Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Morocco route to Europe replaced

For west Africans dreaming of reaching the European "El Dorado", a new "Libyan route" has replaced the once-favored and more direct path through Morocco, after the government stepped up controls to stem this human tide north.

Ibrahim Diarra, a migrant biding time in the north Malian city of Gao, a key transit point for Europe-bound migrants at the edge of the desert, said: "It is practically impossible to go through Morocco anymore. The Moroccan police are very vigilant."

He said: "We don't take the 'direct-direct' path anymore, it's very very difficult", using migrant jargon to explain that the route due north through Morocco was no longer an option.

Morocco, under European pressure, increased surveillance after repeated attempts last year by African migrants to enter the Spanish - and hence European Union - enclaves in Moroccan territory of Ceuta and Melilla.

Illegals flooding towards Italy

Thousands tried to storm this symbolic divide between impoverished Africa and the riches of Europe by scaling razor-wire fencing in some of the worst violence ever at border crossings.

To circumvent the crackdown, a new path was carved out further northeast, through Libya.

From its porous 1 770km coastline, illegal migrants had been flooding towards Malta and Italy, notably the latter's tiny extreme southern island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily.

This alternate route would likely be a focus at a ministerial conference in the Libyan capital on Wednesday and Thursday, where the EU and African ministers would discuss immigration and development.

13 500 illegals intercepted

Humanitarian groups said at least 150 000 Africans were still waiting - often in dire conditions - in Mali, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Nigeria to try to reach Europe.

In the meantime, official figures confirmed the receding tide in Morocco.

Earlier this month, authorities said they had intercepted 13 500 illegal immigrants in the first 10 months of 2006, 51% less than the same period last year.

Among these, nearly half - 5 930 - were Moroccan and 7 570 were foreigners mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. Today, Gao still remained a starting point for Europe.

A Gao police detective who asked not to be named said: "When the illegals arrive in Gao, they are piled into houses collectively called 'ghettos'."

He said: "On the day they depart, they head toward the Malian destination 'In Hallil', which is not far from Borj, at the Algerian border", calling this the "first path" across the desert.

The detective added: "According to our sources, at 'In Hallil' today you will find several thousand Africans who are waiting to carry on their journey. There are more of them than local residents."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Morocco launches new anti-pedophilia group

"Pedophilia must be treated like terrorism on the judicial level," said Najia Adib, head of Don't Touch my Children, one of 25 nongovernmental groups belonging to the new umbrella organization "No child is safe."

Those found guilty of rape or attempted rape of a minor face up to five years in prison under Moroccan law - and up to 10 to 20 years in prison, if violence is used, or a handicapped child is involved.

But child activists complain that actual sentences are far lighter.

"We need to take the example of France, which severely punishes pedophilia crimes, while those found guilty in Morocco only earn two to three years in prison," said Khalid Cherkaoui Semouni, head of the new organization, the Coalition Against Sexual Abuse Committed on Children.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Three former Guantanamo detainees sentenced

The Moroccan news agency MAP reported Friday that a criminal court in Salé, has sentenced three former Guantanamo Bay detainees to prison for their involvement in terror activities. Mohamed Slimani was sentenced to five years in prison for his alleged role in creating and participation in a "criminal gang, practice of activities in a non-recognized association and organization of un-authorized public meetings." Najib Houssani and Mohamed Ouali each received three year sentences for falsifying administrative documents. The charges were related to the men's connection with Salafia Jihadia and unrelated to their detention at Guantanamo Bay, where the three spent up to 4 1/2 years in US custody. Moroccan authorities acknowledged in February that the United States transfered the three to Moroccan custody.

The Salafia Jihadia is an offshoot of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group. Both organizations are allegedly linked with al-Qaeda and are believed to be responsible for the May 16, 2003 Casablanca suicide bombings that killed 45 people, including 12 suicide bombers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

DEATH PENALTY: Abolition Still a Mere Dream

Ambiguity among key cabinet members about capital punishment has emboldened the interior minister to crack down on abolitionist demonstrations and quashed for now chances of a repeal of Morocco's death penalty laws.

Still, human rights groups say that while their dream of abolishing the death penalty must be put on hold for now, they are convinced police actions paradoxically will serve the abolitionist movement.

The Moroccan Coalition Against the Death Penalty was not allowed to hold a sit-in outside of Parliament on Oct. 10 to commemorate the world day against capital punishment. The interior ministry would not say why the peaceful civil demonstration was not allowed to take place.

In response, Driss Ould El Kabla, a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), told IPS that a lawsuit against the minister was now being prepared.

"Forbidding the sit-in will serve the abolitionists more than allowing it would have done," he said. If the proceedings are accepted by justice, "everyone will know about it for a long period of time." If the sit-in had been allowed to happen, the public would have long forgotten about it, he added.

That key decision by the minister of interior is now being changed into a pressure card on the Moroccan government, he said.

Bouchra Khiari, deputy of the opposition party le Front des Forces Démocratiques (FFD), introduced a bill in October to abolish the ultimate punishment. By law, the bill must be approved by the government before it is brought to parliament for a vote.

Abolitionists believe they have enough support for the bill to pass if it were brought before the lawmakers. Up to now, government has made no decision on whether to allow it to be discussed, Mohamed Nabil Benabdellah, minister of communication and government spokesman, told IPS.

"There is not any official position. The bill has not been studied yet," the minister said.

Human rights observers believe the issue pits the justice minister, who supports abolition, against the interior minister, who opposes it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gendarmes Harass Family of Cartoonist Living in France

Reporters Without Borders has said Moroccan gendarmes have been harassing the family of cartoonist Khalid Gueddar, who currently lives in France. Gendarmes visited his family in Ain Aouda (near Rabat) five times on 2 November 2006, requesting information about his activities.

Gueddar draws cartoons for such media as the Madrid-based "El Mundo" newspaper and the satirical website, but the gendarmes' attempts at intimidation were apparently prompted by a cartoon in the 19 October issue of the weekly "Courrier International" that accompanied an article by journalist Ali Lmrabet questioning the political will of the Moroccan authorities to stamp out drug trafficking.

As well as the repeated visits, the gendarmes also asked Gueddar's brother to give them the official family record book without offering any valid explanation for their request.

Gueddar is well known in Morocco for his satirical cartoons. He used to be the cartoonist of the Moroccan weekly "Demain Magazine" until it was banned and its editor, Lmrabet, wsentenced to three years in prison in June 2003.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Morocco vying for clinical trial attention

As the clinical trial activities continue to flock towards emerging countries such as India, Morocco wants its share. It has been making efforts to make itself attractive to international trial sponsors.

Until 2000 Morocco was virtually inactive in the clinical trials arena, delegates heard at the recent Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) conference in Brussels.

“The problem with Morocco was that we were lacking in all areas in regards to clinical trials – we had an absence of clinical research, methodology, biostatistics, ethics committees etc,” said Professor Ali Benomar from the Center of Research in Epidemiology Study and Clinical Trials at 'Mohammed V Souissi University' in Rabat.

Recognizing Morocco's shortcomings in the field, the university's Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacology began building up its skill base with the creation in 2000 of a Unit for Biostatistics, as well as the formation of a group of clinical trainers and a Workshop of Biostatistics and Methodology for professors in different fields.

In 2001, the country's first Laboratory of Biostatistics and Methodology of Clinical Research was established.

As a result, for the first time Morocco was able to seriously develop clinical protocols and methodology of research drafting, conduct statistical analysis and epidemiological work of studies, as well as aid to the development of databases.

“Between 2001 and 2004 we ran 245 domestic trials, compared to only seven between 1993 and 2000,” said Professor Ali Benomar.

In 2004 Morocco's first ethics committee was formed, “created by the deanship according to Helsinki's rules” which allowed Morocco to begin running its first international clinical trials.

“We now have three industry and two contract research organization (CRO) partnerships,” said Professor Benomar.

“We have had 17 clinical trial protocols approved by the ethics committee in the last four weeks.”

Of course running clinical trials in Morocco is not without its problems as the industry is still finding its feet, acknowledges Professor Benomar.

“However, progress is being made in these areas,” he said.

Challenges include a shortage of qualified staff, such as clinical research associates (CRAs) and a lack of professionals who speak English.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Microfinance clients rise tenfold in Mena region since 1999

The number of active micro-finance clients in the Mena region increased tenfold between 1999 and 2006 and the outstanding micro-finance portfolio now stands at $349 million, officials told a seminar yesterday.

Planet Finance, a non-profit organization and the organizers of Dubai's first micro-finance conference, said the number of active micro-finance clients in the Middle East and North Africa increased to approximately 1.5 million in 2006 from 129,000 in 1999.

A majority of these clients are micro entrepreneurs working in the informal sector. Sixty one per cent of the clients are women and 22 per cent live in rural areas, it said in a presentation.

It estimated the outstanding micro-finance portfolio at $349 million by the end of October 2005.

Six institutions, three in Egypt and three in Morocco, serve 60 per cent of all clients in the region and 77 per cent of all active loans are concentrated in Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinian Territories.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Morocco aims to triple IT and telecoms growth

Morocco aims to triple telecoms and information technology sector growth to 18 per cent per year through a program of state support, subsidies and training, the head of the industry group told Reuters.

"The goals of this plan for the 2006 to 2012 period are ambitious but realistic," Jamal Benhamou, chief executive of Morocco's Federation for Information Technology, Telecoms and Offshoring, said in an interview late on Thursday.

"Average growth of the sector will rise to 18 per cent per year from an average of 6 per cent in the past three years," added Benhamou, whose federation is part of the country's employers umbrella body CGEM.

He said the plan, officially known as Progress Contract for 2006-2012, entitles the country's 50,000 communication, information and telecoms enterprises to state subsidies and incentives worth 1.5 billion Moroccan dirhams ($173 million) for 2006- 2008.

The sector's turnover is expected to expand to 60 billion dirhams in 2012 from a projected 30 billion in 2006, he said.

The sector is dominated by telecoms in terms of revenue and jobs, following liberalization in 2004 when state monopoly Maroc Telecom was privatised.

Maroc Telecom, now controlled by French group Vivendi, competes with Meditel, a joint venture between Spain's Telefonica and Portugal Telecom, and Maroc Connect, the telecoms arm of Morocco's largest private conglomerate ONA.

Friday, November 03, 2006


A Morocco-born computer virus that crashed the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT border screening system last year first passed though the backbone network of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement bureau, according to newly released documents on the incident.

The documents were released by court order, following a yearlong battle by Wired News to obtain the pages under the Freedom of Information Act. They provide the first official acknowledgement that DHS erred by deliberately leaving more than 1,300 sensitive US-VISIT workstations vulnerable to attack, even as it mounted an all-out effort to patch routine desktop computers against the virulent Zotob worm.

US-VISIT is a hodgepodge of older databases maintained by various government agencies, tied to a national network of workstations with biometric readers installed at airports and other U.S. points of entry. The $400 million program was launched in January 2004 in an effort to secure the border from terrorists by thoroughly screening visiting foreign nationals against scores of government watch lists.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Telvent to Upgrade the Moroccan Meteorological Network

Telvent GIT S.A. (NASDAQ: TLVT), the Global RealTime IT Company, today announced it has signed a contract for more than 1.7 million Euros with the National Meteorological Institute of Morocco (NMI) to upgrade its radar weather observation systems.

Telvent will supply and install data acquisition and management systems for five meteorological radars that the NMI uses for weather observation in Morocco. In addition, Telvent will upgrade the radar information systems in the four regional centers where data from each of the radars are managed, and the information system at the NMI's main center in Casablanca that manages the country's weather information.

"We are very pleased to work with the National Meteorological Institute of Morocco. By using Telvent's advanced new systems, the institute will more precisely forecast the appearance of adverse weather patterns that might affect the country's population or economy," said Manuel Sánchez Ortega, Telvent's chairman and chief executive officer.

Telvent is currently upgrading radar weather observation systems for the National Meteorological Institute of Spain. Other notable projects that Telvent has executed in this sector include maintenance of the national meteorological radar network in Mexico, and the supply of meteorological radars in Queretaro (Mexico) and Beira (Mozambique). Telvent is also currently developing the weather observation and forecasting systems for Kuwait.