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Protests in Algeria against Bouteflika’s 5th term bid

Scuffles broke out between the demonstrators and helmeted security forces equipped armed with batons and shields.

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Algerian policemen surround protestors during a demonstration against Algeria's president's candidacy for a fifth term - AFP

Several hundred demonstrators rallied in the Algerian capital Friday in defiance of a ban on demonstrations, and in other cities as well, against a bid by ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to win a fifth term.

“No fifth mandate,” chanted the mostly young demonstrators, many waving Algerian flags, as they started to march through central Algiers.

There was a heavy police presence, with a helicopter hovering overhead.

“Ouyahia, get out!” the crowd also cried around the capital’s landmark Grand Post Office, referring to Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, a Bouteflika loyalist heading the government for a third term.

Scuffles broke out between the demonstrators and helmeted security forces equipped armed with batons and shields. Tear gas was fired on the crowd, an AFP correspondent said, as police barred access to a group trying to head for the presidential palace, some four kilometres (2.5 miles) away.

Some demonstrators in Algiers scaled the outside of a building and tore down a poster bearing the portrait of the 81-year-old president.

An official ban on demonstrations in Algiers was imposed in 2001. But in February 2018, thousands of trainee doctors tried to hold a protest at the same venue. They were rapidly encircled and their path blocked by police.

Activists used social media to call for Friday rallies against Bouteflika across the country after the weekly Muslim prayers, also filling the main square in Annaba, 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Algiers with demonstrators, the TSA news website said.

Other gatherings were reported in several other cities, including in Oran, Algeria’s second largest.

French-language daily El Watan, on its website, said crowds also gathered in Ourgla where it said “thousands of demonstrators chanted “the people want the fall of the regime”, the slogan of the Arab Spring revolts of 2011.

‘Routine medical tests’

Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, announced on February 10 that he will run for another term in April presidential polls.

He spoke of an “unwavering desire to serve” despite his health constraints and pledged to set up an “inclusive national conference” to address political and economic reforms.

His office has announced that Bouteflika will travel to Switzerland on Sunday for “routine medical checks” ahead of the April 18 election.

He has had a long battle with illness and frequently flown to France for treatment.

Bouteflika is Algeria’s longest-serving president and a veteran of its independence struggle, who has clung to power for two decades despite long years of ill health.

Even before his stroke, a year before the last presidential polls, Bouteflika had repeatedly shown himself to be a wily political survivor.

He came to power in 1999 with the support of an army battling Islamist guerrillas. He ran unopposed for the presidency in polls later the same year and has been re-elected since 2004 with an official tally each time of more than 80 percent of the vote.

“Boutef”, as many Algerians have nicknamed him, was instrumental in fostering peace after a decade-long civil war in the 1990s.

Known for wearing a three-piece suit even in the north African nation’s stifling heat, he gained respect from many for his role in ending the war, which official figures say killed nearly 200,000 people.

But he has also faced criticism from rights groups and opponents who accuse him of being authoritarian.

After his stroke, Bouteflika consolidated power in a country where the shadowy intelligence service has long been viewed as a “state within a state”.

When the Arab Spring erupted in January 2011, Bouteflika rode out the storm by lifting a 19-year state of emergency and using oil revenues to grant pay rises.

In early 2016, he dissolved the all-powerful DRS intelligence agency after dismissing its leader General Mohamed Mediene, known as “Toufik”, who had clung to the post for a quarter of a century.

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North Africa

Sudanese Muslim cleric slams new women’s football league

Cleric Abdel Hay Youssef claims Islam prohibits women from playing football

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Sudanese Muslim cleric slams new women's football league
A picture taken on October 11, 2019 shows Sudanese hardline cleric Abdel Hay Youssef after Friday prayers at a mosque in Gabra neighborhood in the south of the capital Khartoum. - Crowds of Sudanese rallied after Friday prayers in support of the Islamist cleric who has slammed the new female sports minister Wala Essam for holding the country's first ever women's football league. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Crowds rallied after Friday prayers in support of a hardline Islamist cleric who has slammed Sudan’s new female sports minister for backing the country’s first-ever women’s football league.

Sudan’s women’s football league held its first match on September 30 in the presence of the Minister of Sports Wala Essam and several foreign diplomats.

“We will give special attention to women’s sport and women’s football,”  Essam said at that time.

Cleric Abdel Hay Youssef, known for his fiery speeches and for backing ousted Islamist ruler Omar al-Bashir, claims Islam prohibits women from playing football and has harshly criticised Essam for supporting the game.

Youssef supporters rallied outside a mosque in south Khartoum where the cleric preaches, chanting slogans of support for him, a correspondent said.

“We are with you Abdel Hay Youssef,” chanted the crowds, a correspondent said.

Some even called the cleric “Amir al-Muminin” (Arabic for “Commander of the Faithful)”.

According to media reports, Youssef had links with Al-Qaeda and financed and trained fighters of the Islamic State group in Libya. He has denied these accusations.

Women’s football has faced an uphill fight in Sudan since the country adopted Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before Bashir had seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.

Bashir was ousted by the army in a palace coup on April 11 on the back of nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

Islamist parties stayed on the sidelines during the protests while women played a central role.

A new joint civilian-military ruling body, called the sovereign council, is governing the country for a transition period of 39 months.

The launch of a women’s football league came amid expectations that the transition period will see liberal policies implemented in Sudan, including measures to promote freedom of speech, women’s rights, sport and arts.

Last year, Saudi Arabia allowed women to attend a football match for the first time ever in the conservative Muslim-ruled kingdom.

And on Thursday, women attended a football match for the first time in decades in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Eight years on from the Arab Spring Tunisia looks back

Ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, here is a recap of key developments in Tunisia since its 2011 revolution.

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Ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, here is a recap of key developments in Tunisia since its 2011 revolution.

President flees 

Demonstrations erupt in central Tunisia in December 2010 after the self-immolation of a fruit seller protesting police harassment and unemployment.

After weeks of unrest in which 338 people are killed, dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees in January 2011, ending 23 years in power. 

He is the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring, which spreads through the region like wildfire.

Read Also: Tunisia prepares for Arab League Summit with high hopes

 Victory for Islamists 

In October 2011, Tunisia’s first free election sees Islamist group Ennahda win 89 of 217 seats in a new constituent assembly. 

The assembly elects former opposition leader Moncef Marzouki as president in December. Hamadi Jebali, Ennahda’s number two, is charged with forming a government.

Attacks

In April 2012, police clash with thousands of jobless protesters in the southwestern mining belt.

More violent demonstrations follow in June and August, and jihadists stage attacks.

In September, hundreds of demonstrators attack the US embassy, in protest at an online US-made film that mocked Islam.

A series of strikes and demonstrations affect industry, public services, transport and business, with unrest mostly in the economically marginalised interior.

Opposition leaders killed 

In February 2013, prominent leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated in Tunis, four month later In July, fellow leftist Mohamed Brahmi is also shot dead.

Islamic State (IS) group claim both killings.

Democratic transition 

In January 2014, a new constitution is adopted, a year later than planned. A government of technocrats is formed and Islamists withdraw from power. In October, the secular Nidaa Tounes party led by Beji Caid Essebsi comes top in parliamentary polls and forms a coalition with Ennahda. Two months later, Essebsi wins Tunisia’s first free presidential election.

String of attacks 

In 2015, Tunisia suffers three attacks claimed by IS militants.

The attacks left 72 dead, mostly foreign tourists and security personnel, including at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and a coastal resort.

In 2016, jihadists attack security installations in a town on the Libyan border, killing 13 members of the security services and seven civilians.

Fresh protests 

In January 2016, a new wave of protests erupted after the death of a young unemployed man in a demonstration.

In May, the International Monetary Fund green lights a new four-year loan of $2.9 billion.

In January 2018, protests erupt after an austerity budget takes effect.

Political instability 

Essebsi in September announces the end of his party’s alliance with Ennahda, which had been part of a unity government since 2016. In July 2019, the ailing Essebsi dies aged 92, months before the end of his term.

In August a newcomer to the political arena who is running for president in elections set for the following month, Nabil Karoui, is arrested on charges of money laundering.

He nonetheless comes second in the first round of the vote in September, with nearly 16 percent behind independent law professor Kais Saied who has 18 percent.

In legislative elections on October 6, Ennahda takes the most seats — 52 out of 217 — but far short of the 109 needed to govern.

In a further twist, Karoui is released from jail on October 9, days ahead of the presidential runoff vote.

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North Africa

Sudan appoints first female as head of judiciary

Her appointment comes weeks after Asma Mohamed Abdalla was appointed as the country’s first-ever female foreign minister

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Sudan appoints first female as head of judiciary

Sudan’s ruling body on Thursday appointed two top judicial officials, including the country’s first-ever female chief of the judiciary, state media reported.

Veteran Supreme Court judge Neemat Abdullah Kheir was appointed as chief of the judiciary by the 11-member ruling sovereign council, the official SUNA news agency reported.

The sovereign council also appointed Taj Al-Sir Ali as the country’s new prosecutor general.

Kheir’s appointment is seen to be in line with the transitional authorities’ aim to achieve gender balance given that Sudanese women were at the forefront of the uprising that led to the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April.

Her appointment comes weeks after Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok appointed Asma Mohamed Abdalla, a seasoned diplomat, as the country’s first-ever female foreign minister.

On Thursday, the sovereign council also extended by three months the nationwide state of emergency, which had been imposed by Bashir on February 22.

Bashir had imposed the emergency law as a last-ditch effort to crush the protest movement that had swelled against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

The extended state of emergency comes into effect on Friday.

Protests erupted against Bashir’s rule in December after his then government tripled the price of bread.

The protests swiftly escalated into a nationwide movement against his rule that finally saw the army ousting him on April 11.

The protests then continued against a military council of generals that seized power after ousting him.

Later in August, Sudan swore in the joint civilian-military sovereign council, marking the first time that the country was not under full military rule since Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup.

The sovereign council also includes two women members, including a member of Sudan’s Christian minority.

The council is tasked with overseeing the country’s overall transition to a civilian rule, the key demand of the protest movement.

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