Protests Outside Trial in Rabat
Rival protests were held on Friday outside a military tribunal in the Moroccan capital where 24 Sahrawis accused of killing members of the security forces in the Western Sahara in 2010 are in the dock. The politically charged trial, which is being attended by a number of independent foreign observers, has been repeatedly delayed, with the defendants held in custody for more than two years.
The authorities say 11 people died in the clashes, among them members of the security forces, which broke out as the army moved to dismantle the Gdim Izik camp where thousands of local Sahrawis were living in November 2010. The Sahrawis arrested during the unrest are accused of violence against the security forces, of pre-meditated killing and of mutilating victims’ bodies. Some 100 people demonstrated outside the court in Rabat on Friday, among them families of the victims, pro-Sahrawi activists and relatives of the accused, many of whom were allowed to attend the trial, an AFP journalist said.
Some relatives of the victims remained outside the tribunal, waving banners that read: “We know who the killers are, so where is justice?” Ahead of the trial, observers and rights groups expressed concern over allegations the defendants were tortured in custody, about the case being tried by a military court, and about the possible death penalty facing the accused, if convicted. “Allowing a military court to try civilians raises doubts about the fair, independent and impartial administration of justice,” said the Naples-based International Observatory for Human Rights in a statement.
A judicial source, quoted by official media, said the accused were being tried in a military court because they had committed “criminal acts against the military and security forces.” Michael Ellman, a British human rights lawyer familiar with the case, who is attending the trial as an independent observer, said he had seen “many statements” provided by relatives detailing marks of torture on the defendants. “I have no reason to doubt them,” he told AFP, adding: “Most of the suspects haven’t been able to see a doctor.”
At dawn on November 8, 2010, Moroccan security forces moved to dismantle the Western Sahara camp, near the territory’s main city of Laayoune, which thousands of Sahrawis had set up in protest over their living conditions. The intervention sparked clashes that spread to Laayoune, where businesses and public buildings were looted and torched. The authorities said 11 people were killed in the unrest, while the Algeria-based Polisario Front separatists said dozens of people lost their lives. Morocco, whose annexation of the former Spanish colony in 1975 is not recognised by the international community, has proposed broad autonomy for the territory under its sovereignty.
This is rejected by the Polisario Front, which insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to a referendum on self-determination and launched its struggle for independence even before the annexation. The resulting war lasted until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire, but a permanent settlement remains elusive. UN peace envoy Christopher Ross began a new round of international diplomacy this week aimed at resolving the conflict, after his efforts to break the deadlock with a series of informal talks between the two sides made no progress.
Flower farm workers strike after accident
Naivasha, Kenya: Over 2,000 workers from two leading flower farms in Naivasha downed tools after some of their colleagues were involved in a road accident. The workers from Panda and Star flower farms went on strike following the Friday morning accident that left at least ten workers seriously injured. The workers were complaining of the failure by their employers to provide transport to them and being profit-oriented.
Trouble started after a group of workers hiked a lift to their workplace but the car which was overloaded lost control and rammed into a tree. According to one of the victims who declined to be named, the pick-up started swaying before losing control. “The vehicle was overloaded and the driver could not control it and he lost control and hit a tree throwing us outside,” said the victim.
Ten of the flower farm workers were rushed to Naivasha district hospital three of them in critical condition. The incident saw their colleagues down tools demanding that the management address the issue of transport in the farms.
Warnings of Okinawa terrorism
HONG KONG, Feb. 1 (UPI) — A former Japanese minister warned Okinawan resentment to a U.S. military presence on the island could lead to terrorism. Shozaburo Jimi, a former Japanese minister for financial services and postal reform who served in the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said there is an independence movement on Okinawa that could take violent action.
“Okinawa has long had a history of independence movements and movements for self-governance. I hope those things will not blaze up,” he said at a news conference. “There’s a possibility that (Okinawa) will say it will become an independent state. Domestic guerrilla (attacks) could occur as a result of separatist movements.”
Chinese workers protest in Lagos
Lagos – Nigerian Workers of China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) on Friday protested alleged abuse and anti-labour treatment by the company’s management. The aggrieved workers carried placards and chanted protest songs in front of the company’s office at the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos, as early 9:00 a.m. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that some of the placards had inscriptions such as: “We are the least paid construction workers in Nigeria’’, Gov. Babatunde Fashola must hear this’’ and “Increase our salaries’’. The company’s Head Foreman, Mr Sunday Johnson, told NAN that the protesters were aggrieved that that their welfare package was inadequate.
“The management does not have any medical facility for the workers. Our salaries are poor and there is no increment. “The suffering is too much. I cannot pay the school fees of my children,’’ Johnson said. Mr Jack Aguto, who has worked with the company for six years, said that he was hired as an electrical engineer but had been working in other areas with no additional wage. “It is sad that the money CCECC pays as salary is meagre. We need a basic salary. We work for seven days in a week and earn peanuts,’’ Aguto told NAN. A carpenter, Mr Henry Okoye, told NAN that he was currently earning about N17, 000 monthly as a junior worker, after working for three years as a casual.
“We work every day — both on public holidays and weekends — with no allowances. I was hired as a carpenter, but I am forced to work as a gardener and bricklayer on the same pay,’’ Okoye said. Mr Bak Ayar, an engineer, said that the CCECC management deducted N600 from each worker’s monthly wage as union dues, whereas the workers never met with any union leaders or discussed issues with them. He said the workers had been appealing to the management unsuccessfully to reduce the number of work hours. According to him, the workers resume at 6:00 a.m. and close at 6:00 p.m. daily.
Mr Ajibola Habibi, who had worked for the company for four years as a mason, alleged that the Chinese in the company regularly assaulted Nigerians. He said that the Nigerian workers had been tolerating all the alleged anti labour practices because of the fear of being sacked. When contacted, Mr Wang Chunjing, Deputy Manager, Materials and Equipment Department, CCECC, told NAN that the company was planning to increase the workers’ salaries. Chunjing did not react to the other allegations made by the workers, but said that he was attending a meeting and would give explanations later.
Reacting to the development, Mr Adeniyi Shabi, Lagos State Chairman, National Union of Civil Engineering and Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers, told NAN that the workers belonged to the union. Shabi said that the leader of the workers’ union in the CCECC was not active because of an internal squabble among the workers. Also reacting, Mr Segun Olutade, Executive Director, Shelter Watch Initiative– an NGO– called on Nigeria’s leaders to review the law on expatriate quota.
“The excuse that our artisans are not good enough is wrong. Let us train our artisans to do any kind of job that we want,’’ he urged. He decried a situation where 3,000 Chinese were brought into Nigeria to do jobs that Nigerians could do well. Olutade described the situation as a “second generation slavery’’.