Thursday, November 24, 2011

Violence ends brief truce at Egypt protest

Digest: Articles from Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen

Riot police break ceasefire near Cairo's Tahrir Square as crowd swells in
demand for end to military rule.

Last Modified: 23 Nov 2011 Al Jazeera

A brief attempt by Egypt's military to interpose a ceasefire between riot
police and civilians near the epicentre of protests against military rule
has disintegrated into another night of violence around Cairo's Tahrir

Police from the interior ministry's Central Security Forces appeared to
fire an unprovoked barrage of tear gas at a large crowd gathered on
Mohamed Mahmoud Street on Wednesday afternoon, witnesses said, despite a
truce that had settled in after the arrival of army vehicles and religious

"Protesters are on the front lines to stop the security forces from
attacking the rest of us in Tahrir," Rebab el-Mahdy, a politics professor
at the American University in Cairo, told Al Jazera.

"Interior ministry forces are out of control ... they're not being
professional and they're not being controlled by the military council."

Ambulances raced back from Mohamed Mahmoud Street and other frontline
battles south and east of the square throughout the night, ferrying dozens
of protesters suffering from tear-gas inhalation.

Fighting also resumed in other cities. In Alexandria, Egypt's
second-largest city, clashes erupted for another night along a street near
the main security directorate.

Riot police there fired tear gas after the withdrawal of the army, which
had stepped in to oversee a prisoner release.

Besides Alexandria, clashes were reported in Ismailia, a city east of Cairo.

During a tour of Tahrir Square during the day, Amr Helmy, the health
minister, acknowledged that security forces had used live ammunition, but
he denied swirling rumours that they had also fired tear gas mixed with a
nerve agent.

Many protesters have described having unusually painful and intense
reactions to the tear gas being used in Cairo.

According to Human Rights Watch, doctors and morgue workers have counted
at least 22 people shot dead by live ammunition.

At least 35 people have died and 3,250 have been wounded across Egypt
since violence broke out on Saturday, the health ministry announced on

The ceasefire in Cairo was reportedly negotiated by religious scholars
from al-Azhar University, the historical seat of Sunni theology, after
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, called on the riot
police to halt their attacks on protesters.

The military deployed three armoured personnel carriers to Mohamed Mahmoud
Street and positioned soldiers between the riot police and protesters, but
the truce ended within an hour in a hail of gas.

Concessions rejected

Thousands of people have remained in Tahrir Square in rejection of
concessions offered during a Tuesday-night speech by Field Marshal
Muhammed Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the ruling Supreme Council of
the Armed Forces, which took power in February after President Hosni
Mubarak was ousted following an 18-day uprising.

"The people want the fall of the field marshal," they called in thunderous
unison, waving large Egyptian flags and signs denouncing the military.

The crisis began when riot police violently cleared a small encampment in
Tahrir Square on Saturday, and protesters say the continued fighting has
hardened their resolve to remove the military from power and complete a
revolution that began in January.

"The entire movement over the past few months has been about putting the
military in check. Now, the general sentiment is we don't trust authority,
or at least, we don't trust this authority."

- Amr Gharbeia, Egyptian activist

Tantawi announced on state media that the military had no interest in
staying in power and that parliamentary elections scheduled to begin on
November 28 would go ahead.

He also pledged that a presidential election to replace the military
council would take place before July 2012, the first time the military has
set a deadline for the vote.

The presidential election would mark the last step in a transition of
power to civilian rule.

"We ask for fair elections. We do not care who runs for elections and who
is elected president and yet we are accused of being biased," Tantawi said
on in his address.

But protesters in Tahrir Square and else have demanded an immediate
transfer of power to a civilian council with authority over the SCAF.

"There was nothing he could say that would meet our expectations. They
have nothing to give us. All we want is for the end of military rule,
immediately," Sherief Gaber, a 27-year-old demonstrator, told Al Jazeera.

"People were burned once by thinking they could trust Mubarak’s people and
the only thing they can trust is their own presence in the streets."

Pressure mounts

Domestic and international pressure for the SCAF to end the violence also
continued to mount as the interior ministry riot police appeared
increasingly to act without orders from the military.

In the US, the White House said it was "deeply concerned" by the security
forces's response, while the state department said the Egyptian government
- meaning the SCAF - "has a particular responsibility to restrain security
forces" and must "exercise maximum restraint".

Victoria Nuland, the state department spokeswoman, said Washington was
"looking forward to the naming of a new Egyptian government".

Also on Wednesday, Navi Pillay, the United Nations' human rights chief,
called for a "prompt, impartial and independent investigation" into the
riot police's "excessive use of force [and] ... improper use of teargas,
rubber bullets and live ammunition."
Follow in-depth coverage of country in turmoil

The SCAF, in a new communique released on its Facebook page on Wednesday,
said its forces had not used tear gas and would never "shed the blood" of
the Egyptian people. The military urged the people not to listen to

Though the SCAF has accepted the resignation of an interim cabinet that it
approved earlier this year, a new government has yet to form.

Sources told Al Jazeera the military had asked Novel laureate and
presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei to form a "national salvation"
government, but ElBaradei was said to be hesitating over whether he would
have authority to choose his own ministers.

In Alexandria, lawyers and activists told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that at
least two people were killed during protests in the northern city

At least one man, identified as 38-year-old oil engineer Sherif Sami Abdel
Hamid, was killed by live ammunition.

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from outside a morgue in Alexandria,
said Abdel Hamid was walking with his wife and two children and not
participating in the protest when a stray bullet hit him.

Witnesses said a second victim - believed to be a high school student -
suffocated from tear gas in the city, though Al Jazeera could not
immediately confirm the death.

Dozens of deaths reported in Syria crackdown

Activists say at least 41 killed in 24 hours as Turkey says Assad's
actions pose risk of regional turmoil.

23 Nov 2011 Al Jazeera

Activists say at least 41 people have been killed across Syria over the
past 24 hours, amid warning by Turkey that President Bashar al-Assad's
crackdown on dissent threatened to "drag the whole region into turmoil and

The Local Co-ordinating Committees activist network said that at least
nine people were killed in Syria on Wednesday, including a child. Of those
killed, three died in the central city of Hama and two in the suburbs of

The UN says that more than 3,500 people, most of them civilians, have been
killed since the protests first broke out in Syria in March.

The deaths were reported as Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, during a
speech during a state visit to Britain on Wednesday, accused "the Baath
regime continues to use oppression and violence on its own people".

"Violence breeds violence. Unfortunately Syria has come to a point of no
return," he said.

Separately, Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said he would seek
an EU backing for humanitarian corridors in Syria "to alleviate the
suffering of the population".

However, he ruled out the possibility of military intervention to create a
"buffer zone" in northern the country. Juppe made the comments after a
meeting on Wednesday in Paris with Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the Syrian
National Council, the main opposition bloc.

"If it's possible to have a humanitarian dimension for a securitised zone
to protect civilians, that's a question which
has to be studied by the European Union on the one side and the Arab
League on the other," he said,

Juppe described the Syrian National Council as "the legitimate partner
with which we want to work".

"We are working with the Arab League and all of our allies towards its
recognition," he said.

UN resolution

Syria came under increased diplomatic pressure when the UN General
Assembly's Human Rights Committee condemned its security crackdown in a
vote backed by Western nations and a number of Arab states.

Tuesday's resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, received 122
votes in favour, 13 against and 41 abstentions.

Arab states that voted for it included co-sponsors Bahrain, Jordan,
Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt.

Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted resolution that would
have condemned Syria in the UN Security Council last month, abstained.

Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the UN, said the resolution had
no meaning for his country and portrayed it as a US-inspired political

"Despite the fact that the draft resolution was basically presented by
three European states, however it is no secret that the United States of
America is ... the main mind behind the political campaign against my
country," he said.

"This draft resolution has no relevance to human rights, other than it is
part of an adversarial American policy against my country."

Jaafari displayed for delegates what he said were documents containing the
"names of terrorists arrested while smuggling arms through the borders of

He said the documents offered clear proof of a US-led plot to topple the
government of Assad.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, called on
Assad to leave power, accusing him of "cowardice" for turning guns on his
own people and warning he risked the same fate as dictators who met bloody

Earlier this week, a bus carrying Turkish pilgrims came under fire in
Syria as they were travelling back from the Hajj, leaving two injured.

Bahrain inquiry confirms rights abuses

Commission says security forces used "excessive force" and tortured
detainees in a report accepted by government.

23 Nov 2011 Al Jazeera

Bahraini security forces used "excessive force" and tortured detainees
during its crackdown in March on Shia Muslim-led protests demanding
democratic change, an Independent Commission of Inquiry has declared.

The mass demonstrations which rocked the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab kingdom
were violently crushed as government forces used live ammunition and
heavy-handed tactics to scatter protesters.

The report, released in Manama on Wednesday, said the commission did not
find proof of an Iran link to the unrest.

"Evidence presented to the commission did not prove a clear link between
the events in Bahrain and Iran," Cherif Bassiouni, the commission's lead
investigator, said.

Responding to the inquiry's findings on Wednesday, an official spokesman
said the Bahrain government accepted the criticisms.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, speaking after Bassiouni delivered his
report, pledged that officials involved in the abuses would be held
accountable and replaced.

"The government welcomes the findings of the Independent Commission, and
acknowledges its criticisms," an official Bahraini statement said. "We
took the initiative in asking for this thorough and detailed inquiry to
seek the truth and we accept it."

The report blamed the opposition for not having accepted the Bahraini
crown prince’s initiative in March which it says might have led to a
peaceful solution. It also mentioned instances of aggression against the
Sunnis of Bahrain as well as foreign workers.

Rights abuses

Bassiouni said the death toll from the month-long unrest reached 35,
including five security personnel. Hundreds more were injured. The
findings, which studied events in February and March, said that 11 other
people were killed later.

The commission concluded that a total of 2,929 people were detained during
the protest movement, at least 700 remain in prison.

International organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch and the UN human rights agency, have repeatedly accused the
government of violating citizens' rights, citing allegations of torture,
unfair trials, excessive use of force and violent repression.

Investigations conducted by the panel revealed that security forces "used
excessive force" while "many detainees were tortured", Bassiouni said.

Unrest rocked Bahrain between February 14 to March 18

In March, Bahraini security forces boosted by some 1,000 Gulf troops
crushed the uprising in Manama's Pearl Square, the epicentre of the
anti-government movement.

Bassiouni said the commission found no evidence that Gulf troops violated
human rights.

"The commission did not find any proof of human rights violations caused
by the presence of the Peninsula Shield forces," he said.

Iran and fellow Shias across the Arab world had criticised the Bahraini
government for calling in forces from fellow Sunni monarchies, claiming
that the Saudi-led force was used against Shia Bahrainis.

The report's findings were released hours after clashes in at least two
predominantly Shia villages on the outskirts of Manama.

In A'ali, about 30km south of the Manama, clashed took place after
officers allegedly ran a driver off the road.

Al Jazeera's Gregg Carlstrom, reporting from A’ali, said police had used
tear gas and sound bombs against the protesters.

"Protests initially began after police allegedly forced a man off the
road, causing him to crash into a house and die," he said. He said police
also raided a makeshift clinic and arrested a number of people.

Protests called

In his remarks, Hamad blamed much of the unrest on efforts by Iran to
incite violence, but said laws would be reviewed and if necessary revised.

"We do not want, ever again, to see our country paralysed by intimidation
and sabotage ... nor do we want, ever again, to discover that any of our
law enforcement personnel have mistreated anyone," he said.

"Therefore, we must reform our laws so that they are consistent with
international standards to which Bahrain is committed by treaties."

Hamad established the five-member commission in June to investigate
"whether the events of February and March 2011 [and thereafter] involved
violations of international human rights law and norms".

At least 35 people have been killed in this year's violence, with hundreds
more wounded and detained.

Journalists have recently been welcomed back into the country after months
of restrictions, and the government announced on Monday that all forms of
torture would be illegal, with more stringent penalties for those who
commit them.

Nabeel Rajab, president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, a leading
opposition group, praised the government’s move to ban torture, but argued
that the Bassiouni report would limit itself to a handful of low-level

Bahrain's government had already admitted using excessive force against
protesters before the release of the independent commission's report.

Two very different Bahrains, 10km apart

By Gregg Carlstrom 2011-11-23 Al Jazeera

I'm writing from A'Ali, a predominantly Shiite village in the centre of
Bahrain, which was the site of clashes all morning between anti-government
protesters and the police.

A few hours later, 10 kilometres down the road, the Bahraini government is
released the official report into this year's alleged human rights abuses.
The government hopes the report is a chance to turn the page and "move
forward," as a spokesman said earlier this week.

Ask anyone here in A'Ali, and they'll tell you those abuses are still
going on.

Witnesses here said a convoy of police vehicles sped through the village
this morning, forced a man's car off the road, and crashed into him,
killing him. I did not witness the accident, but I've seen Bahraini police
speed through other villages, tearing recklessly down narrow streets at
high speed. It's a common occurrence. (Just on Saturday, in fact, another
Bahraini, a 16-year-old boy, was run over by police vehicles in the suburb
of Juffair.)

The Bahraini government issued a statement calling it a simple traffic
accident, a car colliding with a house. But the damage did not match that
description: The car was crumpled on the sides, not the the front, as
you'd expect from a head-on collision.

Protesters came out in the streets afterwards, chanting yasqat Hamad
("down with Hamad," the king) and throwing paint bombs at police vehicles.
The police responded with tear gas and sound bombs.

My colleague Matthew Cassel shot this video of protesters reacting to
being tear gassed:

I went into one makeshift clinic a few minutes after it was raided. I saw
sound bombs on the floor inside, and the air still reeked of tear gas. The
women inside, who did not want to be photographed for fear of the
consequences, said they had been roughly searched by police, and that the
medics providing care were detained.

We also saw a Bahraini photojournalist, Mazen Mahdi, arrested by police
while trying to do his job. He was loaded into a jeep and driven away. (He
later tweeted that he'd been released, because the police couldn't figure
out what to charge him with.)

The government calls the official report an "unprecedented and historic
step" and hopes it will open the door to political reconciliation. But
unless it follows the report with significant concessions - ending the
regular police raids in the villages, declaring an amnesty for prisoners -
protesters here say they'll keep coming out.

Yemen's Saleh agrees to transfer power

Yemenis express mixed reactions in response to Saleh signing Gulf
initiative to begin transfer of power.

23 Nov 2011 Al Jazeera

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has signed a deal to hand over his
powers under an agreement brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council.

The deal signed on Wednesday, will see Saleh leave office in 30 days,
making way for Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the Yemeni vice-president, to
negotiate a power transfer with the opposition in return for a promise of
immunity from prosecution.

As part of the deal Saleh will retain the honorary title of president, yet
his deputy is expected to form and preside over a national unity
government before presidential elections take place within 90 days.

In response to the deal, there were mixed reactions some protesters
celebrated, while other rallied in Change Square in the capital, Sanaa,
and said they would reject a deal giving the president immunity.

Live footage of the ceremony aired by Saudi state television showed Saleh
sign the Gulf- and UN-brokered agreement in Riyadh's Al-Yamama royal
palace watched over by members of the Yemeni opposition as well as Saudi
King Abdullah and Gulf foreign ministers.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, spoke of the cost of the uprising
to Yemen, but did not mention the demands of protesters who called for his
ouster. Instead, he referred to the protests as a "coup'' and called a
bombing of his palace mosque that seriously wounded him "a scandal.'

After signing the deal, Saleh said his government welcomes the partnership
with what he called the "brothers in the opposition" and pledged a "real
partnership" with them.

The Saudi king hailed the signing as marking a "new page" in the Yemen's

Saleh, 69, will now seek medical treatment in New York, UN chief Ban
Ki-moon said on Wednesday.

"He [Saleh] told me that he would come to New York after signing the
agreement to have medical treatment," Ban said, giving details of a
telephone conversation they had on Tuesday.

Saleh had rejected signing similar agreement to step down in the past few
months, sometimes resisting at the last minute.

Fresh protests

In response to the deal, Yemenis voiced both joy and frustration.
Celebrations erupted in Sanaa as Yemenis danced through the street, but
many others said the deal is not enough for them

Al Jazeera's special correspondent in Sanaa said that those gathered are
"protesting his [Saleh's] immunity from any legal repercussions".

"There is a tension in the air. Most people are here to celebrate, but
they see it only as a victory for now," our special correspondent said.

Saleh's family members continue to have powerful posts in the military and
intelligence service, and it is unclear how much political power Saleh
will have.

"For youth revolutionaries this deal is not accepted," Ibrahim Mohamed
al-Sayidi, a Yemeni youth opposition activist, told Al Jazeera.
For more on Yemen, visit our Spotlight page

The US welcomed the deal and Mark Toner, a state department spokesperson,
said: "The United States applauds the Yemeni government and the opposition
for agreeing to a peaceful and orderly transition of power."

In May, Saleh's supporters - many of which also reject the GCC deal - took
to the streets besieging the UAE embassy in Sanaa where foreign
ambassadors were gathered for a signing ceremony. The UAE is one of the
members of the GCC.

The signing was postponed and clashes broke out for the first time between
Ahmar's men and Saleh's forces in Al-Hasaba.

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