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Army plays kingmaker in Algeria democracy
by Staff Writers
Algiers (AFP) April 13, 2014

Morocco king warns UN chief over W.Sahara 'dangers'
Rabat (AFP) April 12, 2014 - Morocco's King Mohamed VI on Saturday warned UN chief Ban Ki-moon over "dangerous options" in the Western Sahara, ahead of a Security Council vote on the disputed territory.

The UN Security Council is due to vote on April 23 to renew the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco in the 1970s.

In a telephone conversation with Ban, Mohamed reiterated Rabat's "constructive cooperation... to reach a definitive political solution".

He stressed the need to "preserve the parameters of negotiation as defined by the Security Council," the palace said in a statement quoted by official news agency MAP.

The king called for the UN role in the Western Sahara to remain unchanged, avoiding "biased approaches" and "perilous options".

The telephone call came after Ban called on Thursday for "sustained, independent and impartial" monitoring of human rights in the disputed territory.

Washington sought last year to task the peacekeeping force, known as MINURSO, with human rights monitoring in Western Sahara, an unexpected move fiercely opposed by Morocco, which controls most of the territory and is highly sensitive to criticism of its policies there.

Rabat launched a lobbying campaign and had the proposal dropped, with the final resolution calling instead for "the promotion and protection of human rights."

A diplomatic source in Rabat said the king's message was aimed at "anticipating possible slip-ups and any dangerous scenario for the process."

Venezuela probes 97 security troops for torture
Caracas (AFP) April 13, 2014 - Venezuela is investigating nearly 100 armed forces and police staff for alleged torture during more than two months of ongoing deadly anti-government protests, authorities said Sunday.

The military's strategic command chief Vladimir Padrino admitted that security forces had committed "excesses" in recent days.

"We are able to say that 97 are being investigated by prosecutors for cruelty, for torture," he told Venevision television.

Padrino stressed that this was less than one percent of the 92,000 military and police "who are facing pressure and violence (defending) the government from an ongoing coup d'etat attempt."

President Nicolas Maduro's leftist elected government, with its heavily state-led economy, has blamed the United States, Colombian conservatives and Venezuelan "fascists" for the toughest opposition actions it has faced.

Nearly daily protests began in early February against rampant street crime, soaring inflation, poor job prospects and shortages of such essential goods as milk and toilet paper.

They have left 41 dead and more than 650 wounded, and prompted accusations of human rights violations by police.

With an elected president, two-chamber parliament and a constitutional council, Algeria certainly looks like a democracy, even if the army has played a key political role since the war of independence.

Former premier Sid Ahmed Ghozali, questioned by Algerian news website TSA, did not mince his words.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is running for a fourth term in an April 17 election, "by law, has considerable powers" but "in fact, absolutely not".

The role of Algeria's military intelligence and security service, the DRS, has been in the spotlight since an unprecedented charge levelled against its chief.

All-powerful General Mohamed "Toufik" Mediene, who has held the job since 1990, was asked by Amar Saadani, secretary general of the ruling National Liberation Front, to stop meddling in politics and resign.

The affair caused a sensation in Algeria, where General Toufik is now suspected of being opposed to another term for Bouteflika, even though the incumbent's bid is supported by the armed forces chief of staff, General Ahmed Gaid-Salah.

In an unexpected twist, the accusation gave rise to a wave of solidarity with the feared DRS, which was on the front line during Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s when Islamist militancy was crushed.

Newspapers charged that the "presidential clan" was behind Saidani's attack and accused Bouteflika, who holds the title of supreme commander of the armed forces, of working to divide the army, a charge he has dismissed as "fictional".

It was the army which called on Bouteflika to run for the presidency back in 1999, when his six rivals pulled out complaining of electoral fraud.

When he took office 15 years ago as the military's chosen candidate, Bouteflika, now 77 and in frail health, vowed he would not be "a three-quarters president".

Since independence from France in 1962, the army has either directly named the president or played the kingmaker through an "authoritarian election", according to sociologist Mohammed Hachemaoui who said a "praetorian college" rules Algeria using "unwritten rules".

Political scientist Karim Amellal said the "opaqueness" of state institutions in Algeria is rooted in the 1954-1962 independence war.

- Strong hold -

"The military command exercises a strong hold over the whole of the political, economic and social system" in the oil-rich North African state, according to Madjid Benchikh, a jurist and former dean of the Algiers Law Faculty.

"By selecting the head of state, it dominates the whole institutional and administrative system because the president of the republic is the central piece," he said.

But for Ahmed Ouyahia, chief of staff in the president's office and several-times prime minister, "the presidency has never lost its authority ... Ever since Bouteflika's election, he has been a 100 percent president ... To say the army decides is a lie."

Benchikh said the source of the DRS's power is its decisive role in state appointments.

"As an organ of the army, it has more than just its say on the nomination of most officials. From that point onwards, they do not or cannot act outside the system of allegiance to the military command and its DRS," he explained.

Ghozali said this applied to hundreds of thousands of people, including all state employees, "from the top of the ladder, the president of the republic, to the head of a dairi (sub-prefecture) and even below."

"Nobody can be named without the accord of the services (GRS)."

Hachemaoui, the sociologist, said the army's network and influence thus reaches all state organs, including the central bank as well as Algeria's foreign, religious affairs and information ministries.

The DRS does not only have its appointees at every level of the state administration, it also "preempts public powers", he said.

For Hachemaoui, the agency even sets up opposition parties, independent newspapers and civil society groups.


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