Thursday, 27 October 2011

Brazilian Sports Minister quits in corruption probe

Becoming the fifth cabinet minister to resign in recent months, Brazil's Sports Minister Orlando Silva has quit his post amid a row over corruption which is threatening to derail President Dilma Rousseff.

Silva resigned on 26th October after persistent accusations that he helped to siphon money off a charitable fund to promote sport for deprived children, using the embezzled money for himself and to prop up the Communist Party of Brazil, part of the ruling coalition. He has been accused of stealing up to US$23 million.

He has strongly denied the allegations and has called his principal accuser, a police officer, a delinquent. In resigning, Silva said that “I decided to leave the government so that I can defend my honour”. Although no hard evidence was laid against him, analysts say that the pressure mounting on him – including a recently opened inquiry by the Supreme Court - made it inevitable that he would stand down.

Silva was the only Communist in Rousseff's Cabinet. It is widely expected that she will allow the Communist Party to nominate his successor, despite the party's apparent involvement in many of the recent graft scandals. Rousseff's willingness to let the Communists retain control of the ministry suggests that she is not keen to engage in a bruising political fight and risk her coalition unravelling.

To date she has been unaffected by the scandals, many of which stem from appointments made under her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but analysts say there are limits to the amount of resignations that can occur before she starts to look weak.

The role of Sports Minister will be critical in the upcoming years, as the country prepares to host the 2014 World Cup. The amount of money and contracts involved makes it a potentially lucrative post for a corrupt official, and Rousseff is likely to insist on a candidate with impeccable integrity.

Sources: BBC, Reuters, AFP

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

Azerbaijan secures Security Council seat

For the first time, Azerbaijan has secured a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2012–13 session, along with Pakistan, Morocco, Guatemala and Togo. After an unusual 17 rounds of voting, Azerbaijan beat Slovenia on 25th October to the coveted seat.

In Baku, the victory is being seen as a major diplomatic coup, and a validation of the country’s attempts to become a significant player on the world stage. It is especially satisfying because arch-rival Armenia withdrew its bid early on. President Ilham Aliev set the tone, saying that Armenia was “forced to admit that they were losing to Azerbaijan and the international community condemns their aggressive policy against Azerbaijan”.

Azerbaijani politicians and analysts have already begun ruminating on the significance of the victory and how Azerbaijan can use the seat to advance its national interests. Naturally the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be high on the agenda, and Baku will – at the least – try to prompt the Security Council into making a statement condemning the presence of Armenian forces in the conflict zone. Although its too early to say what else will be a priority by the time Azerbaijan takes its seat, the ongoing international pressure against Iran will probably remain an important issue for the Security Council. Any new vote on sanctions or other forms of pressure will be sensitive for Baku, particularly if their bilateral relationship continues to head into choppy waters.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The end of an era as Qadhafi is captured and killed

This month marks the end of an era. News of the capture and death of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi in Sirte on 20th October was a truly momentous occasion for a country that had been held hostage to his brutal rule for more than 40 years. Stunned Libyans took the streets in jubilation as if they could hardly believe that the long awaited event had finally come true. As de facto interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declared, 'We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Qadhafi has been killed.'

Qadhafi's death means that the country can finally start to put the trauma of the past 42 years behind it. Despite the fact that the country has been almost completely in the hands of its new leaders since the fall of Tripoli, as long as Qadhafi remained alive he was able to cast his dark shadow over the country.

As recently as the start of October, he was still calling on Libyans to rise up against their new leaders. While his calls for a million Libyans to come out and demonstrate were clearly completely far fetched, all the time he was alive he had the potential to create trouble.

His death therefore means that the country's leaders can now breathe a little easier as they work toward rebuilding their country. Furthermore, the liberation of Sirte that accompanied Qadhafi's death means that the National Transitional Council (NTC) can finally establish an interim government to oversee the political transition.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Monday, 24 October 2011

Qadhafi's death: such a waste

The death of Colonel Mu'aamar Qadhafi on the morning of Thursday 20th October - dragged from a culvert drain outside Sirte and seemingly swiftly executed, after NATO apparently attacked the convoy in which he was presumably trying to escape the city - was a sad moment for Algeria's regime. All its time and investment has been for nothing.

All three of its strategies have, one by one, failed. For the first couple of weeks of Libya's rebellion the Algerian regime tried to persuade the West that Saif al-Islam Qadhafi was the solution. But Saif soon revealed his true colours.

It then tried to convince the West that the only solution for Libya was a sort of partition between East and West. But that too, following the regime's failure to capture Misrata and then the eventual fall of Tripoli, came to naught.

It was then left with its final strategy, one in which it is most adept: to create as much trouble and chaos as possible. Where does Algeria's regime go from here – at least as far as its Libyan neighbour is concerned?

The regime knows that it is on the list of the 'Arab Spring'. It also knows that it has now made a strong enemy of both the Libyan people and, most likely, the new Libyan state that will soon come into being. Neither are its friends in the West happy with how it has handled things since the unrest of January gave a foretaste of what might befall the country if it was not prepared to undertake significant and meaningful reforms.

Since then there has been a constant trail of senior Western and Qatari emissaries to Algeria, along with summonses to Washington, first encouraging and more latterly warning the regime that serious reform is necessary if it is to survive. The last of these was the visit this week by William Hague which appropriately came just two days before Qadhafi was killed.

Hague delivered a strong message to the Algerian regime regarding its harbouring of Qadhafi's family. In the wake of repeated calls from the National Transitional Council (NTC) that Algiers should extradite those members of the Qadhafi family that it has been sheltering, Hague told reporters at a press conference, shared with his counterpart Mourad Medelci, that Algeria should cooperate with the new regime in Libya over members of the Qadhafi family who took refuge there. Algeria gave refuge to Qadhafi's sons Mohamed and Hannibal, his (second) wife Safiya and his daughter Aisha, and various grandchildren. Their breach of the UN travel ban was justified by Algeria in that Aisha was pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl on arrival in the country. The veracity of this story is doubted as Aisha claimed that her four-month old baby was killed in a NATO bombing raid in April, meaning that she has now given birth twice in eight months.

Following Hague's very clear message to the Algerians, Libya's NTC reiterated its call for the extradition of Qadhafi's family from Algeria. The call was made by the head of the NTC's executive committee, Mahmoud Jibril, during the televised news conference in Tripoli on Thursday (20th) afternoon at which he confirmed that Qadhafi had been killed earlier that day.

Algeria has so far turned down each call to return the Qadhafi family members, Should it do so again, in the wake of Hague's warning, there may be severe consequences. There have been signs for some time that the West is losing patience with the Algerian regime over its failure to engage in much-needed political reform, and rumours have been circulating for some weeks that the regime is in the proverbial Last Chance Saloon as far as its Western backers are concerned. Should Algeria defy the British Foreign Secretary, it might just be the last straw that tips those backers into pulling the proverbial plug.

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

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Heritage strikes first deal

Heritage Oil Corporation , the London Stock Exchange-listed oil exploration company, has made a bold step into the Libyan market. In early October, it struck the first major post- Colonel Mu'aamar Qadhafi business deal by buying a majority stake in the well-connected Benghazi-based Sahara Oil Services Holdings , which was established in April 2009 and has an operational yard and equipment based in Benghazi.

The company announced on a 4th October that it had bought a 51 per cent stake in Sahara for $19.5 million. It said that Sahara 'has the necessary long-term permits and licences to provide onshore and offshore oil field services in Libya as well as the rights to own and operate oil and gas licences.'

Heritage said that it was 'looking to play a significant role in the future development of the oil and gas industry in Libya' and that it was 'exploring ways to assist the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the state oil companies to rehabilitate certain of their existing fields and recommence production.' The deal was a characteristically aggressive step by the company, whose charismatic CEO is Tony Buckingham . Before he became an oil man in 1999, he was the inspiration behind the foundation of the famous Africa-focused private security company Sandline International .

A number of sources have told Libya Focus that Heritage had been attempting to provide oil field security services to the NTC. The NTC rejected its proposal, along with those of many other private security providers. Its position is that all security and all armed personnel in Libya must be Libyan. Having found a Libyan partner, Heritage may have overcome this initial hurdle. In his statement, Buckingham said that Heritage via Sahara was 'uniquely positioned to pursue field rehabilitation activities and be awarded exploration and production licences.' He described the acquisition as 'consistent with Heritage's first mover strategy of entering regions with vast hydrocarbon wealth where we have a strategic advantage. Ongoing discussions with the NTC and other stakeholders continue to highlight opportunities with the potential to transform Heritage.'

The company has established a base in Benghazi in the past five months and says it 'has been in discussions with senior members of the National Transitional Council, the National Oil Corporation, and certain subsidiaries.' According to a report in Petroleum Economist , Heritage is represented in Libya by Christian Sweeting , who has lobbied Foreign Secretary William Hague to expedite visa applications from four Sahara employees to visit the UK. Hague did not get involved.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 21 October 2011

New IMF representative for Vietnam

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has installed a new country representative to work with the Vietnamese government as it attempts to overcome a series of economic difficulties that have resulted from expansionary monetary and fiscal policies put in place to mitigate the impact of the global financial crisis.

The IMF has worked in Vietnam since 1994, when it approved its first three-year structural adjustment loan for the country, which was then embarking on a programme of economic reforms to make the transition from a planned to a market-based economy. Vietnam joined the IMF in 1956 but then lived through a period of civil war and international isolation that severely limited its contact with international banks and other institutions.

Speaking during a farewell to the IMF's outgoing country representative, Benedict Bingham, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said the assistance of the Fund has helped 'lift Vietnam from a country with shortages to a developing nation with much potential for international cooperation.' He expressed hope that the IMF would continue to work with Vietnam to establish the policies needed to renew growth and continue the ongoing process of economic restructuring.

The new IMF representative for Vietnam, Sanjay Kalra, arrived in Vietnam in October and will use his expertise in Asian finance and monetary policy to help the country overcome its current economic problems.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has asked Kalra to support Vietnam's bid to host the 2015 IMF/World Bank annual meeting.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Brazil cuts interest rates

Brazil's central bank has announced cuts to the country's key interest rate from 12 per cent to 11.5 per cent due to a lagging global economy. The bank cut rates at the end of August, after upping them five times this year to combat inflation.

Despite the inflation rate rising to 7.3 per cent in September, all seven members of the bank's rate-setting committee voted for the latest cut. Last month, the cut its economic growth forecast for 2011 to 3.5 per cent. This is less than half the 7.5 per cent growth recorded last year.

The bank released a statement saying that a "moderate adjustment to the base rate" was required "to mitigate at this moment the effects coming from a more restrictive global environment".

The bank's target inflation rate is currently 4.5 per cent, and the current rate of 7.3 per cent is the country's highest in more than six years.

Before August's rate cuts the government had implemented a number of measures designed to prevent the economy from overheating. It announced in February £18 billion worth of spending cuts.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, Reuters

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

NTC troops seize Sirte

According to a number of reports, Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has taken full control of Sirte. It is believed that the final efforts to seizethe city lasted for over an hour.

NTC troops have been involved in fierce battle with Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's loyalist for weeks. Some are still resisting NTC troops in the town of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli.

Forces loyal to NTC have been facing heavy resistance from Qadhafi loyalists in the centre of Sirte, about 360km east of Tripoli. On Thursday (20th October) morning, the head of head of government operations in the eastern half of the city, Colonel Yunus al-Abdali told Reuters news agency: "Sirte has been liberated."

Al-Abdali added: "There are no Gaddafi forces any more…We are now chasing his fighters who are trying to run away." The NTC said it would declare liberation of Libya once the city of Sirte has fallen.

Qadhafi, who ruled Libya for four decades, was ousted in August. His whereabouts are unknown, however, several members are in hiding or have fled the country.

Sources: Reuters, BBC News, AP

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

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Libya: NTC now claim to be in control of Bani Walid

As fighting continues in isolated pockets of the country, the National Transitional Council (NTC) now claim to be in control of Bani Walid which is one of the last remaining bastions of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi loyalty. Following yet another push for the centre of the city, there were reports on 18th October that the new government had managed to raise its flag.

Sirte, however, appears to be offering some resistance, as probably only a few hundred heavily armed, but increasingly desperate, Qadhafi loyalists and mercenaries continue to withstand government forces. Although they have been forced into small pockets of the city, the fighting remains fierce.

Residents who had fled the fighting are now returning to areas that have been cleared of pro-Qadhafi forces. There have been several reports of looting in the city – albeit mainly against properties owned by Qadhafi's inner circle and business partners - which have been attributed to the NTC fighters' vengeance against Sirte's previously privileged position. Qadhafi favoured his home town, which grew from a small fishing village into an attractive and pampered town of around 50,000 with more modern infrastructure than nearby Misrata which has a population of over 350,000.

Last week, there were widespread reports that Mu'atassim Qadhafi had been captured in Sirte and had been flown to Benghazi. This led to wild celebrations in which 15 people were killed and around 70 were injured by falling bullets in Tripoli alone. There are now unconfirmed reports, mostly attributed to residents leaving Sirte, that Mu'atassim and Abu Baker Younis Jaber, head of the armed forces and one of the few remaining members of Qadhafi's original Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) – are still somewhere in the Sirte area.

It has been presumed that they are part of the small inner circle directing fighting in the former Leader's home town. Officially, there has been no confirmed sighting of anyone in Colonel Qadhafi's inner circle for some time. Al Jazeera reported that Saif al Islam Qadhafi escaped from Bani Walid about a week ago.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Yemen: New clashes between protesters and army result in more deaths

Reports have emerged that at least seven people have been killed in more violent clashes in Sana'a. According to medical officials, government forces opened fire on protesters who have been calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign.

Witnesses said that protesters were making their way to government buildings when they were accosted by security forces. The reports about the latest fatalities come just a day after some of the worst clashes in Sana'a for weeks.

A doctor from a makeshift hospital in Change Square said around 50 people sustained shot wounds and many others were affected by tear gas. Many of the protesters came under fire from security troops as they marched from Change Square to the loyalist-held al-Qaa neighbourhood, where several government offices are located.

According to witnesses, thousands of people are trapped in the square coming under fire from hundreds of loyalist forces. Leaders of the protests said rallies against Saleh's rule also took place in the southern cities of Aden and Taez, where one person was reported killed late on Monday 17th October.

In a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Yemen's new Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakul Karman, called on the UN to take "immediate and decisive action to stop the massacres and hold the perpetrators accountable".

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said he condemned "in the strongest terms the reported killing of a number of largely peaceful protesters in Sanaa and Taez as a result of the indiscriminate use of force by Yemeni security forces since Saturday".

He added: “We are extremely concerned that security forces continue to use excessive force in a climate of complete impunity for crimes, resulting in heavy loss of life and injury, despite repeated pledges by the government to the contrary.”

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Ghana: Calls to end doctors’ strike

The National Labour Commission (NLC) has call for an end to the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) to end its strike as soon as possible “in the best interest of all stakeholders”. The government worries that the doctors’ strike could spread to other public sector workers as it tries to cut the budget deficit.

The NLC made the plea on 12th October after it met with the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) and the GMA to try and resolve issues relating to the migration of medical doctors onto the government’s new Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS).

President John Atta Mills has also appealed to striking doctors to return to work. The government faces a massive challenge in keeping state spending under control as wage demands escalate under the new salary structure.

He said that the situation at the country’s hospitals was becoming difficult to manage and urged doctors to consider sick and dying patients across the country.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Mubarak's sons have £215 million stashed away in Swiss banks

Hosni Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, reportedly have £215 million stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. Egypt's deputy justice minister and head of the Illicit Gains Authority Assem al-Gohari said most of the funds, which are now frozen, belonged to Mubarak's elder son Alaa.

Both of Mubarak's sons are standing trial on corruption charges and complicity in the killing of protesters. Mubarak himself is charged with ordering the army to shoot at protesters, who were calling for his resignation throughout January and February. The uprising was in part fuelled by the public's anger over the Mubarak family illegally amassing vast amounts of wealth.

Speaking about the situation, Gohari said the Swiss authorities were investigating whether Alaa was involved in money laundering. Switzerland has already frozen the assets of the Mubarak family and other former Egyptian government figures.

Sources: Reuters, BBC News, Bloomberg

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

President Ahmadinejad denies Saudi plot

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied the Islamic Republic's involvement in the plot to assassinate a Saudi envoy. He said the allegations were as false as those about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Ahmadinejad said that the US' claims were intended to distract people from the country's own "internal economic problems". In a broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Ahmadinejad said US was looking for an excuse to toughen sanctions against Iran.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has asked the UN Security Council to look into what it called a "heinous conspiracy". Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he had passed correspondence about the affair to the Security Council.

Just days ago, the US imposed sanctions on the Iranian airline Mahan Air, which reportedly carried members of an elite force linked to the alleged plot to kill the Saudi envoy to the US. According to the US Treasury, Mahan Air flew members of Iran's Quds Force and Hezbollah across the Middle East.

The sanctions stipulate that the airline's US assets will be frozen and US firms are barred from doing business with it. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the supposed plan was "dangerous escalation" by Iran.

Speaking about the situation, Ahmadinejad said: “In the past the US administration claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They said it so strongly, they offered and presented documentations and everyone said, 'yes, we believe in you, we buy it'…"Now is everyone asking them, were those claims true? Did they find any weapon of mass destruction in Iraq? They fabricated a bunch of papers. Is that a difficult thing to do? The truth will be revealed ultimately and there will be no problem for us at that time."

Ahmadinejad added: "I think that there are some people in the US administration who want this to happen, but I think there are wise people in the US administration who know they shouldn't do such a thing."

Sources: AP, BBC News, Reuters

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

Monday, 17 October 2011

NTC troops have entered Bani Walid

It is thought that the National Transitional Council (NTC) forces have entered Bani Walid, one of the last remaining of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's strongholds. NTC commanders say they met heavy resistance from Qadhafi loyalists in the town, about 170km southeast Tripoli.

It is reported that fighting continues in Qadhafi's hometown, Sirte. A pro-Qadhafi television station has confirmed reports that his son, Khamis, was indeed killed in late August.

Arrai television, located in Syria, reported that Khamis died during fighting with NTC troops in the city of Tarhouna, 90km southeast of Tripoli. It television also said that Qadhafi's intelligence chief, Mohammed Abdullah al-Sanussi was also killed during the battle.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has paid a brief visit to Tripoli, as part of a wider regional tour of North Africa. His main purpose was to re-open the British embassy and meet NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil.

Hague also announced a package of support including extra help for demining around the towns of Sirte and Bani Walid, where fighting continues. Hague has appointed Sir John Jenkins, formerly the special UK representative to Libya and based in Benghazi for the past few months, as ambassador.

The extent of NTC's advance in the town of Bani Walid remains unclear. It is reported that the fighters approached the town on Sunday 16th October from the north and south after launching a barrage of artillery fire against Qadhafi loyalists.

NTC commander Jamal Salem told AFP news agency: "We attacked this morning from the south-west. Our men were inside the town this afternoon. But there was heavy resistance."

It is estimated that some 1,500 Qadhafi loyalists are in Bani Walid.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Reuters

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

Yemen: More protesters shot by security forces

According to a number of in-country sources, Yemeni security forces have fired on protesters for the second day running killing four people and injuring several others. Soldiers opened fire on tens of thousands of people during a rally in Sana'a. The unrest has been on-going for a number of months, with protesters calling for long term President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign.

Saleh is back in the country after three months in Saudi Arabia, following an attack on his residence. Despite numerous calls for his resignation, Saleh refuses to step down.

It is estimated that 12 people were killed and around 80 injured during a similar protest on Saturday 15th October. The political unrest, spurred by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, has been going for eight months but is no nearer a resolution.

The demonstrators camped out in Sana'a's Change Square, were trying to march towards the presidential palace when they were targeted by security forces.

Director of a makeshift hospital in Change Square, Mohammed al-Qubati, told Associated Press news agency that the death toll had risen to four and at least 37 people were injured.

According to eyewitnesses, on Saturday protesters were heading to an area controlled by the elite Republican Guard force, which is loyal to the president, when they were accosted. Not only is Saleh being called on to resign by ordinary civilians, he is also facing insurrection by defected army elements.

Sources: BBC News, AP, Bloomberg

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

Algeria: Constitutional problems

President Abselaziz Bouteflika's absence has given rise to a number of constitutional problems. One of these is that he has been unable to appoint a new president of the Conseil constitutionnel algérien (Constitutional Council), following the expiry of the mandate of the octogenarian Boualem Bessaih.

A second problem centres on his immediate replacement if Bouteflika were to die or be removed from office under Clause 88 of the Constitution. In such an eventuality the leader of the Senate takes over temporarily as president. Abdelkader Bensalah is an Algerian by naturalisation and not by birth, however, and is therefore constitutionally unable to take the office of president.

It was earlier announced that Bensalah, who had been appointed by Bouteflika in May to head his constitutional reform committee, was to step down and be replaced as leader of the Senate. Bensalah was to take over as chairman of the Constitutional Council following the expiry of Bessaih's mandate. He was being strongly tipped at that time to be replaced as leader/speaker of the Senate by Abderrazak Bouhara.

When we reported these changes in August, it was anticipated that they would come into effect around the end of September. One consequence of Bouteflika's ill health is that these appointments may not have come into effect. The opinion of our sources is that they have not yet done so. If this is the case then the country could be faced with something of a constitutional problem.

A third problem, although one with less serious consequences, is that Bouteflika, in his capacity as President of the Judicial System, has not been able to start the 'judicial year', which, in terms of the constitution, should have been done about three weeks ago.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Ousted State governors fall to anti-corruption body

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has arrested four former State governors on a raft of charges, including include embezzlement, fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of State-owned funds. The former Governors arrested by EFCC are: former Ogun State governor Gbenga Daniel; former Oyo governor Adebayo Alao-Akala; former Nasarawa governor Aliyu Akwe Doma; and Danjuma Goje, the former governor of Gombe State, who is now a serving senator.

All of the former governors arrested are members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and two of them – Alao-Akala and Doma – lost their re-election bids to opposition candidates, from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) respectively.

Daniel is the first of the four to be arraigned. He was arraigned in the Ogun State High Court on 12th October on a 16-count charge of embezzlement, fraud and misappropriation of N58 billion in Ogun State funds. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and has been remanded in custody.

Oyo State's Alao-Akala was also arraigned on 12th October alongside two other suspects. Alao-Akala was arraigned on an 11-count charge of conspiracy, contract fraud and other criminal acts, including fraudulent acquisition of properties in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. His alleged frauds amount to a loss of some N20 billion to the Oyo State government. He pleaded not guilty and has been remanded in custody pending the hearing of his bail application.

Alao-Akala was arraigned with his ex-commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs, Hosea Ayoola Agboola, presently an Oyo North senator, and Olufemi Ademola Babalola of Pentagon Engineering Services.

The other two ex-Governors – Doma and Goje – are expected to be arraigned within the next week, in their home States. Doma is alleged to have embezzled N18 billion of Nasarawa State funds, while Goje is alleged to have embezzled N52 billion of Gombe State funds.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 14 October 2011

Brazil: Truth commission bill passes

Under strong pressure from Dilma Rousseff, on 21 September the Chamber of Deputies passed a bill to create the Commission on Truth (see Brazil Focus, September 2011). The bill must still be approved by the Senate, where its rap­porteur is Aloysio Nunes Ferreira (PSDB-SP), himself a victim of the military repression.

From the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, whose 66th session she opened on 21 Septem­ber, Rousseff paid homage to Brazil's Commission on Truth, saying that she believed the initiative to be important for Brazil and for its position in the world. The terms for approval of the bill by the Chamber of Deputies were negotiated with the president by telephone when she was already in New York, and categorically excluded any revision of the 1979 Amnesty Law.

This makes the government's proposal more acceptable to radical elements, including some of the military. As it stands, the Commission will have no punitive powers, only that of producing relevant information. It will consist of seven members, eminent personalities appointed by the president for a term of two years.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Latest clashes reveal a lot about SCAF

The clashes between the military and mainly Coptic protesters in downtown Cairo on the night of 9th October, that left 25 dead and more than 200 injured, have raised grave concerns about Egypt spiralling towards sectarian conflict. It also raised worries about Supreme Council of the Armed Forces's (SCAF) competence to maintain order and indeed its willingness to hand over power.

There was some confusion about the sequence of events but evidence on video footage has helped establish an approximate timeline.

The march had been planned and announced. It was mainly fuelled by the authorities' failure to protect the Coptic community and its churches from attacks by Salafists and other groups. The final straw was the destruction of a church at Marinab, near Edfu in the governorate of Aswan. Muslim villagers had attacked a building used by Christians as a place of worship after they started building a dome on top of it. The governor of Aswan, Mustafa El Sayeed, weighed in stating that the Copts did not have a building permit.

It is notoriously difficult for Copts – who make up 10 per cent of the population – to obtain building permits for new churches. By contrast, Muslims can assign a space within a building as a prayer room and/or build a mosque without any major difficulties.

The most recent clashes were a culmination of a series of violent incidents this year.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 13 October 2011

US imposes sanctions on an Iranian airline

The US has imposed sanctions on an Iranian airline, which reportedly carried members of an elite force linked to an alleged plot to kill the Saudi envoy to the US. According to the US Treasury, Mahan Air flew members of Iran's Quds Force and Hezbollah across the Middle East.

The sanctions stipulate that the airline's US assets will be frozen and US firms are barred from doing business with it. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the supposed plan was "dangerous escalation" by Iran.

The sanctions were announced a day after the authorities thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, on US soil using explosives.

The US has accused Iran's Quds Force, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, of being involved in the plan. Iran has counteracted the charges, saying they are part of the US government's plan to besmirch the Islamic Republic.

It is not yet clear why the force would choose Manssor Arbabsiar, a man with a criminal record, as the key agent of its first ever attack inside the US. Nor is it clear why Iran would involve a Mexican drugs cartel to plant the bomb.

Speaking about the issue, White House press secretary Jay Carney said: "It's clear that senior levels of Quds force were engaged in the plotting."

On Tuesday 11th October, the US also imposed sanctions against five people linked to the alleged assassination plot, including two men, Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalised US citizen with dual Iranian and US passports, and Gholam Shakuri, who lives in Iran, charged over the investigation.

Shakuri and three other men are thought to belong to the Quds Force. Arbabsiar, accused of wiring £63,000 to a US bank account to finance the alleged $1.5m conspiracy, was charged in a New York City court on Tuesday.

The US said that the accused approached a US informant posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination. Speaking about it on Wednesday 12th October, Treasury official David Cohen said: "Mahan Air's close co-ordination with the IRGC-QF [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp-Quds Force] - secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights - reveals yet another facet of the IRGC's extensive infiltration of Iran's commercial sector to facilitate its support for terrorism."

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by Iran'sAlalam channel as saying: "America has launched a mischievous scenario. But be certain, they will apologise [to Iran] in the future."

The Gulf Cooperation Council condemned the alleged plot as a "flagrant violation" of international laws.

Sources: AP, BBC News, Reuters

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

SCAF defends its tactics in Copt protest crackdown

Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has denied that the army opened fire on protesters during Sunday's clashes between Copts and troops in Cairo. SCAF also denied that the army drove military vehicles into crowds, and showed footage of an armoured personnel carrier swerving around protesters.

It is estimated that around 25 people died during the clashes, the most violent since the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak in February. The confrontations ensued when Copts took to the streets in protest over an attack on a church in southern Egypt. It is not yet clear how many people of those killed were Copts but according to Egyptian officials three soldiers were among the dead. Many others were injured.

A member of SCAF Gen Mahmoud Hegazy said: "The armed forces would never and have never opened fire on the people.” Speaking about the video footage of an army vehicle from the scene of the clashes, he stressed that "there has not been a case of rolling over people with vehicles". Hegazy added: “They are trying to avoid running into protesters, not rolling over them." He also pointed out that the video proved that soldiers were being attacked by protesters armed with guns and rocks.

The handling of Sunday's unrest has resulted in a lot criticism directed at the army. The Copts, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 85 million population, have a number of grievances against the interim administration, namely that it is not doing enough to protect them.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Wild celebration following Mu'atassim Qadhafi's reported capture in Sirte

Tonight there is wild celebratory gunfire throughout Tripoli and Benghazi as rumours spread that Mu'atassim Qadhafi - the Leader's fourth son and former National Security Advisor - has been captured in Sirte.

It was confirmed by some members of the National Transitional Council (NTC) that Mu'atassim, who was apparently leading the Qadhafi loyalists' defence of Sirte, was flown to Benghazi earlier today. It has not yet, however, been officially confirmed and there must be concern that this may turn out to be another premature and embarrassing mistake like the one when Saif al-Islam was incorrectedly said to have been captured. Despite his brutal past Mu'atassim is not on the International Criminal Court's wanted list so he will presumably be tried in Libya if he has indeed been captured.

It is believed that his elder brother Saif al-Islam, who was also his principal rival to succeed their father, may still be in Bani Walid which has been beseiged by the interim government for many weeks. If this is true then his capture can only be a matter of time.

Meanwhile, it is thought that Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi himself is somewhere in south-west Libya near the Algerian border.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fighting continues in key battle areas

Fighting continues in key battle areas of Sirte and Bani Walid. Although interim leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, emphasised to journalists in Tripoli that National Transitional Council (NTC) is making headway in Sirte, it is evident that his claims that fighting would be over at the end of this week are not concrete predictions. Bani Walid continues to be mostly under siege. It is largely considered to be less of a prize than Sirte, given that there are only few major routes in its environs.

In Sirte, yet another push towards the centre was delayed on 8th October by a sandstorm, which affected visibility for both sides. On 9th October, however, despite coming under heavy sniper fire, NTC fighters reportedly took the al Giza district. NTC officials also reported the symbolic capture of Sirte University, Ibn Sina hospital and the Ouagadougou Halls, from which it is believed that resistance was being directed by pro Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi forces.

If this position can be held, Qadhafi loyalists are left only with a Qadhafi compound and a small residential area in its vicinity.This will deal a psychological blow, particularly as the Ouagadougou centre was a showpiece of the Qadhafi regime, used for many international engagements. Pro-Qadhafi soldiers have been joined by civilians in attacks on the NTC fighters.

Many civilians in Sirte appear to fear reprisals from NTC forces. Whether this fear stems from Qadhafi's propaganda or is based in reality remains to be seen. Revolutionary fighters have received losses in counter attacks. Figures estimated on 9th October suggest 17 dead and 87 wounded during the day's fighting.

On 6th October, a Syrian based satellite channel broadcast the first message from Qadhafi for some time. In the poor quality recording, the voice purporting to be that of the Libyan Leader called on Libyans to resist the NTC, join in marches against the interim government and to restore the 'green flag'. Qadhafi called conditions in Libya 'unbearable' and claimed that his forces would be launching an attack to take the city of Sirte following Friday prayers. So far, attacks by loyalist fighters have been fierce but not entirely successful.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Several bomb explosions in Iraq leave 14 dead

According to Iraqi officials, three car bombs in Baghdad have killed at least 14 people. Two suicide bombers detonated explosive packed vehicles minutes apart in the northwestern Hurriya district and the central al-Wiya district.

The recent resurgence in bomb attacks in the capital is becoming a worrying trend, and seems to have come at the same time as the US prepares to withdraw its troops at the end of the year.

In one of the attacks a suicide bomber struck at al-Wiya police station, located at one of Baghdad's main intersections. Another drove his car into the police checkpoint in the Hurriya neighbourhood, a residential area surrounded by blast walls. It is estimated that 42 people were injured.

Just days ago a series of similar bomb explosions in Baghdad killed at least nine people and wounded 20 others. Iraqis are worried that the withdrawal will leave a security gap in the country making both civilians and officials more susceptible to attacks.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Ghana helps police Liberian elections

Ghana has deployed 300 police personnel to help maintain law and order during Liberia's elections on 11th October. Nigeria has agreed to send 240 police personnel. The security forces, which come under the ECOWAS mandate, were supposed to arrive in Liberia ten days before the elections but were delayed because of a lack of financial resources.

Inspector General of Police Paul Tawiah Quaye and his Nigerian counterpart Hafiz Abubakar Ringim met with Vice President John Dramani Mahama at the Castle, Osu, on 7th October to discuss deployment of personnel, funding and the general security situation in Liberia.

During the meeting Mahama called on security services in West Africa to increase intelligence spending in order to fight political and economic crimes in the sub-region.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Turkmenistan plans naval patrols on disputed Caspian border

Turkmenistan, the Caspian's most cautious and least well-defended state, has announced plans to boost its navy and patrol its maritime borders as questions loom over the future of the Caspian sea.

Speaking at a naval shipyard where two new missile patrol boats have recently been delivered, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said that Turkmenistan “needs ships to patrol its maritime borders, to maintain their security and counter negative phenomena and modern challenges”, while stressing that Turkmenistan's naval doctrine was purely defensive in nature.

Although Turkmenistan's naval capabilities are weak and its political will doubtful, Berdimuhamedov's speech was a clear statement that the country is keen to defend its waters amid growing tension over the division of the Caspian.

The EU's decision to open negotiations with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan on a Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) last month, to bring Central Asian gas west to Europe, has been strongly opposed by Russia and Iran. The Caspian's two strongest states argue that a TCP would cause serious environmental damage and cannot be agreed without the consent of all five littoral countries.

Their real objection, however, is that a TCP would permit an avenue for Central Asian gas to reach Europe without crossing their territory, weakening their regional influence.

In addition, the status of Caspian borders remains contested while the littoral states debate how large a share each should take. This has not stopped exploration of oil and gas deposits, but it has created zones of uncertainty. A recent Wikileaks cable revealed that in 2009, Iran moved an oil rig into disputed waters between it and Azerbaijan, prompting fears of conflict in Baku. Turkmenistan also fears Iranian intimidation.

The country's naval forces are ill-equipped to patrol its borders or defend its territory. It has a handful of rusting Soviet patrol boats operating from dilapidated facilities. The government has been busy purchasing more, however, including some from Ukraine and others from Russia and Turkey. The new missile patrol boats inspected by Berdimuhamedov were built by a joint Russian-Turkmen venture, with most of the work done by Russian firms.

Although the government wants the new navy to be completed by 2015, along with port facilities and a naval academy, Turkmenistan will continue to lag behind its neighbours. Its stated intention to patrol its borders, however, suggests that it is taking its position in the Caspian very seriously.

Sources;, Eurasianet

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

Around 25 people arrested over unemployment protests

On Sunday 9th October, Algerian police arrested around 25 people as they prepared to protest against unemployment outside the presidential compound. A spokesman for unemployment rights group CNDCC, Samir Larabi, said he was arrested together with another man and taken to a police station in El Mouradia.

Larabi added that he was later released but around 25 of his colleagues were retained in custody. The group were going to protest about lack of employment opportunities, call for greater unemployment benefits and the democratic right to hold peaceful demonstrations.

On Wednesday 5th October, Algerian police briefly detained 17 people as they prepared to hold a rally commemorating the pro-democracy protests of 1988.

According to World Bank statistics, Algeria, whose population consists of some 35 million people, has an unemployment rate of 11 per cent. Over the last couple of months, Algerians have been more vocal about social concerns, lack of democratic freedoms and the cost of basic necessities.

In a bid to appease the nation, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to review and revise legislation in order to allow for a more democratic media. The bill endorsed by the Algerian Ministers Council has been criticised, however, by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). The group has said that it goes some way towards abolishing the imprisonment penalty for journalists, but the wording of the bill itself, along with the severe fines which replace jail time, still restricts freedoms.

It also covers the establishment of independent news satellite channels and/or radio stations, which are presently forbidden. Many have hoped that this would prove a step in the right direction. But the bill stipulates several restrictions in regards to the formation of any independent news source. Additionally, private newspapers are also expected to now be granted permission by the Authority Control for Publications.

Chairman of the Algerian Human Rights League (LADDH) Boudjemaâ Ghachir warned people not to be fooled by the bill. He said: “Once you get under the rather attractive wrapping, the present itself is poison.”

Sources: AFP, Reuters, AllAfrica

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

Nigerian army accused of human rights abuses after another bomb blast

On Monday 10th October, Nigerian security forces were accused of burning homes and shooting at civilians following a bomb attack in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. The attack, which killed a soldier and a civilian, is thought to have been carried out by Islamist militants.

An unnamed military spokesman denied the abuses and said the bomb blast set off a fire fed by petrol canisters along the roadside. He added that it took over three hours to put it out. An eyewitness told AFP news agency: “We have been forced to abandon our homes by shooting and burning of homes and vehicles by soldiers following the attack on their patrol vehicle…Everybody is fleeing."

It is not the first time that the country's military has been accused of human rights abuses in Maiduguri, where thousands of people had to flee the city due to militant activities and army misconduct. Speaking about the situation, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Mohammed said: "Three soldiers and one civilian were seriously injured following the explosion of a remote-controlled improvised explosive device planted along a dusty road in Dala area of Maiduguri." He later said that one of the soldiers and the civilian died from their injuries.

The Islamist militants behind the latest attack are believed to belong to Boko Haram, responsible for dozens of other attacks mostly in the country's northeast region. Mohammed added: "We believe that the device was planted by Boko Haram people. We have arrested eight suspects in connection with the explosion."

Nine cars parked by the side of the road, where the explosion took place, were burned. It is believed that the bomb “was detonated by a remote control targeted at one of our patrol vehicles. The device exploded as our patrol vehicle was passing by. The vehicle was flung metres away".

According to Amnesty International security forces killed at least 23 people following a bomb explosion in Maiduguri in July, and another 25 people following another bomb attack earlier in the same month.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, Reuters

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

At least nine dead in Baghdad bomb blasts

Iraqi officials say that a number of bomb explosions in Baghdad have killed at least nine people and wounded 20 others. It is thought that the thee blasts were intended for the security forces.

Attacks on the country's security personnel have become more frequent in recent months, as the US army prepares to withdraw by the end of 2011. Some are worried that the withdrawal will leave a security gap in the country making both civilians and officials more susceptible to attacks.

The first explosion was caused by a roadside bomb targeting an army patrol in a western area, quickly followed by a second bomb nearby. The third blast occurred as fire crews arrived on the scene following the first explosion.

US and Iraq are reportedly in talks over whether or not to retain a marginal military presence in the country until 2012.

In related news, six members of a land mine removal brigade died when a controlled detonation of old land mines went wrong. The incident took place near the city of Basra some 550km southeast of Baghdad, on Saturday 8th October. The mine erupted while the group was investigating the site, killing three Iraqi soldiers and three explosives experts.

Sources: BBC News, Voice of America, NPR, AP

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

Monday, 10 October 2011

NTC forces closing in on Sirte

National Transitional Council's (NTC) forces have made considerable headway in the battle for the city of Sirte, one of the remaining Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi strongholds and his hometown.

NTC leaders have said that they have captured the city's main hospital, the university and the Ouagadougou conference centre. But fighting continues around the city. According to the NTC, once the city is under its control the Council will declare national liberation, irrespective of whether or not Qadhafi remains at large.

Qadhafi loyalists also have control of the desert territory of Bani Walid, but it is seen as less significant as it does not lead to any exit routes from the country. Speaking about the current situation, NTC's chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil said: “I do believe, God willing, that the liberation of these cities [Sirte and Bani Walid] will happen within this week."

In August, members of Qadhafi's family and his inner circle fled to neighbouring Algeria and Niger.

Now, after months of political deadlock it's all come down to a few square kilometres in the Libyan Leader's hometown.

On Sunday 9th October, NTC reported that it had captured the city's main conference complex. It also captured the main Ibn Sina hospital, where people wounded in the offensive were seeking treatment. While many were civilians, others were taken into custody by the NTC, suspected of being Qadhafi loyalists.

According to the Associated Press news agency, the injured were lying on the floors to protect themselves from the firing going on outside. NTC field commander Osama Swehli Muttawa said: "We took 50 prisoners. They were mostly mercenaries. They were lying in beds pretending to be wounded. Some were wounded. We found Kalashnikov and other weapons under their beds."

Thousands of civilians remain trapped in Sirte, many of them fearful of retaliation by the NTC forces. It has also been reported that the Council's forces have taken control of Qadhafi's residences in the city.

The NTC fighters came up against heavily armed Qadhafi loyalist on Friday (7th October) and Saturday (8th October). Speaking about it NTC commander Nasser Zamud told AFP the fighting in the university area had been "difficult" with NTC forces facing "a lot of snipers".

On Thursday 6th October, Qadhafi delivered an audio message urging Libyans to take to the streets "in their millions" to resist the interim goverment.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, AP

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

Clashes in Egypt leave 24 dead

Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has called for peace after 24 people were killed during clashes between Coptic Christians and security forces, which escalated into riots.

The confrontations occurred in Cairo after an attack on a church in Aswan province last week. It is reported that Muslims joined in the clashed, fighting for both sides.

Sharaf called an emergency cabinet meeting today. There is immense pressure on ministers and on the country's military rulers to give assurances about national harmony. Sharaf said discord between Muslims and Christians in Egypt was "a threat to the country's security".

Sharaf toured the area where the clashes transpired and later in a televised address said: “The most serious threat to the country's security is tampering with national unity, and the stirring of discord between Muslim and Christian sons of Egypt."

He added that violence of this nature, the worst since former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, was "tampering with the relationship between the people and the army".

Egyptian TV showed footage of protesters clashing with security forces as army vehicles burned outside the state TV building where protesters had originally planned a sit-in. There were also reports that vehicles were burning outside the Coptic hospital, where many of the wounded were taken.

Sectarian tensions have increased in recent months. The Copts, who make up about 10 per cent of the population, accuse the military of being too tolerant of religiously prompted attacks.

Thousands of people both Christian and Muslim joined the initial march from the Shubra district of northern Cairo to the state TV building in Maspero Square. They were calling on the military council to sack the governor of Aswan province.

The violence erupted outside the state TV building but soon spread to Tahrir Square, where the demonstrations against Mubarak's regime began. According to a number of reports thousands took to the streets hurling stones at one another. It is thought that Muslims joined in the protests to defend Christians who were being attacked by men in plain clothes who are thought to have been security officials.

Some people have been calling for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hand over power and for its chairman Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi to resign.

Egypt's health ministry said that at least 24 people had been killed and 212 had been wounded in the violence. Ministry spokesman Hisham Shiha told the BBC that of them at least 86 were security forces.

Sources: BBC News, The Independent, Reuters

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

Algeria denies talks on Qadhafi's fate

On Friday 7th October, Foreign Ministry spokesman Amar Belani denied that the visit of the Qatari delegation to Algiers on Wednesday 28th September, led by Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al-Thani – and the accompanying message from Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika – had anything to do with the fate of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi. Immediately after the visit, there were reports, stemming from a foreign news agency, that Algeria had been holding secret talks with Qatar over the Libyan Leader's future.

Belani said: "I categorically deny the baseless news reported by a foreign news agency alleging the existence of secret talks between Algeria and Qatar over the fate of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi." He went on to confirm emphatically that “Qadhafi is not on the Algerian territories".

Concerning reports of an imminent visit of a senior official from Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) to Algiers, Belani said: "Well, at this moment, there's no such a visit on the agenda."

While it would be surprising for such discussions to have been held, especially in the light of the recent tensions between the two countries over Libya, Algerian government statements, especially 'denials' no longer have much credibility.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Yemen: Can the young protesters create political parties?

The international community has been quietly urging the young protesters to start forming political parties that might be able to take part in future elections. There are signs that some of the young people are listening. The Co-ordinating Council for Revolutionary Change (which said that 891 demonstrators had been killed since the protests started in February – government sources say that a total of over 1,400 have died) has been an effective voice to the media.

Students have spoken of several groups within it that already have over 40,000 members. They are not likely to obtain licences to set up parties under present conditions (students say that the authorities insist that any new political party must first endorse the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh). At least one of the so-called parties appears to be what might in other circumstances be the youth wing of the GPC.

Islah is well organised within the protest movement. Most students want new parties and do not want to be associated with any of the existing ones, all of which have been discredited in the eyes of the young people.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 7 October 2011

SCAF to hand over power at the right time

Head of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi has said that the army has no interest in remaining in power but will not hand over to a civilian authority until the time is right. Tantawi, who is also the country's defence minister, assumed his current position on 11th February after the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak. Speaking on 5th October, Tantawi said: "We will not abandon Egypt before we finish what we pledged to do and committed ourselves to before the people. The military council has no interest in staying [in power] for a long time. Given the chance, the military council will step down tomorrow."

He also dismissed speculations that SCAF would nominate its own candidate for elections. He said: "These are rumours that are not worthy of stopping to consider, and neither should we spend time talking about them.”

Tantawi's remarks come four days after his number two and chief of the general staff, Gen Sami Anan, met representatives of different political parties to discuss the timescale for handover of power. In the timeframe he outlined, there would be no presidential elections until the end of next year at the earliest. Anan also said that SCAF was not “seeking to prolong the transitional period. It is committed to a clear and precise timetable to transfer power after the election of a president”.

According to the discussed plan, once elected the People's Assembly would meet in late March or early April to choose a 100-member committee to draft a new constitution. The committee would have six months to conclude its work and the document would then be put to a popular vote by referendum. The adoption of a new constitution, delineating the powers of the executive, would then open the way for presidential elections. But this would not happen until the end of 2012 at the earliest.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

No fanfare for independent Nigeria's 51st birthday

Nigeria's 51 st Independence Day was celebrated on 1 st October, but in a marked departure from the extravagant and elaborate celebrations of last year's 50 th Independence celebrations, the festivities this year were low-key, with little or no fanfare. The usual Independence Day parade at Abuja's Eagle Square did not take place. Instead, President Goodluck Jonathan chose to have a quiet celebration at the State House, Aso Rock villa.

It is widely believed that the reason for this year's quiet celebrations were the security risks posed by threats from both the Boko Haram militant Islamist sect and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) military group, as well, of course, the legacy of last year's tragic bombing on Independence Day, which occurred close to Eagle Square, killing and injuring several people.

Responsibility for last year's bombing was claimed by MEND and this resulted in the arrest of Henry Okah – MEND's alleged leader – his brother Charles Okah and several others who are still undergoing trial. Some critics of the government, in particular the leading opposition party – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – have accused the government of cowardice for allowing terrorist organisations to scare it away from the usual Eagle Square venue of Independence Day celebrations.

The presidency insists that its decision not to have the Independence Day celebrations at the usual venue was not informed by security issues but by its desire to have a low-key and less extravagant celebration, following the previous year's extravagant festivities.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Nigeria to scrap fuel subsidies

Nigeria's government has announced plans to end fuel subsidies, weaken the ? and increase spending by 7 per cent in next year's budget as oil prices decline. The Budget Office estimates that scraping the subsidy, over the next three years, will save the government $7.5 billion in 2012.

Nigeria is facing tumbling revenues as the price of oil, which constitutes more than 95 per cent of export income and 80 per cent of government earnings, declined by 28 per cent in the past six months. The ? declined to a record low of 160.65 against the $ on Wednesday 5th October; while foreign currency reserves, used to fund the central bank's twice-weekly auctions to stabilize the ?, have fallen 9 per cent in the year through 30th September.

The Budget Office said that the government plans to increase spending to ?4.8 trillion next year and will calculate its revenue using crude oil price of $75 a barrel and output of 2.48 million b/d.

It is estimated that combined spending will rise to ?5.18 trillion in 2015. By that time, the government is also proposing to impose a ceiling on recurrent expenditure, such as wages, in favor of capital investments.

The budget is forecast on an exchange rate of ?153 per $, compared with ?150 at present. The deficit is predicted to narrow to 2.69 per cent of the gross domestic product, from the current 3.62 per cent.

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

Iran disgruntled with Turkey over NATO deal

On Tuesday 4th October, Iran criticised Turkey for agreeing to allow NATO to station an early warning radar in the southeast of the country that will serve as part of the alliance's missile defence system. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the defence system was meant to protect Israel against Iranian missile attacks in the event of war.

Ahmadinejad said: "The missile defence shield is aimed at defending the Zionist regime. They don't want to let our missiles land in the occupied territories (Israel) if one day they take action against us. That's why they put it there."

In September, Turkey and NATO agreed that the former would host the radar as part of NATO's missile defence system aimed at deflecting attacks from Iran. In order to appease its neighbour Turkey said the shield does not target a specific country and added that it would block the deal if Iran was singled-out as a threat.

According to Turkish officials, a military installation in Kurecik in the Malatya province some 700km west of the Iranian border has been designated as the radar site. Ahmadinejad said that Iran has been in talks with the Turkish government and has made its position clear. He said: "We told our Turkish friends that it was not a correct job (decision) they did and that it's to their detriment…Such shields can't prevent the collapse of the Zionist regime."

The radar's positioning in Turkey indicates that its ties with the US are improving since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Turkey also works closely with the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Libya, albeit it is not directly involved in warfare.

Although Turkey is on good terms with the US, it has in the past taken exception to Washington's stance on the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme, urging a diplomatic solution instead of sanctions.

Sources: Time, Press TV, WSJ, AP

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

Fighting continues in Qadhafi's strongholds

Despite recent predictions that the fighting in Libya would end, it is still continuing in some areas, including the key towns of Sirte, Bani Walid and Sebha. In particular, fighters loyal to Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi are clinging onto control in Bani Walid and Sirte. NATO spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie recently estimated that roughly 200,000 Libyans were still under the control of the Qadhafi regime.

On 30th September, it was announced that National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters would adhere to a 48-hour ceasefire in Qadhafi's hometown of Sirte in order to allow the civilian population to flee. According to various sources – including International Red Cross, which has gained access to Sirte – humanitarian conditions in the city are still deteriorating.

NTC military commanders have suggested that Qadhafi's fourth-eldest son and former national security adviser, Mu'atassim, is in the Bouhadi district to the south of Sirte. On 3rd October, news from Libya suggested that NTC forces had taken Bouhadi. Information in recent weeks, as yet unconfirmed, places Mu'atassim and Saif al-Islam in Sirte and Bani Walid, respectively. Given the fierce resistance, it is highly likely that the two towns do indeed shelter members of Qadhafi's inner circle.

On 29th September, Interpol issued a red arrest notice – the highest of its kind – for Sa'adi al-Qadhafi, who is currently in Niger. The notice was requested by the NTC, who accused Sa'adi of misappropriating funds and using force during his time with the Libyan Football Federation. There are also the same notices issued for Colonel Qadhafi and Saif al-Islam, both relating to arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Sa'adi has, however, contested both the allegations and the red notice. Niger has also confirmed that it has no intention of extraditing him. Niamey has, however, offered NTC officials the opportunity to question Sa'adi while he remains in the country.

There is little news about the other members of the former Qadhafi regime. Former prime minister Dr Mahmoud al-Baghdadi has been released in Tunisia, after appealing his sentence for illegally travelling through the country. It is rumoured that he has begun a hunger strike while the authorities consider what they should do next.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Algeria: New media bill still restricts freedoms

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) says Algeria's new legislation does not liberate the media or give it the freedom of expression it deserves. On Monday 3rd October, ANHRI released a statement saying the new media bill endorsed by the Algerian Ministers Council goes some way towards abolishing the imprisonment penalty for journalists, but the wording of the bill itself, along with the severe fines which replace jail time, still restricts freedoms.

The bill was promised by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a measure of reform in order to quell protests against his rule. The protesters called for a number of other things, including the end to the state of emergency, which they've been demanding since the demonstrations began in February.

The media bill also covers the establishment of independent news satellite channels and/or radio stations, which are presently forbidden. Many have hoped that this would prove a step in the right direction. A film consultant at the Ministry of Culture Amed Bedjaoui welcomed the measure saying “for once, Algeria is no longer appearing on the international front pages with news about terrorism. The whole world is seeing this new openness in Algeria in a positive light”.

The new bill, however, stipulates several restrictions in regards to the formation of any independent news channel. Additionally, private newspapers are also expected to now be granted permission by the Authority Control for Publications.

Chairman of the Algerian Human Rights League (LADDH) Boudjemaâ Ghachir warned people not to be fooled. He said: “Once you get under the rather attractive wrapping, the present itself is poison.”

According to ANHRI, freedom of expression remains tightly controlled, despite the abolishment of imprisonment for any indiscretion or contention. The fines for any such offence range from €300 to €5000, an extortionate sum which the journalist must pay themselves, rather than it be paid by their employers. The salary of the average journalist working in Algeria is about €200, which according to ANHRI is set low so to deter them from writing about controversial issues for fear of having to pay a penalty.

The bill also restricts journalistic freedom in writing about every aspect of life such as state security, economic problems, public service, cultural and so forth. It also grants the authorities the right to “to punish a journalist or a newspaper when they cross the lines.”

ANHRI concluded: “Freedom is indivisible and cannot be granted from someone to another. It is a human right for all. Hence, the Algerian authorities should not provide half-solutions in an attempt to diffuse the revolutionary spirit experienced by the Arab region. Instead, they should provide genuine and complete reform ensuring public freedoms.”

Sources: BM, Reuters, AllAfrica

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

Vietnam to strengthen bilateral relations with Uzbekistan

While on an official visit to Uzbekistan Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev to discuss trade relations between the two nations. Mirziyoyev spoke very highly about Vietnam's achievements and socio-economic progress. He also congratulated Dung on his re-election.

For his part, Dung said he was glad to see Uzbekistan prosper and maintain socio-political stability, economic development, improving people's life and raising Uzbekistan's position in Asia and on the international arena.

The two men confirmed their respective nations' desire to further develop bilateral relations, and agreed to increase co-operation via exchange of delegations at all levels, especially high-ranking. They noted that bilateral trade remains modest with $18 million in 2010 and $15.5 million in this year's first half, and that it is yet to reach its full potential.

The leaders also agreed to foster export-import, step up trade promotion activities, and create conditions for Vietnamese and Uzbekistani partnerships in the fields of oil and gas, agriculture, fertilizer production, construction materials, electronics, information technology and telecommunications.

Both Dung and Mirziyoyev spoke highly about PetroVietnam's operations in Uzbekistan, stressing that oil and gas is a spearhead co-operative area between the two nations.

Dung said the two countries were soon to finalise procedures for the signing of a contract between PetroVietnam and Uzbekistan's Oil and Gas National Holding Company in Bukhara Khiva.

Sources: Vietnam News Agency, Saigon Daily

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

Judges call for constructive approach to tackling judicial corruption complaints

The Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana (AMJG) held its 32nd Annual General Meeting in Accra on 29th September, during which Chief Justice Georgina Wood expressed her determination to build a trustworthy and robust judiciary.

The latter had recently come under scrutiny for accountability and transparency, she said, and as Chief Justice, she welcomed “constructive dialogue and informed suggestions that have the potential of helping the judiciary develop and grow as a major institution of State.”

AMJG President and Appeal Court Judge Justice Joseph Akamba said that the spectre of corruption was incredibly harmful to the legal profession. Complaints were not just about the payment of money to judges, but about the attitudes and practices shown towards litigants in court and within court premises, he said. Statistics from the complaints unit were disheartening and it was important that judges did not shy away from addressing the issues raised.

He called on judges to be committed to learning and to remain up to date with developments in the law.

A group of lawyers sparked controversy earlier this year when they accused the judiciary of corruption, leading to calls from magistrates and judges for the lawyers prove their claims or retract and apologise.

The disputes followed concerns about the dysfunctional nature of the judiciary and corruption in Ghana's judicial system in the wake of highly critical reports on its performance by the World Bank and the Open Society Initiative.

The board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation ranked Ghana's judiciary 7th out of 53 countries and 4th in terms of rule of law in its 2010 performance index of African countries. The 2011 ranking will be announced on 10th October at a press conference in London.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates