday, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi said: "Our borders, especially the northeast ones, are inflamed. We do not attack neighbouring countries but will defend our territory. We will break the legs of any trying to attack us or come near the borders."

      'Great concern'

      Tantawi's statement came apparently in response to remarks the previous day by Yuval Steinitz, Israel's finance minister, that the Egyptian announcement was of "great concern'' politically and economically.

      "This is a dangerous precedent that overshadows the peace agreements and the peaceful atmosphere between Israel and Egypt,'' Steinitz said in a statement.

      Israel relies on Egyptian natural gas for 40 per cent of its supplies to produce electricity, the chairman of a government holding firm said on Sunday.

      The Israeli side said the decision was "unlawful and in bad faith", accusing the Egyptian side of failing to supply the gas quantities it is owed. The dispute is under international arbitration.

      Israel insists it is paying a fair price for the gas.

      Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said the row would have major political consequences.

      "At the base of it, this is a commercial dispute, which has in reality been under international arbitration since September last year," he said.

      "But when this agreement was reached in 2005, it was subject to government approvals of Israel and Egypt, many believe under pressure from the government of the US.

      "So although this maybe a commercial situation at the moment, this is an issue that will have immense political, international fallout in the days to come."

      However, Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said that the Israeli government had been downplaying the dispute.

      "Everyone here is downplaying it. In fact we just heard from the prime minister's office that the deal is not off, that this is just a commercial issue between the israeli and Egyptian gas companies," he said.

      "It is not surprising that they're downplaying it if you look at the implications this could have.

      "If this deal falls apart the concerns I think many people have is that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which was signed in 1979, could be in jeopardy."

      Mubarak defended

      In January, a lawyer defending Mubarak told a Cairo court that there was not a shred of evidence linking the deposed Egyptian president to the controversial gas deal.

      Farid al-Deeb said Egypt's spy agency negotiated the deal in line with international norms.

      "There isn't an ounce of evidence that Mubarak was involved in the deal to import gas to Israel," costing the state $714m in losses, Deeb told the court.

      Among the shareholders of East Mediterranean, the joint Egyptian-Israeli company that carries the gas to Israel, is Hussein Salem, a close friend of Mubarak.

      After the many disruptions to the supply of gas over the past year, Israeli ministers have urged the speedy exploitation of recently discovered gas fields off the country's northern coast.

      Israeli officials believe that exploitation of two major natural gas fields could compensate for the loss of Egyptian gas.

      Israel has already moved to begin exploiting the fields, signing a deal with Cyprus to mark out maritime borders, but it faces challenges from Lebanon, which claims that the gas fields lie in its territorial waters.

      Al Jazeera's Perry said that the attacks on the pipeline had become a major problem for Israel in the past 14 months, and as a result the country had to purchase gas supplies from other countries as far away as Mexico.

      "The price of electricity has gone up 20 per cent and the cost of living continues to go up as well," he said.

      Egyptians rally against ex-regime hold-overs
      By Samer al-Atrush (AFP) – Apr 20, 2012


      CAIRO — Tens of thousands of people rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to protest against the ruling military and hold-overs from the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.
      The demonstration comes ahead of the first presidential election since the strongman's ouster last year, to be held at the end of May.
      Liberal groups had already called for the rally when, last week, the committee overseeing the election barred Mubarak's vice president and spy chief Omar Suleiman and two leading Islamist candidates from standing.
      Islamists, who swept parliamentary elections earlier this year, held a rally with similar demands in the iconic square last week that was avoided by many liberal groups, highlighting rifts since the uprising.
      But the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm dominates both houses of parliament, said it would throw its weight behind Friday's protest after its candidate, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified.
      Supporters of disqualified Salafist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail also joined the protest, carrying black flags emblazoned with Islamic slogans.
      Abu Ismail was barred because his late mother held joint US-Egyptian citizenship and the electoral law requires that candidates, their wives and parents have only Egyptian nationality.
      "Down with military rule," chanted the protesters in the square, epicentre of the 18-day revolt that overthrew Mubarak in February 2011 and left the military in power.
      Thousands also marched into Tahrir Square after Friday prayers in several mosques around Cairo.
      Suleiman, whom Mubarak appointed as vice president in the last days of his regime, was barred because he did not gather enough endorsements from across the country, as the electoral law requires.
      His candidacy shocked the Brotherhood, which said it would escalate street protests if he continued to stand, and the parliament it dominates rushed through a law to bar former regime figures from the election.
      The Islamists accused the military of backing Suleiman and claimed that security services had helped to gather the 30,000 endorsements he needed to nominate himself.
      The military has promised to hand over power to a civilian president after the election results are announced in June, but its critics accuse it of angling to stay in power through a proxy leader.
      Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force chief who served as Mubarak's prime minister, is still in the race, as is Amr Mussa, a former Mubarak foreign minister and Arab League chief.
      The Brotherhood is fielding Mohammed Mursi, leader of its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, after the electoral committee disqualified Shater because of a military court conviction during the Mubarak era.
      Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.


      In Sudan and South Sudan, questions of nationality
      By Ulf Laessing and Yara Bayoumy
      KHARTOUM/JUBA | Sun Apr 29, 2012 3:28pm EDT


      (Reuters) - Sultan Kwaje's problems started when his country disappeared from under him.

      He was born in the southern part of Sudan but has lived in the north for more than three decades. When South Sudan broke away as an independent country from Sudan in July, Kwaje was left on the northern side of the border, a foreigner.

      The Sudanese government, he said, fired him from his job in the civil service.

      Tens of thousands of South Sudanese in the north lost their jobs after the split. About 500,000 are now technically illegal because they lack official residency papers.

      "I just want to leave," said Kwaje who lives in Wad al-Bashir camp, one of several slums on the outskirts of Sudan's capital Khartoum. "I am still owed all my severance rights but I just want to leave now. Life is bad. We don't have jobs, no food, don't get medical treatment."

      As border fighting between Sudan and South Sudan has threatened to turn into all-out war over the past three weeks, much of the attention has focused on the countries' unresolved disputes over oil revenues.

      But the crisis has also shone a light on the plight of the of hundreds of thousands of people who found themselves on the wrong side of the border at independence and are now treated as foreigners.

      In Juba, the capital of South Sudan, thousands of Sudanese citizens also face a new government that has declared them expatriates, though it has not yet imposed any new rules for residency papers.

      Plans for two deals that would grant each other's citizens residency and free movement stalled when Khartoum called off a summit in protest at border fighting.

      Sudan's government initially gave southerners until April 8 to get the right papers or leave. But South Sudan has struggled to set up a functioning embassy in Khartoum to issue passports or identity cards.

      "I am still waiting for my travel permit from the embassy," said Moussa Majok, another South Sudanese living in the camp.

      "I went there to register but I still haven't got the papers," he said, drawing nods from others. "They don't care about us," he said, referring to the southern government.


      About 400,000 South Sudanese, who initially came to the north fleeing poverty and conflict, have returned home since October 2010. Many more are packing up to make the long journey south in Wad al-Bashir camp, where thousands live in makeshift homes made of wood, mud bricks or corrugated iron.

      Bags, bed frames, chairs and other furniture were piled high next to a green mosque on a large square last week, waiting to be loaded onto trucks.

      Worries over religious tensions are also fuelling the exodus.

      Most South Sudanese are Christian or follow traditional beliefs, while Sudan is mostly Muslim. Last weekend, hundreds of Muslims stormed a Khartoum church complex used by South Sudanese, ransacking buildings and burning bibles.

      Even when they get the required travel papers, southerners are stuck because fighting has blocked most roads near the border, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which helps people return home.

      The barge route down the Nile is also blocked. Sudan halted river traffic in March, accusing Juba of using boats to transport weapons to rebels in the north.

      Both governments also suspended direct flights between the two countries. Tickets via Kenya or Ethiopia cost up to four times what Sudanese carriers charged last year.

      In sign of Khartoum playing hardball, authorities ordered 12,000 southerners waiting for months at Kosti port for barges to leave the camp area within one week, state news agency SUNA said late on Sunday.

      "May 5th is the last day for southerners to stay in Kosti port. Authorities have taken measures to expel them to another place," SUNA quoted the local state governor as saying. He said the southerners in the area were posing a security and environmental threat.


      In a bustling market in Juba last week, Sudanese traders swapped stories in front of stalls selling mobile phones and sun-baked vegetables.

      So far, northerners living in the south say they have not faced the same level of official or social ostracism as southerners in Khartoum. Many northerners in Juba want to stay put.

      But beneath the buzz in the market, there was an undercurrent of apprehension.

      "We are scared that one of these days they'll ask us for identification papers," said 23-year-old Zulfid, sitting behind a glass window selling Chinese-made mobile phones.

      Zulfid, went to school in Khartoum but struggled to set up a business in the Sudanese capital. "The government confiscates your goods. There's bribery."

      He had an easier time in the South.

      "In Juba, taxes are less, the dollar is cheaper. Life and business is much better than in the North," he said,


      Saeed Zakariya, a bubbly 25-year-old who sells mobile phone accessories in Juba, got a hint of the legal challenges that may lie ahead if Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir fail to find a solution to the citizenship issue.

      "I tried to book a ticket to fly to Malakal (another city) in South Sudan), but my papers were not accepted," Zakariya said. He gave up and stayed in the southern capital.

      All the traders that Reuters spoke to said they had faced no mistreatment or ill-will from South Sudanese.

      "We are not afraid of being made to go back to the north. Their difference is political, not on the ground. Not a single person has asked me where I'm from," said Mohamed Suleiman, who came to Juba in 2009 when he could not find a job in his Sudanese hometown in Sennar state.

      Yaber, a 54-year-old man living in Juba since 1979, agreed.

      "We are very happy. We're the same people, the same family," he said. His son, Diyaaeldine was born in the south and the family has no intention of leaving.

      Smoking a cigarette in a stall filled with rows of rubber slippers, Yaber, who refused to give his full name, said he was not worried about his future in Juba.

      "We share the same life, there is respect," Yaber said.

      Is war between the Sudans inevitable?
      By James Copnall
      BBC News, Juba
      20 April 2012 Last updated at 11:42


      Sudan and South Sudan are at war - of sorts - and have been for longer than it appears.

      President Omar al-Bashir's bellicose declarations about liberating South Sudan from the "insects" who govern it stole the headlines.

      South Sudan's conquest of the Heglig oilfields last week, with its far-reaching military and economic implications, is the physical proof of the conflict.

      But it is not yet certain these recent events will result in meaningful and continued fighting outside the already embroiled border region.

      President Bashir delivers two styles of speech.

      In the first he reads from a measured text.

      In the second he speaks off the cuff, often using humour, always stirring the passion of his supporters with dramatic rhetoric and images.

      In the past he has talked of an Islamic Sudan with "no place for ethnic and cultural diversity" and hinted at painful events that might befall elections observers, UN peacekeepers or other enemies.

      These kind of speeches energise the base, as they say in American politics - but do not always translate into a meaningful change to an established reality.

      His fiery words in Khartoum and then el-Obeid, in front of military recruits wearing combat uniforms, may well fall into this category.

      Land swap?
      After all, it is possible to argue Sudan and South Sudan are already fighting an undeclared war, and have been for some time.

      In May last year, before South Sudan became independent, Sudanese tanks rolled into the disputed region of Abyei, sweeping aside South Sudanese police, even though these men were probably soldiers put in a different coloured uniform.

      Khartoum's "invasion" of Abyei was condemned initially, then in effect accepted as a reality on the ground, to factor into negotiations.

      Juba may have been given a handy precedent for its recent takeover of neighbouring Heglig.

      Already the idea of an Abyei-Heglig swap has been hinted at.

      But Abyei is not the only example which suggests a long-running state of war between the neighbours.

      Since rebels took up arms against Khartoum in South Kordofan, and then Blue Nile, there have been accusations they are being supported by Juba.

      The SPLM-North rebels once fought alongside the men who won independence for South Sudan, but were left north of the border at separation.

      The US and the UN, among others, have told Juba to stop supporting SPLM-North - an accusation South Sudan denies.

      Khartoum has its own difficult-to-avoid charges to ward off too: South Sudanese rebels are largely based in the Sudanese capital.

      International weapons monitoring group Small Arms Survey has shown, convincingly, that Juba and Khartoum are both almost certainly supporting proxy rebels on the other's territory.


      Robert Fisk: This is politics not sport. If drivers can't see that, they are the pits
      Supposing it was Assad shelling out £40m for a race. Would Ecclestone be happy to give him a soft sporting cover for his repression?


      When the Foreign Office urges British motor racing fans to stay away from Bahrain, this ain't no sporting event, folks, it's a political one. The Bahraini authorities prove it by welcoming sports reporters but refusing visas to other correspondents who want to tell the world what's going on in this minority-run, Saudi-dominated kingdom.

      But what do our lads tell us from the circuit, 25 miles from the Bahraini capital, Manama? Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are only in it for sport. Bahraini repression of its democratic majority? Nothing to do with us, governor. And Sebastian Vettel? "I think it's a lot of hype." Hype? HYPE? The Arab Awakening came to Bahrain a year ago, a majority Shia people demanding a democratically elected government – with a minority Sunni monarch still at its head, for heaven's sake, as generous an Arab Spring as you could find – and it's met with police gunfire, torture and death. And Master Vettel – is there anything left of the old cliché "moral compass"? – claims "it's a lot of hype". What a disgraceful man.

      Supposing it was the Assad regime shelling out $40m to host the Formula One weekend (as well as shelling Homs). Would Bernie Ecclestone have been dining out in Damascus, happy to give the regime a soft sporting cover for its oppression? At least he seems to have some idea what is going on there. Sure, I know, the Bahrainis are not slaughtering their people like the Assad government. And there's no armed rebellion in Bahrain, as there is in Syria (although all year the Bahrainis have been doing their best to persuade us that there is). Or Iran. Now here's a Muslim nation that pretty much crushed all opposition in 2009. It's not doing any more killing. So would Bernie slip over to Tehran to do a bit of Formula One if he got the invitation?

      Or – a much easier one, this – what if Bahrain was oppressing a Jewish rather than a Muslim Shia community demanding democracy? Messrs Button and Hamilton and Ecclestone – not to mention the clueless Vettel – would be shouting their refusal to participate from the rooftops. And rightly so. So why do they want to go ahead now? Why is it "a lot of hype" when Vettel knows – unless he's a complete git – that the Bahraini government's own report on last year's suppression describes deaths in custody, police torture and shooting deaths on the streets? Note that I haven't mentioned apartheid-era South Africa, nor the Berlin Olympics, which gave cover to Hitler. Bahrain is not South Africa, nor is it Nazi Germany (and those who use such parallels are gits themselves).

      The days have gone when sportsmen and sportswomen can dissociate themselves from the moral values in which we claim to believe in the 21st century. If they want to behave like the sporting clods of 50 years ago, they should be forced to drive round the Bahrain circuit in Alfa Romeo 6Cs, Triumph Roadsters and Crosley Hotshots. Cars of the past for men of the past.

      Thousands of Bahrain F1 protesters dispersed
      Security forces use tear gas to end march against Grand Prix race as crown prince confirms Sunday's race will go ahead.
      Last Modified: 21 Apr 2012 10:07


      Thousands of anti-government protesters have been dispersed after flooding a major highway in Bahrain demanding a halt to the Formula One race on the first day of its practice ahead of Sunday's race.

      The move came as the Gulf kingdom's crown prince vowed that the country's premier sporting event would go ahead.

      Bahraini authorities stepped up security around the Formula One circuit on Friday after clashes between protesters and security forces intensified ahead of the Grand Prix.

      Friday's massive rally was organised by Shia political blocs, including the main groups al-Wefaq and al-Waad.

      The rally is part of actions by the country's majority Shia population as they continue their longstanding demands for greater equality in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

      Al Jazeera's special correspondent in Manama, the capital, who cannot be named for security reasons, described the part of the protest that he followed:

      "I would say about 3,000 people gathered with banners and chanting for freedom and democracy and dignity," he said.

      "That demonstration has now been effectively disrupted by the police.

      He said a "good deal" of the protesters were taking cover from the tear gas and riot police in a shopping mall.

      'Entering a war'

      The rally was given a permit by the government, but riot police fired stun grenades and tear gas at a group of about hundred protesters who broke away from the rally and headed to Pearl Square, the now heavily guarded roundabout in the capital that had served as the opposition's hub during the first weeks of last year's uprising.

      Sheik Isa Qassim, Bahrain's most senior Shia cleric, condemned the Sunni rulers for staging the race despite opposition protests.

      In a strongly worded sermon during Friday prayers, the cleric said the rulers have cracked down on dissent aggressively ahead of the event "as if we are entering a war".

      The race is Bahrain's premier international event, part of the tiny island kingdom's attempts to boost its prestige in recent years.

      Last year's race was cancelled because of unrest in the country. Protests began in February, 2010, and were met with a crackdown in which 35 people, including security personnel, died.

      The 2012 race is going ahead despite appeals by rights groups for another cancellation and pressure from protesters, including a jailed activist who is on a more than two-month-long hunger strike.

      Clashes between protesters and security forces have taken place almost every day for months.

      The unrest has intensified in the lead-up to the race, including riot police clashing with opposition supporters in the predominantly Shia villages that ring Manama.

      Al-Wefaq leaders said at least 50 people have been injured in the past two days when security forces fired pellets to disperse protesters on several occasions.

      Additional security forces were deployed this week, setting up checkpoints on Friday on roads leading to the Bahrain International Circuit, the location of the race, and increasing their presence across the capital.

      'Force for good'

      The rulers have depicted the race - expected to draw a worldwide TV audience of about 100 million in 187 countries - as an event that will put the divided society on the path of reconciliation.

      During a visit to the circuit on Friday, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who owns the rights to the event, told reporters that the race should go ahead.

      "I genuinely believe this race is a force for good, it unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities," Salman said.

      On the track, teams were practicing on Friday ahead of Saturday's qualification race.

      "I think there's too much money involved in this and I think we're too far down the road for them to cancel [the race]," said our special correspondent.

      Last year, Salman was tasked to lead a national dialogue aimed at reconciliation between Shia and Sunnis. The talks broke down without any compromise and have not yet resumed.

      Meanwhile, Iraqi hardline Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr denounced Bahrain for staging the Grand Prix while "blood is being shed" on the island.

      Sadr also condemned the teams for racing, saying their presence in Bahrain gives "support for injustices and the killings".

      Clashes in Bahrain ahead of F1 race
      Violence comes as protesters threaten to disrupt this weekend's Formula One Grand Prix with "days of rage".
      Last Modified: 20 Apr 2012 11:50


      Bahraini security forces have clashed with protesters against Bahrain's controversial Grand Prix in mainly Shia villages, despite increasing security for the start of practice sessions.

      The overnight clashes between protesters and security forces across the Gulf country continued into the early morning on Friday, witnesses said.

      Formula One cars took to the track in Bahrain at about 07:00 GMT, with the government hoping for a successful Grand Prix, while activists are promising to mark it with "days of rage" after more than a year of Arab Spring protests.

      "The people want to topple the regime," chanted dozens of protesters carrying pictures of jailed hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. "Down Hamad," they called, referring to Bahrain's king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

      Met by tear gas and sound bombs, the protesters responded by hurling petrol bombs at security forces, witnesses said.

      Security forces also fired buckshot to disperse the crowds, wounding dozens of people.

      Protesters burned tyres, briefly blocking several main roads leading to the Sakhir circuit where Friday's Formula One practices were taking place, witnesses said.

      Al Jazeera's correspondent in the capital Manama, who we are not naming due to reporting restrictions imposed by Bahrain's government, said a protest by anti-government demonstrators "will be held later today on the main highway in capital, where they will come out in force to show the world that Formula One really is not welcome here".

      He said many were plagued with "security concerns".

      "Most tourists and Formula One spectators are choosing to stay away from this race because it is just too controversial for them, I think people feel their security and personal wellbeing, cannot be guaranteed enough to make the trip worthwhile."

      'Days of rage'

      The February 14 Youth Movement had called on social networking sites for "three days of rage" to coincide with the event.

      And Bahrain's main opposition group, Al-Wefaq, called for a week of daily protests to coincide with the Grand Prix, to focus media attention on their longstanding demands for greater equality in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

      The government has barred the opposition from holding protests in Manama itself.

      Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters carrying banners held a demonstration near Bahrain's international airport as the race teams flew in, despite the arrest of about 80 leading pro-democracy activists.

      "A number of rioters and vandals had been arrested for taking part in illegal rallies and gatherings, blocking roads and endangering people's lives by attacking them with petrol bombs, iron rods and stones," the Information Affairs Authority
      said in a statement on Friday, citing Major-General Tariq Al Hassan.

      However, activists accused Bahrain's's rulers of using the race to improve their international image.

      "Formula One in Bahrain has been taken as PR for the ruling elite, the repressive dictators who are ruling the country,"
      Nabeel Rajab, an activist, said.

      Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera the mood in Manama in the run-up to Sunday's race was one of "anger".

      He said the protesters "are very angry that [the] Formula One [race] was not cancelled - they want to send a message to say that sports must not support dictatorships and human rights violations".

      Two members of the British-based Force India team, travelling between Bahrain International Circuit and their hotel
      in Manama, were asked to go home after seeing burning petrol bombs in what the government described as an isolated incident.

      The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled last year in the wake of large-scale anti-government protests and a crackdown that followed in which a government commission said 35 people were killed.

      While sports correspondents poured into Bahrain this week to cover the race, non-sports reporters from some other news organisations have not been granted visas to visit the country.
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