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Tue April 12, 2011
World

A Guide To Protests In Middle East, North Africa

Unrest has swept across the Middle East and North Africa, sparked by an uprising in Tunisia that led to the ouster of the country's ruler. Here's a look at the countries where protests have sprung up.

Algeria

After 19 years, the government officially lifted a state of emergency in February following strikes and protests. But protest marches, which were not allowed under the state of emergency, continue to be banned in the capital, Algiers. Some viewed the move as a "ruse" to placate protesters, who continue to turn out for demonstrations that are quickly broken up by large numbers of police. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has pledged political reforms. On April 12, thousands of students marched in Algiers to demand the education minister step down and were blocked by police when trying to reach government headquarters.

Bahrain

After a violent crackdown on protesters in the capital, Manama, that killed seven people, the crown prince in February called for a national dialogue between the Sunni-led government and the mostly Shiite protesters. Demonstrators were skeptical of the government's offer, and they continued to stage daily marches, with many calling for the ouster of the monarchy. Following fighting between protesters and police, a military force from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf states entered Bahrain at the royal family's request on March 14. A day later, the king declared a three-month state of emergency.

In the crackdown on dissent that followed, security forces cleared demonstrators from the Pearl traffic circle in Manama, imposed a curfew and arrested opposition activists. The government also demolished the monument in the middle of the Pearl roundabout that had become a symbol of the opposition. More than two dozen people have been killed since the protests began. The daughter of a prominent human rights activist announced a hunger strike April 11, saying she would not eat until her father, husband and other family members are released.

Egypt

Protesters took to Egypt's streets in January, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak supporters clashed with demonstrators in Tahrir Square, which became the focal point of protests in the capital, Cairo. Hundreds were killed in the uprising. Although Mubarak pledged not to run again, fired his government and appointed a vice president for the first time in his three decades of rule, the protests intensified until Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that the president had handed over power to the military.

The military government has said it will lift the country's three-decades-old state of emergency before parliamentary elections scheduled for September. Presidential elections are slated to be held by November. Meanwhile, protesters have continued to demand that the military rulers carry out reforms. On April 12, Mubarak was hospitalized after he collapsed during questioning by prosecutors looking into corruption allegations and the deaths of protesters during the uprising. Once he was declared stable, the questioning resumed, and a day later, Egypt's prosecutor general announced that Mubarak and his two sons would be detained for 15 days. Mubarak may remain hospitalized for the duration.

Iran

Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out Feb. 14 for the biggest protests the country had seen since the aftermath of the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. After clashes between security forces and the protesters, hard-line lawmakers called for opposition leaders to be put on trial and put to death. On March 1, protesters rallied in Tehran to demand the release of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, who supporters said had been moved from house arrest to prison. Riot police used tear gas and batons to break up the demonstrations, according to witnesses and opposition websites. Seven people were arrested at the funeral for Mousavi's father on March 31, according to the Iranian reformist website kaleme.com. The country's official IRNA news agency reported April 11 that students threw firebombs at the Saudi embassy to protest Saudi Arabia's involvement in Bahrain.

Iraq

Small, scattered protests, focusing on unemployment, corruption and a lack of services, began taking place in Iraq in early February. Protests intensified in the city of Sulaimaniyah — where demonstrators oppose the leaders of Kurdistan, the semiautonomous region in northern Iraq — and in Basra, where the governor resigned. A nationwide "Day of Rage" called for Feb. 25 turned violent in Mosul and other cities, leading to the deaths of more than a dozen protesters. Protesters have continued to turn out in Baghdad and other cities. On April 11, a leading human rights group criticized the response to the protests, saying the government in Baghdad and the government of the Kurdish region were threatening and harassing journalists and protest organizers.

Jordan

Protesters have been gathering on Fridays to demand more of a voice in government — some want the power to elect their prime minister and Cabinet officials. King Abdullah II fired his Cabinet in February and appointed a new prime minister tasked with carrying out reforms. On March 15, the king set a three-month deadline for agreement on reforms by a committee of government officials and opposition leaders. Hundreds of protesters set up camp in a main square in Amman on March 24, saying they would remain there until the prime minister left and other demands were met. The following day, government supporters clashed with the protesters in the capital. One person died and 120 were injured. On April 12, the leader of an ultraconservative Muslim group said a planned protest had been called off after Jordan released four of its members.

Kuwait

More than 1,000 protesters turned out in Kuwait City on March 8 to call for political changes — including a new prime minister. No violence was reported, but police had blocked off a central square and forced protesters into a parking lot across from a government building. On March 31, the country's official news agency said the Cabinet had resigned over regional turmoil. The move appeared to be an attempt by three ministers to avoid being questioned about why Kuwait did not send troops to Bahrain as part of a Saudi-led force.

Libya

Protests challenging leader Moammar Gadhafi led to a bloody crackdown in February. Amid clashes between opposition forces and troops loyal to Gadhafi, thousands fled Libya, with many crossing borders into Egypt and Tunisia. Rebels quickly took control of much of eastern Libya, with their base in the city of Benghazi, where the anti-Gadhafi uprising began Feb. 15. After weeks of fighting, the regime had consolidated its power in much of the west and was advancing in the east when the U.N. Security Council approved the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya on March 17.

An international coalition soon began launching airstrikes and cruise missiles to take out Gadhafi's air defenses and other military targets. Rebels have made gains since the airstrikes began but, lacking in training and equipment, they have been pushed back several times when confronted by Gadhafi's forces. U.S., British and French officials have said arming the anti-government forces is a possibility. Rebels have urged the United States to resume a more central role in the campaign now led by NATO. International groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis in Misurata, the only major western city still under partial rebel control.

Morocco

On Feb. 20, demonstrations were called by a coalition of youth groups, labor unions and human rights organizations demanding greater democracy in the North African kingdom. Several thousand people marched through the capital, Rabat — one of several cities across the country where protests were held. Five people were killed in violence linked to the demonstrations. On March 20, thousands again turned out around the country to press for reforms. King Mohammed VI has announced a plan to revise the country's constitution and says the project will be put to voters in a referendum.

Oman

Protests began in the seaside town of Sohar in late February, resulting in deadly clashes with police. Groups of protesters around the country have since pressed for economic and political reforms. Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, has ordered 50,000 new jobs and a monthly stipend for the unemployed, and has reshuffled his Cabinet. On March 13, he granted lawmaking powers to officials outside the royal family. One person was killed when protesters clashed with police on April 1.

Saudi Arabia

Police opened fire to disperse a protest March 10 in the eastern city of Qatif. Three protesters and one officer were wounded. Hundreds had gathered to demand the release of political prisoners in a second day of protests in the east, home to the country's Shiite minority. Demonstrations have continued in the east, but wider protests called for in the capital, Riyadh, failed to materialize amid a massive show of police force. Protests are officially banned in the mainly Sunni kingdom. King Abdullah has promised to spend billions of dollars on a benefits package that includes money for home loans, new apartments and payments to government workers, students and the unemployed. The country also plans to hold municipal elections in April after a delay of a year and a half.

Syria

Security forces fired on protesters who had gathered in the southern city of Daraa on March 18, killing five people and fueling mass demonstrations. Angry protesters burned government buildings, and the government fired the governor of Daraa province, whom residents had accused of corruption. The protests have grown steadily, and a violent crackdown across the country has killed at least 200 people, activists said — including 37 killed on April 8. In response to the push for reforms, the Cabinet resigned in late March, and Adel Safar, the former agriculture minister, was chosen to form a new government. President Bashar Assad, who has blamed the dissent on armed gangs, is facing increasing international criticism over the bloodshed. On April 13, thousands of women and children blocked the main road between the coastal cities of Tartous and Banias, demanding the release of hundreds of men who had been detained.

Tunisia

The unrest in this North African nation began in December, apparently after a 26-year-old man committed suicide when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling. Anger at a lack of employment and at a leadership viewed as corrupt exploded into demonstrations and clashes with police. A United Nations mission says at least 219 were killed in the weeks of protests. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14. In late February, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who served as prime minister for 11 years, bowed to protesters' demands and resigned after clashes between demonstrators and riot police. The interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, has called for elections July 24 to pick representatives to write a new constitution.

Yemen

Yemen first saw protests in January, with more sustained demonstrations beginning in February. Demonstrators are calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for more than 30 years. The government intensified its crackdown in March, with police firing on demonstrators and government supporters clashing with crowds. More than 40 people were killed in clashes on March 18.

Saleh's support has crumbled since then, with more than a dozen top military officials — including some from his own tribe — joining the opposition, along with lawmakers, diplomats and governors. Saleh has warned that the country could slide into civil war. The Parliament put in place emergency laws in March that suspend the constitution and give security forces greater powers of arrest and detention. A mediation proposal from neighboring Gulf nations sparked demonstrations across the country on April 12 because it offered Saleh immunity from prosecution. On April 13, one person was killed when gunmen attacked forces loyal to Saleh's rival, Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. At least one other was killed in clashes between protesters and security forces in Aden.

Compiled from NPR and Associated Press reports.
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