Arab region swept by repression, protests

March 20, 2011

Emboldened by the successes of Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, a number of Arab regimes have escalated crackdowns on pro-democracy protests while the world’s media was focused on the earthquake disaster in Japan.

With the exceptions of Libya and Iran, the governments brutally cracking down on their citizens have received minimal criticism from the West.

Calls for “restraint on both sides” obscure the fact that it is governments armed with weapons made in the West ruthlessly attacking mostly unarmed people.

These crackdowns may not succeed in ending the uprisings across the region, but they are aimed at slowing the momentum and demoralising many people.

In Yemen, more than 40 protesters were killed on March 18 in what activists described as a “coordinated sniper attack” in the capital Sana’a, said on March 19.

President Ali Abdullah Salleh declared a state of emergency after the attack on the protest camp at Sana’a University.

Protesters said soldiers in civilian clothes had ambushed a crowd of people who went to investigate a fire near the protest site, said on March 19

The attack followed demonstration in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, on March 11 drew about 100,000 people, the largest of the uprising so far, the New York Times said on March 14.

Four people died the next day after security forces fired on protesters.

On March 13, pro-government supporters used rocks, daggers and guns against the protesters.

Hundreds of people from tribal areas joined a huge sit-in among demonstrators near Sana’a University, the Los Angeles Times said on March 17.

Protester Ahmed Hakimi said the tribespeople were “here to prevent the thugs from attacking us; if any of their ranks are killed, their sheiks will pursue a vendetta, and the authorities know this.”

In Morocco, police broke up a sit-in in the capital Casablanca, injuring dozens of people and arresting more than 100, said on March 15.

Protesters vowed to continue their weekly protests, despite King Mohammed offering concessions that limit his powers.

In Algeria, police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of 150 protesters, some of whom threw Molotov cocktails and stones, Reuters said on March 17.

The protesters had blocked a busy road in the capital Algiers to demand better housing and living conditions.

On March 12, Algerian police launched a huge security operation to block marchers calling for an immediate end to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime, AFP said on March 16.

Various crackdowns had previously taken place in Iran, Iraq, Djibouti, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Some protesters have been luckier, receiving some respite from pressure from security forces.

In Jordan, protesters have continued calling for economic and political reforms. They demanded the dissolution of the country's parliament and immediate national elections, the Wall Street Journal said on March 12.

Protesters also demanded electoral laws be changed to rectify the under-representation of the urban poor in parliament, and to end corruption, Havana Times said on March 16.

Workers in Oman have waged a series of strikes, demanding higher wages and better conditions at work. About 500 security guards blocked the road to Muscat airport, demanding a pay rise, Reuters said on March 16.

More than 1000 workers went on strike on March 16 at Oman’s Rusayl Industrial Estate, said on March 17.

Several hundred workers at the state oil firm rallied at the company’s offices and in oil and gas fields on March 15. Banking and hotel staff also picketed their workplaces that day.

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