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Moroccan protesters shutdown capital, want verdict on activists reversed

The rally, dubbed the “march of the Moroccan people: stop political injustice”, was organised by detainees’ families

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Moroccans hold posters bearing portraits of convicted activists and a flag of the Rif Republic during a demonstration against the court of appeal rulings on Al-Hirak al-Shaabi or "Popular Movement" activists, in the capital Rabat on April 21, 2019. - Human Rights Watch warned Rabat on April 10, 2019 over what it called the "shocking" Moroccan court of appeal rulings against 42 leaders of a protest movement. (Photo by - / AFP)

Thousands of people demonstrated Sunday in the Moroccan capital Rabat, calling for the release of dozens of activists jailed for up to 20 years over their role in a protest movement.

“The people want the release of the detainees” demonstrators shouted as they marched behind a banner supporting activists linked to the Hirak movement.

Earlier this month a court upheld the ruling against 42 people linked to the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi — or “Popular Movement” — protests which took hold of the marginalised Rif region in October 2016.

The rally, dubbed the “march of the Moroccan people: stop political injustice”, was organised by detainees’ families along with political and rights groups. 

AFP reporters saw thousands of people in the streets, some clutching photographs of those serving jail terms ranging from one to 20 years.

“We call for an end to political arrests and for the release of all detainees (linked to) social movements and a response to their legitimate demands,” said activist Boubaker al-Jawhari.

The sentences first handed down last June were upheld on April 6 by the Casablanca court of appeal, sparking criticism from rights groups.

Moroccan authorities insist the judicial process has followed international standards. 

Social unrest in the Rif region was sparked by the death of a fisherman and escalated into a wave of protests demanding more development, and against corruption and unemployment.

The movement’s leader Nasser Zefzafi and three others received prison terms of 20 years for threatening the security of the state.

Prison authorities say the activists were moved on April 11 from Casablanca to a facility in northern Morocco to be “close to their families”.

“They were transferred to the worst prisons in the kingdom” and “started a hunger strike,” said Ahmed Zefzafi, father of Nasser.

Addressing a press conference after the Sunday demonstration, he called on “decision-makers to find a way out of this crisis”.

Prison authorities said Friday the detainees’ health was being very closely monitored.

Other family members confirmed that their detained relatives are protesting against the conditions they are being held in.

Beyond the 20-year sentences, other prison terms confirmed on appeal ranged from one to 15 years.

Eleven others were pardoned last year by King Mohammed VI.

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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.


“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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Semenya cleared by court to run 800m in Rabat

Organisers of the Diamond League had initially refused to allow Semenya to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”

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Semenya cleared by court to run 800m in Rabat

Caster Semenya will run her specialist 800m distance at Rabat on Sunday, organisers said, after the South African two-time Olympic champion won the latest round of a bitter court battle over gender rules.

Semenya was cleared to take part in the Diamond League meeting after Switzerland’s top court rejected an IAAF request to re-impose rules obliging her to lower her testosterone before competing in certain events.

Organisers of the Morocco event had initially refused to allow the South African to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”.

“After checking the situation of Caster Semenya in the light of the decisions of the Swiss Federal Court, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the head of the international athletics meeting in Rabat, Alain Blondel, is happy to confirm the invitation,” said a statement on the event’s official site.

The Swiss federal court issued their order on Wednesday, explaining “this means that Caster remains permitted to compete without restriction in the female category at this time.”

The IAAF had earlier this month opposed a ruling by the court temporarily suspending the federation’s rules following an appeal by Semenya who won the women’s 800 metres at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

The athlete was contesting a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which previously found the rules were “discriminatory” but “necessary” to ensure fairness in women’s athletics.

The rules require women with higher than normal male hormone levels, a condition known as hyperandrogenism, to artificially lower the amount of testosterone in their bodies if they are to compete in races over distances of 400m to the mile.

“No woman should be subjected to these rules,” Semenya said in a statement, adding she had “thought hard about not running the 800m in solidarity unless all women can run free. But I will run now to show the IAAF that they cannot drug us.”

The athlete also dismissed the IAAF’s claim that it is committed to the full participation of women in sport.

“I am a woman, but the IAAF has again tried to stop me from running the way I was born,” she said in the statement, pointing out the hormonal drugs she had been required to take to compete had made her feel “constantly sick and unable to focus for many years.”

“No other woman should be forced to go through this,” she said.

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Public health officials employ “time-honoured” tactics to combat dengue in Ivory Coast

Two people have died and 130 have fallen ill since the fever returned to the country last month.

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Health workers fumigate an area to prevent mosquitos from breeding, in Abidjan, as part of a campaign against the mosquito borne virus dengue

“Cover your goods,” Diakaria Fofana, a doctor of public health charged with combating dengue, warns food vendors as a thick cloud of insecticide spray wafts down a street in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic capital. Men in protective clothes, goggles and masks are disgorging plumes of mosquito-killing chemicals in a bid to roll back an outbreak of dengue.

Two people have died and 130 have fallen ill since the fever returned to the country last month. The toll, so far, is tiny compared with other tropical countries, especially in Southeast Asia, where the painful and sometimes deadly disease is an entrenched peril.

But tackling the outbreak is a major challenge for Ivory Coast, having to resort to time-honoured, labour-intensive methods of spraying and neighbourhood awareness campaigns to prevent its spread. Female mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus transfer the pathogen when they tuck into a blood meal from someone.

 National institute for public hygiene (INHP) are at work to fumigate an area as part of efforts to fight Dengue in Ivory Coast
In this file photo taken on June 3, 2019 officers of the National institute for public hygiene (INHP) are at work to fumigate an area to prevent mosquitos from breeding, in Abidjan, as part of a campaign against the mosquito borne virus dengue. (Photo by Sia KAMBOU / AFP)

Related: 18,000 tonnes of ‘dangerous Myanmar rice’ destroyed in Ivory Coast

A vaccine does exist, but is not available in Ivory Coast because “it has many secondary effects (and) it’s expensive”, explained Joseph Vroh Benie Bi, director of the National Institute for Public Hygiene (INHP). Developed by French pharmaceutical group Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine is recommended for use in people aged nine and older, and only for individuals who have already been infected.

Usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, dengue makes some people very sick indeed, developing into a haemorrhagic fever that can cause difficulty breathing, heavy bleeding or even organ failure. While the first bout of dengue is rarely fatal, subsequent infections are usually worse.

Fighting the mosquitoes equals combating dengue

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) says there are up to 100 million cases of dengue worldwide every year, and almost half the world’s population lives in countries where the disease is endemic. It kills more than 20,000 people each year. Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific are the worst-hit areas.

There is no cure and the WHO recommends that patients take paracetamol, rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Five new vaccines are in development, but in the meantime, Fofana says: “The only effective means of fighting (dengue) is fighting the mosquito.”

In Ivory Coast, most recorded cases have occurred in Abidjan. Health workers are striving to enlist the public in tackling the mosquito, targeting its life cycle. “The larvae multiply in stagnant water, for example inside used tyres,” said Fofana, deputy director of the vector control unit at the INHP.

“People should never store water in buckets in the open air and they should regularly throw out the water in plates under houseplants.” But he faces an uphill job in a sprawling port city of 4.4 million people in the middle of the rainy season.

National institute for public hygiene (INHP) are at work to fumigate an area as part of efforts to fight the spread of Dengue in Ivory Coast
(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 3, 2019 an officer of the National institute for public hygiene (INHP) is at work to fumigate an area to prevent mosquitos from breeding, in Abidjan, as part of a campaign against the mosquito borne virus dengue. (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

Related: The endangered reality of traditional priestesses in Ivory Coast

What’s more, people who are infected, even without knowing it, and can bring the virus to new areas when they are bitten by local mosquitoes. The WHO has set a goal to halve the number of dengue deaths by 2020, but, the incidence of the disease has increased 30-fold in the last 50 years.

“Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries,” it says.

Dengue – Malaria’s big brother

In Ivory Coast, where malaria accounts for a third of all medical consultations, many people self-medicate when they experience symptoms such as high fever, vomiting, nausea or aches and pains. “This is a real problem, because the symptoms of malaria, dengue, typhus and yellow fever are similar. Doing a blood test is absolutely indispensable,” said Fofana.

Treatment with the wrong medicines can worsen the situation, he stressed – aspirin or ibuprofen can increase the risk of bleeding, for example. In the meantime, the spraying goes on.

“We know the risks,” said Bamba Segbe, an Abidjan resident watching the masked men in action. “It’s not for nothing that we call dengue malaria’s big brother.”

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