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El Watan ("The Homeland") is an independently owned French-language daily published in Algiers, Algeria. Founded in 1991, the newspaper is an outspoken proponent of democracy and tends to politically align with the Algerian opposition, opposing government censorship.
Tarmac Voodoo: Plane Struck By Lightning Exorcized After Landing
Clémence Guimier

Tarmac Voodoo: Plane Struck By Lightning Exorcized After Landing

What happens when lightning strikes a plane? First, thanks to modern safety features, it flies on and lands without incident. But in Togo, airport staff last week made sure one such plane was thoroughly *explored and inspected.

With bolts of lightning regularly striking airplanes, aeronautics has long since developed technologies to ensure the planes can withstand the impact, and pilots and passengers can safely continue their journey.

Yet last week in the West African country of Togo, an extra-layer of security was added after the plane landed safely: an exorcism ritual on the tarmac.

Like the millions who go to airport chapels before take off, religions around the world seem to have a special relationship with modern air travel. In Togo, where voodoo is widespread and highly respected, other measures are employed.

The Ethiopian Airlines plane that regularly serves the New York-Lomé route, was hit just before landing June 20 at the airport in Togo's capital. Slightly damaged and unable to take off again, a group of voodoo priests were called in to exorcize the plane the following day.

Algerian daily El Watanreports that the ceremony consisted of splashing the plane with water and pouring liquor as an offering to appease the anger of Hiébiésso, the "divinity of thunder" in Mina, a local language spoken in South Togo. (Here's a video of the rite)

"When lightning strikes, it is our duty, for the sake of people's security, to identify and purify the area struck by this natural phenomenon." said Togbé Assiobo Nyagblondjor, president of the country's traditional priests confederation.

Originally from Benin and Togo, the voodoo religion counts 50 million believers around the world, including many in the Caribbean, Brazil and the U.S. state of Louisiana.

While Togo is officially a secular state, voodoo is widely accepted. The president of the National Agency of civilian aviation, colonel Latta Gnama, was personally present at the ritual held on the tarmac. "Everything was done to help them in their task," he said.

Gnama also confirmed the necessary repairs to the damaged airplane were completed before the jet took to the air again. Either way you look at it, best to be double covered when flying.

Before India's lockdown, pro-democracy activists in New Delhi.
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Algeria, Hong Kong, India: COVID-19 Halts Protest Movements

A "pause sanitaire" is the phrase El Watan, the French-language Algerian daily, used. Such "health pauses' have been happening among popular protest groups in a number of countries, either imposed by the government or self-imposed by the demonstrators in the face of the threat of spreading coronavirus in the close proximity of street protests.

  • Algeria: Recently inaugurated President Abdelmadjid Tebboune banned street protests as of last week, bringing to an end regular mass anti-government demonstrations that began in mid-February last year after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term in office. But few are criticizing the move: "It does not mark an abdication of the movement," El Watan"s editorial board wrote. "Just the opposite, it is the sign of true lucidity...facing the urgent question of saving thousands of lives."

  • Hong Kong: COVID-19 has in the last two months put a damper on the anti-government protests that defined 2019. But as the South China Morning Post reports, the outbreak has fueled further resentment against authorities that now fear even more violent clashes might occur as the spread of the virus dwindles.

  • Chile: The 90-day state of emergency announced by President Sebastian Pinera last week coincided with the five-month anniversary of nationwide mass protests against structural inequality. El Tiempo reports that the move was seen by many as a way of curbing the protests that had been escalating throughout March, especially as the government simultaneously postponed a referendum on a new constitution scheduled for April 26.

  • India: The government last week banned gatherings of more than 50 people, putting a stop to the long-running protest against a controversial law that bars Muslim refugees from citizenship. More bans have been imposed in other cities since, including south Mumbai, where a dispersing protester told the The Times of India: "We may have differences with the government ... but we are with the government in the fight against COVID-19."

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Coronavirus home schooling in California

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Education In A Locked-Down World

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.


How will today's children look back on this moment? Beyond the fears about contagion and rumors circulating on social media, many will no doubt remember the coronavirus outbreak with two words: school's out. With UNESCO estimating at least 130 countries facing nationwide closures, and some 80% of world's student population shut out of the classroom, educators are forced to improvise.

In some parts of the world, schools have set up online classes on platforms like Zoom and Skype that have offered the possibility for the learning to continue in ways that wouldn't have been possible even just a few years aog. Still, as Le Monde reports, even in France's robust national education system technical glitches have slowed down classes since the country was put on lockdown last week. And of course many students without digital access simply remain shut out from learning for months at a time.

Beyond such digital divides, television and radio (which more families have access to) has come in handy: Argentina"s public television and radio are broadcasting special educational programming, with a website with e-books, interactive tools and other learning materials was set up to complement the broadcast programs. The Czech Republic"s Ministry of Education also instated educational public television programs — in a mere 5 days. TV editors were originally sceptical as many teachers had no experience in front of a camera, yet the first episodes proved successful with high viewership among 4-12 year olds. In Norway, the prime minister herself lent a hand, holding a national press conference for children, explaining the measures put in place to fight the virus and answering questions ranging from "Can I have a birthday party?" to "What can I do to help?"

Meanwhile, China gave us a reminder that no matter how much young people still need to learn, they're bound to outsmart us. Students in Wuhan flooded their homework app with 1-star reviews in a collective effort to try to get it kicked off the App Store. School's out!

— Rozena Crossman


  • Olympics postponed: The Summer Games in Tokyo have been postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Open or close?India orders nationwide shutdown of the country's 1.3 billion people for three weeks. UK government introduces new stricter restrictions, closing "non essential" shops and banning gatherings of more than two people. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump announces the country will "again and soon be open for business." In Wuhan, where the epidemic began, China will partially lift lockdown on April 8.

  • Moving faster: The World Health Organisation warns that the coronavirus spread is "accelerating" around the planet, and the US could become new epicenter of outbreak as the number of cases has jumped to more than 46,000.

  • Toll: Italian death toll passes 6,000 mark, as Spain registers a record 514 deaths in 24 hours, confirming it is on a similar trajectory as Italy.

  • Eurozone economy suffers "unprecedented collapse in business activity" in March, with services sector, especially tourism and restaurants, taking the biggest hit.

  • Where next: Myanmar reports first two cases in men returning from abroad. The country of 54 million was the last world's most populous country not to report a single case, despite sharing a long border with China.

  • Prominent deaths in Africa: Cameroonian saxophone star Manu Dibango dies at 86 after contracting the virus. A similar fate for a top Zimbabwe broadcaster, Zorozo Makamba, who is dead at the age of 30.

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Anti-Bouteflika protests in Algiers on Feb. 26
Natalie Malek

Battle Of The Ages In Algeria


It's a striking contrast in both age and public exposure. Defying a sometimes repressive police force, a bold youth-led Algerian street protest movement has risen up against the North African country's aging and largely invisible leader.

Tens of thousands demonstrated over the past couple of weeks against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to seek a fifth term, despite years of poor health and lack of public accountability.

In addition to concern that 81-year-old's multiple health problems render him unable to properly lead, many believe that he has significantly abused his power throughout his 20-year reign. Perhaps most disturbing is that Bouteflika has not made an official public appearance since a 2013 stroke.

The president must go.

A college student named Wassim, who attended recent protests in the country's capital Algiers, told El-Watan that it is time for Bouteflika to retire: "I was born in 1999. I opened my eyes to the portrait of Bouteflika and he is still here," he said. "And it's been six years since we've seen him. It is unacceptable."

In a country where over a quarter of people under the age of 30 are unemployed, young citizens are bound to blame their lack of prospects on those in charge. That is multiplied when the leader is by almost all accounts incapacitated by age and illness.

Bouteflika poster in Algeria — Photo: Maya-Anaïs Yataghène

Wassim considers himself a part of the Mouwatana (Democracy and Citizenship) movement, the opposition group behind the protests. Their members are as young as 16, and unlike most political organizations, they do not back a specific candidate. One of the leaders of the movement, Soufiane Dijali, told the Guardian that the Mouwatana strives to do more than just dethrone Bouteflika: It wants to create a whole new democratic system.

"The president must go, the government must resign, and the fake national assembly — all of these need to be dismantled," Dijali said.

Le Point Afrique reports that in a speech on Monday addressing the protests, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia directly addressed the protesters' doubts about whether the April 18 elections will be fair: "Everyone has the right to support or oppose … But things will be decided in the ballot box."

Having largely avoided the unrest of the Arab Spring earlier this decade, Algeria is now facing a delicate moment where civic protests can prompt government crackdowns, and even all-out civil war — with young leaders of the movement were trying to avoid confrontation by concentrating protesting on college campuses, Le Monde says. Security guards, however, retaliated by trying to block the gate.

Another protester, a third-year biology student named Khaled, told El Watan that the group made sure to avoid clashes with forces by keeping each other in line. "Our people have shown a high level of maturity. When someone was about to throw a stone, we would stop them before the police saw."

Ports of Oran, Algeria
Giacomo Tognini

Algeria Cocaine Bust Reveals New Global Hub In Narcotics Network

Authorities seized 701 kilograms of cocaine on a ship in the port of Oran. The record haul points to a growing network linking South America to Europe via Algeria.

ORAN — On May 29th, Algerian authorities discovered 701 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a meat container on a merchant ship in the port of Oran. The bust was one of the largest operations in Algerian history, leading to a police investigation that has identified Kamel Chikhi, an influential Algiers real estate mogul, as the ringleader of a drug trafficking network that distributes cocaine from Brazil to Spain by way of the ports on Algeria"s long Mediterranean coastline.

According to Algiers-based daily El Watan, drug traffickers in Algeria have a long history of using their political connections to evade arrest and expand their operations. Several powerful criminals — including Ahmed Yousfi Saïd "the emigrant" and Ahmed Zendjabil, aka "the Pablo Escobar of Oran" — dominated the drug trade in the 1990s and 2000s, acting with impunity thanks to their notable ties to the country's political elites.

Cocaine shipment busted by police in Algeria — Photo: U.S. Southern Command

Before arriving in the northwestern port of Oran on May 29th, the Vega Mercury transported frozen meat from Brazil to Barcelona in early May and then transited in Oran and Valencia later in the month. The Algerian Coast Guard and Gendarmes were tipped off by the Spanish Guardia Civil about the drug load before the ship's arrival, and a thorough search revealed the cocaine inside the containers.

Chikhi is nicknamed "the butcher" in his neighborhood of Kouba for owning a butchery that offers low-priced meat. He is also well-known for his many real estate investments across the Algerian capital, cultivating an image of a nouveau riche businessman by building expensive skyscrapers and luxury properties.

The strategic location and corruptible customs agents make it an attractive transit point.

His freewheeling spending began to attract the attention of Algerian authorities in 2015, and has now been named a suspect in the Oran cocaine case along with his two brothers, an associate, and two of his employees.

As a major port located close to Morocco — the largest producer of cannabis in the world — Oran has become the hub for drug trafficking and money laundering in Algeria. While Algeria has a very small domestic drug market, the country's strategic location and corruptible customs agents make it an attractive transit point for narcotics headed to Europe and the Middle East.

The criminal organizations led by Saïd and Zendjabil took years to bring down, requiring numerous international arrest warrants and the dismissal of several military and local government officials implicated in the drug trade. As the man behind the largest cocaine shipment ever smuggled into Algeria, it is unlikely that Chikhi was acting alone.

The entrance to Maghnia, an Algerian city on the border with Morocco.
Giacomo Tognini

Border Row Is Bad News For Moroccan Workers In Algeria

An estimated 15,000 undocumented Moroccans work in construction sites, bakeries, and in skilled trades across neighboring Algeria.

MAGHNIA — Already tense relations between Algeria and Morocco have taken a sharp turn for the worse of late, and pose a serious risk to the livelihoods of an estimated 15,000 undocumented Moroccan citizens who work for private and public companies across Algeria, the Algiers-based daily El Watanreports.

The shared border between the two North African nations has been closed since 1994. Recently, though, Algerian authorities added to the animosity by digging 7-meter-deep trenches along their side. In a tit-for-tat escalation, their Moroccan counterparts responded by erecting a two-and-a-half-meter tall fence on their side.

Algerian border guards at the Maghnia border crossing.

Algerian border guards at the closed border with Morocco in Maghnia —​ Photo: Magharebia

The heightened security complicates matters for undocumented Moroccans living and working in Algeria, where even before the current impasse, arrests by Algerian security services were commonplace. Many are prosecuted in the border city of Maghnia before being expelled.

Before the arrival of the fence and the trenches, workers could cross more easily by bribing a border official. Now they must either pay higher fees or instead take a flight to Algiers and seek work in the capital directly.

"Our labor is in very high demand in Algeria," Abderrahmane, a migrant from the Moroccan city of Fez, tells El Watan. "Everyone knows about our presence here and it's tolerated, but we are often stopped and harassed. It's hypocritical."

Many are prosecuted in the border city of Maghnia before being expelled.

Many Moroccan artisans work with plaster or craft elaborate mosaics, and in such sectors, their labor is essential. "The border is a sieve. You can still get through," says Jamal, a plasterer. "Why won't they just regulate us and allow us to work legally?"

Young Algerians have abandoned professions like masonry, plumbing and welding in favor of a secured government job at inefficient state-owned businesses. Moroccans have filled the void despite the many obstacles to receiving a legal work permit.

While the two countries have signed agreements to facilitate the free movement of labor, there is little effective collaboration and obtaining a work permit is an arduous task. For Moroccan migrants, that means continuing to live in legal limbo, with low wages and precarious conditions.

"Many of us have compiled the necessary documents to get the work permit, but our applications always get rejected," says Hamza, a tiler. "It's their way of telling us we're not welcome here."

A New Migrant Gateway On Algeria’s Western Border
Giacomo Tognini

A New Migrant Gateway On Algeria’s Western Border

Algerian authorities have been accused of harsh treatment of asylum seekers.

MAGHNIA — The banks of the Wadi Jorgi river valley in western Algeria are littered with the remains of shacks built from branches, plastic, and sheet metal. The sprawling informal camp is home to hundreds of migrants from across Africa who are part of a growing wave of people crossing into Algeria from the nearby Moroccan border.

This latest twist in the African migrant itinerary was described in a recent reportage by the Algiers-based daily El Watan . Once the migrants arrive in the border town of Maghnia, some hope to take the "Algerian" route across the Mediterranean into Europe or instead detour through Algeria's eastern neighbor, Libya. Many instead choose to settle in Algeria but remain undocumented workers in the eyes of Algerian authorities.

Known locally as the "Maghnia Ghetto," what was once a bustling community was burned to the ground in early March, but the perpetrators have yet to be identified. All that survived was a small village of a dozen huts nestled at the foot of a hill near the dried-up river. "Our land was burned at night, but we managed to move uphill and build these tents for ourselves," Abdullah, a resident from Cameroon, told El Watan.

Photo: Ppm90sd/Wikimedia Commons

The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and Human Rights Watch have both criticized the conduct of Algerian security forces, accusing them of rounding up migrants and housing them in detention camps or deporting them to dangerous regions like northern Mali. According to LADDH, the Algerian police has expelled at least 2,000 migrants since the beginning of the year, denying them the right to seek asylum in Algeria.

We would love to live here.

While some migrants have abandoned their plans of trying to reach Europe, via Spain or Italy, others are digging in. "We will stop migrating when the West stops deciding for us," says Moussa, another resident in the camp. "We live surrounded by rubbish and reptiles, with no access to water, healthcare, or electricity. We would love to be able to live in this town, but we are isolated and rejected here."

LADDH estimates there are around 60,000 irregular immigrants in Algeria, most of them working in factories in Algiers and Oran. The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has justified the expulsions as lawful repatriations, part of a wider set of coordinated measures with other countries in western Africa including Niger and Mali.

For those who still call the Wadi Jorgi camp home, there is little hope of their ordeal ending anytime soon. "I just hope that the Algerian authorities accept us and regularize our status," says Fadack Mboualé Franck Basile to El Watan. "I was sent here from Paris after living there for 15 years. I will never lose hope, I will either go back to France or I will make a life here for me and my family."

At the University of Algiers, medical residents have been on strike since mid-November
Giacomo Tognini

Algeria Cracks Down On Striking Medical Students

ALGIERS — Medical residents at the University of Algiers have been on strike since mid-November, taking to the streets surrounding the medical campus in the western suburb of Ben Aknoun. The Algerian students are demanding changes to a system that forces them to work in far-flung corners of the country after they gain their medical license, in addition to a year of mandatory military service for all men.

But this past week, as reported by Algiers-based daily El Watan, these long-running protests were met with a swift and violent response by Algerian security forces, leaving several students injured. Riot police units had fanned out across the area since the early morning, placing a security cordon in anticipation of a large protest. Once the protest was underway, witnesses reported seeing plainclothes policemen beating medical students near the campus as the situation turned more violent. Security forces took several doctors and students into custody, seizing their phones and documents.

The Autonomous Collective of Algerian Medical Residents (CAMRA), the organization behind the strike, denounced the police response in a statement released to El Watan. "We call for everyone in the healthcare system, from teachers to assistant professors, to take a stand against the violence and contempt faced by their fellow medical residents in the last few months," the statement read.

The arrested students were released from nearby police stations, but CAMRA vowed to continue the strike and an associated boycott of specialized medical exams scheduled to start the same day. After the failure of talks between CAMRA and representatives from the ministry of higher education last week, the students still on strike will effectively fail their exams. CAMRA pledged to continue the boycott for the entire exam season, which is set to end on April 19. Along with a change in military and medical service requirements, the students also are seeking revisions to the medical school's statute and training process.

Despite the boycott, the ministry refused to postpone the exams and confirmed they would go on as planned. "Medical residents involved in the boycott must take full responsibility," said Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister Tahar Hadjar.