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Morocco economy rebounds with strong growth: IMF

Morocco’s economy has rebounded with GDP in 2021 projected to grow 6.3 percent on the back of a rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Monetary Fund said Friday.

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“Thanks to a very successful vaccination campaign and the prompt response of the authorities, the health crisis has been placed under control and the Moroccan economy is rebounding,” said Roberto Cardarelli, head of an IMF mission at the end of virtual talks with Rabat since November 30.

“Economic activity has recovered most of the ground lost during the severe global recession of 2020, which hasn’t spared Morocco,” he said in a statement.

“This performance owes to continued fiscal and monetary stimulus, the rebound of exports, buoyant remittances and the exceptional harvest after two years of drought,” he said.

“After shrinking 6.3 percent in 2020, GDP is forecast to grow by 6.3 percent in 2021,” among the highest in the Middle East and North Africa, Cardarelli said.

The economic recovery is expected to continue, “although the pandemic will leave some scars”, he said, projecting growth of about three percent in 2022 “as agriculture output returns to average levels and non-agricultural activity continues to recover”.

The IMF called for “a fast and effective implementation of structural reforms”.

Following elections in September, the new government of Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, a liberal businessman, says it aims to narrow the wealth gap in Morocco, where unemployment is running at almost 13 percent, according to the central bank.

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Colombian military confirms possible balloon flying over its airspace


A day before a US military jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the country’s Atlantic Coast on Saturday, Colombia’s military confirmed a sighting of an airborne object similar to a balloon flying over its territory.

Colombia’s air force issued a statement on Saturday providing limited details concerning a possible balloon its air defense system had located Friday morning.

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US military officials on Friday said another Chinese balloon was spotted somewhere over Latin America but did not specify its location.

According to the Colombian air force statement, an “object” was detected over its territory at an altitude of 55,000 feet that had entered the South American country’s airspace to the north moving at an average speed of 25 knots, or roughly 29 miles per hour.

The statement added that the object exhibited “characteristics similar to those of a balloon,” and that the air force monitored it until if left the country’s airspace.

“It was determined that it did not represent a threat to national security,” the statement added.

No other official confirmation of unidentified balloons flying over other Latin American countries has been issued as of Sunday.

In recent days, however, balloon sightings have been made in Venezuela and Costa Rica by multiple social media users.

The saga of the downed Chinese spy balloon off the US coast captivated public attention for days, and was widely seen as worsening US-Chinese relations.

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South Africa records two imported cholera cases


South Africa has recorded two confirmed imported cases of cholera, the health department said on Sunday, as it called for vigilance.

The cases were of sisters who had in January travelled to Malawi, where a cholera outbreak since last year has claimed more than 1,000 lives as of January, the highest on record in the country.

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“Both patients had developed symptoms on their return to Johannesburg,” the health department said in a statement.

“A close contact (household family member) of one of the patients was admitted to hospital on 4 February with diarrhea and dehydration, and is considered a possible case,” it said, adding laboratory test results were pending.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae and can be deadly if left untreated. It is mainly spread by contaminated food and water.

Cholera is not endemic in South Africa, the health department said. The last outbreak in the country was in 2008/2009 when about 12,000 cases were reported following an outbreak in neighboring Zimbabwe which led to a surge of imported cases and subsequent local transmission.

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Iran ex-President Khatami, former PM Mousavi call for political change amid protests


Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami and former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for political changes amid the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

As the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution approaches, one of the country’s main opposition figures, Mousavi, called on Saturday for the “fundamental transformation” of a political system he said was facing a crisis of legitimacy.

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And on Sunday, Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, in a statement said: “What is evident today is widespread discontent.”

Khatami said he hoped that the use of “non-violent civil methods” can “force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms.”

In a statement carried by local media, Mousavi said: “Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.”

He was referring to the main slogan chanted in demonstrations sparked by the death on September 16 of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd.

She had been arrested by the morality police in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women.

Mousavi, 80, said the protest movement began in the context of “interdependent crises” and proposed holding a “free and healthy referendum on the need to change or draft a new constitution.”

He called the current system’s structure “unsustainable.”

An unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2009, Mousavi alleged large-scale fraud in favor of populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to mass protests.

He has been under house arrest without charge in Tehran for 12 years, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.

A close confidant of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini, Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989.

“People have the right to make fundamental revisions in order to overcome crises and pave the way for freedom, justice, democracy and development,” Mousavi said in his statement.

“The refusal to take the smallest step towards realizing the rights of citizens as defined in the constitution… has discouraged the community from carrying out reforms.”

Khatami, 79, made similar remarks, warning that “there is no sign of the ruling system’s desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present.”

President from 1997 to 2005 before being forced into silence, Khatami said he regretted that Iran’s population was “disappointed with Reformism as well as with the ruling system.”

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