Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Moroccan News Briefs #95

Gabonese President in Morocco

President of the Gabonese Republic, Haj Ali Bongo Ondimba and his wife Sylvia Bongo, arrived in Fez on Monday ahead of a visit the opening of the 6th edition of the foundations of Agriculture exhibition in Meknes. His Majesty King Mohammed VI presided over the opening ceremony on Tuesday.

HM The King and the President 

During the ceremony, the Minister of Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries, Aziz Akhannouch, gave a speech  in which he presented the results of the plan "Green Morocco" and laid out the future development paths for Moroccan agriculture. The minister pointed out that the agricultural gross domestic product recorded during the period 2008-2012 showed an increase of nearly 32% compared to the period 2005-2007.

While the president of Gabon is visiting the agricultural show in Meknes, Princess Lalla Salma and the First Lady of Gabon visited the Oncology Hospital CHU Hassan II in Fez. HRH Princess Lalla Salma, Chairwoman of the Lalla Salma-Prevention Foundation for cancer treatment, accompanied  Sylvia Bongo.

The hospital serves a population of over three million inhabitants of the Fès-Boulemane region and other regions of the North and East of the Kingdom. With a medical oncology, a nuclear medicine department and one radiotherapy department, the hospital has a medical staff of 15 specialist doctors, 45 nurses and five physiotherapists. It focuses on the medical care of cancer patients using chemotherapy, hormonal therapies, immunotherapies and palliative care.

Morocco Cancels "War Games"

Morocco has cancelled its annual military exercises with the United States after the Obama administration supported adding human rights monitoring to the U.N. mission to the disputed Western Sahara territory, U.S. officials said.

African Lion exercise in 2012

The 13th annual "African Lion" exercise — involving 1,400 U.S. servicemen and 900 Moroccan troops — had been set to start Wednesday with many personnel already in place and international observers invited.

The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because there has not yet been a formal announcement of the cancellation. Morocco's government spokesman declined to comment.

Mustapha Khalfi, the spokesman who doubles as the minister of communication, did summon journalists on Tuesday to express his government's anger over initiatives to broaden the U.N. mission's mandate to include human rights monitoring.

"It is an attack on the national sovereignty of Morocco and will have negative consequences on the stability of the whole region," he warned. "We count on the wisdom of the members of the Security Council to avoid such initiatives."

"Morocco rejects any proposals to expand the mandate of the MINUS or establish an alternative international mechanism for monitoring human rights in the southern provinces," Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Dine El Otmani said on yesterday.

The manoeuvres have been a part of an annual joint exercise carried out since the 1990s.

NOTE: Also see the opinion piece at the end of this post for more background

Weather warning

The unusual amount of wind in Fez over the last few days may well be advanced warning of some bad weather. Violent rainstorms have been predicted for Morocco's western Mediterranean region. According to the weather channel heavy rains and thunderstorms are possible until Friday. The North East of Morocco will be most threatened along with northern Algeria and a large part of the Spanish coast areas.It is predicted that if the rains arrive they could be as heavy as 150 mm of rain in a few hours. A short lull is expected on Friday. Europe will be affected in turn by these disturbances with dropping temperatures.

The Moroccan economy grew by 4.8% in the first quarter of 2013

Morocco has recorded economic growth of 4.8% for the first quarter of 2013 against 2.7% in the first quarter of 2012, according to a statement of the Planning High Commissioner to Plan. This result highlights an agricultural activity enhanced by abundant rainfall, well distributed during the winter and spring period and noted a slight improvement in industrial activity. However, household consumption would have posted a smaller increase over the same period, estimated at 2.8% against 4.8% last year, due to a rise in consumer prices.

More migrant deaths

Eleven migrants trying to reach Europe died after their boat capsized off the north coast of Morocco, medical sources and a human rights group said on Wednesday.

Of the 34 people travelling in the boat, reached up by the Moroccan navy at midday on Tuesday, two children, three women and six men died, and another 12 were hospitalised, a doctor in the coastal town of Hoceima reported. All but one of the victims drowned, the other dying while being transported to Hoceima hospital, according to Faisal Oussard, local representative for the Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

They were all sub-Saharan migrants but their nationalities were not known.

Oussard said the boat capsized nine kilometres (six miles) off Hoceima, having set off from Nador, 130 kilometres to the east, either headed for the north African Spanish enclave of Melilla, or mainland Spain. The sea was calm when the accident took place, but the boat, a rigid inflatable, or RIB, was far too small for the number of people it was carrying, he added.

The condition of those those hospitalised in Hoceima and the fate of the 11 people who escaped without injury were not known.

The Moroccan authorities frequently expel sub-Saharan migrants across the Algerian border, which is their main point of entry.

The tiny Spanish occupied enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, perched on the coast of north Africa and both claimed by Morocco, are key launching pads for clandestine migration to Europe.

Melilla received 2,224 illegal immigrants last year, 262 more than in 2011, according to Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz. He blamed instability in Africa's Sahel region, and especially in Mali, for the rise in illegal immigrants trying to enter the territory.

Local associations estimate that Morocco was hosting between 20,000 and 25,000 migrants from sub-Saharan countries in 2012 hoping for access to Europe through Spain.

Solar boat in Morocco 

After last year's visit of the solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, now it is the turn of the Swiss boat "Tûranor Planet Solar" (Power of the Sun) to anchor Morocco. The largest solar boat in the world visited the Marina Bouregreg. The crew chose Rabat as a starting point for its second transatlantic crossing which will begin in May. At a press conference on April 18 at the Marina, Didier Rabo communication director at the University of Geneva, partner of the event, said that the expedition will collect measurements along the Gulf Stream, as ocean current that is of paramount importance in regulating the climate in the northern hemisphere.

MS Tûranor Planet Solar is the largest solar-powered boat in the world. The vessel was designed by LOMOcean Design, built by Knierim Yachtbau in Kiel, Germany and launched on 31 March 2010. In May 2012 it became the first ever solar electric vehicle to circumnavigate the globe.

Opinion -
W Lebed writes on the US Morocco News Board about the background to the US - Morocco war games fiasco
US-Morocco: The Blunder & The 200 Year Relationship

There are days when reality parodies better what the likes of Mark Burnett in Expedition Impossible can come up with. Take 1,400 U.S. military personnel, ship tons of heavy military equipment to Agadir and Marrakech, add more than 900 Moroccan RAF staff to the mix and invite 14 partner nations from NATO, but then as they are about to kick-start their pre-planned annual war games, blow the whistle and call the whole thing off because a clumsy US bureaucrat at the United Nations decided to put the kibosh, albeit briefly, on the longest peace and friendship treaty that the US have with a foreign power.

You could not make it up, really. That's what actually happened this week when Susan Rice hatched a plot supposedly on her own or more likely with the wink and nudge of some malevolent hand to undermine Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

The result is a hand grenade in the Moroccan royal palace that no one really anticipated even in the most far-fetched of Hollywood scenarios. That definitely got everybody's hackles up in Morocco from your average Omar and Nadia to the most seasoned diplomats. What's more upsetting is to see senior US security and military officials have eggs on their face in Agadir and Marrakech. And, believe me, it was not a pretty picture either. They were all left dashing left, right and centre wondering what on earth has possessed their Moroccan counterpart. Sunstroke. Definitely not.

The answer is to be found hidden in Susan Rice's drawer. Her draft document was a pernicious and malicious idea meant to remove bit by bit Morocco's authority over Western Sahara to satisfy the greed and voracity of the anti-Moroccan lobby, which operates in Washington and New York on behalf of the cack-handed but brutal military junta of Algeria.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman of Casablanca may possibly have applauded the ingenuity and creativity of these graceless co-conspirators. However, this gauche idea would definitely not have pleased a former US diplomat who runs the show at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca. Just imagine the pretty place packed with Russian spies, Iranian agents, North Korean loonies and Chinese businessmen plotting together to take over lock, stock and barrel the running of the show in this sensitive and strategic part of the world.

Western powers would rue the day a certain Susan Rice had been promoted above her station under Obama's administration. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Susan Rice walks into the minefields of North Africa and the Middle East. Unprepared, unready, unaware and more significantly unsuspecting of the trap that the moustached and evil-minded generals of Algiers were laying for her.

Luckily, the wise men and women of the Obama administration in Washington who know the ins and outs of this tricky part of the world came alive in time and swept clean Rice's mess far away from the U.N. headquarters. Now is the time for the US military personnel to enjoy the golden beaches of Agadir where they can have some rest and relaxation, play football with the local kids and enjoy Moroccan hospitality despite the blues that befell them once they were told that what their commander in chief sent them to do was postponed to a later date.

The sages at the Pentagon know very well that Morocco is the only safe place in the whole Muslim world where their soldiers can walk, talk and interact with the local population without fear of being stabbed or murdered by some crazed person sent by a mad mullah, and more interestingly without staying inside some green zones or high fortification.

What's more, the wise heads of the Central Intelligence Agency are also well aware that Morocco is the only safe place in North Africa and the Middle East where their future intelligence officers can be sent to live with a local Muslim family to learn the language and culture of this troubled parts of the world.

Many a Peace Corps volunteers who spent time in Morocco working in projects for technological, agricultural and educational improvement are now in office across the MENA region serving their homeland with professional aplomb.

Let's hope for the sake of more than 200 years of US-Morocco peace and friendship a mediocre person is not allowed once again to blemish this pristine record. Amen!

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