Tag Archive: Anti-government protests

Bomb attack in Morocco tourist cafe kills 15

Investigators work at the site of a blast at a cafe in Marrakeshhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_morocco_blast

By Youssef Boudlal Youssef Boudlal Thu Apr 28, 3:42 pm ET

MARRAKESH (Reuters) – A bomb killed 15 people including 10 foreigners in Morocco’s bustling tourist destination of Marrakesh, state television said on Thursday, in an attack that bore the hallmark of Islamist militants.

The blast ripped through a cafe overlooking Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fnaa square, a spot that is often packed with foreign tourists. A Reuters photographer said he saw rescuers pulling dismembered bodies from the wreckage.

State-run 2M television said the 15 dead comprised six French nationals, five Moroccans and four foreigners whose nationality it did not give.

“Analysis of the early evidence collected at the site of the blast that occurred on Thursday at a cafe in Marrakesh confirms the theory of an attack,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official MAP news agency.

Two residents in Marrakesh who were near the square told Reuters the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

If confirmed as the work of Islamist militants, the attack would be the first such major attack in Morocco since 2003, when suicide bombings in the commercial capital, Casablanca, killed more than 45 people.

Morocco’s ruler, King Mohammed, has promised to reform the constitution to placate protesters who have been inspired by uprisings in other part of the Arab world. But a fresh round of protests is planned for this Sunday.

The latest blast is likely to hurt Morocco’s tourism trade — a major source of revenue — which is already struggling to recover from the effects of the global downturn.

A doctor at a Marrakesh hospital said at least one of those killed was a French citizen, and that some of those injured had lost limbs in the blast.

“I heard a massive blast. The first and second floors of the building were destroyed,” said one local woman, who did not want to be identified. “Some witnesses said they have seen a man carrying a bag entering the cafe before the blast occurred.”

The cafe is in the Marrakesh medina, or old city, which is designated by the United Nation’s cultural arm as a World Heritage Site. It is usually packed with stalls, story-tellers and snake-charmers seeking to attract tourists.

“You can’t find a more emblematic target than Jamaa el-Fnaa square,” said a Frenchman who owns a restaurant in the city.

“With this attack and amid the worrying unrest in the region, tourism will hit the doldrums for some time,” said the businessman, who did not want his name published.

The roof over the cafe’s upstairs terrace was ripped off by the force of the explosion and pieces of plaster and electrical wires hung from the ceiling.

The body of one of the victims lay amid the rubble, covered by a blanket, with one hand sticking out. Blood stained the floor of the cafe red in several places.

“I heard a very loud blast in the square. It occurred inside Argana cafe. When I approached the scene, I saw shredded bodies being pulled out of the cafe,” the Reuters photographer said.

“The first floor bore the brunt of the damage while the ground floor was almost intact … There are a lot of police who, with forensics, are sifting through the debris.”


Halim Saidi, a doctor at Marrakesh’s Ibn Tofail Hospital, said one French national died before reaching the hospital and second foreigner died while undergoing treatment.

He said 18 of the wounded had been brought to his hospital, including eight Moroccans, seven French and two Swiss citizens.

“Five of the wounded foreigners are in serious condition. They have lost limbs because of the explosion, endured serious injuries to the abdomen or suffered major fractures.

The eight Moroccan nationals suffered “relatively minor injuries,” he said.

The main stock market, the Casablanca bourse, fell more than three percent on news of the blast but recovered to close down 1.6 percent.

“People are panicking. This is a terrorist act and it will affect the economy and tarnish the country’s image,” said a trader on the exchange.

King Mohammed ordered a speedy investigation into what he described as a “criminal explosion,” MAP reported. An official source had earlier told Reuters it appeared the blast was caused by gas canisters in the cafe catching fire.

Security experts said the attack was in line with Islamist militants’ previous attempts — most of them disrupted by security services — to undermine Morocco’s rulers by targeting the tourism industry.

“The majority of plots are detected in their early stages because Moroccan authorities retain a very effective network of informants right down to street level,” said Anna Murison of Exclusive Analysis, a consultancy.

“However, the regular recurrence of plots …. mean it is likely that a few will slip through the net,” she said.

Last week, men claiming to be Moroccan members of al Qaeda’s north African wing appeared in a video posted on YouTube threatening to attack Moroccan interests.

A masked speaker, who identified himself as Abu Abdulrahman, said the planned attacks were to avenge the detention of Islamists by Moroccan authorities.

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam and Zakia Abdennebi in Rabat, Catherine Bremer in Paris and William Maclean in Bradford, England; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Clampdown in Libyan capital as protests close in


By PAUL SCHEMM and MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press Paul Schemm And Maggie Michael, Associated Press 1 hr 4 mins ago

TOBRUK, Libya – Militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi clamped down in Tripoli, but cracks in his regime spread elsewhere across the nation, as the protest-fueled rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital. Two pilots let their warplane crash in the desert, parachuting to safety, rather than bomb an opposition-held city.

The opposition said it had taken over Misrata, which would be the largest city in the western half in the country to fall into its hands. Clashes broke out over the past two days in the town of Sabratha, west of the capital, where the army and militiamen were trying to put down protesters who overwhelmed security headquarters and government buildings, a news website close to the government reported.

Two air force pilots jumped from parachutes from their Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jet and let it crash, rather than carry out orders to bomb opposition-held Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, the website Quryna reported, citing an unidentified officer in the air force control room.

One of the pilots — identified by the report as Ali Omar Gadhafi — was from Gadhafi’s tribe, the Gadhadhfa, said Farag al-Maghrabi, a local resident who saw the pilots and the wreckage of the jet, which crashed in a deserted area outside the key oil port of Breqa.

International outrage mounted after Gadhafi on Tuesday went on state TV and in a fist-pounding speech called on his supporters to take to the streets to fight protesters. Gadhafi’s retaliation has already been the harshest in the Arab world to the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said estimates of some 1,000 people killed in the violence in Libya were “credible,” although he stressed information about casualties was incomplete. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at nearly 300, according to a partial count.

Gadhafi’s speech appeared to have brought out a heavy force of supporters and militiamen that largely prevented major protests in the capital Tuesday night or Wednesday. Through the night, gunfire was heard, said one woman who lives near downtown.

“Mercenaries are everywhere with weapons. You can’t open a window or door. Snipers hunt people,” she said. “We are under siege, at the mercy of a man who is not a Muslim.”

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

During the day Wednesday, more gunfire was heard near Gadhafi’s residence, but in many parts of the city of 2 million residents were venturing out to stores, some residents said. The government sent out text messages urging people to go back to their jobs, aiming to show that life was returning to normal. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

But Libya’s upheaval, just over a week old, has shattered the hold of Gadhafi’s regime across much of the country. Protesters claim to hold towns and cities along nearly the entire eastern half of the 1,000-mile Mediterranean coastline, from the Egyptian border. In parts, they have set up their own jury-rigged self-administrations.

At the Egyptian border, guards had fled, and local tribal elders have formed local committees to take their place. “Welcome to the new Libya,” a graffiti spray-painted at the crossing proclaimed. Fawzy Ignashy, a former soldier, now in civilian clothes at the border, said that early in the protests, some commanders ordered troops to fire on protesters, but then tribal leaders stepped in and ordered them to stop.

“They did because they were from here. So the officers fled,” he said.

A defense committee of local residents was even guarding one of Gadhafi’s once highly secretive anti-aircraft missile bases outside the city of Tobruk. “This is the first time I’ve seen missiles like these up close,” admitted Abdelsalam al-Gedani, one of the guards, dressed in an overcoat and carrying a Kalashnikov automatic rifle.

Protesters have claimed control all the way to the city of Ajdabiya, about 480 miles (800 kilometers) east of Tripoli, encroaching on the key oil fields around the Gulf of Sidra.

That has left Gadhafi’s power centered around Tripoli, in the far west and parts of the country’s center. But that appeared to be weakening in parts.

Protesters in Misrata were claiming victory after several days of fighting with Gadhafi loyalists in the city, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli.

Residents were honking horns in celebration and raising the pre-Gadhafi flags of the Libyan monarchy, said Faraj al-Misrati, a local doctor. He said six people had been killed and 200 wounded in clashes that began Feb. 18 and eventually drove out pro-Gadhafi militiamen.

Residents had formed committees to clean the streets, protect the city and treat the injured, he said. “The solidarity among the people here is amazing, even the disabled are helping out.”

An audio statement posted on the Internet was reportedly from armed forces officers in Misrata proclaiming “our total support” for the protesters.

New videos posted by Libya’s opposition on Facebook also showed scores of anti-government protesters raising the flag from the pre-Gadhafi monarchy on a building in Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli. Another showed protesters lining up cement blocks and setting tires ablaze to fortify positions on a square inside the capital.

The footage couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Further west, armed forces deployed in Sabratha, a town famed for nearby ancient Roman ruins, in a bid to regain control after protesters burned government buildings and police stations, the Quryna news website reported. It said clashes had erupted between soldiers and residents in the past nights and that residents were also reporting an influx of pro-Gadhafi militias that have led heaviest crackdown on protesters.

The opposition also claimed control in Zwara, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Tunisian border in the west, after local army units sided with the protesters and police fled.

“The situation here is very secure, the people here have organized security committees, and there are people who have joined us from the army,” said a 25-year-old unemployed university graduate in Zwara. “This man (Gadhafi) has reached the point that he’s saying he will bring armies from African (to fight protesters). That means he is isolated,” he said.

The division of the country — and defection of some army units to the protesters — raises the possibility the opposition could try an assault on the capital. On the Internet, there were calls by protesters for all policemen, armed forces and youth to march to Tripoli on Friday.

In his speech Tuesday night, Gadhafi defiantly vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime.

“You men and women who love Gadhafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets,” Gadhafi said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs.”

Gadhafi appears to have lost the support of several tribes and his own diplomats, including Libya’s ambassador in Washington, Ali Adjali, and deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi.

The Libyan Embassy in Austria also condemned the use of “excessive violence against peaceful demonstrators” and said in a statement Wednesday that it was representing the Libyan people.

International alarm has risen over the crisis, which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years on Tuesday and sparked a scramble by European and other countries to get their citizens out of the North African nation. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown, expressing “grave concern” and calling for an “immediate end to the violence” and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also pressed Wednesday for European Union sanctions against Libya’s regime because of its violent crackdown on protesters, and raised the possibility of cutting all economic and business ties between the EU and the North African nation.

“The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting,” Sarkozy said in a statement. “The international community cannot remain a spectator to these massive violations of human rights.”

Italian news reports have said witnesses and hospital sources in Libya are estimating there are 1,000 dead in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, alone.

“We have no complete information about the number of people who have died,” Frattini said in a speech to a Catholic organization in Rome ahead of a briefing in Parliament on Libya. “We believe that the estimates of about 1,000 are credible.”

Libya is the biggest supplier of oil to Italy, which has extensive energy, construction and other business interests in the north African country and decades of strong ties.

Frattini said the Italian government is asking that the “horrible bloodshed” cease immediately.


Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Ben Hubbard in Cairo, Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.


By Steve Clemons

Successful anti-government uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired protesters to demand leadership changes in Iran, Yemen, Jordan, Libya and Bahrain. Riot police stormed a protest camp in Manama, Bahrain, overnight, and medical officials reported four people were killed. There also are reports that more than a dozen demonstrators have been killed in Libya.

The spread of unrest across North Africa and the Mideast raises many questions about where the region is headed and what U.S. policy should be. Here are some answers:

Is the government of any other country likely to be overthrown, as in Egypt?

It’s not easy to see which governments may fall or survive this current trend, but it seems entirely reasonable that many of the regimes in North Africa and the Mideast are going to be seriously challenged and that one or more will probably change leadership in the near term. Much of the region is wobbly right now. Some that seem more wobbly at the moment include Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, Jordan, even Iran.  But these states have different government structures and different methods of controlling their publics. Iran’s army, for instance, already has shown an unwillingness to play the same role in these revolts that the Egyptian army did.  While there are many different grievances driving those protesting, one of the key issues is economic. Egypt, for example, has more than 40 percent of its population living at or below world poverty levels, and like much of the region has a “youth bulge” of many young people coming of work age with few or no jobs for them. But basic rights also are part of this widespread ripple that some are calling a “dignity revolution.”


In Iran, the government violently quashed similar protests in 2009. Will the protesters have more success this time?

In Iran, the government plays for keeps and seems to have few inhibitions about cracking down on protesters. The key thing to watch in Iran are splits in the leadership and the relative power of factions rather than what the state is doing to the people in the streets. There are mullahs and factional leaders, even in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who feel that President Ahmadenijad and Ayatollah Khamenei have undermined the integrity of the nation, its interests and economy, and even the spirit of the Islamic revolution. It recently was learned from high level Revolutionary Guard deserters that there are major differences of opinion inside the highest ranks of the IRGC and government. Seeing these splits widen and seeing the current leadership constrained and rolled back may give the protesters more of a chance to succeed. It is likely, however, that the Iranian government will be more decisive in deploying violence against protesters and will cling to power more tenaciously than the Mubarak franchise did.

What’s at stake for the United States as protests spread across the Mideast?

The United States has tended to deal with heads of states, oil sheikhs, and generals in the Middle East in order to secure its national security interests, which range from stabilizing Middle East oil and energy production to working against strains of radicalized Islamists to securing partners in stability, if not peace, in an equilibrium with Israel, which is a close strategic ally of the United States. America could lose its dominant role in managing the political and supply dimensions of oil and energy if hostile regimes come to power. The United States has not invested in knowing and engaging with opposition leaders in most of the Middle East, particularly in regimes with which we have close relations. That means that the influence of the United States on aspiring groups who may come into leading government roles in some of these countries may be minor. But this can be overplayed. States typically have core interests no matter who is running the political machinery, so it’s possible to imagine the United States working out relationships with governments that emerge after the people-power revolutions that are under way.

What role is the Obama administration playing as the turmoil grows?

The U.S. government is trying to shore up key “principles” that those governing and rebelling adhere to. The Obama administration consistently has called for no violence on either side of the equation, either by those protesting or by the governments being protested against. President Obama also has demanded that the universal human rights of assembly and protest be respected, and that if the situation is clear that the legitimacy of the older order is washed up, that a credible, inclusive political transition from a totalitarian state to democracy be moved forward. The administration does not want to send a signal, however, that it has become a regime-change fanatic. Obama has stated that these affairs belong to the citizens of these countries, and that the United States cannot affect the outcomes, cannot protect dictators and cannot help assure victory for those in the streets. What Obama is doing is shifting U.S. policy to a “pragmatic democracy agenda” in which the United States continues to stand by key allies, whether illiberal governments or democracies. But, if the core social contract between the governed and those governing explodes, the United States will stand by its principles that people should have the determinative role in their governments.

How might this turmoil affect the Middle East peace process?  Will it bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to a peace agreement?

This is a very fluid time and all things are possible but few are probable. The Israelis are extremely nervous about what they see in their neighborhood and the increasing empowerment of Islamic political parties and actors who have at the top of their agenda rolling back the occupation of the Palestinian territories or a hostile agenda toward Israel writ large.  It’s unclear whether Israel itself sees that its long-term security interests are helped or hurt by rushing forward a peace arrangement resulting in an independent Palestinian state. It is clear that in the absence of progress on Arab-Israeli peace, the United States decided it needed states such as Jordan and Egypt and heavily invested in them to keep them as peace partners for Israel. Had the Arab Peace Initiative succeeded and Israel secured a deal with Palestine, then Egypt and some of these other totalitarian regimes would “matter less” to the United States as Israel would have normalized relations with some 57 other Arab and Muslim countries. The Middle East peace process remains complicated and muddy, and no progress is possible until the United States and Europe consider a new strategic framework for the region — and place the importance of Israel-Palestine peace inside that framework.  That will take time — even though there is an alternative view that things are so fluid now that Israel’s negotiating position only deteriorates with more time.

One year from now, which countries in the Middle East are the most likely to be on the road to some sort of democratic government?  Which countries are most likely to be ruled by autocrats?  Which countries are most likely to be ruled by fundamental Islamists?

One year from now, nearly all of the governments will continue to be ruled by autocrats or oligarchs, perhaps even in Egypt. There is nowtotal military control in Egypt, high expectations from society for economic improvement, and no more resources to make this happen. The military may very will be running the show in Egypt, and despite a veneer of interaction with opposition groups, there might not be real democracy there for quite a number of years. Jordan is likely to work for reform but keep essentially the same form of government, trying to reach out to some younger leaders in society and reform from within. Lebanon is politically complex but Hezbollah is playing a strong role there. This doesn’t mean that fundamental Islamists are in total control, but Islamists have a lot of power in a functioning democratic context. The Lebanon model, or Turkish model, might be the best it gets for democracy in places such as Egypt and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia and Syria can be expected to continue as they are — and countries such as the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait will be challenged to be more politically inclusive, but it’s hard to imagine stable functioning democracies in these countries at this point, particularly given the huge disparities between the population of national citizens and the number of guest workers who dwarf them. Autocracies are likely to survive in the Emirates, but they are nervous. Yemen, Morocco, Iran, even Iraq are all wobbly with populations that feel disenfranchised. Constant turmoil may simmer in all of these countries with very different political conditions, with the simmering occasionally exploding, but there is no way of saying for sure which will transform into democracies. Democracies need institutions that are able to serve the weak and those in minority in political systems. These take years to build, and the Middle East does not have much experience in the habits of this kind of institution building. Thus, while there will continue to be much disorder and much popular revolt, it’s not clear at all that democracy is the automatic successor.

Steve Clemons is founder and senior fellow of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He is part of a group of foreign policy experts that the White House consulted with during the anti-government protests in Egypt. He also is publisher of  The Washington Note.

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