Philippines: Peace deal between government and Muslim rebels

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The Philippine government has agreed a peace deal with Muslim rebels ending more than four decades of violent conflict.

The agreement represents a major breakthrough in trust between the authorities and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) separatists and sets in motion the creation of a new autonomous Bangsmoro region in the Muslim dominated south of the mostly Catholic country.

Bangsmoro refers to both the Muslim and non-Islamic people of the Southern Philippines.

The transition which should be completed by the end of President Benigno Aquino’s term in 2016 will give the Muslim area more political and economic powers, including a larger share in revenues from natural resources.

The conflict has stunted the Philippine economy and killed more than 120,000 people although recently the country has seen a recent growth spurt and a resurgence in investor interest.

It is hoped the long awaited new deal will now bring peace and free up untapped deposits of oil, gas and mineral resources in rebel areas.


Muhammad cartoon sparks anti-French protests

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French embassies around the world have been hit by protests following the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a satirical magazine.

Weekly paper, Charlie Hebdo, had its Paris offices burned down by a petrol bomb attack in November, after printing an edition which named the Prophet as “guest editor” and has now printed obscene cartoons of Muhammad in the nude.

The publication of the caricatures has divided opinion in France. It highlights the tension between the western principle of freedom of speech and Islamic beliefs that find insults to the Prophet intolerable.

In Iran, dozens of students and clerics gathered outside the French embassy in Tehran chanting “death to France”, and “Down with the US” as an American made film they find blasphemous continues to also cause controversy.

In Tunisia the French embassy has announced the closure of all French schools until Monday as violence is feared and protests have already taken place in Pakistan where hundreds of people clashed with police. Officers used tear gas and batons to prevent them from reaching French government buildings.

French embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools in some 20 muslim countries are temporarily closing as much larger demonstrations are expected after Friday prayers.


Saudi film charms Venice

“Wadjda” is not only one of the first films to come out of Saudi Arabia, even more significantly it is the first feature written and directed by a Saudi Arabian woman, the talented Haifaa Al Mansour.

Saudi Arabia’s first female director has made her debut at the Venice film festival, exploring the limitations placed on women in the conservative Islamic kingdom through the tale of a strong-willed 10-year-old girl living in Riyadh.

The film “Wadjda”, which the director says is the first to have been entirely shot in Saudi Arabia, follows the everyday life of young Wadjda and her attempts to circumvent restrictions and break social barriers – both at school and at home.
Constantly scolded for not wearing a veil, listening to pop music and not hiding in front of men, she uses guile to get her own way.

When she sees a green bicycle for sale that would allow her to race against a male friend, she concocts a plan to raise the money needed to buy it in spite of her mother’s opposition – respectable girls do not cycle in Saudi Arabia.

Haifaa Al Mansour said her aim was to portray the segregation of women in Saudi Arabia: “The situation for women in Saudi Arabia is very difficult and the country is very conservative and denies women a lot of things… To me, making a film is not like saying ‘ah, it’s really dark, it’s really difficult’. I wanted to make a film to say ‘yeah, it’s difficult and everything, but we need to fight’. That’s it.”

Al Mansour said filming in Riyadh was difficult even though she had permission from authorities to do so:

“We did it within the system, it wasn’t like a guerilla style shooting or anything but still people are very conservative. People don’t like cameras in their neighbourhood. Sometimes we would be shooting and in the middle of the scene someone would come and interrupt and they’d want to take the camera and stuff. Being in Saudi Arabia you don’t go to the streets very often as a woman, you have a driver take you everywhere. So for me the knowledge of the streets was something I learned also during that film because I’m not allowed to be there.”

Twelve-year-old Waad Mohammed, who in the film plays Wadjda, said she found her character very realistic: “I like doing simple things. In fact the character in the film is very similar to me. I like bicycles, I like playing football and things like that. I really enjoyed that.”

Al Mansour said the actress is representative of the new Saudi generation: “She doesn’t speak English, she never had access to anything but she loves Justin Bieber and she knows Selena Gomez and they are part of a bigger world. Saudi, as much as it’s closed, the younger generation is totally different and we hope that they see themselves as part of a bigger world and they will try to open up the country even more.”

Under King Abdullah, the Saudi government has pushed for women to have better education and work opportunities and allowed them to vote in future municipal elections, the only public polls held in the kingdom.

Al Mansour’s film, which is not in the main competition in Venice, may have a limited audience in her own country, where movie theatres are illegal. But producers said they hoped to distribute it on DVDs and TV channels.