Spain's conservative-led parliament, the Cortes, passed an anti-protest bill on Dec. 11 despite harsh criticism from opposition politicians and activist groups, who say it violates the right to demonstrate, limits freedom of expression, and gives undue power to police. The measure, dubbed the "Ley Mordaza" (Gag Law), limits demonstrations to officially permiited gatherings and imposes heavy fines on unauthorized protesters. It also bans taking photos of police during protest demonstrations. Spain has seen a rising tide of mostly peaceful street protests and strikes against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's austerity program, which includes harsh cuts to public health and education.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to US legislators to help Israel stave off a feared global push to bring Israeli military and political leaders to trial on war crimes charges in the wake of the Gaza offensive, the New York Post reported Aug. 6. Congress members visiting Israel as guests of AIPAC, were urged by Bibi to go to bat for Israeli officials seekng to avoid ending up in the dock at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The delegation included Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who said: "The prime minister asked us to work together to ensure that this strategy of going to the ICC does not succeed." Netanyahu "wants the US to use all the tools that we have at our disposal to, number one, make sure the world knows that war crimes were not committed by Israel, they were committed by Hamas. And that Israel should not be held to a double standard." (JP)
The Abravanel synagogue in central Paris is under police guard after more than 100 youths tried to storm the building July 13, chanting "Israel murderer!" The incident—near Bastille Place, on the eve of Bastille Day—followed a march protesting the Israeli air-strikes on Gaza. After the demonstration, a large group headed to the synagogue, where some 150 people had gathered for a memorial service for three Israeli teenagers murdered in the West Bank. Witnesses said the protesters grabbed chairs from a cafe nearby and used them as weapons as they tried to break through a police barrier outside the synagogue, where worshippers remained trapped for several hours. Six police and two members of the Jewish community were reportedly injured, and six protesters arrested. Some protesters were said to be armed with axes and knives. A private security unit employed by the synagogue was also engaged in the fighting. One day earlier, in the Parisian suburb of Belleville, a protest demonstration reportedly featured chants of "Kill the Jews!" The day before that, July 11, a firebomb was thrown at the synagogue of Aulnay-sous-Bois, another Paris suburb, causing damage to the building's facade. The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA) reports that on July 8, a, 17-year-old Jewish girl was assaulted on a Paris street near the Gare du Nord train station by a man who blasted her face with pepper spray. The girl, identified by her initials, JL, wrote in her complaint to police that the man shouted: "Dirty Jewess, insh'allah you will die." (The Guardian, EJP, July 14; JTA, July 13)
Moroccan women protested outside parliament June 24, waving banners and frying pans, and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. The protest came days after Benkirane gave a speech urging women to stay at home and not work jobs. "Don't you realize that when women went to work outside, the light went out of their homes?" he said. "We will continue to defend our position against this modernity that is trying to eliminate family in our lives by reversing the roles of men and women. To that we say 'no!'" Since 2011, the Morocco has had a gender equality guarantee under the constitution, but it has never been fully implemented. Women in the country have periodically protested over the last few years to pressure the conversative government on the question. (Feministing, June 25)
A Jan. 23 profile in the New York Times put a rare spotlight on the ongoing occupation camp established by Berber villagers at Mount Alebban, 5,000 feet high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to protest the operations of the Imiter Mettalurgic Mining Company—whose principal owner is the North African nation's King Mohammed VI. The occupation was first launched in 1996, but broken up by the authorities. It was revived in the summer of 2011, after students from the local village of Imider, who were used to getting seasonal jobs at the mine, were turned down. That led the villagers—even those with jobs at the complex—to again establish a permanent encampment blocking access to the site of Africa's most productive silver mine. A key grievance is the mine's use of local water sources, which is making agriculture in the arid region increasingly untenable. Protesters closed a pipe valve, cutting off the water supply to the mine. Since then, the mine's output has plummeted—40% in 2012 and a further 30% in 2013. But Imider farmers say their long-drying wells are starting to replenish, and their shriveled orchards are again starting to bear fruit.
The Justice and Human Rights Commission of Morocco's parliament on Jan. 9 announced a proposal to amend Article 475 of the penal code, which allows rapists to avoid charges if they marry their victims. This practice is currently encouraged in countries such as Morocco and India, where the loss of a woman's virginity out of wedlock is said to bring shame upon the family. Article 475, translated from French, reads, "When a minor removed or diverted married her captor, the latter can not be prosecuted on the complaint of persons entitled to apply for annulment of marriage and can not be sentenced until after the cancellation of marriage has been pronounced." The proposal will be put to a vote by Parliament.
The Los Angeles Times reported June 19, citing anonymous sources, that "CIA operatives and US special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to US officials and rebel commanders." The training is supposedly taking place at bases in Jordan and Turkey. The "directly military aid" that the US has now openly pledged to the Syrian rebels may also be reaching them, as BBC News quotes Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Meqdad boasting of having received new weapons shipments that "we believe will change the course of the battle on the ground." However, he denied the new weapons came from the US, implying other powers are also arming the FSA. The Friends of Syria group is scheduled to meet in Qatar next week, to discuss coordinating aid to the rebels. But in Russia, Vladimir Putin said he feared a "political void" in Syria would be filled by "terrorist organizations."
Some 1,400 US soldiers, sailors and Marines who arrived in Morocco this week for the "African Lion 2013" joint maneuvers with the kingdom's armed forces are to be redeployed after Rabat cancelled the exercizes at the last minute. The move was apparenly taken in retaliation for the Obama administration's support for an initiative to broaden the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, MINURSO, 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," said Mustapha Khalfi, Rabat's communications minister. (BBC News, AFP, Military Times, April 17)