Category Archives: Economic Downturn & Civil Unrest

Nigerian Christmas bomb death toll rises to 37

The Christmas Day bomb blast toll in Abuja has now climbed to 37 dead.

The death toll from a bomb attack on a church just outside Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Christmas Day has risen to 37, with 57 people wounded, a source at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said on Friday.

The bombing at St Theresa’s Catholic church in Madalla on Abuja’s outskirts during a packed Christmas mass was the deadliest of a series of Christmas attacks on Nigerian churches and other targets by the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram.

“As of just now, the latest death toll from the bombing of St Theresa’s church is at 37. Wounded, we have 57,” a senior NEMA official said. The initial death toll had been 27.

The official asked not to be identified because the victims were now in the hands of hospitals and morgues.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s office put out a statement late on Friday pledging that “the government will fight Boko Haram, the group of evil-minded people who want to cause anarchy, to the end”.

Mr Jonathan held talks on Friday with Mohame Bazoum, deputy prime minister of Niger. Security officials suspect the countries’ porous common border is a gathering point for militants, and that Boko Haram may have made contact there with Al Qaeda’s north African wing.

“The perpetrators pass through borders at will and we have to ensure that there are no safe havens for them in the sub-region,” Mr Jonathan said.

He had summoned his security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the growing Islamist militant threat and how to deal with it.

National Security Adviser General Owoye Andrew Azazi said that Nigerian security services were considering making contact with moderate members of Boko Haram via “back channels”, even though explicit talks are officially ruled out.



At least 8 killed in Pakistan car-bombing

Deadly blast ... An injured man is rushed to hospital after the detonation in Quetta killed at least eight people.

A bomber remotely has detonated an explosives-laden car outside the home of a former Pakistani minister, killing at least eight people and wounding 30.

The car was parked outside the house of Naseer Mengal, a former minister of petroleum and natural resources, according to police officials in the city of Quetta.

Several militants exchanged fire with private security guards after the blast.

Paramilitary forces cordoned off the area and were searching for the assailants.

The explosion shattered windows and knocked down electricity lines. Live video from local TV channels showed clouds of smoke rising from burning cars at the site of the bombing.

Emergency services and police officials said they expected the casualty figure to rise.

Baluchistan is Pakistan’s biggest but poorest province, where Baluch separatists militants are fighting a protracted insurgency to demand more autonomy and control over the natural resources of their impoverished region.

Much of the violence in the past has been blamed on separatist militants.

Pro-Taliban militants are also active in the province which shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran.

Pakistan, a key US ally in its war on terror, has seen a wave of violence in past years, most of it in the north-west where troops are battling militants.


Iran official contradicts missile test claim

Iran’s senior navy commander has denied state media reports that the Islamic Republic test-fired long-range missiles during a naval drill, saying the missiles will launch in the next few days.

Mahmoud Mousavi told Iran’s English-language Press TV “the exercise of launching missiles will be carried out in the coming days.”

The semi-official Fars news agency, Press TV and the state-run IRNA news agency had earlier reported that Iran had test-fired long-range and other missiles during the exercise on Saturday.

“All kinds of surface-to-sea, sea-to-sea and surface-to-air as well as shoulder-launched missiles will be tested in the coming days,” Mr Mousavi told Press TV.

The 10-day naval drill, which began last Saturday, coincided with increased tension in Iran’s nuclear row with Western powers, after the European Union said it was considering a ban –  already in place in the United States – on imports of Iranian oil.

Tehran says the drill is aimed at showing Iran’s resolve to counter any attack by enemies such as Israel or the United States.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out a military option if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran.

Washington and its allies say Iran wants to build nuclear bombs under the cover of a civilian program of uranium enrichment – a claim Tehran denies.


Syria forces fire ‘nail bombs’ at masses

Protesters with placard in Hajar Al Asswad, Damascus. 10 June 2011

Syrian forces have been accused of firing nail bombs to disperse protesters as tens of thousands flooded the streets across the country in a bid to make their voices heard by Arab monitors.

The protesters called for the overthrow and prosecution of President Bashar al-Assad, whose autocratic regime has been blamed for the deaths of more than 5000 people since pro-reform protests erupted in March.

Activists urged the Arab monitors, who this week started a mission to oversee an Arab League plan to end the bloodshed, to do more to protect civilians from regime forces which they killed said another 15 civilians on Friday.

“We urge you to make a clear distinction between the assassin and the victim,” activists of the Syrian Revolution 2011 said on their Facebook page.

“Our revolution which was launched nine months ago is peaceful,” they said.

Friday’s dead included at least 11 civilians killed as security forces opened fire to disperse protesters, and two more killed along with two army deserters in an ambush by government troops, a watchdog said.

Huge demonstrations rocked northwestern Idlib province and Douma, a Damascus suburb where protesters clashed with security forces who fired “nail bombs” to disperse them, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

At least 24 protesters were hurt when security forces fired “nail bombs to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators in Douma,” the Britain-based watchdog said, adding that protesters “hurled stones” in retaliation.

The report could not be independently verified.

Security forces also fired “stun grenades and tear gas” in Douma as 60,000 to 70,000 demonstrators headed to city hall, which the Arab observers visited on Thursday.

It was the “biggest” demonstration in the restive suburb since the uprising began in March, the Observatory said.

In Idlib province, which borders Turkey, more than 250,000 protesters took the streets, the watchdog reported.

In Daraa province, south of Damascus and cradle of the pro-democracy protests, five civilians were shot dead when security forces opened fire on crowds of protesters.

Five more were killed in Hama, in central Syria, “when the security forces opened fire in Al-Hamidiyeh and Al-Hader neighbourhoods,” the Observatory added.

And a man was shot dead in Homs, another flashpoint central city which activists have dubbed the “martyr” city after hundreds were killed in a massive crackdown over the past few months.

Protests in Syria’s second city Aleppo, were “brutally” crushed by regime loyalists, the Observatory added.

Internet activists had urged Syrians to “march to the squares of freedom, bare-chested” on Friday, saying they were ready to confront the regime’s “artillery and machinegun fire.”

The Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that activists were determined to make their voices heard by the Arab monitors despite the continuing crackdown which activists say has killed more than 100 people since the mission arrived on Monday.

“The Arab League’s initiative is the only ray of light that we now see,” said Abdel Rahman.

According to the Observatory, monitors visited Idlib, Hama, Daraa and the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amro on Friday.

State television said they also went to Hama and spoke to wounded people in a government hospital.

The mission has been the focus of controversy, with some opposition members unhappy with the choice of veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi to head it.

Dabi this week ruffled feathers by saying Syrian authorities were so far cooperating with the mission and by describing his visit to Homs as “good.”

“The observers must remain in the cities they visit to protect civilians,” said prominent human rights lawyer Haytham Maleh, who is a member of the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council.

Speaking to Arab news channels, Maleh said the Arab League must increase the number of monitors to ensure they can verify Assad’s regime is implementing all the terms of the bloc’s plan to end the violence.

These include the withdrawal of troops from all towns and cities that have the focus of disturbances, the protection of civilians, and the release of detainees, as well as the opening of a dialogue with the opposition.

Around 66 monitors are currently in Syria but there are plans to deploy between 150 and 200 observers.

Western governments have called on Syria to give the observers full access.

Damascus must “meet fully its obligations to the Arab League,” including withdrawing security forces from cities, Britain’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, said on Thursday.

But Syria’s key ally Russia, which has resisted Western calls for tough sanctions against Damascus, said on Friday that it was happy with the mission so far.

Thousands of women protest over Cairo beatings

Thousands of woman marched through downtown Cairo on Tuesday evening to call  for the end of military rule in an extraordinary expression of anger over images  of soldiers beating, stripping and kicking a female demonstrator on the pavement  of Tahrir Square.

“Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” they chanted. “Where  is the field marshal?” they demanded, referring to Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the  head of the military council holding onto power here. “The girls of Egypt are  here.”

The event may have been the biggest women’s demonstration in Egypt’s history,  and the most significant since a 1919 march led by pioneering Egyptian feminist  Huda Shaarawi to protest British rule.

Women protest in Cairo after the police brutality.Women protest in Cairo after the police brutality. Photo:  Reuters

The women’s chants were evidently heard at military headquarters as well. On  Tuesday evening, the ruling military council offered an abrupt apology.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces expresses its utmost sorrow for the  great women of Egypt, for the violations that took place during the recent  events,” the council said in a statement. “It stresses its great appreciation  for the women of Egypt and for their right to protest and to actively,  positively participate in political life on the path of democratic  transition.”

Although no one in the military has been publicly investigated or charged in  connection with any misconduct, the statement asserted that the council had  already taken “all the legal actions to hold whoever is responsible  accountable.”


A protester holds a picture of one of the victims of the police brutality.A protester holds a picture of one of the victims of the police brutality. Photo: AP

Just two hours before the women massed, a coalition of liberal and human  rights groups unveiled a plan to try to break the state media’s grip on public  opinion by holding screenings around the country of video capturing recent  military abuses.

In the most famous of those, a half dozen soldiers beating a woman with  batons rip away her abaya to reveal her blue bra before one plants his boot on  her chest.

When a core of activists called for a Tuesday march to protest the military’s  treatment of women few could have expected the magnitude of the response.

By 4 in the afternoon, thousands had gathered in Tahrir Square.

“I am here because of our girls who were stripped in the street,” said Sohir  Mahmoud, 50, a housewife who said she was demonstrating for the first time. “Men  are not going to cover your flesh so we will,” she told a younger woman. “We  have to come down and call for our rights nobody is going to call for our rights  for us.”



Turkey arrests journalists in alleged terror plot

Journalists and human rights activists gather in Istanbul on Tuesday to protest the detention of dozens of journalists.

Journalists and human rights activists gather in Istanbul on Tuesday to protest the detention of dozens of journalists.
By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN

Istanbul (CNN) — Turkish police detained dozens of people in a wave of raids targeting suspected members of the “press and propaganda wing” of a banned Kurdish separatist group accused of committing acts of terrorism, the semi-official Anatolian Agency reported Tuesday.

In a move that alarmed human rights organizations, journalists’ associations and press freedom activists, police swept up a number of journalists in the raids.

“Thirty-eight colleagues have been detained,” announced the Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella group that represents dozens of Turkish journalist associations and unions.

“Detentions, arrests and trials of journalists revive crimes of thought in this country. Turkey follows China as the country where the highest number of journalists are in prison,” the Platform concluded.

Hours after the arrests, hundreds of Turkish journalists took to the streets in Istanbul, conducting a hastily organized protest march down the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare.

“You cannot silence free press,” read one of the banners carried by demonstrators.

“It basically looks like all pro-Kurdish media… have been targeted in this operation,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who spent the morning watching police search the Istanbul office of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.

“And if you crack down on those kinds of dissenting voices, you are really closing the door on healthy criticism and dissent in a democratic society,” Sinclair-Webb added.

As the sun set over Istanbul, police were still searching the downtown offices of Dicle News Agency, another pro-Kurdish media outlet. Six Dicle employees, five reporters and an accountant, had been arrested from their homes on Friday, said Silan Ozhan, a Dicle journalist.

Turkey has been battling a Kurdish separatist insurgency led by guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since the 1980s. The conflict has claimed more than 30,000 lives, most of them members of the country’s long-oppressed ethnic Kurdish minority. Over the last year, Turkish authorities began rounding up suspects accused of being affiliated with a PKK-linked organization referred to as the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK).

In addition to Ozgur Gundem and the Dicle News Agency, police also raided the homes of several main-stream Turkish journalists, including a staff photographer for Agence France Presse.

A lawyer for AFP photographer Mustafa Ozer confirmed to CNN that police were searching the journalist’s apartment in Istanbul Tuesday.

“They are in the process now,” said Sibel Tokaoglu, in a brief phone call with CNN.

AFP later reported Ozer was detained by police.

Meanwhile, an executive from the leftist daily newspaper Bir Gun told CNN that Zeynep Kuray, a staff reporter whose beat includes human rights, was arrested after her home in Istanbul was raided on Tuesday.

“We consider this a witch hunt and a threat to anyone who is in opposition,” said Ibrahim Aydin, chairman of Bir Gun’s executive board.

Turkey is among the bottom 40 countries of the world on the press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders, dropping from 102 to 138 since 2008. According to the Turkish Journalists Union, Turkey currently holds at least 63 journalists in prison. That number is likely to grow before the day’s end.

A growing number of writers and academics have been detained in conjunction with several sprawling investigations into alleged coup plots and terrorism plots. Many of these suspects spend months in detention without charge awaiting trial.

Last October, police detained outspoken publisher and freedom of expression activist Ragip Zarakolu as well as Busra Ersanli, a political science professor at Marmara University, as part of an operation against suspects accused of links to Kurdish terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, in November, prominent investigative journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik appeared in court for the first time some nine months after they were arrested in conjunction with an alleged plot to overthrow the Turkish government. Their trial was adjourned until December 26 after defense attorneys argued the presiding judge, Resul Cakir, could not rule impartially since he was a plaintiff in a separate case against one of the defendants.

Sener is a recipient of the World Press Freedom Hero award from the International Press Institute for his investigative book about the 2007 assassination of Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink and alleged involvement of state security officials.

Sener predicted he would be targeted as part of a growing government crackdown on voices of dissent in an interview with CNN several months before his arrest.

“The important thing is not that I am in prison,” Sener said in a subsequent written interview from prison with CNN last month. “What is important is to find the truth and, regardless of the cost, to write it. I am willing to pay any price for that.”

Among the growing chorus of voices reacting in outrage to police raids on Friday was Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists Association, which announced in a written statement that its member Kenan Kirkaya had been detained.

“Pressure on the press and freedom of expression is increasing day by day,” the association wrote. “These pressures and attacks on journalists and media organizations increase fear and the heavy climate of auto-censorship, while also putting Turkey in a second-class category internationally.”

“This ongoing clampdown is all about using terrorism laws very widely and indiscriminately against people who are not terrorists,” said Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch. “You’ve got bad laws and at the moment a government that shows no sign of slowing down in its support of these types of operations which are basically against ordinary people, civil society and journalists. It’s hard to see how this is a legitimate fight against terrorism.”

Bad year for dictators, grim year for democracy

Last week, Sacha Baron Cohen released a trailer for his new film. You can see it here.

Whatever you think of his comedy, you can’t argue with his timing.

Kim Jong-il is only the most recent military strong man to march off the parade ground. Around the world, the traditional tyrant now seems an endangered species.

Yet, while 2011 might have been a bad year for dictators, few would suggest it’s been a good year for democracy. Indeed, as Karen Kissane reports from Europe, in many ways, it’s been quite a grim one.

How to explain that paradox?

Let’s first acknowledge that dictators give good media. Television loves strong characters and simple plots, and an old school dictatorship guarantees both. To invoke a particular tyranny, the media needs only show a particular tyrant. Look, there’s Saddam and his moustache. Look, there’s Kim saluting a military parade, Gaddafi with his bodyguards.

It’s the metonym used in every hagiography: the leader as embodiment of his people. To know North Korea, you need only know Kim, just as, in 2001, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden were the only inhabitants of Afghanistan.

What that means is we tend think about dictatorships in the terms set by their dictators, with the Great Man the only factor worth bothering about.

That’s why every war gets sold as a humanitarian intervention, since a crusade against a tyrant makes the conflict as simple as Playstation. You work your way through the despot’s evil minions until you find the man himself. Then, as the current euphemism has it, you ‘take him out’. Boss level complete. Game over.

Except, as we learned from Iraq, reality doesn’t work like that.

Even as Obama declared that particular war done and dusted, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq was arguing that Washington was leaving the people ‘with a dictator’, on the basis that current president Nuri al-Maliki was worse than Saddam Hussein. Since then, a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Vice President, Tariq al- Hashemi on terrorism charges.

Thus, depending on which governmental faction you believe, the regime that cost the US and its allies trillions of dollars and thousands of lives is either rife with terrorists or run by dictators, neither of which is quite the result George Bush promised.

Similarly, now that the smoke over Libya has begone to clear, the situation there seems more complex than hitherto advertised.

For all Gaddafi’s undoubted nastiness, the emphasis on his vicious buffoonery framed the Libyan civil war as a cartoon struggle between good and evil. But now we learn that the NATO mission mandated to prevent civilian casualties resulted in lots of civilian casualties, that the overthrow of a human rights abuser brought its own crop of human rights abuses (‘7,000 held in Libya’s new reign of fear and torture’, says the Daily Mail), and that the emerging regime includes many faces from the old regime.

Pulling down statues makes good photos but it does not produce a democracy.

If the leaders are big, the people are small. And, equally, the reverse. That’s why the overthrow of a dictatorship by that nation’s own citizens is far more likely to foster real progress than any number of shock and awe campaigns from abroad.

North Korea seems rotten ripe for change. But it’s the task of the North Koreans to settle with their own oppressors. If we learned anything over the last decade, it’s that freedom doesn’t ride on a Predator drone, nor is democracy the code name for a CIA operation.

As 2011 comes to an end, both seems points worth remembering.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland literary journal and the author of Killing: Misadventures in Violence. He Tweets @Jeff_Sparrow.