News

Rif’s week-long protest / Biafrans mark 50th anniversary of independence declaration with shutdown

26 May to 1 June

Nigerian newspapers report Biafran strike.
Nigerian newspapers report Biafran strike. Author: Emeka Gift @ Twitter
WEEKLY ROUNDUP. This week’s events are bound by one same concept, “strike/shutdown”. General strike in Rif’s Al Hoceima, a city that protests the arrest of popular movement leader Nasser Zefzafi. Shutdown in Biafra to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of independence. Hunger strike —in this case, ended after an agreement— at Israeli prisons by Palestinian prisoners. Even in Algeria, a hunger strike-related issue, too, that has to do with Amazigh activist Kamel Eddine Fekhar Algeria, whose detention has just been denounced by leading international NGOs.

NEWS HIGHLIGHT

Shutdown marks 50th anniversary of Biafran independence declaration. The call to protest had been issued by two main Biafran pro-independence groups IPOB and MASSOB. With notable police presence on the streets, thousands of Biafrans stayed at home or closed down their shopson May 30, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the secession of that Igbo-majority territory in southwestern Nigeria. Nigerian newspaper Vanguard writes the strike was “total” —including schools and banks— in all five Igbo-majority states. In 1967, Biafra and Nigeria started a war that lasted two and a half years. It left more than one million dead and triggered a massive famine among Biafrans, thus creating a huge international impact. The Biafran armed forces were defeated, and the country was forcibly reintegrated into Nigeria. In recent years, Biafran cities have witnessed increased independence demonstrations. One of the leaders of the movement, Nnamdi Kanu, who was recently released from prison, says Nigeria “is not functioning and can never function”, denounced the discrimination that, in his view, Igbos suffer under the Nigerian state, and reiterates demands for self-determination.

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Week-long protest in Rif after 40 activists are arrested. Violent clashes erupted, 26 May, between the police and demonstrators after it came to be known that Morocco’s royal prosecutor had issued an arrest warrant against Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of a protest against Rif’s political and social marginalization by Moroccan authorities. The city of Al Hoceima has for months been at the centre of the protests. Zefzafi was finally arrested 29 May, a move that further ignited outrage and protest in Rif. Among those arrested, 25 continue to be under detention. Since one week, demonstrations are taking place each night in the city, with protesters waving Amazigh flags and Zefzafi portraits. Another leader of the movement, Nabil Ahmajik, launched through social networks a call for a three day long general strike. The call was also issued by another movement leader, Nawal Benaissa, she herself an example of a growing prominence by some women in the Riffian mobilizations. Having joined the protest, almost all shops in Al Hoceima downtown were shut down 1 June. Beyond this, criticism against Zefzafi is being voiced, not only from the Moroccan government, but also from news outlets such as Telquel magazine, on the grounds that some of his speeches court populist and islamist ideas. Some voices among the protest movement believe those allegations are simply an attempt to discredit both Zefzafi and the whole mobilization.

Palestinian prisoners end hunger strike. After 40 days of protest, prisoners have left it after a deal was struck with Israel. The agreement will allow prisoners to receive a second monthly visit by relatives and other improvements in their conditions. According to the protesters’ movement, the hunger strike has ended with “victory” for them. The Israeli side nevertheless downplays the scope of the concessions, and argues most of the prisoners’ demands have not been met. According to Ynet, the costs of the second monthly visit will be paid for by the Palestinian Authorities, and strikers have been assured that additional sentences given to as a result of the protest will be cancelled. Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has warned the strike could start again if Israeli prison authorities do not honour their commitments.

Algeria under criticism over treatment of Amazigh detainees. In a shared statement, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, EuroMed Rights and Front Line Defenders have called on Algerian authorities to drop all political charges against Kamel Eddine Fekhar —who sustained a hunger strike until some weeks ago— and another 40 activists, most of them members of the Mzab autonomy movement. Those people have remained in preventive detention for almost two years now. Some of the charges against them have a clear political tone, such as “attack against national unity”. Other charges are related to “terrorism” and “incitement to ethnic hatred”, following a set of clashes that occurred in Mzab between Amazighs and Arabs in 2015. The World Amazigh Congress too argues the prosecution is “political”. The same day the rights groups issued the statement, an Algerian court passed a judgement by which Fekhar was condemned to a two year long sentence. As he has already been 23 months in prison, he is expected to be released 9 July.

New Macedonian government brings together social democrats, Albanian parties. After 6 months of blockade after the 2016 legislative election, the Macedonian Parliament has voted to support a coalition government made up of the Macedonian social democrats and two Albanian parties (BDI and Alliance for Albanians). The new Prime Minister, social democrat politician Zoran Zaev, says he will seek to bring Macedonia closer to the EU and NATO. Zaeva has furthermore vowed to fight corruption and authoritarianism, a set of problems that have become very much evident over the mandate of former PM, conservative Nikola Gruevski. The coalition agreement includes a commitment to grant further linguistic rights to Albanian speakers, who make up some 25% of Macedonia’s population. This fact triggered a bitter controversy in the Balkan country.

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