Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mohammedia University president receives first Indiana State University International Service Medal

Rahma Bourqia, president of Hassan II University-Mohammedia, is the inaugural recipient of the Indiana State University Presidential Medal for International Service.

ISU President Lloyd W. Benjamin III presented the medal to Bourqia on Oct. 26 in Rabat, Morocco in recognition of her role in a five-year-old partnership between the two universities and for dedicating her career to advancing international understanding. The presentation coincided with a meeting of the ISU Board of Trustees meeting and was shown live via Web conferencing at the start of the meeting.

“I can think of no one who would honor Indiana State University more by receiving this award than Dr. Bourqia. She has been recognized globally for her work in higher education, for promoting women’s rights, for protecting disadvantaged families — not only in her country but also in other countries — and for promoting understanding between countries. She believes that through research and exchange, students and faculty can ultimately make for a better world,” Benjamin said.

“We appreciate your tireless and selfless efforts and congratulate you on this well-deserved honor,” said Michael Alley, president of the ISU Board of Trustees.

A five-year-old partnership between ISU and Hassan II University-Mohammedia has involved several initiatives, including a program in higher education leadership, social work education, sport management, Arabic instruction at ISU and two international economic summits in Morocco in conjunction with ISU’s Networks Financial Institute.

A new program to jointly develop an accreditation system for public and private higher education in Morocco will be the ongoing partnership’s largest project to date, Benjamin noted.

“I express my deepest thanks for giving me this honor and for the esteem you show toward me. This is beyond what one could expect when engaging in a university partnership,” Bourqia said. “What I do for my university and for my country is just what needs to be done, yet more has to come.”

There is more to come, Benjamin noted, pointing to a new program to jointly develop an accreditation system for public and private higher education in Morocco. The project will be the largest yet involving ISU and Hassan II University-Mohammedia.

“President Benjamin has given substance and energy to our partnership and has put it on the track to sustainability,” Bourqia said. “His commitment, leadership and ideas are inspiring.”

Senegal government takes major stake in Air Senegal

Senegal will take a majority 75 percent stake in its national flag carrier Air Senegal International (ASI) at the expense of its previously controlling partner Morocco's Royal Air Maroc (RAM), it said on Tuesday.

"(With) the management support by RAM having shown its limitations, Senegal has decided to re-take Air Senegal International," the transport ministry said in a statement after the company suffered a 19 million euro (27.4 million dollar) loss in 2006.

"Re-capitalisation of the company will only be assured by Senegal," with a new share distribution in which "Morocco would hold 25 percent and Senegal 75," it said.

The new shareholding structure takes effect on November 5.

The two airlines struck a deal in 2001 in which RAM was the controlling shareholder with 51 percent while the remaining 49 percent was held by Senegal, in what was hailed as a model of cooperation between African countries.

During its early days ASI flourished, flying west African routes deserted by the now defunct Air Afrique and linking the region with Europe.

It was selected the best African airline in 2003.

Morocco considers extradition of ex-Mauritanian leader's son

Moroccan judicial authorities are considering the extradition to Mauritania of the son of ex-President Khouna Ould Haidalla, who is wanted by Interpol over alleged drug trafficking.

Morocco's Supreme Court is expected to rule on the extradition request Wednesday, judicial sources said here Monday.

Mohammed Ould Haidalla was arrested last July in the Moroccan southern city of Agadir with 18 kg of cocaine.

His father, Khouna Ould Haidalla, led Mauritania from 1980 to 1984 when his administration was toppled by Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More than 400 Islamist detainees end strike

More than 400 Islamist detainees have ended a hunger strike that for some lasted more than a month, when authorities agreed to negotiate on their prison conditions, an association backing them announced.

The strike came to an end after delegates from the government’s Consultative Council on Human Rights visited one prison at Sale on Friday and agreed to submit their grievances to the administration, said the head of the Ennassir support group, Abderrahim Mohtade.

About 200 detainees at Sale, near the capital Rabat, began the hunger strike on September 25 to protest at "bad treatment" by the prison director.

By October 190 Islamists held in 10 other prisons had joined their action.

In the Sale prison itself, the prisoners have asked to be held together in the same wing, and other demands include the right to visits and the "opening of an enquiry into the bad treatment" to which they say they have been subjected, Mohtade said.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Morocco's argan tree gets a boost

Nearly 18 months on, the Tamounte project to plant and educate Sousse residents about the argan tree continues to show promise. Organisers hope the oil's growing popularity on the international market and better conservation efforts will contribute to the tree's sustainable cultivation.

A forestation project for the argan tree which began in March 2006 is being assessed for a report due to come out in January 2008. The Tamounte conservation project has involved the planting of 42 hectares with more than 6,700 seedlings of the threatened species.

The argan tree, once believed to have covered much of the Maghreb, is now found only in south-western Morocco. Reportedly, only 8,600 square kilometres of the tree remain, and it is disappearing at an estimated rate of 500 square kilometres per year. Although the tree's nuts provide husks for livestock and oil for cooking and medicinal purposes, many of the trees have been cut down for firewood and to clear land for other agricultural uses.

Tamounte project director Mohammed Bendaoud says the main thrust of the operation lies in reforesting the argan tree while preserving its economic contribution to the regional economy. Argan oil is used in Moroccan cuisine and medicine and has grown popular in Europe and North America for both cooking and cosmetic purposes.

Bendaoud said the Tamounte project embodies a participatory approach in order to involve local residents in the development process. Haphazard exploitation runs counter to the project's goal of using the tree as a sustainable economic resource, he said, and in addition to fencing off the planted region, the project focuses on sensitising residents of the Taksibt area in Belfaà to the need to preserve the tree.

The 24-month project provides residents with technical training on preparing and planting the argan tree and the management of natural resources.

Bendaoud said the planting process has been 92% successful and that for the first time inhabitants are planting argan trees on their private property in an effort to reap the added value the tree's oil can provide.

The project is a collaborative effort between local agencies and the Network of Argan Biosphere Reserve Associations (RARBA), the Agency for Social Development in Morocco, the European Union and the German Technical Assistance Agency (GTZ).

As the species is now found almost exclusively in the Sousse region and continues to disappear quickly, UNESCO classified the tree in 1999 as a world heritage, warranting care and attention. The organisation helped create a reserve for the tree through the activities of local civil society. Since then a number of programmes have been implemented with the aim of involving local residents in protecting the tree and offering support for the responsible extraction of argan oil.

Looking forward, argan enthusiasts hope to create a map of tree locations to encourage travel agencies and professionals to bring tour groups to the region to explore the mountains and learn about the conduct, traditions and customs connected to the tree. This type of ecotourism, in combination with argan oil's growing popularity abroad, may be the key to preserving the species.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Over 50 African migrants feared dead in Atlantic

Rescuers have found the bodies of seven African migrants in a boat adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, while almost 50 others are missing from the vessel trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands, Spanish authorities said Thursday.

"It was a Dantesque scene," said Jose Maria Abreu, the captain of a Spanish fishing boat that found the bodies.

"There was an exhausted man who was waving and seven bodies. There was an unbearable stench, they must have been dead six or seven days," he told Spain's radio Cadena Ser.

The Spanish boat discovered the seven bodies and one "very weak" survivor on the vessel north of Cape Verde, a spokesman for the rescue services said.

The survivor told the fishermen that "up to 50 people may have been on board" the boat, the spokesman told AFP.

"We know the boat left (Africa) with 57 passengers," Spain's interior ministry said, an indication that 49 others may also have perished.

Abreu said a hospital ship, the Esperanza de Mar, which sails the region to help Spanish fishermen, was coming to pick up the bodies.

Located off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands have been a magnet in recent years for mainly sub-Saharan immigrants aspiring to reach Europe.

More than 31,200 illegal immigrants arrived there last year, more than tripling the previous annual record and overwhelming the island chain's authorities.

But stepped-up maritime patrols off the west African coast by the European Union border agency Frontex have led to a dramatic reduction. More than 8,200 reached the islands since the beginning of this year.

But Spain fears that increased surveillance measures in Senegal, Morocco and Mauritania are now forcing traffickers to operate further south, notably in Guinea, using bigger boats capable of making the longer journey.

Spain's intelligence chief, Alberto Saiz, Thursday warned of a new wave of immigrants from Guinea.

He told journalists that many old fishing boats that had reached the end of their natural lives may be used to transport illegal immigrants.

Saiz was reacting to a report in the Spanish newspaper El Pais Thursday that said Spanish intelligence authorities are already watching about 50 such boats in the Guinean capital of Conakry. It said a journey between Guinea and the Canary Islands was too long for the small motor boats.

Vivendi raising Maroc Telecom stake to 53 pct in share exchange deal with CDG

Vivendi said it is raising its stake in Maroc Telecom to 53 pct from 51 pct as part of a share exchange deal with Morocco's Caisse de Depot et de Gestion, confirming an earlier report in Les Echos.

Morocco's CDG will become a 0.6 pct shareholder in Vivendi as part of the deal, while Vivendi is buying an extra 2 pct in the African telephone operator.

Institutional investor CDG 'intends to become a long-term investor in Vivendi,' the French group said in a statement.

The deal will be via a share exchange, with CDG receiving Vivendi shares that will be acquired by Vivendi on the market over the next few weeks, the company said.

The transaction value is based on Maroc Telecom's share of 140.27 dirhams, Vivendi added.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Morocco resolved to amend press code says PM

Morocco is determined to amend the Press Code and to gather the legal texts governing this field into one Act, Prime Minister, Abbas El Fassi assured Wednesday before the House of Representatives.

The government, he said in the statement of the new government's program, will see to the practice of the freedom of the press - within the total respect of the law - and introduce new mechanisms, such as the National Council of the Press, due to play a key role in the implementation of the professional rules.

The Prime Minister also affirmed that the government will erect communication as a major instrument for the construction of a democratic and modern society.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

African migrants thrown overboard

Sixty six African migrants are dead or missing after being forced overboard by people traffickers off the coast of Yemen, the UN refugee agency says.

The incident involved two smugglers' boats that left the Somali coastal town of Bossaso on Saturday with 244 people aboard, mostly Somalis and Ethiopians.

Survivors say the victims drowned when they were forced into deep water after reaching the Yemen coast on Sunday.

More than 20,000 people have made the crossing from East Africa this year.

But more than 400 have died while crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen and with as many again missing and feared dead, the UNHCR says.

'Roughed up'

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said 28 migrants had been confirmed dead in the latest incident

A further 38 people are still missing.

The UNCHR says a total of 178 people managed to make it to shore.

The survivors say they were roughed up on the boats by the people-traffickers; some also reported being robbed by Yemeni military personnel.

Aid workers arriving on the scene provided food and water before transferring the group to UNHCR's Mayfaa reception centre.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

TGVs to Marrakech

French engineering consultancy Systra announced that its Moroccan subsidiary had been awarded a contract by ONCF to develop plans for a dedicated passenger line between Settat and Marrakech.

Systra Morocco will be working with local consultants CID, Team Maroc and APTE on the 18-month study, which follows on from a feasibility study for the Casablanca - Marrakech high speed line completed in 2006. The multi-disciplinary team will draw up detailed designs and prepare tender documents for construction of 170 km of double track.

The new line is intended to relieve growing capacity problems on the existing single-track route, which is used by both freight and passenger trains. Connecting with the existing 40 km double-track section between Casablanca and Settat, the new dedicated passenger route would serve intermediate stations at Settat TGV and Benguerir TGV.

The new alignment is being designed for 350 km/h operation, but ONCF initially expects to run at a maximum of 300 km/h. This would cut the Casablanca - Marrakech journey time from 3 h 24 min to 1 h 16 min.

Morocco to order Duplex TGVs

THE DREAM of high speed trains in North Africa moved a step closer on October 22, when Alstom Transport announced that it had been selected to supply a fleet of 18 TGV Duplex trainsets to Moroccan National Railway (ONCF). Subject to final negotiations, the order is due to be placed early next year.

The 320 km/h high-capacity double-deck sets would initially be used on the coastal corridor linking Tanger, Rabat and Casablanca. A 47 km cut-off between Sidi Yahya and Mechrâ Bel Ksiri now taking shape is intended to form the basis for a high speed line between Tanger and Kenitra, which ONCF expects to complete by 2013. This would cut the Tanger - Rabat journey time from 4 h 45 min to 1 h 20 min, and Tanger - Casablanca from 5 h to 2 h 10 min.

On the new Casablanca - Marrakesh line, which is being designed by Systra for speeds of 300 km/h or more, the Duplex sets would reduce journey times from 3 h 30 min to 1 h 15 min. With assistance from French companies including SNCF International and Alstom, ONCF is planning to build up to 1 500 km of high speed lines by 2030-35, including the long-planned route from Marrakech to the Atlantic coastal town Agadir and a new Maghreb Link from Rabat to Fez and Oujda on the Algerian border.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oceans are 'soaking up less CO2'

The amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the world's oceans has reduced, scientists have said.

University of East Anglia researchers gauged CO2 absorption through more than 90,000 measurements from merchant ships equipped with automatic instruments.

Results of their 10-year study in the North Atlantic show CO2 uptake halved between the mid-90s and 2000 to 2005.

Scientists believe global warming might get worse if the oceans soak up less of the greenhouse gas.

Researchers said the findings, published in a paper for the Journal of Geophysical Research, were surprising and worrying because there were grounds for believing that, in time, the ocean might become saturated with our emissions.

'Saturated' ocean

Environment analyst Roger Harrabin said of the finding: "The researchers don't know if the change is due to climate change or to natural variations.

"But they say it is a tremendous surprise and very worrying because there were grounds for believing that in time the ocean might become 'saturated' with our emissions - unable to soak up any more."

He said that would "leave all our emissions to warm the atmosphere".

Of all the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, only half of it stays there; the rest goes into carbon sinks.

There are two major natural carbon sinks: the oceans and the land "biosphere". They are equivalent in size, each absorbing a quarter of all CO2 emissions.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Southern Africa: Struggling With Soaring Cereal Prices

Record high wheat prices globally are forcing consumers in Southern Africa to dig deeper into their pockets: the price of bread has almost doubled since the beginning of the year, and according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), have already caused food riots in some parts of the world.

Wheat and maize prices have been at their highest in the past few months: the price of yellow maize doubled from an average of US$88 per metric tonne (mt) in 2000 to $177 per mt in February 2007, while the price of wheat rose from an average of $119 per mt in 2000 to $277 per mt in August 2007.

The combination of higher export prices and soaring freight rates has pushed up domestic prices of bread and other basic foodstuffs in importing developing countries, hitting the group of Low-Income Food-Deficit countries particularly hard, said Paul Racionzer, of the FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.

A drop in production has been reported in major exporting countries - which are also among the leading stockholders - notably the United States, where stocks are forecast to sink to a 10-year low of 11 million mt, as well as in Australia, Canada and the European Union (EU), said the FAO's Crop Prospects and Food Situation report for October.

"Among other countries, sharply smaller stocks are forecast for Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and nearly all major wheat producing countries in the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]."

Racionzer said lower wheat production in major exporting countries was expected to result in a drawdown of at least 14 million mt in world inventories to 143 million mt, the lowest in 25 years. Consequently, the price of wheat has shot up to an all-time high of $343 per mt, compared to $208 per mt at the same time in 2006.

"Those high prices have spilled over to other markets, impacting on the prices of most other cereals," he commented. "Higher grain prices are wearing through the food chain, increasing the cost of many basic food items, which has already led to social unrest in some countries such as Uzbekistan, Yemen and Morocco."


Southern African countries are net importers of wheat, and in Namibia and Botswana the price of bread has almost doubled since January. But the FAO is particularly concerned over the impact of high wheat prices on Swaziland and Lesotho, which had their worst-ever harvest. "The cost of importing the wheat will put a huge strain on their economies," said James Breen, the FAO's Regional Emergency Agronomist.

Swaziland's annual cereal production this year was 22kg per head, while Lesotho produced 38kg per head, against an annual requirement of 180kg per head in both countries, according to the report on a joint FAO and World Food Programme crop and food supply assessment mission.

Unable to access maizemeal, their staple food, the Swazis and the Basotho have had to buy bread, which has become at least 20 percent more expensive since the beginning of 2007.

In South Africa the cost of wheat is 125 percent higher than it was in 2005, a local magazine, The Farmers' Weekly, pointed out. Phumzile Mdladla, who heads the Southern Africa office of the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET), said the price of wheat had almost doubled, from $246 per mt in October 2006 to an average of $455 per mt last week, which was higher than the international price.

Earlier in the year, political organisations in South Africa suggested fixing the price of bread, but this was ruled out by the government. "Food security has two legs, namely availability and affordability," said Jannie de Villiers, head of the South African Chamber of Baking, the national millers' association, who welcomed the government's response.

"The free market in agriculture has proven very successful in assuring the availability of food to all South Africans. We have, however, in the past ten years of deregulation experienced two cycles of very high food prices, which seriously impact on the affordability of food to especially the poor and vulnerable groups in our communities."

The industry had not only had to contend with sharply higher wheat prices, but ever-increasing fuel costs. "The distribution cost constitutes almost a third of the total cost of baking and distributing bread," said de Villiers. "We are doing our utmost to delay passing on these huge spikes in our wheat and flour prices."

The outlook

According to the FAO's Racionzer, production could improve next year. "In the United States, conditions are generally favourable for fieldwork, and although planting has got off to a slower start than normal, early indications all point to the likelihood of a record area." Winter wheat crops for harvest in 2008 are already being planted.

The EU has removed its 10 percent obligatory set-aside requirement for 2008, which could return up to an estimated three million hectares of arable land to production for the season, he added. Under the requirement, producers had to set aside a defined percentage of their declared areas to limit cereal production in the EU.

In a press release in late September, the EU said removal of the set-aside should increase the 2008 cereals harvest by at least 10 million mt; intervention stocks have shrunk from 14 million mt at the beginning of 2006/07 to around one million mt at present.

Racionzer said, "Early indications from the large producing areas in eastern Europe also suggest that farmers have intentions to plant larger wheat areas if weather and inputs allow."

However, based on the latest forecasts for world production and utilisation in the FAO's latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, global cereal stocks, including wheat, are expected to stand at 420 million mt by the close of the seasons in 2008.

This is unchanged from the reduced opening levels, and only three million mt above the 20-year low in 2004. "The food price situation is not going to improve any time soon," said the FAO's Breen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

El Mansouri (RNI) elected speaker of Morocco’s lower house

Leader of the National Rally of Independents party RNI, Mustapha El Mansouri, was elected speaker of the House of Representatives at a plenary session on Tuesday (October 16th). The former Minister of Employment and Vocational Training was elected 172-58 against the Justice and Development Party's Abdellah Baha.

Stanford researchers find blood test for Alzheimer's

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new blood test that could potentially be used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease.

The test shows promise in predicting which patients with mild memory loss are at high risk of developing the disease, which at this point can be diagnosed only by ruling out other possible causes.

The Stanford team, led by neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray, announced its findings in the newest issue of Nature Medicine. Its key findings: the identification of 18 distinctive proteins that appear with surprising consistency in the blood of Alzheimer's patients.

To do so, they screened out 120 such proteins that circulate in the blood and then created a test that lights up when the 18 biomarkers are present in a blood sample.

Though premature, the test's potential is garnering huge attention. In one experiment using stored blood samples, it proved positive for the disease in 38 out of 42 patients who had already been independently diagnosed.

HIV treatment 'failing' in Africa

More than a third of patients on HIV medication in sub-Saharan Africa die or discontinue their treatment within two years of starting it, a survey shows.

The study found that many were too late taking up anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, while for some it was impractical to travel to distant clinics.

The US researchers also found evidence that in cases where patients had to pay for ARVs, some stopped treatment.

But it showed success rates vary depending on the programme and country.

Daily stress

Details of the study by the Boston University School of Public Health are published online by the Public Library of Science.

The researchers looked at antiretroviral programmes for HIV patients in 13 sub-Saharan countries.

They found that two years on from the commencement of treatment, only 61.6% of all patients were still receiving medication.

The researchers say there are many reasons for the fall-out rate.

Many patients were too late in taking up ARVs in the first place and died within a few months of commencing treatment.

Other patients dropped out because of problems with accessing the drugs - they may live some distance, for example, from the clinic which provided the medication.

There was also evidence, the researchers say, of patients discontinuing treatment because of the cost of the drugs in those cases where patients were charged for their ARVs.

Boston University's Dr Christopher Gill says in many cases, taking the ARVs may take a back seat to more pressing daily needs.

"Receiving the drug itself is a major investment of a patient's time, so if you live 8 km from the nearest clinic and have to go there once a month and you don't have a ready means of transport it's a huge investment of your own time," he told the BBC.

"And if you're feeling well and you're worried about other things in terms of finding enough to eat or maintaining a job or finding a job I suppose if you were feeling well you might be tempted to see treatment as being a second-order priority.


For the director of the Association of People with Aids in Kenya, poverty, a lack of education and an element of stigma are all part of the problem.

"If people are not well educated on how to take the drugs, then some patients fall out, and if they do fall out then they develop resistance," Roland Gomol Lenya told the BBC.

"We find some people also suffer from stigma: in some workplaces, people are not able to carry their ARVs and take their ARVs freely at workplaces.

"I think there are also the issues of poverty, and the people who administer ARVs should also look at the poverty element, because sometimes because of poverty people are not able to access the centres.

"The centres are normally far away from where people live, and that has been a problem."

The study shows that retention rates between individual ARV programmes vary widely across Africa.

One programme in South Africa retained as many as 85% of their patients after two years while another in Uganda retained only 46% of patients after the same period of time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The New Moroccan Government

King Mohammed VI on Monday appointed the new Government upon proposal from Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi whose conservative Istiqlal Party won the September 7 legislative elections.

The thirty-four member Government (including the Prime minsiter, 22 Ministers, 4 Delegate Ministers and 7 Secretaries of State) were sworn in.

The new Government is made up of a coalition of four parties, the Istiqlal (PI, 9 portfolios in addition to the Prime Minister), the National Rally of Independents (RNI, 7 portfolios), the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP, 5 portfolios) and the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS, 2 portfolios). The ten other members of the government have no political affiliation.

For the first time in Morocco's history, seven women will be part of a government including 5 ministers and 2 Secretaries of State.

The government, which comprises 16 new comers, stems from the September 7 legislative elections to renew the 325-member House of Representatives (lower house). Thirty-three parties participated in the polls that were marked by a record-low turnout of 37% of the 15.5 million eligible voters.

Here-follows, the list of the Government

- Abbas El Fassi: Prime Minister
- Mohamed El Yazghi: Minister of State
- Abdelwahed Radi: Minister of Justice
- Chakib Benmoussa: Minister of Interior
- Taieb Fassi Fihri: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation
- Ahmed Toufiq: Minister of Habous (endowments)and Islamic affairs
- Abdessadek Rabiî: Secretary General of the government
- Mohamed Saad Alami: Minister in charge of Relations with the Parliament
- Salaheddine Mezouar: Minister of Economy and Finance
- Karim Ghellab: Minister of Equipment and Transport
- Ahmed Taoufiq Hejira: Minister of Housing, Town Planning and Development
- Mohamed Boussaid: Minister of Tourism and Craft Industry
- Amina Benkhadra: Minister of Energy, Mining, Water and Environment (new)
- Yasmina Baddou: Minister of Health
- Nawal El Moutawakil: Minister of Youth and Sports (new)
- Aziz Akhenouch: Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (new)
- Ahmed Akhchichine: Minister of National Education, Higher Education, Staff Training, and Scientific Research (new)
- Khalid Naciri: Minister of Communication and Government Spokesman (new)
- Jamal Aghmani: Minister of Employment and Vocational Training (new)
- Ahmed Chami: Minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies (new)
- Abdellatif Maâzouz: Minister of Foreign Trade (new)
- Nouzha Skalli: Minister of Social Development, Family and Solidarity (new)
- Touriya Jabrane: Minister of Culture (new)
- Abderrahmane Sbaï: Delegate Minister to the Prime Minister in charge of National Defense
- Nizar Baraka: Delegate Minister to the Prime Minister in charge of Economic and General Affairs (new)
- Mohamed Abbou: Delegate Minister to the Prime Minister in charge of Public Sectors Modernization (new)
- Mohammed Ameur: Delegate Minister to the Prime Minister in charge of Moroccan expatriates (new)
- Abdelkébir Zahoud: Secretary of State to the Minister of Energy, Mining, Water and Environment, in charge of Water and Environment (new)
- Anis Birou: Secretary of State to the Minister of Tourism and Craft Industry, in charge of Craft Industry
- Saad Hassar: Secretary of State to the Minister of Interior (new)
- Latifa Labida: Secretary of State to the Minister of National Education, Higher Education, Staff Training, and Scientific Research, in charge of Primary and Secondary Education (new)
- Ahmed Lakhrif: Secretary of State to the Minister in charge Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (new)
- Latifa Akherbach: Secretary of State to the Minister in charge of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (new)
- Abdeslam Al Mesbahi: Secretary of State to the Minister of Housing, Town Planning and Development, in charge of Territorial Development (new).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

US Wheat Outlook: 8-11c Higher On Morocco, Positioning

A Moroccan tender and positioning ahead of a government crop report are expected to support U.S. wheat futures at the start of Thursday's day session, traders said.

Wheat futures are called to open 8-11 cents per bushel higher. In e-cbot overnight trading, Chicago Board of Trade December wheat climbed 11 1/2 cents to $8.64 1/2.

Morocco's state wheat buyer, the Office National Interprofessional des Cereales et des Legumineuses, said it was tendering to buy 500,000 metric tons of soft milling wheat of any origin. There are expectations Morocco will buy French wheat, but the tender is still seen as supportive because prices are high and world supplies remain tight, a CBOT trader said.

A sale of 100,000 tons of U.S. hard red winter wheat to Iraq, announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, should also strengthen prices, an analyst said.

Japan, meanwhile, said it bought 145,000 metric tons of wheat, including 85,000 tons from the U.S., in a routine tender. The entire shipment is expected to arrive Dec. 1 to Jan. 10.

The trade, along with watching for fresh demand, is also waiting for the USDA to release its October supply and demand report. The report, due out at 8:30 a.m. EDT Friday, is expected to show lower forecasts for U.S. and world ending stocks and for Australia's drought-ravaged crop.

Analysis of early harvested wheat in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales states indicates small, poor quality grain, according to Australia's GrainCorp Ltd. Nevertheless, GrainCorp said grain quality overall in southern Queensland should be good.

Thundershowers may linger in southeast Queensland on Thursday. The rainfall will help build soil moisture for summer crops and any late filling wheat, DTN Meteorlogix said.

However, the balance of Australia's wheat belt looks to be drier during the next seven days, Meteorlogix said. That will continue to stress the crop, according to the weather firm.

Traders are expected to even up positions going into the USDA report and that should give prices a boost, a CBOT trader said. CBOT December wheat prices Wednesday closed nearer the session high on short covering and some bargain buying after hitting a fresh three-week low early on, a technical analyst said.

Bulls are still in some near-term technical trouble in the wheat markets, the analyst said. Their next upside price objective is to push CBOT December wheat above resistance at $8.88 1/2, which is the top of Monday's downside price gap on the daily bar chart. The next downside price objective for the bears is pushing prices below solid support at $8.30.

First resistance is seen at Wednesday's high of $8.58 1/2 and then at this week's high of $8.75. First support lies at Wednesday's low of $8.41 and then at $8.30.

At the Kansas City Board of Trade, bulls' next upside price objective is pushing December wheat above resistance at $8.94, which is the top of Monday's downside price gap on the daily bar chart. The bears' next downside objective is pushing prices below solid support at $8.20.

First resistance is seen at $8.60 and then at $8.65. First support is seen at Wednesday's low of $8.41 3/4 and then at $8.30.

Hard red winter wheat, traded at the KCBT, in the U.S. central and southern Plains should see favorable conditions for planting, Meteorlogix said. Some areas could use more rain but most have adequate soil moisture. Rainfall later this weekend or early next week could delay field work while adding to soil moisture, the weather firm said.

In other news, U.K. farmers harvested 13.4 million metric tons of wheat in 2007, a drop of 9% on the year, according to provisional estimates issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The harvest results are below previous data compiled by Defra and the Home Grown Cereals Authority, which had put the U.K. wheat crop at a range of 13.5 million-14.0 million tons.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Torture goes all-American

How close is the film Rendition to the reality of CIA activities? Very, says this civil rights lawyer

A Hollywood production that confronts a difficult political issue is rare. Gavin Hood (whose film Tsotsi won the Best Foreign-Language Oscar in 2005) has delivered such a movie in Rendition.

The term “rendition” means taking a suspect prisoner and transferring him to another country, often to face harsh interrogation methods, without legal process. There was really no need for a new word because the old one – kidnapping – described the operation accurately, but “rendition” has joined other euphemisms in the Bush War on Terror such as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (or torture).

The film Rendition is a courageous public innoculation against this creeping criminality. Anwar El-Ibrahimi (played by Omar Metwally) is an Egyptian citizen who has lived in the US all his adult life, and his American wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) is pregnant with their second child. Anwar has been to South Africa for a conference, and is flying home to be at the birth. Isabella waits at Dulles airport in Chicago, but Anwar does not arrive.

Meanwhile, there has been an al-Qaeda explosion in a North African town. Missing its target – Abasi Fawal (Igor Naor), the head of the country’s security service – the bomb spatters the blood of a CIA field agent over the shirt of his young colleague, Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal). Rashid Silime, the head of a Hezbollah splinter cell, claims responsibility, and there are calls for retribution.

Intercepts have linked calls from Silime’s phone to Anwar’s. But nobody, from the Europeans to the Israelis, has Anwar on their list of potential terrorists. Enter Meryl Streep, playing Corinne Whitman, the CIA’s head of counter-terrorism. She has long since resolved that sometimes one person may need to be inconvenienced if she is to save lives and allow millions to sleep safely in their beds. Anwar does not make it as far as the immigration hall at Dulles.

For the most part, the film is very well researched. Perhaps this is because Robert Baer, a whistleblowing former CIA agent, was technical adviser. The CIA plane that flies Anwar to his torture rendezvous has the call number 379 – the same as the Gulf Stream 5 “Rendition Express” that in real life took my client, the British resident Binyam Mohamed, to a torture chamber in Morocco in July, 2002.

One of my unlikely hobbies is correlating the methods of the CIA with the Spanish Inquisition, and there are some illustrations of this in the film. Like the CIA, the Spanish stripped their victims naked to humiliate them, beat them and left them dangling by the wrists (the Inquisition called that one the Strappado). However, modern technology has supplemented the torturer’s handbook, and Anwar also endures electric shock abuse.

If any critic suggests that the film overstates the horror of rendition, then consider what happened to Binyam Mohamed. During the 18 months he spent in Morocco the torture escalated from beating to a razor blade to the penis – all performed for the Americans, as in the film, by North African proxies. He was then shipped to the Dark Prison in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, for five more months of abuse.

As for the rendering itself, the fictional Anwar is bundled up for the trip in the same way as Binyam – stripped of his own clothes, shackled and hooded. The real victims of rendition generally have a nappy too, so that the kidnappers do not have to bother with lavatories.

Sadly, the high-handedness with which Whitman ignores basic due process is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s Washington. According to Baer, Streep’s character is based loosely on a real CIA operative (Ms X) who precipitated a similar nightmare for a German citizen, Khalid Masri, who was rendered to Afghanistan in 2002. He was on holiday in Macedonia when Ms X received information that seemed to link him to terrorism. She authorised his rendition.

Many months later the same plane that picked up Binyam from Morocco flew on to dump Masri in Albania. Without money or an apology he was left to make his own way home. Even though the CIA had figured out he was probably innocent, they had not known what to do about it. He is scarred forever by his experience, and was recently admitted to a German mental hospital.

In addition, while Baer knows Ms X’s name, she has kept her job at the CIA, and it would be illegal for him to disclose her identity.

Of course, there is poetic licence in the film. Anwar enjoys a six-figure salary, 700 times more than the average Yemeni victim of rendition. And Isabella is better placed to find him than her counterpart in an Arab village. She heads to Capitol Hill to meet an old flame, Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), a senior aide to a senator. Yet even with Smith’s assistance, Isabella never tracks down Anwar.

Even here the film is not so far from reality. Binyam Mohamed’s American sister, Zohra, spoke to an FBI agent, who told her that Binyam had been freed, when in truth he was being tortured in Morocco. She searched for her brother from Britain to Pakistan, with no success. Three years later she heard he was in Guantánamo Bay.

Ultimately, what does the CIA get from relying on torture? Eventually, Anwar lists 11 men as his “accomplices in terror”. Freeman finds that the names match those of the 1990 Egyptian football team, which convinces him that Anwar is innocent.

Unfortunately, in real life, it would probably have earned Anwar another beating. When Binyam was tortured, the janitor from London who did not speak Arabic described how he dined on April 3, 2002, with four of Osama bin Laden’s associates, and advised them on their campaign of terror. Two of the four were in US custody at that time, but when the “mistake” was noticed the interrogators tortured him some more, to reshape his story.

Would thatRendition was a work of history. Sadly, the rendition aircraft are still flying; the prisoners are taken to ever darker prisons – whether in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco or ships off the coast of Somalia – farther from the media and the rule of law.

Sheep politics

So here comes Rendition, another “devastating indictment” of the Evil Empire. We know all about America’s Religious Right, but there is a Religious Left, too, and its message is preached in multiplexes rather than mega-churches. It’s a paradox of Hollywood that the nonconformists in the “creative community” are sheep when it comes to politics.

In the Seventies, films attacking the excesses of the CIA and big business were fresh. But lazy thinking set in a long time ago. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the sheep are prepared to laud a film-maker as transparently dishonest as Michael Moore. Hell, he’s antiBush, and that’s all that matters. Even one of the more intelligent films of the past couple of years, Good Night, and Good Luck, could not resist sugar-coating the Cold War, insinuating that Soviet spy-rings were a product of Joe McCarthy’s imagination. Will things ever change? Not as long as American politics is locked in its Left v Right trench warfare.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Morocco sends home hundreds of illegal migrants

Morocco, under pressure from Europe to crack down on illegal migration, has begun repatriating 345 Senegalese and Gambians it caught trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands.

Moroccan authorities picked up the migrants in Atlantic waters off the Sahara and held them in the southern port of Dakhla. A first group of 120 was sent home early on Thursday and 225 more will leave by Saturday.

"These operations are taking place in the presence of Senegalese and Gambian diplomats," it said.

A Malian migrant in Dakhla contacted by telephone said he and 116 others had been told they might be sent home next week.

More than 30,000 migrants arrived in the Canaries last year after dangerous boat trips from West Africa, and many more are believed to have died during the crossing.

The number reaching the Canaries has dropped sharply this year since the European Union gave Morocco 67 million euros to manage migration and boost border security. Much of the money goes to tightening coastal patrols.

Barbed wire fences around Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla have been reinforced and a new radar system now scans the waters between Morocco and Spain.

Morocco says the new measures have allowed it to stop over 9,000 attempts at illegal migration -- a third of them towards the Canary Islands -- and break up 260 trafficking gangs.

The number of illegal migrants arriving in the Canaries from Morocco has fallen 91 percent in two years, it said.

But with few reasons to stay in their poverty-ridden countries, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans are still trekking through the desert to Mauritania and Morocco and paying unscrupulous traffickers for passage north on overcrowded boats.

Morocco has deported thousands of the migrants. Aid groups accused it last year of dumping hundreds, including women and children, on the desert border with Algeria without food or water.

The Moroccan government says the migrants are treated well and given food, water and health care before being sent home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Australia in African refugee ban

A freeze on the settlement of refugees from Africa - including those from Sudan's Darfur region - has been announced by the Australian government.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the refugees had trouble integrating, and other parts of the world such as Iraq and Burma were greater priorities.

The freeze will last until mid-2008, and there are no guarantees that Africans will be admitted after then.

Critics say it is a pre-election pitch to immigration-wary voters.

Mr Andrews said refugees from Sudan and conflict-torn Darfur were having problems integrating into Australian communities, and that trouble spots closer to home should take priority.

To that end, Africans are being replaced in the humanitarian refugee programme by people fleeing Iraq and Burma.

'Xenophobic' jibe

Australia has accepted or is processing about 3,900 Africans this year - 30% of its total refugee intake.

Just two years ago they made up 70% of the total.

Critics have accused the government of a pre-election move to appeal to xenophobic voters, and they have also said it is absolutely wrong to argue that Africans are failing to integrate.

One community leader said they were making an immense contribution to the economy by taking jobs which many Australians simply did not want to do.

Certainly, there is a nativistic streak in parts of the Australian electorate.

In previous campaigns the Prime Minister John Howard government has benefited from concerns over immigration - especially in regional seats.

Only last year the town of Tamworth in New South Wales voted against hosting a trial refugee resettlement programme after the Sudanese were branded as criminals by the local mayor.

So fierce was the condemnation that the council was forced to reverse that decision.

Five facts about threatened bluefin tuna

Scientists and campaigners warn stocks of the Atlantic bluefin tuna are dangerously close to collapse after a decade of overfishing, triggered by growing Asian demand for sushi.

Here are five facts about the Atlantic bluefin tuna:

* Despite weighing up to half a tonne, the bluefin (Thunnus thynnus) can swim in excess of 70 km (43 miles) an hour thanks to its stiff, aerodynamic body and warm-blooded circulation, making it one of the Mediterranean's top predators.

* The Phoenecians 3,000 years ago were the first Mediterranean civilisation to catch spawning bluefin with fixed nets; Roman armies fed their troops on dried tuna and Rome minted coins depicting the fish. Spain and Morocco still fish with fixed nets, known as Almadrabas, a word of Arabic origin meaning 'splashing place'.

* The bluefin's deep red flesh is prized among sashimi (raw fish) eaters in Japan, where around 80 percent of the Mediterranean catch is exported. One 200 kg (440 lb) Pacific bluefin sold for a record $174,000 at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in 2001.

* Bluefin typically mature at about three years old, making any recovery of the stock particularly difficult.

* There are two distinct populations of bluefin: one in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, the other near the United States, though this is about a tenth of the size of the eastern group. Both are classified as overfished.

Some 12,000 breast cancer cases are documented each year in Morocco

Casablanca, Oct. 3 - Anti-breast cancer association Coeurs de femmes (Women's hearts) said about twelve thousand cases of breast cancer are detected in Morocco each year, and that the diseases kill 19% of its patients.

The association is launching the second one-month national campaign to raise the awareness of the women and the public opinion as to the importance of the early and regular screening of this illness in order to reduce its frequency, a statement of the association said.

Coeurs de femmes said it will create a special website to enable women to be best informed about the disease, which is the most common cancer and most common cause of cancer death among women.

In late June, Morocco opened the first breast cancer screening center using the mammography technology in Morocco and the Middle East. The center is expected to provide high-quality screening services (mammography) for approximately 1000 women in the Rabat region to extend in the future to the rest of the country.

According to figures released by the World Health Organization, over a million people suffer breast cancer in the world. The study also suggests that mammography screening may reduce breast cancer mortality by 25-30 per cent.