Morocco Says Crushing of Vendor in Garbage Truck Was Homicide




MARRAKESH, Morocco — Moroccan officials on Tuesday called the death of a fish vendor who was crushed in a garbage truck an involuntary homicide, and said that 11 people would be brought before the courts as part of a criminal investigation.

The vendor, Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was killed on Friday after he jumped into the compactor at the back of the truck to recover his swordfish, which the police had confiscated because the fish is a protected species. Cities in Morocco have since been consumed by protests, by some estimates the largest in years.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mohamed Aqwir, the public prosecutor for Al Hoceima, the northern port city where the death occurred, said that a preliminary investigation had established that there was no order to kill or harm Mr. Fikri.

The statement offered the following account of his death.

Mr. Fikri had bought 500 kilograms, or 1,100 pounds, of swordfish from fishermen at Al Hoceima. The species is protected, and may not be fished between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30.

Mr. Fikri asked someone to drive the fish from the port. The vehicle was not examined when it left the port, but security officers subsequently stopped and inspected it.

A representative from the country’s Agriculture and Fishing Ministry arrived and cited the driver for violations. The police informed the prosecutor’s office, which ordered the fish confiscated and the driver detained.

A veterinarian found that the fish were unsuitable for consumption because their origin could not be documented. The fish were ordered destroyed, and officials summoned the garbage truck to carry out the task.

The operator of the truck requested a formal order before destroying the fish. The officials delivered such an order to the head of the company, but that document turned out to be a forgery, investigators found.

As the truck was loaded, Mr. Fikri and several friends climbed into the back to save their merchandise.

“At that moment, the compactor began running, following the activation of machinery on the rear right side of the truck, which caused the death of the deceased, Mouhcine Fikri,” the statement said.
It was not clear how the compactor was activated. The prosecutor’s office concluded that the death was an “involuntary homicide.”

Investigators interviewed 20 people over three days, and referred 11 of them to the courts; eight people were detained.

The government’s account of the death could not be independently verified.

Since Sunday, thousands have taken part in protests, demanding that those responsible be held accountable for Mr. Fikri’s death. The city hall of Al Hoceima has been the site of raucous protests.
Facebook Live videos showed hundreds of people in the city’s main square, shouting, “Down with the Makhzen,” a word that refers to the political system in Morocco, which is a constitutional monarchy.

In 2011, as uprisings swept the Arab world, Moroccans agitated for democracy and social justice, though almost none for an overthrow of the monarchy. King Mohammed VI introduced constitutional changes in response to the protests, but some critics have called them inadequate.

“Since 2011, people are no longer afraid,” said Abdelhak El Amrani, 26, who attended a protest in Marrakesh on Sunday. “Moroccans today are alert to what hurts their dignity. The serenity of the social climate will never be guaranteed without the rule of law. No justice has been rendered. Today, deep wounds have opened.”

You can read the story on the New York Times' website

Morocco's Al-Hoceima protests reflect 'a heavy legacy'


Marrakesh - Moroccans protesting over the gruesome death of a fish seller have vowed to continue demonstrating until the full truth surrounding his death is known.

Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was crushed to death in a rubbish truck on Friday, as he reportedly tried to protest against a municipal worker seizing and destroying his wares.

"We want them [the authorities] to know that the children of this region want to end the oppression," said Faysal Awssal, a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.

"People here want respect for the people of Al-Hoceima. People are [politically] aware. We want an investigation that determines what happens," he told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.

Nourredine el-Maalem, 47, another activist in Al-Hoceima, said that people were not only demanding a thorough investigation that will bring justice to Fikri, but also a change that will prevent these things from happening in the future.

"The city is still very sad," he told Al Jazeera. "People are demanding the truth and the prosecution of those responsible for the death of the martyr Mouhcine Fikri."

Last Friday evening, police had confiscated all of Fikri's merchandise - about $11,000 worth of swordfish, according to media reports - a species protected in Morocco. Moments later, Fikri and his friends tried to retrieve as much of the fish as they could.

In a video recorded by a mobile phone that went viral over the weekend, his friends are seen jumping out of the lorry. Fikri, who was slightly heavier and less agile, remained stuck inside and was crushed by the grinding mechanism of the truck.

A photo of his lifeless body inspired outrage nationwide.

While it is still not clear what exactly happened or who activated the machine that ended Fikri's life, protests were held all over the country to demand the prosecution of those responsible for the tragedy - widely seen as an act of police brutality and oppression.

Moroccan authorities did not intervene during the protest, letting people express their outrage as Fikri's death was compared by many observers with the fate of Mohammed Bouazizi, the street vendor whose death sparked the Tunisian revolution in 2011.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane called on Moroccans to end the protests. Many political parties, such as the Authenticity and Development Party, close to the palace, demanded in a statement a thorough and speedy investigation.

The Moroccan Interior Minister, who presented his condolences to the family in person, also sided with the protesters. "Our King doesn't want such incidents to recur in our country," he said in a statement. "The investigation will make sure people are held accountable."

Still, people of Al-Hoceima continued demonstrating on Monday - a day after thousands of people took part in the funeral procession for Fikri - hoping to press for justice.

A Facebook live video showed hundreds of protesters on one of the main squares of the city chanting "Mouhcine is a Martyr" and "Down with the Makhzen", referring to the system of power in Morocco.

In 2011, when protests swept the Arab world, Moroccans also took to the streets. Demonstrations, led by the February 20 movement, demanded more social justice and more freedoms but never called for a regime change.

King Mohammed VI quickly responded by pushing for a new constitution that was passed after a referendum. A few years on, the country is still facing most of the problems that sparked the demands for change.

Some fear that Fikri's death will ignite a new wave of protest in Morocco. Fikri's father told the Moroccan news site Hespress that the country's stability was most important to his family. 

On Monday, shops in the city reopened and people went back to work. Students, however, did not go to school and gathered on one of the city's main squares during a sit-in that lasted hours.

Located in the north of Morocco, the Rif region has always had a complicated history with the monarchy, marked by a violent rebellion in the late 1950s that attempted to get its independence from the rest of Morocco.

The Rif region, from where one of the most emblematic Moroccan leaders, Abdelkarim Khettabi, hails, has always been difficult to tame. In 1958, Hassan II, who was the 29-year-old crown prince at the time, crushed a rebellion by the Rifian Berbers in the north and severely punished leaders of the upheaval. During his reign, he neglected the region in terms of economic developments, leaving it lacking in infrastructure and access to services available in the rest of the kingdom. When Mohammed VI became king in 1999, one of his major projects was to open up the region, and many tourism and development projects were subsequently launched.

"The Rif has been structurally and symbolically severed from the rest of other regions in Morocco," said Abdeslam Maghraoui, a Duke University political scientist and North Africa expert. "Language, geography, and the quest for some political autonomy has a lot to do with it."

Maghraoui described King Hassan's policies towards the Rif as neglectful, if not hostile. 

"King Mohammed VI's more personal and conciliatory touch didn't change the deep structural problems. Today's tensions reflect this heavy legacy."


You can read the story on the Al Jazeera English website
 

Protests Erupt in Morocco Over Fish Vendor’s Death in Garbage Compactor


MARRAKESH, Morocco — Protests erupted across Morocco over the weekend after the death of a fish vendor who, according to witnesses, was crushed by a compactor after he jumped into a garbage truck to retrieve his merchandise.

Grainy images of the man, identified in news accounts as Mouhcine Fikri, 31, circulated after his death on Friday night, in the northern port city of Hoceima. The city immediately erupted in protests, which spread on Sunday to cities like Marrakesh and Rabat, the capital.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered the Interior Ministry to conduct “a careful and thorough investigation,” and to bring charges against anyone who had broken the law, the state-run Maghreb Arabe Presse news agency reported on Sunday.

According to news accounts, Mr. Fikri and several friends dived into the garbage truck after the authorities confiscated his merchandise, around $11,000 worth of swordfish, a protected species in Morocco. As the compactor started operating — it was not clear how or why — the friends jumped out, but Mr. Fikri was stuck inside.

A witness cited by local news reports said he had heard one of the police officers involved in the episode ask for the trash compactor to be activated to scare away the men, who had surrounded the truck. According to the news reports, officials described the death as an accident.

In a statement, the Moroccan interior minister, Mohamed Hassad, promised a thorough investigation that “will make sure people are held accountable.”

On Sunday, thousands of men marched on a hill above the Mediterranean Sea behind Mr. Fikri’s coffin.

“Don’t forget us. Don’t forget Al Hoceima,” one of the people taking part in the funeral march could be heard saying on a Facebook video of the event.

Many shops in Hoceima were closed in solidarity with Mr. Fikri’s family.

Mr. Fikri’s death had the potential to become a volatile and potent symbol. The death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire in December 2010, became a catalyst for the pro-democracy and other protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring.

Mounir Agueznay, a human-rights activist from the area around Hoceima, said that while news reports were emphasizing the political dimensions of the tragedy, the protesters were seeking only justice, not the destabilization of Morocco.

“Authorities are nowhere to be seen,” Mr. Agueznay, 30, said by phone. “They are letting the protesters do whatever they want.

“People are very aware about these matters,” he continued. “After the funeral, they plan to peacefully protest. They want to pressure the authorities so this never happens again. Tomorrow, it could happen to me or anyone else.”

The Party of Authenticity and Modernity, a political party founded by an adviser to the king, called for a speedy investigation, while Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who leads the Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist group, appealed for calm.

Hoceima is part of a mountainous region of Morocco, the Rif, that has had a rebellious history with the monarchy. The Berber population in the region waged war against Spain, then Morocco’s colonial ruler, in the 1920s, and the Rif was home to a violent rebellion against the monarchy in the late 1950s, shortly after Morocco won independence.

The region is poor and isolated, but has started to get more attention from the government in recent years. Hoceima has become one of the favored vacation spots, and has been home to several tourism and development projects.

Story one the New York Times' website.

Morocco: Test time for Islamic PJD Party


The political drama in Morocco has launched with a bang as the country gears up for Friday's legislative elections.
The ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD) is vying for a second consecutive term in office after winning the 2011 vote for the first time.
Mass protests that rocked much of the Middle East in 2011 and challenged the balance of power in many Arab countries lit a spark in Morocco, paving the way for the adoption of a new constitution and for the PJD to come to power.
If the PJD manages to win and lead a new coalition government for a second consecutive term, it will be the first party in the modern history of the kingdom to do so.
But the battle will not be easy. PJD is expected to face stiff competition, especially from the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which is said to be close to the palace.
In the absence of a strong Moroccan left, which is experiencing some of its toughest challenges yet, PAM is considered the PJD's main competitor, and could gather enough seats in parliament to head up the next government.
But the race is too close to call. PJD has a strong urban electoral base, while PAM enjoys support from rural areas.

'Threat is over'

Some analysts say the PJD's attraction has waned and the Islamic party has played its role. It successfully helped in absorbing Arab Spring revolutionary spirit and managed to convert the challenge into reform.
According to Duke University political scientist Abdeslam Maghraoui, a North Africa expert, Morocco's monarchical institution is unlikely to still view PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane as a real partner, now that the threat of uprisings is over.
"The PJD basically helped the monarchy navigate the pressure of the youth uprisings in the region," Maghraoui said, adding that the monarch has emerged more powerful in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Rest of the story on the Al Jazeera website

Morocco: A two-speed country


While Morocco takes pride in its pro-market, macroeconomic reforms, which spur competition and foreign direct investment, the economy’s progress as a whole - which still depends on agriculture - falls short of sizzling growth.
The kingdom's major infrastructure projects include modern highways, tourism, a growing manufacturing sector, a nascent aeronautics industry, a new port and free trade zone near the city of Tangier in the north, and a massive solar plant in the country's remote southern desert with a renewable electricity goal of 40 percent by 2020.
Such projects, however, are not generating enough employment in a country where - according to the World Bank - more than a fifth of young people are out of work.
This has created a two-speed Morocco.
The country's business community is gaining higher exports from the "new" industries [cars, aeronautics, and electronics], while this year's poor harvest drags down total GDP growth below two percent in 2016.
"Morocco’s economic model, based on attracting foreign investment in carefully selected sectors and building major infrastructure projects, is not really sustainable in the long term," Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst of Eurasia, told Al Jazeera.
Corruption in Morocco remains widespread in both the public and business spheres, Fabiani said, leading the country to slide backwards in terms of high unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and stalling living standards.
"The mega projects are rarely supported by a buoyant, local business environment. Their impact is limited by these structural weaknesses," Fabiani added.
"In addition, in the past five years the government has reduced spending by cutting public sector jobs and subsidies. This has pushed many young Moroccans to look for precarious jobs in the informal sector, despite having university degrees."
To the detriment of Moroccans, improving access to health and education are considered low priority compared with the push to build mega projects, said Omar Hyani, a Rabat-based financial analyst and city councilor.

Rest of the story on the Al Jazeera Website

My conversation with Algerian Director Salem Brahimi: 'Algeria learned the lesson through bloodshed'


The feature film Let Them Come, by Algerian director Salem Brahimi, revisits Algeria's Black Decade, when the country was struck by continuous attacks that killed about 200,000 people in the 1990s. 
The film, which details the plight of a family in the crossfire between government forces and religious extremists, was shown at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in April and will be released in the city's theatres this autumn. The film won two awards: the Jury Award in Dubai in 2015 and the Kosmorama New Directors Award in Trondheim, Norway, in 2016.
Brahimi, 43, the son of veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, made the film based on a book of the same title by Algerian author Arezki Mellal, published in 2000. Salem Brahimi has directed two previous documentaries in Algeria: Africa is Back, about the 2009 Pan-African Festival of Algiers, and a 2014 documentary film about the historical Algerian figure Emir Abdelkader.
Al Jazeera spoke with Brahimi about his film and his reflections on the political developments in his country and throughout the Arab world.

Al Jazeera: Why did you decide to work on this film?

Salem Brahimi: It was a slow process. I had already made a few films in Algeria, but there was always the elephant in the room: the Black Decade. I wanted to tackle it in a narrative feature because it is more personal, more experiential, so people could feel the reality of the Black Decade.
My producer [Michèle Ray-Gavras] stumbled upon the book Let Them Come, and it was love at first sight. I was shocked when I read the book, because it made me think about, how did we become a country plagued by terrorism? It was an overwhelming feeling.
You always wonder as an Algerian citizen about how we created a society where people could raid a village and kill children. I asked myself, "How did we generate that barbarity?" People who did that were our neighbours, our brothers. It's easy to say the bad guys are the others. It's very hard to admit that they came from our midst, and everybody should be asking themselves about this.
Right now, the French should be asking themselves the same question, about why they were struck by terrorism ... I think that each society needs to take a hard look at themselves.
Why did we create these young men and women who are candidates for terrorism? I ask the question as an Algerian in my film.

Al Jazeera: Why do you think Algeria plunged into terrorism?

Brahimi: It's a mix of factors. One of the original sins: the war in Afghanistan between the mujahideen and the Russians. When the Russians left Afghanistan, all those people returned to Bosnia and Algeria and became a trouble in their own societies. The riots in Algeria in 1988 were very similar to what happened during the Arab Spring in the rest of the region. 
In October 1988, the youth were in the street, and the army shot at them. The army opened up the political game, and we realised that the most organised force of opposition was the Islamists, but when the Islamists were denied victory, their movement became a big recruitment base.

Al Jazeera: Do you have memories of what the country was like during the Black Decade?

Brahimi: I returned for brief periods ... You could feel the decay, the fear, and friends and families would tell you about their daily ordeals. You leave in the morning to work and never know if you are coming back in the evening. I was very fortunate in the sense that I didn't experience that on a daily basis, because my family lived abroad at the time. 

Al Jazeera: What's the main message of the film?

Brahimi: There's a feel, not necessarily a message. It's for the people to feel the decay, the fear. Terrorism is not just the act of violence. It basically stabs the society and bleeds it. It generates a culture of fear where people do not trust each other any more. The film also pays tribute to the many people who actually are the unsung heroes against terrorism.

The general population resisted in small, subtle ways, continuing to try to live their lives as normally as they could, refusing to succumb to fear. It was a very discreet, yet very real act of resistance. I wanted to give a sense of that. This is not a film about Islamism; it's more universal, I hope.
It's a film about barbarity. It's about human history. This was our experience with barbarity as other cultures have had their own experiences with it. You cannot negotiate with barbarity; you cannot dance to its music. The moment you do that, you become barbaric yourself.

Al Jazeera: What do you think the Arab world can learn from the Algerian experience?

Brahimi: As the French say: "Comparison is not reason." We can never predict what will happen. People are still in shock when something like 9/11 happened, or when the Paris attacks happened. We are always a step behind in history. One should be very humble about it. I don't know how many lessons can apply.
Syria and Iraq will get over the nightmare for separate sets of reasons. The dynamics of Algeria are very different. The central government in Algeria, whatever you think about it, is nothing like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. October 1988 is a stain that will haunt the regime as they shot at protesters. While the regime tried later to open up the political game, in Syria, the regime stuck to its guns.
Algeria learned the lesson through bloodshed. Extremist groups were so barbaric that the population sided with the central government. Iraq and Syria may stop the violence, but when it is far too late, just like Algeria did after 200,000 civilians were killed.
I believe that there is always a point where exhaustion and common sense somewhat prevail. After years trying to find a military solution, that will only create more victims; things are bound to change.
It's the nature of war. The war is not meant to go on for ever. None of the players of this deadly game have gotten to that point. Right now the idea seems to be, "Let's continue to the last Syrian."

Al Jazeera: Now that Algeria is calmer, what's the cultural life like?

Brahimi: Algeria, like many Arab countries, has always had thinkers. Because of the socialist backbone of the state in Algeria, we have intellectuals and others who are a voice of contestation. What is sad is that we aren't doing enough. Artists, and people who create culture, lost their role in society; they're marginal, and that's dangerous.
The availability of culture is a real challenge. We don't have enough cinemas. We have a vibrant book scene, authors who are published internationally, but it's very sad that there is an elitist nature to culture. Books are available, but not that available. This wasn't so much the case in the 1970s, and we lost that.
The real priority is to create a culture that encourages the public to attend movies. The cultural scene is not developed enough. 

Al Jazeera: Is Algeria opening up more to the world?

Brahimi: It is, but too slowly. Over the past 10, 15 years, it is opening more and more. But old habits die hard. We are obsessed with sovereignty and closed to foreign investment, but I think it makes us too removed from the world. We confuse sovereignty and what it takes to function in the world. It will change through younger generations and through practical reasons. The oil prices will force us to interact with the world.

Al Jazeera: What about political change?
 
Brahimi: When you look at Algeria 20 years back, 30 years back, you can't say that the country didn't change. We had a unique one-party system, then the Islamists won, then a civil war. We do have freedom of expression in the press to a certain extent. We do have a multi-party system and an opposition. The problem is that right now, we don't know what is on the horizon. 
If you're very honest, the political game is locked. We don't know what the next step is going to be in terms of governance, ideas.
None of the political parties really do have a plan. I was in Algeria just after the so-called Arab Spring. Many said, good luck with that, "we've been there 20 years ago. We would love for our Tunisian brothers to learn from our mistakes, but we don't want any of that."
It's a dangerous factor of immobility; people want change but they're afraid of it. It's a politician's job to propose change. The vaccine of terrorism has played its part. Many want stability over everything else. It's a very sad way to look at stability. But vaccines can wear off.
We have quite a lot of stuff happening. Our old demons are not far from us. I am glad that we learned some lessons from the past, but it should not justify a standstill. Algerian people deserve better than that - and that should be our future.
Source: Al Jazeera

 

Going green: Morocco bans use of plastic bags


Rabat, Morocco – As a ban on the production and use of plastic bags comes into effect across Morocco on Friday, green campaigners say that the country's consumers may need years to fully comply with the new law.
A landmark bill passed by the Moroccan parliament last October banned the production, import, sale and distribution of plastic bags across the country.
The bill, which became law on July 1, is part of a larger environmentally conscious effort across the North African country to go green.
Morocco ranks alongside Costa Rica, Bhutan and Ethiopia as one of the world’s greenest countries, a fact partially due to its ambitious goals to crackdown on carbon emissions.
Recent sustainability measures have turned the country into a green leader among developing nations, and the city of Marrakesh is due to host a global climate change conference in November 2016.
But as the July 1 deadline approached, shops, street sellers and retailers across the country scrambled to stockpile reserves of reusable bags. The change, they say, will not be easy.
The country’s battle with the plastic bag has been in the works for years. Efforts in 2009 to ban the production and use of black plastic bags, which litter the country’s streets and beaches, were only partially successful, as authorities struggled to curtail informal production of the bags.

Morocco is the second-largest plastic bag consumer after the United States. It uses about three billion plastic bags a year, according to the Moroccan Industry Ministry. That means, on average, that each one of Morocco’s 34 million people uses about 900 bags a year.
A blanket ban on the use of plastic bags will take some getting used to, says Jennie Romer, a New York-based lawyer.

“It's a big cultural shift with that type of broader law,” she said. “As long as the government has the motivation to really enforce that. There is a lot of potential. The government entity that is implementing it has to be completely on board in order to make that really happen in practice.”

While Industry Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy, the initiator of the bill, did not return requests for comment, he said on his Twitter account that “several alternative solutions” will be made widely available, such as bags made of paper and fabric. He added that “freezer bags were excluded.”

For weeks now, awareness campaigns throughout the country have been warning Moroccans against the use of bags, which take hundreds of years to degrade. Their message is simple: plastic bags are unhealthy and dangerous for the ecosystem in a country that struggles to clean its streets and where fields of rubbish plague the local environment.

“They do it to promote the image of Morocco as an environmentally friendly country, which is partly true, but not completely,” Mamoun Ghallab, a sustainable development consultant, told Al Jazeera during a recent beach clean-up event in Casablanca. 

Ghallab said the government hasn’t done much to raise environmental awareness. Some campaigns about littering have been done, he added, but their cartoonish design made them only marketable to children.

“If citizens are not aware of the concerns and the challenges we’re facing, things will go much slower,” Ghallab said. “Everything begins and ends with the citizens.”

But the UN Environmental Performance Review of Morocco, which has analysed the country’s environment protection progress since 2012, reported that Morocco “fails to address environmental challenges, which can gradually become economic and development challenges”.

Moroccan cities only collect 70 percent of solid waste, according to a 2013 study released by the German Society for International Cooperation. And the World Bank has reported that less than 10 percent of collected waste is disposed of in an “environmentally and socially acceptable manner.”

Yassine Zegzouti, 30, president of local advocacy organisation Mawarid, said it is possible for Morocco to totally ban plastic bags, but that changing consumer habits will be the most challenging part.

The government has shown a commitment to putting the ban into practice, he said, not only through TV spots encouraging citizens to change their habits, but also by investing millions of Moroccan dirhams into encouraging the industry to transform their production of the bags.

“The formal sector will need four to five years to comply with the new law,” said Zegzouti.
“But the use of plastic bags is anchored in [consumer] habit,” said Zegzouti. “All actors need to change these habits to not have any damage in the future.”

This story was produced in association with Round Earth MediaElaina Zachos contributed reporting. 
Link to the story on Al Jazeera English. 

THE WORLD THIS WEEK Part 2

Tangier, Morocco: The Fixer -- Foreign Policy Magazine -- May Issue


Femmes du monde arabe : entre espoirs et désillusions

Chaos, riots as France dismantles Calais migrant camp called the 'Jungle'


CALAIS, France — Rahmanjan Safy scrambled to salvage anything valuable from the demolished tents and makeshift shelters at this Calais migrant camp Wednesday, even as riot police and bulldozers destroyed the site.

Food, clothing, spoons — he picked up everything he could find.

Safy, 25, from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, has been in France since 2009. He once lived in this camp but now works with an organization that helps the migrants and refugees. Driving his big white truck, he moved these precious commodities to a section of the camp still intact, so people could still use them.
“I once was in the same situation as them,” he said. “I never forgot. I want to help them.”

A judge gave the green light last week for the French government to tear down part of the Calais “Jungle,” as the camp is commonly called, but riots broke out this week amid the resulting chaos.
Police and bulldozers began pushing migrants out of tents and temporary shelters Monday, tearing apart the ad hoc camp that houses an estimated 6,000 people.

Camp residents fought back, starting fires and attacking police with rocks. The situation Wednesday was calmer, if not less tense. Confusion, uncertainty and sorrow still hang over the camp and the people who have no place to go.

Ahmed Salah from Sudan stood amid trash and debris, mourning the loss of his home of seven months. He says he wants to leave but can't.

“I would go anywhere, not just to England," he said about wanting to cross the English Channel to the United Kingdom. "I don’t want to stay in France. They don’t respect their own laws.”

The French government initially announced its plan to dismantle the southern part of the camp — closer to the highway — in early February. Migrants in that section would attempt to jump on trucks crossing through the Chunnel, despite barbed wire set up to protect the road.
The rest of the camp is being left alone — for the moment.

French authorities defended their move to dismantle part of the Calais camp, while also saying France remains open to refugees.

“Our policy is to support those who are in vulnerable situations,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said before the dismantling operation began. “The state will continue its strategy of accompanying migrants toward a humanitarian solution that lives up to the values of our country and our tradition of welcoming those who seek asylum in France.”

But volunteers described how people rushed to collect their few belongings in a short amount of time and tried to salvage parts of their shelters for protection against the cold weather.

“They gave people one hour to assemble their belongings,” said Christian Salomé, founder and head of L’Auberge Des Migrants, the main organization that distributes food and clothes at the Calais camp. "It is sad and inhumane to expel people from their homes in the winter and by destroying their shelters."

Other volunteers call the entire situation shameful.

“It is a political decision not to address this issue,” said Paul Bejannin, 30, a volunteer from Paris. “France has the means to accommodate everyone. And the only state presence we ever see here is the riot police.”

Many fear that with the conflicts intensifying in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the wave of refugees will be even greater this year.

“The only way to solve this is to move the UK to another place that doesn’t face Calais,” said Christophe Ruggia, an award-winning French director who mobilized dozens of artists to protest the country’s resistance to welcoming war refugees. “They are constantly reacting without a long-term vision.”

In downtown Calais, just a few miles from the camp, outrage over the situation has been growing for more than a year. Business owners like Jean Claude Burei, who has a restaurant in town, want the government to find a long-term solution because the bad publicity over the camp keeps tourists away.

“The location of the camp has been a disaster for the city,” he said. “Some of these migrants are escaping war, but others have no reason to be here. ... We also need to expel those who create trouble, like smugglers who take advantage of people’s misery.”

French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet Thursday in Amiens, France, to discuss the ongoing migrant crisis ahead of next week's EU summit on the issue.

Hundreds of British volunteers at the Calais Jungle, like Malcom Mitchel, 69, do what they can.
“The 6,000 here is smaller than a crowd that goes to a (soccer) match,” he said. “There are a lot of people with potential here — doctors, engineers. We should open borders and let everybody in the United Kingdom.”

Amine Khan, 31, from northern Afghanistan, helplessly watched the bulldozers Wednesday and said his "home" will likely be next.

“I have no choice, I don’t know where I will go,” he said. "I will just keep trying to reach England.”


You can also read the story here





Loubna Abidar, Moroccan Actress, Finds Fame Tinged With Fury


PARIS — The first indication the actress Loubna Abidar had that her life was about to change was on the flight home to Morocco after the premiere of the movie “Much Loved,” in which she plays a prostitute. She was shocked when a flight attendant told her she was “a disgrace for Morocco and Moroccan women.”

Ten months later, Ms. Abidar, 30, is still a celebrity in her homeland, albeit an infamous one who is now in exile. She has received hundreds of hate messages and threats on social media. She is also poised to earn France’s top honor in film — a César — this month.

“People are scared of the truth,” she said, referring to the angry reactions in Morocco to “Much Loved,” which depicts the crude realities of prostitution there. “We shouldn’t be a country that is scared of art. I want the Moroccan woman to wake up.”

Ex-Guantánamo Detainee Is Freed From Moroccan Prison


WASHINGTON — A Moroccan judge on Thursday ordered the release of a former detainee at the Guantánamo Bay prison who had remained in custody for nearly five months despite diplomatic assurances that he would probably be freed shortly after his transfer to Morocco.

Though the former detainee, Younis Shokuri, walked free for the first time in 15 years, he still faces the possibility of criminal charges related to allegations that he was involved with a Moroccan Islamist group before his capture in 2001; he has denied the allegations.
“This is a positive step,” said his Moroccan lawyer, Khalil Idrissi. “We hope that it will be followed with the charges being dropped.”

Mr. Shokuri’s case has drawn scrutiny because the Moroccan authorities apparently told the United States that they would most likely release him without charges within 72 hours of any transfer, but instead kept him in custody and opened the criminal investigation. His situation highlighted the difficulties that the United States has faced in paring the ranks of detainees at its prison in Cuba.
The New York Times published an article about the dispute on Sunday. Two days later, Mr. Idrissi said, he asked the judge to release his client on bail.

“Younis at first couldn’t believe it even when he was told to pack his clothes,” Mr. Idrissi said. “When I joined him at the prison, he was in a state of disbelief.”

A Moroccan news website, Hespress, published photographs and a video showing a smiling Mr. Shokuri leaving the prison. Mr. Idrissi said his client had declined a request for an interview, adding that Mr. Shokuri was resting while he waited for relatives, who live several hours away, to arrive.
Ian Moss, the chief of staff in the State Department office that negotiates transfers from Guantánamo, declined to comment. But he has previously said that the United States has continued to talk with Morocco.

Cori Crider, a lawyer with the international human rights group Reprieve, which represented Mr. Shokuri in a habeas corpus lawsuit in the United States, said the organization was delighted.
“Younis should have been home with his family months ago, but we rejoice that he will be with loved ones tonight, and hope he will see his wife soon, after 14 years,” she said.

Mr. Shokuri left Morocco for Pakistan in 1990 and later moved to Afghanistan. After the United States began bombing Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he was captured near the Pakistan border and transferred to Guantánamo.


You can read the story here

Guantánamo Prisoner Sent Home to Morocco Remains in Legal Limbo


WASHINGTON — Younis Shokuri, a Moroccan detainee at the Guantánamo Bay prison, said he feared being repatriated to his native country. But the Moroccan government told the United States that it would probably release him without charges 72 hours after any transfer. So last September, Mr. Shokuri went home — reluctantly, but voluntarily.

But despite its assurances, Morocco has kept Mr. Shokuri in custody and is weighing criminal charges, apparently focused on allegations that he was involved with a Moroccan terrorist group before his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001. Mr. Shokuri’s lawyers have demanded that the Obama administration press Morocco to live up to what they thought was a deal.

Both governments have said little to explain the discrepancy.

Several officials familiar with behind-the-scenes legal and diplomatic discussions are now shedding light on the murky episode.


Beyond its importance for Mr. Shokuri, his situation illustrates how difficult — and messy — it can be to winnow down the ranks of detainees viewed as posing a lower-level security risk at the Guantánamo prison, which the Obama administration still wants to close in its final year in office.

Of the 91 remaining detainees, 34 are recommended for transfer, and a parole-like review group has been adding names to the list. Each man presents a problem: The government has to find a place that is willing to take him and that can be trusted to keep an eye on him without abusing him.

Republicans in Congress who oppose closing the prison frequently criticize transfers, noting that some former detainees have gone on to engage in terrorist activity after their release. Human rights groups have criticized the rare instances when the United States has forcibly repatriated detainees to countries that have questionable records on human rights.

The Moroccan government initiated prosecutions of all 11 Moroccan citizens repatriated from Guantánamo during George W. Bush’s presidency; four were convicted and the rest were released for insufficient evidence, a leaked cable shows.

Three of the 11 reportedly went to Syria and were killed in the civil war there, fighting with an Islamist rebel group.

Rights groups have accused Morocco of torturing terrorism suspects, although American officials say it has lived up to diplomatic assurances not to abuse the former Guantánamo detainees.

Against that backdrop, Cori Crider, a lawyer for Mr. Shokuri with the London-based international human rights group Reprieve, said the American government appeared to have gotten rid of him in a “dishonorable” way.

“At best the United States did not do enough to correct the record with the Moroccans before sending him back and are doing nothing now because keeping their promise to Younis is just not a priority,” Ms. Crider said. “And at worst they tricked him.”
Ian Moss, the chief of staff in the State Department office that negotiates detainee transfers, said he could not comment on sensitive diplomatic conversations.
“We continue to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the government of Morocco regarding its nationals formerly detained at Guantánamo,” Mr. Moss said. “Questions regarding ongoing judicial processes in Morocco are best directed to the government of Morocco.”
Moroccan diplomatic and security officials did not respond to several inquiries.
Mr. Shokuri, now 48, left Morocco around 1990 and went to Pakistan, according to military and court documents. He eventually came to live in Afghanistan and frequently interacted with other Moroccan expatriates.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the United States began bombing Afghanistan, he attempted to flee but was arrested by Pakistani security forces and transferred to Guantánamo.

Mr. Shokuri said he had been doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan, but the United States government suspected that he was a part of a terrorist organization focused on overthrowing the Moroccan monarchy, called the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, or G.I.C.M. In 2003, the group was linked to a suicide bombing attack in Casablanca.
In all, 14 Moroccan men were brought to Guantánamo from the Afghan war zone. Most were repatriated by the Bush administration, but Mr. Shokuri was still there in 2009, when the Obama administration created a six-agency task force to review the remaining detainees. It recommended transferring him, too.

But at the time, at least, the United States did not seem to think he was innocent. State Department cables from October 2009 that were leaked by Pvt. Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, show that “a key factor in the approval” of putting him on the transfer list was the understanding that Morocco would prosecute him, meaning he would stay locked up after his return.

Meanwhile, however, in a habeas corpus lawsuit, Mr. Shokuri’s lawyers argued that the evidence that he was part of the Moroccan terrorist group was dubious, saying it traced back to “tortured confessions” from prisoners in Moroccan custody and unreliable jailhouse informants.

You can read the rest of the story here.