Friday, August 24, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #69

AFP Correspondent Attacked By Police While Covering Protest

On Wednesday a demonstration outside parliament in Rabat turned ugly when, according to news reports, the police over-stepped the mark while breaking up the demonstration and injured an AFP journalist.

The journalist, Omar Brousksy, was reporting on a protest by various groups and NGOs against the beiya ceremony - a traditional oath of loyalty to the king. This unfortunate incident not only angered organisations calling for greater press freedom, but had the potential to cause a diplomatic incident with the French government.

Brouksy told Reporters Without Borders, "It was 6:15 pm. I was covering the protest outside parliament when policemen asked me to leave. I showed them my press card but they shouted, 'Leave, leave!' And then they began to hit me everywhere, including the mouth. A colleague from Reuters shouted that I was an AFP journalist but it made no difference. They kept going. My nose is still bleeding."

Reporters Without Borders has strongly condemned the attack by police officers on Agence France-Presse correspondent and called on the Moroccan authorities to investigate the attack on Brouksy and punish those responsible.

"The press is the mirror of a society and if we break it, the effect will be to distort the face of power...One police officer of the National Brigade of Judicial Police told one of our reporters: "Listen, the country can live without press, but it can not operate without any security" But what security? ...that is the question." 
Taoufiq Bouachrine, editoral in Akhbar Alyoum.

Newspapers reported that the attack has embarrassed the Benkirane government, which is concious of that in these troubled financial times the last thing they need is an increase in tension with France; Morocco's major political and economic partner.

Aware of the negative image the incident has caused, Minister of Communications Mustapha El Khalfi, was quick to react to the overzealous law enforcement. The minister contacted the management of the AFP to apologize on behalf of his government for the incident and announced a decision of the Minister of the Interior, Mohaned Laenser, to set up an investigation to probe the circumstances of the assault against the reporter.

Morocco's fourth heat wave in three months cripples crop production

Damage from extreme heat waves that raged during the months of July and August have seriously affected the next citrus and olive crop. Poultry farming and market gardening have also suffered losses to varying degrees.

A sunburnt landscape in the drought

This is the fourth heat wave experienced by the country in less than three months - the first was declared at the end of June. The recurring phenomenon attests to the increasing influence of climate change, notes leading business journal L'Economiste.

The most affected sector is poultry farming, followed to a lesser extent by fruit growing and market gardening. The poultry sector is facing substantial losses, with at least 10% of dead animals and has recorded losses estimated at 131 million dirhams, after the first wave of heat that raged from June 25-28. Since then, prices of broilers, turkeys and eggs have soared during Ramadan.

Soft fruit such as apricots, nectarines, grapes, melons, watermelons and tomatoes had to be sold off at half price or less because of heat induced early maturity and insufficient storage space. Citrus plants and olive trees have been badly damaged and citrus fruits are likely to be in short supply, L'Economiste reports.

The increase in forest fires accross the Mediterranean region is also a worrying trend. Morocco remains heavily dependent on its agriculture for income and employment and coping with increased adverse climactic variations will remain a serious challenge. It comes down to the availability of water and irrigation systems and adequate storage space for foodstuffs.

Morocco's economic growth slows

Morocco's growth slowed slightly in the second quarter of 2012, with GDP up 2.6%, down from 2.8% in the previous quarter, according to figures released on Thursday by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning (HCP).

Third quarter GDP growth is projected at 2.9%, HCP said.

A 9.8% drop in added value from the agricultural sector was behind the slowdown, according to La Vie Eco newspaper. That sector was down 8.3% in the first quarter. Hard wheat, soft wheat and barley dropped 39.3% over 2011, the paper said. Non-farming sectors performed well at +4.6% in the first quarter, +4.7% in the second quarter, and up a projected 4.8% in the third quarter.

Morocco plans for high speed broadband

Rachid Jankari, writing for Magharebia in Casablanca, reports that as part of a new technological trend, the Moroccan government has decided to adopt a ten-year national plan to develop ultra-fast broadband connections.

Azzeddine El Mountassir Billah
"Specifically, the ultra-fast broadband plan, which has been approved by the government, will give the entire population access to telecommunication services within ten years – that is, by 2022," said National Telecommunications Regulation Agency (ANRT) chief Azzeddine El Mountassir Billah.

The ANRT will implement the ambitious plan in two phases. The first phase will involve a number of aspects, including the rollout of 4G mobile technologies from 2014 onwards and opening up the Wi-Fi band to telecom operators with a view to providing access to outdoor high-speed networks.

In parallel, ANRT plans to launch pilot projects to give housing estates access to fibre-optic cabling and establish procedures for connecting new developments to telecom networks. This emphasis on boosting fibre-optic coverage stems from the fact that telecom networks currently cover just the main urban areas but not remote parts of the country.

The second phase of the 2022 ultra-fast broadband project will focus on two aspects. Firstly, telecom networks will be boosted so that they offer better service quality for the various data networks and good connectivity between networks in different built-up areas and backhaul networks. Secondly, it will explore a variety of technological solutions to speed up the process of expanding access to high-speed networks.

"The implementation of this nationwide plan will include legal and regulatory measures to encourage the sharing of infrastructures and pooling of investment," said Billah.

The regulatory body also plans to update the legal framework, including Law no. 24-96 on postal services and telecoms, as well as decrees concerning the use of networks and anti-trust litigation.

At present, virtually the entire population of Morocco is covered by 2G mobile networks with more than 37.4 million active mobile lines and a penetration rate of 115%. Mobile broadband (3G) services are also available in big cities. There are now more than 3.7 million internet users in Morocco, 83% of whom use 3G internet services and 17% of whom use high-speed internet.

Essaouira. Food poisoning strikes nine hotel employees

Nine employees of a hotel in Essaouira were struck down by food poisoning on Wednesday night. According to a medical source, the victims has all just eaten a meal at the hotel. After suddenly becoming ill, the victims, which include four Senegalese, were transferred to the provincial hospital of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah in Essaouira, to receive the necessary care. Their health status is considered stable,


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