30 January 2013

African Press Review 30 January 2013

Israel declines to defend its human rights records at the UN. Egyptian Islamists want death for the Black Bloc. Zimbabwe is down to its last 160 euros. Peace is declared in the SA-EU cheese war. And Kenya's presidential race has officially started.

The main story in the Cairo-based Egyptian Gazette is headlined "Israel boycotts human rights scrutiny". The article explains that Israel boycotted the United Nations' human rights forum on Tuesday, becoming the first country ever to decline to attend a session that was due to scrutinise its own rights record.

Israel's no-show has drawn widespread criticism, including a rebuke from the United States which said the UN process of reviewing human rights was a "valuable mechanism" as it was applied to all countries.

The council had been due to examine Israel under the Universal Periodic Review of human rights in all UN member states. The Jewish state's last review was in December 2008, when it attended.

Israel, which would have expected to face criticism for its dealings with the Palestinians, suspended relations with the council last May because of what it called an inherent bias against it.

There's a spot of confusion further down the Egyptian daily's front page. One headline reads "Morsi instructs police to deal with 'rioters' with restraint"; and then, just a little bit further down, we read "Black Bloc must die, say Jihad and Jama'a al-Islamiya".

Last week Cairo witnessed the first appearance of groups describing themselves as the Black Bloc. Dressed in black and wearing masks, they clashed with police on Thursday. They said they would fight security personnel if they targeted protesters. Previously unknown, the Black Bloc's goals remain unclear and it doesn't help that the group's members generally avoid media contact.

The Islamist Party of the Jihad Organisation and Jama'a al-Islamiya has said the ways of dealing with banditry specified in the Koran must be applied to Black Bloc members, which means they must be killed.

"God orders us to kill, crucify or cut off the hands and feet of those who spread mischief on earth," said Jama'a al-Islamiya Mufti Abdel Akhar Hammad, citing a verse from the Koran. "The president must give that order."

Apparently, Morsi was listening with the other ear, because he has told the police to protect peaceful protesters by firmly dealing with troublemakers, rioters and outlaws, yet with the utmost restraint and in accordance with the law.

Morsi's instructions came as protests against his rule continue in Cairo and across several governorates.

There's a story on the front page of this morning's South African BusinessDay which looks across the border to Zimbabwe.

After paying public workers' salaries last week, the balance in cash-strapped Zimbabwe's government public account stood at just 160 euros, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe's economy went into free fall at the turn of the millennium, after President Robert Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms. The move demolished investor confidence in the country, paralysed production, prompted international sanctions and scared off tourists.

After a period of more than a decade, during which the country suffered from hyperinflation of 231,000,000 per cent and infrastructure crumbled as quickly as prices went up, the situation is now more stable. But public finances remain a mess, and local business battles against unstable electricity supplies, lack of liquidity and high labour costs.

Zimbabwe's government has warned it does not have enough money to fund a constitutional referendum and elections expected this year.

There's good news further down the BusinessDay front page. There, we learn that the tit-for-tat cheese war between South Africa and the European Union has been resolved.

Pretoria believes Europe tried to subsidise exports of gouda, cheddar and processed cheese in contravention of a deal with South Africa. In retaliation for the subsidies, South Africa imposed tariff duties and quotas on European cheese. And things got stinkier than a month-old camembert in a heat wave.

Now the atmosphere is pure Chanel. According to BusinessDay, parliament's trade and industry portfolio committee on Tuesday ratified another agreement, which put an end to these tit-for-tat measures.

In Kenya The Standard reports that the race to succeed President Mwai Kibaki at State House kicks off officially today, after all presidential candidates present their papers formally. Eight names will appear on the presidential ballot paper.

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