Monday, 28 February 2011

Algeria: Another man dies after setting himself on fire

On Sunday 27th February, a 25 year old man identified as L Abderrazak, set himself alight in Bordj Bou Arredidj 235km east of Algiers. El Watan daily reported that the man had suffered third degree burns and later died in hospital.

This latest case takes the toll of deaths by self immolation in Algeria since mid-January to five. According to the daily, Abderrazak resorted to setting himself on fire over a problem with his identity card.

The spate of self-immolations sweeping North Africa and the Middle East were set off by a young Tunisian in December, sparking the “Jasmine Revolution” which toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

On Saturday 26th February, 50 protesters attended a banned rally in Martyrs Square, Algiers, demanding greater democratic freedoms. Protesters led by the small RCD opposition party chanted: "Algeria, free and democratic!" and "The regime must go!"

Algerian security forces armed with shields and batons dispersed the protesters within two hours without any clashes. In a bid to appease the nation, the government has bowed to some demands by lifting a 19 year old state of emergency.

But, RDC spokesman,Mohsen Belabes, said:“The government is fooling us. On one hand it is saying that the state of emergency has been lifted. On the other hand, it is still using its police to prevent us from expressing our views."

Sources: AFP, Ahram, Sky News, News Australia, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Draft constitutional amendments and a travel ban on Mubarak

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has passed a draft of constitutional amendments to be approved by a national referendum. Under the proposed changes, the president would only be able to sever two four-year terms, not unlimited six year periods as it was under Hosni Mubarak.

The Council has requested that a panel of experts put forth prospective constitutional amendments to aid democratic reforms. The amendments suggested reinstating judicial oversight of the elections.

The changes are to be presented before a national referendum ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections, expected to be held in a matter of months. The amendments represent some of the demands made by the Egyptian opposition, including the limitation of presidential powers. The panel of experts have taken this into account by stipulating that a future president will be obligated to appoint a deputy.

Other changes would make it easier for individuals to run for presidency, and harder for the leader to maintain the state of emergency.

In other related news, Egypt's public prosecutor has issued a travel ban on Mubarak and his family. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said that the order also stipulated that all money and assets belonging to Mubarak and family are to be frozen.

Sources: BBC News, Bikya Masr , Aljazeera

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

DRS believed to have been behind 5-9th January riots

An analysis of Algeria's nationwide riots ('revolt') between 5-10th January has been undertaken by Algeria's opposition Rachad Movement. Its conclusion, based on their examination of what happened in most towns and cities across the country, is that the DRS almost certainly played a key role in both instigating and escalating the violence. This is a commonly used tactic by Algeria's security forces and one that Algeria Politics & Security warned might happen on several occasions last year when we forecast that nationwide unrest would overwhelm the country at some point after September-October.

At the time of the 5-10th January unrest, we reported that agents provocateurs, working for the security forces, had been identified playing a key role in the street violence that was specifically directed at shops and their looting. This strategy was designed to, and succeeded in, scaring many sectors of the population and turning them against the rioters who were portrayed by the state media as 'youths' and 'criminals'. This tactic was facilitated by the strategy of the police not to hold ground but retreating before the rioters and therefore allowing them to cause maximum damage.

Rachad's analysis concludes that this was a nationwide tactic of the DRS to ensure extensive damage to property, both private shops and government buildings, so that Algerians would be shocked and thus less inclined to embark on any further and more concerted attempt to overthrow the regime itself.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Oclabode George and his five co-convicts released

Former chairman of the board of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) deputy national chairman for the southwest, Oclabode George, and his five co-convicts were released on Saturday 26th February, from Lagos' KiriKiri maximum security prison where they were serving jail terms for fraud and abuse of office convictions.

George plus the former NPA managing director Aminu Dabo, plus Olusegun Abidoye; Abdullahi Tafida; Zanna Maidaribe and Sule Aliyu, have all reportedly served their two-year jail sentences and are consequently due for release.

In 2008, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned the six men on a whopping 163-count charge for offences related to the award of about N100 billion worth of contracts without adherence to the Public Procurement Act and due process; abuse of office and fraud. They were convicted of inflating contract prices in some instances and also splitting contract sums to evade the requirement for certification by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). George and others were convicted and sentenced in 2009 by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 25 February 2011

Algeria lifts 19 year long state of emergency

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has signed an order lifting the 19 year long state of emergency as a concession to the opposition, and a means to prevent the demonstrations spiralling further out of control.

Experts say that the government's decision might prevent the protests from gaining momentum, and eventually leading to Bouteflika's resignation. Ending the emergency powers was one of the demands made by opposition groups responsible for staging weekly protests in Algiers.

Originally, the state of emergency was imposed in order to help authorities' combat Islamist militants but, in the past few years, since militant activity has subsided, the Algerian government has been using the measure to suppress democratic freedoms.

US President Barack Obama has commended the Algerian government for lifting the measure, saying it was a positive sign that the government was taking heed of people's demands. He added that the US was hoping Algeria would also take other steps to allow the people greater freedoms.

Sources: Reuters, Voice of America, The Washington Post

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security .

Ghana prepares local content bill for oil and gas industry

A spokesman for Ghana's Ministry of Energy, Edward Bawa, said the ministry is in the process of completing a bill mandating local companies to provide as much as 90 per cent of the work in the country's fledgling oil industry within a decade of the project's initiation.

Bawa added that the draft legislation will also stipulate that Ghanaians should hold at least a 5 per cent equity stake in oil and gas service contractors. A committee working under the country's proposed oil industry regulator will be responsible for evaluating the projects to ensure they comply with regulation. Bawa added that the ministry will aim to have a plan for local content before the “inception of every project”.

The local content bill is one of three that the Ghanaian parliament will consider this year. The country's legislative body is at the end of completion of an oil revenue legislation that will create a sovereign wealth fund and allow Ghana to borrow against future government oil revenue. A third bill, establishing an industry regulator independent of the country's state-owned oil company, was submitted to parliament for consideration in December.

Sources: Bloomberg, PRLog, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

Abuja Federal High Court has exempted five governors from April election

Abuja Federal High Court has exempted five ruling party governors from facing re-election in April, as their terms have not yet expired. Judge Adamu Bello said the governors, who took up their posts a year after most of their colleagues, could not participate in the election "until 60 days to the expiration of (their four year) tenures."

Bello added that it would be "unlawful" and "illegal" for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to stage elections in Kogi, Adamawa, Sokoto, Bayelsa and Cross River states.

Speaking about his decision, Bello noted: “There is nowhere in the world where a constitution takes retroactive effect as erroneously held by INEC. The said amendment cannot be used to determine the tenure of the governors who took oath of office in 2008…INEC cannot validly conduct elections in the five states until 60 days to the expiration of the tenures of the present occupants. The notice of elections, received nominations, and timetable issued by INEC for the April 2011 elections are unlawful, illegal and contrary to section 180 of the constitution.”

The five governors who went to court to prevent the INEC from forcing them to take part in the elections before they had completed their full terms are: Ibrahim Idris of Kogi state; Timipriye Sylva, Bayelsa state; Liyel Imoke, Cross River state; Murtala Nyako, Adamawa state and Aliyu Wammakko of Sokoto state.

Sources: The Washington Post, My Joy Online, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

A suicide bomber strikes Ramadi killing at least eight

Iraqi authorities have said that a suicide bomber has killed at least eight people, commemorating the birth of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, in the western city of Ramadi. The attack also injured the deputy governor of Anbar province, Hikmet Khalaf, and killed several policemen.

Speaking about the attack Khalaf said:"We were in the middle of a ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of Prophet Muhammad's birthday when a male suicide bomber came to the door of the room and said 'God is great' and blew himself up."

The bombing occurred several hours after Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki called on the country to shun the planned mass protests on Friday 25th February. Al-Maliki said that militants, supporters of Saddam Hussein and members of the Al-Qa'ida may attempt to infiltrate the protests.

Addressing the nation on television al-Maliki said: "I call on you to be cautious and careful and stay away from this…Frankly speaking, they are planning to take advantage of tomorrow's demonstration for their own benefit.”

He went on to say that he did not object to peaceful protests, but added that "there are known factions... trying to jump on these legal demands and turn them in another direction that we certainly do not want."

The prime minister continued: “You can hold these demonstrations at any time or place you want, except for the place and time of a demonstration which Saddamists, terrorists and al-Qa'ida are behind…I am warning you about their plans, which are to change the course of [peaceful] rallies and protests, to... murder, riot, sabotage, hard-to-control strife, bombings."

The country's interior ministry has also warned the nation to be cautious, saying the militants may disguise themselves as security officials. The caution was seconded by two of Iraq's leading Shi'a clerics, Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Moqtada Sadr.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Reuters, USA Today

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Rousseff secures first victory over minimum wage bill

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has secured her first victory in a bid to curb government spending when the Senate voted to pass the government's monthly minimum wage bill.

The senators voted to raise the minimum wage by 6.8 per cent to 545 Reals and rejected two opposition proposals to lift the wage to a higher amount. By shunning the other proposals, the lawmakers avoided undermining the government's plan to trim 50 billion Reals from its budged. According to government estimates, more than two thirds of pensions and safety net-payments are indexed to the wage, so every one- Real increase raises annual spending by 300 million Reals.

On Wednesday 16th February, Rousseff's coalition in the lower house rejected opposition proposals to raise the wage to 560 Reals and 600 Reals. The vote sent yields lower, as traders trimmed bets on interest rate increases.

Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters, The Canadian Press

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

President Saleh orders security forces to protect demonstrators

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ordered his security forces to give protestors calling for his resignation "full protection". In an official statement released by State run Saba news agency, Saleh also instructed security to prevent direct confrontation between anti-government demonstrators and his supporters.

He called on both sides to take precautions against those who may try to infiltrate the protests and incite violence. It has been estimated that 15 people have been killed since the protests began two weeks ago. Several members of the ruling party have resigned over the government's handing of the demonstrations.

On Wednesday, security forces used tear gas and fired bullets into the air to disperse protesters in Aden, while two demonstrators were reportedly killed during confrontations in Sana'a. Thousands of Yemeni people have take to the streets to voice their frustrations over living standards, food prices and unemployment.

In a bid to appease the increasingly vociferous nation, Saleh has made some concessions and promised to step down when his term ends in 2013.

Sources: BBC News, Voice of America, New York Times

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

Qadhafi is losing control of Libya's borders

While the media speculation on how long Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi will stay in power continues, one thing seems clear: he is fast losing control of his country's borders.

Thousands of foreign nationals have been fleeing the country by both its eastern land border into Egypt and its western land border into Tunisia in recent days as Tripoli's airport struggles to cope with the number of people wanting to leave.

Reports from the border with Egypt have suggested that opposition forces have gained control of the border. According to the BBC there are no government officials at the border and formalities are at a minimum. A new flag is flying and a picture of Col Qadhafi has been cross out.

There are a series of checkpoints as you drive into Libya, which are armed by army and police officers, but they have all defected to the opposition. The BBC reports that locals are even acting as traffic police.

It is estimated that 1.5 million Egyptians were in Libya. An Egyptian security official told the Associated Press that about 5,000 Egyptians have returned home and about 10,000 more are waiting to cross the Libya-Egypt border.

A Korean news source has reported the story of nine Koreans working in Libya who drove for 67 hours through the desert on mostly unpaved roads to escape the country to Egypt. Their office in Tubruk had been looted over the weekend and a number of public buildings in the city were set on fire, they said.

Reports so far indicate that Qadhafi's forces have fared better on the Western border, and the plain green Libyan flag of his regime is still flying. Huge bottlenecks are reported at border crossings, although large numbers are getting through.

The International Organisation for Migration said on Wednesday 23rd February that thousands of foreign nationals were leaving by the western land border as well.

"Although a significant number are from Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, West Africa and the Horn of Africa, there are also migrants from other parts of the world including Asia," it said. "Among them are Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Chinese."

It also mentioned Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian and German nationals have left through the land border. IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said the arrivals began on late Tuesday.

Fleeing migrants said they had been stopped at checkpoints by pro-government soldiers who confiscated mobile phones, passports and other belongings, Chauzy said.

Many foreign ministries, including that of the UK, have started or will start evacuating their citizens from Libya by air and sea.

Sources: BBC, Reuters, Associated Press, JoongAng Daily

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Libya: Security of foreign personnel and assets

The probability of a deteriorating security situation in Libya, worst of all the continuation of the confusion in government control and the conflict on the streets, could mean a breakdown in law and order at all levels of the economy.

The security of foreign personnel and assets would feature as a low priority for the security services in a situation of anarchy. Most foreign companies would withdraw all their personnel or leave a caretaker group in charge of plant and equipment.

The preservation of physical assets would be difficult under this scenario and it must be expected that serious depredations would occur.

Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi survival, in these circumstances, would be at the cost of systematic damage to development projects and materials imported by foreign companies that wish to finish their contracts.

In the slightly more likely event of Colonel Qadhafi or his family eventually losing control, much would depend on the rapidity with which the new authorities could impose law and order. An army coup d'etat would have the advantage of keeping in place senior officers with experience of peace enforcement whereas an inexperienced group of new ministers and security staff would find it difficult to impose peace and quiet after such an explosion of violence.

The oil sector will be particularly at risk of clashes of opinion and policies. It is an area of activity to which foreign investment is critical for growth. Libya has no history of illegal seizure of assets in the oil industry but oil and gas production could possibly be hit, because in most scenarios some degree of radical thinking could affect the new ruling groups.

Nationalisation is not on the agenda of any of the groups bidding for power. The economic development programme could suffer from random withdrawal of funds. The experienced members of National Oil Company (NOC) will be unlikely to survive a change of government – possibly leaving the whole strategy and management of the oil business in disarray.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

New gas to reduce consumer power prices

Consumers will pay lower electricity rates from March onwards as power-generation costs decline with availability of natural gas from the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) which transports natural gas from the Niger Delta to Ghana via neighbouring Benin and Togo.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) chairman, Emmanuel Annan, told reporters in Accra on 15 th February that residential electricity users will see their rates fall as much as 6.2 per cent depending on consumption and industrial consumers will see a drop of between 11.8 and 15.9 per cent.

Annan said that water costs for residential consumers will fall between 1.2 per cent and 1.3 per cent from March to May, while industrial users will have their tariffs reduced by as much as 6.4 per cent.

Reacting to the latest development, Deputy Information Minister Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa told Citi News that the government had no part in the PURC's latest decision.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Vietnam: Inflation, again

The government's continued fight against inflation could be damaged by the latest devaluation. Inflation rose to 12.17 per cent last month, the highest rate since the government brought it under some control after the peak of 2008, when it reached over 24 per cent.

Inflation stood at over 10 per cent for much of 2010, well above the government target of 7 per cent of the year. While the devaluation may reduce Vietnam's reliance on imports, the burgeoning trade deficit could continue to expand. In January alone it reached $1 billion: imports of $7 billion and exports of $6 billion. The government is target¬ing a trade deficit of $14.2 billion for 2011, up from $12.4 billion in 2010.

Vietnam remains very reliant on imports, especially for consumer goods. In 2008, according to United Nations trade data, it imported $5 billion in steel, $1.5 billion in fertilisers, $2.4 billion in telecom equipment (mostly from China), $11 billion in petrol, and $2.7 billion in gold. However, exports continue to be mostly resource based, such as coffee ($2.1 billion), rice ($2.8 billion), and seafood ($3.8 billion), with oil accounting for $10.4 billion.

Continued government support for exports does not inspire much confidence, especially after the general failure of currency devaluations over the last 14 months either to increase exports or to reduce imports.

Dariusz Kowalczyk, Credit Agricole CIB's senior economist, questioned the government's focus: "It seems the authorities are trying to support exports and to support growth rather than to fight inflation. That's very surprising because inflation is a major problem." Well, one of several.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Libya: Indians surrender licence areas

State-owned Oil India (OIL) and its partner India Oil Corporation (IOC) have relinquished their two onshore Sirte basin oil exploration areas acquired in the first EPSA-IV licensing round in early 2005. OIL chairman and managing director NM Borah told journalists in Delhi on 27 January that the operations were not commercially viable and that the company had applied to NOC to give them up early in the new year.

OIL and IOC completed the minimum work programmes for both areas on time and on budget. They drilled a pair of exploratory wells in area 86 and one well in 102/4. "Though hydrocarbons presence has been established in the blocks, it was not found to be commercially exploitable," Borah told the Hindu Business Line, a Chennai-based business and financial online daily.

The companies are partners with Algeria's Sonatrach, which is the exploration operator in areas 95 and 96, obtained in the fourth licensing round in December 2007. The work programme is progressing on schedule.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Ten policeman killed by car bomb in Samarra

According to Iraqi police, a car bomb explosion in the city of Samarra has killed 10 policemen and wounded 16 others. The victims, part of a counter-terrorist squad unit, were sent to the city, 100km north of Baghdad, to protect Shi'a pilgrims during a religious celebration.

The latest attack comes nine days after a suicide bomber killed 33 Shi'a Muslims and injured 40 others at a bus terminal in the city centre. Victims of the attack were mostly Shi'a pilgrims returning home after attending a religious ceremony at the Al-Askari mosque.

The gold-domed mosque is dedicated to ninth century Imam Hassan al-Askari, making it a major Shi'a pilgrimage centre; it was mostly destroyed following a massive bombing in 2006, an attack blamed for starting the 2006-07 wave of sectarian bloodshed.

Overall violence in Iraq has dropped sharply recently, but bombings are still common. Attacks on Shia pilgrims have claimed hundreds of lives in recent months.

Sources: BBC News, RTT News , PressTV

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Two Iranian vessels enter Suez Canal

Maritime officials say two Iranian warships have entered Suez Canal and are making headway to the Mediterranean Sea. According to Iran, the ships are headed toward Syria for training. Israel has voiced concern about the mission, calling it a "provocation".

It is thought that the vessels are the first two to have passed through the waterway since Iran's Islamic Revolution, in 1979. They entered the “canal at 0545 (0345 GMT)".

Egyptian officials have been assured by Iran that the ships contain no military equipment or nuclear materials. The only way Egypt could have denied transit through the strategic waterway is if there was a threat of war. The Iranian ships are to be based at a Syrian port, thus solidifying the close ties between Damascus and Tehran.

Israel is concerned about Iran's latest undertaking as it considers the Islamic Republic a threat due to its controversial nuclear programme and support of Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups.

Last week, Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: "To my regret, the international community is not showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations. The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations.”

Sources: BBC News, Washington Post, Jerusalem Post, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Iraq: F-16 deal shelved

The government has backed out of its deal to purchase F16 fighter aircraft from the US. The agreement has been cancelled to free up money to spend on projects aimed at easing the social tensions that have erupted in the past weeks. Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh stated, “The F-16 contract has been postponed this year and the money has been diverted toward improving food rations.” Similarly, a member of the parliamentary finance committee, Mohamed Khalil, explained, “In the new draft budget for 2011 that was presented to us, $900 million was earmarked for the purchase of F-16s, which will be used to finance rations and social benefits.”

This deal had been approved by the cabinet at the end of January, following a series of delays caused primarily by the fact there wasn't a functioning government for much of last year. Although according to Dabbagh the deal was worth $900 million, a spokesman for US military forces in Iraq, Brig Gen Jeffrey Buchanan, has stated that the long-term value of the deal for 18 aircraft was more akin to $3 billion, including the ammunition, spare parts, training and other elements. According to one Iraqi general the aircraft were needed for the country's defence.

However, the government clearly deemed that the money would be better spent elsewhere. Yet despite the government's affirmations that the deal was cancelled to free up funds, rumours have been flying around inside Iraq that the Iranians pressurised the government to go back on the agreement because they were opposed to Baghdad's doing such a major deal with the Americans. Although such talk would appear to be unfounded, it isn't just coming from the street. This month one Iraqiya member claimed that the the deal was cancelled directly as a
result of Iranian pressure. However, as yet there is no further evidence to corroborate such claims.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Qadhafi says he is still in Tripoli

Libya's leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi has labelled foreign news agencies “dogs”, and dismissed reports that he has fled abroad amid protests sweeping the country. In an interview with State TV, Qadhafi said: "I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe these channels - they are dogs." Qadhafi's television appearance came shortly after Libyan security forces clashed with the demonstrators in Tripoli for the second day in a row.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Qadhafi on Monday 21st February, and shortly after announced that the UN Security Council is to meet in a closed session to discuss Libya. Ban Ki-moon said: "I urged him that the human rights and freedom of assembly and freedom of speech must be fully protected."

Libya's diplomats at the UN called for international intervention to stop the government's brutality against street demonstrations. Criticism over Qadhafi's handling of protesters has come from several senior figures, including Libya's diplomat in the US Ali Aujali who said, he was "not supporting the government killing its people". And, Deputy Permanent Representative Ibrahim Dabbashi who said his countrymen had to be protected from "genocide".

Meanwhile, Libyan State TV denied any unlawful killings, dismissing the reports as "baseless lies" by international media. One statement released by the Libyan broadcasting authority said: "You should know that this is part of the psychological warfare, lies and rumours which you should resist because they are aimed at demolishing your morale, stability and blessings for which they envy you…Rumours are a poison which you should not drink. False news peddled by satellite TVs are arrows which you should deflect towards their throats."

Sources: BBC News, Arab New , Aljazeera, ABC News

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Nabucco cost rises amid merger speculation

The ill-starred Nabucco project has taken yet another setback. According to a private BP cost assessment, the cost of the project, which would bring gas from the Caspian and the Middle East to Europe, has almost doubled from previous estimates. The consortium of European energy firms making up Nabucco’s shareholders insist that it will cost around €8 billion (itself an increase from earlier estimates), but the BP assessment obtained by The Guardian anticipates a price tag of around €14 billion.

The increased cost is largely due to soaring commodity prices, making the construction of the pipeline itself more expensive. The cost of iron ore, essential to steelmaking, has recently hit an all-time high of around $190 per tones, on the back of tightening supply from India and rising Chinese demand. It is not expected to decrease any time soon.

It is unclear whether the BP cost assessment also took into account Nabucco’s continuing confusion over suppliers. The consortium is rapidly realising that Iraqi rather than Iranian gas will be essential to filling the pipeline; however, running a line to the Iraqi border or upgrading the existing pipeline between Turkey and Iraq could increase costs even further. Nabucco Managing Director Reinhard Mitschek told AFP on 20th February that a line to Iraq would add an additional 550 km to the project’s already considerable length, and additional costs.

Perhaps alarmingly for Nabucco supporters who see the project as a means to diversify European gas away from Moscow, Mitschek also expressed a willingness to include Russian gas in the project. This position has been previously taken by Turkey, which is keen to become a regional energy hub, but has provoked bafflement amongst many in Brussels.

Aware of the need to get Nabucco moving, European energy officials have been pushing the consortium to merge with smaller rival projects, the Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy (ITGI) would use existing Turkish pipelines and thence through Greece and on to Italy. The shorter Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) would run across the southern Balkans and across to Italy. Neither project is anywhere near as ambitious as Nabucco and a merger could make sense, for instance by increasing the size of the pipeline across Turkey and jointly using it or by including the link to Greece and Italy as a subsidiary spur of Nabucco’s original route northwards to Austria.

Officials from all three projects have been cool on the idea of a merger, however. Underpinning their reluctance is that there are simply not yet supplies confirmed on the table, reducing the spoils over which to cooperate. Until sufficient suppliers are guaranteed, all the projects will remain hypothetical. However, the spiraling cost of the projects will be a powerful incentive for collaboration and, perhaps, an eventual merger.

Sources: Reuters, Financial Times, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

Algerian security forces stifle anti-government march

Latest reports from Algeria have confirmed that the country's security forces have stopped protesters staging an anti-government march through Algiers. Hundreds of demonstrators, from various groups, gathered in the capital's centre but were dispersed by armed police officers.

Over a week ago, Algerian security forces disrupted a similar rally in the capital calling for improved living standards and greater political freedom. In an interesting turn of events, Algeria's main opposition parties steered clear from Saturday's march, organised by the National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy. Leader of Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), Tahar Besbes was allegedly attacked by police during the conflict.

El Watan newspaper says about 1,000 protesters gathered, shouting slogans such as "Bouteflika out". Algeria's Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has said the government will lift a 19 year state of emergency by the end of the month.

Sources: BBC News, Voice of America, Sify

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi warns against civil war

Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's son Saif Al-Islam has made a lengthy speech on Libyan television, saying that there is a very real danger of civil war breaking out in the country. Saif al-Islam's address came as anti-governemnt protesters clashed with security forces in Tripoli. In a bid to appease the nation, he offered political reforms, and admitted that the security forces had made "mistakes", but challenged the death toll.

Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 233 people have been killed since Thursday 17th February. The group called on Libya to cease using brutal force and unlawful killing of the demonstrators with live ammunition.

Reports from Tripoli confirm the city to be mainly quiet, with little evidence of another uprising; however, government forces are still patrolling Green Square in case of disquiet.

During his televised address, Saif Al-Islam blamed everyone from foreigners, exiles, drug addicts, Islamists and the media for the crisis. He also offered concessions but warned of civil war if the trouble continued. He added that his father Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi would fight till the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.

Sources: BBC News, New York Times, Bloomberg, AP

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Algeria: Response of Western governments

The reaction of Western countries to last Saturday's demonstration and events in general in Algeria has been cautious. The UK, not surprisingly in view of its recent close support of the regime, has remained mute. Requests for comments from the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton over the weekend by the EU observer were reportedly ignored.

France and the US, both wrong-footed by the course of events in North Africa and trying to play catch-up, called on Algeria to allow anti-government protests.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters: "What is important in our eyes is that freedom of expression is respected and that the demonstrations are able to take place freely and without violence.” He said that France welcomed the Algerian government's promise of political concessions, including a pledge to lift a two-decade state of emergency welcomed as a "step in the right direction".

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was equally cautious. In a statement, he said: “We note the ongoing protests in Algeria, and call for restraint on the part of the security services. … We reaffirm our support for the universal rights of the Algerian people, including assembly and expression.”

From Brussels, head of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek demanded that Algerian authorities “refrain from violence and respect their citizens' right to peaceful demonstration. Any and all demonstrators arrested should be released immediately."

Buzek also said, "The continuing state of emergency is unjustifiable and clearly hampers Algeria's prospects for the fair, peaceful and sustainable development of the country. … Opposition groups, civil society, and especially young people should have the right to freely express their criticism of the government. No government can ignore the call of its people."

Algeria may find its strongest condemnation coming from Germany. In a statement on ARD television, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “The German government calls on the Algerian government to renounce all recourse to violence. These are demonstrators who want freedom, who are doing nothing more than exercising a human right, to know the right to defend with dignity their point of view. “As democrats we are on the side of democrats. I have already said that about Tunisia and Egypt. I say it again now in allusion to other countries."

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Former leader of Algeria's ruling party urges reform

Former leader of Algeria's ruling party Abdelhamid Mehri has urged President Abdulaziz Bouteflika to respond to the unrest sweeping the country by reshuffling his government. He said Algeria needed to undergo a radical change to coincide with the country's 50 years of independence from France.

In a letter to Bouteflika, Mehri said the government was no longer capable of addressing the nation's challenges. He noted that the “voices calling for a peaceful change of this system are many,” adding “this change cannot be postponed any longer".

Former leader of the National Liberation Front (FLN) Mehri played a key role in Algeria's struggle for independence. He was also instrumental in negotiating the Evian Treaty, ending 130 years of French colonial rule.

Algeria is one of several North African countries affected by large-scale demonstration and anti-government rallies. The demonstrators have pledged to continue with the protests until the government takes heed. There has been a heavy police presence at the rallies, and reports of dozens of arrests.

In a bid to appease the public, Algeria's Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has said the government will lift a 19 year state of emergency by the end of the month.

Sources: BBC News, Xinhua, Reuters, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Discontented Shi'a Muslims take to the streets in Bahrain

The demonstrations in Bahrain have been mostly by Shi'a Muslims associated with groups that have rejected the deal agreed by the main Shi'a political party (Al Wefaq) and the regime, under which there are 18 Shi'a members in the lower house of the parliament.

The majority of Shi'a appear to support the deal which allows a substantial Shi'a representation and accept for the time being (or have done up to now) the reality that the Sunni minority (40 per cent plus) get most seats in parliament (22 out of 40). King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa has made other moves to involve the Shi'a in government and decision making.

Several smaller Shi'a groups reject this arrangement and have been engaged in various forms of protest over the past 4-5 years including, on occasions, quite big demonstrations.

During the 1990s, there were several years of Shi'a rioting and low level violence mostly in rural areas against a constitution that allowed them virtually no representation. When King Hamad took power in 1999 he offered a new deal whereby the Shi'a appeared to be able to vote freely for a Lower House which would have the main say in parliament. He later altered this to an equal voice to the Upper House. Election arrangements for the Lower House are organised (i.e. gerrymandered) to ensure that the Shi'a are under-represented. The main Shi'a leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, recognising the fact that the Sunni control the defence and security services, and of course the ruling family, accepted the new arrangement and they have tried to negotiate changes to it. Salman believes that the Shi'a have more to gain by working with the regime than against it.

The current disturbances are, therefore, part of a long running problem and, so far, appear to affect only a section of the Shi'a population. The majority of the Shi'a, however, have not been able to make much progress in trying to negotiate with the King which has caused some loss of support to the minority groups. There are also strong suspicions that the regime has been granting nationality to Sunni from Jordan and other countries in an effort to increase Sunni demographic size. The situation is further complicated by divisions within the ruling family between a more liberal element that seem to be amenable to granting concessions to the Shi'a and a hard liner faction led by the King's uncle Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, that do not.

The situation will need to be watched. It is containable, as illustrated last night with the forced clearing of the protestors from Pearl Square, and the King has acted quickly to look into the deaths of Shi'a demonstrators. The King will want to ensure that demonstrators do not get greater support and no doubt will be worried by the Egyptian effect. He will also be aware that if the Shi'a get too violent Sunni groups may take it on themselves to confront the demonstrators.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Egypt's Supreme Military Council settles into its role

President Hosni Mubarak finally submitted to popular, and eventually military, pressure and reluctantly stood down on 11th February. On the previous day, he had made a speech saying that he was staying but would hand over some of his powers to Vice President Umar Suleiman. The large crowds in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Cairo were extremely disappointed, as was the US government, and called for a massive show of protest the following day. There was an enormous response in Cairo and other Egyptian cities but it remained peaceful. It was the sheer size and spread of the protest that finally brought down Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power.

Umar Suleiman, who has not been heard of since 11th February, said that power was being handed over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Shortly afterward, the Council confirmed that it would take over the administration of the State for a period of six months or until parliamentary and presidential elections could be held. It suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament, and said it would rule by decree.

The chair of the Supreme Military Council (Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi) would represent it “internally and externally” while the Council would set up a committee to amend the constitution and prepare for a popular referendum to endorse its proposals. In the meantime, the government led by former commander of the Air Force, Ahmad Shafik, would continue as before until a new one can be formed.

Crucially, the Council announced that it accepts all of Egypt's international agreements. A move intended to show that it was committed to the peace treaty with Israel.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

South Sudan names itself

South Sudan has been chosen as the name of what will be the world's newest country when it comes into existence on 9th July, ending months of speculation.

Other suggested names had included Nile Republic and Cush, a reference to a Biblical-era kingdom in the area.

Some 99 per cent of southern Sudanese voted for independence from the north of Sudan in a referendum held in January.

The name decision was announced after a meeting of the top committee of the south's ruling SPLM party.

The SPLM's Secretary General Pagan Amum said the decision, made by the party's politburo, will require approval by parliament.

But that is a formality as the SPLM holds the vast majority of seats in the assembly.

Mr Amum said negotiations were under way with the north about how to go forward with the partition and he warned of the challenges ahead.

"We are a baby nation that has just been born - and like a human baby, we are fragile but have the potential to become great," AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

He said the current pound currency would be replaced by a new currency, also to be called the pound.

The referendum on independence for the oil-rich south was part of a deal to end decades of north-south conflict.

The week-long vote itself passed off peacefully, but tension remains high in parts of the oil-rich area which straddles the north and south.

Many issues remain to be resolved before the new country is formed, including how to deal with oil revenue. The south of Sudan contains most of the oil fields, but they have to be transported through the north.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which brought the civil war to an end in 2005, the two sides split oil revenues evenly, but Amum announced on Tuesday 15th February that would not be the case any longer.

"The notion of sharing wealth will not be there. There is no continuation, whether 50 percent or anything," Amum said according to Reuters.

He said they will only pay a fee for using the pipelines that transport the oil to Port Sudan.

The fate of the oil-rich Abyei region is yet to be determined, although Amum said the SPLM will hold talks with the north's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) on Friday 18th February to discuss the region.

The Abyei region was supposed to have its own referendum on which State to join in January, but it was postponed when the two sides could not agree on voter eligibility.

Last week, some 200 people were killed in south Sudan's Jonglei state in fighting involving those loyal to rebel leader George Athor. Most of those killed were civilians. The SPLM has accused the north of backing Athor, while Athor blames the clashes on the southern army.

Sources: BBC News, Sudan Tribune

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Iran protestors clash during funeral

Fresh clashes have broken out between pro and anti government demonstrators in Tehran during the funeral of a student killed in the protests on Monday 14th February. The opposing groups claim the victim to be one of their own, but it is yet unclear which side Sanea Jaleh belonged to. Jaleh was one of two men killed on Monday when thousands of people took to the streets in more than a year.

The clashes, similar to those that have recently swept North Africa and the Middle East, transpired during Jaleh's funeral procession in central Tehran. Police blocked off streets near Tehran University, and only a select number of people could join in the procession.

A report on State-owned channel said: "Students and the people attending the funeral ceremony... have clashed with a limited number of people apparently linked to the sedition [opposition] movement and forced them out by chanting slogans of death to hypocrites." It gave no further details of the injuries.

On Monday, thousands of supporters of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, both currently under house arrest, took to the streets in a bid to voice their frustrations. Shortly after the demonstrations, a number of Iranian MPs have called for the two opposition leaders to be executed.

Responding to the call, Karroubi stated: "I am not afraid of any kind of threat and as a soldier of this great nation for the past almost 50 years, I am ready to pay any price." In a separate statement about the protests, Mousavi said the rally on the 14th February was “a great achievement”.

Sources: BBC News, FT, New York Times, AFP, Aljazeera

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Fourteen dead in Benghazi protests

The news during the past week has inevitably centred on the proposal by youth groups, who have been using social media warfare, that there should be mass peaceful marches on 17th and18th February, the anniversary of the 2005 riots in Benghazi, to demonstrate against the lack of human rights.

The marches have been pre-empted by major protests in Benghazi on the night of Tuesday 15th February. They were apparently triggered by the arrest of Fathi Terbil who represents the families of the victims of the 1996 Abu Selim prison massacre when up to 1000 prisoners were killed. Although Terbil was later released, the protests continued.

There has been no independent confirmation, however, of the overnight protests in which eyewitnesses claim that at one stage involved around 2,000 people. Stones were thrown at police who are said to have responded with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. According to a Reuters report in the online edition of Libya's privately-owned Quryna, 14 people were injured, including 10 police officers.

Later, State television showed several hundred people in Benghazi voicing their support for the government which has not yet commented on the events. One eye-witness said that "a couple of people in the crowd started chanting anti-government slogans and the crowd took that on”. He went on, "But then there were clashes with pro-government supporters and then after a bit the pro-government supporters were dispersed and then the security services arrived and they dispersed the crowds with hot-water cannons."

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Terror threat increases as Baku-Iran tensions mount

In late January, the US Embassy in Baku issued a warning to its citizens in Azerbaijan of a terrorist threat against American interests. On 11th February, the Embassy reiterated its warning, stating that “[t]he threat remains serious”. No further information was provided.

In a parallel development, on 15th February Israel's Foreign Ministry said that several of its embassies had received information on specific threats in Azerbaijan as well as Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and others. The exact reason has not been publicly disclosed, but numerous reports attribute the increased state of alert to the upcoming third anniversary of the death of Imad Mugniyeh.

Mugniyah was a senior military commander in Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'a militant group, until he was assassinated by a car bomb in Damascus in February 2008. Since then, reprisal attacks have been plotted and thwarted on several occasions, including in Baku in mid-2008 when alleged Hezbollah agents tried to blow up the Israeli Embassy. Iranian backing was suspected, as it was in several other recent terror plots in Azerbaijan (although nothing was ever proven).

As well as the anniversary of Mugniyeh's death, the recent increase in the Baku threat levels also coincides with other interesting developments. On 10th January, police arrested the head of the Azerbaijan Islamic Party (AIP), a small unregistered outfit, for calling for the overthrow of President Ilham Aliyev's government. The call from Movsum Samadov came following a ban on wearing the hijab in public buildings, a ruling which Samadov denounced.

Iranian officials have criticised the arrests, sparking a tumult of anti-Iranian sentiment in Baku. It is perhaps unsurprising, given the repeated accusations that Iran is interfering in Azerbaijan's affairs, allying with Azerbaijan's arch-rival Armenia, and attempting to export its own brand of revolutionary Shi'a Islam (through groups such as the AIP).The government, however, appears to be encouraging public anger: it made no move to stop the protests, and reportedly instructed television stations to broadcast an anti-Iranian documentary.

Drawing a link between the Tehran-Baku animosity, and the increased threat levels to the US and Israeli embassies, could be a leap of the imagination. The resurgence of Islam in Azerbaijan, however, supported in many cases by Iran, is undoubtedly causing concern in Baku. The AIP arrests and the terror alerts may not be directly linked, but they are all part of a much larger and much murkier picture.

Sources: Eurasianet, APA, RFE/RL

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

Parliament to pass petroleum revenue bill

Parliament is preparing to pass the petroleum revenue management bill after wrangling over key issues delayed its passage late last year. Parliamentary spokesman Jones Kugblenu said on 9th February that the House is “working towards passing the bill on Friday (11th February),” adding that work could be extended into the following week. “They have gone over all the controversial issues now”, he said.

Majority Leader Cletus Avoka said that Parliament would pass the bill before 17th February, when President John Atta Mills is scheduled to address the House.

However, Ghana's Deputy Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Henry Ford Kamel told a 9th February mining meeting in South Africa that he hoped the bill would be passed “by July”.

The government had hoped to pass the bill before first oil production started on 15th December.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Yemen: Four days of protests result in violent clashes

Anti-government protestors have clashed with Yemen's security forces, on the fourth consecutive day of demonstration in the country's capital Sana'a; as thousands of demonstrators, calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, came up against a crowd of Saleh supporters.

Police fired tear gas into the crowds to disperse them, while the protestors chanted: "After Mubarak, Ali". There were also reports of clashes between pro and anti government supporters south of the capital in Taez.

It is estimated that over 3,000 protestors clashed in Tahrir Square, some armed with broken bottles, daggers and stones. Police locked several thousand people inside the local university to minimise the violent confrontations.

Saleh is reportedly preparing to hold talks with opposition groups on possible political reforms, in an attempt to prevent his overthrow before time as he promised to stand down in 2013, and assured the nation that his son would not replace him in office.

Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

Anti-government demonstrations continue in Algeria

On Sunday 13th February, 2,000 protesters clashed with Algeria's security forces in the eastern city of Annaba, as the opposition announced another major anti-government rally set to take place on 19th February.

The US called on Algeria's security to exercise restraint following clashed between protestors and the police which led to dozens of people being arrested. US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said: “We reaffirm our support for the universal rights of the Algerian people, including assembly and expression."

Demonstrations also spread to other cities across the country, mirroring those that took place in Tunisia. A spokesman for National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), Mustepha Bouchahi, said “people braved the ban to demonstrate peacefully," and condemned “the brutal behaviour of the security forces."

A day later, hundreds of youths clashed with security during protests in the northern town of Akbou. It is estimated that around 30 people have been injured after police used tear gas and batons to control the crowds protesting over unemployment.

The protests have been ongoing intermittently since early January, and show little sign of subsiding. Experts say the revolt draws on people's frustrations with the ruling elite and a lack of political freedom, as well as rising costs of living, poor housing and unemployment.

Sources: The Guardian, BBC News, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

One shot dead by Iranian security forces during protests

On Monday 14th February, thousands of anti-government protestors took to the streets in Tehran, chanting: "Death to dictators". Reports have emerged that one man was killed during the demonstrations when security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds.

Iranian human rights activists confirmed the fatality, and said several more people were injured during the clashes. Days ahead of the rally, two Iranian opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were put under arrest. Speaking from his home in Tehran, Mousavi said the protests showed that the Green Movement, formed to challenge the disputed 2009 election, has secured a “great victory” and was “alive and well” despite a huge government crackdown.

The authorities refused to issue a permit for the demonstrations, speaking about it Moussavi's aide, Amir Arjomand said: “If the government had issued a permit and guaranteed the safety of the people there would certainly have been millions of people out in Tehran and other cities.”

The unrest is a great embarrassment to the Iranian government, who has shown that it will not hesitate to stifle it with deadly force. Breaking an official silence on the events, the semi-official State news agency Fars quotes government sources as saying that the demonstrations had been conducted by “hypocrites, monarchists, hooligans and seditionists” whose leaders were puppets of Britain and the US.

Speaking about events in Iran, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for the thousands of people who took part in the protests. She said they deserved to have "the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt" and that there “needs to be a commitment to open up the political system in Iran”.

Sources: BBC News, New York Times, AP, Sky News

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Eleven people killed in an election rally stampede

Eleven people have been killed in a stampede at an election rally in the southern city of Port Harcourt, which was part of President Goodluck Jonathan's election campaign ahead April's poll.

According to Nigerian officials, at least 29 other people were injured in the incident, which took place in a crowded sports stadium. Jonathan has called for an investigation to determine how the stampede began, and said it was "sad, unfortunate and regrettable," adding, "I mourn with those who mourn."

According to reports, the crowd was dispersed by security firing warning shots into the air. Speaking about the incident, Jonathan's assistant on international affairs, Ken Saro-Wiwa, said: "There was a huge crowd, the place was completely full…It is a sad end to what had been a great day."

Sources: AP, BBC News, The Independent, Aljazeera

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi arrested ahead of rally

Iranian security forces have placed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi under house arrest, in a bid to prevent him attending a rally in support of Egypt's revolt. Mousavi is one of several opposition figures to have been recently censored; another one, also under house arrest, is Mehdi Karroubi.

A number of opposition factions pledged to take part in the rally, which has been banned by the authorities. Iran's government, however, has been officially supporting Egypt's protests but says the rally is a "political move" by the two opposition leaders.

The country's police blocked the lane leading to Mousavi's house and disconnected his mobile phone and land lines. Last week, the authorities also detained a dozen people close to the opposition leader.

Iran has increased security in Tehran, blocked access to certain internet domains, and has clamped down on several satellite news channels. The government is acting in a bid to suppress any fledgling anti-government movements, last seen in 2009, against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Opposition supporters, however, revived a tactic from the unrest, shouting "Allahu Akbar," [God is Great], in a sign of defiance toward Iran's leadership.

Sources: BBC News, AP, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Trend News Agency

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

More anti-government protests in Yemen

Anti-government protestors and supporters of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh have clashed in violent attacks in Taiz, south of Sana'a. Reports have emerged that police fired arms into the air in order to disperse the crowds, but was unable to do so.

The demonstrations, inspired by those sweeping the Middle East, have been going on sporadically for a couple of weeks. During an uprising in the capital, protestors outside Sana'a University chanted, "Hey Ali, get out, get out…There is no solution except to leave."

Police intervened in the protest by building a wall between the two groups of demonstrators, consisting of 500 anti-government protesters and 100 supporters of Saleh. Anti-government protestors have been going strong in recent weeks, attracting as many as tens of thousands of people.

In order to appease the increasingly discontented public, Saleh offered significant concessions, including a pledge to step down in 2013. But, the protests seem far from over as the last couple of days confrontations between the two groups turned violent and saw rival members beating each other with batons and fists.

Police intervention has been reported to be unnecessary brutal, and liberal in its use of electroshock tasers. Voicing her concerns, Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson, confirmed that, “government security forces brutally beat and tasered peaceful demonstrators” without provocation.

Sources: Reuters, BBC News, New York Post, PA

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

Egypt military rule may ban protests

Egypt's security forces are overseeing the final removal of anti-government protestors from Tahrir Square. Most of the protestors left the square over the weekend, believing President Hosni Mubarak's resignation will mean a clean slate for Egypt.

The country's new military rulers have said they will dissolve parliament and suspend the constitution. The military, who took-over after Mubarak stepped down on Friday, intends to remain in power for six months or until the next presidential election. Reports have also emerged that the military is going to ban public protests in order to maintain peace; however, many believe that this could incite unrest among Egyptians who may see it as an infringement of their new found freedom.

The whereabouts of Mubarak are still unclear, but it is believed that he is staying in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. Some people have demanded that Mubarak stand trial for the death of all those killed during the 18 days of demonstrations. Mubarak's next move is unclear, but there is little doubt that the military faces a big challenge in trying to keep Egyptians content.

There have been reports of possible demonstration unless the demands of the people are met. Egypt's temporary Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, said the country's main priority was to restore the Egypt's security. He noted: "Our main concern now as a cabinet is security - we need to bring back a sense of security to the Egyptian citizen…Parallel to that we also want to ensure that the daily life of all Egyptians goes back to normal and that basic needs like bread and healthcare are available."

Sources: BBC News, CNN, FT, Irish Times

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

Jonathan appears to be resisting moves by rival factions

President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be resisting moves by rival factions in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to get him make him to intervene in the current crises in the party over the list of candidates. There have reportedly been moves by rival candidates in Ogun, Oyo, Enugu and Abia states to get Jonathan's support. Currently, there is uncertainty about the candidates that the PDP will present in the four states because there are court orders and counter-orders on the party's lists.

In addition, many of the affected candidates are uncertain about their political future because will be difficult, if not impossible for them to content the election under the umbrella of an alternative party after Monday 14th February. That is the deadline for the political parties to withdraw or substitute their candidates for the forthcoming elections in April.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had published the names of all the prospective candidates in the April 2011 general elections. In most of the States there have been few surprises but, in these four States where the primaries were contentious, there were a few candidates who failed to win the status of being “ INEC-approved ” candidates for the general election.

In Ogun State, where the PDP primaries were particularly contentious and led to the two separate factions. One was allegedly spearheaded by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in cahoots with the Minister of Commerce and Industry Jubril Martins-Kuye, while the other was led by outgoing Governor Gbenga Daniel. The two conducting separate primaries which came up with two different sets ofcandidates. However the Obasanjo faction recorded a major coup by beating Daniel's faction to the punch and getting its own list approved and published by INEC .

A notable casualty from the latter's unsuccessful faction is the Speaker of the House of Representatives , Dimeji Bankole, who had suddenly defected from the Obasanjo faction to the Gbenga Daniel faction. This was surprising because of the well documented hostility between Bankole and Daniel. Unfortunately for Bankole, his gamble failed to pay off because the INEC rejected the list produced by the Gbenga Daniel faction. The governor also lost out because he had won the senatorial ticket in the PDP primaries organised by his faction.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 11 February 2011

President Hosni Mubarak resigns

In a television broadcast on State TV, Egypt's Vice President Omar Suleiman delivered the news of President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, and said that the power will be handed over to the military.

The announcement came on the eitghteen day of protests in Cairo. Protesters responded to the news of Mubarak's departure with cheers and chants: “The people have brought down the regime."

Suleiman said Mubarak has handed the power over to the high command of the armed forces. He said: "In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country."

According to government officials, Mubarak has left Egypt and is in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where he has a residence.

Sources: The Guardian, Egypt Daily News, BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

Iran's new ambassador welcomed by Bouteflika

On Sunday 6th February, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika met Iran's new ambassador to Algiers, Mahmoud Mohammadi. In his welcoming speech, Bouteflika threw Algeria's weight behind Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Bouteflika went on to say that Iran and Algeria share common positions on the main global issues, and expressed his country's resolve to strengthen bilateral ties and to consult with Iran in international organisations and bodies.

Bouteflika also noted that Iran has established amicable relations with Muslim countries, stressing that it had never attacked another country. Mohammadi, for his part, said that Iran was committed to strengthening ties with Algeria in all fields.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Rebels clash with Southern Sudan's army killing 16

Rebel loyalists of George Athor have attacked Southern Sudan's army, overlooking ceasefire, and killing at least 16 people. The rebels blew up two army trucks near the town of Fangak, in Jonglei state. Athor took up arms last year, alleging fraud in state elections, but signed a ceasefire last month.

The attack comes in the midst of Southern Sudan's preparation to secede from the north in July. An overwhelming majority of 99 per cent of southerners voted in favour of independence in last month's referendum.

Army spokesman Philip Aguer said four soldiers and 12 rebels were killed, but anticipated more dead bodies, adding: "We are still waiting for full details of the casualties." According to Aguer, the rebels planted land mines on two site in Jonglei state on Wednesday 9th February. A day later, violence broke out in Fangak, but the rebels fled when confronted by Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

Athor took up arms in April 2010, and was accused by the south of being used by the north to incite trouble before the referendum. He agreed to the ceasefire deal with the SPLA days before the voting began, but did not attend the signing ceremony.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AllAfrica

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

Egypt in turmoil

President Hosni Mubarak has dashed hopes and confounded dashed hopes and confounded expectations by using a televised address on State television last night to declare he would not budge. In effect, he said he was stepping aside, not down by handing over some unspecified powers to his newly appointed vice president and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

The move, or rather lack of one, came at the end of an extraordinary few hours. They began with the issuing of Communiqué Number One from the military command council. The communiqué itself was bland and uninformative:

“The Higher Army Council held a meeting today under Hussein Tantawi the head of the armed forces and minister of defence to discuss the necessary measures and preparations to protect the nation, its gains and the aspirations of the people. The council decided to remain in continuous session to discuss measures that can be taken in this regard.”

Historians of the Arab world, however, will recognise that the first intimation of a coup traditionally is the seizure of the radio station and the broadcast of a communiqué by a group of sometimes unknown army officers.

The army communiqué was followed by statements from the new secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party Hossam Badrawi and the prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, that President Mubarak was going.

The president's decision not to go but to soldier on until elections in September raises questions about the role of the army. There is no disputing that the protestors in Tahrir square feel deeply insulted by the patronising tone adopted by the incumbent president. Essentially, each side is now appealing to the armed forces to forgo its neutrality and take sides in this constitutional impasse. But it is yet unclear whether it will.

The army has now issued a Communiqué Number Two which "confirms the lifting of the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances end," a pledge that would eradicate a 30-year law that protesters say is used to suppress dissent.

In an interview publicised shortly before the second communiqué, Egypt's leading opposition figure Mohamed El Baradei said the army "has to side with the people".

Speaking about the prospect of some of Mubarak's powers being transferred to Suleiman, El Baradei noted: “The people on the street feel the same way about Suleiman as they feel about Mubarak. He is to them only a mirror image of Mubarak."

We will, of course, keep you informed of any significant developments.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Egypt's future heavily dependent on the army

As the protests enter their third week, the protagonists seem emboldened rather than cowed by their success. Yet some elements remain constant. The regime seems to have grasped that they have misjudged the scale of the movement but have not the flexibility of approach that can either engage with the protestors or defuse the situation.

On the other side, the protest movement seems to be as incoherent as before; perhaps more so. What began as a movement that encompassed mainly the better-educated young professionals is now absorbing all sorts of other groups that have a grievance, including many workers wanting for higher pay.

Three possible outcomes can be envisaged:

> The first is that the regime and the protest movement reach some form of compromise. This would be a first, given the very limited experience in the Arab world of sharing power. Assuming that a presidential system of government were maintained, it would also mean choosing a candidate acceptable to both sides, which would be an immense challenge.

>The second is that the regime makes reforms sufficient to defuse the protests by co-opting some, at least, of the protestors. At present, this looks highly unlikely. The regime up until now has been making concessions that appear to those still protesting as too little, too late.

> The third option would be for the regime, or elements within it, to mount a coup and seek to suppress the protests by force. It is questionable whether the regime has the forces to impose itself in such a way, now that the genie is out of the bottle.

It is too early to see how it will play out. Fears of chaos and collapse have so far proved premature. But Egypt is facing a very uncertain time. Much depends as always on the role of the army. There are reports that it is increasingly siding with the people. And there are also reports that it has been behind many of the detentions of protestors. Is it sitting on the fence or having a foot in both camps?

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Clashes between police and opposition protesters in Lafia

There have been severe clashes between the police and opposition protesters in Nigeria's north central state of Nasarawa. Police fired tear gas and open gunshots to disperse the crowds causing chaos, and burning tires in the streets. The outbreak of violence follows the stoning of President Goodluck Jonathan's convoy in Lafia earlier this week while he was campaigning for April's election.

A police official in Abuja said that the gubernatorial candidate, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, of the Congress for Progressive Change party, who was allegedly involved in the stoning incident, remains in custody awaiting decision about whether or not he will be charged. According to police reports, Al-Makura was embroiled in the jeers and pelting that marred the flag off of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) presidential election campaign.

Jonathan, the presidential candidate for the ruling PDP in April's elections, is on a campaign tour of several northern states. The PDP has a tradition of alternating presidential power between the north and the south every two terms, thus Jonathan's candidacy is controversial in the north as he is a southerner.

Sources: BBC News, AllAfrica, NEXT

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.