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Saturday
Dec082012

Egypt, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Protesters Maintain the Pressure on Morsi

Protesters in front of Egypt's Presidential Palace on Friday night

See also EA Caption Competition: Turkey PM Erdogan's Lovely Home-Made Cake
Middle East Feature: Gulf Regimes Crack Down on Dissent in Social Media
Friday's Syria Live Coverage: Is This the End for Assad?
Friday's Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Morsi Defies Protesters and Warns "Infiltrators"


1855 GMT: Bahrain. Leading human rights activist Zainab Alkhawaja tweets about a recent incident involving her and Said Yousif Almuhafda, Head of Monitoring for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). They were in Sitra, seeking to enter Mhazza which the BCHR claims has been in an "undeclared siege" since November 7th.

An hour before, the two human rights activists had gone to Salmaniya hospital to visit Aqeel AbdulMohsen. Aqeel was severely injured in Bani Jamra on Wednesday night after security forces shot him in the face:

1835 GMT: Syria. Zeina Khodr of Al Jazeera English reports on anger and disillusionment in Aleppo, with insurgents as well as the regime, after five months of fighting and shortages of food:

1805 GMT: Syria. An interesting paragraph from a New York Times article previewing Wednesday's Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco --- the political complement to the military discussions noted in the previous entry:

The United States in particular has emphasized that the coalition must show strong links to the interior forces, both the rebels and civilian society. Rebel commanders said that three representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency — one from headquarters, one from Turkey and another from Jordan — attended their [military] discussions [in Turkey] but did not comment.

1755 GMT: Syria. Insurgents have chosen Brigadier Selim Idris, a former officer in the Syrian Army, to head their military command.

Idris, from Homs Province, was elected by 30 military and civilian members of the command after talks in the Turkish city of Antalia.

Abdelbasset Tawil from Idlib Province and Abdelqader Saleh from Aleppo Province were named as Idris's deputies.

There has been some friction over the meeting, notably over the absence of commanders such as Colonel Riad al-Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army, Brigadier Mustafa al-Sheikh, and General Hussein Haj Ali, the highest-ranking officer to defect from the Syrian military.

Western media have framed the new command as "Islamist-led", claiming that the deputy heads and 2/3 of the military command are from Islamist groups.

Security officials from the US, Britain, France, the Gulf States and Jordan attended the talks.

1725 GMT: Syria. The Foreign Ministry, in separate letters to the United Nations Security Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has warned, "Terrorist groups may resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people....after having gained control of a toxic chlorine factory", east of Aleppo city.

The statement may refer to the Syrian-Saudi Chemicals Company factory near the town of Safirah, taken over earlier this week by rebel fighters from the Al-Nusra Front. The factory produces sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride.

However, the Ministry may be anticipating a bigger development. As EA's James Miller noted on Wednesday, there is also a major military base --- suspected of holding stocks for chemical weapons --- only two kilometres from Safirah.

1605 GMT: Palestine. Speaking to a crowd of more than 100,000 --- Hamas said 500,000 --- the organisation's political director Khaled Meshaal, declared:

Palestine is our land and nation from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, from north to south, and we cannot cede an inch or any part of it.

We fight Zionists, not Jews. We fight whoever occupied our land, regardless of religion ... Statehood will be the fruit of resistance, not negotiations.

In his first visit ever to Gaza, Meshaal said Hamas looked towards the Palestinian Liberation Organisation --- to which it does not yet belong --- as a symbol of Palestinian unity and a "reference" for all Palestinian people.

1545 GMT: Yemen. The Chief of Staff for the Central Military Region has been killed in an ambush by insurgents.

Meanwhile, Yemeni forces launched an offensive in the area after an attack on the principal oil pipeline on Friday. Two officers were killed and four soldiers injured in clashes with tribesmen, according to another security official.

1415 GMT: Saudi Arabia. The Deputy Foreign Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, has said Gulf States must quash any Arab Spring-inspired unrest or risk threats to their leadership.

Speaking at an international security conference in Bahrain, Prince Abdulaziz said the regimes "cannot tolerate instability".

1215 GMT: Palestine. A photograph of the rally in Gaza celebrating the 25th anniversary of Hamas (see 1125 GMT):

1155 GMT: Egypt. State-owned Al-Ahram says that President Morsi will soon issue a decree authorising the armed forces to arrest civilians: "The Armed Forces are to coordinate the preservation of security and protection of vital premises with the police."

According to Al-Ahram, the decree was approved by Egypt's Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, in their last meeting. It remains in effect until a Constitution is approved and arrangements for Parliamentary elections are completed.

Minister of Information Salah Abdel-Maqsoud has said he holds documents and other evidence from "tens of thugs", detained during protests in front of the Presidential Palace:

The evidence I hold confirms that Egypt is being subject to a vicious conspiracy by some political forces, the extent of which has reached the incitement of protesters to raid the presidential palace and wreak havoc in order to sabotage all measures the president has taken towards achieving stability....

The [opposition's] excuse of opposing the Constitution is only a cover-up to their target of overthrowing the President.

1125 GMT: Palestine. Tens of thousands of people are rallying in Gaza to mark the 25th anniversary of Hamas.

Hamas political director Khaled Meshaal, who stepped foot in Gaza for the first time in his life yesterday, will address the crowd.

Two large empty chairs have been placed on the main stage to commemorate Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, assassinated by Israel in 2004, and Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari, assassinated by Israel on 14 November. Between the chairs was a model of an M75 rocket, the longer-range weapon which was fired at Israeli cities after Israel launched its attack on Gaza with airstrikes that included the killing of al-Jabari.

1025 GMT: Egypt. An image from the Presidential Palace, just before Republican Guards let anti-Morsi protesters through the barbed wire:

1015 GMT: Bahrain. The BBC's Frank Gardner reports the assurances of British Foreign Secretary William Hague that London is pressing for change in the Kingdom:

0805 GMT: Bahrain. Crown Prince Salman, addressing an international security conference in Manama, has said, "Dialogue is the only way forward" while demanding that "opposition leaders must condemn violence on the streets. Silence is not an option."

Salman spoke after thousands of people gathered for an opposition rally, led by the political society Al Wefaq, and demanded that the Prime Minister quit. "Get out, Khalifa!" they chanted, referring to the uncle of King Hamad.

Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of Al Wefaq, said, "We don't want an appointed government, we want a prime minister who serves the people." He asked the crowd not to chant slogans calling for the downfall of the regime.

Video of the Crown Prince's speech:

0755 GMT: UAE. A human rights group says authorities in the United Arab Emirates have detained an 18-year-old blogger amid a widening crackdown on dissent.

The London-based Emirates Center for Human Rights said Mohamed Salem al-Zumer was detained Wednesday at his home in Sharjah, the emirate north of Dubai, after he posted comments on the Internet supporting prominent jailed activists.

0635 GMT: Syria. Friday opened ominously with the discovery of 50 bodies in Deir Ez Zor Province in the northeast and reports of regime shelling and reinforcements for attacks on Damascus suburbs, but violence was relatively muted through the day.

The Local Coordination Committees reported that "only" 130 people were killed or confirmed dead, including the 50 in Deir Ez Zor. More than 40 people were slain in Damascus and its suburbs.

While peaceful protests against the Assad regime took place throughout the country, insurgents appeared to be gathering forces for attacks to extend recent gains of territory and bases. There were reports of clashes near a regime base in Lattakia Province, the Free Syrian Army maintained its siege of military buildings near Aleppo, and the FSA and other forces like the al-Nusra Front appeared to be preparing for an assault near Deir Ez Zor. Reports also continued that the FSA was moving on the town of Harm in northern Idlib Province.

0615 GMT: Egypt. Tens of thousands of protesters across Egypt offered a loud response on Friday to President Morsi's insistence, expressed in a Thursday night speech, on his temporary expansion of powers and on a referendum on a draft Constitution.

Despite --- or because of --- being labelled as foreign-backed "infiltrators" by the President and warned by the Muslim Brotherhood against gathering, the demonstrators not only returned to the Presidential Palace, they forced Republican Guards to let them through barbed wire and barricades. By nightfall, they were flying banner and chanting for Morsi's departure.

Protests took place in many other Egyptian cities, with reports of clashes in some as anti-Morsi demonstrators tried to ransack Muslim Brotherhood buildings and the Governate headquarters in Alexandria. A crowd threw stone at the President's house in his hometown of Zagazig.

In the face of the pressure, the Government appeared to give a bit of ground. The Minister of Justtice indicated that the Constitutional referendum on 15 December might be postponed if opposition leaders accepted Morsi's offer of a discussion, and the advance ballot for expatriates was delayed from today to Wednesday.

However, the opposition also faced its own decisions. The main groups in the new National Salvation Front turned down the President's call for dialogue, but last night the Front's leader, Mohamed El Baradei, seemed to recognise the difficult position --- could he continue to resist Morsi's appeal if clashes escalated?Maintaining the call for the withdrawal of the Presidential decrees and the referendum, he asked for all to refrain from violence and said he was betting on Morsi's "patriotism".

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