Harper signals support for Mideast protests

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers support for democratic protests taking place in the Middle East, but stressed they must be non-violent.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper reviews the guard of honour at the royal palace in Agadir, Morocco Thursday. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered support on Thursday for democratic protests taking place in the Middle East, but stressed they must be non-violent.

"We're obviously watching developments there with great attention," said Harper, who is in Morocco for trade talks. "We want to see democratic development in [Egypt] as well. We're very supportive of that. At the same we want to see that happen in a way that is peaceful and non-violent."

Harper, who also announced that Canada has launched formal free trade negotiations with Morocco,  said he and Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi discussed in detail developments in that region of the world.

Pro-democracy protests

Pro-democracy and anti-government protests have erupted across North Africa and the Middle East this month.

  • In Egypt, 20,000 protesters took to the streets of Cairo on Jan. 25 — a rare sight in that authoritarian country. They were spurred by grinding poverty, unemployment, corruption and the recent events in Tunisia,.
  • In Tunisia, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from power Jan. 14 following a month of protests against repression, corruption and unemployment.
  • In Morocco, since Jan. 21, four Moroccans have attempted suicide by setting themselves on fire. These acts were allegedly inspired by the self-immolation of the 26-year-old-Tunisian that started the recent protests in that country.
  • In Lebanon, protests erupted on Jan. 25 after Najib Mikati was appointed prime minister-designate. A billionaire, Mikati has backing from Hezbollah and ties to Syria.
  • In Algeria, rising food prices led to several days of rioting beginning on Jan. 5 in a handful of towns, as well as the capital, Algiers. At least five people have died, and hundreds more have been injured in confrontations with police.
INTERACTIVE MAP: Volatile regions

For the past two days, thousands of protesters in Egypt have demanded the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The protests were sparked by the ouster of Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced to flee after 23 years in power and a month of street protests.

"We support the democratic development that is taking place there and obviously want to see that proceed positively," Harper said.

Harper also stressed that members of the former regime of Ben Ali are not welcome in Canada.

"Canada will use all tools at its disposal to co-operate with the international community … in dealing with members of the former regime," the prime minister said. "They are not welcome. I'll be very clear: we do not welcome them in our country."

Members of the Trabelsi family, including Ben Ali's brother-in-law Belhassen Trabelsi, are believed to be in the Montreal area. Their permit to stay in Canada, however, was revoked on Thursday.

CBC's Terry Milewski, reporting from Morocco, said the prime minister seemed to want to patch up the "lukewarm response" he gave Wednesday when he declined to say whether he supported these "democracy movements."

"Today he was more clear, saying that he did support these democracy movements as long as they are non-violent," Milewski said.

Harper flew to Agadir after his press conference for an audience with Moroccan King Mohammed VI. On Wednesday, he was in Geneva where he co-chaired a UN commission on child and maternal health in developing nations.