Irregular migration to Europe plummets in 2018: Report

            By Ahmet Salih Alacaci </p>  <p>BRUSSELS (AA) – Irregular migration to Europe plummeted last year, a report by the European Border and Coastguard Agency (Frontex) revealed Friday.</p>  <p>Last year’s level was down more than 90 percent from 2015 and down roughly 25 percent from 2017, it said. </p>  <p>This was mainly due to a “dramatic fall” in the number of migrants making their way via the central Mediterranean route from Libya and Algeria, falling to roughly 23,000 or 20 percent of the level in 2017. </p>  <p>The report showed an increase in migrants coming from the western Mediterranean route from Morocco to Spain, which rose to roughly 57,000 in 2018, a fourfold increase from the level in 2016. </p>  <p>Migration via Libya showed the steepest drop, down 87 percent from 2017. </p>  <p>Slightly less than one fifth of all migrants consisted of women, with roughly the same amount being children under 18 years old. </p>  <p>According to the report, close to 4,000 unaccompanied minors tried to make their way to Europe in 2018. 

Algeria upholds prison terms for Ahmadi sect members

                             By Abdul Razak bin Abdullah</p>  <p>ALGIERS (AA) – An Algerian appeals court on Wednesday upheld an earlier court verdict sentencing 27 people of the Ahmadi faith to jail terms of between three and six months for &quot;insulting Islam”.</p>  <p>In May, a court in Algeria’s northern city of Bejaia slapped the 27 defendants with prison sentences, prompting defense lawyers to unsuccessfully appeal the decision.</p>  <p>In a Wednesday statement, the Algerian Association for Defending Human Rights expressed solidarity with the defendants, urging the Algerian authorities to “guarantee freedom of belief for all Algerians within the framework of diversity, tolerance and coexistence”.</p>  <p>Religious Affairs Minister Mohamed Issa, for his part, recently said that the government was not “cracking down” on heterodox beliefs, but rather on “groups that operate clandestinely, collect money illegally or offend the religion of Islam”.</p>  <p>The Ahmadi sect is an Islamic revival movement founded in British-held India in the late 19th century.

Talks to end Western Sahara dispute kick off in Geneva

By Bayram Altug

GENEVA (AA) – The first deliberations in six years to end the decades-long dispute in the Western Sahara region kicked off on Wednesday between regional countries mediated by the UN.

Former German President Horst Kohler, envoy of the UN secretary-general, commenced the roundtable meeting in Geneva to help achieve a "political, just, and lasting solution that provides for the self-determination of the Saharawi people."

The negotiations are being headed by the foreign ministers of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, and the Polisario Front, a separatist group that calls for the independence of Morocco’s Western Sahara region on the northwest coast of Africa

The Western Sahara – a large territory in southern Morocco – has been the subject of dispute between Rabat and the Polisario Front for more than four decades.

After years of conflict, in 1991 the two parties signed a UN-backed cease-fire.

The Polisario, meanwhile, has long called for a popular referendum in Western Sahara to decide the region’s political fate.

Algerian opposition slams bin Salman's visit

By Abdel-Razzak Abdullah

ALGIERS (AA) – Algeria’s largest Islamic party on Monday criticized Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia for welcoming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who arrived in the country a day earlier for an official visit.

"Ouyahia stepped on the principles of Algeria’s foreign policy," Abderrazak Makri, head of the opposition movement, said in a statement.

The visit comes "without any consideration of principles and values and without taking into consideration Algeria's reputation and its real, firm and permanent interests," he added.

Bin Salman arrived in Algeria on Sunday as part of a foreign tour amid criticism by several political figures and parties, who decried the timing of the visit as "inappropriate".

The Saudi crown prince’s tour is his first since Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, was killed early last month inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

After saying he had left the consulate alive, Saudi Arabia admitted weeks later that he was killed there, blaming his death on a group of rogue Saudi operatives.

A CIA assessment released earlier this month appeared to implicate bin Salman in Khashoggi’s murder.

Tunis ‘working hard’ to solve Algeria-Morocco disputes

By Yousra Wannas

TUNIS (AA) – Tunisia is “working hard” to resolve outstanding differences between Algeria and Morocco amid efforts to “reactivate” the five-nation Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), according to remarks by Tunisian Foreign Minister Khamis al-Jahnawi.

The AMU, which includes Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania, was established in 1989 with the aim of promoting the economic — and eventually political — union of its five member states.

Speaking via Facebook late Thursday, al-Jahnawi said that Tunisia had proposed dates for “convening a closed-door meeting between the foreign ministers of the five Maghreb states with a view to promoting the activation of AMU institutions”.

He added: “Initiatives led by His Majesty King Mohammed VI [of Morocco], recent statements by our brothers in Algeria, and diplomatic contacts between Maghreb states have all contributed to bridging old differences between the two countries.”

On Nov. 6, King Mohammed VI called on Algeria to set up a joint committee to discuss outstanding issues, including the ongoing closure of the two countries’ shared border.

Days later, the Algerian Foreign Ministry called for a meeting of AMU foreign ministers “as soon as possible” to discuss proposals for “reactivating” of the North African regional bloc.

The Algeria-Morocco border has been sealed since 1994, when Rabat began requiring travel visas from Algerian nationals in the wake of a terrorist attack.

Algiers responded by shutting its border with its neighbor to the west.

Rabat also accuses Algeria of supporting the Polisario Front, a separatist group that calls for the independence of Morocco’s Western Sahara region.

Algeria's Bouteflika warns of pre-poll ‘maneuvering’

By Abdul Razak bin Abdullah

ALGIERS (AA) – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has warned against “political maneuvering” aimed at “destabilizing the country” ahead of presidential polls slated for next spring, Algeria’s APS news agency reported on Wednesday.

Bouteflika reportedly made the remarks in an address read out on his behalf at a meeting of provincial governors.

In the statement, which was carried by APS, Bouteflika warned of “covert cells” working to “undermine the country’s stability” in the runup to next year’s presidential poll.

He did not, however, elaborate on the nature of the alleged “sleeper cells” or who he believed they were working for.

Bouteflika went on to urge provincial governors to be “vigilant” and to carry out their duties with a view to “safeguarding the sovereignty” of Algeria and the Algerian people.

The North African country is set to hold presidential polls next April or May, when Bouteflika, 81, will be either elected for a fifth term in office or replaced by a successor.

Algerian opposition figures, for their part, have called on the aging head of state — who in 2013 was treated for a blood clot in his brain — to refrain from contesting the election.

Morocco urges Algeria to respond to call for dialogue

By Khalid Mejdoub, Afra Aksoy and Gulsen Topcu

RABAT (AA) – Morocco on Monday urged Algeria to officially respond to a call by Rabat for direct dialogue between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Moroccan King Mohammed VI proposed that a committee be formed to "normalize" relations with the country’s eastern neighbor.

In a written statement, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry underlined its regret that Algiers had yet to reply to the proposal, adding that Rabat "remains open and optimistic" on the future of relations between the two countries.

The statement stressed that the proposal was unrelated to Algiers’ call for a meeting to reconvene the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) after years of inactivity, adding it was due mainly to the current state of Moroccan-Algerian relations.

It added that outstanding issues between the two countries would be best resolved through direct bilateral dialogue.

The two nations are part of the Maghreb region, a major area of North Africa that also includes Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.

Formally established in 1989 in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, the AMU envisions the eventual economic and political integration of the five Maghreb states.

The Algerian-Moroccan border has been officially sealed since 1994 when Rabat began requiring travel visas from Algerian nationals following a terrorist attack. Algiers responded by closing its border with its western neighbor.

Morocco accuses Algeria of backing Western Sahara's Polisario Front, which continues to battle the Moroccan government for the region.

Algerian parliament elects new speaker

By Abdel Razek Abdallah

ALGIERS (AA) – The Algerian parliament on Wednesday elected Mouad Bouchareb as a new speaker for the assembly in a session boycotted by opposition parties.

Bouchareb was nominated for the post on Tuesday by Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (NLF).

He was the sole nominee for the post and he secured the support of Algeria’s National Rally for Democracy, the Tajamou Amel el-Djazair, the Algerian Popular Movement and a parliamentary bloc of independent MPs.

Along with the NLF, the four political blocs hold a combined 232 out of 462 seats in parliament, ensuring an easy majority for the ruling party’s candidate.

In his speech after being elected, Bouchareb, 47, who hails from Algeria’s Setif province, thanked Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and NLF head for placing trust in him for the post.

Meanwhile, opposition political parties boycotted the session, citing what they describe as the “illegal” ouster of former speaker of parliament Said Bouhadja last month after a dispute with lawmakers.

According to the Algerian Constitution, the speaker of parliament can be only replaced in case of death, resignation or medical disability.

Bouhadja refused to resign and told local media that he is “still the legitimate chairman of the assembly”.

He had stirred significant controversy due to his decision to sack Bachir Slimani, secretary-general of the assembly.

Algeria’s NLF announces candidate for assembly speaker

By Abdulrazek Abdallah

ALGIERS (AA) – Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (NLF) on Tuesday named its nominee for the post of parliamentary speaker.

“Mouad Bouchareb is the NLF’s nominee for the post of president of the National People's Assembly,” NLF Secretary-General Djamel Ould Abbes said in a statement.

Bouchareb is also expected to secure the support of Algeria’s National Rally for Democracy, the Tajamou Amel el-Djazair, the Algerian Popular Movement and a parliamentary bloc of independent MPs.

Along with the NLF, the four political blocs hold a combined 233 out of 462 seats in parliament, ensuring an easy majority for the ruling party’s candidate.

Bouchareb, 47, hails from Algeria’s Setif province. If elected to the post of assembly speaker, he will succeed Said Bouhadja, who was ousted from the post last month amid disputes with lawmakers.

Bouhadja had stirred significant controversy due to his decision to sack Bachir Slimani, secretary-general of the assembly.

Over 300 irregular migrants held across Turkey

TEKIRDAG/EDIRNE/CANAKKALE/ERZINCAN, Turkey (AA) – At least 305 irregular migrants were held across Turkey, security sources said Tuesday.

In northwestern province of Edirne’s Meric and Uzunkopru districts , Turkish gendarmerie units rounded up 155 irregular migrants near the Bulgarian border, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to media.

The migrants — nationals of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, Tunisia, Somalia and Palestine — were referred to the immigration office.

Meanwhile, in the eastern province of Erzincan, 98 irregular migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh were held.

Also, six other irregular migrants, all Pakistani nationals, were held by gendarmery forces in Malkara district of northwestern Tekirdag province, and later referred to the immigration office.

Separately, in Ayvacik district of northwestern Canakkale province, coast guards held 46 irregular migrants.

The Afghans and Iranians were planning to cross into the Greek islands and Europe.

Turkey has been a main route for irregular migrants trying to cross into Europe, especially since 2011 when the Syrian civil war began.

*S. Ahmet Aytac from Ankara contributed to this story