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Archive for June 29th, 2012

Laila lives in Amman but her children do not go to school

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012

Laila lives in Amman but her children do not go to school (file photo)

AMMAN,  – Ten years ago Laila* got married to a man from her hometown of Dera’a in Syria, expecting a happy life. She never imagined that one day she would leave him behind fighting Syrian regime forces, and flee to Jordan with four children. Two months ago, Leila fled Dera’a, after the area became a war zone following a March 2011 uprising against the government of President Bashar Al Assad.

Many others’ wives left their homes after receiving threats allegedly made by the Syrian regime to rebel fighters. Now living in Amman, Jordan, Laila talked to IRIN about her plight:

“I did not really want to leave. But my husband insisted I should. I tried my best to stay near him so I moved to Karak [a neighbouring village], but unfortunately it was not much safer than Musaiferah. People urged me to leave Syria and I did.

“My husband put me and the children on a truck along with other women – all rebels’ wives. I feared that could be the last time I would see him.

“I had to be smuggled into to Jordan, because I do not have papers. My passport is expired and there was no way of renewing it. Syrian rebels drove us as close as possible. Then, a long, harsh trip began. We had to walk for two hours before we reached the Jordanian border. It was awful. We were about five women – we had youths (men) walking with us, but we had so many children.

“Can you imagine walking that long on your feet with children who need to drink and sit down. I felt so humiliated when I fell over the wall and men had to pick me up.

“We were carrying nothing but our clothes. Why bother to carry things like that when you could not carry people with you. My husband and two of my brothers are still there fighting.

“When we finally made it to the border, we were surprised to be treated well. The Gendarmerie opened a prayer rug for us to pray. We are happy to see that people are allowed to mention Allah.

“Our experience at the holding centres is another story. We stayed there for eight days. We were lucky to have found a shelter and sleep after months of violence and bloodshed in Syria, but it was very hard. We were more than 30 people staying in the same room. We cooked inside as well. They put the men downstairs and left the women and children upstairs to give us some privacy.

“Now, I am living in east Amman in a two-bedroom flat which costs me JD 160 (US$225) per month. It is so expensive here. But it is sheltering me, my children, my mother, my mother in-law, and two [women] with eight children. I never imagined that one day I would be living like this.

“I have four children who should be going to school, but I do not want to send them. I am afraid to leave them at home alone. I have been here for two months, but I have been afraid to go and ask for help.

“I wake up every day talking to God. I never imagined that my peaceful home town would become a battlefield where Syrians kill each other like that. I ask Him if one day I would see my husband and brothers again and if my children would ever go back to school.

*Not her real name

aa/eo/cb source

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Norway to provide NOK 850 million for green energy cooperation in Africa

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012

Norway to provide NOK 850 million for green energy cooperation in Africa

Norway is entering into agreements on energy cooperation amounting to NOK 850 million with Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia.

The agreements were signed by Minister of International Development Heikki Holmås and ministers from the three countries concerned at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development  in Rio de Janeiro this week. The objective is to make more clean and efficient energy available, in line with one of the main themes of the conference. More energy needs to be provided to promote development in poor countries, but producing and using energy often causes substantial emissions of greenhouse gases.

“The cooperation with Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia will give ordinary people new development opportunities and help to improve public health. At the same time we can avoid increased emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Minister of International Development Heikki Holmås.

The agreements make available NOK 500 million to Ethiopia, NOK 250 million to Kenya and NOK 100 million to Liberia over the next five years. This is performance-based financing, which means that most of the money will be disbursed in step with results achieved, such as providing more people with access to energy and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Norway is also using aid funds to facilitate private-sector investments.

The cooperation with Ethiopia will encompass energy, forests and agriculture, with the main focus to begin with on projects in rural communities. In Kenya paraffin lamps are to be replaced by lighting from solar power or other forms of renewable energy. In addition, millions of new cooking stoves will improve air quality and energy efficiency in people’s homes. Liberia is building up its energy sector after the civil war. Norway will help to get the damaged hydropower station Mount Coffee running again. The power station will provide 64 megawatts of green electricity when the work is completed. That is enough to supply the whole capital, Monrovia.

“Diesel and oil are expensive and they are not very climate-friendly. Giving priority to renewable energy sources and to greater energy efficiency in these countries will help to ensure a reliable and secure supply of energy, more jobs, better health, greater business opportunities and increased economic growth,” Mr Holmås said.

Norway’s Energy+ initiative was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in October last year. It has over 40 international partners. The Energy+ initiative builds on Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative>.

The following countries and organisations are partners in the Energy+ initiative:

·         Developing countries: Kenya, Bhutan, Liberia, Ethiopia, the Maldives, Senegal, Morocco, Tanzania, Nepal, Mali, Grenada and Mozambique.

·         Developed countries: The UK, France, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Korea, Iceland and Norway.

·         International financial institutions: The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

·         The UN: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

·         International organisations: The International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP), the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE), the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.

·         Business community: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

·         Foundations: The United Nations Foundation (UNF) and the Clinton Foundation.

·         Think tanks: Centre for Clean Air Policy (CCAP).

·         Civil society: World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Friends of the Earth Norway, Practical Action UK, World Future Council and Bellona.




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The Syrian-Lebanon crisis

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012

Jebel Mohsen is home to the Shia Alawi community, who are skeptical of the army’s ability to ensure their security

TRIPOLI, LEBANON,  – For more than a generation, the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli has been a divided city, home to most of Lebanon’s Shia Alawi community, but also a stronghold of Sunni conservatism.

The two sects, in their respective neighbourhoods of Jebel Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, have been at odds since the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, with hundreds dying in the worst bloodshed in 1986. The road separating the two entrenched factions – appropriately called Syria Street – is the only demarcation line that still exists in Lebanon 22 years after the war ended.

In recent months, the outbreak of conflict in Syria and the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has renewed and increased those tensions between Shia Alawis generally supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Sunni sympathizers of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the opposition.

More than 30 Lebanese from both sides have been killed in fighting between the two communities since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. While a fragile ceasefire in Tripoli – agreed in early June – seems to be generally holding, sporadic clashes happen on a daily basis and it is common to see civilians carrying weapons.

While there are clear risks of Lebanon being caught up in the Syrian conflict, the reverse is also true: Syrian antagonists are equally in danger of being dragged into age-old Lebanese sectarianism.

The Syrian conflict has already killed at least 10,000, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and displaced as many as 500,000 people inside the country, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and another 86,000 are registered refugees in neighbouring countries. Basic services are not running properly, and the economy has been hard hit, not only by the conflict, but by far-reaching economic sanctions, pushing up unemployment and the price of food. Lebanon, which has already suffered decades of war, is rife with poverty and political instability. Both countries have much to lose.

Socio-economic factors and politics

Sectarianism and political antagonism in Tripoli have already had very real consequences for ordinary people on both sides.

Mahmud, a local vendor in the alleyways of Tripoli’s market, points to the Alawi-owned shop next door, recently set on fire.
“The owner of this burnt shop paid the price of feuds between rogues,” he explains.
“If these unbelievers want Bashar al-Assad, they can go to Syria,” bursts out Omar, a long-bearded youngster, when asked about the shop. The risks for civilians here are large, with some Sunnis openly admitting that Alawi civilians could be further targeted.
“Now they don’t dare to leave their mountain, we would beat them again,” boasts Faysal, a talkative shopkeeper in Tripoli’s market, who praises his cousin fighting in Bab al-Tabbaneh. “Those Alawis who are still in the city centre are Syrian workers, not Lebanese,” he continues. “No one would harm them. But in case of a civil war, they will be killed, because wars know no ethical rules.”

If history is anything to go by, those made destitute by the clashes are more likely to be dragged into violence. As the International Crisis Group put it in a briefing in October 2010, for many Sunni youngsters in Bab-Tebbaneh, joining one of the many Islamist groups which have spread relatively freely since Syria’s military withdrawal provides an attractive alternative to idleness and social failure.”

Lebanese politicians have been accused of exploiting the frustration of these poor neighbourhoods, supplying them with weapons.

''The first interest of the Syrian regime is distracting the attention of the media from what’s going on in Syria. Secondly, Bashar wants to pressure the international community by saying he’s capable of causing a civil war in Lebanon''

“External actors transferred their conflicts there [in Tripoli], backing local fighters in a struggle that was less costly, and more easily managed, than would be open warfare in the capital…, just as… local fighters use their struggles… to attract important outside support,” the 2010 Crisis Group briefing said.

Distrust in Lebanese army, intelligence
An enormous banner hanging in one of Tripoli’s main squares, al-Tell, reads: “In defence of the security and stability of Tripoli”. The whole city is plastered with these kinds of slogans. But behind the confident veneer, some residents are skeptical of the army’s ability to maintain the peace.
From behind a small stand on a street corner, a coffee vendor named Khaled says he doesn’t have much faith in the military.
“What do you want them to do? They stand aside!” he says laughing.

Weapons and Koranic commentaries pack the living room in the flat of Sheikh Bilal al-Masri, a Sunni leader fighting on Bab al-Tabbaneh’s front line. He says the army – which usually limits itself to standing between both sides – started doing its job when, on one occasion recently, it responded to gunfire coming from Alawi-majority Jebel Mohsen. But he stresses that the military remains divided by political rivalries.

Residents of Jebel Mohsen are also skeptical of the army’s ability to ensure their security.

“To us, [weapons] are more important than food,” Rifa’at ‘Eid, head of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party (ADP), told the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. “We have confidence in the army, but it cannot ensure our safety under certain conditions.”

The Lebanese army is generally considered a “spectator” in armed clashes, because party militias such as Hezbollah are much better equipped, and because Lebanese politics are so divided. Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s current government, as well as the Military Intelligence (mukhabarat al-jaysh) and the General Security (al-amn al-‘aam) are believed to be aligned with Damascus, whereas the Internal Security Forces (quwwat al-amn al-dakhili) and its Information Branch (far’ al-ma’lumat) are closer to the opposition Saudi-backed 14 March coalition, analysts say.

Syrian opposition and Lebanese Sunnis: between sympathy and military alliance

In Tripoli’s government hospital, the tension is palpable. A nurse at the hospital showed IRIN bullet holes on the wall of one of the rooms overlooking Jebel Mohsen, suggesting the targets were the Sunni Syrian patients. The latter do not dare poke their heads out the window, for fear of being shot. The 50 Syrians in the hospital claim to be civilians, but the line between the armed opposition and the peace demonstrators is increasingly blurred.

Still, Tripoli remains one of the safest destinations in Lebanon for mostly Sunni Syrian refugees, due to the Sunni support for the uprising; and Lebanon has been a transit route for relief supplies into Syria. But analysts are increasingly questioning whether the ties between Lebanese and Syrian Sunnis go beyond mutual sympathy to military cooperation.

Photo: Anja Pietsch/IRIN
Burnt shop in Tripoli. The Lebanese economy has been hit hard by conflict

Samir*, a 23-old Syrian from Homs, now a member of a Syrian grouping of humanitarian and civil society organizations in Lebanon called Watan (Homeland), says there are clear boundaries to his involvement in the Bab al-Tabbaneh-Jebel Mohsen clashes: “If a Lebanese civil war breaks out, we will leave. We’re not here to export our revolution. We need Lebanon as a basis for our activities.”
Walid*, 27, who works for another humanitarian group, the Coordination Committees for Syrian Refugees’ Affairs in Lebanon, holds different views on the relations between Syrians and Bab al-Tabbaneh: “I wanted to volunteer as a fighter in Bab al-Tabbaneh, but they rejected me.
“I wanted to do it, because the Alawis from Jebel Mohsen were involved in killing demonstrators in my city, Homs,” explains Walid. “They came to support Alawis in Homs and slaughtered our people.”

Al-Masri, the Sunni leader, confirmed having turned away Syrian volunteers. But he says the links between pro-Syrian government forces on both sides of the border are stronger. He says Lebanese Alawis are supplied with weapons and supported on the ground by Syrian and Hezbollah officers.
Pro-Syria media give a different view of the situation, with an article in pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar accusing Riyadh al-Asaad, commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, of visiting Tripoli to survey the territory, looking for an “ideal buffer zone”.

Al-Masri denies both the existence of a 300-man Lebanese-Sunni unit within the FSA in Syria (as recently reported by Nicholas Blanford, Middle East analyst and author) and the presence of FSA camps in Lebanon. “We sent our men to Syria and they were rejected. They told us: ‘We don’t need you, but give us weapons, if it’s possible’.” He does admit to smuggling weapons and food to the FSA across the Lebanese border, by bribing Syrian officials.
Both the FSA and the pro-Syrian alignment led by Hezbollah have their reasons to deny having trespassed national borders. The first fears being blamed for igniting the existing tensions within Lebanon; the latter wants to prevent a new explosion of Sunni resentment. In a nutshell, no one wants to be blamed for a new Lebanese civil war.

But in the absence of a quick settlement with Jebel Mohsen, tensions in both countries are becoming increasingly intertwined, with analysts predicting that Lebanese Sunnis will eventually make use of their brethren across the border to fight their domestic enemies, namely Hezbollah. Already, tit-for-tat kidnappings have blurred the lines between the two conflicts, with Syrian Sunnis involved in kidnapping Lebanese Shias; Syrian officers involved in kidnapping Lebanese Sunnis; and Lebanese Sunnis involved in kidnapping Lebanese Alawis.
Who benefits from the clashes?
Analysts say both sides in Lebanon have something to gain from the clashes.
The anti-Syrian Future Movement (FM), headed by the former Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad al-Hariri, forced out of office in January 2011, has used the clashes as an opportunity to call for the current Prime Minister’s resignation, arguing he has not been able to ensure Tripoli’s security.

But in the eyes of Bab al-Tabbaneh’s fighters, as well as many analysts, the Syrian government has more to gain.
“The first interest of the Syrian regime is distracting the attention of the media from what’s going on in Syria,” al-Masri says. “Secondly, Bashar wants to pressure the international community by saying he’s capable of causing a civil war in Lebanon.”
Both Bab al-Tabbaneh’s fighters and ADP’s spokespersons told the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star that Hezbollah is supplying weapons to both Alawis and Sunnis in Tripoli, suggesting that the goal is to destabilize Lebanon – regardless of the victor – in order to draw attention away from the situation in Syria.

*not real names
ag/kb/ha/cb/oa source


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Racism in Euro 2012 Football

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012 Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __ Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __

< Elizabeth M. Koikai, reporting for API in Norway

Racists incidents in the ongoing Euro 2012 Football championships that began in June in Poland and Ukraine have not come as a shock. In fact, such incidents of racism were expected by many. Despite efforts by various Football Associations who have set up anti-racism campaigns to raise awareness of the problem, some countries have already been fined by UEFA because of racists abuse by some fans.

The Croatian Football Federation was charged €80,000 (£64,561) for offences which included the racist abuse of the Italy striker Mario Barwuah Balotelli on Thursday.


Between 300 and 500 Croatian fans started making monkey chants during the Group C match against Italy in Poznan. A banana was also thrown on to the field.

Mario Barwuah Balotelli who is of Ghanaian descent but raised by an Italian family, plays as a striker for Manchester City and the Italian national team. He’s biological parents gave him up for adoption due to life-threatening complications he had as an infant.

Balotelli said before the Euro 2012 championships that he would leave the field if he was subjected to racism. Some anti-racist groups are angered by UEFA claiming that the penalty fee was under-whelming with regard to the seriousness of the incident. Apparently, Croatia was not only punished for the racist abuse that occurred on Thursday but also for its misbehaving fans who set off fireworks and threw them for a second time in Euro 2012. And the invasion of the pitch by a supporter, during the win against Republic of Ireland on Sunday.

Indeed, the Euro 2012 championships are a grim reminder of the dark side of European football that is marred by Neo-nazi and neo-fascist groups.

Recently, BBC televised a documentary called “Stadiums of hate” a month before the tournaments. The report shed some light into racism and the increasing numbers of far-right supporters and white-power movements in most football matches in Poland and Ukraine. British government advice for Euro 2012 is for black or asian fans to take extra care in Ukraine because of the possibility of racist violence.

When Sol Campbell a former English footballer was shown the footage of the documentary, he expressed disgust. When asked by BBC whether he would recommend families to travel to Euro 2012, he responded;

-Stay at home, watch on TV, do not even risk it you could end up coming back home in a coffin.

Problems of racism, and anti-Semitism are a part of every day life in Central and Eastern Europe.The racist abuse directed at black players is an issue that UEFA has failed to properly address. Black or other foreign players playing for clubs in Central and Eastern Europe are subjected to mass monkey chanting and being pelted with bananas every week. The stadiums are usually packed to the brim with football fans doing the nazi salute. The Police officials in the involved countries do nothing to help the players and National Football Federations are in denial of the problem.

There are other countries that were fined due to racist behaviour in the Euro 2012. The German team is the latest to face punishment due to extremist behaviour by fans who displayed a neo-Nazi banner during the Group B match against Denmark on Sunday. Russia were last week issued with a suspended six-point deduction for their Euro 2016 campaign over the behaviour of their fans in Poland and Ukraine, Russian fans also displayed extremist banners during a match.

Many Europeans including some Norwegian football commentators claimed that the BBC documentary “Stadiums of Hate” was inaccurate. And that the tournament would be racism free, they were wrong.

UEFA President Michel Platini has approached the issue of racism in football in a rather slack manner. He could have done plenty to ensure that racism didn’t rear its ugly head at Euro 2012.

Security personnel, for example, could have searched people’s bags at stadium entrances and thrown out bananas when they found them. Mr. Michel could have come out earlier and admitted that racism could be a problem at the tournament, and warned attendants to take certain precautions.

UEFA’s choice of venue could have been more careful. They should have worked together with FIFA to find out the true football atmosphere of these host countries. It is time for these two influential organizations to take the safety of minority players and issue of racism seriously.

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