Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Unrest in the Middle East and Africa -- country by country

(CNN) -- Two months ago, a Tunisian fruit vendor lit a match, starting a fire that has spread throughout the Arab world. Muhammad Bouazizi's self-immolation prompted anti-government protests that toppled the regime in Tunisia and then Egypt. The demonstrations have spread across a swath of the Middle East and North Africa. Here are the latest developments, including the roots of the unrest:

Wednesday's developments:


Bahrain has released about 25 high-profile political detainees, following an order by the king to free those he described as "prisoners of conscience" and halt proceedings against others, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said Wednesday.

Among those released were the prominent blogger and human rights activist Ali Abdulemam, who runs; Abdul-Ghani Khanjar, a member of Committee for the Victims of Torture; and Mohammed Saeed, who works with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Roots of unrest:

Protesters initially took to the streets of Manama last week to demand reform and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy. But some are now calling for the removal of the royal family, which has led the Persian Gulf state since the 18th century. Young members of the country's Shiite Muslim majority have staged protests in recent years to complain about discrimination, unemployment and corruption, issues they say the country's Sunni rulers have done little to address. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said authorities launched a clampdown on dissent in late 2010. It accused the government of torturing some human rights activists.


Opposition groups in Cameroon are planning "Egypt-like" protests Wednesday to call for the president's ouster after almost three decades in power. Organizers said the protests are planned in Douala and the capital, Yaounde.

Roots of unrest

President Paul Biya, who is running for re-election this year, has led the country for 28 years. "People yearn to see a change in government," said Kah Walla, a protest organizer. Cameroonians sought reforms long before the North Africa uprisings. In 2008, they took to the streets to demand lower food and fuel prices. The protests later grew to include Biya's plan to change the Constitution to lengthen his term.


Undeterred by the attack on their sit-in a day earlier, anti-government protesters gathered at Sanaa University again on Wednesday to demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

Roots of unrest:

Protesters have called for the ouster of Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978. The country has been wracked by a Shiite Muslim uprising, a U.S.-aided crackdown on al Qaeda operatives and a looming shortage of water. High unemployment fuels much of the anger among a growing young population steeped in poverty. The protesters also cite government corruption and a lack of political freedom. Saleh has promised not to run for president in the next round of elections.


There have been about 1,300 official complaints against former Egyptian ministers and government officials, state-run media reported Wednesday.

Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdi said he ordered that all the complaints, many of them about government waste and corruption, be investigated, state-run EgyNews website reported.

Roots of unrest:

Complaints about police corruption and abuses were among the top grievances of demonstrators who forced Mubarak from office. Demonstrators were also angry about Mubarak's 30-year rule, a lack of free elections and economic issues such as high food prices, low wages and high unemployment.


All night long, residents in Libya's capital Tripoli heard sporadic gunshots, a resident told CNN Wednesday. When day broke, the main roads in the city had been "cleaned off as if nothing happened," she said.

British Airways and BMI canceled its flights to and from Tripoli on Wednesday.

Among those caught up in the violent unrest in Libya are asylum-seekers and refugees, the U.N. refugee agency said as it urged neighboring countries not to turn them away should they flee the upheaval.

Roots of unrest:

Protests in Libya began in January when demonstrators, fed up with delays, broke into a housing project the government was building and occupied it. Gadhafi's government, which has ruled since a 1969 coup, responded with a $24 billion fund for housing and development. A month later, more demonstrations were sparked when police detained relatives of those killed in an alleged 1996 massacre at the Abu Salim prison, according to Human Rights Watch. High unemployment has also fueled the protests.

Here's a look at some key recent events related to unrest in the Middle East and Africa:


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been in "continuous contact" with regional leaders in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Ban is concerned about the attacks during pro-reform demonstrations, the office said, adding: "This is the time for broad-based dialogue and for genuine social and political reform."

Ban had an "extensive discussion" with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Monday, the United Nations said. Ban "expressed deep concern at the escalating scale of violence and emphasized that it must stop immediately," according to the statement.


Protesters have demanded government reform, prompting authorities to lift a state of emergency imposed in 1992. The rule was used to clamp down on Islamist groups, but critics say the insurgency has long since diminished and the law exists only to muzzle government critics.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced this month that he would soon lift the emergency declaration, a move analysts said was aimed at getting ahead of a protest movement that has grown since January.

Roots of unrest:

Protests began in January over escalating food prices, high unemployment and housing issues. They started in Algiers, but spread to other cities as more people joined and demonstrators toppled regimes in Tunisia and later Egypt. Bouteflika announced that he would lift the state of emergency law in what analysts called an attempt to head off a similar revolt.


Thousands of people have marched in protest through Djibouti. On Friday, riot police charged the crowd after the call to evening prayers, shooting canisters of tear gas at the demonstrators, according to Aly Verjee, director of the international Election Observation Mission to Djibouti, who witnessed the event.

Djibouti is home to Camp Lemonnier, the only U.S. military base on the African continent.

Roots of unrest:

Protesters have called for President Ismail Omar Guelleh -- whose family has ruled the country since its independence from France in 1977 -- to step down ahead of elections scheduled in April. Guelleh has held the post since 1999 and is seeking a third term. Economic stagnation is also a source of anger among the people.


Protesters have been met with force in major Iranian cities since February 14. In Tehran, thousands of security officers patrolled Revolution Square, at times striking at throngs of protesters with batons and rushing others on motorcycles. Opposition websites reported that security forces opened fire on protesters in Hafteh Tir Square, killing one person. Several were reported injured and detained. In Isfahan, protesters were met with batons and pepper spray in one square, while another peaceful march took place elsewhere under the watch of security agents.

Roots of unrest:

Opposition to the ruling clerics has simmered since the 2009 election, when hundreds of thousands of people filled Tehran streets to denounce the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as fraudulent.


Demonstrators in Iraq have clashed with Kurdish security forces in Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq. Most of the demonstrators oppose Kurdistan regional president Massoud Barzani and the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Roots of unrest:

Demonstrations in Iraq have usually not targeted the national government. Instead, the protesters are angry over corruption, the quality of basic services, a crumbling infrastructure and high unemployment, particularly on a local level. They want an end to frequent power outages and food shortages.


Protesters in Jordan have called for reforms and for abolishing the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. On Friday, about 200 people clashed with pro-government demonstrators in Amman. Several people were reported injured. Anti-government protesters who participated in Friday's demonstration included leftists and independent activists demanding political and economic reforms.

Roots of unrest:

Jordan's economy has been hit hard by the global economic downturn and rising commodity prices, and youth unemployment is high, as it is in Egypt. Officials close to the palace have told CNN that King Abdullah II is trying to turn a regional upheaval into an opportunity for reform. He swore in a new government following anti-government protests. The new government has a mandate for political reform and is headed by a former general, with opposition and media figures among its ranks.


Protesters in Kuwait have clashed with authorities on at least two occasions. Hundreds of protesters are demanding greater rights for longtime residents who are not citizens of the country. They also demanded the release of people arrested in demonstrations. Saturday, the protesters attacked the security forces, who managed to disperse the people and make arrests. The forces used tear gas on the demonstration involving between 200 and 400 protesters.

Roots of unrest:

Protesters are seeking greater rights for longtime residents who are not Kuwaiti citizens, an issue the country has been grappling with for decades. According to the CIA World Factbook, Kuwait has a population of 2.7 million, with 1.3 million resident registered as "non-nationals."


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has decided not to run for another term in 2015, a senior member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party announced Monday. Al-Bashir has ruled since a military coup in 1989. He won another five-year term in a 2010 vote opposition parties boycotted over complaints of fraud. He also faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region of Darfur.

Demonstrators have clashed with authorities on recent occasions in Sudan. Human Rights Watch has said that "authorities used excessive force during largely peaceful protests on January 30 and 31 in Khartoum and other northern cities." Witnesses said several people were arrested, including 20 who remain missing.

Roots of unrest:

Demonstrators seek an end to NCP rule and government-imposed price increases, according to Human Rights Watch. It accuses the government of being heavy-handed in its response to demonstrations, and using pipes, sticks and tear gas to disperse protesters.


As protests heated up around the region, the Syrian government pulled back from a plan to withdraw some subsidies that keep the cost of living down in the country. President Bashar al-Assad also gave a rare interview to Western media, telling The Wall Street Journal last month that he planned reforms that would allow local elections and included a new media law and more power for private organizations. A planned "Day of Rage" that was being organized on Facebook against the al-Assad government failed to materialize, The New York Times reported.

Roots of unrest:

Opponents of the al-Assad government allege massive human rights abuses, and an emergency law has been in effect since 1963.


Protesters have taken to the streets in cities across Morocco to call for political reform. Labor unions, youth organizations and human rights groups demonstrated in at least six cities on Sunday. Police stayed away from the demonstrations, most of which were peaceful, Human Rights Watch reported.

Roots of unrest

Protesters in Morocco are calling for political reform. Government officials say such protests are not unusual and that the protesters' demands are on the agenda of most political parties.


An uprising in Tunisia prompted autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to leave the country on January 14 after weeks of demonstrations. Those demonstrations sparked protests around North Africa and the Middle East.

Roots of unrest:

The revolt was triggered when an unemployed college graduate set himself ablaze after police confiscated his fruit cart, cutting off his source of income. Protesters complained about high unemployment, corruption, rising prices and political repression.


Hundreds of Palestinians rallied for unity in Ramallah Thursday, calling on Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian political factions to heal their rifts amid arguments over elections scheduled for September in the Palestinian territories. "Division generates corruption" was one of several slogans on banners held up by the demonstrators, who flooded the streets after calls went out on social-networking sites as well as schools and university campuses.

Roots of unrest:

The Palestinian territories have not seen the kind of demonstrations as in many Arab countries, but the Fatah leaders of the Palestinian Authority have been under criticism since Al-Jazeera published secret papers claiming to reveal that Palestinian officials were prepared to make wide-ranging concessions in negotiations with Israel. Negotiations toward a resolution of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict have since collapsed. Palestinian protests, largely in support of Egypt and Tunisia, were generally small and poorly attended, and in some cases the Hamas rulers of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority rulers of the West Bank actively tried to stifle protests. The split between Hamas and Fatah hampers internal change in the territories, although calls for political change are growing louder among Palestinians. Large-scale protests have failed to materialize as many Palestinians believe their problem remains Israel.

Pressure mounts on isolated Gaddafi

Pressure has mounted on isolated Libyan ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi after a chorus of international condemnation and resignations by top officials.

The man considered the colonel's number two, Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, is among senior figures who have joined the opposition.

The UN Security Council demanded an end to the violence on Tuesday, while the Arab League suspended Libya.

Protesters greeted an angry speech by the veteran leader with defiance.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, in eastern Libya, says people there believe the government now controls just a few pockets of territory including parts of the capital Tripoli and the southern town of Sabha.

At least 300 people have been killed so far in the uprising, which has spread from the east of the country, although Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters in Rome that a more realistic death toll was 1,000.

Mr Frattini also told Corriere della Sera newspaper he feared an immigrant exodus on a "biblical scale" if Col Gaddafi was toppled, predicting up to 300,000 Libyans could flee.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the European Union to adopt "swift and concrete sanctions" and to suspend ties with Libya.

He spoke as France's Total became the latest oil company to announce that it was suspending its operations in the North African nation.

Meanwhile, European countries have been evacuating their citizens from Libya.Planes and frigates from Turkey, France and Russia have been sent to pick up thousands of their stranded nationals.

A UK warship, HMS Cumberland, has been sent to the Libyan coast ahead of a possible evacuation.

The UN Security Council's statement in New York late on Tuesday came amid reports that foreign mercenaries have been attacking civilians and warplanes bombing protesters.

The council's 15 members said the Libyan government should "meet its responsibility to protect its population", act with restraint, and respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

The statement said the Libyan authorities should also hold accountable those people responsible for attacking civilians, and respect the rights of its citizens.

Libya's deputy permanent representative to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi - who called on Monday for Col Gaddafi to step down - said the statement was "not strong enough".

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mr al-Abidi - head of the powerful Thunderbolt commando brigade - read a resignation statement from his desk, urging the army to support the people and their "legitimate demands".

The Libyan ambassador to Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei became the latest figure to quit on Wednesday, in protest at the crackdown on demonstrators in his country.A senior aide to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, has also quit, Reuters news agency reports.
The BBC's Jon Leyne, in eastern Libya, says people there reacted with anger and derision to Col Gaddafi's speech on Tuesday in which he referred to the protesters as rats and cockroaches.During the rambling 75-minute address on state TV, Col Gaddafi - who has ruled the country since taking power in a 1969 military coup - vowed to crush the revolt and die as a martyr.
Bursts of gunfire and blaring of car horns were heard in Tripoli after the speech, although it is not clear if protesters or Gaddafi loyalists were responsible.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Col Gaddafi's speech was "very, very appalling" and "amounted to him declaring war on his own people".