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Unrest: Middle East and North Africa, country by country

By the CNN Wire Staff
Security forces stand separating pro and anti-reform protestors during demonstrations in Rabat on June 30, 2011.
Security forces stand separating pro and anti-reform protestors during demonstrations in Rabat on June 30, 2011.

(CNN) -- Countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been swept up in protests against longtime rulers since the January revolt that ousted Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In many cases, these demonstrations and movements have been met with brute force that has escalated into seemingly unending violence. Here are the latest developments and information about the roots of the unrest.

BAHRAIN

The National Dialogue, which was called for by King Hamad, will start on Saturday with the participation of more than 300 figures from various parts of Bahraini society. The dialogue will focus on reform and its objective is to reach a consensus among the people.

The Al Wefaq Shiite opposition said it plans to join the dialogue and present what it sees as fair demands. The Al Wefaq secretary-general told a rally of thousands on Friday that it will stick to its demands and not sell out its supporters. Among its demands are the immediate release of all political prisoners and a democratic government for all.

Sheikh Isa Qassim, the country's most senior Shiite cleric, said in his Friday sermon that if the main opposition, Al Wefaq, participates, it must make progress in supporting and putting into practice grass-roots demands. He said the group should withdraw from such talks if it isn't producing results.

The head of an independent commission, assigned by King Hamad with investigating charges of human rights abuses during recent government crackdowns on pro-reform protesters, vowed Thursday to carry out a fair, methodical and transparent investigation.

Roots of unrest

Protesters initially took to the streets of Manama to demand reform and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy. But some are now calling for the removal of the royal family, which has led the Persian Gulf state since the 18th century.

MOROCCO

Moroccans began voting Friday in a referendum on constitutional reforms that would weaken the king's powers and boost those of the government.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco announced the referendum in a rare address to the nation last month, after a series of unprecedented protests swept the North African country. If the draft is ratified in the referendum, its most radical change would be empowering voters to select a prime minister, ending the longstanding practice in which the king has selected his own candidate for the job.

About 40,000 polling places have opened across the country to allow the more than 13 million eligible voters to cast their ballot, the state news agency Maghreb Arabe Press said Friday.

The revamped draft constitution will make officials more accountable, the parliament in Rabat more dynamic and will give the government greater powers, the 47-year-old king said when he announced the referendum on June 17.

The new prime minister would have new powers in decision-making and in day-to-day management -- relieving the king of a number of duties and aligning the style of management along the lines followed by some European Union countries. Under the reforms, Morocco will also have an independent judiciary and provide equal rights for women.

Roots of Unrest

Protesters in Morocco are calling for political reform. Government officials say such protests are not unusual and that the protesters' demands are on the agenda of most political parties.

LIBYA

The French government is in talks with Libyan rebels about supplying them with weapons and ammunition, a Libyan opposition military spokesman in Misrata said.

The French government has not confirmed the claim, which follows an acknowledgement earlier this week that its military has previously dropped light weaponry to rebels elsewhere.

Ibrahim Baitalmal, the spokesman for Misrata's Military Council, said that if the French agreed to help in Misrata, anti-Gadhafi forces there would receive much needed supplies to fight against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded an explanation from Paris Thursday over its parachuting-in of arms to Libyan rebels -- which was first revealed in a French media report Wednesday -- Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Lavrov said that if confirmed, France's action was in violation of the U.N.resolution. But speaking in Moscow Friday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said his country's NATO partners and the U.N. Security Council had been told about France's decision to drop weapons for the Libyan opposition.

Roots of unrest

Protests in Libya started in February, when demonstrators, fed up with delays, broke into a housing project the government was building and occupied it. They quickly gained strength, and a movement to demand democracy and oust Moammar Gadhafi after more than four decades in power exploded into civil war. NATO began airstrikes in March after a U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilians.

SYRIA

Demonstrations are reported across the country, such as Homs, Hama, Aleppo and other towns.

At least six deaths have been reported by activists, including three in Homs and three in Damascus suburbs. State TV said armed men killed two people, one in Homs and one in a suburb.

The Syrian regime, which earlier this week permitted a gathering of opposition activists as criticism mounted against the government, escorted international reporters, including CNN's Arwa Damon, to anti-government protests. She witnessed a protest of a few hundred people in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh, hearing people chant for freedom and call for the downfall of the regime.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday condemned attacks by Syrian forces on protesters, saying time was running out for President Bashar al-Assad to begin a meaningful political dialogue with anti-government demonstrators.

Clinton's remarks followed reports a day earlier that busloads of what an activist called "government thugs" were brought into Aleppo, one of Syria's largest cities, to break up a demonstration. The activist did not want to be named for security reasons.

"I'm just hurt by recent reports of continuing violence on the border and in Aleppo, where demonstrators have been beaten, attacked with knives by government-organized groups and security forces," Clinton said during a news conference with Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius.

Roots of Unrest

The unrest began in mid-March after teens were arrested for writing anti-government graffiti in Daraa, according to Amnesty International. As the crackdown intensified, demonstrators changed their demands from calls for freedom and an end to abuses by the security forces to calls for the regime's overthrow. On April 19, Syria's Cabinet lifted an emergency law that had been in effect since 1963. But security forces then moved quickly to crack down. Government opponents allege massive human rights abuses.

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