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North Africa Politics

Morocco upholds sentences against Hirak protesters

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

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Supporters of Morocco's al-Hirak al-Shaabi movement hold placards and shout slogans calling for the release of the movement's members outside the Casablanca Court of Appeals during their trial on April 5, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Dozens of activists linked to the Hirak protest movement that rocked northern Morocco in 2016 and 2017 had prison sentences of up to 20 years upheld by a court of appeal on Friday.

The ruling against the 42 protesters in the western city of Casablanca was met with cries of “corrupt state” from relatives.

The Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or “Popular Movement”, protests took hold in the country’s marginalised Rif region in October 2016.

The social unrest was sparked by the death of a fisherman and escalated into a wave of demonstrations demanding more development in the neglected region and railing against corruption and unemployment.

Authorities accused the activists of having separatist aims. 

The sentences were first handed down in June last year, prompting further demonstrations calling for the group’s release, backed by human rights organisation such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

“There is no hope… this trial has been unfair since the start and that is how it has ended,” said defence lawyer Souad Brahma.

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

Other sentences also confirmed on appeal ranged from one to 15 years. Eleven others were pardoned last year by King Mohammed VI.

Journalist Hamid el Mahdaoui was sentenced to three years for failing to tell police he had been offered weapons during the protests — what he called an “imaginary crime”.

“It’s an injustice,” his wife told AFP.

Zefzafi, 39, emerged as the face of the movement as a result of his rallying speeches, accusing the authorities of corruption.  

Amnesty International has said the activist was held in solitary confinement and subjected to “conditions tantamount to torture”.

He boycotted the appeal proceedings along with 37 other defendants, after denouncing the first case as a “political trial”.

In response to criticism, the Moroccan authorities have insisted the judicial process has followed international standards.  

The 2016 and 2017 protests led to clashes between police and demonstrators, leaving people injured on both sides.

More than 600 security forces personnel were wounded and seven million dirhams ($730,000) of damage caused, according to Moroccan authorities.

Around 450 people were arrested.

“It’s the politics of fear, that has been operating for some time already, telling everyone who has demands that it’s better to stay quiet,” said left-wing politician Nabila Mounib of Friday’s ruling. 

Defence lawyer Mohamed Aghennaj suggested the defendants could appeal the decision. 

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North Africa Politics

President declares state of emergency in 2 provinces due to ethnic violence in Chad

The state of emergency will run for three months in Sila and Ouaddai regions

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Chad President Idriss Deby declared a state of emergency in two eastern provinces

Chad President Idriss Deby declared a state of emergency in two eastern provinces on Sunday after violent intercommunal clashes left dozens dead earlier this month.

The state of emergency will run for three months in Sila and Ouaddai regions bordering Sudan where 50 people have died since August 9 in fighting between cattle herders and settled farmers, the president’s office said.

“From now, we will deploy military forces who are going to ensure the security of the population in the region,” Deby said while on a trip to Sila. “We must disarm all the civilians who have weapons in their hands,” he continued.

Eastern Chad is in the grip of a cycle of violence between nomadic camel herders and sedentary farmers from the Ouaddian community. Herders have for decades moved their livestock through the Ouaddai region in rotations between summer and winter pastures.

Most of the herders’ animals belong to the president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, and the farmers say they often escape censure when unrest breaks out between the two sides. Similar conflicts between herders and farmers erupt in other African countries, notably Nigeria.

Drought and population growth have aggravated the conflict, while an influx of weapons from conflict-stricken neighbours have made it even more deadly. Deby earlier this month blamed the surge in violence partly fon an influx of guns to the former French colony from conflict zones in neighbouring Libya, Central African Republic and Sudan, where a protest movement ousted the president in April.

“The government has created special disarmament units. We take away the weapons, but the next day more arrives,” he said. The president described the violence as a “national concern”, adding: “We are witnessing a terrible phenomenon.”

“Those with guns are not hesitating to shoot the police. We must wage a total war against those who carry weapons and are killing people,” he said at the time. Legislative elections in Chad are scheduled to take place by the end of the year. They have been postponed several times since 2015 as Deby, who got into power in 1990, looks to maintain his rule of the country.

Deby hinted in June that military courts may be reintroduced in a bid to curb unrest, a suggestion denounced by the country’s opposition. Military justice, applied to civilians as well as the armed forces, was abolished in Chad in 1993. In 2016, the country also scrapped the death penalty, except for “terrorism”

Deby said the decades-long conflict over land in Ouaddai had spread since the start of this year to other regions where previously the communities lived side by side in an “exemplary” manner. He cited Sila where he said more than 40 people had been killed since January.

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Libyan National Army attack Mitiga airport and Zuwara airfield

Libyan National Army said it targeted a hangar “which houses Turkish drones and their ammunition”.

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(FILES) This file photo taken on April 08, 2019, shows the Mitiga International Airport in Libya's capital Tripoli. - Rocket fire on August 11 hit the Libyan capital's sole functioning airport, violating a temporary truce between the unity government and forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, airport authorities said. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Tripoli’s sole functioning airport Mitiga and Zuwara airfield were targeted for the second time in less than 48 hours – the former hit overnight Thursday and the latter on Friday morning.

The Government of National Accord (GNA) reported that three people were wounded in the raids by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar against the two airports under its control.

Airport management at Mitiga reported rocket fire against the runway “as planes took off and landed”. 

The UN-recognised GNA said on Facebook that Haftar’s forces “targeted employees of the airport services company” at Mitiga with Grad missiles, causing shrapnel wounds to two workers and damaging a bus.

Flights were temporarily suspended or rerouted to Misrata, 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Tripoli.

In the attack against Zuwara airfield, Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army said it targeted a hangar “which houses Turkish drones and their ammunition”.

The Tripoli-based GNA said a member of civil protection was wounded in that attack.

Pro-Haftar forces also “targeted other hangars… located 1.5 kilometres to the east of Abu Kamach”, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari said on Facebook.

The country’s biggest petrochemical complex is located there, near the Tunisian border.

Forces loyal to the GNA and the LNA are embroiled in a stalemate in Tripoli’s southern outskirts after Haftar launched an offensive against the capital in April.

Fighting over the last four months has killed 1,093 people and wounded 5,752, according to the World Health Organization. 

Some 120,000 have been displaced over the same period.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. 

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North Africa Politics

Libya’s Mitiga International airport reopens after rocket fire attack

Flights from Mitiga airport were suspended for several hours Sunday after rocket fire hit the airport

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Grounded air-planes sit on the tarmac at Mitiga International Airport as Flights have resumed

Flights have resumed from the Libyan capital’s sole functioning airport as calm returned Monday to the outskirts of Tripoli after a temporary truce was violated the previous day. “Reopening airspace at Mitiga International airport after maintenance and cleaning… so that airlines can renew their flights,” the facility’s management said late Sunday on Facebook.

The Government of National Accord and forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar had agreed on a truce for the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha that began on Sunday. Haftar launched an offensive to take Libya’s capital in early April, but encountered stiff resistance, resulting in months of stalemate in southern Tripoli’s outskirts. 

Flights from Mitiga airport were suspended for several hours Sunday after rocket fire hit the airport, a few metres from the runway where planes were parked. Located east of Tripoli, Mitiga is a former military airbase that has been used by civilian traffic since Tripoli international airport suffered severe damage during fighting in 2014.

Pay Attention: Rocket fire hits airport, breaking Eid truce in Libya

Mitiga is in a zone under the control of forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and has often been targeted. Haftar’s Libyan National Army and the GNA had Saturday agreed to a UN-sponsored humanitarian truce for Al-Adha, although the GNA listed conditions, including a cessation of troop movements.

The GNA blamed Haftar’s forces for the attack on the airport, in which no casualties or serious damage were reported, and for a separate alleged attack in the Soug al-Jomaa district of Tripoli. Over the past four months, 1,093 people have been killed in the fighting and 5,752 wounded, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), while more than 120,000 people have been displaced.

Pay Attention: Libya’s Mitiga airport reopens after missile attack

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

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