Algeria’s new president promises to tackle corruption

Algerian army's Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah attends newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's swearing-in ceremony in Algiers, Algeria Dec. 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Updated 20 December 2019

Algeria’s new president promises to tackle corruption

  • Abdelmadjid Tebboune vows to bring more young people into politics
  • President Tebboune announced a revision of the constitution to introduce a two-term limit for presidents.

ALGIERS: Algeria’s new president pledged on Thursday to introduce presidential term limits and bring more young people into politics, as he tries to win over a pro-democracy movement that boycotted his election and forced out his long-serving predecessor.

The gas-rich North African nation inaugurated Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president on Thursday in a pomp-filled ceremony.

Members of Algeria’s governing elite hope Tebboune helps the country turn the page on 10 months of peaceful but persistent protests that have threatened their legitimacy and stalled the economy. Many protesters reject Tebboune as part of a discredited elite, and want a new political system instead.

Tebboune, a 74-year-old former prime minister considered close to Algeria’s powerful army chief, reached out immediately to the Hirak protest movement, which helped oust Algeria’s president of two decades, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, from office in April.

“The constitution guarantees ... the right to protest,” Tebboune said.

In his first presidential speech, he promised to tackle the corruption that the protesters decry, and to curtail his own powers.

He announced a revision of the constitution to introduce a two-term limit for presidents. Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term — despite being hobbled by a stroke — is what unleashed this year’s protests and led to his downfall.

In a symbolic but important move, Tebboune declared that the president would no longer be referred to as “Your Excellency” — Fakhamatouhou in Arabic — but simply as “Mr. President.”

“We are all Algerians. No one is greater than another,” he said.

In a country with a big population of disillusioned youth, he promised better access for young people to positions of power. And he announced a new economic strategy to end Algeria’s dependence on oil and gas profits.

However he also gave a clear nod to Algeria’s still-influential military, praising the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, for his role in “protecting the country.”

Uniformed officers from the four branches of Algeria’s military saluted Tebboune as he arrived at the Palace of the People outside Algiers for his inauguration.

After a reading from the Qur’an, the head of the Constitutional Council pronounced Tebboune as the winner of last week’s presidential election.

The new president was decorated with the national merit award as a military band played the Algerian anthem.

Algeria remains a key ally of Western powers fighting terrorism in the region, and foreign dignitaries attended Thursday’s inauguration in the presidential palace of the capital, Algiers.

Tebboune, was elected with 58 percent of the vote in an election boycotted by protesters because it was organized by the political elite.

In Iraq, no resting place for coronavirus dead

Updated 44 min 10 sec ago

In Iraq, no resting place for coronavirus dead

  • In Islam, a person must be buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours
  • Rejections of burials have continued, including in the two shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf

BAGHDAD: For Saad Malik, losing his father to the novel coronavirus was only the beginning of his nightmare. For over a week, cemeteries across Iraq refused to allow the elderly man’s burial.
Fearing the respiratory illness could somehow spread from the corpses to nearby population centers, Iraqi religious authorities, tribes and townspeople have sent the bodies of COVID-19 victims back to hospital morgues, where they are piling up.
“We couldn’t hold a funeral for him and haven’t been able to bury his body, even though it’s been more than a week since he died,” Malik said, his voice laced with bitterness.
Armed men claiming to be tribal leaders threatened Malik, his family and his friends, saying they would set fire to his car if they tried to bury the body in their area.
“Can you imagine that across this huge country Iraq, there aren’t a few square meters to bury a small number of bodies?”
In Islam, a person must be buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours. Cremation is strictly prohibited.
Iraq has confirmed more than 500 COVID-19 cases and 42 deaths from the respiratory disease, but the real numbers are likely much higher as few of the country’s 40 million people have been tested.
Authorities have declared a countrywide lockdown until April 11, urging citizens to stay at home and adopt rigorous hygiene routines to forestall the spread of the virus.
But in some areas, local powers are getting even stricter.
Northeast of the capital Baghdad this week, tribal figures prevented a team of health ministry officials from burying four bodies in a cemetery the state had specifically designated for COVID-19 victims.
When the delegation tried to take the bodies to another burial ground southeast of Baghdad, dozens of local townspeople turned out in protest.
Ultimately, the bodies were returned to the morgue.
One Iraqi living near Baghdad said “we decided to block any burials in our area.”
“We panicked over (the health of) our children and families.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which is leading the global response to the pandemic, coronavirus is transmitted through droplets and surface contact.
There is no scientific evidence yet that it could spread via corpses, according to Iraqi health ministry spokesman Seif Al-Badr.
He said the government was taking all possible precautions when burying bodies, including wrapping them in bags, disinfecting them and placing them in special coffins.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s top Shiite cleric, has said those who lost their lives to the disease must be wrapped in three shrouds and insisted authorities facilitate burials.
But rejections of burials have continued, including in the two shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf, where one of the world’s largest cemeteries is located.
An Iraqi medic in Najaf said the health ministry had tried to intervene directly to convince Najaf authorities to allow burials of COVID-19 victims, to no avail.
The medic, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had witnessed one widower beg authorities to release his wife’s body.
“Just give me the body and I’ll bury her in my own home,” the heartbroken husband had said.
“This is the situation after just 40 deaths. What happens if it gets worse? Where will we put the bodies?” the medic asked.
Many in Iraq have been bracing themselves for a rise in cases in the weeks ahead, but the country’s hospitals are ill-prepared to deal with large numbers.
They have been ravaged by decades of conflict and have received little investment in recent years, leaving them woefully bereft of medicine and equipment.
Doctors, too, have been threatened, kidnapped and even killed in recent years over ransoms or under pressure from relatives of patients.
According to the WHO, there are only 14 hospital beds in Iraq for every 10,000 people.
By way of comparison, France — currently overwhelmed by the spreading virus — has 60 beds for every 10,000 people.
To try to fill the gap, Iraqis are stepping up with inventions of their own.
Medical engineer Moqtada Al-Zubaidi has created a hospital bed encased in plexiglass, which includes a respirator with oxygen tanks, an air conditioning unit, a bell to ring nurses and a flat-screen television.
“It’s an invention with humanitarian purposes. We proposed the name ‘the bed of life’ because it provides security and reassurance to people who are sick,” he said.
Zubaidi is awaiting approval from the health ministry to produce more beds, which cost $4,000 each.
But for many fellow Iraqis disheartened by the rising death toll, such measures may be too little, too late.
Salem Al-Shummary, Malik’s cousin, had tried to help Malik bury his father and was left scarred by the experience.
“We’re not fazed by death anymore. We just have one dream: to bury our dead,” he said.