See also Sudan Feature: Explaining Last Month's Coup Attempt...And What's Next br>
Libya Feature: Optimism Gives Way to Jitters in Benghazi br>
Syria Live Coverage: Russia Gives Up on Assad br>
Thursday's Israel, Palestine (and Beyond) Live Coverage: UN Criticises West Jerusalem's Settlement Expansion
1439 GMT: Yemen. Thousands of marchers rally on Thursday to support the Government's restructuring of armed forces, which included the abolition of the Republican Guards, commanded by the son of former President Saleh:
The rally after Friday noon prayers was initially peaceful, but reports indicate opposition protesters picked a fight with Islamist demonstrators.
Central Security Forces fired tear gas into the crowd, forcing people onto the Corniche near the mosque.
The Ministry of Health said 32 people were injured.
According to local officials, two militiamen, a national guard soldier and a police officer were killed.
Recent militia activities, including a number of attacks against security officials, are seen by some observers as “a sharp escalation in a continuing battle between armed Islamist militants in the city and government forces who have been struggling to assert their authority.”
1135 GMT: Kuwait. Claiming failure to meet “administrative conditions", the Ministry of Information has withdrawn the licence of the private satellite television station Al-Youm, which the Kuwait Times notes is “almost the lone station that backs the opposition"/
Opposition figures and former MPs have criticised the move as an effort to silence dissenting views and, according to opposition leader and former speaker Ahmad Al-Saadoun, to punish Al-Youm’s success in uncovering evidence of corruption.
1122 GMT: Israel-Palestine.The Jerusalem Post reports that “quietly and very much behind the scenes”, talks are underway between Israel and Egypt that “could lead to the further easing of restrictions on the Gaza Strip and prevent a swift rearming of Hamas".
On Wednesday former Mossad director Efraim Halevy said “that he believed Israel was beginning to forge an official policy in Gaza that would become clear after the January 22 election".
The Post cites an unnamed Israeli government official who suggested that “if by moving forward on civilian issues in Gaza, we are able to strengthen the cease-fire there [following the eight-day war in November] and engage the Egyptians in a positive way, then that of course would be advantageous".
1100 GMT: Bahrain. An extract from the US Department of Labor's report, while noting "significant efforts to ensure reinstatement of dismissed workers", criticising the Government over discrimination and repression of labour activists and protesters:
Bahrain appears to have acted inconsistently with its commitments by failing (1) to strive to ensure that freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively
are recognized and protected by its law; (2) to strive to ensure that its labor laws provide for standards consistent with the rights of association and to organize and bargain
collectively; and (3) to strive to improve such standards.
Specifically, the Government of Bahrain has not remedied shortcomings in its legal framework governing freedom of association...[has] actively applied or did not prevent or discourage employers from invoking these provisions to retaliate against organizers, supporters, or participants in the March 2011 general strike; and [has] enacted labor law amendments that weaken protection of freedom of association.
0945 GMT: Bahrain. Normally the visits of foreign politicians are occasions for bland press releases by the Bahrain News Agency praising the regime. For example, the Agency posted yesterday about a meeting between the Minister of Interior and members of the European Parliament:
The Minister briefed the delegation on human rights reforms that have been implemented within the Interior Ministry, as part of the overarching reforms of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, stressing that a professional and transparent approach must be adopted when dealing with the issues facing Bahrain today.
This time, however, the regime narrative faced a challenge --- the MEPs took to Twitter to offer other observations about the Kingdom. Richard Howitt of Britain wrote of a visit to political prisoners, including leading human activists Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who serving a life sentence:
In Jau Prison Abdulhadi al-Khawaja tells me "I will be free same day when #Bahrain political situation resolved. Until then we are hostages"— Richard Howitt MEP (@richardhowitt) December 20, 2012
#Bahrain political prisoners describe torture including electrocution,beating, "statue," sexual humiliation.Prison Governor denies any cases— Richard Howitt MEP (@richardhowitt) December 20, 2012
Howitt also wrote of the detention of juveniles and quoted an "Ambassador of a very major country" whos said "reforms halted, Govt hates our visit, pledges on human rights superficial".
MEP Ana Gomes of Portugal, in a series of Tweets calling for meaningful dialogue, referred to her discussion with Rajab and opposition figure Ebrahim Sharif, serving a five-year sentence:
#Bahrain-upon meeting Al Khawaja&Ibrahim Sherif, I must ask King&Crown Prince:how can Bahrain keep locked men so crucial for peace solution?— Ana Gomes, MEP (@AnaGomesMEP) December 21, 2012
And the head of the delegation, Inese Vaidere of Latvia --- far from letting the Minister of Interior's declaration of "overarching reforms" stand --- urged the regime to release all "prisoners of conscience" as a crucial step toward negotiations.
Issawi, a leader of the largely-Sunni Iraqqiya political bloc, was home at the time and was left with two staff.
An official said, "They did not show us any warrant of arrest, and they did not give us any
chance to talk to them. The arresting forces were very aggressive."
Issawi is the most prominent Sunni politician in the Shiite-dominated Government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Leaders of Iraqqiya leadership were meeting at the home of Speaker of Parliament Usama Nujaifi late Thursday night to discuss their response, while a leading cleric, Imam Rafa al-Ani called on television for
peaceful protests today.
A US Embassy spokesman warned:
Any actions from any party that subverts the rule of law or provokes ethnic or sectarian tension risks undermining… the important work Iraq and the United States are doing together.
As facts are gathered, administration officials will remain engaged to ensure Iraq's political leaders understand our position and the implications of their actions.