Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Libya: a mixed bag



t has debt levels to die for and huge amounts of oil, but economically it’s lagging and political concerns remain. Speakers at a Libyan trade and investment forum this week saw the North African country as a mixed bag.

Robert Tashima, an editor for Oxford Business Group, highlighted the country’s “elephantine” levels of FX reserves, and the privatisation of 80 companies so far, with telecoms and steel sales slated for this year.

Rory Fyfe, an economist with the Economist Intelligence Unit, said he expected the country’s budget to remain in surplus and inflation under control, and pointed to high levels of non-oil growth, but said the economy should be doing better than it is.

Charles Gurdon, managing director of Menas Associates, said in his presentation on politics that the lack of a designated successor to Muammar Gaddafi, who has led Libya for over 40 years, could lead to violence.

Abdulmagid El-Mansuri, chairman of the industry ministry’s foreign investment advisory committee, said the country was privatising at a pace and was also allowing joint ventures with international firms, such as soon-to-be-announced joint-venture licenses for foreign banks.

But perhaps indicating the sensitive nature of Libya’s political system, he said Gurdon’s decision to include pictures of Gaddafi and key family members in his presentation was “completely outrageous”.

Women-run Afghan media offer untold side of story

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Farida Nekzad has faced threats of kidnapping, acid attacks and a plot to blow up her apartment since she founded her first news agency in Afghanistan seven years ago.

Members of the Taliban e-mailed some of the warnings; others arrived over the phone. One caller warned she would be murdered and disfigured so horrendously that her family would not be able to recognise her body.

But the mother-of-one, whose most recent project is a news agency that spearheads coverage of the problems that Afghan women face, is undeterred.

Wakht, or 'Time' in Nekzad's native Dari, is one of a handful of majority female media outlets springing up across a country where women's voices often go unheard.

It has seven female reporters and three male journalists and operates across 10 provinces.

Nekzad, who has start-up funding from private donors and hopes to become self-supporting through advertising within 18 months, aims to expand from text reports to multimedia ones.

"In 30 years of war, women and children are the ones to suffer the most ... but they are not given any attention and have no media coverage," Nekzad told Reuters, referring to decades-long violence sparked by the Soviet invasion in 1979.

A long-time journalist with international media awards under her belt, Nekzad first received threats when she co-founded privately-owned news agency Pajhwok, in 2004 in Kabul.

Her husband has also received written warnings saying he would be killed as punishment for his wife's work. Nekzad's new project increased the threat to the safety of both.

The only news agency of its kind, Wakht joins five women-owned radio stations spread across Afghanistan, that have also been the target of violence and intimidation.

They face constant opposition from the Taliban, challenges from more conservative sectors of a devoutly Muslim society, and staffing and management issues related to employing women in a country where only a minority work outside the home.

One in Kabul was torched, taking it temporarily off the air. Female journalists at Radio Sahar, set up in the western city of Herat, say they have received death threats.

A female-run television channel, called Shiberghan TV after the capital of northern Jowzjan province, will air from mid-September, but finding women willing and able to work on camera is a constant struggle.

"NOT EASY BEING A FEMALE LEADER"

Since the austere Taliban government was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, women in Afghanistan have won back basic rights in education, voting and work, which the militant group considered un-Islamic.

But they face an uncertain future as Afghan and foreign leaders have embraced the idea of seeking a negotiated end to ten years of war, through talks with the Taliban.

Female Afghan lawmakers and analysts warn the talks could result in women losing the rights they have regained, but still struggle to exercise in a male-dominated society.

"It is not easy being a female leader in Afghanistan. I suffer from it constantly," said Nekzad, speaking in fluent English and dressed in a velvet black headscarf, long blouse and flowing ebony floor-length skirt.

The 34-year-old was educated in Afghanistan and India, a country she has visited regularly since registering Wakht a year ago, to keep a low profile after the barrage of Taliban threats.

Until March, she turned down invitations to appear on talk shows and at conferences, fearing for her safety.

She leads Wakht's coverage on domestic violence, the bartering of girls and women between families and the widespread but illegal practice of forced marriages.

Though common across the country, such stories rarely make the mainstream media, despite funding for many outlets coming from Western donors who are keen to promote women's rights.

And even dedicated outlets struggle. Wakht's reporters have in the past been lured away by rivals with big cash offers, in what Nekzad sees as an attempt by more conservative factions of society to silence the agency.

"We are also ignored," Nekzad said, adding that Wakht employees are often not invited to events, and must ask journalists from other outlets about what is taking place.

Amnesty International at 50 Celebrating 50 years of uniting against injustice











Women demanding an equal voice in the new Egypt
Support women demanding an equal voice in shaping Egypt’s future

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Egyptians will vote for a new parliament in September 2011.

Urge the Egyptian Prime Minster not to sideline women ahead of the elections. Women played an equal part alongside men in Egypt’s recent uprising. Today, women have an equal right to participate in shaping their country’s future. Call on the Prime Minister to make sure that women’s rights are respected and that women are not shut out of the process of reform.

Egypt’s “25 January Revolution” held great promise. Women and men stood together as equals and demanded respect for their rights.

But less than a month later, women were excluded from a new committee set up to revise the constitution. The new Prime Minster’s cabinet, announced in March, included just one woman. The following day, International Women’s Day, women demonstrating peacefully were attacked by groups of men.

Real change will not materialize if women are discriminated against and left out. Equality and non-discrimination must be at the heart of the country’s reform process.

Chavez with an impressive military display says he’s back, but many doubts linger




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Wednesday, July 6th 2011 - 06:29 UTC
Chavez with an impressive military display says he’s back, but many doubts linger

Venezuela president Hugo Chavez thanked his peers from Uruguay, Bolivia and Paraguay for having attended the Tuesday bicentenary celebrations of the country’s independence, a huge military parade with an arch-display of soldiers in colonial uniforms to some with probably the most modern combat gear of the region.


“For my soul, our soul, our spirit, for our struggle for life this is a very powerful and inspiring message, your presence here with me, my good friends, my good companions”, said Chavez on receiving the leaders in the presidential Miraflores Palace from where he and his guests followed on a screen the celebrations.

Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo and Bolivia’s Evo Morales arrived in Caracas on the Venezuelan presidential aircraft which was specially sent to pick up the three heads of state without virtually any previous notice.

Chavez early Monday returned unexpectedly from Cuba where on his own admission underwent two serious surgeries linked to a pelvic cancer tumour, of which no further details have been given.

Chavez arrived in Cuba early June and only returned to Caracas a month later for the grand celebration following growing demands from the opposition to inform the people of Venezuela what was really happening and for the Vice-president to respect the constitution and take over as caretaker president.

The official television network showed Chavez with his two daughters Rosa and Rosines, as he presented the visiting leaders the medical team that is looking after his recovery.

“Here we are, moving ahead, living and we will be victorious, this is the beginning of the return” said Chavez dressed in a blue suit and with the presidential sash in the country’s colours on the launching of the parade.

However contrary to his loquacious tradition this time Chavez 34 minutes long speech was a rare occasion since he has had national television and radio broadcast uninterruptedly for almost eight hours his political harangues.

Furthermore political analysts are not only baffled by his surprise return, which some of his opponents describe as a theatrical mise-en-scene, but also with the language the fiery leader has been using since he again landed in Caracas.

Before and in anticipation of next year’s presidential election he would threaten to squash, liquidate, obliterate and “turn into cosmic dust” his political enemies; now however he is calling on his followers “we must defeat them and defeat them in peace”.

“I’m again a cadet” said jokingly Chavez admitting now he must obey orders and keep to a strict way of life that includes a diet, daily medical controls, physical exercise and a drastic reduction of the litres of coffee the tenacious hyper-active leader use to consume.

The parade was followed by thousands who turned to the streets of Caracas, mostly dressed in red shirts as a symbol of support to the populist leader.

But in spite of the impressive military display to recall victory at the battle of Carabobo which marked the end of Spanish domination 200 years ago, many doubts remain as to the graveness of Chavez (56) medical situation and who would or could succeed him to lead his cherished Bolivarian revolution he has been preaching and implementing for the last twelve years and ahead of another presidential bid in 2012.