The president of protest-hit Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, plans to outlaw “hate speech” that has proliferated on social networks in recent months, his office said Monday.
Tebboune asked Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad to draft a bill “criminalising all forms of racism … and hate speech in the country,” according to a statement published by the official APS press agency.
The new initiative follows “an upsurge in hate speech and incitement,” the presidential statement said.
Algerian social networks have become a battleground for rival political camps after they gave rise to the popular “Hirak” protest movement that in April ended the 20-year reign of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The tone became more aggressive in the run-up to a December 12 presidential election, held in the face of strong opposition from the protest movement which saw the polls as an attempt by the establishment to consolidate its power.
All five candidates who ran in the poll had links to Bouteflika, with Tebboune having served as one of his prime ministers. Official turnout was less than 40 percent.
The law would allow authorities “to confront those who exploit the freedom and peaceful nature of Hirak” by brandishing “slogans that undermine national cohesion,” the statement said.
The initiative has sparked fierce debate on social media between those who back it and those who see it as an unneccessary measure, with some wary that it could give wide scope to crack down on legitimate protest.
The planned law stipulates that “everyone is called upon to comply with the Constitution and laws of the Republic, in particular respect for… the Nation state and its values… as well as the symbols of the state.”
Nearly a year after the launch of the popular movement, its activists continue to demand an end to the governing system in place since the country’s independence from France in 1962.
Britain’s ambassador to Tehran denied Sunday that he took part in a demonstration that broke out at a memorial for the 176 people killed when a plane was shot down.
Students held a gathering at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University on Saturday evening to honour those killed hours after Iran admitted the Ukrainian airliner was downed by mistake.
Iran’s Mehr news agency said the ambassador, Rob Macaire, was arrested for his alleged “involvement in provoking suspicious acts” at the gathering in front of the university.
On Sunday, Iran confirmed his arrest as a foreigner at “an illegal gathering”, but said he was released soon after being identified.
“Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy,” Macaire said on Twitter, adding he had been detained half an hour after leaving the area.
“Normal to want to pay respects — some of victims were British. I left after 5 mins, when some started chanting,” he said.
“Arresting diplomats is of course illegal, in all countries,” he added.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister on Sunday confirmed Macaire had been arrested but said he was freed soon after being identified.
“He wasn’t detained, but arrested as unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering,” Seyed Abbas Araghchi tweeted, adding Macaire was released 15 minutes after he called the British diplomat to confirm his identity.
The British government said Macaire was arrested and detained briefly in the Iranian capital in what it called a “flagrant violation of international law”.
Iran’s armed forces said on Saturday the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 was mistakenly shot down, after denying for days Western claims it was brought down by a missile.
Police dispersed students who chanted “radical” and “destructive” slogans when the tribute to those killed in the air disaster turned into an angry demonstration, Fars news agency reported.
According to eyewitnesses, one of the victims was the driver of a 14-seater bus.
He had conveyed some passengers who were returning from the yuletide celebration and tried to disembark close to the bank premises.
But a minor disagreement ensued between the driver and the policeman after he had asked him not to drop the passengers there.
Thereafter, the policeman opened fire on the occupants killing the driver and two other passengers including a serving corps member.
Visibly angered by the developments, the youths went on a rampage, destroying the bank’s Automated Teller Machine (ATM).
Meanwhile, three police vans and mobile policemen have been drafted to the scene of the incident located close to the Central Motor Park, in Ekeki, the state capital.
Reacting to the development, the State Police Command said the officer, accused of extra-judicial killing, has been arrested.
According to a statement issued by the spokesman of the Command, SP Asinim Butswat, the Commissioner of Police, CP Uche Anozia, has now ordered that he be remanded in custody.
“The authorities of Bayelsa Police Command have arrested and taken into custody one Police Mobile Force (PMF) personnel for suspicion of Discreditable Conduct and Unlawful Use of his Firearm.
“The suspect, a male NCO, who was arrested on the orders of the State Commissioner of Police, CP Uche Anozia is currently in detention at the State Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department, Yenagoa,” Butswat said.
The Police, however, claimed that no lives were lost. Rather, the victims were rushed to the hospital where “they are currently responding to treatment.”
They have also vowed to investigate the case and ensure that all indicted persons are brought to justice.
Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military force Wednesday ordered its supporters to end their sit-in at the US embassy compound in Baghdad, but hardliners pledged to stay put outside the mission.
“You delivered your message,” the Hashed said in a statement addressed to the crowds encircling the embassy since Tuesday in outrage over deadly American airstrikes on a pro-Iran Hashed faction at the weekend.
It called on supporters to regroup outside the high-security Green Zone where the mission is located, but a leading commander in Kataeb Hezbollah, the group targeted in the US raids, told AFP they would “remain” at the embassy.
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he does not foresee a war with Tehran, after pro-Iranian demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Iraq.
“I don’t see that happening,” Trump said at his holiday retreat in Florida when a reporter asked about the possibility of war with the Islamic republic.
“I like peace,” the president said before heading into New Year’s celebrations.
The president spoke after Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that around 750 troops from a rapid response unit of the 82nd Airborne Division are prepared to deploy over the next several days to the Middle East.
The US had already flown a rapid response team of Marines into Baghdad to reinforce its embassy after the attack Tuesday, which left smoke and flames rising from the compound’s entrance and further heightened tension between Tehran and Washington.
US officials said there were no plans to evacuate the mission, and no US personnel were reported injured.
The US reinforcements “got in there very quickly,” Trump said.
“I think it’s been handled very well.”
He added that “this will not be a Benghazi,” a reference to an attack in 2012 by radical Islamists on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed inside the smoke-clogged building including the ambassador, Chris Stevens.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Beirut home of Lebanon’s new prime minister on Saturday, calling for Hassan Diab’s resignation less than 10 days after he was appointed.
Lebanon is without a cabinet and in the grips of a deepening economic crisis after a two-month-old protest movement forced Saad Hariri to stand down as prime minister on October 29.
Anti-government protests continued after Hariri’s resignation, while political parties negotiated for weeks before nominating Diab, a professor and former education minister, to replace him on December 19.
Echoing protester demands, Diab promised to form a government of independent experts within six weeks — in a country where appointing a cabinet can take months.
But protesters on Saturday were unconvinced by his promise.
“We’re here to bring down Hassan Diab. He doesn’t represent us. He’s one of them,” said one young demonstrator, referring to the country’s ruling elite, who protesters despise collectively.
Lina, another protester agreed, saying: “It’s the revolution that must name the prime minister, not them.”
The 60-year-old Diab, who has a low public profile and styles himself as a technocrat, last week called protester demands legitimate but asked them to give him a chance to form “an exceptional government”.
“We are willing to give him a chance, but let us at least give him a roadmap,” Lina told AFP.
“The names don’t matter to us, we want policy plans, what is his programme?” she asked.
Protesters decry Diab’s participation as a minister in a government deemed corrupt.
The support given to him by powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah also angers many protesters and pro-Hariri Sunnis.
Protesters also gathered in the northern Sunni majority city of Tripoli on Saturday, an AFP photographer said.
The protests and political deadlock have brought Lebanon to its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The international community has urged a new cabinet to be formed swiftly to implement economic reforms and unlock international aid.
Students, teachers and other demonstrators rallied in their thousands in Algeria’s capital Tuesday against the newly elected president, rejecting his offer of dialogue with a months-old protest movement.
Abdelmadjid Tebboune won 58.1 percent of the vote in Thursday’s election, according to official results, and on Friday said he was ready for talks to “build a new Algeria”.
But protesters, long opposed to an election they saw as a ploy by the establishment to consolidate power after ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned under popular pressure in April, remained defiant.
Shouts of “The election was fixed! It wasn’t legitimate! The march will continue!” filled the air in Algiers during the first weekly rally since the poll, an AFP journalist said.
Security forces were heavily deployed, but there were no confrontations between them and demonstrators.
“Tebboune will not govern us!” protesters shouted, vowing to keep the poll winner from taking up residence at the presidential palace.
He is set to be sworn in during a ceremony in Algiers on Thursday, the presidency said.
The protest movement has rocked Algeria since February, initially demanding Bouteflika step down then pushing for the remnants of his regime to make way for new, independent institutions.
Turnout in the election was 39.9 percent, according to the constitutional council.
All five candidates had links to Bouteflika, who ruled for two decades despite suffering a debilitating stroke in 2013.
Tebboune is also seen as close to army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who became the country’s de facto strongman following Bouteflika’s departure.
Six people were killed in near-simultaneous blasts across Iraq’s capital late Tuesday, medics and a security source said, amid deadly anti-government protests that have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south for weeks.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the three explosions, which were the first such violence in the capital after months of relative calm.
The blasts were caused by two explosives-laden motorcycles and a roadside bomb and hit three Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad, according to medical and security sources.
Around a dozen people were wounded and taken to Baghdad hospitals already treating scores of demonstrators hurt earlier in the day in protests.
Rallies demanding deep-rooted regime change erupted in early October across Baghdad and southern Iraq, leaving more than 350 people dead and around 15,000 wounded.
In the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Tuesday, one person was killed as protests escalated into chaotic “clashes” with security forces, a medical source told AFP.
There were no immediate details about the victim’s identity or cause of death, but the medic said the toll was likely to rise further.
AFP’s correspondent saw riot police fire live rounds both into the air and directly at crowds of teenage protesters with at least one demonstrator suffering a bullet wound to the head.
In one face-off under a bridge, teenagers threw rocks at riot police trucks, bursting into song when the vehicles screeched away.
Clashes also erupted in Baghdad, where security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas to keep demonstrators away from Al-Ahrar bridge, which leads to government buildings on the west bank of the river Tigris.
One protester died after being shot by a rubber bullet and 18 were wounded, a medical source said.
A body bearing a rubber bullet wound was also found underneath Al-Ahrar on Tuesday, but it was unclear when the person had died, the medic said.
‘No family, no home’
The historic districts near Al-Ahrar have morphed into arenas for daily street battles.
Demonstrators — mostly teenagers who have been there for days or weeks — throw rocks from behind makeshift barricades at security forces firing tear gas, rubber bullets, live rounds and even machinegun fire.
“We won’t leave unless it’s in coffins,” one protester told AFP.
“Either way, I’ve got no job, no money, so whether I stay here or go home, it’s all the same,” said another.
An Iraqi tricolour tied around his shoulders, he went on bitterly: “I’ll never be able to get married without work or a salary, so I’ve got no family and no home anyway.”
Smoke bombs exploded all around the protesters, filling the colonnaded streets with puffs of orange, green and purple.
In the south, protesters burned tyres along highways outside the city of Diwaniyah, blockading bridges and one of the province’s three power stations.
In the city itself, massive crowds marched through the streets, tearing down posters of politicians and beating them with shoes to insult them.
“It’s been two months, we’re sick of your promises,” they chanted.
Schools and public buildings have been shut in Diwaniyah for the past month by strikes and road closures, but skirmishes with riot police have been rare.
In nearby Hillah, usually peaceful sit-ins took a violent turn overnight when security forces fired tear gas grenades at protesters, wounding around 60, medics said.
Demonstrators and security forces in Karbala lobbed Molotov cocktails at each another.
Night-time skirmishes have become routine in the city.
Glimpses of looming crisis
In Dhi Qar, arterial routes linking key cities and the three oilfields of Garraf, Nasiriyah and Subba were shut.
Clashes with police guarding the fields wounded 13 officers.
Together, the three oilfields produce around 200,000 of Iraq’s roughly 3.6 million barrels a day.
Iraq is ranked OPEC’s second-biggest crude producer and, according to Transparency International, the world’s 12th most corrupt country.
The turmoil since the start of October has not significantly impacted oil production or exports, which fund virtually the entire state budget.
Iraq’s cabinet is currently discussing the 2020 budget before it is submitted to parliament, and government sources say it is expected to be one of the largest yet.
That is mostly because of the enormous public sector, which has ballooned in recent years as the government has hired tens of thousands of new graduates in a country with a severely under-developed private sector.
But experts say that model is unsustainable for a country of nearly 40 million people, set to grow by another 10 million in the next decade.
Public anger over a lack of jobs fuelled the latest grassroots protests, Iraq’s most widespread and deadly in decades.
One in five people lives below the poverty line and youth unemployment hovers at a staggering 25 percent, the World Bank says.