Thursday, 21 April 2011

Egypt: Thousands demonstrate over appointment of Coptic governor in Qena

Thousands have been demonstrating on successive days about the appointment of a Coptic governor in Qena, south of Cairo. Protestors have blocked the main road and rail links between Cairo and Upper Egypt. The cabinet has called on the interior minister to intervene to restore order.

On 15 th April, the military-backed interim government appointed 20 new governors across Egypt to replace those who served under former president Hosni Mubarak. Among the new appointees was a former police general Emad Mikhail, who is a Copt . He replaces another Christian governor, Magdy Ayoub, who was regarded as ineffectual. Protesters have been chanting “We want a Muslim governor .”

The protestors have been led by radical Salafist Muslims who want a return to the ways of the past and have been bitterly opposed to the Coptic church. Qena, like other provinces, has a much higher proportion of Coptic Christians than the national mean of about 10 per cent.

Two Muslims were killed when a row over a speed bump in Minya province developed into a sectarian riot. A curfew has been imposed on the town of Abu Qorqas after a dispute between two families escalated into clashes between Muslims and Christians.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued new travel advice after the disturbances in Qena. “ We advise against all but essential travel to the city of Qena. There have been protests - some violent - in the southern Egyptian city of Qena and its surroundings districts. Reports on 18th and 19th April suggest the protests are sectarian in character. Road and railway lines through the Province have been blocked by protesters. You should check with the local authorities or your tour operator before travelling through the Province of Qena and consider alternative routes when using road or rail networks.”

The FCO also retains its standard advice that there “is a high threat from terrorism in Egypt. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in public places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers, such as hotels and restaurants.”

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Sudan: At least 20 soldiers killed in a clash with rebels

According to Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), at least 20 South Sudanese soldiers have been killed in a deadly clash with rebel fighters. A spokesman for SPLA said the soldiers were killed when the militants attacked a village in Unity State.

It is believed that the attack commenced when army trucks hit landmines set by the rebels, which later led to the deadly clashes. The new rebel group, calling itself South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), said the attack was only the "start of the offensive." A spokesman for the group, Bol Gatkuoth Kol, explained its objective by stating: "The government has failed miserably. It must go."

The SSLA, lead by former SPLA commander Peter Gadet, has voiced disapproval of South Sudan's government, saying it was corrupt and incapable of enforcing law and order in the region.

Oil-rich South Sudan is due to separate from the North in July, following an overwhelming secession vote in a referendum in January under a US-backed 2005 peace treaty which ended decades of conflict.

Earlier this year, the South's ruling party Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) accused Khartoum of funding rebel groups in order to destabilise the South before it achieves independence on 9th July, a charge both Khartoum and the rebels have denied.

Sources: BBC, RTT News, Miami Herald, Bloomberg, Sudan Tribute

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

Algeria: New citizens' initiative launched

On 13th April, a group of some 30 heads of enterprise and international experts based in Algeria launched Nabni (We build), a citizens' initiative aimed at generating ideas to improve the social and economic outlook of Algeria in a non-political and democratic manner. According to the spokesman for Nabni, Abdelkrim Boudra, “Nabni is an apolitical, non-partisan citizens' initiative, started by young Algerians who want to suggest concrete economic and social solutions to improve the daily lives of Algerians.”

The organisers have launched an internet site,, and are encouraging ordinary Algerians to make concrete and simple proposals, which will then be voted upon. The 10 most popular measures will be put to the Algerian authorities every Wednesday.

Nabni has already made some basic suggestions to start off its campaign. These include asking the government to reduce by 20 per cent the documents required for the 20 most common administrative procedures for Algerians; the creation of a free phone information line and website to report administrative abuses; launching a pilot scheme to direct financial aid in rural areas to those who need it most; and measures aimed at simplifying the procedure for starting up new businesses.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Libyan oil sector in a state of disrepair

In the key oil sector the Libyan regime has pursued a policy of destruction rather than preservation of the oil installations along the Gulf of Sirte. ENI announced on 14th April that it planned to transfer much of its oil stored in Libya to a safe Italian base as soon as possible. Their intention is to rescue some of their assets, not an easy matter, because the continuation of oil exports cannot be relied upon. Indeed, the revolutionary authorities have stated that further oil exports will be held back until repairs are effected at two oilfields – Mesala and Sarir.

Doubtless, legal wrangling will be acute between the two sides in determining which of the governments in Libya should be in receipt of revenues and taxes arising from oil exports. A strong lobby including the French, whose government has already recognised the Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) as the legitimate administration, UK and Qatar favours retaining all payments frozen until such time as there is arbitration on the ownership of the oil shipped.

Throughout the country security is poor and few establishments are functioning at other than low capacity. For the moment, foreign concerns are sheltered while Libyan nationals are heavily engrossed in the political turmoil but almost inevitably life will become difficult depending on their support for or against Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's regime.

The local staff in Tripolitania could turn antagonistic to foreign employers should NATO help to usher in new victories for the eastern Libyans.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Vietnam: Twelfth National Assembly fires last shot

As its tenure drew to a close with a short meeting this month before dissolution in order to prepare for the May election, the 12th National Assembly took one last pot shot at the government by rejecting the Capital Bill.

The bill had already been discussed by the National Assembly in May 2010 and was rejected at that time with the request that drafters make alterations.

The proposed law would have set Hanoi apart from other provinces by giving it its own migration controls and resident rules, its own zoning rules and guidance, and its own financial policies and priority access to government funds for infrastructure and other investment.

Some delegates thought the law was unconsti¬tutional. Others thought that many of the rules it outlined were valid but ought to cover major urban areas Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Hai Phong and not just Hanoi. Of particular concern was the residency registration requirement that would require those not registered in Hanoi to gain official employment and registration before moving there.

Delegates voted 35.9 per cent in favour and 44.83 per cent against the bill. As one delegate put it, "Basically the dishes are still being prepared by the central government. But now it's the decision of the National Assembly on whether to eat or not."

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Ghana: Nana Rawlings quits as NDC's first vice chairman to challenge Mills

Wife of former president Jerry Rawlings, Nana Rawlings, has said she will challenge President John Atta Mills in her party's upcoming primaries.

A letter to the National Democratic Congress (NDC) general secretary dated 14th April said that Rawlings was resigning from her position as NDC's first vice chairman so she could seek her party's nomination for the presidency in the July primaries. This is the first time a sitting president has been challenged by a member of the ruling party for the party's nomination.

The Presidency has downplayed the news. Director of Communications Koku Anyidoho told reporters that Mills would remain focused on delivering his electoral promises and would not be swayed by “distractions within the NDC.”

The Greater Accra regional branch of the NDC has pledged its support for the President in any leadership contest and has issued a statement saying that “any attempt to change him as the candidate on the ticket of the NDC for the 2012 elections will be an unwise decision.”

The Ashanti region, Western region and Upper West region constituency executives have also expressed their support for President Mills as NDC presidential candidate for the 2012 elections.

Former president Jerry Rawlings seized power in Ghana in successive coups, first in 1979 and then again in 1981. He then served as the country's elected president between 1993 and 2001.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Brazil: March unemployment rate rises by 0.1 per cent

Brazil's unemployment has risen for the third consecutive month in March after seven months of steady decline. Irrespective of the rise, this month's unemployment rate of 6.5 per cent is the lowest in March since 2002.

According to the Brazilian Census Bureau, unemployment in the country rose by 0.1 per cent in March from the 6.4 rate recorded in February. Estimates of unemployed remain stable at 1.5 million, as does the number of workers with contracts estimated at 10.7 million, which is higher than February's figure of 7.4 per cent.

The unemployment rate had been expected to climb to 6.7 per cent; still lower than that in March 2010 of 7.6 per cent. The relatively low rate indicates that the Brazilian Central Bank still faces an uphill fight against inflation.

Sources: Reuters, Wall Street Journal, RTT News

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

Libyan government promises UN access to Tripoli

According to the UN, Libyan government has promised aid workers access to areas under its control. Under the agreement, humanitarian workers would be permitted into Tripoli and would be granted access to all of the capital.

UN aid workers have already established a base in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, where recently around 1,000 people arrived from Misrata seeking humanitarian aid. Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's forces have been attacking Misrata for days, it is yet to be estimated the number of people that have been killed in the attacks. The International Organisation for Migration, shipped the evacuees to Benghazi but thousands more remain in wait of rescue.

The World Food Programme has shipped 240 tonnes of wheat flour and high-energy biscuits acrossed from Tunisia through a humanitarian corridor into western Libya.

It has been reported that rebel forces have been making headway in Misrata, however, civilians are running short of basic food and medical supplies. In order for the UN to deliver both medical care and food supplies to civilians, fighting would have to halt but the Libyan government is reluctant to agree to a ceasefire.

Qadhafi is standing firm and seems resolute not to yield to international pressure or be forced to step-down by the rebels, who have been fighting to end his 41 year rule since February.

Sources: BBC, CNN International, Asia Times Online, Xinhua

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

Nigeria: Jonathan's win marred by deadly riots

Rioting in northern Nigeria has prompted thousands of people to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. In the town of Kano, Christian youths burned a mosque, after deadly riots that followed the election of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan . The Muslims retaliated by destroying local shops and causing havoc on the streets.

The riots broke out across 14 northern cities, leaving hundreds of people injured. The number of dead has not yet been disclosed. An estimated 15,000 people have been displaced by the riots that began over the weekend with people claiming rigging in the presidential elections.

Nigeria Red Cross disaster management co-ordinator Umar Abdul Mairiga said: "Things are relatively calm right now, but violent protests went on last night, especially in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara (states)…Our volunteers are out there and we expect details in the coming hour or so. What may come out of there is not very palatable because many people were killed, especially in southern Kaduna…The displaced people are getting hostile because nothing is coming up in terms of relief."

For his part, Jonathan has called for calm in the country. In a televised address to the nation, he urged all Nigerians to, "quickly move away from partisan battlegrounds and find a national common ground", adding: "Nobody's political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian."

Religious tensions in Nigeria have been a source of strife for a number of years, however, in this instance the conflict came to the fore over election results showing Jonathan's overwhelming lead by more than 10 million votes over Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari.

Election chairman Attahiru Jega announced the result on Monday 18th April, revealing that Jonathan had won 22.4 million votes, compared to the 12.2 million of his main opponent, former military ruler Buhari.

Sources: BBC, AFP, AP, Bloomberg

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

Monday, 18 April 2011

Iraq: Two car bombs hit Baghdad's Green Zone

Two car bombs have exploded near a security checkpoint at Baghdad's Green Zone, during the morning rush hour, killing and injuring a number of people. Iraqi soldiers were reportedly among the casualties, the number of victims is yet to be determined.

Baghdad's security spokesman Maj Gen Qassim Al-Moussawi said two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a line of vehicles queuing at the western entry to the Green Zone, the location of government buildings and foreign embassies.

Al-Moussawi noted that both cars were filled with heavy duty explosives, and went off near two motorcades carrying a senior army commander and an official with Iraq's presidential council, but gave no further details to confirm whether or not the officials were the targets of the attack.

Iraq's Parliament issued a statement saying one of the explosions hit the motorcade of Amjad Abdul Hameed adviser to parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. The statement went on to say that Hameed did not sustain any injuries but that one of his bodyguards was killed and three others were wounded.

Sources: BBC, Reuters, Adnkronos International English, Newsday

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

Nigeria: President Jonathan ahead in the running

Nigeria went into shut-down last night ahead of the presidential election on Saturday 16th April. A curfew on movement came into effect throughout the country at 22.00 last night amid concerns about political violence and possible bombings by dissident Niger Delta and Islamist groups. All political campaigning for the presidency was halted on Friday 15th April.

As Nigeria headed for its third successive presidential election since the 1999 return to civilian rule, incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was seen by most commentators to have the advantage for two reasons. Besides the disarray amongst the opposition parties is the ability of his much better funded political machine to secure results at the ballot box, however, controversial the circumstances may be.

The Jonathan Campaign Team feel that they have done enough and are taking comfort from the results of the National Assembly elections which were held last week on the 9th April. Although the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) was wiped out in the South West - with opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) making a clean sweep - the PDP vote held up surprisingly well in parts of the North at the expense of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

The PDP appeared to secure stunning and therefore highly controversial results in Kebbi and Jigawa States, making clean sweeps in areas thought to be home turf for the CPC and its presidential candidate, Lt Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd).

While the results declared indicate that the PDP will keep control of the Senate, such was the scale of the losses in the South West, that the PDP may have lost its majority in the House of Representatives. That could pose serious problems for the future legislative program of the next government.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Algeria: Constitutional reform: another week of postponement

Last week, we reported that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would address the nation between 9th and 15th April to announce a conference to debate the revision of the Constitution. That report came from Tout sur l'Algérie which was quoting a “source close to the President”. A week has gone by without any such announcement. Indeed, this has been the pattern of events since the second week of January.

Reports of ministerial changes, constitutional reforms and such like, coming from usually very reliable sources, have been rolled out by the regime almost on a weekly basis for around three months but with little or no consequence.

This is partly because the regime is trying to buy time, but also because it does not know what to do. It fears that any concession will open a door that can never be closed. This is what is happening on the socio-economic front with almost every interest group in the country being paid-off with wage rises and similar deals to stop them taking their economic demands to the political level.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Egypt: New National Party will be headed by Talaat El Sadat

It was announced on 13th April that the former ruling National Democratic Party is being recreated as the New National Party. It will be headed by Talaat El Sadat, who had been critical of the policies of the old party.

The cabinet has approved an electronic voting system for Egyptians living abroad. Egypt has nominated Mustafa El Fiki as its candidate to succeed Amr Mousa as the next secretary general of the Arab League. The choice has provoked derision. El Fiki had been appointed by former president Hosni Mubarak as the head of the now dissolved Shura Council's foreign relations committee. He was also beneficiary of one of the most blatant and outrageous pieces of electoral chicanery. In the 2005 election, he was soundly beaten by the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Gamal Hishmat in the Damanhur constituency. The electoral officers, however, merely switched the result so that El Fiki got Hishmat's votes and vice versa. The switch was exposed by an electoral monitor Noha El Zeini but this did not deter El Fiki from taking his seat.

The military government has said it will remove some provincial governors appointed by Mubarak. Most of these were either former senior police or army officers.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Hosni Mubarak detained in hospital

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has been placed under detention in his hospital room. His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, have also been detained and will be questioned in due course.

The news has been greeted with cheers by the opposition leaders responsible for brining down Mubarak's administration in February. Egypt's prosecutor general has detained the former president and his two sons, ahead of the impending investigation. Mubarak is reportedly suffering with heart problems and is in an "unstable condition".

The protests in Egypt have continued with tens of thousans of protesters staging weekly Friday demonstration in Tahrir Square. The Egyptian people are demanding that Mubarak be put on trial for the deaths of their fellow protesters and alleged abuse of power during his three decade reign.

It is estimated that around 360 people have been killed during the protests and hundreds more injured. Opposition within Egypt, however, is primarily concerted with the Mubarak family's wealth and how it was obtained. Experts claim that most of it was acquired through corrupt business dealings; others suggest that Gamal and Alaa, used their political clout to pressured domestic companies into giving them shares without paying the market price.

Some opposition groups have expressed suspicions over the timing of Mubarak's heart problems as initial reports indicated he was well enough to undergo questioning. The former Egyptian leader has rarely been seen since his departure in February, and has reportedly been staying at his holiday villa in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Boston Globe

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

US troops in Iraq: Will they stay or will they go?

Leader of Al-Iraqiya party Iyad Allawi has called on Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to declare the status of US Forces within the country. Allawi voiced concern that the agreement between Baghdad and Washington was unclear, and noted that national partnership among the various factions is yet to be put into practice.

In a meeting with EU Ambassadors to Baghdad, Allawi said Al-Maliki is yet to clarify the US-Iraqi security agreement. He added that many were unsure whether the US troops would remain or withdraw from Iraq, or the timescale for either plan of action.

Following Allawi's comments, a senior US military official said US troops are expected to withdraw from the country at the end of the year, adding that Iraqi leaders should not expect them to return to mediate the security situation.

According to AFP, the anonymous security official, said: "If we left, and this is the health warning we would give to anybody, be careful about assuming that we will come running back to put out the fire if we don't have an agreement."

The official also noted that it would be wise of Iraqi leaders to request US troops to remain and train the Iraqi armed forces, a suggestion first made by US Defence Secretary Chief Robert Gates during his recent visit to Baghdad.

The US presence in Iraq remains a contentious issue, and one which seems no closer to a resolution. Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Pentagon chief's message to Iraqi leaders was: "You all need to figure out what you need of us and what's politically feasible and we're ready to work with you on how to address those needs."

Speaking about the situation last year, Iraqi armed forces chief of staff, Gen Babaker Zebari, said the US withdrawal at the end of 2011 would be premature, adding that his forces would be unable to maintain security within the country unaided before 2020.

Sources: Alsumaria, AFP, Press TV

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

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

US says replacing Qadhafi is paramount

The US administration, having pulled back from NATO-led air strikes, has continued to maintain that the replacement of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi, as well as resumption of essential utilities to besieged areas such as Misrata, is paramount.

In an independent trip, the maverick former congressman Curt Weldon, who has previously courted controversy in the US for his stance on Libya, visited Tripoli at the regime's invitation and met Sa'adi Qadhafi. The trip was privately financed by US firm Worldwide Strategic Energy and is rumoured to have been planned from the Libyan end by Sa'adi.

On his return to the US, Weldon has been backing the idea that the Leader could step aside to allow Saif Al-Islam to take Libya forward into a period of constitutional change. He claims that this plan now has the backing of Sa'adi.

Official US engagement in Libya has been provided in the form of US envoy Chris Stevens who had previously worked at the US Embassy in Tripoli and has been in Benghazi since 5th April. The Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) has been pressing Stevens on their claim for the monies that have been frozen by the US Treasury following UN and US sanctions, and are asking Washington to release a portion of the funds in order to tackle some of the shortages faced by Libyans, particularly medical supplies.

Although the US is understood to be considering the matter, it is clear that there are concerns over the manner in which the money could be spent, including fears over Islamic elements inside the rebel group.

On 8th April, the US also widened the circle of those affected by economic sanctions. Five more members of the Qadhafi regime have been added to the list, including National Oil Corporation (NOC) head Dr Shukri Ghanem and Prime Minister Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Caspian: Nazarbayev pledges stability and growth

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, re-inaugurated as leader of Kazakhstan on 8th April after a dubious election landslide, has pledged to accelerate economic growth and political reform in his fourth term.

The Kazakh leader, 70, who has ruled the Central Asian state since the end of the Soviet Union, was re-elected with an alleged 95.5 per cent of the vote, with 89.1 per cent turnout, prompting criticisms of manipulation by international electoral monitors.

Serious concerns over Kazakhstan's record on human rights and democracy aside, Nazarbayev has presided over remarkable economic growth, fuelled by enormous energy reserves and solid fiscal management. Maintaining prosperity and cementing Kazakhstan's status as a middle-income country will be one of his key priorities, along with ensuring political stability alongside cosmetic democratic reforms.

The message of stability was emphasised by the reappointment of Karim Massimov as Prime Minister. Massimov has served in the post since 2007 and is widely seen as a safe pair of hands with a pro-business attitude. A fluent Mandarin speaker who was educated in China, his position has underlined Kazakhstan's growing interest in commercial ties with Beijing. Another indicator of continuity is the new Economy Minister, Kairat Kelimbetov, who served in the same post between 2002 and 2006 and was previously the head of the country's sovereign wealth fund.

Taking over from Kelimbetov as head of the $80 billion fund is Timur Kulibayev, the president's son-in-law. The move is a clear demonstration that power will not be spread widely across the country's elite, although this tight-knit control may be reassuring to investors who fear the impact of opaque power struggles on their holdings.

A surprising development is the suggestion that the Ata-Meken Union, a business association led by Kulibayev, could be turned into an opposition party, as an alternative to Nazarbayev's Nur Otan. According to Nazarbayev's political adviser the party would be a “liberal” one and would “support lower taxes.”

This engineered “opposition” party would not cause a radical shift in Kazakh politics. Some analysts have speculated that it would be an eventual stepping-stone to the presidency for Kulibayev, allowing for a formal transfer of power between two parties and thereby illustrating Kazakh democracy at work. In any case, the commercial origins of the new party will reinforce the message to international investors that Kazakhstan will remain open for business.

Sources: Eurasianet, Telegraph, Financial Times, BBC

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

Ghana: Jerry John Rawlings will not back President Mills

According to senior officials in the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), former president Jerry John Rawlings has withdrawn support for President John Atta Mill's 2012 campaign.

Speaking to NDC party chiefs in the Ashanti Region on 4th April, Rawlings told a private meeting that he believed the president had failed Ghanaians and was no longer worthy of his support.

He told the officials that his decision not to campaign for the Mills-Mahama ticket had nothing to do with reports that his wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, may challenge the incumbent at the NDC primaries in December this year.

The NDC's Ashanti Regional Youth Organiser, Kweku Boahene, who attended the meeting, said that Rawlings' comments came as a shock to the many executives present at the meeting.

Boahene noted: “We think that Professor Atta Mills is doing what is expected of him and we are fully in support of him and we will do everything possible to make sure that we campaign for him vigorously for him to win 2012.”

Rawlings' supporters, however, including his spokesman Kofi Adams, have played down the comments, maintaining that journalists took them out of context.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Yemen: Both Saleh and the opposition reject GCC's offer

Both Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the opposition have rejected the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council's (GCC) initiative for a peaceful transition of power. Saleh has outright refused to step-down early, and the protesters rebuffed any suggestion of Saleh being granted immunity from prosecution.

The political turmoil in Yemen has been ongoing for almost two months. It is estimated that as many as 120 people have been killed in the clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters.

On Sunday 10th April, the GCC called on Saleh to resign as part of an agreement with the opposition. Saleh rejected the proposal, and the offer of mediation, saying he would not step-down before 2013.

The GCC had invited both the opposition leaders and the long term Yemeni president to Saudi Arabia for talks. It also offered Saleh and his family protection from prosecution for abuses of power, an offer which outraged the protesters who had specifically demanded that Saleh and his kin be put on trial.

According to several sources, Saleh despatched a letter to the GCC saying he could no accept the offer, but praised the organisation for its attempt to mediate the situation. His supporters, however, have rebuked the GCC calling its attempt to intervene a "flagrant interference in Yemen's internal issues."

For their part, the protesters took to the streets in their thousands in Sana'a, Taiz, Aden and other major cities.

Sources: Reuters, CNTV,, The Guardian

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

Libya: Kusa warns against the possibility of civil war

Libya's former foreign minister Musa Kusa has warned against the possibility of a civil war. Speaking openly for the first times since his arrival in the UK almost two weeks ago, Kusa said unity in Libya was of utmost importance if a settlement is to be reached.

The former foreign minister noted: “I ask everybody to avoid taking Libya into civil war...This would lead to so much blood and Libya would be a new Somalia. More than that, we refuse to divide Libya. The unity of Libya is essential to any solution and settlement...The solution in will come from the Libyans themselves, through discussion and democratic dialogue."

Kusa made the above statement shortly after Libyan rebels rejected African Union's (AU) proposal of a ceasefire. It is believed that Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi had accepted the offer, however, that didn't prevent his forces attacking the city of Misrata the following day.

Kusa's defection is yet to be acknowledged by the regime. Speaking about the latest developments Libya's Minister for Social Affairs, Ibrahim Zarouk Al-Sharif, said he could not comment on Kusa's statement while the former foreign minister was "captured" in a foreign country.

Sources: BBCNews,, The Press Association, GlobalPost

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

Monday, 11 April 2011

Libyan rebels unconvinced by AU's ceasefire proposal

The African Union (AU) has offered Libyan rebels a peace treaty, which Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi has reportedly already accepted. The AU delegation met with rebel leaders in Benghazi, who promised to study the proposal but noted that a ceasefire will not be possible unless Qadhafi steps-down.

The delegation was greeted in the de facto capital of the Libyan opposition by more than a 1000 demonstrators chanting anti-regime slogans. The general consensus on the street seems to be somewhat pessimistic, with the rebels placing little faith in the visiting mediators.

Led by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma the delegation met with Qadhafi on Sunday 10th April in Tripoli. Speaking about the prospect of a peace treaty a member of the opposition's transitional ruling council said, "The sons and the family of Qadhafi cannot participate in the political future of Libya…there is no negotiation."

The meeting was held shortly after Nato air strikes hit Qadhafi's tanks, helping the rebels push back the troops who had been advancing toward Benghazi. The AU's peace draft stipulated an immediate ceasefire and the start of a dialogue between the two sides. AU officials, however, made no mention of Qadhafi's removal as the rebels have demanded.

Zuma, however, urged Nato to "give the ceasefire a chance" but it is highly unlikely that the rebels will come to a deal with the AU if Qadhafi remains in place. Speaking to Arab television, a Libyan government spokesman, Abdel Monem Al-Lamoushi, said: "The issue of Qadhafi stepping down from any political position is a closed issue ... Qadhafi does not hold a position of power…No one has the right to send Qadhafi into exile out of the land of his forefathers. This man will not leave Libya."

The AU delegation, consisting of the presidents of South Africa, Congo-Brazzaville, Mali and Mauritania, as well as Uganda's Foreign Minister, landed in Tripoli's Mitiga airport after Nato gave permission for their aircraft to enter. The planes were the first to land on Libyan soil since the international coalition imposed a no-fly zone over the country more than two weeks ago.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, Reuters, The Guardian

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

Nigeria: New timetable for the polls

Nigeria's four-yearly federal and state election programme has got off to a chaotic start, with voting for the National Assembly elections, which were scheduled for Saturday 2nd April, being called off after voting had actually commenced in many areas, including Lagos and Ibadan in the south-west and Kano and Jigawa in the north.

Voters were still at the polling stations getting their voter accreditation when news began to filter through that the elections had been cancelled. Initially, even the electoral officials at the polling units waved the news aside as mere rumours or propaganda, claiming that it was designed to persuade the voters to leave the polling units so that “the riggers” could have their way.

The reality of the situation became clear at about 12.40 hours on the same day when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, addressed the country and explained that the elections had to be postponed throughout Nigeria because of “logistical problems”.

The INEC then went on to release a new timetable for the polls:

•On Saturday 2nd it postponed the National Assembly poll for Monday 4th April but then the following day it delayed them further until Saturday 9th April (i.e tomorrow)

•The presidential polls were then delayed from 9th until the 16th April

•The gubernatorial and State Assembly elections were then rescheduled from 16th to Tuesday 26th April, after the Easter weekend.

The delay has ramifications for the government's legislative programme, including the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). The National Assembly recess will be extended from the planned 19th April to the end of April. Procedural issues mean that the PIB deliberations may not now happen until shortly ahead of the scheduled end of the legislative term on the 29th May when the government's term formally ends.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 8 April 2011

Algeria: More infighting among the regime

Our sources in Algeria have confirmed that infighting among clans has got noticeably worse in the last week or so. We can, of course, speculate that this has something to do with the decline in the president's health. Our sources explained, however, that it is because the clans cannot agree on how to make the urgently needed political changes while at the same time ensuring they retain power.

We are also hearing reports that more and more young officers are criticising both of the major clans; by which we understand that to mean the presidency and the DRS. We would certainly not go so far as to suggest that this indicates the making of a military coup. Nevertheless, the longer the situation drags on without any meaningful decisions coming out of the regime, the greater the build-up of frustration across what is a highly professional, educated and potentially powerful 'middle-rank' officer class.

Algeria has more than enough precedents for army officers to effect a coup d'état, and there are many Algerians who see such a coup as the most straightforward way of ridding the country of a thoroughly decrepit, illegitimate and corrupt regime before it does the country more lasting damage.

In neighbouring Niger, it took a handful of army officers, one in particular, precisely 12 months to affect a military coup, oust President Mamadou Tandja, hold a referendum on a new constitution and return the country to a full-blown, democratically elected civilian government. This is a remarkable achievement by African standards; and one that could easily be emulated in Algeria.

In fact, even within the administration, more and more people are openly questioning whether the current situation is tenable. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia is “definitely showing all the signs of living on another planet”, to quote one opposition figure, and is creating more trouble for the regime every time he speaks, with even his political friends being openly critical of his interventions.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Petrobras' domestic debt has reached R$117.9 billion

The domestic debt of Petrobras has reached R$117.9 billion, 40 per cent of it (R$46 billion) owed to official banks: BNDES, Bank of Brazil, and Caixa Econômica Federal, the national sav¬ings bank. In practice, this is as if the Treasury made loans directly to Petrobras. In any event, it shows how dependent the company is on the government's favours.

In addition to these loans, mostly by BNDES (R$36.3 billion), BNDESPar holds R$18.7 billion in Petrobras shares. It also participated in the 2010 capitalisation of Petrobras with R$24.75 billion.

All told, BNDES exposure to the company amounts to about R$80 billion. The finance director of Petrobras, Almir Barbassa, admitted on 29th March that the company will be unable to implement between 10 and 15 per cent of the US$55 billion budgeted for investments this year. Barbassa did note that this is routine.

Petrobras will need more money to finance its new projects, notably in the pre-salt sphere. The company itself mentions US$17 billion by 2014, but market analysts expect plenty more: Crédit Suisse, for instance, projects medium-term requirements of US$25 billion.

While the company's net profit in 2010 was a record US$35 billion, it was disappointing for Crédit Suisse, which expected 11 per cent more. The company's finances bear watching.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

The MB remains the best organised of the opposition groups

Egypt is a very religiously observant country. But Egyptians practise their religion in different ways. There are different trends among the 90 per cent of the population who are Muslim which in recent days have clashed. Earlier in the year, there had been attacks on Christian churches. There have now been reports of the desecration of the shrines of Sufi saints, revered by millions in towns and the countryside. These Sufi practices, however, are regarded as un-Islamic and polytheistic by the more puritanical trend of Islamic thought now described as Salafist. Antagonism had long existed between the Sufi tariqas and the radical Salafists. But clashes between the groups, and fights among Muslims, had been rare.

The senior religious figure within the State structure, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, appealed for restraint. “Calls that the shrines of the saints are against Islam stir up sedition among Muslims,” he said.

The Salafists have exploited Koranic satellite TV stations, some funded by Saudis, to propagate their vision of an Islamic world. And they have been entering more into the political arena. Salafists were active before the referendum on constitutional changes in declaring that a yes vote was a vote for Islam. And a Salafist sheikh evoked a word from the Islamic conquests in the years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad by calling the victory in the vote a ghazwah.

The best organised of the groups representing the Islamist trend remain the Muslim Brothers. They have successfully mobilised voters for previous elections and are set to do well in the elections in September. But they will be competing as much against the Salafists as against those secular voices who believe in a true separation of religion and politics.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 7 April 2011

PM Nguyen Tan Dung urges Kazakhstan to open an embassy in Vietnam

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has urged Kazakhstan's Deputy Foreign Minister Kazhykhanov Yerzhan to open an embassy in Vietnam to foster bilateral co-operation and trade between the two countries.

Dung noted that Vietnam was particualrly keen to strengthen economic and energy-industry relations, saying he hoped Kazakhstan would support Vietnam's negotiations in signing the Free Trade Agreements with member nations of the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union.

The talks commenced while Yerzhan was on an official state visit to Hanoi. Dung promised to create favourable conditions for Kazakh companies to invest in Vietnam, and commended its partner for working closely with Vietnamese domestic companies in the energy sector.

For his part, Yerzhan congratulated Vietnam for its achievements, and confirmed that President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to visit Hanoi later this year.

Sources: VOVNews, Viet Nam News

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

Mubarak to be questioned at his home in Sharm El-Sheikh

According to Ahram Online, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will be questioned over multiple charges at his residence in Sharm El-Sheikh due to his deteriorating health.

Mubarak, who was supposed to be questioned in Cairo, is reportedly suffering from chronic backache and is, therefore, unable to fly. The former president and his family are currently under house arrest at their Red Sea resort home.

An official committee is to be formed to question the Mubarak family about the misuse of political power to accumulate illegal profits and assets. Mubarak's son Gamal is to be questioned over illegal profiteering on Sunday 10th April.

In related news, Egypt's public prosecutor sequestered funds belonging to former prime minister, and member of Mubarak's administration, Atef Obeid.

The announcement came amid investigations into the squandering of public funds and the sale of State-owned Assiut Cement. Speaking about the decision, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, Adel El-Saeed, said: “This comes as part of investigations into violations made during the sale process of Assiut Cement at a price below its value ... which wasted public funds."

The prosecutor's decision also extends to former minister of public enterprise, Mokhtar Khattab, and board chairman of Metallurgical Industries, Mohamed El-Danaf.

Sources: Ahram Online, Bloomberg, Reuters, Bikyamasr

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

The US rebuffs Qadhafi's letter

Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi has sent a letter to US President Barak Obama, imploring the US to cease bombing Libya. Qadhafi reportedly asked Obama to stop the "unjust war against a small people of a developing country."

The Libyan leader said that Libya was severely affected by the NATO air campaign and reiterated that the rebels trying to depose him were members of the Al-Qa'ida. The White House has snubbed the overture, saying Qadhafi will be judged by his actions not his words.

Associated Press, who broke the story, said that Qadhafi addressed Obama as "our son" in the letter and expresses hopes that he will be re-elected.

Speaking about the missive, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "Mr Qadhafi knows what he must do…There needs to be a cease-fire, his forces need to withdraw from the cities that they have forcibly taken at great violence and human cost...There needs to be a decision made about his departure from power and... his departure from Libya."

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle , Reuters Africa, Voice of America, Aljazeera, AP

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

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The war is not going well for either side

The war is not going well for either of the two parties. The better equipped Qadhafi forces are more than holding their own in the Sirtican zone but have continued to struggle - despite their great superiority in weapons and trained personnel - to take Misrata after two weeks of heavy bombardment. The rebels' situation has been stabilised to the west of Benghazi but is only being preserved with severe losses to the volunteers.

The deadlock in the siege of Misrata, Libya's third largest city, sums up the fighting across the board but its position is parlous, given that it is cut off from the main body of the rebels and is seriously short of food, medicines and adequate armaments.

The rebels have been very slow to learn from their mistakes and their front-line fighters remain very badly organised and ill-disciplined. The hit-and-run tactics used by the volunteers are possibly attributable to the problems of a weak armoury, but are still inadequate to hold back the Qadhafi forces aligned against them. The flow of newly-trained recruits that has been promised for the front-line is gradually becoming available but has so far had little or no marked influence on the quality of the tactics that are being used.

The ultimate test of the rebels will be whether Benghazi can hold on if those sections of the army which are still under the control of the Qadhafi regime attempt to fight their way to the gates of the city. Should the support of the Arab states, the aid of NATO and the backing of the mass of the Libyan population fade with the lack of rebel military success or a period of stagnation sets in, then retaining the integrity of Benghazi will be difficult.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

President Jonathan backs poll delay

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has backed the decision to delay elections due to paperwork hold-ups. Jonathan said the resolution to postpone the voting showed that the country was willing to do things properly.

Parliamentary elections were halted on Saturday 2nd of April, when voting materials failed to reach polling sites. Last year, electoral chief Attahiru Jega undertook the task of overhauling the electoral system in order to make the voting fair and free from fraud. Parliamentary elections have been rescheduled for next Saturday 9th April, with the presidential polls and those for governors and state assemblies to be held later in the month.

Speaking to the BBC, Jonathan said: "What happened is another demonstration that the country and the electoral body is totally committed to ensuring that they conduct [a] credible vote."

The delay, however, has left many Nigerians frustrated and suspicious about the reasons behind the postponement. Many are reluctant to make the journey to the polling stations again. Jonathan has called on the country to make an effort, saying: "It's a sacrifice that all of us are paying. I was also in the field, but I have to come back…We really regret what happened."

The Commonwealth Observer Group, which plans to monitor the polls, called the delay "regrettable” but noted that the most important thing is for the polls to be "free, fair and credible."

Sources: BBC News, Next, Voice of America

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

World Bank lends Ghana US$295 million

The World Bank has agreed to lend Ghana US$295 million (GH¢440 million) to support land administration, skills development and local governance. According to the Bank's 1st April statement:

> US$50 million (GH¢74.6 million) will be used to improve the land registration process

> US$70 million (GH¢104.4 million) on modernising vocation training for those involved in land administration

> The final US$175 million (GH¢261 million) will go to local authorities to help deal with rapid urbanisation.

Ghana loses several millions of cedis every year due to tax evasion by its own citizens, according to Minister of Trade and Industry Hannah Tetteh.

Speaking at a meeting with members of the Ghana Canada Chamber of Commerce in Accra, Tetteh said: “Only 1.5 million Ghanaians are paying taxes accurately. With this situation, what kind of development projects can we undertake?” She said that the main forms of tax avoidance included under invoicing, smuggling of goods through unauthorised border routes, and the evasion of VAT.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Yemeni security forces open fire on protesters

Yemen's security forces have fired at anti-government demonstrators, in the south-western city of Taiz, reportedly killing at least 15 people and injuring many more. Reports have emerged that security officers opened fire on the protesters from the rooftops, before the procession reached the governor's office.

The clashes follow weeks of protests across the country, calling for long-term President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign immediately. Initially, in a bid to appease the increasingly vociferous public, Saleh said he will not run for re-election in 2012 but has remained firm in his decision to finish his term in office.

On Monday 4th March, crowds of protesters in Taiz began marching toward Freedom Square. The procession was blocked by armed security troops after passing the governor's headquarters. Clashes broke out between the two side leaving dozens injured.

Tanks and armoured vehicles are now blocking entrances to the city and have surrounded Freedom Square, apprehending anyone attempting to leave.

Sources: BBC News, FT, New York Times

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

Libya says Qadhafi must remain in power

The Libyan government has conceded to political reform, but made it clear that Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi must remain in power. A government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said Qadhafi was a "unifying figure" figure in Libya, and defended his forces, saying they only targeted armed rebels not civilians.

Speaking to State TV, Qadhafi's son Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi said Libya's Foreign Minister Musa Kusa had not defected from the regime by fleeing to the UK. Saif alleged that Kusa had travelled to Britain for health reasons, and was being coerced into making allegations against Libya. He also denied allegations that Kusa knew incriminating details about the Lockerbie bombing, saying there no more “secrets”.

The situation in Libya has reached a stalemate, with the rebel fighters in a continuous tussle over the eastern oil hub of Brega. Nearly two months since the revolt against Qadhafi began, the country remains effectively split between the rebel forces in the east and government loyalists in Tripoli and the west.

Speaking about the situation in Libya, Ibrahim said Qadhafi was "a safety valve for the country to remain together" adding, "many Libyans, many Libyans want him to lead the process forward because they are scared if he is not there for any reason we will have what happened in Iraq, we will have what happened in Somalia, we will have what happened in Afghanistan."

The spokesman also announced that the country was open to political reform such "elections, referenda" but noted that "the leader has to lead this forward".

Sources: BBC News, Aljazeera, The Daily Telegraph, Xinhua

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

Monday, 4 April 2011

Nigeria: Kaztac starts work in OML 123

Oil and gas industry engineering, procurement, construction, installation, and commission firm Kaztac Engineering Limited has announced that its Ekulo Cheyenne barge has been deployed to commence work for Addax Petroleum Development Nigeria at its OML 123 block in Cross Rivers State.

The firm, which is based in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, announced this through its project manager, Rick Reggio, who stated, "The 350 ft by 100 ft by 25 ft depth pipelay/derrick and construction barge Ekulo Cheyenne is expected to execute TB–1921 Call-Off Contract for installation of sub-sea pipelines and topsides for Addax Petroleum Development Nigeria Limited."

This installation-focused contract will enable the various facilities currently being designed and manufactured to be collected, shipped to site, craned into position, and hooked up together with the laying of interconnecting pipelines and installation of associated riser systems.'

The project is described as designed to meet the company's field development goals, including 'flares down,' as it plans a new facility to expand its existing Adanga complex to provide gas compression and additional production separation capacity, with central power generation for the entire complex.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Algeria: Belkhadem's 'dinosaur' views on constitutional reform

State Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who is secretary general of the National Liberation Front ( FLN) and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's special envoy, has come to represent the most 'out of touch' or 'dinosaur' thinking within the regime. From a number of interviews this week we can get a fairly clear line on his thinking. In a statement which could be interpreted as patronising or simply 'out of touch', he said that the political initiatives of the opposition, which he did not specify, civil society organisations, which also went unnamed, and political figures, whom he didn't mention, “show healthy political practice and pluralism in Algeria”. It seems that he is saying that all the discussion about politics in Algeria is indicative of the fact that it is in a state of good health. In short, it doesn't need changing.

Coming on the current discussion about political and constitutional change, Belkhadem was quoted as saying that the FLN , is against the idea of the dissolution of the parliament and early general elections. One fairly obvious reason for that, which Belkhadem didn't mention, is that the FLN would have a good chance of being sent to electoral oblivion.

In a clear reflection of his essentially anti-democratic views, he was also quoted as saying that he rejected establishing a constitutional council that would gather representatives of political forces in the country. He tried to clarify this statement by saying that such proposals would deny all the achievements made since the independence in 1962. It is, of course, very difficult to pin-point just what achievements the country has made since 1962.

Given its huge natural wealth, for which the government cannot really take credit, many would argue that the regime has turned Algeria into the region's most misgoverned, corrupt and repressive country. And yet, almost in the next phrase, Belkhadem said that "we endorse the proposal of proceeding to a radical revision to the constitution." The key word is 'radical'.

It seems that Belkhadem's and the FLN 's understanding of 'radical' is not what most people would have in mind.

If, however, there was any hint in any of the above statements that Belkhadem might see some urgency in the need to act on Algeria's current political situation, it was clearly ruled out in an interview he gave last Monday to the Arabic daily Wakt El Djazair when he said that constitutional reform could be looked at after the legislation and local elections of 2012. Some might think that that could be a little too late!

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Statoil signs Abai exploration deal

Norway's Statoil has signed a heads of agreement with Kazmunaigas (KMG) to explore for oil and gas at the Abai block in the north Caspian. Under the terms of the deal, the two companies will evaluate the potential of the acreage, which lies in water depths of 8–10 metres, and set up an operating company to oversee the project.

During the exploration phase, Statoil and KMG will conduct seismic surveys and data acquisition and drill one exploration well. On top of this, Statoil will help train local personnel and provide “financial and technical assistance” to KMG's plan to build, own and operate a jack-up drilling rig in the Caspian.

This is Statoil's second stab at Abai: in 2005, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with KMG to develop Abai and the adjacent Isatai block, with the eventual aim of concluding a production-sharing agreement.

But the agreement did not lead anywhere, much to Statoil's frustration. Since then, the Kazakhs have imposed a moratorium on the signing of new offshore PSAs, which is unlikely to be lifted any time soon. Statoil has not been active in Kazakhstan since selling its stake in the Kashagan project more than 10 years ago — in hindsight, a very shrewd move given the mounting problems at Kashagan.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 1 April 2011

Libyan rebels concede to a ceasefire

Following news that seven civilians died and 25 were injured in a coalition air strike on a pro-Qadhafi convoy, a Libyan opposition leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said the rebels will accept a UN-demanded ceasefire if Qadhafi withdraws his forces from all the cities and concedes to peaceful protests.

Speaking at a conference in Benghazi, Abdul-Jalil said: "We agree on a ceasefire on the condition that our brothers in the western cities have freedom of expression and also that the forces that are besieging the cities withdraw.”

During the conference, also attended by UN envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib, visiting the rebels' de-facto stronghold in hope of reaching a resolution, Abdul-Jalil said a ceasefire would been agreed on the condition that “Qadhafi's brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities”. He added that in doing so the world would see that the Libyan people would “choose freedom" rather than remain under the regime.

The offer was made from a position of power, as the rebels seem to be better organized and better armed than ever. For most of this week, Qadhafi's forces have been trying to push the rebels back about 100 miles along the coast, prompting them to regroup and form a new strategy.

Another Libyan opposition leader, Ali Tarhouni, said the rebels had negotiated a deal with Qatar to supply oil, they control in parts of south-eastern Libya, in exchange for money for weapons and ammunition. Tarhouni did not say when the deal was agreed.

Amid talks of further defections, following that of Libya's Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, Libya's Chief of Intelligence Bouzeid Dorda dismissed rumours that he was planning to abandon Libya. In a statement aired on Libya's State television, Dorda said: "I am in Libya and will remain here steadfast in the same camp of the revolution despite everything. I never thought to cross the borders or violate commitment to the people, the revolution and the leader."

Oil Minister Shukri Ghanim has denied similar rumours, saying: "I am in Tripoli working in my office... I am trying my best to keep this oil industry as one industry, trying to minimise the damage that is happening to the installation, trying to secure the safety of the staff and the personnel [and] trying to prevent the looting of the industry."

Sources: BBC News, AP, Bloomberg

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

British nationals urged to flee Yemen amid protests

Anti-government demonstrators are set to face President Ali Abdullah Saleh's supporters in Yemen's capital Sana'a. Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets as the country's political turmoil intensifies. Representatives of both sides have reportedly met and agreed to avoid confrontations, which have previously resulted fatalities.

According to a number of reports, anti-government protesters are moving towards the renamed "Change Square" near the Sana'a university, while supporters of the president are gathering in the city's Tahrir Square some 2km away.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for over 30 years, is under mounting pressure to step down immediately. Earlier in the month, in a bid to appease the brewing disconnect of the Yemeni people, he said he would step-down in 2012 but calls for his resignation have not subsided.

UK's Foreign Office has issued a statement urging British nationals to leave the ever-increasingly unstable Middle Eastern State immediately. The statement said: "Given the situation on the ground, it is highly unlikely that the British government will be able to evacuate British nationals or provide consular assistance in the event of a further breakdown of law and order and increased violent civil disorder. British nationals should therefore plan accordingly."

It also called on Saleh to take urgent steps to "build trust with the opposition and with the protesters…Without this trust, no agreement can be reached. The Yemeni people want to see their legitimate demands acknowledged and met and the UK fully supports them in this aspiration".

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Politics, The Press Association

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

Egypt: Military council taking steps toward the handover of power

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has taken the first practical steps towards the handover of power to a new civilian political arrangement with the promulgation of a constitutional decree, and a law which will govern the formation of political parties.

The constitutional decree is, in effect, the previous constitution but incorporates the amendments that were passed by the 19th March referendum. It continues to stipulate that Islam is the religion of the State and that Islamic law is the principle source of legislation. The amendments include the limit on the number of terms that a president may serve, and also the judicial supervision of elections.

These amendments do not, however, go as far as the youth movements and other groups, who led the protests that brought down president Hosni Mubarak, had hoped. They wanted a radical rewriting of the constitution to recast the relationship between the citizen and the State. A more thorough look at the constitution is, however, envisaged once the parliament is formed.

Announcing the decree on 30th March on behalf of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Maj Gen Mamdouh Shahin said that legislative powers would be transferred to the parliament once it was elected. The presidential elections would take place a month or two after the formation of parliament.

Similarly, the new law on the formation of new political parties makes some key changes to the previous law of 1977 but has not been universally welcomed. It states that new parties wishing to register will be vetted by a committee of judges rather than the ruling party cronies who did so in the past. This should ensure that new parties have a greater likelihood of being approved.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates