More Clashes in Egypt Despite State of Emergency

Elizabeth Arrott

Iran 'arrests 11 journalists with foreign contacts'

Iran has arrested 11 journalists accused of co-operating with foreign Persian-language media organisations, according to local media reports.

Seven men and four women working for six different media outlets were reportedly detained late on Sunday.

Tehran considers hostile organisations such as the BBC's Persian service and the US-based Voice of America (VOA).

Last week, the BBC accused the Iranian authorities of intimidating BBC Persian staff members based in London.

Iran-based family members of BBC journalists have been called in for questioning by the intelligence services, and false websites and Facebook accounts have been created to smear presenters and other personnel with various allegations, including sexual misconduct.

The head of BBC Persian, Sadeq Saba, said it was not the first time the Iranian authorities had resorted to such tactics, but that the number of incidents and level of harassment had increased in the last few weeks.

Iran accused the BBC of inciting unrest after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. BBC Persian broadcast online videos and interviewed protesters, who described deaths, injuries and arbitrary arrests carried out by security forces.

'Security accusations'
The 11 journalists were picked up on a "warrant issued by the judiciary", on charges of "co-operation with Persian-language anti-revolutionary media", local media reported.

The Fars news agency identified them as Sasan Aghaei, Pouria Alami, Emily Amraei, Javad Daliri, Milad Fadaei, Narges Jodaki, Soleiman Mohammadi, Akbar Montajabi, Pejman Mousavi, Motahareh Shafiey and Nasrin Takhayori.

The editors of the journalists told the Associated Press that they had been arrested because of their "foreign contacts", but the extent of their links with foreign media was not immediately clear.

Culture Minister Seyyed Mohammad Hoseyni was quoted by the Isna news agency as saying the journalists had "not been accused of journalism-related charges".

"We are investigating the issue and after getting more information we will provide the media with it. It seems that they have been arrested over security accusations," he added.

The arrests looks to observers like a tightening of restrictions by the Iranian leadership on the media ahead of June's presidential election, the BBC's Nick Childs reports.

They also come against a background of reports of discontent in Iran over an economy struggling under Western-led sanctions imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear programme, our correspondent adds.

Mali crisis: French-led troops 'enter Timbuktu'


French-led troops in Mali have entered the historic city of Timbuktu encountering little resistance, French and Malian military sources.


UAE to try 94 over 'plot to seize power'



Authorities say the suspects were secretly plotting to seize power in the Gulf state.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has ordered the trial of 94 people on charges of secretly plotting to take over the country and seize power.

"Their unannounced aims were to seize power and confronting the main principles which the rule is based on," state news agency WAM quoted the attorney general, Salem Saeed Kubaish, as saying on Sunday.
"They had plotted for that discreetly at secret meetings they held in their homes, farms and other places where they tried to conceal and hide what they were plotting from the concerned authorities."
The UAE last year rounded up about 60 people, many members of al-Islah, a group suspected of links to the Muslim Brotherhood which is banned in the country, according to a privately owned newspaper.
Al-Khaleej newspaper said in September the detained group had confessed to setting up a secret organisation with an armed wing with the aim of seizing power and establishing an Islamist state in the UAE.
Kubaish said the suspects used social media and the Internet with the aim of creating a public opinion hostile to the UAE government and its leadership.
"They also communicated with the international Muslim Brotherhood organisation and other similar organisations outside the country, asked them for help, expertise and financial support to serve their undeclared goal of seizing power," the statement said.
Al-Islah says its mission was to advocate peaceful reform and it has no connections with the global Muslim Brotherhood.
The UAE, a major oil exporter and Middle East business hub, tolerates no organised political opposition.


Trouble in Asmara: Afwerki survives, but for how much longer?

By Simon Allison  - Daily Maverick 

Renegade soldiers stormed Eritrea’s information ministry on Monday, briefly seizing control and breaking the government’s stranglehold on public broadcasting to send their own message. This wasn’t a coup attempt, or at least not a very good one. But it was a warning to President Isaias Afwerki that his autocratic regime can’t last forever.
The very first instruction in the dummy’s guide to staging a military coup (not yet available in a book store near you) is that any would-be plotter’s first goal must be to take control of the flow of information. And so, in a pattern repeated in every unstable country in every continent, the first target in a coup attempt is almost always the state broadcast facilities, be it TV or radio or both. He who controls the information usually controls the country.
This is a lesson that Isaias Afwerki, the president of Eritrea, knows all too well. His government has such a firm grip on all media and information in the country that the Committee to Protect Journalists describes Eritrea as the most censored country on earth. Free, independent media is effectively extinct, while state media toes the party line with such devotion that casual readers might get the impression that Eritrea is a sensible, functional nation, a role model to others. It’s not: read this Daily Maverick piece on why Eritreans, including their national football team, keep fleeing the country. It might have something to do with the endemic poverty, high unemployment, routine human rights violations and forced, indefinite conscription.
The centre of Eritrea’s comprehensive censorship effort is the Ministry of Information in Asmara. It’s from this building that articles for the state newspapers are written; from here that state radio and television are broadcast. He who controls this building controls information in Eritrea.
On Monday, Afwerki’s control slipped. Not for long, and not enough to pose an immediate threat to his regime, but just enough to allow the rest of the world – and Eritreans, of course – to get a peek behind the propaganda-coloured curtain.
Here’s what we can piece together, although facts are nearly impossible to confirm: sometime on Monday, around 100 junior soldiers and two tanks seized the Ministry of Information building. They may or may not have been led by a war hero named Saleh Osman, who according to opposition websites has a reputation for being incorruptible. As sieges go, this one was very calm and orderly: there were no casualties, and women with children were released. Among those detained may or may not have been President Afwerki’s daughter, who was at the ministry doing an internship.
While in control of the ministry, the soldiers used their platform to broadcast a message on state radio and television. They called for the release of political prisoners – there’s between 5,000 and 10,000 of them – and the implementation of the 1997 constitution, which was suspended before it ever came into force (Afwerki blames “external interference” for this, whatever that means). The message did not call for the removal of Afwerki from power.
In response to the siege, loyal government troops quickly surrounded the Ministry of Information and eventually the renegade soldiers left the building on Monday evening. According to Voice of America, they piled into armoured personnel carriers and drove back to their base just south of the capital. It is unclear whether this was in response to negotiation, or what has happened to them since.
By Monday night, Eritrea’s state broadcaster was back on air with a pre-recorded news bulletin that made no mention of the unscheduled interruption.
“It looks like it’s an isolated attempt by some soldiers who are completely frustrated by what is going on. But it wasn’t done in a coordinated manner,” said the BBC’s former African editor Martin Plaut, speaking to AP. “They did seize the television station, they did manage to put this broadcast out, but the government is still functioning calmly. There is nothing on the streets.”
From the little that we know, it seems clear that the Ministry of Information siege was not a fully-fledged coup attempt. It was not designed to get rid of Afwerki. More likely, it was designed to warn him that, unless he changes his autocratic ways, the opposition to his rule is getting strong enough to remove him by force.
While being the most serious, it’s not the only unsettling bit of news that Afwerki has had in the past few months. Another major blow to his leadership was the recent apparent defection of none other than the minister of information himself, Ali Abdu. Abdu was Afwerki’s right hand man and staunchest defender, the outward face of the Eritrean regime in international media. He has not been seen in public for five months. Some reports suggest he has sought asylum in Europe or Canada, and that his relatives left behind in Eritrea have been rounded up and thrown into prison, but these are unconfirmed. All we do know is that the government has steadfastly refused to comment on what is becoming a highly embarrassing incident; an unlikely stance if Ali Abdu remained happy and loyal in Asmara.
Then there was the mass defection of the Eritrean national football team in December, who sought asylum in Uganda after losing an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. A spokesman for the team cited Eritrea’s extensive human rights abuses and the forced conscription as their main motivations for leaving so abruptly, although he added that President Isaias Afwerki was the “main problem”.
Slowly, but steadily, cracks are beginning to appear in Afwerki’s tightly-controlled regime. Unrest is growing, and becoming more serious. For now, he’s still in charge; but for how much longer?

By Simon Allison  - Daily Maverick 

Mali conflict: French and Malian troops move on Timbuktu


French-led forces in Mali are advancing on the key northern city of Timbuktu, as they press on with their offensive against Islamist rebels.

2013 Annual Report on Global Trends for Human Rights Defenders Published

On 23 January 2013 Front Line Defenders released its fourth Annual Report on Global Challenges facing Human Rights Defenders around the World in 2012.
The report explores the situation on both the global and regional level including several countries examined in focus namely: Burundi, Vietnam, Guatemala Kazakhstan and Algeria. It highlights the 'unabated' targeting of human rights defenders for their work documenting abuses, exposing corruption, or pushing for reform.
“The attacks and killings highlighted in this report are only the tip of the iceberg. In many countries the government has either shut down the local media, subjected human rights organisations to campaigns of intimidation or tried to silence those brave enough to bring the facts to international attention” said Front Line Defenders Executive Director Mary Lawlor.

The report highlights:

-24 killings of HRDs in 2012
-Physical Attacks on HRDs reported in 28 countries across all regions:
-Attacks on LGBTI human rights defenders in Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, South Africa, Uganda, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe.
-Restrictive legislation passed or under discussion in Algeria, Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lithuania, Moldova, Russian Federation, and Ukraine
-Judicial harassment reported in nearly 40 countries
-Information technology laws used against those expressing dissent or circulating information on human rights abuses, in particular in Asia and the Middle East.
-Reprisals for cooperating with international human rights bodies were reported by HRDs in Bahrain, Belarus, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Sri Lanka

“The facts speak for themselves”, said Ms Lawlor “The sad reality is that while governments proclaim support for human rights and their respect for the work of human rights defenders in international fora, in practice, human rights defenders face a daily struggle for survival”, added Ms Lawlor.
This report shows how the safe space in which human rights defenders work is consistently shrinking, while their personal credibility is attacked through state sponsored defamation campaigns in which they are routinely portrayed as agents of western/foreign interests. The introduction of restrictive legislation which limits both their work and their ability to source international funding is increasingly used to hamper their work.
The Report highlights the alarmingly high number of killings of human rights defenders and the fact that Front Line Defenders alone has documented physical attacks on human rights defenders in 28 countries and 24 killings of human rights defenders. Conditions for human rights defenders in Africa, Asia and the Middle East continue to be worrying while the report finds that that in many countries in Europe and Central Asia the situation has actually deteriorated.
On the regional level many countries in Africa have seen a series of disturbing ongoing trends including physical violence, and impunity for perpetrators. As noted in the report the murder of two LGBTI rights defenders Thapelo Makhutle in South Africa and Maurice Mjomba in Tanzania illustrate these risks.
Such impunity is also commonly seen in the Americas alongside a common trend, the use, region-wide, of fabricated criminal charges such as those that have resulted in an 18-year prison sentence for Colombian human rights defender David Rabelo Crespo.
Asia has seen the continued usage of smear campaigns against human rights defenders branding them as 'enemies of the state or as working for foreign interests'. One example of such a case can be seen in India with the branding of P.V. Rajagopal, Vice Chairman of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, as a 'Maoist sympathiser'.
The situation in Europe and Central Asia is characterised by the increasing use in many countries of legislation to curb the activities of human rights defenders. This is particularly evident in the Russian Federation with a swathe of legislation being implemented including a law designating NGO's in receipt of foreign funding as 'foreign agents'.
Finally in the Middle East and North Africa region the report confirms the fears of 'limited real change' despite the events of the Arab Spring that 'gave hope to thousands of people in virtually every country in the region'. In Bahrain in particular almost all of the most vocal human rights defenders were in detention at year's end including former Front line Defenders staff member Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
The Report is based on Front Line Defenders' work in support of human rights defenders at risk. In 2012, Front Line Defenders issued 287 urgent appeals on 460 human rights defenders at risk in 69 countries; it provided 267 security grants and trained 358 human rights defenders. Overall, more than 1150 HRDs benefited from Front Line Defenders’ protection support in 2012.

The Report, attached in English in PDF format to this page, will shortly be available in French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Farsi.


BAHRAIN: Public Prosecution / Statement

Manama-Jan26(BNA)Fifteen rioters have been remanded in custody for forty-five days pending investigation.

They are accused of taking part in an illegal demonstration on Friday (January25, 2013) in Manama Suq.
“The suspects have been interrogated in the presence of their lawyer and remanded in custody”, Capital Prosecutor Fahd Al-Bouainain said, adding that they would be referred to the Criminal Court to stand trial.

Around fifty persons gathered in Manama Suq following online calls and disrupted the traffic, sowing panic among shoppers and leading traders to close their outlets.

The saboteurs also assaulted the security forces which intervened to protect people and properties and restore public order.

One the rioters was arrested as he was holding iron rods in his hand, in addition to another is accused of instigating the protest via twitter. AHN

Bahrain rejects anti-Iranian claims on its media

(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - While Bahraini media affiliated with Al Khalifa family, have made allegations against Iran in order to project suppression of public demonstrations in Bahrain, their false claims were so blatant that Bahrain government has objected to these claims.
Al Ahd reported that Bahrain Ministry of Interior has rejected the claims made by Al Belad daily on detention of an Iranian speed boat, which allegedly was carrying weapons, as totally baseless.
Director General of Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) has explained the incident. “In our contacts with Qatari authorities, they rejected the news on Qatar’s detention of a boat carrying weapons to Bahrain,” said he, “this should be communicated to the public by the media,” he added.
Al Belad daily, owned by Prime Minister’s son, Ali bin Al Khalifa, had claimed that Qatari Coast Guard force had detained an Iranian speed boat carrying weapons to Bahrain.
Iran has frequently stated that it did not intervene in Bahrain, and if it intervened, the situation would be better than that in the present.
Iranian officials believe that all allegations are intended to project suppression of peaceful demonstrations of Bahrain public.


Fatal clashes on Egypt uprising anniversary


Egyptian opposition supporters are protesting across the country on the second anniversary of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power, with five people killed in the city of Suez.

Bahrain: Tear gas and stun grenades fired as protests erupt


Police have blocked major roads and are using tear gas and stun grenades against anti-government protesters in the Bahraini capital, Manama.

Protesters had responded to a call by opposition parties to march in the city.
Hundreds of youths had taken to the streets of the old market district of Manama, chanting "no dialogue with killers", an opposition source said.
The Gulf island nation has been wracked by violence for the past two years.
The Interior Ministry had earlier refused permission for the march, tweeting "It is illegal to take part in the rally and action will be taken against violators"
The call to demonstrate came despite the opposition's agreement to enter into talks with the government aimed at resolving a political impasse that has seriously damaged Bahrain's economy and led to hundreds of arrests.
A spokesman for al Wefaq, the leading opposition party, told the BBC: "Agreeing to dialogue doesn't mean that we stop our protests."
He added: "The government says that the rally is illegal, we don't believe it is. We have the right to protest peacefully in Manama."
On Sunday, the opposition had agreed to enter into talks with the government, but stressed they must be "meaningful."
Khalil al-Marzook, of Wefaq, told the BBC on Monday that the movement was "ready to partner with the ruling family and the community to find solutions".
But he added: "We need to be assured that the process is credible, we need detail about how agreement will be reached, where it will go and how the people will ratify it."
On 14 February 2011, peaceful protesters took over an iconic Bahraini monument, Pearl Roundabout. Three days later security forces cleared the site using tear gas, batons and birdshot.
At least two protesters died and hundreds were injured.
As violence escalated 35 people, including five police officers, were killed, hundreds more were hurt and thousands jailed in February and March 2011.
The vast majority were Shia Muslims in a country ruled by a minority Sunni royal family
Since then, opposition and human rights activists say another 45 people have been killed, a figure which the government disputes.
In October last year two policemen died of injuries sustained during clashes with protesters in villages outside the capital, Manama.
Thirteen activists and politicians including the leader of the secular Waad party, Ibrahim Sharif, remain in jail, convicted and in some cases given life sentences on evidence that is widely accepted to have been obtained under torture.
Street protests and gatherings are illegal and human rights defenders are routinely detained for activities that include tweeting criticism of the king and his government.

Sustainable Health Systems - Visions, Strategies, Critical Uncertainties and Scenarios

Sustainable Health Systems - Visions, Strategies, Critical Uncertainties and Scenarios
The World Economic Forum has made health a priority global initiative, recognizing it as central to the Forum’s overall mission to improve the state of the world.
Looking at health as a fundamental economic issue, the Forum aims to address two major gaps-access to health and access to care - making health and care an investment for economic development and growth.


Egypt opposition to rally on revolution anniversary


Egyptian opposition supporters are gathering in central Cairo to mark two years since the start of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power.

Police clashed with opponents of President Mohammed Morsi ahead of a planned rally in Tahrir Square.
Critics accuse the Islamist leader of betraying the revolution. He denies this and has appealed for calm.
An appeals court recently overturned Mr Mubarak's life sentence over the deaths of protesters and ordered a retrial.
The 84-year-old former leader remains in detention at a military hospital.
Opposition supporters began converging on Tahrir Square on Friday morning. Some protesters have erected checkpoints to verify the identities of people passing through.
Others have set up an exhibition of photographs of those killed in protests over the past two years.
The roads leading from Tahrir Square to several nearby government buildings and foreign embassies have been blocked by concrete walls since last November.
Demonstrators tried to dismantle one of them on Thursday night, but a new wall was built to block entry to the Cabinet headquarters.
The unrest continued overnight. On Friday, Nile TV reported worsening clashes outside the interior ministry near Tahrir Square.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement to which Mr Morsi belongs, has not officially called for its own street rallies. It plans to mark the revolution by launching charitable and social initiatives.
'Bread and freedom'
One of the demonstrators at Tahrir Square, Hanna Abu el-Ghar, told the BBC: "We are protesting against the fact that after two years of the revolution, where we asked for bread, freedom and social justice, none of our dreams have come true."
The liberal opposition accuses Mr Morsi of being autocratic and driving through a new constitution that favours Islamists and does not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians.
Ahead of the planned rally Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition figure and former head of the UN atomic agency, said is a statement: "I call on everyone to take part and go out to every place in Egypt to show that the revolution must be completed."
The government is also being blamed for a deepening economic crisis.
The president has dismissed the opposition's claims as unfair, instead calling for a national dialogue.
Mr Morsi and his supporters accuse their opponents of undermining democracy by failing to respect the Islamists' victory in elections a year ago.
In a speech on Thursday marking the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, President Morsi called on Egyptians to celebrate the anniversary "in a civilised, peaceful way that safeguards our nation, our institutions, our lives".
Last month, he described the new constitution as "historic" and also said that boosting Egypt's economy was his priority.
He also admitted that mistakes had been made but insisted he would never make a decision except in the interests of the country.

When mutiny came to Eritrea


المعامير/الشباب صمووود أمام مرتزقة طاغية البحرين حمد http://dlvr.it/2rL4Mj  ‎ @BAHRAINNATION
Ritwittato da BahrainNation
#المعامير/الشباب صمووود أمام مرتزقة طاغية #البحرين حمد
البحرين - المعامير Bahrain - Ma'ameer Licensed under: CC BY-SA 3.0

عملية الشهيد محمد الخنيزي المشتركة بلدات المصلى واسكان جدحفص وعذاري 24-1-2013 http://bit.ly/10EKoiZ  @BAHRAINNATION

عملية الشهيد محمد الخنيزي المشتركة بلدات المصلى واسكان جدحفص وعذاري...

Londolozi Game Reserve in Kruger National Park

South Africa ‏@SouthAfrica
Beautiful imagery in this documentary by @PhilipBloom shot at Londolozi Game Reserve in Kruger National Park: http://budurl.com/se7x 


Bahraini princess facing multiple torture charges

Bahraini princess is facing charges of torturing pro-democracy activists in the Gulf island kingdom.

Noura Bint Ebrahim al-Khalifa, who serves in Bahrain's Drugs Control Unit, is accused along with another officer of torturing three people in detention.
Hundreds of protesters were detained as Bahrain struggled to put down a popular uprising that began in February 2011.
The uprising, which began peacefully with calls for democratic reform, was crushed by the ruling al-Khalifas.
Noura al-Khalifa, 29, who denies the charges, appeared in court on Sunday and Monday to hear the allegations.
In one case, the princess is accused of torturing two doctors, Ghassan and Bassem Daif, brothers who worked at the Salmaniya medical complex.
Medical staff from the facility went to help injured protesters after security police used force to disperse thousands of people who had camped out at an iconic landmark, Pearl Roundabout, in the capital, Manama.
At least two people were killed and hundreds wounded when police attacked with batons, tear gas and birdshot.
In March and April 2011 many of the medical staff were arrested and detained. It is alleged that Ms al-Khalifa tortured the doctors at that time.
She is also accused of torturing another person, 21-year-old Ayad al-Qurmazi.
Ms al-Qurmazi was arrested in March 2011 after giving public readings of poetry she wrote that was critical of the ruling family.
She alleges she was held for nine days, blindfolded, beaten with cables and threatened with rape. She identified Ms al-Khalifa as her torturer.
'Online threats'
Ms al Qurmazi's lawyer Reem Khalaf told the BBC that on one occasion while she was being beaten around her head, the blindfold slipped and she saw Ms al-Khalifa.
"Noura was very angry that Ayad had seen her," Ms Khalaf said.
Ayad al-Qurmazi told the BBC she did not regret reading her poems or taking Noura al-Khalifa to court, even though she had lost her place at college and was the target of online threats and abuse.
"I am not sorry. I only said what all Bahrainis feel and I haven't done anything against my country. What I am doing, I am doing for my country."
The case was adjourned to 7 February after three witnesses failed to turn up.
No-one from the Bahrain government was available to comment on the charges against Ms al-Khalifa.

Bahrain court upholds death penalty in police killing


A Bahraini appeals court on Wednesday upheld a death sentence against a protester convicted of murdering a policeman in March 2011.

The officer, Ahmed al-Mreyssi, died after being repeatedly run over during anti-government protests.
The court upheld a life sentence given to a second man in the case.
Bahrain and its Sunni royal family have been shaken by unrest since pro-democracy protests began in 2011. Most protesters are from the Shia majority.
The death sentence was confirmed on Wednesday for Ali al-Taweel, and the sentence to life imprisonment for Ali Shamlo.
Lawyers for the two men have said they will appeal against the decision at the court of cassation in a final effort to have the sentences reduced.
Bahrain's largest opposition political party Al Wefaq denounced Wednesday's decision and said confessions used as evidence in convicting the two men were extracted by torture.
The Gulf island kingdom has been wracked by nearly two years of violence that followed the clearing of an iconic landmark, Pearl Roundabout, in the capital Manama, in February 2011.
As violence escalated 35 people, including five police officers, were killed. Hundreds more were hurt and thousands jailed - the vast majority Shia Muslims.
Since then, opposition and human rights activists say another 45 people have been killed, a figure which the government disputes.
In October last year two policemen died of injuries sustained during clashes with protesters in villages outside Manama.
Last December, a Bahraini court commuted to life imprisonment the death sentences of two other protesters convicted of killing two policemen in another incident in 2011.


Eritrea Returns to Calm After Mutiny


Calm has reportedly returned to the east African nation of Eritrea a day after a group of mutinous soldiers attempted to take over the country's information ministry.

More than 100 dissident soldiers stormed the ministry in Asmara early Monday, ordering state television announcers to read a statement calling for the release of political prisoners and saying the 1997 constitution would be respected.

It is unclear how the situation was resolved, but the soldiers are believed to have left the ministry by late Monday.

In a message posted on Twitter Tuesday, the director of the Eritrean president's office, Yemane Ghebremeskel, said "all is calm today as it was yesterday."

Diplomats and residents say the situation in the capital is quiet with no military presence seen on the streets.

The U.S.-based Eritrean opposition website, Awate.com, says the mutiny was led by a prominent military commander, named Saleh Osman, in an attempt to restart stalled negotiations for the country's democratization.

President Isaias Afewerki has ruled Eritrea since 1993. His government has kept tight control on the country, allowing little dissent and no independent media.

The government is believed to hold thousands of political prisoners, including journalists and officials who questioned the president's leadership.

The United Nations human rights office has said the country of about six million people holds between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners.

Analysts: Greater Security, Governance Needed After Algeria Crisis

Liberia's Charles Taylor appeals at The Hague

Liberia's jailed ex-President Charles Taylor has started his appeal at a UN-backed special court in The Hague.
Last May, the court sentenced him to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 civil war.
Defence lawyers have called the verdict a "miscarriage of justice" and want the conviction to be quashed.
The prosecution, however, wants the sentence extended to 80 years, saying he also gave orders to the rebels.
In the court's original judgement, he was acquitted on these charges, with the judge finding that the prosecution had failed to prove its claims.
Taylor became the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after World War II.
Throughout his trial, the former Liberian leader, who was arrested in 2006, maintained his innocence.
Last week Taylor, 64, reportedly wrote to MPs demanding a presidential pension of $25,000 (£15,600) in Liberia.
Describing the withholding of his state presidential pension as a "mammoth injustice", Taylor was quoted in the letter as saying that he was entitled to consular access and diplomatic services at The Hague, but he had been "denied that right".
'Heinous crimes'
The prosecution addressed the court first on Tuesday, reports the AFP news agency.
The court should "hold responsible not only those who perpetrate the crimes but also those who promote them", said prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian.

Taylor's lawyers have filed more than 40 grounds of appeal, arguing that the trial chamber's findings were based on "uncorroborated hearsay evidence".

"The colossal judgment, over 2,500 pages in length, is plagued throughout by internal inconsistencies, misstatements of evidence and conflicting findings," his lawyer Morris Anyah said in court papers quoted by AFP.

In court, defence lawyer Christopher Gosnell said: "There is nothing in the trial chamber's findings that would have allowed it to find that Charles Taylor knew that specific weapons or ammunition he had some role in providing would be used in a crime as opposed to a lawful purpose."

The court was set up in 2002 to try those who bore the greatest responsibility for the war in Sierra Leone in which some 50,000 people were killed.

It found Taylor guilty on 11 counts of war crimes, relating to atrocities that included rape and murder, and described by one of the judges as "some of the most heinous crimes in human history".

In return for so-called blood diamonds, Taylor provided arms and both logistical and moral support to Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels - prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone.

Taylor started Liberia's civil war as a warlord in 1989, and was elected president in 1997. He governed for six years before being forced into exile in southern Nigeria. He was arrested in 2006 while trying to flee Nigeria.

The trial was moved to the Netherlands due to concerns that the case might spark fresh instability in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Bahraini opposition accepts talks offer to end crisis

Bahrain's opposition has accepted an offer from the country's justice minister to resume talks.

Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa issued the invitation to political societies in an apparent bid to break an impasse that has damaged Bahrain's economy.

A leading member of al Wefaq, the biggest opposition society, was guardedly optimistic about the offer.

The Gulf island nation has been wracked by violence for the past two years.

Khalil al-Marzook, of Wefaq, told the BBC the movement was "ready to partner with the ruling family and the community to find solutions".

But he added: "We need to be assured that the process is credible, we need detail about how agreement will be reached, where it will go and how the people will ratify it."

On the 14 February 2011, peaceful protesters took over an iconic Bahraini monument, Pearl Roundabout. Three days later security forces cleared the site using tear gas, batons and birdshot.

At least two protesters died and hundreds were injured.
As violence escalated 35 people, including five police officers, were killed, hundreds more were hurt and thousands jailed in February and March 2011.

The vast majority were Shia Muslims in a country ruled by a minority Sunni royal family

Since then, opposition and human rights activists say another 45 people have been killed, a figure which the government disputes.

In October last year two policemen died of injuries sustained during clashes with protesters in villages outside the capital, Manama.

Thirteen activists and politicians including the leader of the secular Waad party, Ibrahim Sharif, remain in jail, convicted and in some cases given life sentences on evidence that is widely accepted to have been obtained under torture.

Street protests and gatherings are illegal and human rights defenders are routinely detained for activities that include tweeting criticism of the king and his government.

Mr Marzook warned that if what he described as "the seasonal call for dialogue" was a ruse to discourage protests ahead of the 14 February anniversary it would serve to "deepen distrust between the people and the government."

He added the goal of the opposition remained the achievement of a constitutional monarchy something he said the authorities continue to resist.

One Bahraini commentator who asked not to be named was sceptical, saying: "There are splits within the royal family over how to move forward but at the end of the day the unity of the family will always trump the unity of the nation."

No-one from the justice minister's office was available for comment.


Hostage siege at Algeria gas plant not over


Islamist militants are believed to be still holding a number of hostages at a gas facility in the Algerian desert.


Tim Hetherington, his life and death


Minister of Justice receives a delegation from the UK Prisons' Inspectorate

Manama: Jan. 15 -- (BNA) Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments, HE Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, received today a delegation from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, led by Mr. Martin Lomas the deputy chief inspector of prisons in the United Kingdom, currently visiting the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The Minister welcomed the British delegation and explored with them a number of topics pertaining to prison regulations, control and inspection and the role of prisons in consecrating foundations of justice and principles of human rights.

Also during the meeting, the two sides explored areas of technical cooperation in the light of the Ministry's visit to the Inspectorate and the means to benefit from their expertise in developing rehabilitation facilities and penitentiaries. The meeting was attended by the Ministry's undersecretary for judicial affairs, Khalid Hassan Ajaj, and the head of Follow-Up Apparatus for Implementation of BICI recommendations, Miss Dana Al-Zayani.(IY) 

Iran, Italy Keen to Bolster Ties

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Italy's incoming Ambassador to Tehran Luca Giansanti discussed the latest developments in the bilateral ties and explored avenues for the further expansion of mutual cooperation in a meeting in Tehran on Tuesday.

During the meeting, Giansanti submitted a copy of his credentials to Salehi at the beginning of his career as Italy's new ambassador to Tehran. 

Salehi pointed to the good relations between the two countries, and said, "Iran and Italy are two crucially important countries that enjoy old cultural ties and share many commonalities." 

The Iranian foreign minister further described Iran as a reliable partner in trade and economic cooperation, specially in the energy sector, for Italy and Europe. 

The Italian ambassador, for his part, termed Iran an important country from the strategic, regional and energy viewpoints. 

Giansanti pointed to the good cooperation between the two countries and the considerable volume of the bilateral trade transactions in the past, and expressed the hope that "we will see growth and expansion of mutual cooperation between the two countries in future". 

Giansanti has replaced the former Italian Ambassador to Tehran, Alberto Bradanini who held the post for four years. 

Last month, the former Italian ambassador to Tehran said that Italy is Iran's major trade partner, and called on both countries to utilize the existing capacities to further enhance their bilateral ties and cooperation. 

He made the remarks in a meeting with Iranian foreign minister and at the end of his diplomatic mission in Tehran in December. 

Pointing to Iran's strategic position and its rich oil and gas reserves, Bradanini said, "We have always tried to be one of Iran's major trade partners." 

"Iran and Italy should make an optimum use of the existing capacities to bolster their relations," he added. 

He called Iran a big country with rich culture and hospitable people. 

Salehi, for his part, thanked the Italian ambassador for his efforts during his mission in Tehran. 

"Iran and Italy enjoy special status and importance in their respective regions and the two countries should move to consolidate and expand their bilateral ties, given the existing capacities," the Iranian foreign minister said. 

He said that Iran is ready to enhance ties with Italy in all fields, given the abundant grounds existing for mutual cooperation in trade, political, economic, and cultural sectors. 


French Forces Drive Out Militants in Northern Mali Town

French airstrikes in Mali's key northern town of Konna have driven back Islamist militants who had captured the town earlier this week.

Officials said Saturday that French forces had pushed rebels from Konna. The Islamists' takeover of the town had placed the militants within 25 kilometers of Mopti, the northernmost city under Malian government control.
The French News Agency says dozens of Islamist fighters have been killed in the operation. Also, France's defense minister said Saturday a helicopter pilot was killed during the air strikes, which began Friday.
Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said French forces are preparing for any rebel surge on the Malian capital, Bamako. He said troops will remain in the area as long as necessary, saying the militants are behind much lawlessness, including kidnappings.
France announced Friday that it had deployed troops to Mali at the request of the government. Troops from Nigeria and Senegal are also reported to be in Mali to help government forces.
In another development Saturday, African officials said, ECOWAS, the West African regional block had authorized the immediate deployment of troops to Mali.
In December, the U.N. Security Council approved a plan for West African states to deploy at least 3,000 troops to Mali to help train the army and retake the north. But originally, no troops had been expected in Mali until September.
France's Foreign Ministry has advised French citizens in Mali to leave the country “temporarily,” while the U.S. embassy in Bamako is urging Americans against all travel to the West African country.
Al-Qaida-linked groups took control of Mali's north soon after renegade soldiers overthrew the country's elected president last March. The groups have imposed a harsh form of Islamic law on the areas in their control, drawing condemnation from human rights groups.
Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, declared a national state of emergency Friday and called on every Malian to help in the war effort.
“Every Malian, man and woman, should from here on out consider oneself to be a soldier of the nation and behave as such. We call on all mining, telephone and other companies, as well as all people morally and physically able, to contribute to this fight against terrorism. All public services should put all vehicles that could be useful in the field at the service of the army without delay.”
French President Francois Hollande said the French forces are helping to fight what he called “terrorist elements” in Mali.
“This operation will last as long as necessary. I will keep the French regularly informed about its proceedings. The terrorists must know that France will always be here, when it comes to not only its fundamental interests but also the rights of a population, that of Mali, which wants to live freely and in a democracy.''
Mali's president had asked France, the country's former colonial ruler, for immediate help in stopping the rebel advance. Diplomatic sources say Mr. Traore will meet with President Hollande in Paris next Wednesday.
On Thursday, the government ordered all schools closed in the capital and the nearby garrison town of Kati, citing the threat of civil unrest.
The order, which covers kindergarten through university, came as state television broadcast a statement saying in part that the country faces “one of the direst periods in its history.” It urged all citizens “to unite behind the army in the fight to take back the north.”

Saudi Arabia's king appoints women to Shura Council


Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has appointed 30 women to the previously all-male consultative Shura Council.

Two decrees reconstituted the council, which advises the government on new legislation, for a new four-year term - and stated that women should always hold at least a fifth of its 150 seats.
The king took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders.
The council has had female "advisers", but women still have little role in public life in the conservative state.
They are forbidden from driving, are currently excluded from holding high political office, and will get the vote for the first time in 2014. They are also unable to travel without permission from a male guardian and may not mix with unrelated men.
King Abdullah first announced that he was planning to name women to the Shura Council in 2011, when he also said they would be allowed to vote and stand as candidates in the 2015 municipal elections.
One of the royal decrees published on Friday by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) amended an article in the Shura Council's statute to guarantee women representation on the body, while the other named the 150 members, among them 30 women.
The king said he had consulted religious scholars, who had approved the participation of women in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law).
"Women... will enjoy full rights of membership, be committed to their duties, responsibilities and assume their jobs," he added.
The first decree also stated that special seating would be allocated for women inside the Shura Council building, and that a special entrance and exit would be built to ensure segregation of male and female members.
Two of the women appointed are princesses. One is the daughter of the late King Faisal; the other is the daughter of the late King Khaled.
The council will also have four Shia members, one of whom is a woman. This represents an increase of one seat for the minority community, which makes up about 10% of the population.
'Opening doors'
Jeddah-based journalist Maha Akeel described the announcement as "a very big step forward".
She told the BBC that the women on the Shura Council would be "under pressure from conservative elements" within the kingdom, but she was confident they would be more than able to defend themselves.
However, there was a sense of disappointment on social networking websites, with users expecting little change from previous councils. On Twitter, people began using the hashtag "#The_new_Shura_Council_does_not_represent_me".
Ms Akeel said that while she could understand their frustration, young Saudis needed to be "more realistic, more optimistic".
"These women will bring fresh energy and insights to the council. Their participation will open doors for women," she added.
The announcement comes two days after the Saudi authorities controversially beheaded a Sri Lankan domestic worker convicted of killing a baby in her care.
On Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her deep dismay at the execution, and said she was deeply troubled by reports of irregularities in Rizana Nafeek's detention and trial. Her birth certificate also allegedly showed she was a minor when the baby died.
The commissioner expressed concern at the sharp increase in executions in Saudi Arabia in recent years, rising to 79 in 2012 from 27 in 2010.

Bahrain: Rights activist Maryam Alkhawaja risks arrest


A leading Bahraini human rights activist has returned to Bahrain to see her jailed father.

Maryam al-Khawaja, the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, flew into the capital Manama on Friday night.
She risks arrest under the country's strict laws governing criticism of the king on social media sites.
Her father was convicted last year in military court of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Ms al-Khawaja, who has a Danish passport, has campaigned tirelessly outside the country on behalf of her father and against the government of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah.
The gulf island kingdom has been wracked by more nearly two years of anti-government protests that have left more than 60 people dead.
International human rights organisations have protested vigorously over Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's conviction and that of 19 others who were sentenced to varying terms up to life imprisonment.
They were convicted of the attempt to forcefully overthrow the government, violations of the constitution and legal code, and ties to foreign terrorist organisations.
But lawyers acting for the convicted men told the BBC that confessions were obtained under torture, a charge that was confirmed in November 2011 by an independent tribunal appointed by the king.
On arrival at the airport, Ms al-Khawaja was given a two-week visa. She left with members of her family.
She has said she wants to visit her father who last year staged a 110-day hunger strike in protest at his detention.
However a Bahraini human rights activist who asked not to be named told the BBC he was fearful that she would find herself serving a lengthy jail term.
"She could be charged over her tweets against the king and serve five years under a new law that was passed in December," he said.
Ms al-Khawaja's sister Zainab, who lives in Bahrain, has been detained repeatedly by authorities in the last year and has another court appearance later in the month for participating in illegal demonstrations.


UN chief regrets sentences on Bahrain activists

Ban calls for a national dialogue for Bahrain to address the ‘legitimate aspirations’ of all Bahrainis

United Nations: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expressing deep regret at a Bahrain court’s decision upholding the “harsh” sentences against 20 political activists and is calling for a national dialogue to address the “legitimate aspirations” of all Bahrainis.
Bahrain’s highest court on Monday upheld the 20 jail terms — including eight life sentences — for alleged plots to “overthrow” the state, that were originally handed down by a military court in June 2011.
Ban believes the only way to promote peace, stability, justice and prosperity in Bahrain is a dialogue where all communities can participate without fear or intimidation, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Tuesday.
The UN chief urged all Bahrainis to help create a peaceful atmosphere for such a dialogue to begin as soon as possible, Nesirky said.
Ban called on Bahrain’s government to follow through on its renewed commitment to judicial reform, Nesirky said.
In Geneva, UN human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said she regretted the convictions despite “conclusions of the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry and appeals by the international community concerning the judicial procedure and allegations of torture”.
“These persons are political and human rights activists and we are concerned they may have been convicted wrongly for legitimate activities,” Pouilly told a news briefing on Tuesday.
Widespread and excessive use of force, including confessions under torture, was detailed by the commission of international legal experts in November 2011, and they recommended measures to stop such practices.
— with inputs from AP and Reuters

Bahrain: Rights activist Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha in first court hearing


A leading Bahraini human rights activist has made his first court appearance since being detained three weeks ago.

Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, vice-president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was arrested at an illegal gathering in December.
His case has been adjourned until 17 January and he remains in custody.
Nabeel Rajab, the president of BCHR, is serving a two-year jail term for his role in demonstrations last year.
Mr Muhafdha has been charged with using the social media to disseminate false news. If convicted he faces up to two years in jail.
Mr Muhafdha had already been held for 12 days in November after being arrested while monitoring an anti-government protest but was released without charge.
International human rights organisation have expressed dismay at what they call an orchestrated campaign by the government to curb protests online and in the streets.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, told the BBC the moves were "part of an attempt to harass, intimidate and ultimately silence voices of dissent in Bahrain."

Sheikh Ali Salman: Opposition Sentences Drive Revolution Forward

 Sheikh Ali Salman: Opposition Sentences Drive Revolution Forward
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Secretary General of al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Sheikh Ali Salman stated, in response to the Bahraini High Court's upholding of imprisoned opposition figures' jail sentences, that, "The revolution continues and the leaderships' sentences fuel the revolution with perpetuation."

He added on his Twitter account, "The High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay was right when she described these verdicts as political oppression," highlighting, "The verdicts accentuate the need for drastic reforms since the government that sentences an opposing opinion to life in prison must be overthrown."

On Monday, Bahrain’s highest court rejected the jailed activists' appeal and upheld their sentences for their roles in anti-regime protests in 2011.

Later in the day, al-Wefaq said in a statement that it considers "the verdict political and [it] reflects the absolute absence of an independent judiciary."

"The judiciary is being controlled and used by the regime in the political conflict to punish dissidents, and… the revolution must continue," the statement added.

In addition, Brian Dooley, director of the Human Rights Defenders Program at the US-based group Human Rights First, stated, "It confirms that the Bahrain regime is refusing to take its chances to reform and seems to be deepening its own human rights crisis.”

After the court ruling, anti-government protests broke out in Bahrain.

The demonstrators set tires on fire and blocked main roads in Manama and several towns and villages near the capital

The protesters called for the release of all jailed activists and demanded that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa step down.


Mars meteorite 'Black Beauty' is in a class of its own

A dark lump of rock found in the Moroccan desert in 2011 is a new type of Martian meteorite, say scientists.
Weighing 320g, the stone has been given the formal name Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034 - but is nicknamed "Black Beauty".
Its texture and chemistry set it apart from all previous objects picked up off the surface of Earth but known to originate on the Red Planet.
The researchers' analysis, reported in Science magazine, shows the meteorite to be just over two billion years old.
The study was led by Carl Agee from the University of New Mexico, US.
"It has some resemblance to the other Martian meteorites but it's also distinctly different in other respects," he told BBC News, "both in the way it just looks in hand sample, but also in its elemental composition."
There are just over 100 Martian meteorites currently in collections worldwide. They were all blasted off the Red Planet by some asteroid or cometary impact, and then spent millions of years travelling through space before falling to Earth.
Their discovery was mostly chance (few were seen in the act of falling) but their dark forms mean they will have caught the eye of meteorite hunters who scour desert sands and polar ice fields for rare rocks that can trade for tens of thousands of dollars.
Virtually all the Martian meteorites can be put in one of three classifications referred to as Shergotty, Nakhla, and Chassigny after key specimens. Scientists will often refer to these rocks simply as the SNC meteorites.
Prof Agee and colleagues argue that NWA 7034 now be put in its own class.
This rock is a basaltic breccia in character. It is made of a jumble of fragments that have been cemented back together in the high temperatures of a volcanic eruption. There are many examples of Moon meteorites that look this way, but no SNC ones.
Geochemically, NWA 7034 is dominated by alkali elements such as potassium and sodium. This is precisely what the robot rovers studying basalts down on the ground on Mars also see. This is not a trait seen in the SNC meteorites, interestingly.
Prof Agee's team also see much more water in the new meteorite - about 6,000 parts per million. That is about 10 times more water bound into the rock than is the case in the most water-rich SNC specimens.
This says something about the environment in which the rock formed, indicating there was a much greater abundance of water to interact with the basalt.
"This rock is from two billion years ago and a lot of the SNCs are from only about 200-400 million years ago," explained Prof Agee.
"And of course those most recent times on Mars have witnessed a cold, dry planet with a thin atmosphere. A lot of people believe that early Mars, on the other hand, was a lot warmer and a lot wetter, and maybe even a harbour for life.
"So, what happened in between? When did this transformation to drier conditions occur? Well, NWA 7034, because of its greater age, may be able to address those questions."
Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter:@BBCAmos