Tag Archive | "Jeddah"

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Tunisia asks Saudi Arabia to Extradite Ben Ali

Posted on 21 February 2011 by hashimilion

Tunisia’s interim government on Sunday asked Saudi Arabia to extradite deposed strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as it faced a second day of protests demanding its resignation.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s government made the official request to Riyadh, where Ben Ali fled on January 14 with his family after weeks of popular revolt against his 23-year regime, said a foreign ministry statement cited by state news agency TAP.

The government acted “following a new batch of charges against the ousted president regarding his involvement in several serious crimes aimed at perpetrating and inciting voluntary homicide and sowing discord between the citizens of the same country by pushing them to kill one another,” it said.

The caretaker government also asked Saudi Arabia for information about 74-year-old Ben Ali’s health following reports this week that he had fallen into a stress-induced coma and was being treated in a hospital in Jeddah.

Two days ago Tunisian officials spurned the reports, saying Ben Ali’s health was “not the government’s business”.

Radhouane Rouissi, Tunisian state secretary at the foreign ministry, said in televised remarks that the government was certain “Saudi authorities will give a positive answer to our demands, which are the demands of an entire people who suffered so much under Ben Ali’s regime”.

Sunday’s requests came as Ghannouchi faced fresh demonstrations, including a protest by around 4,000 people in central Tunis, demanding his resignation.

In Sunday’s rally many protesters waved Tunisian flags and banners proclaiming: “Resignation of the prime minister.”

“We are against Ghannouchi’s government because our revolution has led to nothing with Ghannouchi. This is Ben Ali’s team and it has changed nothing,” said teacher Samia Mahfoudh, 50.

Ghannouchi was prime minister under Ben Ali from 1999 until his ouster.

On January 17, he took the reins of a transitional government of national unity, which included many ministers who were part of the old regime.

The authorities have appointed a panel to prepare free elections due in six months while several opposition parties have demanded the election of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution.

The government also announced Friday a first set of urgent social measures and ordered reservists to join the army Wednesday to fill a security vacuum.

But protestor Sami Ben Moumen was unmoved: “They are taking us for fools.”

“All members of the government and regional councils have been elected by the former regime, the constitution has been reformed by the former regime. The RCD wants to sow terror,” he said, referring to the banned former ruling party.

Saturday, hundreds of Tunisians also marched to demand a secular state following the murder of a Polish priest, verbal attacks on Jews and an attempt by Islamists to set fire to a brothel.

Meanwhile hundreds of fearful Tunisians fled what they called “real carnage” in Libya on Sunday to head home via the coastal Ras Jdir border crossing, a union official told AFP.

“Hundreds of Tunisians left Libya Sunday through the Ras Jdir border post. There are a lot of people and there is a big bottleneck in the area,” said Houcine Betaieb, a member of Tunisia’s influential UGTT trade union.

“These are people who work there, who have left Libya out of fear that something would happen to them,” he said.

Inspired by events in neighbouring Tunisia, protests have erupted in Libya against the regime of longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi, who has responded with a violent crackdown that Human Rights Watch said had killed more than 170 people.

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Saudi King Needs To Step Up Reforms To Curb Dissent

Posted on 15 February 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi King Abdullah has enough oil money to avoid the kind of social upheaval seen among the poor in Egypt and Tunisia, but the ageing monarch must reform if he is to keep a lid on dissent, analysts and diplomats say.

Although the top oil exporter has more than $400 billion in petrodollars stashed away to address social grievances, Saudi Arabia must address issues such jobs and housing, and the desire of an internet-savvy generation to have its voices heard.

While his countrymen were glued to their television screens watching the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Abdullah has spent the last three months convalescing abroad, leaving reform plans stalled.

In a tightly controlled country with 19 million people and no tradition of political opposition, Saudis have slowly begun griping on Twitter about corruption. Last week Islamists launched an opposition political party, a taboo in the kingdom.

In the second-largest city Jeddah, anger built up after floods killed at least 10 people, triggering rare protests and dozens of newspaper editorials questioning why authorities were not better prepared and the state of infrastructure.

“I think people expect (the leadership) now to deal seriously with their problems,” said political analyst Khaled al-Dakhil, citing unemployment, housing, dependency on foreign labour and corruption as issues that need to be addressed.

ABSENT KING, ELECTIONS ON HOLD

Since taking power in 2005, Abdullah has done almost nothing to alter a political system of absolute monarchy, and little to change a social code that imposes some of the world’s most severe restrictions on personal behaviour.

Even narrowly-focused reforms, such as opening technical universities and launching training programmes for teachers and judges, have met with doubt from some parts of a powerful conservative clerical establishment.

The health-related absences of the king, who is around 87, and his brother and designated successor Crown Prince Sultan — out of the country for most of the past two years for unspecified treatment — have left reforms in limbo.

“Progress on policymaking of all kinds seems to be very slow at the moment,” said the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Jane Kinninmont. “In a system where decision-making is usually very top-down, the absence of these leaders really slows down policy activity.”

Saudi Arabia held municipal elections in 2005 before Abdullah took office, then seen as a step on the road to overhauling its political structure. But a fresh round of elections in which women hoped to participate was shelved in 2009 due to conservative opposition, according to diplomats.

Elections for a parliament have yet to be announced.

Riyadh has been trying to reassure allies the government is working normally while Abdullah is recuperating in Morocco after undergoing surgery over a slipped spinal disk in New York.

“Several government projects have been held up. Reforms which require the authority of the king seem to be put on hold,” said a Saudi-based analyst who declined to be named. “I think Abdullah should come back as soon as possible.”

Analysts had expected Abdullah to reshuffle his cabinet to inject fresh blood, but the cabinet’s term expired more than a week ago and no new cabinet was announced, suggesting ministers — some in office for 30 years or longer — will stay for now.

Many Saudis are waiting for King Abdullah to approve a much-delayed mortgage bill to provide affordable housing. The bill requires the king’s authority as the housing shortage touches the sensitive issue that most land is owned by royals.

“A mortgage law is one area that would give hope to one million households who need assistance to get their own homes,” said Daniel Broby, Chief Investment Officer at British fund manager Silk Invest which is invested in the Saudi bourse.

Education is one of the areas where some reform has begun, but the system still struggles to produce the scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers the country needs.

Overshadowing any long-term reform plans is the unanswered question of succession in a country that has been ruled for nearly 60 years by a single generation of kings, all sons of the founder of the state, King Abdul-Aziz.

When Abdullah went abroad, Sultan who is only slightly younger returned to run the country in his absence. If both are incapacitated, another brother, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, is expected to take the throne. Nayef is viewed as a conservative and suspicious of reforms.

Eventually the throne must pass to a younger generation. The king has set up a family council to regulate succession but has not made clear how and when it will begin work. Meanwhile, younger Saudis are growing impatient for change.

“Nobody will call for (regime) change but there will be people calling for political reforms,” said prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“People have demands, people have frustrations.”

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Saudi Police Crack Down on Jeddah Demonstrators

Posted on 29 January 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Authorities have arrested tens of protesters on Friday after hundreds of people took part in a demonstration in one of Jeddah’s main commercial streets, Al Tahlia street.

The demonstators chanted anti government slogans and called for regime change after floods had destroyd the city for the second year running.

It is alleged that an angry women who had lost all her children in the floods had incited members of a mosque, which added extra imputus to the demonstration.

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