28 May 2012 - NPWJ News Digest on Middle East and North Africa Democracy


Bahraini activists convicted over 'Iran plot'
By AlJazeera, 28 May 2012

 A Bahraini court has sentenced six people to prison terms of up to 15 years after they were accused of plotting with suspected Iranian government agents to topple the Gulf kingdom's ruling system, a defence lawyer has said.
The convictions, which were announced on Sunday, include three activists put on trial in absentia. The case reflects mounting claims by Gulf Arab states that Iran has links to the Shia-led uprising against Bahrain's Sunni dynasty.
Iranian officials have denounced crackdowns against protesters in Bahrain, but deny any active aid to the demonstrations that began 15 months ago. The group was convicted of plotting with a "foreign country", a clear reference to Iran, to bring down Bahrain's monarchy.They also were suspected of planning possible attacks on high-profile targets, such as the country's interior ministry headquarters and the causeway connecting Bahrain with Saudi Arabia, which is Iran's main regional rival.

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Annan to visit Syria as global outrage mounts over massacre
By the CNN Wire Staff, 28 May 2012

 International envoy Kofi Annan is expected to visit Syria today, even though rebel leaders say his peace plan is "dead" following a gruesome massacre that killed 108 people in one town. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday as Syrian rebels beg U.N. Security Council members for airstrikes against regime forces.The U.N. council's attempts to formally condemn the Syrian regime have been repeatedly blocked by Russia and China. U.N. monitors in Syria said 49 children were among the 108 people slaughtered Friday in Houla, a suburb of the anti-government bastion of Homs. Since then, overwhelming grief has washed over Houla as opposition activists and residents blame President Bashar al-Assad's regime for the bloodshed.

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Concerns around slow disbursement of Friends of Yemen grants to Yemen
By The Yemen Times, 28 May 2012

 The Friends of Yemen, a group of countries including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in addition to the Gulf states, are on a tough mission to bring about political and security stability in Yemen through four billion dollars pledged to Yemen at the Friends of Yemen Conference last Wednesday.

Ali Al-Wafi, a Yemeni economist and former director of the Financial Committee at the Yemeni Parliament, is worried that the two-year transitional period may pass without disbursal of this money if the current political and security unrest continues. Al-Wafi said the money that Saudi Arabia pledged to Yemen during the Friends of Yemen Conference on Wednesday, May 23 is not the final aid package. He said that Yemen will receive more financial assistance during the donor conference, scheduled to take place next September.

“Slow political transition and attempts to hinder the National Dialogue Conference may delay the disbursement of the aid pledged,” he said. He explained that the lack of development plans on the part of the government raise concerns that the two-year transitional period will go by without the dispersal of more than 50 percent of the grants pledged.

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Mali government rejects north's independence
By AllAfrica.com, 27 May 2012

 Mali's embattled transitional government has rejected the declaration by an alliance of northern rebels of an independent Islamic Tuareg state.
"The government of Mali categorically rejects the idea of the creation of an Azawad state, even more so of an Islamic state," a government official told the AFP news agency on Sunday. "Even though this state creation is just on paper and not de facto, we are coming forward to stress that Mali is secular and will remain secular," said Hamadoun Toure, information minister in the transitional Malian administration. 
The two groups that seized control of Mali's north had announced that they agreed to merge and create an independent state in the northern half of the west African nation. The merger, announced on Saturday, would see the Tuareg separatist-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) fighters join forces to nominally control an area the size of France.

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Moroccans march against Islamist-led government
By France24.com, 27 May 2012

 Tens of thousands of Moroccans took to the streets of Casablanca on Sunday in the largest opposition protest since an Islamist-led government took office in January. The protest was organised by trade unions which accuse Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane of failing to deliver on the pledges of social justice that brought his party to power in the wake of the Arab Spring.
"There are more than 50,000 people who are demonstrating to call on the government to start a genuine dialogue addressing our country's social ills," opposition Socialist MP Hassan Tariq said. Hundreds of youths from the February 20 Movement -- known as M20 -- also turned out in Casablanca, Morocco's largest city.
King Mohammed VI nipped the protest movement in the bud by introducing significant reforms to curb his near-absolute powers.

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Egypt candidate to seek election suspension
By AlJazeera, 27 May 2012

 Leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi will appeal for Egypt's presidential election to be suspended over alleged voting irregularities and a pending case over one of the front-runner's right to stand, Sabahi's lawyer has said. Sabahi's pledge to pursue a suspension came on Saturday as the two apparent winners of the first round reached out to rival candidates ahead of a June run-off that appears set to polarise the country.
Final votes were still being counted, but unofficial results suggested that the top two front-runners out of 12 candidates were the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister under Hosni Mubarak.
International monitors have described the initial voting process as "encouraging", in advance of the release of official results by Tuesday. On Friday night, the Brotherhood said it was seeking to create a coalition of forces to challenge Shafiq, reaching out to Morsi's former rivals, including Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who left the organisation before running for president. According to Egyptian state television, preliminary results showed Sabahi in third place behind Shafiq and Morsi after this week's first round. Only the top two go through to a runoff on June 16 and 17.

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Libya: Minority Rights At a Crossroads
By AllAfrica.com, 24 May 2012

 Since Muammar Gaddafi's fall seven months ago, Libya's non-Arab minorities, including an estimated 250,000 Tuaregs, have begun more vehemently to insist on their rights.
Flying over the ramshackle houses in Tayuri settlement in Libya's southwestern city of Sebha are the blue, green and yellow flags of the Imazighen (non-Arab minorities). During Gaddafi's time, the Imazighen, including the Tuaregs, experienced cultural and political marginalization, with the regime instituting an all-encompassing pan-Arabic ideology and refusing to recognize them as a distinct ethnic group indigenous to the country and the region.
Since Gaddafi's fall, nine new local associations have emerged in Tayuri promoting the rights of Tuaregs. According to the International Crisis Group, the Arabization of Imazighen communities, "advanced more rapidly and completely in Libya than in any other Maghreb country". Law 24 forbids the Imazighen, including Tuaregs, from giving their children non-Arab names, and those who attended cultural celebrations in neighbouring countries were arrested upon their return to Libya.

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Syria's conflict stirs up old rivalries in Lebanon
By Nick Thompson, CNN, 24 May 2012

 The deadly clashes that are a fact of daily life in Syria have now bled into Lebanon, where a series of sectarian shootouts this week are raising fears that a period of relative calm for the country may be nearing an end.
Syria has dominated Lebanon's political scene for much of its post-independence history -- and while many Lebanese support the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, many others do not.
It's too early to tell whether this week's clashes are blips on the radar or the new norm -- but many observers believe the longer Syria's conflict goes on, the more destabilizing it will be for Lebanon.
What's the latest in Lebanon?
A series of clashes in the past week between political and religious groups who either support or oppose the Syrian regime has shaken Lebanon and prompted fears that renewed factional rivalries could erupt into outright warfare.

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