Brussels, 2 March 2011 - "Europe has a historic duty today to support the people in their fight for freedom and democracy against authoritarianism, repression and human rights violations," said European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek in a special meeting of the Conference of Presidents on Wednesday. The Parliament's political group leaders expressed their support for the efforts made by the High Representative and also argued that the EU should play the principal role in helping the countries of the region in their processes of democratic transition, and urged a strong EU effort to help them in financial and economic terms, as well. On Libya, some wondered whether there is any possibility for further imposition of sanctions against the Gaddafi regime.
Baghdad, February 25, 2011 - At least 19 people were killed in Iraq on Friday as tens of thousands defied an official curfew to join a nationwide "Day of Rage," echoing protests that have roiled the Middle East and North Africa since January.
Despite pleas by the government and Shiite religious leaders for Iraqis to stay home, demonstrators gathered by the hundreds and thousands from Basra in the south to Mosul and Kirkuk in the north.
Protesters expressed anger and rage at local leaders as well as at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, storming provincial government offices in several cities and calling for more jobs, electricity and clean water, better pensions and medical care.
Security forces used tear gas, water cannons, sound bombs and at times live bullets to disperse the crowds. Fatalities were reported in Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit and a town near Kirkuk, when security forces opened fire on demonstrators who were surrounding--or in some cases storming--government buildings. There were also clashes in Ramadi.
In the southern province of Basra, about 10,000 demonstrators forced the resignation of the provincial governor. In Fallujah, protesters forced the resignation of the entire city council.
In Baghdad, where Maliki imposed a curfew that banned cars and even bicycles from the streets, people walked, often many miles, to reach the city's Tahrir Square. Several thousand had gathered by early afternoon.
Surrounded by hundreds of police, soldiers and rooftop snipers, with military helicopters buzzing overhead, protesters waved Iraqi flags and signs reading "Bring the Light Back" (a reference to the lack of electricity), "No to Corruption!" and "I'm a Peaceful Man."
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad downplayed the protest-related violence and the impact of the curfew, saying that Iraq's security forces "generally have not used force against peaceful protesters."
Photo: Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs and leader of Israel's far right party, Avigdor Lieberman, with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek