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Algeria summon ex-Prime Minister, arrest five business tycoons

Algerian media has reported around a dozen businessmen are under investigation, all with ties to Bouteflika’s entourage.

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 30, 2014, Issad Rebrab, Algerian entrepreneur and CEO of CEVITAL industrial group, poses in his office in Algiers. - Algerian police arrested on April 22, 2019 the country's wealthiest man hours after detaining four other business tycoons from a powerful family with links to ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state television reported. The five are being investigated for corruption and include Rebrab, the CEO of Algeria's biggest privately-owned conglomerate Cevital, according to the state broadcaster. (Photo by Farouk Batiche / AFP)

Algerian police on Monday arrested the country’s wealthiest man hours after detaining four other business tycoons from a powerful family with links to ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state television reported.

The five are being investigated for corruption and include Issad Rebrab, the CEO of Algeria’s biggest privately-owned conglomerate Cevital, according to the state broadcaster.

Forbes magazine lists Rebrab as Algeria’s richest man and the sixth-wealthiest in Africa, with a net worth of $3.38 billion in 2019.

The police arrested Rebrab on Monday morning because he is “suspected of having made fake statements concerning the transfer of funds to and from abroad,” state television said.

Rebrab, it said, was being questioning by an investigating magistrate and would later be referred to court.

Cevital, which he founded, employs 12,000 people and is active in electronics, steel and food, and in recent years acquired business in France.

According to Forbes, Cevital also owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world with the capacity to produce two million tonnes a year.

Earlier Monday Rebrab tweeted that he had gone voluntarily to a police station to discuss “equipment that has been held up at the Algiers port since June 2018”.

In its report, state television said he was also suspected of having imported “used equipment” despite enjoying tax and customs breaks made available by authorities for the purchase of new material.

Brothers arrested

Late Sunday four businessmen from the powerful Kouninef family with links to Bouteflika were arrested, state television said.

Abdelkader, Reda, Karim and Tarek Kouninef were detained in relation to a probe into non-compliance with state contracts, it added.

Prosecutors are investigating “insider influence to obtain undue advantages and misappropriation of real estate”.

The Kouninef family is hugely influential and the four brothers have dealings in everything from agribusiness to civil engineering.

They are said to be close to Said Bouteflika, the younger brother and former advisor of the president who stepped down on April 2 after weeks of mass protests against his 20-year rule.

Rebrab, however, said last month he backed the protest movement.

Army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah earlier this month called on prosecutors to “accelerate the pace” of probes into corrupt tycoons with ties to Bouteflika’s inner circle.

One of Algeria’s top businessmen and a Bouteflika backer, Ali Haddad, was arrested in late March as he tried to cross the border into Tunisia with two passports and undeclared currency.

The day after he was detained, prosecutors announced graft probes into unnamed individuals and banned corruption suspects from leaving the country.

Algerian media has reported around a dozen businessmen are under investigation, all with ties to Bouteflika’s entourage.

Also on Monday, state television reported that former Bouteflika prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal had been summoned for questioning by a magistrate in connection with the alleged misuse of public funds.

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Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access

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Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout

In a lush garden cafe in Sudan’s capital, a group of youngsters sit eyes glued to mobile phone screens, seeking ways to by-pass an internet blackout imposed by army rulers.

“It’s as if we have gone back in time — we are cut-off from everything, even from the outside world,” said Mohamed Omar, 25, sitting around a wooden table with his friends at the cafe in an upscale Khartoum district.

“Internet is what allows us to know what’s happening inside the country and outside.”

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections has been widely cut across Sudan since the violent dispersal of a protest camp outside army headquarters on June 3 that left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.

The ruling military council imposed the blackout to prevent further mobilisation of protesters, according to users.

“They cut the internet so that people can not communicate, to prevent (them from) gathering,” said Omar, who has regularly attended the protests that rocked Khartoum for months.

Initial protests were sparked by a tripling of bread prices in December, and led to the downfall of long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

But the protesters did not stop there, quickly demanding that the military council that seized power hand over to civilian rule. 

Even routine activities like checking social media or booking a taxi through an online app has now become nearly impossible.

“My parents live abroad, the internet was our only means of communication,” said Omar, sporting a neat goatee and an elegant knee-length truffle grey tunic.

“Before, we could see each other by video, now I have to (make an international) call,” he added.

‘Gross violation’ –

At the cafe, some sat around wooden tables, while others typed on their phones and some browsed on their laptops.  

Here, an hour of internet costs 50 Sudanese pounds, which is approximately one dollar.

Generally across Sudan, the internet is now accessible only through land telephone lines or fibre optic cables, and the connection is erratic. 

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access.

At the shops’ entrances, men and women — sitting, standing or leaning against the walls — have their eyes fixed to their mobile phones. 

“Cutting the internet is one of the means by the military council to widen the gap between (the protest movement) and the people,” prominent protest leader, Mohamed Naji al-Assam told reporters this week.

The impact of the blackout was felt Tuesday night when few came out onto the streets, even as protest leaders called for new night-time demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch slammed the blackout as a “gross violation”.

“Governments that seek to repress peaceful political opposition have in many instances cut off internet access during times of political sensitivity and crisis,” the rights group said in a report on June 12.

For the generals, the internet and social media are a threat.

“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters last week.

And on Wednesday, the authorities prevented a consumer protection association from holding a press conference on the internet blackout.

‘People still communicate’ –

Businesses, hit by the blackout, are struggling to keep their services going.  

Kamal, an employee of an international travel agency, said his company — which regularly books tickets for embassies and UN agencies — has been forced to make bookings through phone calls and text messages, because they can’t access the internet.

“We get calls from our clients, then we call our back office in Nairobi. It is they who book the ticket and text us the ticket number,” he said.

“We forward the ticket number to the client, who then goes to the airport to take the boarding pass from the airport counter itself.”

“If a ticket needs to be modified, we used to do it from our system itself… but now we (have to) send people to the airline office.”

Other Sudanese travel agencies were shut for several days this month after protest leaders launched a civil disobedience movement, in the wake of the crackdown on protesters.

“Earlier, four, five, six or seven tickets could be booked in one day, but now, it takes four days to book just one ticket,” said travel agent, Hoiam whose agency was shut during the disobedience campaign.

The main factor was the “very poor” internet connection at her office, she said.

The internet blackout has been imposed by the generals “to put an end to the revolution,” she said.

“But still, with or without internet, people manage to communicate.”

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Morsi: Egyptian authorities accuse UN of trying to “politicise a case of natural death”

The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had called for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death

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Morsi: Egyptian authorities accuse UN of trying to "politicise a case of natural death"
A man hangs a poster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. (Photo by - / AFP)

Egypt accused the United Nations on Wednesday of seeking to “politicise” the death of the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi by calling for an “independent inquiry”.

Foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Hafez said he condemned “in the strongest terms” the call by the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death during a court hearing on Monday. 

Related: Jailed Egyptian ex-president Morsi dies after collapsing in court

Hafez said it was a “deliberate attempt to politicise a case of natural death.”

Colville called Tuesday for a probe into whether the conditions Morsi faced during his nearly six years in custody had contributed to his death.

“Any sudden death in custody must be followed by a prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body to clarify the cause of death,” he said.

“Concerns have been raised regarding the conditions of Mr. Morsi’s detention, including access to adequate medical care, as well as sufficient access to his lawyers and family,” Colville added.  

People hold picture of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during a symbolic funeral ceremony on June 18, 2019 at Fatih mosque in Istanbul. (Photo by – / AFP)

Related: Mohammed Morsi, former Egypt’s president laid to rest in Cairo

He said the investigation must “encompass all aspects of the authorities’ treatment of Mr. Morsi to examine whether the conditions of his detention had an impact on his death.”

Morsi was toppled by then army chief, now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013 after a single divisive year in power. He was later charged with an array of offences including espionage.

Related: Morsi’s death: Timeline of events in Egypt since 2011 post-Mubarak era

Since his ouster, authorities have waged an ongoing crackdown on dissent of all kinds that has seen thousands of Brotherhood supporters jailed and hundreds facing death sentences.

A group of British parliamentarians in March 2018 warned Morsi’s detention conditions, particularly inadequate treatment for his diabetes and liver disease, could trigger “premature death”. 

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Tunisia fishermen are the lifesavers of the Mediterranean

Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years,

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Tunisian fishermen are finding themselves more and more involved in rescuing illegal boats leaving Libya for Italy,

The Tunisian trawler radioed in for help as it passed the migrant boat in distress out at sea. But with the packed craft still adrift two days later, captain Chamseddine Bourassine took direct action. Fishermen from Tunisia are spending more and more time pulling in stranded migrants after a sharp decline in humanitarian and European naval patrols along the stretch of water between war-wracked Libya and Italy.

Bourassine, his crew and three other fishing boats ferried the 69 migrants back to shore on May 11, five days after their boat pushed off from Zuwara on the western Libyan coast. “The area where we fish is a crossing point” between Zuwara and the Italian island of Lampedusa, said Badreddine Mecherek, a Tunisian fisherman from Zarzis near the border with Libya.

Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years, and as the number of boats leaving western Libya for Europe spikes with the return of calmer summer seas, they will probably have to save even more. “First we warn the authorities, but in the end, we end up saving them ourselves,” Mecherek grumbled as he tinkered with his rusting sardine boat.

European countries in the northern Mediterranean are trying to stem the number of migrants landing on their shores, and the Tunisian navy with its limited resources only rescues boats inside the country’s territorial waters.

Since May 31, Tunisia itself has barred 75 migrants from coming ashore after they were saved in international waters by a Tunisian-Egyptian tug boat. Contacted multiple times by journalists, Tunisian authorities have refused to comment.

Angel

“Everyone has disengaged” from the issue, said Mecherek, adding it was hampering his work. Fishermen who run across migrants on their second day out at sea are at least able to have done a day’s work, he added, “but if we find them on the first night, we have to go back”.

“It’s very complicated to finish the job with people on board.” The complexity of the rescues grows when fishermen find migrants adrift closer to Italy.

When Bourassine and his crew last year tugged a boat towards Lampedusa which was adrift without a motor, they were jailed in Sicily for four weeks for helping the migrants. It took months to recover their boat.

Humanitarian boats and those of the European Union’s “Operation Sophia” anti-piracy force had scooped up most stranded migrants in recent years, but rescue operations dropped in 2019. “Now most often we are the first to arrive… if we aren’t there, the migrants die,” Mecherek said.

On May 10, a Tunisian trawler just barely saved the lives of 16 migrants after they had spent eight hours in the water. Sixty others drowned before the ship arrived.

Survivor Ahmed Sijur said the boat’s appearance at dawn was like that of “an angel”. “I was losing hope myself, but God sent the fishermen to save us,” the 30-year-old from Bangladesh said.

Police of the sea

Mecherek is more worried than proud. “We don’t want to see all these corpses anymore. We want to catch fish, not people,” he said, adding his crew was growing uneasy. “I have 20 seamen on board asking, ‘Who will feed our families?'” he added.

“But local fishermen will never let people die at sea.” For Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim, the fishermen “are practically the police of the sea”, adding that many migrants say large ships won’t stop to help.

Under pressure to catch their quota during a short annual season, big tuna boats out of Zarzis often call the coast guard instead of stopping themselves to help. “We report the migrants, but we can’t bring them back to shore… We only have a few weeks to fish,” said one crew member. For Chamseddine, the summer months look difficult.

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