Khamis, 3 Mac 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates

FEATURE - Algeria launches charm offensive to head off unrest

Posted: 03 Mar 2011 07:16 AM PST

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Ahmed Gotari, a 28-year-old unemployed man from the Algerian capital, has grown accustomed over the years to being treated dismissively when he calls on local officials to ask for a job.

So when he went this week to the district mayor's office, he was shocked at his reception: the mayor received him personally, welcomed him to his office and told him he would help.

"It was so great that I asked myself if he was going to bring me a coffee," Gotari told Reuters a few days later. "Not three months ago, we were treated like dogs and even the security guard would not look at us."

It is not an isolated case. Algeria's usually unbending officialdom is handing out business loans, letting off rule-breaking motorists, easing up on tax dodgers and turning a blind eye to people trading without a licence.

What changed was the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and other parts of the Arab World.

Algeria's leaders, wary that their country, too, could succumb to a popular uprising, are taking unprecedented steps to try to win people over to their side.

Critics of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika say that despite its huge oil and gas resources, Algeria has deep structural problems: a lack of democratic freedoms, persistent unemployment and poor housing conditions.

These are issues that cannot be resolved overnight, so the authorities are targeting the problems that can be fixed.

"This is just an aspirin for somebody who has cancer. It would calm the pain for a while but it will not solve the problem," said Mohamed Lagab, a poitical analyst and teacher of political sciences at Algiers university.


The government is not ignoring the bigger problems.

It lifted a 19-year-old state of emergency and gave opposition voices airtime on television, key demands of its opponents. It also is investing billions of dollars in modernising the economy and building new homes.

But its tactic of focusing on day-to-day issues appears to be working -- at least for now.

In January there were several days of rioting across the country triggered by rises in the prices of sugar and cooking oil. Since then there has been no violence and a series of political protests has lost momentum.

Officials throughout Algeria have received instructions to take a more lenient approach with citizens.

In one example, police have been given instructions to take away the licences of drivers who commit traffic violations only in "very grave" circumstances, according to a government document seen by Reuters.

An instruction signed by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia told the tax authorities to postpone some of their demands for payment.

A police officer said the authorities also were turning a blind eye to black market activity, known in Algeria as "trabendo", and which consists of youngsters selling cheap good in the street without a licence.

"They don't pay taxes. We are not sure about the quality of the products they sell, but we don't care about this now," said the officer in the working class neighbourhood of Bab El Oued.

"We want them to be doing something."

Another popular measure was the waiver of 24-month compulsory military service for men who had not done their service by the age of 30.

The government also has promised to fund 100 percent of the start-up costs for young people who present a plan for opening a small business.

Finance Minister Karim Djoudi said on state radio the new measures to help young people were costing the state 160 billion Algerian dinars ($2.45 billion).

The policy of making life easier for ordinary citizens has become the subject of satire, with newspaper columnist Hakim Laalam comparing it to a huge, nationwide free-for-all.

"I, who do not have a car, walk for hours in the streets looking at the beautiful and luxurious cars which pass," he wrote in the Soir d'Algerie newspaper.

"Who knows, maybe there is a government department charged with giving the keys of new cars to all those, who, like me, dream of having such a vehicle."

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Libya oil ports still open, but activity tails off

Posted: 03 Mar 2011 07:16 AM PST

LONDON (Reuters) - Libyan oil port activity was tailing off on Thursday, but despite civil unrest tankers were still leaving and waiting to enter the country's ports, sources said on Thursday.

At least one empty tanker left a Libyan terminal on Thursday to take on cargo in Egypt, and at least two more tankers were waiting to enter Libyan ports.

The 1 million barrel capacity tanker Sanandaj, owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NIT), left the port of Benghazi empty on Thursday morning destined for Egypt's Sidi Kerir petroleum terminal in Alexandria to pick up cargo, a company spokesman said.

Another million barrel capacity tanker owned by NIT, the Sarv, was anchored outside the port of Tobruk on Thursday, waiting to enter Libyan oil company Agoco's Marsa El Hariga petroleum terminal, according to AIS Live ship tracking data on


It was not clear whether it was to take on cargo or offload.

A slightly smaller tanker was waiting to enter Libya's port of Mellitah in order to take on cargo, a shipping source said.

"The situation is very unclear; ports are theoretically open, but in practice they are almost closed because we are giving priority to passenger ships," a spokesman for the Libya Shipping & Maritime Agency in Tripoli said.

Despite this, at least 2.4 million barrels of crude oil in four tankers left Libyan ports earlier this week, shipping and trade sources said.

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attacked the major oil export terminal of Marsa El Brega on Wednesday in the first sign of a counter-offensive by the leader in the rebel-controlled east, which rebels said they had repulsed.

As fighting continues across Libya, the oil industry is trying to assess the output lost, with outage estimates currently around 800,000 barrels per day (bpd).


Ongoing communications difficulties with phones and the internet in Libya led to some cargoes being cancelled this week, shipping sources said.

Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation, said on Wednesday the country's oil output had fallen to 700,000 to 750,000 bpd due to the worst crisis for Libya's oil industry in decades.

Anti-Gaddafi forces have been firmly in charge of eastern Libya up to Marsa El Brega and some areas beyond, since shortly after anti-government protests erupted in mid-February.

(Editing by Jason Neely)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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