Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Moroccan News Briefs #97

Gibraltar donates ambulances to Moroccan towns

This week Gibraltar's Minister for Health and Environment, John Cortes, presented the donation of two ambulances to the Moroccan Municipality of Oued Laou and nearby city of Tetouan. The donation was the result of a request for assistance by the head the village council, Mayor Mohamed Melahi.

The ambulances were handed over to the village representatives in Gibraltar, Abel Suisi, and Mohamed Bentaleb, who are the men in charge of driving the ambulances to its destination.

Oued Laau is a Moroccan village situated on the Mediterranean coast approximately 45km from the city of Tetouan. The vital need for ambulances in the village was highlighted by the death of a young woman who had waited almost four hours before an ambulance from Tetouan was able to reach her. The ambulance is the second of three ambulances that have now been decommissioned by the Gibraltar Health Authority as part of its on-going plan to replace its present ambulance fleet. The Gibraltar Health Authority is expecting delivery of five new ambulances towards the end of summer.

“I have fond memories if Oued Laou, from when I was carrying out ecological surveys in the area several years ago, so I am doubly pleased that we have been able to assist the people of that community, not very far south of Gibraltar, by providing them with a much needed ambulance. This serves to confirm and cement our growing links with our southern neighbours at all levels,” commented Dr John Cortes.

Moroccan hashish goes up in smoke

Moroccan customs authorities on Thursday incinerated 9.5 tonnes of cannabis resin in a suburb of Casablanca, official media reported, days after record hashish hauls in neighboring Spain.

The drugs, which were seized in two separate operations last year by customs authorities at Casablanca port, were burned in the presence of government officials, police and members of the royal gendarmerie, the MAP news agency reported.

The first bust was made in June during the inspection of a truck bound for Belgium and found more than 5.7 tonnes of cannabis resin, or "chira" as it is known locally, divided into 10 kilo packages and hidden in hundreds of boxes.

The second operation a month later intercepted 3.78 tons of chira hidden in a truck carrying tiles from Fez to the Belgian port city of Antwerp.

Late last month, Spanish police found 32 tonnes of the drug in a truck carrying melons from Morocco. Then on Monday, the same police force announced that they had seized 52 tonnes of hashish in an industrial warehouse in the southern Spanish city of Cordoba, setting a European record.

Morocco is one of the world's largest producers of hashish, and the main exporter to Europe.

Royal Air Maroc could tie up with Gulf airline

Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan-government owned airline, could tie up with a major carrier in the Gulf ahead of a later privatisation, according to the country’s tourism minister, Haddah Lahcen.

The airline, which was bailed out by authorities to the tune of $193m, has faced increased competition from other operators in Morocco following the introduction of Morocco’s open-skies policy in 2007. The government also handed Air Maroc $900m with which to upgrade itself by 2016.

Asked if the government could align with a Gulf-based carrier such as Dubai’s Emirates Airline or Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, Haddah Lahcen responded: “We wouldn’t rule that out. Those are very respectable, very big, well-managed companies with a very good business model. There will be privatisation, but I think there will probably be some kind of strategic alliance with a good carrier,” Lahcen told Arabian Business in an interview in Dubai. “There will be complementary routes for Air Maroc, which has a very strong presence in West Africa and Western Europe.”

Another accident on the Casablanca tramway

The people of Casablanca are still getting used to their fabulous new tramway. Unfortunately not everyone is aware of the dangers. Yesterday a small car collided with a tram around 11:30 am on the Avenue of the Royal Armed Forces. The accident occurred when the car tried to cross the tracks before an oncoming tram.

The motorist was evacuated, still conscious, to a hospital emergency room for medical care. The Minister of Transport, Azziz Rebbah, had already pointed to the bad driving style in Casablanca back in 2011. In March, a serious collision between a tram and a truck occurred injuring two people and causing extensive damage.

Explosion at Cement Morocco's Safi Factory

A dozen people were injured to varying degrees, following an explosion Monday morning in the factory "Cement of Morocco" in Safi. According to medical sources at Mohammed V Regional Hospital, where 10 injured were transferred, eight workers suffered first degree burns, while two others are victims of third degree burns. The two seriously injured workers will be transferred to the Ibn Rushd hospital in Casablanca. The explosion was due to an unscheduled outage in a rotary kiln cement, officials said. The plant is located 35 kilometers north of the city of Safi, in the rural town of Ha'ir

Smuggling Babies from Morocco to Spain

There is a new twist in Spain's so-called “stolen babies” scandal which erupted at the end of 2010. Police said this week that they had uncovered a racket in which babies born to needy mothers in Morocco and the Spanish occupied enclave of Melilla were sold to wealthy families in Spain during the 1970s and 1980s.

Police have identified 28 cases where newborns were taken from their mothers and sold to childless families in mainland Spain for between 1,200 and 6,000 euros ($1,600 and $8,000). The ring charged a higher price for newborn girls because there was a greater demand for daughters.

In the Spanish held territory of Melilla the ring either paid the mothers for their newborns or convinced them to give them up with the promise that the child would have a better life in Spain.

“In Morocco the ring had contacts with healthcare workers and hospital employees in Oujda and Nador who facilitated the delivery and transportation of the newborns to Melilla,” a police statement said, referring to places in Morocco near the border of the territory.

Members of the ring would hand over the babies to the families in Melilla along with false documents which certified them as being the biological parents of the newborns. Police identified 31 people who they suspect were involved in the baby trafficking, including three healthcare workers and two nuns. Twelve suspects have died and the rest were not detained for the time being because they are either very old or in poor health.

The suspects are accused of various crimes including forging documents, illegal detention and making a false birth declaration, police said.

The alleged victims say a secret network of doctors and nuns stole newborn babies and sold them for adoption, starting under the 1939-75 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco and continuing up to the 1980s. Some 1,500 court cases have been filed with prosecutors by people hoping to track down their lost relatives but judges have shelved many cases on the grounds that the deeds were committed too long ago.

Police opened their investigation into the Morocco and Melilla ring in November 2011 following a complaint from ANADIR, an association formed to represent victims of the scandal.

Reviving ancient Moroccan granaries project nominated for Agha Khan Award for Architecture

Salima Naji has been recognized by the Aga Khan Development Network for her efforts to revive a series of earth buildings in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. Working with the Ministry of Interior, Naji hired and trained local unskilled workers to restore a network of fortified citadels and granaries in southern Morocco that are both historically and spiritually important to the local population. She then added a few extra touches so that these once abandoned sites function once again as thriving civic centers that celebrate Berber culture.

The Berbers were once renowned for their architecture. Having thrived in harsh desert conditions, they knew all about water management, passive solar design, and insulated earth construction. But modern interventions and globalization have rendered their culture somewhat obsolete and Salima Naji sought to reverse that unfortunate trend.

Not only did she restore two important sites at Agadir of Amtoudi, but she also oversaw the rehabilitation of Qsar Assa and rescued sections of Agadir Ouzrou.

The beautiful stone and earth buildings won’t necessarily resume their former function as warehouses for grain. Instead, they have been revived to honor their former cultural and spiritual significance, and to provide a space for Berbers to reawaken their rich and colorful heritage.

Village squares, public walkways and outdoor theaters have been added to the sites where poetry contents, feasts, and song and dance festivals are held, creating a whole new sense of pride.

Naji is one of 20 nominees for the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture – a prestigious prize awarded every three years that comes with some serious financial rewards.

While other North African and Middle Eastern countries have watched important historical sites destroyed in the turbulent aftermath of the Arab Spring, Morocco has undertaken a host of preservation projects – including the restoration of synagogues throughout the nation mandated by the King.

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established by the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence. The Award recognizes examples of architectural excellence in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, historic preservation, reuse and area conservation, as well as landscape design and improvement of the environment.

First published in Green Prophet

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