President faces another test as Algerians vote

A person walks past election campaign posters, ahead of the local elections, in Algiers, Algeria November 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 November 2021

President faces another test as Algerians vote

  • Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika

ALGIERS: Algerians vote on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” the vote for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, as with a string of poorly attended votes since the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that drove Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections,” said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
But he said voters saw the exercise as producing “an electoral mandate stripped of any political content.”
Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
But while the national electoral board ANIE says more than 15,000 candidates are in the running, campaigning has been muted.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class.”
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” he said.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to “build the institutions of the state on a solid foundation” and break with Bouteflika-era local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud.

Tebboune’s rule has seen a crackdown on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he has packaged major policy moves as responses to the “blessed Hirak” and its calls for reform.
He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France.
But on Friday Tebboune said in a televised interview that “these relations must return to normal provided the other party (France) conceives them on an equal basis, without provocation.”
The analyst Hennad said the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, was using slogans around change to impose its agenda, without truly engaging other political forces.
The president pushed through an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election that saw just 23 percent of voters take part.
But Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, has downplayed the significance of turnout and said the key question is whether representatives have legitimacy.
Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are standing on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabylie region that often sees significant abstentions.
Electoral board head Mohamed Charfi has stressed the body’s efforts to boost turnout.
But Boudjemaa said the main issue at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year,” warning that Algerian’s purchasing power could “collapse.”
“Several indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.


Israel says sanctions relief for Iran could mean ‘terror on steroids’

Updated 18 January 2022

Israel says sanctions relief for Iran could mean ‘terror on steroids’

  • Warning against world powers easing sanctions against Tehran as they seek a new nuclear deal

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said funding for Iran could lead to “terror on steroids” on Tuesday, in an apparent warning against world powers easing sanctions against Tehran as they seek a new nuclear deal.
“The last thing you want to do ... is pour tens of billions of dollars into this apparatus. Because what will you get? Terror on steroids,” Bennett said in a video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos.


UN Palestinian refugee agency seeks $1.6 billion

Updated 18 January 2022

UN Palestinian refugee agency seeks $1.6 billion

  • UNRWA’s funding suffered a blow in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump cut support to the agency

JERUSALEM: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced a $1.6 billion funding appeal Tuesday to help counter “chronic” budget shortfalls.
It is the latest in a series of warnings from UNRWA on possible deep cuts if the international community fails to provide more support.
“Chronic agency budget shortfalls threaten the livelihoods and well-being of the Palestine refugees that UNRWA serves and pose a serious threat to the agency’s ability to maintain services,” agency head Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement.
UNRWA’s funding suffered a blow in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump cut support to the agency.
His administration branded UNRWA as “irredeemably flawed,” siding with Israeli criticisms of the agency founded in 1949, a year after Israel’s creation.
President Joe Biden’s administration has restored some support, but UNRWA has said it is still struggling.
In November, it warned it was facing an “existential threat” over budget gaps.
The agency has a staff of 28,000 and provides services such as education and health care to more than five million Palestinians registered in the Palestinian territories, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.


Iranian-Swedish dissident’s ‘terrorist’ trial to open

Updated 18 January 2022

Iranian-Swedish dissident’s ‘terrorist’ trial to open

  • Habib Chaab is accused of ‘planning and carrying out a number of terrorist acts, including bomb attacks in Khuzestan province’
TEHRAN: The trial of an Iranian-Swedish dissident held in Iran for over a year accused of carrying out “bomb attacks” for an Arab separatist group opens Tuesday, the judiciary said.
Habib Chaab disappeared during a visit to Turkey in October 2020 and a month later appeared in a video broadcast by Iranian state television, in which he confessed to launching attacks.
In December that year, Turkish authorities announced the arrest of 11 people suspected of spying and involvement in the alleged kidnapping of Chaab on behalf of Iran.
Iran accuses Chaab of leading the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), which Tehran has designated as a terrorist group.
“The first hearing in the case of Habib Farjollah Chaab, also known as Habib Asyud, the leader of the terrorist group ASMLA, opens tomorrow (Tuesday) before Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online agency said.
Chaab is accused of “planning and carrying out a number of terrorist acts, including bomb attacks in Khuzestan province,” the agency said.
Khuzestan, an oil-rich southwestern province, has a large Arab population that has regularly complained of being marginalized.
Chaab is also accused of “destroying public property with the aim of opposing the Islamic republic,” Mizan said.
Iran does not recognize dual nationality for its nationals, and Sweden had been denied consular access to Chaab.
Turkish police say Chaab was kidnapped in Istanbul before being taken him to Van, on the Iranian border, before he was handed over to authorities in Tehran.
In a video broadcast by state television in Iran after his arrest, Chaab claimed responsibility for an attack in September 2018 on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz that killed at least 29 people.
Such videos are common in Iran, and are frequently condemned by rights groups arguing that confessions are often forced through torture.

Abu Dhabi requires COVID-19 booster shots to enter emirate

Updated 18 January 2022

Abu Dhabi requires COVID-19 booster shots to enter emirate

  • People entering the UAE capital must show a ‘green pass’ on gov’t app

DUBAI, UAE: Facing a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant, Abu Dhabi is requiring people entering the city to show proof of booster shots.
The government’s health app said earlier this week that people entering the capital of the United Arab Emirates must show a “green pass,” confirming their vaccination status. The app says that visitors are no longer considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster at least six months after their second dose.
Those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi also must have have tested negative for the virus within the last two weeks to maintain their “green” status.
Abu Dhabi requires that residents show their green pass before entering public places or government buildings.
The UAE boasts among the world’s highest vaccination rates per capita. The country has fully vaccinated more than 90 percent of its population, health authorities have said. Although infections had plummeted in December, cases recently have skyrocketed to heights unseen in months.


Israel sticks with 4th vaccine shot, sees omicron waning in a week

Updated 18 January 2022

Israel sticks with 4th vaccine shot, sees omicron waning in a week

  • Hoping to reduce strain on the economy, Israel on Monday cut the mandatory quarantine period for COVID-19 carriers to five days

JERUSALEM: Israel will continue to offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot despite preliminary findings that it is not enough to prevent omicron infections, a senior health official said on Tuesday, predicting contagions stoked by the variant will wane in a week.
The fastest country to roll out vaccinations a year ago, Israel last month started offering a fourth shot — also known as a second booster — to its most vulnerable and high-risk groups.
A preliminary study published by an Israeli hospital on Monday found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but “probably” not enough to fend off the highly transmissible omicron.
Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash described those findings as “unsurprising, to a degree” as omicron infections had been logged in some people after they received fourth doses.
“But we assess that protection from serious morbidity, especially for the elderly population and at-risk population, is still afforded by this vaccine (dose), and therefore I call on people to keep coming to get vaccinated,” he told Army Radio.
As elsewhere, Israel has seen COVID-19 cases spiral due to omicron. But it has logged no deaths from the variant, and Ash said there had been no increase in the number of COVID-19 patients on ECMO machines — a gauge of the most critical cases.
“In another week we will begin seeing a drop in the numbers, but we still have two or three difficult weeks ahead,” he said.
Hoping to reduce strain on the economy, Israel on Monday cut the mandatory quarantine period for COVID-19 carriers to five days. To husband PCRs and reduce queuing at public testing sites, it has encouraged more use of home antigen kits.
The Health Ministry has been issuing regular updates on COVID-19 in Israel but these have been disrupted since Sunday due to “major overloads on our computer systems,” Ash said.