INDEX (stories follow)
- Storms Kill 178 in Southern U.S.
- Palestinian Factions Reach Unity Deal
- NATO Strike Kills 12 Libyan Rebels
- Syrian Forces Raid Daraa; U.N. Resolution Fails
- 12 Reported Dead as Yemen Forces Attack Protest
- Bahrain Protesters Sentenced to Death
- Tibetans Elect New Political Leader
- White House Releases Obama’s Birth Certificate
- Trump: “Very Proud of Myself” for Obama Birth Certificate Disclosure
- Obama Addresses Wall Street Donors
- Indiana, Florida Lawmakers OK Anti-Abortion Bills
- Supreme Court Strikes Blow to Class Actions
The Alliance has built on union demands to advocate a raft of populist reforms such as subsidised housing for the poor, free education and greater local representation through city presidents. These connect neatly with the core demands of the revolution for social justice, freedom and democracy, which will have cross-demographic appeal.” (thanks Sultan)
1. Yemeni opposition leaders and dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh will meet in Riyadh on Monday to sign an agreement stipulating that Saleh will step down within 30 days and there will be a peaceful transfer of power, with Saleh and those close to him granted amnesty. The compromise was negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises 6 Gulf nations, most of which have oil or natural gas riches. Yemenis hope that the deal will calm down the tense situation in the country, which has seen big demonstrations and sometimes vicious repression. The government intervened on Tuesday against a big demonstration in Taizz on Tuesday, with 1 killed and 12 wounded in the ensuing altercation.
2. One reason for Saleh’s sudden flexibility may be that many Yemeni troops have been joining the protest movement. Euronews has a video report:
3. A decision in the case against former Egyptian Interior Minister (head of the secret police) for ordering the killing of hundreds of protesters in February will be rendered in late May. It is incredible that high officials in Egypt may be held accountable for their actions virtually for the first time in decades.
Aljazeera English reports:
4. Egyptian prosecutors are investigating whether President Hosni Mubarak agreed to a 20-year deal to provide natural gas to Israel at a low fixed price because he received kickbacks. The gas pipeline was attacked early on Wednesday, possibly by Sinai Bedouin who are protesting their neglect at the hands of the government.
5. The Moroccan government has given public sector workers a substantial pay raise and will reduce interest rates for loans held by farmers. This, in the wake of demonstrations by thousands of people in several cities on Sunday, the third day of major protests since February. Protesters also want constitutional reforms, including an independent judiciary and a more democratic system of governance than the hands-on monarchy they now have.
6. King Abdallah II of Jordan has created a commission to suggest amendments to the Jordanian constitution. Protesters in Jordan want an elected prime minister rather than an appointed one, and a stronger parliament (and hence less powerful monarchy). Initially, there is pessimism that the reforms will amount to much, but once the principle that there should be reforms is accepted by the elite, it may be possible for the people to push them further than is now envisaged.
7. Turkey, which has moved toward more popular participation in politics and an opening up of its system in a more democratic direction in the past decade, is attempting to intervene with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to restrain the use of violence against protesters. Turkey’s trade with Syria has mushroomed since relations were repaired in 2002, but the turn in Damascus toward an authoritarian crackdown has threatened to attract international sanctions on Syria and could throw a monkey wrench into Turkish hopes for a prosperous free trade zone with the Arab Levant. Turkey’s pressure for a lighter touch and more compromise helps offset an Iranian push to prop up the Baathist regime at all costs, since it is Tehran’s avenue of influence in the Levant, through which money and arms are transshipped to Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
8. Tunisians continue to take steps toward greater press freedom in the wake of the fall of the Ben Ali dictatorship.
9. Iraqis in Mosul continue to protest regularly by the thousands against any plan to keep US troops in Iraq past this December. They accuse Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ordering troops to use live ammunition against the rallies, in which two persons have been killed and dozens wounded since Sunday. Al-Maliki himself appears to be leaning against trying to amend the Status of Forces Agreement that stipulates a US departure by the end of this year, precisely because he is feeling pressure from the Iraqi people both in the Sunni center-north and in the Shiite south (where Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement have agitated against an extended US presence; al-Maliki depends on an alliance of convenience with al-Sadr to remain prime minister).
10. In Oman, Sultan Qaboos has acquiesced in protesters’ demands that he release nearly 300 dissidentsarrested since the Arab Spring protests began in Oman a couple of months ago.
As some people have asked, why would defendants who were pleading “not guilty” make confessions on camera? The names of those confessing aren’t given, but Chanad, an eagle-eyed blogger/tweep, pointed out that the first man “confessing” (six minutes into the programme) appears to be Ali Isa Saqer. Mr Saqer was one of the people detained in connection with the killings, but he was not sentenced yesterday. That’s because he already died in custody in early April. Human Rights Watch, which saw his body, said it bore signs of “horrific abuse”. He was buried on April 10th.
Frank Gardner of the BBC wrote about him recently (the last line is particularly worth reading):
“Accused of trying to run over a policeman during a protest, Ali Isa al-Saqer had handed himself over to police after his family say they were threatened.
Six days later he died in their custody, the authorities say he fought his jailers.
His family, seeing his battered body for the first time since his arrest, collapsed in howls of grief; his wounds were quite simply horrific.
Beaten black and blue, his lacerated back resembled a bloody zebra; he appeared to have been whipped with heavy cables, his ankles and wrists manacled.
I brought up his case with the health minister, Dr Fatima al-Beloushi, who is also minister for human rights.
At first she said that the opposition had altered the images to invent the lacerations. But when I replied that we had been to the funeral and seen them ourselves she immediately promised a full investigation.“
The split is on a minor scale in an out of the way part of the country, but we social scientists look for signs of cracks in the military when there are attempts to open up the political system, because a divided military can aid the reformers.
The Deraa protesters insist that they are just a youth movement, and deny being Salafis or hard line Muslim revivalists.
Aljazeera English has video:
The former head of an agency accused of torture and human rights abuses is expected to be a guest at Friday’s royal wedding, the Guardian has learned.
Sheikh Khalifa Bin Ali al-Khalifa is a former head of Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA) and will attend the wedding in his role as the current Bahraini ambassador to London.
British sources confirmed he had been invited and a spokesperson for the Bahraini embassy in London said he was expected to attend.
Khalifa was head of the agency from 2005 to 2008. The pressure group Human Rights Watch alleges that in 2007 detainees in Bahrain suffered torture including electric shocks and beatings.