North Africa Theater
France has vowed to punish those responsible for the April 23 car bomb blast at its embassy in Tripoli that destroyed half the building and wounded six—two French guards, and four resident of nearby buildings that were damaged, including an 18-year-old woman who suffered spinal damage. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who immediately flew to Tripoli, vowed: "The terrorists who wanted to attack France and Libya and undermine the friendship between them will pay." Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited the scene of the devastation with Fabius. There was no claim of responsibility, but suspicion immediately fell on al-Qaeda's North African arm, AQIM, which has repeatedly threatened retaliation for the French intervention in Mali. On April 25, two suspects arrested following a lightning investigation led by a French judge and a team of foresnics experts dispatched by Paris. (Libya Herald, Tripoli Post, April 25; Al Jazeera, NYT, April 23)
Some 1,400 US soliders, sailors and Marines who arrived in Morocco this week for the "African Lion 2013" joint maneuvers with the kingdom's armed forces are to be redeployed after Rabat cancelled the exercizes at the last minute. The move was apparenly taken in retaliation for the Obama administration's support for an initiative to broaden the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, MINURSO, to include human rights monitoring. "It is an attack on the national sovereignty of Morocco and will have negative consequences on the stability of the whole region," said Mustapha Khalfi, Rabat's communications minister. (BBC News, AFP, Military Times, April 17)
It was one year ago that Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seized control of the vast desert north of Mali, and declared an independent state in the remote territory which had long been a sort of internal colony. But within weeks, control of Azawad was usurped by jihadist factions, who drove the MNLA from the territory. After months of harsh sharia rule in northern Mali, France intervened late last year, helped government forces drive back the jihadists, and established tenuous control over the north. Sporadic fighting continues, and the MNLA have joined the offensive against the Islamists, while stressing their independence from the French and government forces. The MNLA now have control of the town of Kidal, in an uneasy alliance with French-backed Chadian troops. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, visting the capital Bamako last week, said the MNLA will have to accept being disarmed and "confined." An AP report of April 7 noted celebrations by Tuaregs on the anniversary of the MNLA's takeover, but also implied that the rebel group has abandoned its separatist aspirations. Moussa ag-Assaride, the MNLA's communications chief, was cited as saying he knew that many in northern Mali are not aware that the group officially is no longer seeking independence. "But that doesn't stop the population from showing their joy," he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced a "permanent" military mission in Mali April 5. Fabius, on a visit to Bamako, the capital, said Paris is moving ahead with plans to reduce its 4,000-strong military force beginning next month, but will maintain a combat presence in Mali to support a future UN "peacekeeping" mission. "France has proposed, to the United Nations and to the Malian government, a French support force of 1,000 men, which would be permanent, based in Mali and equipped to fight terrorism," Fabius said. (Reuters, April 5)
What are we to make of this? The Atlantic boasts photos of an April 4 international protest called by Ukrainian feminist group Femen in support of young Tunisian activist Amina Tyler, who received death threats after posting topless pictures of herself online in defiance of the growing hegemony of political Islam in her country. Femen's followers waged a "topless jihad," baring their breasts in cities across Europe—including in front of the Great Mosque in Paris. The Kiev protest was also in front of a mosque. Some of the targets were more appropriate, such as the Tunisian consulate in Milan and the embassy in Stockholm. The women scrawled slogans on their bared torsos, like "FREE AMINA." Somewhat disturbingly, some also appropriated the Islamic crescent in a sexualized way, using it to accentuate their breasts. This irreverent image actually appears on the logo of the Femen wesbite, which also touts its own movement as one of "Titslamism."
Malian troops swept Timbuktu for remaining Islamist fighters after a battle that left seven dead and prompted France to send reinforcements and fighter jets April 1. The fighters apparently infiltrated Timbuktu after using a car bomb to create a distraction. The previous day, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint outside the city, raising fears of a new wave of violence as the European Union launches an ambitious program to overhaul Mali's army. "Objectively, it must be entirely rebuilt," said French general Francois Lecointre, who heads the EU training mission in Mali.
As tens of thousands of activists from around the world converge on Tunisia for the World Social Forum, the annual anti-globalization confab, the country is facing a pending peckage of austerity measures as the condition of a $1.78 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund—two years after economic misery sparked an uprising in the country that unleashed the Arab Revolutions. "We need to have economic reforms that work for the people, not for the global economy," Mabrouka Mbarek, a member of Tunisia's constituent assembly, told Al Jazeera. "It seems they have forgotten our history." (Al Jazeera, March 26)
Workers started a 72-hour strike at the Somina uranium mine in northern Niger March 20, demanding better wages and the release of unpaid bonuses. A spokesman for the Syntramines union told Reuters 680 workers have downed tools for the strike, which could be extended to an open-ended stoppage if demands were not met. Somina is run by the uranium unit of the China National Nuclear Corporation, Sino-U, in a partnership with Niger's government. The mine, in the remote Agadez region, was established in 2007, producing 700 tons annually. Niger is also top uranium supplier to France, which is expanding operations. Areva’s Imouraren mine is expected to more than double the French company's current production in Niger when it comes online in 2014, with expected output of 5,000 tons per year. (Reuters, March 21; Asia Daily Wire, Press TV, March 20)