Saturday, March 31, 2012

MNLA Advances in Mali Amid ECOWAS Deadline for Coup Leaders

Rebels advance in Mali, deadline for coup leaders

9:26pm EDT
By Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's army has abandoned bases around the northern town of Gao to rebels while the leaders of a coup faced a deadline to start handing back power or face sanctions.

The defeat in the key garrison town was the latest for the army after a lightning 48-hour advance by northern rebels seeking to capitalize in chaos in the West African country after the March 22 coup.

"Given the proximity of the camps to residential areas, our forces decided not to fight," a statement by junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, read out on state television, said.

Civilian and local government sources said dozens of army vehicles streamed out of the main army camps around Goa, heading south towards the capital Bamako some 1,000 km (600 miles) away.

If rebels go on to fully take Gao and target Timbuktu, the last big northern centre, their goal of securing a desert territory bigger than France will be in their grasp.

The defeat at the hands of the heavily armed rebels piled pressure on Mali's new junta leaders who have until midnight on Sunday to start handing back power or expose their land-locked West African country to economic suffocation by neighbors threatening to shut its borders.

Mid-ranking officers ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure in protest at not having adequate weaponry to tackle an alliance of nomadic and Islamist rebels boosted by heavy arms spilling out of Libya from last year's war.

But the internationally condemned putsch has backfired, plunging the country into chaos and emboldening rebels to seize key towns in their campaign to carve out a desert homeland in Mali's remote north, already a haven for local al Qaeda agents.

While coup leaders won early support from many Malians fed up with Toure's rule, the latest military defeats and the sheer scale of foreign disapproval have weakened their position.

"Everywhere it is burning. Mali cannot fight on all fronts at the same time ... Let us put our personal quarrels aside," Siaka Diakite, Secretary-General of the UNTM trade union, said in a statement backed by anti-putsch political parties.

Diakite called on Sanogo, a hitherto obscure U.S.-trained army captain, to agree an exit plan before the deadline imposed by the 15-state ECOWAS group of West African countries for a return of power to civilians.


Aside from a threat to close borders to a country largely dependent on fuel imports, ECOWAS has vowed to starve Mali of funds from the central bank of the regional monetary union, and slap asset freezes and travel bans on individual junta members.

Banks in Bamako put a limit on withdrawals on Saturday in anticipation of a run on their cash stocks on Monday, while shares in mining companies in Africa's third largest gold producer have plunged due to the unrest.

On Saturday junta members hinted they were ready for compromise, announcing after talks with Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, the official mediator in the crisis, that they would make new proposals for a transition to civilian rule.

"We do not want to confiscate power," Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly told reporters in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, after talks with Burkina President Blaise Compaore, named by West African grouping ECOWAS as main mediator in the crisis.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara said he expected Toure, who has said he is safe in an undisclosed location in Mali, to see out the remaining two months of his mandate before a transitional national unity government was named.

"Then elections should be held between 21 and 40 days later. It is up to the political class to see if that is possible," Ouattara, the ECOWAS head, told Ivorian television.

(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Mali News Update: Country Suspended From World Parliamentarian Body

Mali suspended from world parliamentarian body

01 April 2012 | 04:11

Kampala. Mali has been suspended from the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) following a coup that toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, Xinhua informed.

Lulume Bayinga, spokesperson of the on-going six-day IPU conference in Uganda said that the West African country was suspended from the over 150 member state body.

"Mali has been suspended by the Executive Committee of the IPU and they will not attend this assembly. In case they come, the decision makers at the IPU will communicate to them about their suspension," he said.

He said that apart from the suspension, the over 2,000 delegates that are attending the IPU summit here will discuss the situation in the country.

The Africa Union, a continental body bringing together 54 African countries was the first to suspend the West African country after the coup.

The IPU conference which starts on Saturday will discuss the political, economic and social situation in the world under the theme; "Parliaments and people: bridging the gap".

Ugandan President condemns Mali coup

Daniel Arapmoi, Press TV,
Sun Apr 1, 2012 2:14AM GMT

Parliamentarians from across the world are meeting in Uganda’s capital Kampala to attend the Inter -Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference. The one week long conference opened with a debate on the political situation in Mali as leaders condemn the recent coup in the West African country.

Opening the 126th meeting, the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni called on parliaments across the world to advocate for economic transformation as opposed to what he calls political rhetoric.

According to Museveni Africa has seen a number of failed states linked to the problem of failure to undergo social economic transformation.

Museveni also condemned the military coup last weekend that toppled the government of president Amadou Toumani Toure, barely a day after IPU president announced the suspension of Mali from the union.

The coup d’état according to Museveni was not democratic and it would be good if the mutinous soldiers handed back power to the elected government in order to restore peace in the country.

Mali currently has no Parliament and has therefore been suspended until when it elects a new parliament.

The conference agenda will also debate as emergency, recent events in the Middle East as well as the situation in Syria. The Egyptian, United Arab Emirates and Canadian parliaments have so far submitted proposals on Syria that would get lawmakers around the world join international efforts to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the conflict.

The Inter-parliamentary union sitting here in Uganda’s capital Kampala has condemned the coup d’état in Mali with most leaders calling for a return of parliamentary democracy in the country.

Mali: Briefing - War and Peace - Mali Repeats the Cycle

29 March 2012

Bamako — This is part of a series of reports on the crisis in northern Mali exploring the MNLA rebellion, and the impact of AQIM

During a visit to Bamako, capital of Mali, on 26 February, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé observed that the Malian government would be best advised to sit down and negotiate with the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la liberation de l'Azawad), which is fighting to carve out an independent state in the north.

He faced a barrage of criticism for legitimizing a rebel movement seen by many in the south as sectarian opportunists.

The French colonial government would not have sued for peace with the Tuareg insurgents, whose sporadic but often effective resistance delayed the conquest of northern Mali and kept the region a military territory.

The French established a fortress at Kidal in the Adrar des Ifoghas in 1908, but struggled to win recognition from the more entrenched Tuareg leaders, who resented France's attempts to take over trans-Saharan trade, impose punitive taxation, and interfere in the Tuaregs' relations with sedentary communities. There were accusations from Kidal and Gao of the colonialists using divide-and-rule tactics, and exploiting long-standing feuds and territorial disputes between different Tuareg confederations.

Having seen off a small uprising in Ménaka in 1911, the French faced a much more significant insurrection in 1916 - the so-called 'Kaocen Revolt', named after its leader, Kaocen Ag Mohamed - when a Tuareg force, strongly influenced by Sufi anti-colonial religious leaders and suffering from the effects of severe drought, occupied large parts of what is now northern Niger before losing ground and being brutally countered by the French military the following year.

In the run-up to independence in 1960, there were hints from Paris that the Organisation Commune des Régions Sahariennes (or Organization of the Saharan Regions, OCRS), could maintain control of desert areas in Mali and surrounding states. The OCRS was dissolved, but the sporadic recurrence of similar proposals has fuelled suspicions in Bamako of French plots to destabilize Mali and work for a mineral-rich, pliant Saharan state, occupied by Tuaregs but controlled by Paris.

The 'Alfellaga' - a rebellion crushed

Well before the French withdrawal in 1960, there were strong signals of discontent from Tuareg leaders about the prospect of integration into a new state. The post-independence administration, led by the fiercely nationalist, Marxist-influenced Modibo Keita, held little appeal for nomadic communities, who encountered unwelcome changes in land ownership rules, a rigid adherence to established boundaries, and new bureaucratic controls. Tuareg trading links were much stronger with Algeria in the north than with Bamako in the south.

The north was very much a country apart, viewed with suspicion and hostility by many in the south. Sparsely populated, but covering a vast land mass, it barely featured in Keita's plans for national development. Civil servants sent to the north reportedly viewed their deployment there as akin to a prison sentence.

The rebellion that broke out in 1962, known as the Alfellaga, was launched from Kidal, and featured a low-intensity campaign of hit-and-run attacks, but triggered an all-out response from Keita's military. Thousands fled. The well-documented massacres of civilians, poisoning of wells and destruction of livestock have been repeatedly referenced in Tuareg literature and music, and in the manifestoes and programmes of later rebel movements. An Open Letter from Tuareg Women to the European Parliament in 1994 catalogued a series of atrocities from this period, "from the extermination of entire camps to public executions, the burning alive of civilians, and the deaths of women and children in prison".

Migrating from the margins

President Modibo Keita (1960-1968) and his successor, Moussa Traoré (1968-1991), were both accused of militarizing the north, starving it of resources and clamping down on all signs of an autonomous Tamasheq cultural identity. The region was also hit by devastating droughts in 1972-73 and 1984-85, which decimated livestock, wrecked pasture and crippled livelihoods. Many Tuaregs switched uneasily to farming and forms of hired work, but the growing impoverishment triggered a huge exodus to urban centres in Mali and North Africa..

Many of those leaving were absorbed into the then expanding oil economies in Algeria and Libya, or went further afield to the Middle East. Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, already a self-anointed champion of the Tuareg cause, deployed hundreds of Tuaregs in the failed border war with Chad in 1986.

Returning with guns

Defeat in Chad and economic downturns in Algeria and Libya helped force a return of Tuareg combatants and ordinary civilians to Niger and Mali in the late 1980s.

Migrants in Libya, quite possibly with Gaddafi's backing, had already formed a new Tuareg rebel movement, the Mouvement Populaire pour la Libération de l'Azawad (MPLA or Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) in 1988, led by Iyad Ag Ghali and later renamed the Mouvement Populaire de l'Azaouad (MPA, or Popular Movement of Azawad).

In what was to become a recurring pattern in Mali and Niger, rival movements, often with different regional bases and support networks, rapidly emerged.

In Mali the MPLA was joined by the Arab-led Front Islamique Armée de L'Azawad (FIAA, or Islamic Front Army of Azawad), the Front populaire pour la libération de l'Azaoud (FPLA, or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Azawad) and the Armée révolutionnaire pour la libération de l'Azawad (ARLA, or Revolutionary Army for the Liberation of Azawad). All these eventually merged into the Mouvements et Fronts Unifiés de l'Azaouad (MFUA or Unified Movements and Fronts of Azawad) - at least for the purpose of signing a peace agreement - but retained their own identities.

The new combatants announced their presence with an attack on both the prison and garrison at Ménaka in June 1990. They had nothing like the arsenal of the next generation in 2011, but enough guns, vehicles and military savoir faire to quickly embarrass a demoralized, poorly paid army, fighting for a regime facing mass protests in the south, and which would be ousted in March 1991.

The road to Timbuktu - looking for a lasting peace

Algeria brokered a first peace accord in Tamanrasset (in Algeria) in January 1991, but the violence continued. Even after President Traoré's overthrow and the installation of the Comité de Transition pour le Salut du Peuple (CTSP or Transitional Committee for the Salvation of the People), headed by Amdou Toumani Touré, atrocities continued. For example, over 40 Tuaregs and Arabs were killed by government troops at Léré, near Timbuktu in May 1991.

The CTSP's programme of nation-building, typified by the National Conference in Bamako in July-August 1991 and the agreement on a new constitution, included dealing with the north.

The 'Pacte National' signed by the government and the MFUA in April 1992, went far beyond a straightforward truce. Its recommendations provided for: integrating former rebels into improvised military structures; an Independent Commission of Enquiry to look at human rights violations; another commission to monitor ceasefire arrangements; a special status, or 'Statut Particulier', for the north, taking account of past neglect, giving the region its own Commissariat, and new regional and local assemblies. There would be seats in parliament for formerly displaced people, donor-backed funding for growth and investment, roads and schools. The Malian military would pull back, scaling down troop deployments and bases.

Predictably, the Pact was easier to sign than to implement. An extremely volatile four-year period followed, marked by mutinies, inter-rebel disputes and serious outbreaks of inter-communal violence. Tensions in the north between nomadic and sedentary communities, already worsened by the loss of pasture and the scarcity of water, required careful handling.

The Mouvement Patriotique Ganda Koye (MPGK), formed in 1994 as a self-defence militia, drawn mainly from the Songhai community and led by ex-army officers, was a dangerous development. Ganda Koye quickly gained a reputation for indiscriminate reprisal actions against Tuareg and Arab communities, while rebel movements, particularly Front Islamique Armé de L'Azawad (FIAA) sometimes replied in kind.

Huge efforts were made to make the Pacte Nationale work. Mali's new President, Alpha Konaré (1992-2002), preached peace and coexistence in the north. Tuareg movements began to reject unrealistic promises. An emerging civil society worked tirelessly on peace messages and got peace agreements signed at local level in areas like Ménaka and Gao. Outside experts like former French minister Edgar Pisani, philosopher Ahmed Baba Miské of Mauritania, and Norwegian Kare Lode, lent their weight to peace-building at grassroots and national level.

In March 1996, 10,000 people in Timbuktu watched as some 2,700 firearms were destroyed, symbolizing the end of the conflict, and the rebel movements were dissolved. "Truly, this is a story for our times," said Kalif Keita, former Commander of Mali's 5th Military Region, the Timbuktu area.

Ten years later, a new insurgency was announced on 23 May 2006 with raids on garrisons at Kidal and Ménaka, opening up a new cycle of violence and a weary sense of déjà vu for those who had lived through previous rebellions.


Interviews with Norwegian mediator Kare Lode; FPLA leader and peace activist, Zeidan Ag Sidalamine. Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College; French Consulate, Bamako; Pacte Nationale, original document, April 1992; Group of Women of Azawad letter; Columbia University study "That desert is our country: Tuareg rebellions and competing nationalisms in contemporary Mali" (1946-1996), Jean Sebastian Lecocq; "Les révoltes des Touaregs du Niger (1916-1917)" in Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines - 049, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (1973)

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire.

Africa Confronts New Security Threats

Published on Magharebia‎ ( ‎

Africa confronts new security threats


The same day that a military coup rocked Mali, Nigeria reported its first AQIM cell. The news may motivate more African states to join the security alliances begun in the Maghreb.

By Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 30/03/12

The military junta that seized power in Mali last week unleashed yet another security threat on a region already under siege. The situation "dangerously threatens not only the peace and security in Mali but also the peace, stability and development of [West African] states," ECOWAS commission head Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said Tuesday (March 27th) in Abidjan at an emergency meeting of the West African bloc.

The same day that coup captain Amadou Sanogo and his band of renegade soldiers toppled Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure, Nigerian police dismantled the country's first terror cell belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Five men, including a Mauritanian national, were arrested in Kano for alleged involvement in the January kidnapping of a German engineer by AQIM terrorists.

Nigerian security forces initially thought the suspects were tied to Boko Haram.

"The Sahel cannot stand the prospect of further tension," analyst al-Mokhtar al-Salem Ould Ahmed Salem told Magharebia.

"The region spent several years in a fierce war against al-Qaeda, in addition to the Touareg rebellion for months, the demands of eastern Libyan for autonomy, the escalating threat from militants in Tunisia, the Algerian-Libyan border tension and the status of the hostages seized in Niger and elsewhere," he said.

Just last month, Somalia's Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen officially joined the global al-Qaeda terror network, becoming part of the "triangle of terrorism" that includes Boko Haram and AQIM.

The links between the terror groups grow, but Sahel countries have a new strategic vision to fight back: a security cordon, based on concentric rings that begin in the Maghreb and stretch far afield to West and Central Africa.

"According to the leaked plan, Mauritania is going to work on co-ordinating Sahel power with African states on two axes: the field states and those behind them," international correspondent al-Mokhtar al-Salem Ould Ahmed Salem explains.

The states on the front lines – Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – will work with those further away: Morocco, Libya and Nigeria.

Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – already partners for the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region, or CEMOC – have the experience to build a wider strategic area in the fight against terrorism.

Those states – Morocco, Libya and Nigeria – have already been invited to attend the security sessions.

Senegal and the Ivory Coast should also be part of any effort to co-ordinate security in the African region against terrorist groups associated with drug trafficking, especially AQIM.

The first security barrier consists of Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Nigeria. The second security barrier starts from the southern Mauritanian border with Senegal, up to the border with Niger, and then to Nigeria. This geographical area includes Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin.

These countries expand the geographical cordon and security barrier, providing a greater area to track down terrorist activities and prevent any type of contact between AQIM and its terror partners in Nigeria.

While it may seem that these African states are not directly concerned with terrorism, their struggling economies make them fertile ground for al-Qaeda recruiters. They have also acted as transit points for terrorists to and from their desert camps in the desert.

It is equally important to involve Libya and Tunisia, as this would help tighten the security cordon isolating AQIM and associated drug trafficking networks.

Just last month, Tunisia dismantled an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group planning to establish an Islamic emirate in the country.

As to Libya, co-ordination is more critical than ever. Libyan anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and other heavy weapons have been smuggled through the Sahara. Al-Qaeda and Salafist extremists are also eager to capitalise on the country's fragile security.

AQIM precursor GSPC began decades ago in Algeria and attention has long focused on the organisation's reach across the Sahel. There is a substantial history, however, of terror ties that span the continent.

At the end of 2006, Mauritanian terrorist Khadim Ould Semane escaped prison in Nouakchott prison and ended up in Dakar. From there, he was able to attract recruits, rebuild his group and make connections that helped him attend al-Qaeda camps.

In 2007, the three Mauritanian terrorists that killed a French tourist family also fled to Senegal.

In 2009, Ghana authorities arrested three al-Qaeda suspects on drug trafficking charges, marking the first time that terrorists were themselves tied to drug operations.

The next year, Niger extradited Salafist Taqqi Ould Youssef to Mauritania. Niger's security agencies believe that Ould Youssef was appointed by AQIM to create a cell targeting western nationals in northern Niger.

Also in 2010, Senegal extradited several Mauritanian and Moroccan al-Qaeda suspects. Al-Qaeda now considers Senegal as an enemy "that must be punished".

Such events show that all these countries are in some way bound to the shared regional threat.

The problem for some African countries may not be the presence of active terrorist groups on their soil but the growing number of their young men who are deceived by al-Qaeda. These include Nigeria's Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was convicted of trying to set off a bomb in his pants while flying on over the US in 2009.

Given the parent al-Qaeda organisation's demonstrated reliance on al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb for new recruits, Sahel countries have an imperative to improve security co-ordination and raise awareness about jihadist groups.

The outermost security barrier consists of Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti. This is in addition to promoting special co-ordination with the government of Somalia, which has thus far proven its intention to tighten the noose on al-Shabab.

Although these countries do not attend the Sahel security meetings, it is still important to exchange information on terrorism and criminal organisations.

Under the new security proposal, states that lack counter-terrorism experience will be able to learn from their Sahel peers. Connections forged across North, Central and West Africa will cause irreversible damage to AQIM, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and any other violent organisations that may arise.

And the continent's security cordon will continue to tighten.

Raby Ould Idoumou is a Nouakchott-based writer and terrorism analyst. He also serves as a communications director for the Mauritanian Human Rights Association (AMDH).

Mali: Holy Wars and Hostages; AQIM In The Maghreb

Mali: Holy Wars And Hostages; AQIM In The Maghreb – Analysis

Written by: IRIN
April 1, 2012

Mopti in central Mali had a thriving tourism industry a few years ago, but Issa Ballo, a private tour operator, says the city built at the confluence of two rivers and often described as the ‘Gateway to the North’ still has everything in terms of “adventure, discovery and culture”.

The cliff-dwelling Dogon people with their distinctive culture are a few hours’ drive away; Timbuktu, a centuries-old centre of Islamic learning, was receiving a steady stream of visitors. “Now, you can count the tourists on the fingers of one hand”, Ballo complained. “It is only… the really courageous who come here.”

He blames the embassies in Bamako, the capital, for issuing security alerts and declaring “no go zones” for their nationals. He accuses the media of exaggerating the problems in the north, “making out there is a gun pointed at your head everywhere you go.”

But his strongest contempt is for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, known as AQMI in French), the radical Muslim group that appears to have a stranglehold over parts of northern Mali and beyond, despite its modest numbers and murky agenda.

“They are bandits, thieves, criminals… murderers”, Ballo says. “Ninety-five percent of people in Mali are Muslims… and we have never read in the Koran that you should take someone’s life to gain money. Al-Qaeda, AQIM, I don’t consider these people to be Muslims – they are just a kind of mafia with very long arms.”

Threat or fake?

AQIM’s military and commercial activities, religious orientation, size, composition and leadership have been the subject of many research papers, newspaper articles and conspiracy theories. Direct media access to AQIM, except for a few interviews with leaders, has been limited, with journalists often dependent on the testimony of released hostages and security sources, occasional amateur footage posted on YouTube by defectors, or leaked police interviews with terror suspects.

Sceptics say the threat has been gravely overplayed by the United States and France for their own strategic reasons, and by countries like Algeria and Mauritania, whose military and political elites are keen to be identified as front-line fighters against international terrorism. One academic observed, AQIM can be seen as a “small shop with a very big sign”, using its Al-Qaeda ‘franchise’ in the Sahara and Sahel to generate headlines and huge cash injections through deftly organized kidnappings, but with limited reach.

Opinions are often sharply divided. The International Crisis Group (ICG) in its March 2005 report, Islamist Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction? commented
that “Fundamentalist Islam has been present in the Sahel for over 60 years without being linked to anti-Western violence.” The authors warned that “a misconceived and heavy-handed approach could tip the scale the wrong way”.

Others say the presence of an expanding transnational terrorist force could turn parts of the Sahel into a Somalia or even an Afghanistan. They point to a movement that has transcended its Algerian roots, recruiting in the Sahel and further afield, with the possibility of stronger ties in the future with organizations like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the emerging Jamaat Tawhid wa’l-Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – MOJWA).

The UN mission sent to the Sahel in late 2011 to assess “the impact of the Libyan crisis on the Sahel region” hinted at AQIM’s ability to find an accommodation with local communities in the poorest parts of the Sahel, noting reports “that in some areas, the humanitarian vacuum is being filled by AQIM and/or criminal elements who are reportedly providing services and humanitarian assistance in remote areas where State presence is reduced or non-existent”.

The mission warned that AQIM could use this situation “to develop recruitment and local support networks for gathering information, supplying arms and ammunition, and other logistics”. It noted that AQIM, like Tuareg combatants leaving Gaddafi’s Islamic Legion in Libya, may also have stocked up weaponry, including Semtex explosives, anti-aircraft artillery, and rocket-propelled grenades.

Out of Algeria

AQMI’s origins are usually traced back to the crisis in Algeria in 1992. As the military authorities annulled elections, depriving the radical Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) of probable victory, a bloody domestic conflict took hold. The future leaders of AQIM first found a niche in the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), but left it to found the Salafist Group for Call/Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The Salafists hold to a conservative traditional view of Islam.

The Algerian conflict in the 1990s saw atrocities committed by all sides. Human rights activists, academics and others repeatedly questioned the role of Algeria’s intelligence service, the Département du Renseignement de la Sécurité (DRS), and accused it of not only infiltrating armed movements, but controlling key terrorist operatives.

In September 2006, the GSPC announced its formal affiliation to Al-Qaeda and in January 2007 changed its name to AQIM. Much of AQIM’s activity still centres on Algeria. In April 2007, AQIM used car bombs against the prime minister’s office and a police precinct in Algiers, the capital, killing 33 people. A subsequent attack in December 2007 on the Algerian Constitutional Council and the United Nations office in Algiers killed 63 people. There have been repeated attacks on military bases in the north and south of the country.

AQIM’s leadership is overwhelmingly Algerian. The man named in the UN Al-Qaeda Sanctions List in 2007 as the ‘Emir’ of AQIM is Abdelmalek Droukdel, 41, an engineer thought to have combat experience in Afghanistan. Interviewed by The New York Times in July 2008, Droukdel took responsibility for several bombing campaigns and pledged to “liberate the Islamic Maghreb from the sons of France and Spain… and protect it from foreign greed and the Crusaders’ hegemony.”

The ‘Marlboro Man’

In a recent interview with the website Al Wissâl, one of AQIM’s senior brigade commanders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka Khaled Abou Al-Abass, reminded Muslims that “selling or trafficking drugs, even in infidel countries, is outlawed by the laws of Allah, and that is clear and beyond discussion”. AQIM has well-established links with a burgeoning trans-Saharan trade in arms, migrants, narcotics and cigarettes, and Belmokhtar’s interest in the latter earned him the nickname “Marlboro Man”.

Like Droukdel, both Belmokhtar and Abud al-Hamid Abu Zeid have long been identified as the key figures in AQIM south of Algeria and have been given heavy sentences in absentia by Algerian courts. Both reportedly head significant commercial empires, and both have taken Tuareg wives, seen as an obvious way of securing favours from Tuareg communities.

Abud Zeid’s brigade, or katiba, is reportedly operating in Mali and Niger, while Belmokhtar’s is found in the west of the Maghreb. Mauritania appears to be more of a priority target than Mali. Belmokthar reviles Mali for hosting an Israeli embassy, its close ties with US intelligence services and its tough stance on Islamic militants.

Kidnappings and killings

AQIM’s notoriety, particularly in the Western media, is derived mainly from its involvement in kidnappings. The forerunner GSPC abducted 32 tourists from Algeria in 2003, releasing the 31 survivors several months later. AQIM has targeted smaller groups. The most high-profile abductees were Canadian UN diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, taken from Niger in December 2008, moved to Mali and released after four months in captivity in April 2009.

Among other abductees have been seven employees of the French company, AREVA, aid workers and tourists. Those executed or who died in captivity include British citizen Edwin Dwyer, one of a group of tourists kidnapped in 2009, and French humanitarian worker Michel Germaneu.

The governments of abductees have given out few details, particularly on the size of ransoms, or AQIM’s precise demands, but have included the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan and the release of senior Al-Qaeda prisoners.

Ransoms in millions of dollars and payment have been a source of division among the governments whose nationals have been taken (France, Britain and Italy, for example), and the African governments involved in negotiations. Algeria and Mauritania have been highly critical of Mali for releasing known AQIM operatives in return for hostages.

Mali – the weakest link

Recently ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré had repeatedly rejected accusations that Mali’s public commitment to fighting terrorism was not matched by actions. Touré, a keen defender of US-backed anti-terrorism initiatives, noted the vastness of the country’s 1.24 million square kilometres, and constantly appealed for stronger regional military cooperation.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz recently warned: “The north of Mali is a region left open for terrorism,” and said AQIM combatants were stocking up at will on food and fuel in places like Gao and Timbuktu, using easily identifiable vehicles. AQIM has attacked embassies in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, targeted garrisons and killed tourists. The Mauritanian army has conducted hot pursuit operations inside Mali, and joint Mauritanian-Malian operations have occasionally been conducted.

A senior French official, quoted in the French weekly, L’Express, in November 2011, confirmed: “We are very angry with the Malians. Whether with regard to AQIM cells… their links with the Tuareg, or the trade in Latin American cocaine on its way to Europe, it’s no longer passiveness, but complicity. We have irrefutable proof.”

Tuaregs and terrorists – allies or adversaries?

Defenders of Mali’s failure to engage AQIM say the security vacuum in the north is the result of successive peace accords between the government and Tuareg rebel movements, which have forced a scaling-down of bases and troop numbers.

Bamako accuses the Tuaregs of lending support to AQIM by sharing their desert expertise and navigational skills, acting as auxiliaries, opening up their trade networks. It would be impossible for AQIM to operate in northern Mali without some sort of acceptance by the Tuaregs, say Sahel researchers.

There may be little spiritual affinity between AQIM’s Salafists and nomads in the north, but former hostages like Robert Fowler say AQIM’s fighters are respectful of local needs and customs. They also offer important fringe benefits. A Bamako-based peace activist with extensive research in the Kidal region, explained. “What are the alternatives for young [Tuareg] people? It’s not difficult to put yourself in their place, to see the temptations of getting involved in drugs trafficking or some other kind of adventure.”

Tuareg leaders, not least from the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la liberation de l’Azawad, or National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), which is fighting to carve out an independent state in the north, have consistently called for the expulsion of AQIM from Malian territory, and accuse the authorities of giving free rein to criminal elements.

Alliances have shifted constantly in the north over the past 20 years, but a recurring figure is veteran Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghali, founder of the MPLA (Mouvement Populaire pour la Libération de l’Azawad, or Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) in 1988. He has been used by the government as a mediator and could win over hardliners.

Sent as a diplomat to Saudi Arabia, Iyad famously converted to the Pakistan-based Tablighi Jam’at faith while in Jeddah. He now heads the Ansar dine movement, which has a nominally pacifist orientation. Iyad is thought to have been involved in hostage releases in the past, giving him a wide range of contacts and the opportunity to interact with key individuals in AQMI. In recent statements, MNLA has distanced itself from Iyad, suggesting that Ansar dine is more of an irritant than an ally.

Arguments over Aguelhoc

The government’s contention that there is an MNLA-AQIM link grew stronger after a Commission of Enquiry confirmed reports of a massacre of over 70 government soldiers at Aguelhoc (in Kidal) when it was overrun by rebels in late January, and said this was the work of “Salafist extremists” in cahoots with the MNLA.

The MNLA accused Malian intelligence services of staging an elaborately fake by rearranging the corpses to make it look as if they had been slaughtered using AQIM methods. An MNLA communiqué warned: “There is no relationship between us and any kind of Islamic movement. Our mission is clear and we don’t intend to be distracted.”

National Conference to Fight Foreclosures, Today in Detroit, 9:00am-6:00pm



Saturday – March 31, 2012 – Detroit, Michigan
Central United Methodist Church – 2nd Floor
23 E. Adams St. (at Woodward Ave.)
10:00 am to 6:00 p.m.

Agenda and registration on line at

Call 313-319-0870 for more information

Organizations active in fighting foreclosures and­­ staging home occupations and demonstrations at banks to defend homeowners, will be meeting together in Detroit on Saturday, March 31, 2012.

Participating organizations include the Michigan Moratorium Now! Coalition, Take Back the Land, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Oregon’s Project REconomy, the Bail out the People Movement, Occupy activists from Los Angeles, Wisconsin and Atlanta, North Carolina FIST, Occupy Detroit and other community organizations and activists from across the U.S.

At the conference, activists will share experiences with direct actions stopping foreclosures and evictions and confronting the banksters and discuss campaigns to occupy vacant homes.

The conference will especially focus on building a national campaign for a two year moratorium on all foreclosures and foreclosure-related evictions. With the federal government now controlling 75% of all mortgage loans through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and HUD, President Obama has the absolutely authority to declare a Moratorium on Foreclosures through executive order. The conference will report on various moratorium bills introduced across the U.S., and plan demonstrations to press this urgent demand in light of the continuing and growing foreclosure epidemic destroying our communities.­­

The public is invited to attend this important event.

Zimbabwe Vice President Mujuru Launches Tourism Brand in India

Mujuru launches Zim tourism brand in India

Thursday, 22 March 2012 00:00
Victoria Falls
Zimbabwe Herald

Walter Muchinguri in New Delhi
Vice President Joice Mujuru yesterday launched the country’s national tourism brand “A World of Wonders” at Lalit Hotel in central Delhi during a well-attended Zimbabwe Day dinner.

The tourism brand is underpinned by Zimbabwe’s seven wonders — its people and culture, a rich history and heritage, the majestic Victoria Falls, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, wildlife and nature, the mystique of the Eastern Highlands and the Kariba Dam and the mighty Zambezi River.

Vice President Mujuru said that the launch of the brand in India was in recognition of the country’s importance as a source market that is set to grow and realise its full potential once it has been introduced and advertised.

“Unveiling our destination in this growing economy will enable us to create synergies and enhance Zimbabwe’s status as a prime tourist destination.

“Zimbabwe and India continue to enjoy bi-lateral relations that date back to the liberation struggle and, as such, it is prudent that we unveil this destination to you,” she said.

She added that Zimbabwe’s presence at the just-ended Outbound Travel Mart/Travel and Tourism Fair had afforded the country the rarest of opportunities to learn from a great tourist destination such as India and to network and attract tourists to Zimbabwe.

Vice President Mujuru said that the issue of access to Zimbabwe by air from India had recently been resolved through the coming in of Emirates which is now flying between Harare and Dubai three times a week.

“I am also pleased to inform you that Lufthansa Airlines will be making a comeback to Zimbabwe albeit through a code sharing arrangement with South African and Ethiopian Airlines. These international airlines have a wide global network that will make Zimbabwe accessible,” she said.

The opening up of the tourism market comes as Zimbabwe has started benefiting from a spirited campaign to re-engage with the international community through image building and destination marketing.

The efforts have seen the tourism sector registering close to 2,5 million visitors last year while an estimated 2,75 million visitors are expected by the end of 2012.

The country’s efforts also received a major boost after it won the bid to co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly with Zambia next year.

Vice President Mujuru said that the overall objective was to see Zimbabwe regain its position as one of the leading world-class tourist destinations.

“We are encouraged by the recent World Travel and Tourism Council report which stated that Zimbabwe is among the three destinations that registered significant tourism growth together with Qatar and Lebanon,” she said.

Meanwhile, VP Mujuru and her delegation left New Delhi and are now in Bangalore, which is one of the most prominent industrial hubs in India.

During the visit the delegation will tour a number of companies mostly those involved in producing irrigation equipment and technology transfer.

She is also expected to travel to another industrial and tourism hub, Pune, before winding up her visit to India.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Zimbabwe, European Union Trade Doubles

Zimbabwe, EU trade doubles

Friday, 30 March 2012 00:00
Martin Kadzere Senior Business Reporter
Zimbabwe Herald

TRADE between Zimbabwe and the European Union doubled during the past two years with the European trade bloc now looking at deepening economic ties with Harare, an envoy said yesterday.

EU trade with Zimbabwe amounted to US$860 million last year with a positive trade balance of US$271 million in favour of Zimbabwe.

“The EU is looking forward to further deepening relations with Zimbabwe, evolving in the longer term towards a partnership that includes trade and investment,” said the EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Aldo Dell’Ariccia.

He was addressing delegates during a business session held before the launch of industrial and trade policies by President Mugabe yesterday.

The EU is Zimbabwe’s second largest trading partner after South Africa.

Recently, the EU invited Zimbabwe to resume re-engagement talks to explore ways of normalising relations.

The invitation came at a time the European bloc has removed a number of individuals and companies from its illegal sanctions list.

But the EU extended sanctions on certain people and companies for another six months.

Mr Dell’Ariccia said the EU was working towards attracting the attention of business in Europe to explore trade and investment opportunities in Zimbabwe.

He said with the recent ratification of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement, Zimbabwe exports to EU would continue to enjoy the privileged duty-free and quota-free access.

Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius and Zimbabwe signed the EPA with the EU in August 2009.

The deal was a stepping stone towards a full and comprehensive EPA that continues to be negotiated and remains open to other Africa countries.

The agreement provides for safeguard clauses and an additional safety net that allows countries to take measures to protect their industries and strategic sectors, such as food security and rural development.

It would also facilitate access to EU technology and investment as well as access to technical assistance and capacity building in areas such as trade and private sector development.

In addition, the agreement will promote the diversification of value-added exports to the EU.

Mr Dell’Ariccia said the launch of the trade and industrial policies would ensure a conducive policy environment for investors to do business in Zimbabwe.

The trade policy seeks to increase export earnings by at least 10 percent, from US$4,3 billion last year to about US$7 billion in 2016.
It also seeks to promote value addition of primary commodities in all sectors and restoring the manufacturing sector’s contribution to export earnings, from the current 16 percent to 50 percent by 2016.

In addition, it would enhance trade facilitation to reducing trade flow barriers, consolidate existing export markets and provide guidance on trade policy instruments, such as tariffs, non-tariffs and trade defence mechanisms.
The industrial policy seeks to restore the manufacturing sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product, from the current 15 percent to 30 percent and contribution to exports from 26 percent to 50 percent in the next three years.

The targets are in line with the Medium Term Plan. Some of the objectives of the industrial policy are employment creation, increasing capacity utilisation to 80 percent, re-equiping industries and increasing manufactured exports to the Sadc region and Comesa.

US Blocks $20m Diamonds Deal

US blocks US$20m diamonds deal

Saturday, 31 March 2012 00:36
Zvamaida Murwira in Chiadzwa
Zimbabwe Herald

ANJIN Investment has lost a US$20 million business deal after a European diamond processing firm had its money to buy the diamonds from Anjin inter­cepted and frozen by the United States. This is part of intensified efforts by the US and the European Union to enforce the embargoes imposed on Zimbabwe as they feel the diamonds will bust the illegal sanctions.

Anjin Investments located at Chi­adzwa, Marange, lost the deal early this month, after Washington froze the Bel­gium based firm’s bank account.

Anjin Investment secretary, Mr Charles Tarumbwa, said this on Thurs­day while giving a briefing of the com­pany’s operations and challenges to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy, which is on a famil­iarisation visit at Chiadzwa.

“The good thing was that we had not released the diamonds as we waited for the money to come to Zimbabwe first. But the freezing of the money has an adverse effect on us because good and well paying diamond buyers are in Europe, so they become very hesitant to buy our gems in the wake of the freez­ing of the monies,” said Mr Tarumbwa.

The US and the EU imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe after the coun­try embarked on a land reform pro­gramme aimed at correcting historical imbalances on the resources where the minority white controlled vast tracts of land. The embargos have since been extended to some firms including dia­mond extracting firms such as Mbada Diamonds and Diamond Mining Cor­poration.

“There is need to have a smooth movement of money, otherwise we will continue to have challenges and this will affect the fiscus, our hospitals and other institutions.

“We will, however, not sell the Zim­babwean diamond like tomatoes, we will not accept ridiculous prices,” Mr Tarumbwa said.

He said the firm was producing around 3 000 carats a day, a slump from 10 000 that they used to produce owing to the fact that they were now mining underground, requiring heavy earth moving equipment and time consum­ing mining methods.

Committee chairperson and Guruve South MP, Cde Edward Chindori-Chininga (Zanu-PF), lauded Anjin and Marange Resources after they toured the two firms.

Cde Chindori-Chininga said Anjin’s investment had gone a long way in clearing a lot of misconceptions ped­dled about the firm which is a joint ven­ture between the Chinese and Zim­babwe.

“If you look at the type of investment, it clearly shows their commitment. A lot has been said about Anjin and as a committee we can now stand up and say this is not true,” said Cde Chindori-Chininga.

He applauded Marange Resources management for their openness.

“What we have seen here is very exciting. The real feeling is that you should not relegate yourself . . . you need to continue expanding yourself into a Zimbabwean owned conglomer­ate,” he said.

Meanwhile, the committee failed to hold a public hearing with villagers residing in the local area.

The meeting was aborted after it emerged that police had not sanctioned it. It was not immediately clear why authorities did not sanction the meet­ing.

Villagers who had gathered at Zen­geni business centre were later dis­persed.

US-backed Somalia Regime Hires Security Firm to Help Patrol Coast

Last Updated: Mar 30, 2012 - 1:45:54 AM

Somalia: TFG hires security group to help protect coast

30 Mar 30, 2012 - 1:39:49 AM

MOGADISH, Somalia Mar 29 (Garowe Online) – An agreement signed by the TFG and a security group that works in protecting coasts was signed by high ranking officials in the TFG earlier this month, Radio Garowe reports.

The security group named Halliday Finch based in Nairobi is an ‘Africa specific risk management consultancy’ that will work with the TFG to help train Somali troops to protect its coast from toxic dumping as well as piracy. According to Halliday Finch’s Coordination director Steven Hardley, the group will conduct projects to help build the capacity of troops in Somalia, so that they eventually turn into a national coastguard. Mr. Hartley who spoke to the VOA said that Halliday Finch had already begun working in Somalia and have been recruiting staff in Somalia and from abroad.

TFG Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Gaas, Defence Minster Hussein Arab Isse, Minister Internal of Affairs Abdisamad Mallin and Minister of Fisheries Abdirahman Sheikh Ibrahim took part in signing this agreement. According to Minister Hussein the preliminary talks between Halliday Finch and the TFG were initiated when Farmajo was Prime Minster and continued by Prime Minister Gaas.

The group is set to conduct projects that will help equip troops protecting the coast, Mr. Hartley said. He added “A lot of the money will be directed back into the Somali community.”

Prime Minister Gaas and other officials have spoken of Somalia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) which Somalia has struggled to protect from illegal fishing and toxic dumping and the need to protect it.

Defence Minister Hussein in a press release had this to say about why Somalia needed a coastguard, “The need to prevent the plundering of our fishing stocks by illegal fishing, to stop the dumping of toxic waste in our waters and the ability to claim our rights to our Exclusive Economic Zone are some of our highest priorities.”

Halliday Finch according to Somaliareport facilitated the handover of 17 men convicted in Seychelles of piracy to Somaliland officials. The men have already been sentenced to 10-24 years and are serving out their prison term in Hargeysa.


Fighting Rages Near Key Sudan Border Village

Fighting rages near key Sudan border village

Saturday, March 31, 2012
The News, Pakistan

KHARTOUM: Sudanese troops fought deadly battles with rebel fighters in the strategic village of Talodi, close to the border with the newly independent south, sources on both sides said on Friday.

The clashes came as negotiators were finalising the details of a joint UN, Arab League and African Union plan for aid to the area, where food shortages have sparked global concern. Hollywood actor George Clooney, who recently visited the war zone, highlighted the issue earlier this month when he and several members of the US Congress were arrested outside the US embassy in Khartoum. They were calling for an end to a Sudanese offensive they fear will cause thousands to starve.

Sudan’s military said it repulsed the assualt on Talodi by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), ethnic minority rebels formerly allied with the SPLM which is now the ruling party in the south.

The army spokesman, Sawarmi Khaled Saad, said he did not have immediate casualty figures. The SPLM-N said it killed more than 20 government troops. “We lost four, and seven wounded” on the rebel side, said SPLM-N spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi.

The figures were impossible to verify. Lodi said that in fighting which began on Thursday and was continuing on Friday insurgents seized two Sudanese army outposts, Mafloa and Um Dual, which are several kilometres (miles) from Talodi. “They are on the main logistics road from Talodi,” which is near a key junction between South Kordofan state capital Kadugli and the south.

Sudan Accuses South Sudan of Backing Armed Rebel Groups

Sudan accuses South Sudan of backing armed rebel groups

Sudan's army accused South Sudan of backing a rebel attack on the strategic town of Talodi on Friday, the eve of planned crisis talks between the two nations after earlier clashes caused global alarm.

12:53AM BST
31 Mar 2012

"They came supported by tanks and cannons from South Sudan," army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad said in a statement issued by the official SUNA news agency.

Rebels said a battle was raging for the town in South Kordofan state, close to the disputed border with South Sudan, but they denied receiving Southern support and said the army's claim gave Sudan an excuse for not going ahead with the talks expected to begin Saturday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

"The fighting is continuing inside Talodi," Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), told AFP. "It's an intense battle now."

Earlier Friday, Mr Saad had said the military blocked and defeated rebels who were hoping to capture Talodi, after the insurgents reported seizing two Sudanese army outposts several kilometres from the town.

The army spokesman said the Southern-backed rebel bombardment of Talodi began at 7am Friday, killing women and children.

"SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) troops reacted to this and the battle continued until 6pm," he said. "We succeeded in defeating the rebels, with heavy losses among them."

He said the rebels "ran away" but were building up forces elsewhere because their leaders "and South Sudan want to continue their attack on Talodi."

Mr Lodi, of the SPLM-N, said Sudanese troops were backed by air support. "We are using normal artillery that we seized from them, mortars, and tanks also," he said, calling the allegations of Southern support "false."

"Time will show who won the battle in Talodi," he said, adding that the rebels had not yet taken the town. "Of course, there will be casualties," he added.

Talodi, South Kordofan's third-largest town, is about 30 miles from the disputed border with South Sudan.

It is near the intersection of a road from the state capital Kadugli and another leading to South Sudan.

Ethnic minority insurgents from the SPLM-N - who have been battling Khartoum since June - fought alongside the former rebels now ruling South Sudan, which became independent in July last year after an overwhelming vote for secession following Africa's longest war.

Border tensions have mounted since then and Sudan has previously accused the South of supporting the SPLM-N, a charge denied by the government in Juba.

Weekend crisis talks led by the African Union were expected between senior envoys of both nations in Addis Ababa, after the fighting sparked fears of a wider war.

Analysts said there are elements in Khartoum, as well as the South, opposed to recent moves towards warmer relations between the two countries and suggested the flare-up over Heglig was an effort to sabotage a rapprochement.

The two sides have also been unable to resolve a dispute over oil fees which led the South in January to shut crude production after Khartoum began seizing Southern oil in lieu of compensation.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group

Palestinian Man Killed by Israeli Soldiers as Thousands Protest State Policy

Gaza man killed by soldiers as thousands protest Israel policy

Associated Press

Security forces in riot gear deployed in high numbers along the frontiers of Israel and the Palestinian territories in anticipation of a repeat of last year's violence, in which at least 38 people died near the borders with Lebanon and Syria.

But for the most part, protests were small and organizers kept demonstrators from actually marching on the borders.

The "Land Day" rallies are an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who protest what they say are discriminatory Israeli land policies.

Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said Israeli forces shot and killed Mahmoud Zaqout, 21, and critically wounded another man as they were approaching the Israel-Gaza border during a demonstration of a few thousand people organized by the territory's Hamas rulers.

The Israeli military said troops fired warning shots before shooting directly at Zaqout, in accordance with the army's rules of engagement.

The military said it responded to protesters with tear gas in addition to gunfire. Abu Salmia said an additional 37 protesters throughout Gaza were lightly injured, while the Israeli military put the number at about 29.

By midday, skirmishes had broken out between protesters and security forces in the Jerusalem area. Palestinians threw rocks and Israeli troops responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber pellets.

Dozens of Palestinians were treated for light wounds in hospitals throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem, including four with serious head wounds from rubber pellets and one hit in the head by a tear gas canister, said Mohammed Ayyad, a spokesman for the Red Crescent medical service in Ramallah.

In southern Lebanon Friday, thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians gathered outside the Crusader-built Beaufort castle 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Israel. Lebanese security forces kept them from moving any closer to the border.

Last year, demonstrators from Lebanon and Syria tried twice to break across the borders into Israel, setting off clashes with Israeli troops in which at least 38 people were killed.

Sobhiyeh Mizari, 70, said she always taught her 12 children "never to forget Palestine."

"We will liberate our land against the will of Israel and its backers," said Mizari, who said her husband was killed in Israeli shelling of Lebanon in 1978.

Among the protesters in Lebanon were rabbis from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Neturei Karta, a radical anti-Israel group that believes Jews must live without a country of their own until the coming of the Messiah.

In Jordan, thousands of demonstrators gathered a few kilometers (miles) east of Jordan's border with the West Bank, chanting, "Death to Israel." Israel controls the West Bank side of the border.

"Get out Jews, get out. Jerusalem and the West Bank are in the land of virtue, in Arab-Muslim land, and your dirt will stain it," Hammam Saeed, a hawkish Muslim Brotherhood leader in Jordan, told the cheering crowd. Jordanian media reported that representatives from Neturei Karta, which traditionally supports Israel's enemies, were present there as well.

About 2,000 Arab-Israelis demonstrated in northern Israel, where a large portion of Israel's Arab minority lives.

Several dozen Palestinians who live in east Jerusalem waved their national flag outside Jerusalem's walled Old City. "One, one homeland!" they chanted.

Palestinians were banned from entering from the West Bank except for medical emergencies, and police barred Palestinian men under 40 from praying at a volatile Jerusalem holy site, citing security concerns.

The demonstrators performed their communal Muslim Friday prayers where they stood, praying on their flags instead of traditional mats.

They were surrounded by what appeared to be an equal number of Israeli security forces.

"Israel has no trouble with peaceful protest and respects the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

Many Palestinians, energized by Arab Spring uprisings that have overturned decades-old authoritarian regimes, see massive, coordinated marches as one of the most effective strategies to draw attention to their cause.

"After the Arab revolutions, there's awareness of the importance of popular participation," said Arab activist Jafar Farah. "This has rattled the Arab regimes, and now it's frightening the Israeli government."

Mali Coup Leader Seeks Help As MNLA Seize Towns

Mali coup leader seeks help as rebels seize towns

7:47pm EDT
By David Lewis and Adama Diarra

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's junta leader appealed for outside help to secure the West African country on Friday as separatist Tuareg rebels took the strategic northern town of Kidal and advanced towards new targets further south.

Arms spilling out of Libya from last year's conflict have bolstered a northern rebellion in Mali. President Amadou Toumani Toure was facing rising unpopularity over his failure to halt the rebellion before he was toppled in last week's coup.

But the coup, if anything, has emboldened the rebels, while the coup leaders have been internationally condemned - including by neighbours which on Thursday gave them 72 hours to surrender power or see Mali's borders and bank funding shut off.

"Our army needs the help of Mali's friends to save the civilian population and Mali's territorial integrity," coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo told reporters at the barracks outside the capital Bamako serving as the president's office.

The rebels, who began fighting for an independent north in January, have seized on the confusion to prepare offensives on the three regional centers in Mali's north. Among their number are Ansar Edine, an Islamist group with loose personal ties to local al Qaeda militants and which promotes sharia law.

Claiming its most significant victory so far, the rebel MNLA group said on its website it had taken Kidal, a town of 25,000 people, after 48 hours of fighting.

"The MNLA will continue its advance on the two other regional capitals of Azawad," it said of the northern desert territory it sees as its rightful homeland.

A junta statement confirmed the fall of Kidal. "To preserve the life of the people of Kidal, the military command decided not to prolong the battle," it said.

The rebels included MNLA, Ansar Edine and local al Qaeda fighters, the statement said.

Later the MNLA said it had seized the town of Ansongo in the neighboring Gao region while a local national guard source said the rebels had pushed through into the nearby town of Bourem, abandoned by regular army troops some days ago.

"They came into town shooting in the air and leaving the Azawad flag all over the place before leaving without harming the locals," the source said.


The advances put the rebels little more than 50 km (30 miles) away from the 90,000-population town of Gao, local capital of the mainly desert region bearing the same name.

"There is no point in being optimistic anymore - I am going to join my family in Bamako," local teacher Ali Samba said by SMS text message, referring to the capital, 1,000 km to the south.

Yet others were only just arriving in Gao, having fled the violence in Kidal in buses and trucks. "They held us up and took a moped," said a young Tuareg called Mohamed Ag El Moctar of a rebel attack on the truck in which he was travelling.

Around 4,000 locals in Gao joined a march organized by civil society and local militias in support of the junta and their battle against the northern separatists. Some held banners that read "Peace first, elections later" - a direct rejection of international calls for the junta to step down.

Mali's neighbours on Thursday demanded the leaders begin handing back power to civilians by Monday or face a crippling closure of trade borders, diplomatic isolation and a freeze in funding from the regional central bank.

Such measures could further damage the interests of foreign miners in Africa's third biggest gold producer. Uncertainty has already pushed their shares lower on Western stock exchanges.

While not responding directly to the ultimatum, Sanogo said the junta "understood the situation" of the 15-member West African ECOWAS bloc, but pleaded for them to look again at land-locked Mali's plight and possible solutions.

"We are inviting ECOWAS to deepen its analysis of the situation in Mali and how Mali got here," said Sanogo, who has previously described the entire political class around Toure as corrupt and incompetent.

Fragile neighbours such as Niger and Ivory Coast are concerned that a successful coup in Mali may encourage copy-cat moves on their territory. ECOWAS has threatened to use military force as a last resort to reverse the coup.

(Additional reporting by Cheick Dioura in Gao; Writing by Bate Felix and Mark John; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Detroit Union Leader Files Suit Against Financial Review Team Saying Snyder Violated Open Meetings Act

Detroit union leader sues financial review team, Snyder; illegal meetings alleged

7:06 PM, March 30, 2012
Detroit Free Press

LANSING – A judge ordered an April 9 hearing today after a Detroit union leader filed a new lawsuit alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act in the ongoing state review of the city’s finances.

The Detroit financial review team is named as a defendant in the suit by Edward McNeil of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, which represents city workers. Also named are Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon.

The suit alleges Dillon, a member of the review team, continues negotiating an agreement between the state and the city in private, despite a Feb. 29 ruling by Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette that the review team is subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Collette, whose earlier ruling barring the review team from striking an agreement with Detroit in light of apparent Open Meetings Act violations was reversed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, is also handling the new lawsuit.

“It is clear that Treasurer Dillon is negotiating the consent agreement and/or financial stability agreement with the Detroit mayor’s office and the City Council, all through private meetings,” McNeil alleges in the suit.

The suit alleges the financial review team conducted 44 closed-door meetings with Mayor Dave Bing, City Council members, top city officials and others. But all of those alleged meetings took place prior to Collette’s Feb. 29 ruling.

Terry Stanton, a spokesman for Dillon, said the state will respond to the lawsuit at the April 9 hearing.

“It’s important to note that today’s order for a show cause hearing does not preclude the review team from meeting and/or acting on proposed language that might come before it,” Stanton said.

April 9, the date for a hearing on whether Collette should issue an injunction against the review team, is past the April 5 deadline for Snyder to say whether Detroit needs an emergency manager.

Still, Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore said on “Off the Record” on public TV’s WKAR today that an appeal period makes April 13 the absolute deadline on an emergency manager for Detroit.

Richard Mack of Detroit, McNeil's attorney, said even if a deal is struck, the lawsuit could be a way to undo any agreement.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or

AMISOM, TFG Forces Attack Several Towns in Central Region of Somalia

Somali, African forces seize rebel bastion: AU mission

(AFP) – 4 hours ago

MOGADISHU — African forces backing Somali government troops said they took control of one of the Islamist rebellion's last strongholds Friday, sparking intense clashes on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

"Troops from the Somali army backed by troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia on Friday morning seized the district of Deynile and routed the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab terrorists," AMISOM spokesman Paddy Ankunda said in a statement.

But well after that statement, in early evening shooting could still be heard in the area, a humanitarian source in Mogadishu told AFP.

Four AMISOM soldiers were wounded in the offensive, led by Burundian troops in the force, on the sprawling Deynile neighbourhood northwest of central Mogadishu which had been a Shebab safe haven for years.

AMISOM is a well-equipped force of more than 10,000 soldiers from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

Deynile commands access to the Afgoye corridor, an area some 30 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of Mogadishu which is controlled by the Shebab and is home to the world's largest concentration of internally displaced people.

"An important security operation was launched this morning around Deynile and the Afgoye corridor and we have cut off the road to Afgoye," Mohamed Osman Hanaf, a commander in the government forces, told journalists.

"Heavy clashes broke out when Shebab attacked our troops in Deynile," said Hanaf, who said the Al-Qaeda-linked group had been defeated but did not provide any casualty toll.

No Shebab official was immediately available for comment.

"The situation is a bit confused and we have contradictory information on who controls what," the Mogadishu humanitarian source said early Friday evening.

"Our forces and AMISOM advanced and took control of most of Deynile, including the airstrip," Abdulahi Muhidin, another Somali officer, said.

"The Burundians and the Ugandans advanced with tanks towards Deynile and heavy clashes erupted," witness Ise Abdulahi said.

He said most civilians had deserted the neighbourhood before the clashes.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of civilians have streamed out of Deynile ahead of an expected offensive by AMISOM and Somali forces who have tightened their grip on Mogadishu since August.

"All movement of civilians in the Afgoye corridor has been blocked and AMISOM is carrying out military manoeuvres there," a local resident, Jumale Ahmed, told AFP.

Some 410,000 people, around one third of all the displaced people in Somalia, were still living in the Afgoye corridor at the start of the year, fleeing war or drought, according to figures from the UN refugee agency.

Medical aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) said the hospital in Deynile had come under fire Friday.

"The emergency ward and one part of an operating theatre in this hospital, where MSF has been working since 2006, were hit and major damage was caused," the group said in a statement.

All 19 patients and 48 staff are currently holed up inside a ward sheltering from the clashes, MSF said, calling on the warring parties to respect the hospital's neutrality.

The Shebab, who were recently recognised as an affiliate by Al-Qaeda supremo Ayman al-Zawahiri, want to create an Islamic state in Somalia and have been battling the weak Western-backed transitional government for five years.

They once controlled up to 80 percent of the vast Horn of Africa country but government forces backed by local militia, regional armies and AMISOM have been regaining ground in recent months.

Since abandoning fixed positions in Mogadishu in August, the Shebab have been chased out of most of their strongholds, with the notable exception of the southern port of Kismayo.

Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.
Somali military forces head to the frontline of Deynille district in Mogadishu (AFP, Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar)

US-trained Afghanistan Police Officer Kills 9 Other Colleagues As They Sleep

Afghan police officer kills 9 comrades as they sleep

By Kevin Sieff and Javed Hamdard
Washington Post
Updated: Friday, March 30, 2:05 PM

KABUL — A police officer in eastern Afghanistan shot dead nine of his colleagues as they slept Friday morning and then fled in a government vehicle full of guns and ammunition, according to Afghan and American officials. The nine had been drugged earlier, an Afghan official said.

The incident, which took place in Paktika province, marks one of the deadliest cases of fratricide in Afghanistan this year. The apparent surge in such incidents — when Afghan soldiers and policemen target their American and Afghan colleagues — has raised concerns about the state of the war effort during a critical time, just as the Taliban’s yearly “spring offensive” has begun.

On Monday, also in Paktika province, a different Afghan police officer killed a U.S. soldier. Two British soldiers were also killed on Monday by an Afghan soldier in the southern province of Helmand.

Both assailants in the Paktika incidents are believed to have been members of the Afghan Local Police, a force of local recruits armed and trained to keep insurgents from gaining ground, authorities said. The ALP has recently been under fire for alleged human rights abuses, and some critics say the force amounts to little more than a smattering of militias. Still, U.S. and Afghan defense officials say the ALP is key to policing restive districts and gaining the trust of local populations.

Friday’s incident, which is under investigation by American and Afghan forces, ended with the suspect driving off in a white Ford Ranger filled with 10 AK-47s and 25 magazines, a U.S. official said. Afghan police brought in the suspect’s two brothers for questioning, said Mokhlis Afghan, a provincial spokesman.

In two additional incidents, one NATO service member died in a makeshift-bomb attack on Friday and another was killed by an insurgent attack Thursday, according to Western officials. Both incidents took place in southern Afghanistan.

US Imperialists to Tighten Iranian Oil Sanctions

March 30, 2012

Obama to Clear Way to Tighten Iranian Oil Sanctions

New York Times

BURLINGTON, Vt. — President Obama has determined there is enough oil in world markets to allow countries to rely less on imports from Iran, a step that could increase Western actions to deter Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, an administration official said Friday.

Mr. Obama is required by law to decide by March 30, and every six months after, whether the price and supply of non-Iranian oil is sufficient to allow for countries to cut their oil purchases from Iran.

Mr. Obama’s decision was to be announced Friday afternoon in a conference call, the official said. He made the decision after consultations with a number of oil exporters that had agreed to increase production. The decision comes even as gas prices have risen in recent months, a rise that his political advisers say could hamper his re-election efforts.

The new sanctions, passed as part of the defense budget and mandated by the Senate in a rare 100-to-0 vote, penalize foreign corporations or other entities that purchase oil from Iran’s central bank, which collects payment for most of the country’s energy exports. The penalties are meant to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program.

The law includes loopholes that allow Mr. Obama to waive the measures if they threaten national security or if gas prices increase.

Gas prices in the United States have climbed about 19 percent this year on worries about a confrontation with Iran, investor speculation about higher prices and other factors. A gallon of gas currently costs an average of $3.93, up from about $3.30 a gallon in December. The rising prices have weighed on economic confidence and cut into household budgets, a concern for an Obama administration seeking re-election.

But since the law was enacted in December, the White House has engaged in a broad effort to prevent supply disruptions that might cause prices to spike and to persuade countries around the world to buy less oil and demand discounts from Iran. In the last three months, a number of high-ranking officials, including Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, have traveled around the world to rally support for the sanctions.

Countries including Saudi Arabia have increased production to make up for any lost production from Iran. “There is no rational reason why oil prices are continuing to remain at these high levels,” the Saudi oil minister, Ali Naimi, wrote in an opinion article in The Financial Times this week. “I hope by speaking out on the issue that our intentions — and capabilities — are clear. We want to see stronger European growth and realize that reasonable crude oil prices are key to this.”

American officials have also discussed a coordinated release of oil from national strategic reserves along with French and British officials, as publicly confirmed on Thursday by the French prime minister, François Fillon.

Additionally, the administration last week exempted 10 European countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Japan from the new measures, given that the countries were already reducing oil imports from Iran.

In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the country had “made progress in shrinking Iran’s oil export markets and isolating its Central Bank from the world financial system.”

Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Featured on RT Satellite Television Discussing Aftermath of Coup in Mali

‘Hostility in the air’: West African delegation makes U-turn over Mali

Published: 29 March, 2012, 23:20
Edited: 29 March, 2012, 23:20

To watch the RT Television Interview With Abayomi Azikiwe click on the website below:

A delegation of West African leaders was prevented from landing in Mali after pro-junta demonstrators flooded the airport. The presidents were going to try and persuade Mali's junta leader to hand over the power he seized on March 21.

­For safety reasons, the delegation of the Economic Community of West African States comprised of the Presidents of Ivory Coast, Benin, Liberia, Niger and Burkina Faso turned around and landed in the capital of Ivory Coast, Abidjan.

Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, the leader of the military coup in Mali, was waiting for the ECOWAS delegation in the airport. After the incident he expressed his hope that it will not become “an obstacle to finding a solution to the crisis.”

“The bridge hasn’t been burnt,he said. “And certainly it was youthfulness and inexperience that let this happen, or perhaps they just let things get out of control.”

The ECOWAS Minister of African Integration, Adama Bictogo, had arrived to Bamako earlier on Wednesday and explained why the delegation turned around.

“When we arrived this morning we saw that the security hadn't been organized, and that around 100 people had managed to get on the tarmac,Bictogo said. “This prevented the plane from landing, and there was hostility in the air.”

The turn-around of this delegation is a setback not only for the West Africa, but also for many Western countries which have their interests in Mali, believes the editor of Pan-African News Wire, Abayomi Azikiwe.

“It is a lot of concern on the part of the United States and other NATO countries in regard to potential greater instability in Mali,” Azikiwe told RT. “They definitely want to move towards some type of negotiated settlement, to return to some type of civilian rule inside of Mali itself.”

“It appears as if the US State Department is backing the ECOWAS delegation,Azikiwe added.

If the negotiations are hindered, the whole process of national reconciliation and the return to constitutional rule will be stalled, Azikiwe said.