Demonstrators Storm Parliament in Burkina FasoOctober 30, 2014 in Burkina Faso
30 October– Thousands of protesters have stormed Burkina Faso’s parliament and set the building on fire in Ouagadougou, forcing police to withdraw ahead of a vote on a motion to allow the president to stand for re-election. The military has fired live bullets in an attempt to disperse the protesters. The crowd reportedly then headed towards the Prime Minister’s office. One witness has reported that a government helicopter flew overhead, shooting tear gas canisters at protesters.
Earlier, violent clashes broke out in Ouagadougou during a second day of protests denouncing President Blaise Compaore’s plan to seek re-election for another five-year term. Students and members of the largest labour coalition marched in the Burkina Faso capital, some wielding iron bars and stones. Security forces clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators for hours, using tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the crowds, and dismantling makeshift traffic barricades outside the National Assembly and Place de la Nation. Opposition leaders have said that nearly a million people have taken to the streets to prevent the change to the constitutional article.
President Compaore, who has been in power for 27 years, seeks to amend Article 37 of Burkina Faso’s constitution, which sets term limits on presidential powers. In 1987, Compaore seized power following a coup in which Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated. Compaore has been re-elected president four times since 1991, twice to seven year terms, and twice to five year terms. In 2005, constitutional limits were introduced; Compaore nearing the end of his second five-year term. His proposal to amend Article 37 would allow him to run for a fifth term in the 2015 elections. Opposition leaders call the move a constitutional coup, fearing the new rules would enable Compaore to seek re-election three more times, allowing up to 15 more years in power.
The country’s parliament will vote today on whether to hold a referendum allowing the change. If the amendment passes by at least 75 percent of the parliamentarians, Compaore will be allowed to run in the 2015 elections. If support falls short of 75 percent, the bill will be put to a public referendum. Over the weekend, the nation’s third largest party in parliament said it would back the amendment, setting the Compaore on course to pass the amendment without resorting to a referendum.
The nation’s largest opposition group asked the police to allow the public inside the National Assembly to watch the vote, and has called for a blockade of parliament as the legislature examines the proposed amendment. The government has urged protesters to show restraint following heavy clashes on Wednesday.
The U.S. and United Nations have both called for restraint by the government and protesters. The European Union said the planned constitutional change should be scrapped, warning that it could “jeopardise… stability, equitable development and democratic progress”.
Sixty percent of Burkina’s population is under 25, and have spent their entire lives under the leadership of Compaore. Frustration has erupted into outcry as the country has stagnated under his rule, ranking 183rd out of 186 countries on the UN human development index.
Carter Center leaves Egypt as Student Protests RiseOctober 21, 2014 in Egypt
21 October– The Carter Center, a human rights organisation founded by former US President Jimmy Carter has announced that it will close its offices in Egypt due to restrictions on democratic rights. The organization has also stated that it will not send a mission to observe parliamentary elections that are scheduled for later this year.
The organisation has monitored six elections in the country since opening offices in Cairo in 2011. In a statement, Jimmy Carter said, “The current environment in Egypt is not conducive to genuine democratic elections and civic participation.” The Carter Center cited “crackdown on dissidents, opposition groups, and critical journalists, together with heightened restrictions on core freedoms”.
Since July 2013, over 16,000 people have been detained in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi hails. Late in 2013, the organisation was designated as a terrorist group. Hundreds of Brotherhood members, including senior leaders, have been sentenced to death.
In addition to the crackdown on the Brotherhood, the government has imposed a restriction on public gatherings or demonstrations which include more than ten people. Several journalists have also been arrested and imprisoned, some on terrorism related charges for meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Carter Center assessed that “the political environment is deeply polarised and that political space has narrowed for Egyptian political parties, civil society, and the media. As a result, the upcoming elections are unlikely to advance a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. Both Egyptian civil society and international organisations face an increasingly restrictive environment that hinders their ability to conduct credible election observation.”
The organisation called on Egyptians to work toward ensuring and enhancing the democratic rights of all Egyptians, including the right to participate in political affairs and the fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression.
Over the past week, Egyptian students have conducted a series of protests,
Today members of the Students Against the Coup (SAC) alliance, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood organisation, launched a week long “breaking the siege” campaign to protest security forces’ tight grip on university campuses across Egypt. In addition to Egyptian security forces, the government has hired private security companies to prevent political protests or activities on campus.
Students have gathered at Al-Azhar University and at the universities of Alexandria, Damietta, Mansoura, Dakhalia, Ain Shams and Cairo. One student said that the “oppressive methods used by the security forces” were worse than those used during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011. The students in Cairo attempted to march toward Tahrir Square as security forces halted the protest with teargas and rubber bullets. The students have said they will continue their demonstrations.
On Sunday, large numbers of riot police stormed the campus gates at Mansoura University. Students also clashed with personnel from Falcon Security, the privately owned security firm that has been hired to guard 15 universities across Egypt. The SAC branch in Mansoura called the incident “systematic attempts to use violence against students”, using armoured vehicles and riot police. The group added that hold the president of the university responsible for all the attacks.
Since 2013, over 1,000 students have in the crackdown against supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi. Many students have been given extensive prison sentences in a series of mass trials. Over 500 students, accused of “rioting” have been expelled or suspended. Since the start of the academic year on 11 October at least 163 students have been arrested, including 29 students over the past weekend. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression demanded the Egyptian authorities release university students arrested.