North Africa Theater
A visit by a delegation of cabinet ministers from Mali's central government to Kidal, the northern town held by Tuareg rebels of the MNLA, sparked a mini-intifada Sept. 17. Tuareg youth attempted to block the delegation's plane from landing and then hurled stones at the ministerial convoy as it headed to the town. "Peacekeepers" from the UN Mission for Mali (MINUSMA) used tear-gas to disperse the protesters. Two bombs reportedly exploded in Kidal during the visit, although apparently causing no casualties.
Canada-based Kinross Gold is said to be rethinking plans for expansion of its massive open-pit mine at Tasiast, Mauritania, after a strike shut the facility for 10 days this month. Amid the shut-down, rating experts at the Bank of Montreal downgraded Kinross and removed the expansion of the Tasiast mine from production forecasts for the company. Some 1,500 workers, representing 98% of the labor force at the mine, walked off the job Aug. 8, demanding better health coverage and respect for Mauritania's labor code. The conflict seems to have begun when managers demanded the mine remain in operation during the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr. The strike, called by Mauritania's main trade union confederation, the CGTM, was resolved Aug. 19 under terms that were not made public. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with which the CGTM is affiliated, is demanding "urgent clarification" on the fate of one worker for subcontractor Canary Log, allegedly found dead under "obscure circumstances" near the mine site during the strike.
Libyan oil production this month fell below 400,000 barrels per day—from 1.65 million bpd a year ago—as striking workers shut down export terminals. The Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) appealed to the Defense Ministry for military reinforcements after clashes at the Zueitina oil port Aug. 20. PFG chief Edris Abokhamada claimed that armed protesters at the facility "fired on civilians" after being asked to leave—apparently with no injuries. Clashes were also reported at the Brega terminal, and the Es Sider facility remains shut by worker occupations. The terminals are run by a partnership between Libya's National Oil Corporation and majors Occidental Petroleum and Austria's OMV.
Reports are divided on whether members of Libya's Berber minority forced their way into the General National Congress building in Tripoli on Aug. 13, smashing windows and destroying furniture, during a demonstration to press for greater recognition. Reuters, in a rare mention of the Berber political struggle, cited the claims of Congress member Omar Hmaiden. But Libya's local media quoted other lawmakers as saying the incursion never took place. The protest outside the Congress building did bring traffic to halt, as hundreds of Berbers gathered to oppose a law approved last month to reserve just two of the seats on the Constitutional Commission for members of their community. Berber activists charges that Congress is deliberately marginalizing Libya's ethnic minorities. Two seats each were also reserved for the Tuareg and Tebu (Toubou) communities.
More than 40,000 marched yon Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly Aug. 6 to demand the resignation of the government, with progress towards a new constitution stalled. The elected body has suspended its work until the Islamist-led administration and secular opposition open negotiations over the stalemate sparked by last month's slaying of leading left-opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi. (BBC News, Aug. 6; AFP, Aug. 7) Responding to an obvious question from Al Jazeera, Walid Bennani, vice president of the ruling Ennahda party, said: "There's no coup d'etat in Tunisia. There’s an opposition party that wants to dissolve the government. The opposition...wants to repeat the Egyptian scenario. That can't happen." (Al Jazeera, Aug. 8)
Ahmed Ibrahim, former minister of education and information for Libya, was sentenced to death on July 31 for inciting citizens in Moammar Qaddafi's hometown and place of death, Sirte, to oppose the rebellion. He is the first member of Gaddafi's ministry to receive a death sentence, which is to be carried out via firing squad. Ibrahim was also a high ranking member of the "revolutionary committees," organizations of Gaddafi's loyalists known for enforcing his policies. Human rights activists have raised concerns that the Libyan criminal courts based in Misrata do not meet international standards. The conviction must be confirmed by the Supreme Court before the sentence can be carried out.
Protesters in Libya attacked offices linked to the Muslim Brotherhood following the assassination July 26 of political activist Abdelsalam al-Mismari (also rendered Elmessmary). Al-Mismari, a vocal opponent of the Brotherhood, was shot dead as he left a mosque in Benghazi after Friday prayers. As the news broke, his supporters stormed offices of the Justice and Construction Party (JPC), the Brotherhood's Libyan political wing, in both Benghazi and Tripoli. Two members of the security forces were also shot in Benghazi that day, the latest in a wave of targeted killings in the city.
A nationwide strike has been declared in Tunisia after protests over the killing of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi July 25. The nation's UGTT trade union federation called the stoppage to protest "terrorism, violence and murders" by the Islamist government of the Ennahda party. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in several towns, after Brahmi was shot dead outside his home in Tunis. "This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi," his widow, Mbarka Brahmi, told Reuters. His sister Souhiba Brahm was even more forthright: "Ennahda killed my brother," she said. Ennahda has condemned the killing. Brahmi, a lawmaker and leader of the leftist Popular Movement, is the second opposition leader killed this year; the February assassination of Chokri Belaid also sparked a political crisis. The killing of Brahmi came on Republic Day, marking the 56th anniversary of Tunisia's independence. (Middle East Online, July 27; BBC News, July 26; Reuters, July 25)