Friday, November 25, 2011

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Cuba - Blogrunner
Cuba eases grip on banking sector by allowing small loans
Bars in focus: Cuba Libre Nights
Cuba Introducing New Credit System
A banking revolution? Now das capital
More flights to Cuba taking off today


Moroccans hold Arab Spring-inspired election

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Moroccans voted for a new parliament Friday in Arab Spring-inspired elections that are facing a boycott by democracy campaigners who say the ruling monarchy isn't committed to real change.
A moderate Islamist party and a pro-palace coalition led by the finance minister are competing for the top spot, but a key test for the authorities' legitimacy will be how many voters cast ballots.
The king amended the constitution over the summer giving the prime minister new powers, including the ability to dissolve parliament and make certain appointments, in response to pro-democracy protests. But the ultimate authority remains with the king.
The election result will be closely watched by Morocco's U.S. and other Western allies, as well as European tourists who cherish its beaches and resorts, to see how this North African kingdom navigates its own Arab Spring.
In the affluent Agdal neighborhood of Rabat, a steady stream of professionals lined up early in the morning at a polling station to vote before work.
"I've always voted, but this time it is more important," said Dr. Mohammed Ennabli. "Before it was the king who chose, now it is the people who choose."
Many people, however, scorned a process they say has been going on for decades without any tangible effect on their lives.
"I won't vote, the promises are never kept — with or without the new constitution, it is the same," said Abdallah Cherachaoui, an unemployed 45 year old in the lower income district of Akkari. "They are laughing at us."
In the working class city of Sale, across the river from the capital Rabat, there was a steady trickle of voters to the school acting as a polling station, but some stayed outside.
"I voted in 2007 because the candidate was a member of my family, but he also disappointed me and as soon as the elections were over, I never saw him again, so I'm not making that mistake again," said Brahim Errami, 25, from his seat in a nearby cafe. "I pity the people going in and out of that school."
Morocco's reputation as a stable kingdom in North Africa has taken a hit with this year's protests over government corruption and heavy handed security forces. And its once-steady economy is creaking from the amount of money the government has pumped into raising salaries and subsidies to keep people calm amid the Arab world turmoil.
The election campaign has been strangely subdued, unlike the lively politicking in nearby Tunisia when it held the first elections prompted by the Arab uprisings last month.
Morocco with its many political parties and regular elections under the tight control of an all-powerful monarch was once the bright star in a region of dictatorships.
But all that has changed with the Arab uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Now a political system that holds elections but leaves all powers in the hands of a hereditary king does not look so liberal.
Some 31 political parties are fielding 5,392 candidates to compete for 395 seats in parliament, including 60 set aside for women and 30 for "youth," under 40.
A complex proportional system of representation means no party is likely to take more than 20 percent of the seats.
Under the new constitution, the king asks the party with the most seats to form the government, which could well be the Islamist Justice and Development party, known by its French initials PJD. But there's uncertainty over whether it can truly change anything in the face of the palace's power.
The Islamists' biggest rival for the top spot is Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar's Rally of Independents, which leads an alliance of seven other pro-palace parties.
"This is a very important election for the Moroccan people and it confirms the choice made for an open process of democratization that is being consolidated by this election," he told The Associated Press after voting. "This is really a moment of great emotion."
Like elsewhere in the Arab world, Moroccans hit the streets in the first half of 2011 calling for more democracy, and King Mohammed VI responded by amending the constitution and bringing forward elections.
But since then the sense of change has dissipated, and while the king remains a respected figure, few have much confidence in parliament or the politicians in it.
"I voted because we need to elect a new parliament, but I voted blank for the simple reason that there is no one I can trust from the people that are being elected," said Chamseddin Baba, the manager of an IT company who voted in the wealthy suburb of Souissi. "I would like to vote for the best, but the best are not there."
The 2007 elections, the first with widespread international observation, had just 37 percent turnout, and some fear it could be even lower this time around.
Now, however, the number of registered voters has dropped from 15 million to 13.5 million, despite population increases, so turnout will almost certainly be higher.
There will be 3,200 election observers, though they will likely only cover a fraction of the 40,000 polling stations scattered across the country.

Thousands rally in Egypt on "last chance Friday"

CAIRO (Reuters) - Thousands of Egyptians demanding an end to military rule converged on Cairo's Tahrir square on Friday in what activists say will be the biggest day yet of protests in a week of violence that has seen at least 41 people killed.
The generals who have governed Egypt since people power toppled President Hosni Mubarak on February 11 are facing a major challenge to their authority.
Activists who accuse them of trying to cling to power have once again turned Tahrir into a center of mass demonstrations, producing scenes similar to the uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Since last Saturday, streets near Tahrir have become battle zones with stone-throwing protesters fought police firing tear gas, pellets and rubber bullets, although a truce on Thursday calmed the violence in the past 24 hours.
Activists sought to bring a million people into the streets of the capital on what they have dubbed "the Friday of the last chance." The weekly Muslim prayer day has traditionally produced the biggest demonstrations of the Arab Spring revolts sweeping across the Middle East.
There was still no official confirmation early on Friday of state media reports overnight that the ruling military council had appointed Kamal Ganzouri, who served as prime minister under Mubarak from 1996-99, to head an interim cabinet. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's government resigned this week.
The military rulers say they will transfer power to civilians, but the process should not be rushed to avoid chaos.
Washington, long a bedrock supporter of Egypt's military, called on the generals on Friday to step aside "as soon as possible" and give real power to the new cabinet "immediately."
"Full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
"The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately."
Ahmed Mohey el-Din, 27, a dentist, who was among the crowds in Tahrir Square, said: "We came to voice our refusal of the military council's maneuvers and to stress our demands for handing power to a civilian presidential council and a national salvation government with full powers."
"Numbers will increase after prayers as we expect marches from several districts to join the protesters in the square."
Mohamed Abdel Kerim, a university student, said talk of appointing Ganzouri, 78, as prime minister was a tactic intended to divide protesters. "We don't want anyone from the old regime and we want complete powers for the new government," he said.
Informal debate among protesters about who should head the next cabinet threw up three "acceptable" names: leftwinger Hamdeen Sabahi, Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Futuh, or former U.N. nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei, protesters said.
"There is consensus in Tahrir on the choice of Sabahi, Aboul Futuh and ElBaradei as the three most suitable politicians and technocrats to form a government," said one protester, Amr Salah. "There is considerable rejection of Ganzouri in Tahrir."
Activists set up checkpoints at entrances to the square, searching people arriving and checking identity cards.
"We've had enough of government controlled by the military," read a huge banner tied between two lamp posts. Several hundred young men marched around waving Egyptian flags and chanting "Down, down with military rule" and "Down, down with the field marshal," a reference to army chief Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
The army, once hailed for its role in easing Mubarak from power, has come under increasing fire for dragging out a handover to civilian rule, even as Egypt's economy falters.
This week it promised to accelerate the timetable for a transfer of power to a civilian president and again pledged that parliamentary elections will start on Monday, as planned.
The United States and European nations, alarmed at the violence of the past few days, have urged Egypt to proceed with what has been billed as its first free vote in decades.
The army and the Muslim Brotherhood, which expects to do well in the election, say it must go ahead, but many protesters do not trust the military to oversee a clean vote. Some scorn the Brotherhood for its focus on gaining seats in parliament.
The group organised a protest last Friday against army efforts to shape a new constitution, but left Tahrir as protests widened. It held a separate rally this Friday at al-Azhar mosque for the "liberation" of Jerusalem from Israeli control.
The Health Ministry said 41 people had died in the violence, state television reported. More than 2,000 people were also wounded in the unrest in Cairo and several other cities.
The army council said on Thursday it was trying to prevent more bloodshed. In an unusual apology, it offered compensation to families of the dead and a swift enquiry into the unrest.
The latest upheaval makes it even harder to dig the economy out of a crisis whose first victims are the millions of poor Egyptians whose frustration spurred the revolt against Mubarak.
Egypt's central bank unexpectedly raised interest rates on Thursday for the first time in more than two years, after depleting its foreign reserves trying to defend a local currency weakened by the political chaos.
In fresh blows to confidence, the Egyptian pound weakened to more than six to the dollar for the first time since January 2005, and Standard & Poor's cut Egypt's credit rating.
The economic woes may argue in favor of Ganzouri, whose government virtually balanced the budget, cut inflation, held the exchange rate stable and maintained healthy foreign currency reserves during his time in office from 1996 to 1999.
He introduced some economic liberalisation measures and many Egyptians viewed him as an official who was not tainted by corruption. But his record serving under Mubarak could stir opposition from those demanding a clean break with the past.
Some Facebook activists derided the choice of a Mubarak-era man to steer the country into a new era, listing four ancient pharaohs as useful alternatives if Ganzouri turns the job down.
"Tutankhamun is more suitable because he is from the youth," one said, referring to the boy king of ancient Egypt.
(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed, Edmund Blair, Ali Abd El-Ati and Patrick Werr; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Peter Graff)