Top News: Algerians Head to Polls Amid Fears of Election Fraud

Algerian voters are heading to the polls today, April 17, to vote in a presidential election overshadowed by accusations of fraud and calls for the ruling regime to step down. Incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seeking an unprecedented fourth term amid widespread worries about his health, and following allegations that the results of the previous presidential election in 2009 were marred by fraud. Opposition candidates Ali Benflis, Moussa Touati and Ali Fawzi Rebaïne agreed on Tuesday that they and their election observers would pool any evidence of electoral fraud and report it to the election commission. [Asharq al-Awsat, 4/17/2014]



Egypt officials discuss prisons; commission denies Islamist allegations of torture
Interim President Adly Mansour met Wednesday with members of the National Council for Human Rights together with interior ministry representatives to discuss the state of prisons in Egypt. NHCR members presented complaints filed with them on the state of Egyptian prisons, including violations during arrest, detention or imprisonment, the deteriorated conditions of prisons, and the lack of facilities in prison hospitals. The fact finding committee assigned to investigate events in Egypt since the June 30 protests denied recent torture allegations from Islamists detained in Cairo’s Aqrab prison. Former MP and Brotherhood leader Farid Ismail complained of systematic torture practiced against defendants standing trial alongside former president Mohamed Morsi on charges of espionage. [Ahram Online, 4/16/2014]

Journalists hold demonstration in front of their syndicate, demand protection  
Dozens of journalists held a vigil outside the Journalist’s Syndicate on Thursday while carrying pens and cameras. They demanded protection against “being targeted during their coverage of news.” Some of the protesting journalists carried white shrouds stained with red, as a metaphor for blood. They chanted against the interior ministry and accused it of deliberately targeting journalists during their fieldwork. Syndicate board members Diaa Rashwan and Khaled Balshi participated in the vigil, but Rashwan was unwelcomed by some of the protesters, reported CBC satellite channel. [Shorouk (Arabic), Aswat Masriya (Arabic), Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, 4/17/2014]

Russia to supply Egypt with LNG
A source at the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum confirmed that Russia’s Gazprom has agreed to supply seven shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) beginning in August. Egypt has been trying in various ways to provide energy sources necessary for the country to run power plants after the interruption of frequent stream during the summer. [Reuters (Arabic), 4/17/2014]

Egyptian foreign minister meets with Russian envoy  
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy hosted Wednesday the Russian Special Envoy to the Middle East to discuss bilateral relations, unfolding events in Palestine and Syria, and international and regional issues. According to statement from the ministry of foreign affairs, Fahmy and his Russian counterpart discussed the “determination of the two countries to develop bilateral relations in various fields,” in order to “achieve the aspirations of their peoples and their common interests.” The Russian envoy detailed the present political situation unfolding in eastern Ukraine while Fahmy detailed the status of the post 3 July roadmap. [DNE, 4/16/2014]


Cabinet discusses security arrangements to safeguard foreign diplomatic staff
On Wednesday, ministers approved plans to bolster security procedures for foreign diplomatic staff with the Jordanian Ambassador’s kidnapping dominating the cabinet discussions. The cabinet collectively condemned the kidnapping of Ambassador Fawwaz al-Eitan and charged all ministries to work together for his safe return. Ministers agreed that all security organizations across the country needed to do more to ensure the protection of foreign diplomats. There is still no news on Jordanian Ambassador Fawwaz al-Eitan, however, the interior ministry continues to follow up on a number of leads. [Libya Herald, 4/16/2014]

Restart of Libya’s oil output hard to predict
Libya’s oil minister said on Wednesday there was no clear timetable for the resumption of steady oil output as an end to the stand-off with rebels could still falter and the nine-month port shutdown may have damaged some facilities. A tanker started loading crude at Libya’s eastern port of Hariga for the first time since July on Wednesday. Nonetheless, Tripoli still faces many hurdles to get the bulk of its oil back online. Negotiations to free the country’s largest oil terminals are still ongoing and a second port that was due to reopen after the agreement last week is still under the control of an eastern federalist group led by Ibrahim al-Jadhran. [Reuters, 4/16/2014]

Libya pursues $1.5 billion lawsuit against SocGen
The Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) has filed a $1.5 billion lawsuit against Société Générale (SocGen), claiming the French investment bank helped channel bribes worth tens of millions of dollars to associates of Saif al-Islam, a son of Qaddafi. The LIA alleges that SocGen fraudulently paid over $58 million to a company called Leinada for “advisory services”. These services related to $2.1 billion of derivatives trades that the LIA entered into with SocGen between 2007 and 2009. The LIA claims that Leinada has no expertise in advising on or structuring financial derivative transactions and that it is controlled by Libyan businessman Walid Giahmi, who is believed to be close to the Qaddafi family. In the derivative transactions, the LIA suffered heavy losses. SocGen has called the claims in the lawsuit “groundless.” [All Africa, 4/16/2014]


Number of foreign fighters in Syria jumped to 8,000 in the past year
US Central Command’s Gen. Lloyd Austin stated that the number of foreign fighters has grown from just under 1000 to 8000 in the last year and that this is a “credible threat.” On Wednesday, the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at King’s College released a report which states that foreign fighters in Syria are looking to Western-based spiritual authorities acting as “cheerleaders” on social media. A study of the social media activity of foreign jihadists showed many were following certain influential preachers—one from the United States and another from Australia. [Defense One, Naharnet, 4/16/2014]

Any hope for long-held civilian hostages?
Hard-line Islamist groups active in Syria are holding hundreds of people captive, largely for financial gain or to stoke fear within the Syrian populace. The fate of those captives, who range from religious figures and foreign journalists to local media activists, is largely unknown. The Violations and Documentation Center says that over 1,000 people are being held by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Nusra Front. The unexpected release of two Spanish reporters last month has fueled hope that ISIS may be willing to negotiate for high-value hostages, although the fate of Syrian captives is less clear. [The Daily Star, 4/17/2014]

Rise in targeted media killings; Syria is world’s most dangerous place for journalists
Syria is the world’s most dangerous country for journalists a US-based watchdog said Wednesday as it published its annual impunity index tracking unsolved killings of reporters. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported a “rising number of targeted killings” of reporters in Syria as a recent threat to journalists operating in the war-torn country. “With unprecedented numbers of abductions and high rates of fatalities in combat and crossfire, Syria was already the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.” [AP, 4/17/2014]

Presidential candidates can register starting April 21
Syrians will be able to register to take part in the upcoming presidential elections starting next week, a government source said Thursday. [Al Arabiya, 4/17/2014]


Military capacities strengthened in Mount Chaambi
Significant military reinforcements were dispatched to the governorate of Kasserine to bolster the operational capacities of units in the military zone of Mount Chaambi. The armed forces, deployed on the ground for a year now in the military zone of Mount Chaambi, are surrounding the area to contain individuals, locate shelters, comb suspect areas, collect data, and use planes and heavy artillery to monitor suspicious activities. On Wednesday, President Marzouki declared more areas around Chaambi mountain on the Algerian border “closed military zones.” Mount Chaambi and neighboring mountainous terrains were declared closed military areas by Marzouki on April 11, 2013. [TAP, Tunisia Live, 4/17/2014]

NCA approves judicial body, looks ahead to electoral law
The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) adopted a law late Tuesday establishing a temporary judicial body that will determine the constitutionality of new laws. The six-member judicial commission was established in the country’s new constitution, but the assembly was required to pass a law formally creating it. It will operate until replaced by a new constitutional court after the next elections. The passage of this legislation will allow the assembly to move on to a long-awaited electoral law, but the timeframe for its completion is still not clear. [Tunisia Live, 4/16/2014]

NCA members continue suspended participation
The total number of deputies who have suspended their participation in National Constituent Assembly (NCA) plenary sessions in response to the military court verdicts reducing the sentences of former Ben Ali regime officials has risen to eighteen. The deputies signed a motion calling for the reactivation of draft law forty-four, which would create a special tribunals to try those accused of violence during the revolution. The General Legislation Commission in the NCA discussed the law on Wednesday and the draft law is expected to be submitted to the plenary session on April 19. [All Africa, 4/16/2014]


Interior minister suspends Abyan director pending investigation
Interior Minister Major General Hussein Abdo al-Tarab has suspended the director of supply for Abyan province pending an investigation into alleged corruption. The decision was made amidst a tour of southern districts and meetings with security officials, including the director of political security for Abyan, Lahij, and Aden. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/16/2014]

Constitution Drafting Committee to begin drafting process soon
Following weeks of consultations and debate over the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, the Constitution Drafting Committee will begin the task of putting together the document’s language next Sunday. There are proposals to divide the committee into groups to compartmentalize some sections, though this has not been decided yet. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Mareb Press (Arabic); 4/17/2014]

Military restructuring plans reported to be implemented in August
The Saudi newspaper Okaz is reporting the Yemen’s military intends to begin implementing restructuring plans by August. Restructuring plans are meant to occur concurrently with a similar overhaul to the ministry of interior, which is reportedly nearly ready for implementation as well. [Mareb Press, 4/17/2014]

Judges continue strike, ignore supreme judicial council
The Yemeni Judges Club on Tuesday announced that the judge’s strike will continue in all courts despite Monday’s call by the Supreme Judicial Council to resume work. The club’s media officer, said that judges went on strike after a decision by the club, not the council, and they would not call it off at the council’s request. The strike began weeks ago when a judge—since released—was kidnapped in Hajja province. The Judges Club has demanded the dismissal of the province’s security chief and other guarantees to ensure the security of judges throughout the country. The Club has demanded to meet with the Supreme Security Committee to talk about mechanisms to protect judges and judicial institutions. [Yemen Times, 4/17/2014]


Rift within GCC coming to an end
A rift within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is seemingly over amid reports that an announcement from GCC foreign ministers to that effect is expected on Thursday. The new accord stipulates that Qatar deport around fifteen Gulf nationals who are allegedly active members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including five UAE and two Saudi nationals, living in Doha. Qatar-based pan-Arab television station Al Jazeera would be, under the reported deal, less aggressive in its coverage of events in some GCC countries and Egypt and avoid referring to the Egyptian military’s ouster last year of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government as a military coup. Egyptian opposition figures living in Qatar would not be allowed to use Qatari media, the reports said. [Gulf News, 4/17/2014

Gunmen attack Iraq military base, kill twelve soldiers
Militants armed with automatic weapons attacked a military position in northern Iraq on Thursday, killing twelve soldiers, police and a morgue employee said. The attack in an area west of the city of Mosul also wounded fifteen soldiers. The security forces face a major test on April 30 when Iraqis vote in the first parliamentary election since American forces left at the end of 2011. Already this month more than 400 people have been killed in the violence, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources. [The Daily Star, 4/17/2014]