ICG Official Hails Reform Steps

Manama-March31(BNA) International Crisis Group deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Joost Hiltermann paid tribute to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa for the landmark reform he had undertaken.

He also hailed the implementation of the recommendations cited in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) Report. The ICG official made the comments as he met Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security Deputy Chairman Mp. Abdulrahman Boumajid. He expressed the hope that the crisis would come to an end soon in Bahrain in a civilized and democratic way. The two sides discussed the internal security situation and the reform process led by HM the King ever since National Action Charter was approved by a sweeping popular majority in 2001. Mp. Boumajid described Bahrain as a fledgling democratic country where liberties and openness prevail. "Bahrain does not fear any international organization wishing to visit the King, providing they conform to the law", he said. He reaffirmed the deputies' readiness to cooperate with all international organization known for their impartiality to be updated on reforms and bold steps led by the Government to restore stability and promote the democratic march. Mr. Boumajid briefed the ICG official on the BICI recommendations which had been implemented in a record time. The two sides discussed the measures undertaken by the Government to restore stability and security and compensate affected people. The measures undertaken by the Interior Minister to upgrade its work mechanisms also came under the spotlight.


Rebel assault on strategic Mali garrison town of Gao


Tuareg rebels in Mali have attacked the strategic northern garrison town of Gao with heavy weapons, hours after another town, Kidal, fell to them.

Two army helicopters were scrambled in response, a local official told AFP news agency by phone.
Gao, with a population of 87,000, more than twice the size of Kidal, hosts one of the biggest garrisons in the north.
Separatist rebels seeking to carve out a desert homeland began a rebellion in the west African state in January.
A regional group, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), has placed on alert a peacekeeping force of 2,000 soldiers, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
After a coup by disgruntled military officers in Mali a week ago, Ecowas has threatened to close land borders, freeze assets and impose a financial blockade if the army does not stand aside before Monday.
The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office has now advised against all travel to Mali and urges any British citizens currently there to leave.

'People running'

"We can hear heavy fire coming in the direction of the main military camp," a Reuters reporter said.
"People here are running all over the place and all the shops are closing."
Mahamane Diakite, an aide to the governor of Gao, told AFP: "We can hear heavy weapons fire. We have also seen two helicopters taking off to shoot. Rebels have entered the town."

BBC map

Malians with family members in Gao say the city is under attack from multiple rocket launchers, the Associated Press reports.
Correspondents say the rebels can expect to meet tougher resistance in Gao, where the majority of troops are from the Bambara tribe, unlike Kidal, where the majority of troops were Tuareg.
Before the coup, Mali's government forces had struggled to drive back the rebels.
The mid-ranking officers who overthrew the government said the army needed more equipment to fight.
Their leader, Capt Amadou Sanogo, has asked for foreign help to tackle the rebels but has been condemned over the coup.
Three members of the military leadership have gone to neighbouring Burkina Faso for talks with President Blaise Compaore, who is mediating in the crisis.

Libyan guns

The Tuareg fought side by side with Islamist fighters to take over Kidal, the BBC's Thomas Fessy reports from Dakar.
However, it is not clear how they will share their success, our correspondent says.
Rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) want an independent north while a smaller, Islamist group called the Ansar Edine wants to impose Sharia law.
Azawad is the Tuareg name for their home region in the Sahara Desert.
The Tuaregs have launched several rebellions over the years, complaining that the government in Bamako ignores them.
The conflict has been fuelled by the return of Tuareg fighters from Libya last year after fighting for the late Muammar Gaddafi or his opponents.
It appears these fighters are heavily armed with looted weapons.
Analysts say the rebels have taken advantage of the recent military coup to move swiftly from target to target across the north.
If Gao falls, the only major town in government hands in the north will be Timbuktu.

BAHRAIN: Investigation Into the Death of Ahmed Ismaeel Abdulsamad Continues

BAHRAIN: “Regime gunmen” killed Bahraini protester, opposition says

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

Gunmen killed a 22-year-old protester near the Bahraini capital early on Saturday, said the main Shia opposition group Al-Wefaq, blaming militants loyal to the regime.
Ahmad Ismail Hassan was wounded in the stomach when men in civilian clothing fired on protesters calling for "democracy and an end to dictatorship" in Salmabad, on the southern outskirts of Manama, Al-Wefaq said in a statement.
Doctors were unable to save him, it said, adding that "regime militants" carried out the shooting.
The Bahraini Interior Ministry said in a statement that the autopsy showed the bullet was not fired by security forces.
"The first results of the inquiry do not enable us to identify those responsible for the gunfire," it added.
Al-Wefaq's accusation came a week after the group said that a man and a woman died of asphyxiation caused by tear gas grenades fired by Bahrain's security forces to disperse protests in Shia villages.
On Thursday, hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in outside the offices of the United Nations in Manama demanding action over the "excessive" use of tear gas against demonstrators.
Bahraini police regularly clash with demonstrators who take to the streets in Shia villages despite a brutal crackdown last year on a month-long protest that demanded democratic change in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom.
According to an independent probe, 35 people were killed in the unrest between mid-February and mid-March 2011.

Coup Leader in Mali Says Military Wants Cooperation With ECOWAS


Malian coup leader Amadou Sanogo says the military honors all Mali agreements with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other economic partners.
Sanogo told VOA in a phone interview Friday that Mali is a part of the regional group known as the ECOWAS and needs international support to protect its territorial integrity as Tuareg rebels continue to make advances. He expressed regret that a planned meeting between his representatives and regional leaders did not take place.
“Alone, Mali cannot live. We need our neighboring countries. We need regional and international organizations and all our partners in these troubled times. I am committed to pursue the process and have their favors, to make them listen to Mali. It's the only way to end this crisis.”
The coup leaders are facing growing international pressure to give up power. On Thursday, regional leaders gave the military junta three days to restore constitutional order.
However, Remi Ajebewa, a top ECOWAS official, told VOA the regional bloc will accept a solution that does not reinstate President Amadou Toumani Toure.
“We want the military junta to understand that they cannot come to power through unconstitutional means. And as such, they should either relinquish power or look for somebody credible right now [to rule], and then they should give us a roadmap of what they are going to do.”
Sanogo told VOA that the coup was a necessity and reiterated his earlier pledge that the junta will not seek to stay in power.
“My committee will not stay. We came to power because we had to. Then, we will progressively, and as soon as possible, go back to the constitutional order to let Malians elect a president. Then we will go back to our barracks and do our mission.”
Sanogo also said that the military is not determined to capture President Amadou Toumani Toure who is still at large. The coup leader said that he is now head of state in Mali and has all the honors and privileges that go with it, with the support of Malian people.
Meanwhile, the rebels entered the town of Kidal on Friday, a day after launching an offensive on the remote town, the capital of Mali's Kidal region.
Reports from the area say the rebels group MNLA was assisted by an Islamist group known as Ansar Edine.
Sanogo acknowledged that the situation is bad, but suggested that the situation may change.
Earlier in the day, a delegation of West African presidents abandoned plans to meet with the junta leaders in Mali's capital, Bamako, because of a pro-coup demonstration at the airport. The regional group instead held an emergency meeting in Ivory Coast.
President Toure was deposed last week in a coup by soldiers angry at his handling of the Tuareg rebellion in the north. Mr. Toure told French media on Wednesday that he is not in detention and remains in the country.
The rebellion began in January, a couple of months after heavily-armed Tuareg fighters returned from Libya, where they were assisting ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The coup came just weeks before elections and the scheduled end of Mr. Toure's term.

Iran crisis: US to apply fresh oil sanctions


US President Barack Obama has approved the introduction of fresh sanctions on buyers of Iranian oil.

Mr Obama has determined that there is enough oil in the world market to avoid negative consequences for US allies of a boycott of Iranian oil.
The move would allow the US to sanction foreign banks which are still involved in the oil trade with Iran.
Iran is facing international pressure to address concerns over its nuclear enrichment programme.
Western countries suspect Iran of attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran insists the programme is purely peaceful.
Mr Obama said in a statement that he would continue to monitor the global market closely to ensure it could handle a reduction of oil purchases from Iran.
The US president was required by a law he signed in December to determine by 31 March whether the market allowed countries to "significantly" cut their purchases from Iran.
'On notice'
A statement from the White House acknowledged that "a series of production disruptions in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria and the North Sea have removed oil from the market" in the first months of 2012.
"Nonetheless, there currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil," the statement says.
"In fact, many purchasers of Iranian crude oil have already reduced their purchases or announced they are in productive discussions with alternative suppliers," it adds.
Under the law signed in December, countries have until 28 June to show they have significantly reduced the amount of crude oil they purchase from Iran or face being cut off from the US financial system.

Graphic image showing Iran's top oil export destinations

Earlier this month, the US gave exemptions from the sanctions to Japan and 10 EU countries which have reduced their imports of Iranian oil.
The new measures will put pressure on other heavy importers of Iranian oil such as South Korea, India, China, Turkey and South Africa.
"Today, we put on notice all nations that continue to import petroleum or petroleum products from Iran that they have three months to significantly reduce those purchases or risk the imposition of severe sanctions on their financial institutions," Senator Bob Menendez, who co-authored the sanctions legislation, told the Associated Press.
Turkey announced on Friday that it would be cutting oil imports from Iran by 20%.
US officials refused to speculate on the likely impact on global oil prices of the latest move, the BBC's Paul Adams in Washington reports.
Mounting pressure on Iran to make concessions over its nuclear programme has already been cited as one of the factors behind recent oil price rises, including a sharp rise in the price of petrol in the US, our correspondent adds.

Amnesty urges Bahrain to free activist on hunger strike


Amnesty International has demanded the jailed Bahraini human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, be released "immediately and unconditionally".

Mr Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for the past 51 days and as his condition deteriorates there is growing concern that he may die in prison.
He is refusing food in protest at the life sentence he received in June for allegedly plotting against the state.
Amnesty described his trial by a military court as "grossly unfair".
His conviction was based on a confession he made under duress, and no evidence was presented showing he had used or advocated violence during the mass protests against King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, it said.
'Sexual abuse and beatings'
Bahrain has been wracked by unrest since pro-democracy demonstrators occupied a prominent landmark in Manama, Pearl Roundabout, in February 2011. At least 50 people, including five police officers, have been killed, hundreds have been injured and thousands jailed.
The protesters were forcibly driven out of Pearl Roundabout by security forces in March 2011, after King Hamad declared a state of emergency and brought in troops from neighbouring states to crush dissent.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja told the BBC before his arrest on 8 April that he had deliberately stayed away from Pearl Roundabout.
"I don't want to give the authorities any reason to arrest me," he said.
He was nevertheless picked up in a late night raid and subsequently received a life sentence from a military tribunal for plotting the overthrow of the government.
According to testimony he gave to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) - a panel of human rights experts asked to look into the unrest by King Hamad following the international outcry over his handling of the protests - Mr Khawaja suffered prolonged torture while in detention.
Mr Khawaja said his jaw had been broken in four places when police and masked men burst into his daughter's home and seized him.
He was taken to a Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) hospital and spent seven days blindfolded and handcuffed to his bed, he told the BICI. While in hospital, he and his family were threatened with sexual abuse, he said.
Mr Khawaja said he then spent two months in solitary confinement in prison and was denied access to a lawyer. He also alleged that he was sexually assaulted and regularly beaten.
Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther, said on Friday: "The Bahraini authorities have made pledges that they would release people who were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, but the continued imprisonment of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja demonstrates that they are not serious about fulfilling such promises."
According to his lawyer, Mr Khawaja has lost 16kg (35lbs) since his hunger strike began on 8 February in protest at his prison sentence.
The National Safety Court of Appeal, a military court, upheld the conviction in September, but an appeal is set to be heard by the Court of Cassation on 2 April.
The Bahraini authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Mr Khawaja, who is married with four daughters, is also a citizen of Denmark, where he lived in exile for decades. He returned to Bahrain after the government announced a general amnesty in 2001.


Italy seizes $1.5b in Gaddafi family assets

Italian tax police say they have seized $1.5b in assets from the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's family and associates, including shares in Italy's biggest bank

Bahrain banking sector at risk by non -compliant practices


Gulf European Centre for Human Rights (GECHR), acting on behalf of Travel Ban victims in Bahrain, is asking serious questions as to whether the system of travel bans, being used by international banks in Bahrain, is in compliance with the International Code of Banking Practice, and requesting an investigation into the validity of their use for customers.
Fulad,  Director General of GECHR, said, "It I very concerning that any customer, who has a loan or a credit card with a bank in Bahrain, is at risk of being travel ban for non-payment - regardless of whether they have extenuating circumstances or not.   We believe this is a violation of human rights treaties signed by Bahrain, and does not comply with banking regulations, seriously jeopardising Bahrain as centre of excellence for the banking industry."
 "Furthermore, the banks are well aware that the Immigration Department refuses to renew the residency of someone with a travel ban, so they are actually stopping their customers from earning to pay them back.  This is totally nonsensical and is a further violation of human rights in Bahrain," he added.
A number of expatriate victims of travel bans placed on them by banks, have approached GECHR to complain about this violation of their human rights. GECHR is working with concerned volunteers who have connected through a Facebook page call Banned From Travel, to negotiate a release for victims who have found themselves at the mercy of financial institutions and other creditors here.
Fulad told us there is grave concern that customers are not being treated fairly by financial institutions in Bahrain who, knowing very well that they can travel ban people, are overlooking the necessary due diligence reviews that they should make before offering a loan to a customer. They are also offering loans for a longer term than the customer has a contractual employment, a very questionable practice.
Other concerns are about transparency, as, according to the Code of Banking Practice which banks are required to adhere to - all consequences of non-payment should be agreed in writing by the customer, but nowhere does it state that a travel ban will be placed.
"Added to that we are gravely troubled with the callousness of banks, particularly since Bahrain  is considered a centre of excellence for the banking sector, who are not showing compassion to customer's with real hardship and need. Indeed they are making the circumstances of a debtor even worse - something that is thought of very harshly in the Islamic world."
Fulad has asked for is asking for a review of the current system that currently stops people from working to pay off their debt when the residency of a travel ban victim is refused.
GECHR is an association looking after the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Bahrain and works with other Human Rights organisations globally to bring about the restoration of human rights in the Kingdom. 

Blasts as Baghdad opens Arab summit on Syria peace plan


Arab leaders have begun talks on a UN-backed peace plan for Syria at the first major international summit to be hosted by Iraq in decades.
The UN-Arab League plan would see a UN-monitored end to fighting, troops pulled out of opposition areas and access for humanitarian services.
Syria agreed to the initiative on Tuesday but violence has continued.
A number of explosions were heard in central Baghdad as the summit was starting.
Two of the blasts occurred near the Iranian embassy, eyewitnesses said. There are unconfirmed reports that an explosion near the city's secure Green Zone was an IED (improvised explosive device).
There was no immediate official confirmation or explanation of the explosions.
Fewer than half the Arab League's 22 leaders have turned up for the summit, with other states sending envoys.
It is being held in such tight security at the city's former Republican Palace that the venue was not initially disclosed to journalists.
While expectations are not high for the talks, the fact that they are being held in the Iraqi capital at all can be seen as a sign of progress for Iraq, the BBC's Wyre Davies says.
The arrival of the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, marked the first visit by a leader of that country since Saddam Hussein's invasion in 1990.
The head of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, urged Syria "to put commitments into immediate effect".
"The world is waiting for commitments to be translated into action. The key here is implementation: there is no time to waste," Mr Ban told the summit in Baghdad.
Mr Ban is due to meet key leaders at the summit to discuss how the UN can work with the Arab League to put the plan, brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan, into action.
Washington has urged countries to maintain pressure on the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The US state department said it had "not seen the promises that Assad made implemented".
"It's incumbent on all of us to keep the pressure on Assad to meet the commitment that he's made, and that's our intention over the next few days," a spokesperson said.
Syria has said it will not address any initiative from the Arab League, from which it was suspended last year.
The opposition in Syria is sceptical about the terms of Mr Annan's plan, with some saying Mr Assad is merely stalling for time in order to continue his crackdown.
"We are not sure if it's political manoeuvring or a sincere act," said Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council.
"We have no trust in the current regime. ... We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians."
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed during the year-long Syrian revolt.
Opposition activists say at least 40 people have been killed since government troops overran the opposition-held town of Saraqeb in the north-west at the weekend.
Corpses littered the streets as homes were burned to the ground and shops pillaged and looted, they said in reports which could not be verified independently.
Security is extremely tight for the Baghdad summit and much of the city has been brought to a standstill for the summit, which is costing an estimated $500m (£314m) to stage.
The Iraqi government is hoping to re-establish itself in the Arab fold after years of violence and sectarian conflict, Wyre Davies reports from Baghdad.
Little progress is expected either on the Syrian front or on wider tensions between Shia and Sunni factions in the region, he notes.
But if the summit, which is expected to last for barely a few hours, passes off without incident and if there are no insurgent attacks elsewhere in the country, it will be seen as a resounding success, our correspondent adds.
In another development, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he was asking fellow emerging economic powers to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.
Speaking in the Indian capital Delhi, he said he had suggested the idea to fellow Brics states Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
In a closing statement, the five states said "lasting solutions" for both Syria and Iran could "only be found through dialogue".


#Bahrain | Protester close all ports in Pottery roundabout - A'ali 29.3.2012


Bahrain's Shiite-Sunni Animosities Linger on Campus a Year After Clashes


MANAMA, BAHRAIN — As students mill about during their lunch break in the food court of the University of Bahrain, it could be a scene from a university cafeteria anywhere in the Gulf. There are lines to buy offerings that range from Italian dishes to sandwiches and hamburgers. Young women in black abayas carry designer bags and type messages into their cellphones.
But underlying the apparent normality, there is tension and distrust: Four female students looked around for a place to sit and talk the other day, but not just anywhere. “Don’t sit at that table,” said Zehra, who asked not to be identified further. “We are surrounded by students from the other side.”
Zehra and her friends are among about 500 mainly Shiite students who were expelled from the university last year after clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators. According to the university’s president, Ebrahim Mohammed Janahi, the rioting caused $5 million in damage.
By “the other side,” Zehra means the Sunni students. Duaa, a 22-year-old Shiite student who did not want to give her family name, said: “There is no trust anymore between them and us. We attend classes together, but there is no interaction.”
Since the clashes on March 13 of last year, the university has become a mirror of Bahraini society. Although the country is outwardly peaceful, a huge divide has opened up between Sunnis, the Muslim sect of the royal family and much of the elite, and Shiites, who form the majority of the population.
Most of the expelled students have been allowed to re-enroll after signing a document declaring that they would not protest at the university again: But seven have been prosecuted on charges arising from the clashes, six receiving prison sentences of 15 years and one an 18-year term, with all of them being fined a total of 350,000 dinars, or about $928,000, according to parents and Bahraini human rights groups.
In interviews with 25 students from both sides who were at the university during the clashes, each accused the other side of starting the violence.
The university has increased security, installing cameras across the campus, posting guards and putting a checkpoint at the entrance.
After receiving a progress report from an international commission set up to investigate the violence, the emirate’s king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, said last week that Bahrain was committed to acting on all of the commission’s recommendations. The report said progress had been made in overhauling the police force and the education system, and in establishing an “independent body within the public prosecution” to oversee investigations into deaths, torture, abuse and mistreatment. Special courts were set up to hear victims’ claims.
But the opposition does not believe these steps were sufficient.
“We are ready for a dialogue, but it would have to be a serious one,” said Khalil Marzouq, a spokesman for Al Wefaq, the main opposition group. “We don’t see, even after the king’s speech, that the government really wants one.”
Mr. Marzouq said that so far no police officer had been sentenced for torture and mistreatment of protesters.
The mainly Shiite led-opposition says that it is not interested in religion-based conflict, but students at the university speak in sectarian terms.
“We want more rights for Shiites and for us what counts is what Ayatollah Issa Qassim says, not some government,” said Mohammad, 23, a Shiite student, who did not want to further identified and who was referring to the kingdom’s most influential Shiite cleric. Asked if he wanted a democracy, Mohammed added, “That’s up to our religious leadership.”
But another tragedy from last March was that students who studied and socialized together began attacking one another. “I had many Shiite student friends who used to come to my house even for a meal,” said Khalid Ali al-Sardi, a student, “and then all of the sudden some of them went after me and nearly killed me.”
Mr. Sardi and six other Sunni students said in interviews that they were attacked by anti-government protesters on March 13, 2011. The students presented hospital medical records showing that they had suffered varied injuries.
Four of the six, who had been caught in one of the university buildings, described attackers throwing objects at students on the inside, who replied by throwing back stones and other items.
Mr. Sardi said he had been on the roof, calling his parents and watching what was going on, when suddenly a mass of young men came up after him.
“They had wooden and steel sticks and started to beat me,” he said “I tried my best to protect my head, but I couldn’t.”


No extra security needed for Bahrain - motorsport chief

Security does not need to be stepped up during the Bahrain Grand Prix, according to the president of the country's Automobile Federation.
The race will return in April - after it was cancelled in 2011 following the deaths of anti-government protesters involved in clashes with authorities.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Isa Al Khalifa told PA Sport: "We've never had any violence towards foreigners.
Continue reading the main story
"We've never had any violence towards foreigners. All I can guarantee you is you will be as safe as at any other grand prix
Sheikh Abdullah bin Isa Al Khalifa
"All I can guarantee you is you will be as safe as at any other grand prix."
Pockets of resistance protesters continue to be involved in almost daily clashes with police in the Gulf state.
Al Khalifa continued: "Yes, the events of February 14 last year [the Day of Rage] inflamed matters, but we've never had an issue with Formula 1, which has been visiting our country since 2004.
"Any death is unfortunate or regrettable, but no, I'm not worried at all.
"Of course, there are no guarantees in this world. You could be anywhere, even Silverstone."
On whether security should be increased, Al-Khalifa, who is also one of the 26 members of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council, said: "No, absolutely not.
"It will be life as normal. We've never had any violence towards foreigners simply because they are foreigners or in F1.
"There is no violence towards guests of the country, and I don't think there will be any disruption or danger to anybody coming into Bahrain."
He said he understood people's "apprehension" but added: "Anybody who has been there before and comes now will see there is no difference.
"It is why I'm hoping for the race to come as quickly as possible, just to let this community [in Formula 1] see and feel what is really going on in Bahrain.
He added: "So my message to Formula 1 is 'be part of unifying my country'."


Bahrain Grand Prix to be cancelled: racing experts

Racing experts expect the Bahrain Grand Prix to be cancelled due to continuing instability in the Gulf statelet.
The influential F1Today.net website said it was looking likely that the race, due to take place on April 22, would be abandoned as the sport's governing body could not guarantee the safety of all those involved.
"The FIA is preparing a statement to announce the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, sources in the paddock reveal," it said.
"The situation in Bahrain still isn't safe enough to host a Formula 1 race, according to the FIA."
The Bahrain Grand Prix was dropped from the calendar last year after violent clashes between the police and protesters against the regime.
Organizers of the race, which is a key showpiece for the the country's ruling royal family, have come under pressure to cancel it again as pro-democracy campaigners have returned to the streets in greater numbers in recent months.
There has been concern that it would be impossible to protect the spectators and racers in the event of a mass protest, with activists promising to make their voices heard.
The president of Bahrain's Automobile Federation said on Tuesday that there was no need to increase security for the race as he tried to calm the row.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Isa Al Khalifa told PA Sport: "We've never had any violence towards foreigners...All I can guarantee you is you will be as safe as at any other grand prix."
The Grand Prix Diary website tweeted that it would be "highly embarrassing" for the royal family if the race was abandoned.

'Alarming' surge in executions, says Amnesty

Amnesty International says there was a surge in the number of executions carried out worldwide in 2011, mainly centred in the Middle East.

In an annual report, the group said Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia were most responsible for the increase.
But it also noted that China executed more people than the rest of the world put together.
Overall however, fewer countries now practise the death penalty, the group noted.
It said the number of countries using capital punishment has fallen by a third, compared to a decade ago.
"Only 20 countries are known to have carried out executions which means that 178 are not carrying out executions," Amnesty's general secretary Salil Shetty told the BBC.
According to the review released on Tuesday, at least 676 people were executed in 20 countries in 2011, according to Amnesty, compared with 527 in 23 countries in 2010.
Amnesty no longer publishes figures for China, where the data is considered a state secret. The rights group believes the figure to be in its thousands.
The number of confirmed executions in the Middle East rose by almost 50%, to 558, it said.
It said most were in Iran, which sent 360 people to their deaths, many of them for offences under new anti-drug laws brought in last year.
In Saudi Arabia, there were at least 82 executions compared to at least 27 the previous year, while Iraq executed at least 68 people, compared to at least one in 2010, according to Amnesty.
Meanwhile, violence in Libya, Syria and Yemen in the wake of the Arab Spring made it difficult to gain accurate information on the use of the death penalty, the report noted.
The group also condemned as "shameful" the US's use of the death penalty, noting that it was the only Western democracy to execute prisoners last year.
"The big executioners are China and Iran and then you have North Korea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia but very sadly... the United States of America as well," said Salil Shetty.
The US ranked fifth in the world in capital punishment, with 43 people executed last year. The figure fell slightly from 2010, when 46 people were executed.
Amnesty called on China to publish its data "to confirm their claims that various changes in law and practice have led to a significant reduction in the use of the death penalty over the last four years".
However, the group noted that China had dropped the death penalty for 13 white-collar crimes.

Bahraini Regime Continues Brutal Suppression of Protesters

TEHRAN (FNA)- Security forces in Bahrain violently broke up protests in villages near the capital as the Saudi-backed Manama regime continues suppressing peaceful protests in the tiny Persian Gulf island.

Saudi-backed Bahraini forces injured several anti-regime protesters in fresh clashes with the demonstrators in villages outside the capital Manama.

The scuffles broke out after a large crowd of Bahraini protesters held rallies to commemorate the death anniversary of activist Issa Ghanbar, who was executed over charges of killing a policeman back in 1996.

Earlier on Sunday, the northwestern village of Diraz was also the scene of massive protests in support of detained human rights activists Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.

The protesters demanded the release of al-Khawaja, who was given a life sentence in June last year.

Bahraini demonstrators also took to the streets in several other villages across the country the same day.

Anti-government protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February 2011, calling for an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty's over-40-year rule.

Violence against the defenseless people escalated after a Saudi-led conglomerate of police, security and military forces from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) member states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar - were dispatched to the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom on March 13, 2011, to help Manama crack down on peaceful protestors.

So far, tens of people have been killed, hundreds have gone missing and thousands of others have been injured.

AFRICA: Three Recent Coups in West Africa and How They Played Out

Source: Sahel Blog

Many questions still surround the ongoing attempted military takeover in Mali: What motivated it? Will there be a counter-coup? What does it mean? What are its implications for the rebellion in the north and the future of Malian democracy? What are its implications for other countries?
Answers to these questions will take shape over time, and Mali will follow its own path. In the meantime it is useful to think about other recent military coups in West Africa and how they played out.
The coups in question took place in Mauritania (2008), Guinea (2008), and Niger (2010), all of which border Mali. One commonality is that all three countries experienced coups at moments of perceived crisis. Another commonality is that they all eventually held elections. However, each took a different path towards its coup and towards the resolution of the coup. One key takeaway, indeed, is that coups can follow very different trajectories.
The order is chronological. This post fleshes out – and adds to – arguments I made here.


Mauritania‘s history, following the end of one-party rule in 1978, includes four successful coups: 1978, 1984, 2005, and 2008. While the coups of 1978 and 1984 installed military regimes, the 2005 coup was motivated by increasing domestic tension under the rule of Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya. This tension stemmed partly from Ould Taya’s limited toleration for democratization. The coup leaders organized open elections, and a civilian president was in 2007. Feelings within parts of the military leadership that the civilian regime was politically fecklessness and weak, especially in the face of a perceived Islamist and jihadist threat, prompted a coup in August 2008. The leader of that coup, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, had been a key participant in the 2005 coup. In 2009, the junta oversaw presidential elections. Abdel Aziz ran as a civilian and won. He remains in power today.


Guinea has had two successful coups: one in 1984, at the death of independence-era leader President Sekou Toure, and one in December 2008, at the death of President Lansana Conte, who came to power in the coup of 1984. The junta installed in 2008 was led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Camara promised that elections would take place and that he would not stand, but tensions rose as his promises came to appear hollow and his behavior became erratic. In September 2009, soldiers brutally cracked down on an opposition rally in the capital. Then, in December 2009, one of Camara’s guards shot him in the head. The junta leader lived, but was flown to Morocco, later to Burkina Faso, and was not permitted to re-enter Guinea. Power passed to General Sekouba Konate, who oversaw a two-round election in June/November 2010. The elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud. The winner, long-time opposition leader Alpha Conde, is still president.


In Niger, four successful coups have occurred: the 1974 coup that overthrew independence-era President Hamani Diori; a 1996 coup that installed Colonel Ibrahim Mainassara after several attempted civilian governments; the 1999 assassination of Mainassara by his bodyguards, who then organized civilian elections which were won by President Mamadou Tandja; and the February 2010 coup that ousted Tandja after he amended the constitution and remained in power beyond his original two-term limit. The 2010 coup, led by Colonel Salou Djibo, shows continuities with the 1999 coup: Djibo’s junta, appearing to consider itself the referee of Nigerien democracy, relatively quickly organized civilian elections. This two-round contest, held in January/March 2011, was won by opposition leader and current President Mahamadou Issoufou.


What lessons do these examples offer? I can think of four:
  1. These coups came out of (perceived) crisis. In addition to the big triggers I mention above – a sense of civilian incompetence in the face of threats, the death of a long-time leader, or the refusal of a leader to leave office – other problems were at work in each case, ones that civilian leaders struggled to deal with. Mauritania was juggling domestic unrest, non-violent Islamist political activism, and jihadist violence. Guinea saw military mutinies in 2008. Niger had experienced drought and famine. Military leaders seized power, it seems, in part because they feared further such situations would deteriorate further. This seems to have been the case in Mali as well.
  2. Coup leaders quickly adopted the rhetoric of democracy. Within months if not days of taking power, these military juntas were promising elections and, in Mauritania and Niger, working to organize them. This, too, holds for Mali, at least at the rhetorical level; vague promises to restore democracy have already surfaced.
  3. (Promises of) elections served different purposes for each junta. In Guinea, many came to see Camara’s promises as a tactic he exploited to delay having to clarify his status and his intentions. In Mauritania, elections brought a large measure of continuity. Some protesters in Mauritania believe the elections did not really end military rule; in this view, elections were an exercise Abdel Aziz went through to legitimate his rule. In Niger, finally, the junta lived up to its promises, and its leaders did not compete in the election. With Mali, how this junta will use/abuse the promise of democracy will be a key question.
  4. Coup leaders who cause chaos are overthrown in coups. I take this observation from the case of Camara (who only survived by luck) in Guinea and that of Mainassara in Niger. It arguably also applies to Ould Taya in Mauritania and even to General Sani Abacha in Nigeria, who rumor says was poisoned by treachery in 1998. In each case, the new military leaders exemplified a more sober style of leadership and transitioned fairly quickly to civilian democracy. The implication for Mali’s new junta, then, is that if they are seen to be dragging the country further into chaos and dragging their feet on democracy, there could be yet another coup in the coming years.
What implications for Mali do you see in these other cases?

Egyptian wins Innovation Prize for Africa

By Michael OumaThe EastAfrican
ADDIS ABABA – An Egyptian engineer, Prof Mohamed Sanad has been selected as the overall winner of the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA), bagging $ 100,000 in prize money for inventing the first small internal integrated micro strip antennas for mobile phones.
Sanad, a professor of engineering at Cairo University,  developed a low-cost, lightweight, low wind-load, foldable/deployable, multi-broadband base station antenna; using dual parabolic cylindrical reflectors with novel small size broadband resonant feeds.
The second prize, with $ 50,000 in prize money, went to Zeinu Adelyamine from Algeria who developed an environmentally friendly insecticides and rodenticides.
Seven entries from a total of 458 from 39 African countries were submitted as finalists for the inaugural awards designed to promote the pursuit of science, technology and engineering careers among young African men and women and especially to develop innovative solutions with a great potential for commercialization.
Among the finalists were Kenya’s Su Kahumbu Stephanou, social entrepreneur and developer of the iCow mobile application, an SMS and voice-based mobile phone application for small-scale farmers in Africa and Evans Muchika Wadongo, developer of  the ‘Use Solar, Save Lives’ program which involves the design, production and distribution of Solar Powered Lanterns dubbed “Mwanga Bora” to poor rural households without electricity, and he helps communities set up economic ventures from the money initially spent on kerosene.
Others were Angola’s Rui Edgar Conceição Bram who is developing QINet platform which consists of a global platform with a set of integrated applications that allows the automatic introduction, management and distribution of multilingual educational content in electronic or printed format; Ethiopia’s Alemayehu Hadis Getahun who has developed a “Fuel briquette production from coffee husk and pulp,” which is a green and cleaner production approach for coffee waste management and Nigeria’s Joel Nwakaire who has developed an “optimized automated biodiesel continuous production plant”, which can be used for processing various types of vegetable oils.
The awards, organized by the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Africa Innovation Foundation (AIF) – a Swiss-based non-profit – are meant to honour and encourage innovative achievements that contribute toward developing new products, increasing efficiency or saving cost in Africa.
The winners were announced on Monday evening on the sidelines of the two-day Conference of African Finance Ministers currently going on in Ethiopia and which aims to discuss the actions needed to turn Africa into a New Growth Pole for the global economy.
Abdoulie Janneh, UNECA executive secretary said that the high interest shown in the awards suggests that Africa has a growing pool of innovators who, if nurtured, would produce successful technology entrepreneurs, adding that the Innovation Prize for Africa is a project aimed at responding to the need to stimulate science, technology and innovation in the continent.

South Sudan, Sudan Clash Along Tense, Disputed Border


South Sudan is accusing Sudan of launching a second day of airstrikes on oil-rich territory along their disputed border, one day after a rare direct military confrontation between the two rivals.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said the north's air force bombed two areas in the south's Unity state. After the bombing he says South Sudanese forces were attacked by Sudanese armed forces and the militia, but were able to repel them.
South Sudan Minister of Information Barnaba Benjamin earlier quoted the president as saying the south would not be dragged into a senseless war with Sudan.
Officials from Sudan's foreign ministry said actions taken by the Sudanese army were in response to an earlier heavy weapons attack by southern forces.
The violence comes a day after both sides accused the other's soldiers of crossing the tense, poorly marked border separating the two countries. Both sides claimed they were acting in self-defense and declared victory following the fighting. Casualty figures are not known.
After the clashes on Monday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced he was suspending an April 3 summit with South Sudan's President Kiir, that had been scheduled to discuss disputes about the border and oil revenues.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “deeply concerned” about the clashes, and urged both sides to “peacefully address their differences.” He also urged Mr. Kiir and Mr. Bashir to continue with the proposed April talks.
South Sudan said the fighting began Monday when Khartoum carried out a ground attack and a series of intense aerial bombardments in Unity state.
Khartoum countered by blaming the south for attacking its position in the oil-rich border region of Heglig, which is claimed by both countries.
The United Nations refugee agency expressed concern for the safety of some 16,000 Sudanese refugees that recently fled the Nuba mountains to South Sudan's Yida settlement.
A spokeswoman says the area is not safe due to its proximity to the volatile border area.
Since South Sudan's independence in July, the two neighbors have not been able to agree on the demarcation of their 1,800 kilometer border or how much South Sudan should pay to export oil through Sudan.
The south took over most Sudanese oil production but is refusing to pay what it considers excessive transit fees to use northern pipelines. The landlocked south needs the pipelines to send the oil to international markets.
The dispute prompted South Sudan to shut down all oil production, a move analysts say is likely to hurt both countries financially.
The sides are also in disagreement over the status of southerners living in the north, and regularly accuse each other of supporting the other's rebel groups.

Mandela Dream Fades With a Quarter of South Africans Jobless

By Mike Cohen

When Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 he reached out to South Africa (SBK)’s poor and to its rich by promising jobs and a secure climate for business. Eighteen years later, his country has a 24 percent unemployment rate and a debate over nationalizing mines is deterring investment.
Economic growth is less than half the 7 percent level the government says is needed to make inroads into the highest jobless rate of 61 countries tracked by Bloomberg. Stocks have underperformed Brazil and Peru. The ruling African National Congress is considering raising mine taxes and President Jacob Zuma’s government is pushing through a secrecy law that could impede reporting on state corruption.

President of South Africa Jacob Zuma
Scott Eells/Bloomberg
Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa.

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg
“They’ve got to make South Africa a much more attractive place for investment,” Mark Mobius, who oversees about $40 billion as executive chairman of Franklin Templeton’s Emerging Markets Group, said in an interview this month in Dubai. “I’m not only talking about foreign investment,” he said. “I’m talking about local investment.”
A lack of opportunity for poor black South Africans, who constitute 90 percent of the population of 50.6 million, has fueled violent street protests and given impetus to a push by the ANC’s youth wing for the seizing of mines, banks and land. That, together with inadequate power supplies and a labor system as rigid as in France and Sweden, is pushing investors to consider alternatives from Australia to Peru.

Missed Opportunity

Policy uncertainty is preventing the country with the world’s biggest mineral reserves, as assessed by Citigroup Inc. in 2010, from fully benefiting from demand in China and India. South Africa (SBK) attracted $4 billion in mining investment in the first nine months of last year while Australia, a country that exports many of the same minerals to China, got $34 billion.
Between 1994 and 2010 South Africa secured $46.8 billion in foreign direct investment, according to the United Nations. That’s an eighth of what Brazil has attracted and less than in Turkey, Malaysia, South Korea, Colombia and Peru. Foreign direct investment in South Africa fell from $9 billion in 2008 to $5.4 billion in 2009 and $1.5 billion in 2010.
“The debate about nationalization, as championed by the youth league, has been very damaging to South Africa’s image in the eyes of the investor community,” said Prince Mashile, chief executive officer of Johannesburg’s Forum for Public Dialogue, an independent research institute, in an interview. “It planted seeds of uncertainty.”

Lagging Behind

South Africa’s stock markets also have underperformed other emerging markets. Since the end of June 1995 an index of the biggest companies has risen fourfold when measured in dollars, less than a third of the rate of the benchmark index in Brazil and a fourth of the gain posted by Peru’s key index. This year international investors are selling South African equities at the fastest pace since 2008.
In 2008 Rio Tinto Group (RIO) halted work on a $2.7 billion aluminum smelter in South Africa because of the power shortage and expansion of the world’s biggest ferrochrome industry has slowed. Last year AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (ANG) scaled back an $800 million plan to extend the world’s deepest gold mine.
Rio says it’s considering or building investments in countries including Guinea, Mongolia and Mozambique, while AngloGold is examining opportunities in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Australia.
Since May 9, 2009, when Zuma became president, South African foreign-currency bonds have returned 37 percent, less than the 46 percent average of emerging market dollar bonds tracked in the JP Morgan EMBI Emerging Market Bond Indices. The benchmark dollar bond yields 4.06 percent compared with 3.48 percent for the comparable Brazilian bond and 2.20 percent for U.S. Treasuries.

Capital Controls

The government blames some of the lack of progress on the economy handed to it by the apartheid state: a sanctions-hobbled economy that had grown at an annual average of about 1.2 percent since 1980 and was still under capital controls.
“Constructing something out of the mess we had pre-1994 is not an easy task,” Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told reporters in Cape Town on Feb. 22. “Some of the skepticism of the state is legitimate.”
Living standards for most poor South Africans have improved since 1994: More than 90 percent have access to clean water, up from about 62 percent; more than three-quarters of households are electrified, from 51 percent; and the number of people receiving welfare grants has risen more than five-fold to almost 16 million.

Not Zimbabwe

South Africa has among the best infrastructure systems and most developed financial markets in Africa, and should attract new interest from investors as the global economy stabilizes and risk appetite returns, said Jeremy Gardiner, a director at Investec Asset Management, the nation’s biggest independent money manager.
“South Africa is not going to go the way of Zimbabwe,” he said in a March 22 interview from Cape Town. “We shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes,” by failing to convey the country’s true potential.
Since the first democratic elections the economy has expanded in every quarter except for four, the country’s benchmark stock index rose to a record this year and interest rates are at a 30-year low. Foreign direct investment rose to 42.1 billion rand last year ($5.6 billion), according the South African Reserve Bank.
“The country is a very different country from what it was in 1994,” Mashile said.
Still, a malfunctioning education system excludes millions of black youths from the mainstream economy and much of the population lives in one of the country’s 2,700 shantytowns. The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, is 0.68, one of the highest in the world and more than the 0.67 at the end of white segregationist rule.

Like France

The World Economic Forum’s 2011-2012 Global Competitiveness Report ranked South Africa 139th out of 142 countries in terms of the competitiveness of its hiring and firing practices, just behind France and Sweden and ahead of Portugal. It was 138th in flexibility in determining wages, just after Sweden, and 127th, after Mali, in the quality of its primary education system.
“We’re right at the very, very bottom of labor flexibility internationally,” said Andrew Levy, who heads his own labor research company and advises multinationals. If nothing is done, “the implications are social unrest, mass populist movements arising, looting, violence, who knows? We’re going to lose our position as the economic powerhouse of the continent unless something changes.”

Profits Tax

The ruling party will debate policy changes at conferences in June and December. While an ANC-commissioned study found after a more than two-year debate that seizing mines would be an “unmitigated economic disaster,” it recommended imposing a 50 percent tax on the profits of mining companies earning returns in excess of 15 percent, levies on the sale of prospecting rights and more taxes on companies based in offshore tax havens.
“Those are very intrusive measures,” Peter Leon, head of Africa mining and energy projects at law firm Webber Wentzel, said in an interview in Cape Town last month. “The government and the ANC have a big job on their hands to assure investors that this is a safe country to invest in.”
Since November, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have cut South Africa’s credit-rating outlook to negative from stable, citing heightened political risk and concerns over growth. The country is rated A3 by Moody’s and BBB+ by Fitch.
Eurasia Group, a New-York-based risk analysis company, identified South Africa in a Jan. 3 report as one of the top geopolitical areas with potential for instability in 2012 because of the “ascent of populism” within the ANC. Other countries named were North Korea, Pakistan and Egypt.

No Turning Back

The ANC’s Youth League, whose leader, Julius Malema, was expelled from the party on Feb. 29 for undermining the party, says it won’t abandon its campaign for the state seizure of mines, no matter what the party decides.
“We are quite aware there is general concern among the investor community” about nationalization, Enoch Godongwana, chairman of the ANC’s economic policy committee, said in a Feb. 6 interview in Cape Town. “We are going to bed the matter down in December. I may well say the debate is not necessary but I can’t stop those who want to raise it from raising it.”
London-based Anglo American Plc (AAL), Australia’s BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) and Xstrata Plc (XTA) of Zug, Switzerland, own mines in South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of platinum, manganese and vanadium.
Judicial Independence?
Even more damaging to the legacy of Mandela, now 93 and in poor health, are proposed new restrictions on media freedom and judicial independence. South Africa’s first black president had hailed those rights as primordial when the constitution was formulated in 1996.
On November 22, the ruling party used its majority in the National Assembly to pass a law that proposed jail sentences of as long as 25 years for anyone obtaining classified information, even if its disclosure was in the public interest.
Last month, the government announced plans to review how judgments of the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, had impacted “on the transformation of society.” The opposition Democratic Alliance said the decision placed the court’s independence at risk. Yesterday the country’s Department of Justice said rulings of the Supreme Court will be reviewed as well.
“There is a tendency of those in government and some close to it to blame the constitution for the inability of the government to deliver,” said George Bizos, a lawyer who defended Mandela in his 1960s treason trial. “There are worrying signs.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

Iran executions surge lifts world toll: Amnesty

  • ZAWYA 

By Robin Millard
LONDON, Mar 27, 2012 (AFP) - A rising number of executions in Iran helped push the known world total to at least 676 in 2011, Amnesty International said Tuesday, while stressing the global figure was far below reality.
China is still executing thousands of people every year, more than the rest of the world put together, Amnesty said in its annual review of death sentences and executions worldwide.
But the number of countries using the ultimate penalty continued to fall and even China reduced the number of offences attracting it, the London-based rights group said, expressing some optimism.

Amnesty singled out "a significant increase in judicial killings in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia."
Iran executed at least 360 people -- three-quarters of them for drugs offences -- Saudi Arabia at least 82, Iraq at least 68 and Yemen at least 41, the report said.

The rise in Iran (up from at least 252) and Saudi Arabia (up from at least 27) alone more than accounted for the 149 net increase in known executions across the world, compared to 2010.
Amnesty said it had credible reports of at least a further 274 unconfirmed or even "secret" executions in Iran.
At least three people killed by Tehran were under 18 when they committed their crimes. There are reports of four further juvenile offender executions in Iran, and one in Saudi Arabia.
The Arab uprisings changed the political landscape in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 but hopes that this would lead to changes to the death penalty "have yet to be realised", Amnesty said.

Though the total number of death sentences in the region decreased by a third compared to 2010, executions increased by almost half, due to Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said, however, "Even among the small group of countries that executed in 2011, we can see gradual progress. These are small steps but such incremental measures have been shown ultimately to lead to the end of the death penalty.
"It is not going to happen overnight but we are determined that we will see the day when the death penalty is consigned to history."
People were executed or sentenced to death for offences including adultery, sodomy, apostasy and "enmity against God" in Iran, blasphemy in Pakistan, sorcery in Saudi Arabia and the trafficking of human bones in the Republic of Congo, said Amnesty.
Some 18,750 people were under a death sentence at the end of 2011, compared to 17,833 in 2010.
But only 20 countries used capital punishment last year, down from 23 in 2010, and 31 a decade ago.
"The vast majority of countries have moved away from using the death penalty," Shetty said.
"Our message to the leaders of the isolated minority of countries that continue to execute is clear: you are out of step with the rest of the world on this issue and it is time you took steps to end this most cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."
Amnesty said 96 countries had so far abolished the death penalty. Nine have abolished it for ordinary crimes, 35 can be considered abolitionist in practice, having conducted no executions in the last 10 years, and 58 have retained it for ordinary crimes.
China has abolished the death penalty for 13 mainly "white collar" crimes, Amnesty said, but it still executed more than the rest of the world put together. Amnesty urged Beijing to publish data on those killed or sentenced to death.
Public executions were carried out in Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Somalia.
Amnesty said China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Saudi Arabia were using "confessions" obtained through torture.
The methods used for execution in 2011 were beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

Syria imposes travel ban on men under 42: reports

"Syrians between the ages of 18 and 42 are banned from travel if they don't have prior authorisation from the (army's) recruitment office," Aliqtisadi business magazine said on its Internet site.
The travel ban until now had only applied to men who had not completed their two-year compulsory military service.
Aliqtisadi said the new measure, clearly linked to the revolt gripping the country, was being applied at border posts, adding that several men had already been turned back at a border crossing with Lebanon and at the airport in Aleppo.
Syria-News, a website close to the Damascus regime, said the travel restriction was provisional and that those concerned could get a one-year permit allowing them to leave the country.
"A similar measure was implemented in the past and was then cancelled," Syria-News said.

Assad's regime has faced an unprecedented revolt since last March that activists say has left at least 9,100 people dead.
Syrian authorities have the right in the event of war or a declared state of emergency to mobilise all males between the ages of 18 and 42 who have completed their military service.

IAA President hits back on fabricated news about Bahrain

Manama, March 27 (BNA)—Information Affairs Authority (IAA) President Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa hit back today on misleading media campaigns by some politically-motivated satellite channels, whose affiliation is already known, which are still targeting Bahrain with false and fabricated news.
He harshly criticized recent fabricated news alleging Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa is taking part in Bahrain Security Maintenance Forces.
He ruled out the news as baseless and merely fabricated as that has nothing to do with Shaikh Nasser's work.
Shaikh Fawaz called on international mass media to adhere to precision and objectivity regarding the news they receive about Bahrain.

Row over speakers at Saudi youth forum in Kuwait


A Saudi women's rights activist has told the BBC she is planning legal action against Kuwaiti Islamist MPs who demanded a ban on a youth conference that they condemned as un-Islamic.
Hala al-Dosari was invited to speak at the forum in Kuwait, which was aimed at helping young Arabs develop their understanding of Islam and society.
But the Islamist MPs complained that the forum had a suspicious agenda.
Ms Dosari was targeted for having been interviewed on a Christian TV channel.
'Path to openness'
The al-Nahdha (Awakening) Forum is an annual event organised by and mainly for Saudis but held outside the country.
The man behind it is Salman al-Ouda, a Saudi cleric who was once a hardline supporter of Osama Bin Laden.
But after serving a prison term, he very publicly changed his views, espousing a more tolerant and open interpretation of Islam.
Some 150 young Saudis - both men and women - were due to attend the forum this past weekend in Kuwait.
But the announcement of the guest speakers angered radical Islamists both in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
They condemned the presence of Hala al-Dosari, a well-known women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia, calling her a Christian evangelist because of an interview she gave on an Arabic Christian TV channel.
The appearance of a Shia speaker was also attacked as being against Sunni religious orthodoxy - as well as pro-Iranian.
Several Islamist MPs in Kuwait demanded the forum be stopped. The Kuwaiti interior ministry obliged.
But more liberal groups in Kuwait defended the forum and its goals - and hosted it without Saudi participation at a different venue. Ms Dosari managed to give her speech via Skype.
She says the ban exposed the failings of those who opposed it.
It has become a big talking point on Saudi social networks, with many backing her.
She welcomes it as another small milestone on what she hopes is a path to greater openness in Saudi society.

Syrian government backs Kofi Annan peace plan


Syria's government has agreed to accept the peace plan put forward by the United Nations and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan.
The former UN Secretary General is in Beijing as part of his role as an envoy on Syria. His plan calls for an end to the fighting in a UN-supervised ceasefire.
The opposition, however, says a peacekeeping mission would give President Bashar al-Assad more time.
Speaking following the talks, Mr Annan described them as "very good discussions''.


BAHRAIN. Dr. Alaa Al-Shihabi

  • ‎#Bahrain #F1 |
  • Dr. Alaa Al-Shihabi: My husband and I met with Bernie Eccleston in his office in London after it became clear to us that he took the initiative for the release of my husband Farhan.

    The meeting lasted for two hours and was of the strangest in my life. And one question was in my mind... how such person becomes the richest men of Britain!!!
    At the end he asked 'what would happen in the days of Formula? I told him that the country will irritate with demonstrations and you will see our revolution by yourself
    Then he said: close all the streets leading to the circuit and postpone the race and express your demands through peaceful means, and I myself I will join you!

    I was surprised because he also introduced other ideas such as how to disrupt the race and to organize a conference by the opposition where 500 journalists will be present, and he urged us to think in new ways !!

    He said it clearly and directly: I do not care. no religion and no politics. I received my check and it is better for us to commit ourselves to the contract with the Authority.

    I told him the whole Formula's business is for Alkhalifas and he choose which side he'll support. He denied this and said I basically I thought that Bahrain is located in the south of the Hawaiian Islands before I go to it!!
  • (Photo of Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One manager + husband of Dr. Al-Shihabi)
  • الدكتورة آلاء الشهابي:التقينا أنا وزوجي مع بيرني اكلستون لمدة ساعتين في مكتبة في لندن بعد ان اتضح لنا انه بادر لإطلاق سراح غازي فرحان
    استمر اللقاء لمدة ساعتين و كان من اغرب اللقاءات في حياتي. وسؤال واحد في بالي...كيف لشخص بهذا المستوى الفكري ان يصبح اغنى رجال بريطانيا
    طال الحديث الملئ بالخزعبلات و في النهاية سأل عن ماذا سيحدث في ايام الفورمولا فقلت له ان البلد سوف تهج بالتظاهرات و سترى ثورتنا العارمة بنفسك
    ثم قال لتغلقوا كل الشوارع المؤدية للحلبة و تأجلوا السباق وعبروا عن مطالبكم بالطرق السلمية و أنا بنفسي سأحضر فعالياتكم
    استغربت من ردة حيث قام بإقتراح بعض الأفكار مثل كيفية تعطيل السباق و تنظيم مؤتمر صحفي للمعارضة حيث سيتواجد ٥٠٠ صحفي وحثنا لنفكر بطرق جديدة
    طبعاً عطاني إياها في الوجه: أنا لا يهمني لا دين و لا سياسة. الشيك/الصك انصرف في حسابنا و ان اتكنسل فأفضل لنا لكن ملزومين بالعقد مع السلطة
    قلت له الفورمولا مشروع خليفي و انته اخترت الجهة التي تدعمها. نفى ذلك و قال انا اصلاً كنت أظن ان البحرين تقع في جنوب جزر هاواي قبل ذهابي لها !
    (الصورة لبيرني ايكلستون مدير شركة الفورمولا العالمية + غازي فرحان زوج الدكتورة آلاء الشهابي


Bahraini Dissident Blogger Ali Abdulemam Missing For One Year


One year after dissident Ali Abdulemam disappeared, authorities insist he is a fugitive and have tried him in absentia. But the Human Rights Report listed him as a political prisoner. Madison Shimoda reports on the mystery.

One year ago this month, Ali Abdulemam, a champion of free speech in Bahrain, disappeared. In an interview with an Egyptian newspaper shortly before he vanished, he recalled how a police officer had told him, “I’ve been wanting to drink your blood since the 1990s.”

His offense was setting up Bahrain Online, a web forum where, using pseudonyms, ordinary people could post views about the harsh policies of the royal government.
Despite occasional beatings and detainments by state security forces, Abdulemam, a 34-year-old computer engineer, kept the website alive. By the time of his disappearance, it had 50,000 members and was attracting between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors a day.
“For the first time,” says Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrainis “could speak freely about politics without being arrested.”
But government agents hounded Abdulemam, the father of a six-year-old son and one-year-old twin daughters, even as he became known as the “The Blog Father of Bahrain.”
“‘This is for my people,’ Ali told me when we first met,” says Abdulemam’s wife, Jenan Al Oriaibi. “His family used to tease me, saying Ali has another wife called Bahrain Online.
Both the Bahrain Defense Force and the Ministry of Interior deny that Abdulemam is in their custody and insist he is a fugitive. Abdulemam was tried in absentia by a military court in June 2011, along with twenty prominent Bahraini opposition figures.
Bahrain Blogger

A woman holds a picture of jailed Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam during his imprisonment in 2010. Abdulemam was released in February 2011 and went missing shortly afterwards., Hasan Jamali / AP
In August 2010, their home was raided. Abdulemam and his web team were arrested on charges of “inciting hatred of the government.” They were released after 15 days, but the following month Abdulemam was imprisoned again for “spreading false information.” During his detention, he was fired from his job at Gulf Air, denied a lawyer, interrogated and tortured, according to Reporters without Borders.
After national protests and an international campaign by online activists, the Bahraini government released him almost half a year later on February 23, 2011. A little more than a week earlier, thousands had taken to the streets of Manama, the Bahraini capital, to occupy the Pearl Roundabout and call for democracy and a national dialog between the citizens of Bahrain and the ruling Al-Khalifa family.
No media was officially present, just growing throngs of peaceful protestors singing, reading poetry, and vocalizing their discontent. But an undercover Al Jazeera film crew documented how, two days later at 3 a.m., police armed with shotguns and clubs began to evict sleeping protestors, including women and children.
That was the beginning of the Pearl Revolution, marked by injuries to hundreds, shot with rubber bullets, clubbed, and tear-gassed. The Minister of Health ordered hospitals not to send paramedics to tend injured protestors, according to the report by Al Jazeera’s undercover film crew. Some paramedics caught trying to help the injured were beaten, and four protestors were killed in the first few days.
Detention had not crushed Abdulemam’s revolutionary spirit. The Pearl Roundabout, says Al Oraibi, "was the first place Ali visited after his release. The whole family was there at 4 a.m. Ali was holding our son who was wearing the flag of Bahrain.” Abdulemam immediately jumped back into the political arena to discuss, publicly, the widespread Arab uprisings. He accepted a speaking role at the 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum, but had vanished by the time it opened in May.
By mid-March, the government had begun arresting activists again. “Ali knew it was his turn soon,” says Al Oriabi. “The last thing he said was, ‘I will disappear and I prefer that you don’t know where.’”
After his March 18 disappearance, heavily-armed police raided his home and confiscated his computers and records. His wife and children have not lived there since the raid. “Our son, Murtadha, keeps begging to go back to our house. I say to myself I am strong enough to overcome this, but seeing the grief and pain in Murthadha’s eyes weakens me.”
Both the Bahrain Defense Force and the Ministry of Interior deny that Abdulemam is in their custody and insist he is a fugitive. Abdulemam was tried in absentia by a military court in June 2011, along with twenty prominent Bahraini opposition figures. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly plotting an anti-government coup.
The Bahraini uprising has been ignored by Arab leaders and world elites. The Gulf Cooperation Council was quick to denounce Libya’s Gaddafi as “illegitimate,” but when Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim rulers called for a state of emergency, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates led a military force of thousands into Bahrain to help the government restore order.

Senegal's President admits run-off poll loss - state TV


Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has admitted defeat in a run-off election to his rival Macky Sall, state television says.
It says he conceded in a telephone call to the former prime minister.
Mr Wade had changed the constitution to be able to run for a third consecutive term. The move sparked violent protests earlier this year, leaving six people dead.
Mr Wade, 85, has ruled the West African nation for 12 years.


Exporting into Africa: a case study

At a Cape Town presentation to FNB clients in February 2012, Anni Bodington discussed the opportunities and challenges of doing business in Africa as experienced by her company, TESA Palisade Fencing.
This is her story in her own words:
I am not going to go into great academic detail as to why you should or shouldn’t do business in Africa, even though in my opinion, this is a no brainer as 6 out of the 10 fastest growing economies globally are African.
I am an entrepreneur not an economist or soothsayer. Cees is the expert and he is qualified to guide you. I am here to provide you with some light-hearted introspection and sharing of the journey my company has taken into Sub-Saharan Africa, from our perspective, with our opinions, about the problems and victories we have experienced whilst learning about exporting, bearing in mind that I think like an entrepreneur – which means that risk is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about!
Clearly we were naïve when we ventured into exporting as the routes we took was often not clever business, but when opportunities presented themselves, risk and failure were not really uppermost in our minds as the SA construction industry, the arena in which we operated at that time, was heading for the deepest of doldrums.
We wanted a new arena to compete in during 2009 and it seemed the African situation was improving, as I believe it continues to do today and I often hear from my contacts in the USA and Europe that Africa is considered the last investment frontier. We really had no choice at the time we chose to venture into the African market and being ill prepared, we made mistakes and lost more money. But I do however live with the motto of: ‘never give in, never, never, never,’ … so we became smarter and began to learn the ropes and where to look for pitfalls in exporting. We took the risks associated with currency, country and commercial factors in Sub-Saharan Africa, discovered who we were, changed, grew, learnt and even to this day… it is still an adventure and we are nowhere near victory but every year is proving more and more exciting for us.
What we do
TESA, not Teazers, is essentially a manufacturer of Palisade fencing although we do buy products in which we offer to our market as added value. Our core product is steel fencing which is packed in a quite nifty kit form. Our market predominantly is Telecommunications and we sell our fence to networks and turnkey OEM companies who use our fences on what they call base transmission sites, which are cell phone sites that house the towers which you and I see all over the place.
In terms of opposition, in South Africa there are four main players in this fencing market supplying volume into Africa, in our opinion, us being one of them. We are the small kids on the block, with one of the others being listed and another having a Bank in their group of companies enabling them to offer finance of fencing with payment terms of 12 to 24 months, often the terms requested by the African market. This gives them a huge advantage. Two are in Johannesburg, one in Durban and we’re in Cape Town, a disadvantage for us as all steel transported to Cape Town has an added surcharge of R500 per ton and we pay R2 p/kg more for galvanizing in Cape Town than in Durban and Johannesburg.
What gives us our winning edge, we believe and what makes TESA a thorn in the side of this opposition, is the fact that as the small fish, we are flexible, nimble and are able to change direction rapidly depending on our customer requirements. A good example of this was a recent David and Goliath situation when, after a long and arduous battle, TESA was specified for the fencing contract for the entire CELL C 3 and 4 G rollout, much to the dismay of our competitors, who tried unsuccessfully to have this decision overturned.
Other opposition, and a very real challenge, is the product sourced from China and India, but more about that later.
Essential daily operations involve TESA’s team being the middleman between our clients who are OEM’s and their clients, the cellphone networks. Although, the networks sometimes order from us directly and we work with the networks in recommending specification. Although making a fence is not rocket science, you would not believe the politics and technicalities that take place at this level to get our stuff specified. Relationship management is key for successful delivery of service and product.
The kit form works quite well for our customers who collect two boxes, which contain an entire fence for a cell site, from a central warehouse and take it often 100’s of km’s into the middle of nowhere where there is little or no infrastructure, poor road conditions, and the distances between South African ports and northerly destinations are challenging from a transport perspective.
We adapted our design concept to suit the conditions associated with the remote areas where our product is being used and where a spade and spanner is all that is available as equipment to erect the fence. We take for granted our five ton forklift. On a site, they dismantle with a bakkie (truck) and rope. We had to put ourselves in their shoes, adapt the product to smaller lighter loads, hence the kit form.
Some of the challenges
Although payment from OEMs is mostly done from Europe and China, most of them have operations in South Africa, so our sales team spend a lot of time in Johannesburg. These OEMs have operations in country, often with South Africans running the operations. Telecommunications people stay within the industry and migrate between players in the industry.
It works for us when an alliance is formed with an individual and they like our product so even when they change employment they continue to support us. The negative is what we call the brandy and coke brigade.
As TESA does not have operations in the countries like some of our opposition does, we are not on the ground all the time. What happens is a community is formed amongst expats and sometimes decisions about contracts are made over a braai and a bottle of ‘klippies’. There have been times where price and quality have not been considerations for contracts but again, it shows never to underestimate the powers of relationships, even in deep, dark Africa.
We did learn pretty early though that contracting in country is an area we are not ready for as we found out when installing fencing for shopping centers in Angola. Local laws and labor – they expected greasing palms with suitcases full of money – made us realize that we should stick with our core competency, which is manufacturing. We have also learnt that South Africa and South African expats in other African countries are not necessarily that well thought of. And, South Africa, having the second largest African economy and the largest GDP, does not necessarily mean that other African citizens hold us in the same esteem we hold ourselves. It can be perceived that we are deemed to be creating wealth in arenas that belong to other countries.
A bit about the industry
Traditionally companies supplying their RF equipment were strong in this arena and they ventured into turnkey and building sites. Then, Chinese companies entered the fray offering to fund the networks with favorable payment terms, essentially funding rollouts with terms of payment years later once the networks started raking in the bucks.
The result was price slashing on every level, including fence, and the traditional players losing market share to Chinese companies.
We are selling a fence for less now than we did four years ago. The companies, who traditionally dominated the industry, took a pounding with Chinese companies scooping up the contracts. Historically, their reputation for quality and delayed payment terrified companies such as ours. Another worry was the pricing from China for product similar to ours was almost half of our manufacturing cost.
So, we tried a different approach completely and employed a Mandarin-speaking, South African Chinaman, who understood our culture and the Chinese culture. He even says ‘hey boer.’ The rewards were immediate. The largest portion of our business is now ordered by Chinese companies, payment issues have been largely resolved and we all understand exactly what the quality criteria is. But it was a long road.
Initially, our product was constantly rejected due to a misunderstanding on their part of technical specification, payment ran many months overdue, and generally mutual respect was non-existent. But that has all changed and this success can be attributed only to communication, which has resulted in mutual respect.
The moral of this little story is that the understanding of different cultures can win the ultimate success when working across cultures and that would be mutual respect. For us it led to an award in November in Schenzen for Best Overseas Regional Partner from our largest Chinese customer.
From a pricing perspective, naturally the weaker the Rand, the better for us. We also find that we are unsuccessful in East Africa as products shipped from China and India are more competitive in price delivered to these areas. This is not the case for West and Central Africa and we are favorably situated to make this our target market.