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Erdogan visits Gulf in bid to defuse Qatar row

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan travelled to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on Sunday, the Gulf states’ official news agencies reported, as part of a diplomatic tour aimed at healing an Arab rift with Ankara’s ally Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties and imposed sanctions on Qatar last month, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the charges. The boycotting countries want Qatar to close down a Turkish base, curb relations with their arch-foe Iran and shutter the Al Jazeera TV channel. Kuwait is seeking to mediate in the crisis. Saudi King Salman and Erdogan discussed “efforts to combat terrorism and its sources of funding”, the Saudi press agency reported, without elaborating. Read More: Backing Qatar, […]


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BREAKING: One Jordanian killed, one Israeli wounded at Israeli embassy in Jordan

One Jordanian was killed and two people were wounded, including an Israeli, in a shooting incident on Sunday in a building within the Israeli embassy complex in Jordan’s capital Amman, a police statement said. It said two Jordanian men working for a furniture firm had entered the embassy before the shooting. The dead Jordanian was killed by a gunshot, while the two wounded people were taken to hospital, the statement said.


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Venezuelan opposition calls for a fresh two-day strike

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-23 14:15
ID: 
1500830367921761000

CARACAS: Venezuela’s opposition has called a fresh 48-hour general strike against embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to have the Constitution rewritten giving him broader powers.
The walkout comes as violent and sometimes deadly protests continue amid a political and economic crisis that has led to shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation.
“We are calling out the entire people, all groups in society, for a 48-hour strike” Wednesday and Thursday, lawmaker Simon Calzadilla said.
Calzadilla said that the strike would be capped on Friday with a march demanding that Maduro officially scrap his Constituent Assembly vote scheduled for July 30.
Earlier on Saturday, police on motorcycles fired tear gas to break up an opposition march on the Supreme Court to press demands that elected socialist Maduro leave office.
That rally was also meant as a show of support for a slate of 33 magistrates — a so-called shadow supreme court — whose names were put forward Friday by the opposition to replace Venezuela’s current high court, which is closely allied with Maduro and frequently rules in his favor.
Emboldened by a nationwide strike on Thursday that paralyzed parts of the capital Caracas and other Venezuelan cities, opposition leaders held a mock swearing-in ceremony Friday for the shadow court’s new “judges.”
Many of the actual court’s justices were hastily appointed shortly before Maduro’s ruling party lost its majority in congress.
“Everyone has given their backing to the new Supreme Court,” tweeted Freddy Guevara, a leader of the opposition-led congress.
“We support the new judges because they will restore independence to the Supreme Court,” said 43-year-old demonstrator Luis Torrealba, marching with his wife and teenage son.
Their swearing-in was condemned by the government as “incitement to subversion” and an act of “treason,” and officials threatened to throw the dissidents into prison.
One of the judges was arrested by intelligence services, the National Assembly said on Twitter.
Maduro said the opposition’s bid to derail the Constitutional Assembly would fail.
“We are going to be implacable if they try to use violence to stop what cannot be stopped,” the president warned on television.
In Saturday’s march, hundreds of people took to a key Caracas motorway to head downtown toward the court building. But uniformed National Guard troops riding motorcycles fired tear gas to disperse them.
Wuilly Arteaga, a violinist who has gained celebrity for playing at many marches, was injured and taken to a clinic.
The 23-year-old was seen with blood pouring from cuts on the left side of his face. He said later he had been struck with buckshot.
“They are not going to frighten me,” Arteaga said in a video he posted on Twitter.
The musician became an icon of the protest movement when he was pictured calmly weaving through tear gas with his violin on his shoulder, playing the classic Venezuelan folk song “Alma Llanera.”
Immortalized in photographs from that performance during a demonstration on May 8, he said he meant it as a “message of peace.”
With the situation already inflamed, the stakes have risen further, after the US threatened economic sanctions if Maduro proceeds with his controversial vote for a body to rewrite the Constitution.
The president has vowed to maintain the election of 545 members to the Constitutional Assembly.
Saturday’s demonstrations, like many others since April, were organized by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of political opposition groups.
The number of deaths in protests across the country since April has reached 103 — about one fatality per day.
Datanalisis surveys have shown that more than 70 percent of Venezuelans reject Maduro’s leadership.
But the president has brushed aside moves to oust him because he can count on the loyalty of the Venezuelan military, which has been given control of swaths of the economy.

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Bosnia’s wartime ‘mistresses of life and death’

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-23 06:35
ID: 
1500830282541745900

SARAJEVO, Bosnia: She may once have been known as “the mistress of life and death,” but in the court trying her for war crimes Azra Basic hardly stands out.
Basic is among around a dozen women charged or convicted of crimes committed during Bosnia’s inter-ethnic war in the 1990s, which claimed nearly 100,000 lives.
Compared to the several hundred men convicted by local and international courts for crimes committed during the 1992-1995 war, the number of women is not many.
But several ex-prisoners have already testified in court to Basic’s brutal torture of detainees since the trial opened in February.
One witness at Basic’s trial recalled in testimony Friday the glimmer of hope he felt on April 26, 1992.
Dusan Nedic said he saw a woman called Azra enter a detention facility in the northern town of Derventa, where he was being held by ethnic Croats.
She spoke with other detainees, he recalled.
“For me it was a glimmer of hope,” said Nedic. “I told myself that a ‘woman should not be aggressive as men.’”
But he was wrong.
“She started to beat the detainees, she was jumping on them while they were on the floor,” the 55-year-old shoe factory worker said.
Looking at her in court, it is difficult to link Basic with the brutal violence, including one murder, of which she is accused.
A short, silent, bespectacled woman, she avoids eye contact when in court.
When in 2011 the authorities finally caught up with her after the war, she was working in a food factory in the US.
Basic has pleaded not guilty to war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war at the start of her trial, including a charge that she killed a prisoner.
“This person was not me,” she told the court on Friday, her voice trembling.
“I swear before God and that’s all,” she added, as Slavisa Djuras, the son of Blagoje Djuras, the man she allegedly killed, looked on.
Biljana Plavsic, now aged 86, remains the most famous woman war criminal from the former Yugoslavia. The former Bosnian Serb Vice President Plavsic is also the only one tried before the UN war crimes court in The Hague.
She was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2003 after pleading guilty to crimes against humanity for her leading role in a campaign of persecution against Croats and Muslims during Bosnia’s war.
“Women are just as capable of committing crimes,” prominent Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic, told AFP.
That much is clear from her essay on war criminals in the former Yugoslavia titled “They Would Never hurt a Fly.”
“A woman in such a position has to be ‘better’ than men,” Drakulic wrote in an essay on Plavsic.
“In the given circumstances it meant taking more radical views.”
Drakulic recalled the scientific-racist rhetoric used by Plavsic during Bosnia’s war, the kind of ideas the Nazis would not have rejected.
Plavsic, a former biology professor, labeled Bosnian Muslims a “genetic mistake on the Serbian body.”
Bosnia’s war crimes prosecutors say more cases against women suspects are in the pipeline. According to local media, some 40 women are being investigated for war crimes.
Visnja Acimovic, a 45-year-old Bosnian Serb who now lives in neighboring Serbia, is one of them.
She is accused of having taken part in the 1992 executions of 37 Muslims in the eastern Bosnian town of Vlasenica, most of them between 15 and 20 years old.
She denied the charges before a Belgrade court in January, and Serbia will not extradite its citizens for trial in Bosnia. They do not trust Bosnian justice, her lawyer Krsto Bobot said. But not everyone enjoys such protection.
In March, Switzerland extradited Elfeta Veseli, a former member of Bosnian Muslim forces, back to Bosnia.
She is accused of the 1992 murder of a 12-year-old Serb in eastern Bosnia. As his family had fled, the boy returned for a forgotten dog and paid for it with his life. Veseli’s trial has yet to start.
But as well as Basic, the US has also extradited Rasema Handanovic, 44. She had lied about her past as a former member of a special Bosnian Muslim unit.
In 2012 she pleaded guilty to the execution of three civilians and three ethnic Croat prisoners of war in the central Bosnian town of Trusina.
“The order was to do the work at Trusina, so that no one remained alive,” she told the court. She was jailed for five and a half years.
“Each of these women had her own personal reason that could explain her sadistic outburst that targeted men in particular,” said Bosnian psychologist Ismet Dizdarevic.
While there were fewer women war criminals they were notably cruel “to prove their power among men,” he told AFP.
Most of war crimes committed by women took place in a detention context.

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French President Macron’s popularity rating drops

Author: 
Reuters
Sun, 2017-07-23 14:53
ID: 
1500830043041713900

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity rating has slumped by 10 percentage points this month, according to an Ifop poll on Sunday — the biggest decline for a new president since 1995.
The poll, published in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, said 54 percent of people in France were satisfied with Macron in July, compared with 64 percent in June.
It added the last time a newly elected president had lost ground in that way was Jacques Chirac in 1995. The Ifop poll echoed a similar finding in a recent BVA poll.
Macron has had a tough month, marked by a public row over military spending cuts with top armed forces chief Gen. Pierre de Villiers that led to de Villiers’ resignation.
Macron also ending up overruling his own prime minister by vowing to press ahead with tax cuts in 2018, while plans to cut housing benefits have also come in for criticism.

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Taliban seize 2 Afghan districts, kill wounded police

Author: 
AP, AFP
Sun, 2017-07-23 03:00
ID: 
1500829858991693400

KABUL: Taliban militants overran a second district headquarters in as many days on Sunday, while Afghan police launched a search for some 30 villagers still missing two days after a mass kidnapping blamed on the militants in the southern province of Kandahar.
At least eight police were killed in separate battles against Taliban, who have stepped up their attacks in the north and west of the country, laying siege to district headquarters, said Mohammad Mustafa Moseni.
Moseni said the Taliban launched four assaults on Taywara district headquarters in western Ghor province, early Sunday and “we had no choice but to retreat,” the provincial police chief said.
He said police have taken up positions about 8 km from the district headquarters while they wait for reinforcements to launch a counterattack.
After capturing Taywara district, Taliban fighters stalked the corridors of the only hospital looking for wounded Afghan National Security personnel to kill, said provincial Public Health Department Director Ghulam Nabi Yaghana.
He said he received reports that they killed four or five patients.
The area is remote and telephone communication is sporadic, he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the provincial capital of Ferozkoh. He said Taliban entered the 20-bed hospital early Sunday. It is believed all the dead are military or police personnel, he said.
The Taliban, in a statement to the media, announced the capture of Taywara district headquarters. The statement, however, said 46 Afghan government security forces were killed. The Associated Press could not independently verify either death toll.
In northern Faryab Province’s Lawlash district two police were killed late Saturday night when Taliban used the cover of darkness to attack the district headquarters, setting fire to the police headquarters buildings, Abdul Karim Yourish, provincial police chief spokesman, said Sunday.
Government offices as well as the police headquarters were located inside the compound, he said.
In recent days, Taliban have launched dozens of attacks in northern Afghanistan, temporarily closing a key highway between the capital Kabul and northern Afghanistan. The attacks reflect the Taliban’s efforts to apply pressure on government troops and police across the country and not just in their strongholds in the south and east of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, 70 people were abducted Friday from their village along the main road in the south, seven of whom were found dead the following day alongside the highway, from the city of Kandahar to Tarinkot in Uruzgan province.
Around 30 people have been released while 30 others remain missing, Kandahar police spokesman Zia Durrani told AFP.
It remained unclear why the villagers were seized. But some officials said they suspected the Taliban had kidnapped or killed them for suspected cooperation with the Western-backed government, which the militants are striving to topple.
The insurgents have a heavy presence in Uruzgan, a poppy-growing area.
On Sunday they denied involvement, while confirming they had attacked police checkpoints in the area.
“Our mujahideen killed a number of local police and pro-government militias there, also capturing 17 suspects who were later released after interrogation. We have not killed or kidnapped any civilians,” the Taliban said in a statement.
Civilians are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of Afghanistan’s worsening conflict as the Taliban step up their annual spring offensive launched in April.
Highways passing through insurgency-prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taliban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping or killing travelers.
In July Taliban fighters closed a highway connecting Farah to Herat city in the west, stopping a bus and forcing 16 passengers off it. They shot at least seven of them while the remainder were taken hostage.
Elsewhere in the country, the Taliban on Sunday captured a district in the northern province of Faryab after an overnight attack that triggered hours of heavy fighting, said provincial police spokesman Abdul Karim Yourish.
He said troops had retreated two kilometers from the center of Kohistan district. There was no word on casualties.
Local media on Sunday also reported that the Taliban had overran Taywara district in the central province of Ghor, though there was no immediate official confirmation.
There has been a surge in fighting in several northern and southern Afghan provinces in recent days, including in Helmand in the south where 16 Afghan police officers were killed by a US air strike on Friday night.
The strike, the latest setback in Washington’s efforts to pacify the country, hit a compound in Gereshk district, large parts of which are under Taliban control.
Afghan troops and police are battling largely alone on the ground against the insurgency, after US-led foreign forces withdrew from most combat operations in December 2014.
The US is actively considering sending more troops to Afghanistan and US commanders there have requested thousands of extra soldiers on the ground.
The US contingent now numbers about 8,400, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago. They mainly serve as trainers and advisers.

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Marawi standoff enters 3rd month, underlining crisis in Philippines

Author: 
Reuters
Sun, 2017-07-23 10:41
ID: 
1500829722481676700

MANILA: Two months after militants launched an assault on one of the biggest southern cities in the Philippines, the fighting is dragging on, and President Rodrigo Duterte says he is prepared to wait for a year for it to end.
The defense top brass admits it underestimated its enemy and is struggling to finish off the highly organized, pro-Daesh militants who swept through Marawi City on May 23 and have held parts of it despite sustained ground attacks by hundreds of soldiers and daily pummeling by planes and artillery.
On Saturday, lawmakers approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law to the end of the year on the island of Mindanao, granting greater powers to security forces to go after extremists with a reach that goes far beyond Marawi.
But it remains unclear how exactly Duterte plans to tackle extremism after troops retake Marawi, where about 70 militants remain holed up in the debris of what was once a flourishing commercial district, along with many civilian hostages.
More than 500 people have been killed, including 45 civilians and 105 government troops. After missing several self-imposed deadlines to re-take the city, the military says its options are limited because of the hostages.
Duterte has said he had asked to military to avoid more civilian casualties.
“I told them ‘do not attack.’ What’s important is we do not want to kill people,” he said on Friday. “If we have to wait there for one year, let us wait for one year.”
The southern Philippines has been marred for decades by insurgency and banditry. But the intensity of the battle in Marawi and the presence of foreign fighters fighting alongside local militants have raised concerns that the region may be becoming a Southeast Asian hub for Daesh as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria.
Militants from neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia are fighting in Marawi.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana indicated on Saturday that after Marawi, the government would strengthen surveillance in the region, widening the net to detect rebel training camps and movements of militants.
“We need communications equipment, high-tech communications equipment that we can use to monitor cellphones of the enemies. We also need drones,” he told Congress.
Security experts say the government needs a strategic overhaul after failing to act on warnings long ago that radical ideology was taking hold in Mindanao, and luring foreign fighters unable to join Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
“Things have changed dramatically … our country must pursue some paradigm shifts,” said analyst and retired police intelligence officer Rodolfo Mendoza.
“We have to counter the spread of terrorism not only by supporting use of intelligence or counter intelligence, but tackling the root causes.”
The Marawi assault was planned and executed by a relatively new group, Dawla Islamiya, better known as the Maute group, which wants recognition from Daesh as its regional affiliate.
Led by two brothers, the Maute group wants a “Wilayah,” or province of Daesh, in Lanao del Sur province, where it has engaged in fierce, days-long battles with the military since 2016, each time suffering heavy losses before regrouping months later.
The brothers — Abdullah and Omarkhayam Maute — have been joined by Isnilon Hapilon, the anointed Southeast Asian “emir” of Daesh and leader of a faction of another Mindanao group, Abu Sayyaf.
The Marawi fighting has been much publicized across militant networks and experts say it could attract more fighters to the region.
“It has inspired young extremists from around the region to want to join,” the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said in a report on Friday, adding the fighting had “lifted the prestige of the Philippine fighters in the eyes of ISIS Central.”
Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at Manila’s De La Salle University, said the military should seek to neutralize the Maute brothers to buy time to disrupt recruitment and stop fighters regrouping.
Moderate separatist groups from Mindanao should be co-opted to counter the extremist message, he said, while the military should work closer with the US and Australia, which have provided operational advice and surveillance planes.
The Marawi crisis erupted not because of intelligence failures, but the policy priorities of Duterte, Heydarian added.
He said Duterte, who came to power a year ago, channeled security resources into a war on drugs instead of countering radicalization in the south, an issue the president himself has himself flagged in the past.
“They were all aware of this. It was just a matter of time,” Heydarian said.

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DR Congo opposition unveil plans to force Kabila out

Author: 
AFP
Sat, 2017-07-22 23:56
ID: 
1500829668351666700

KINSHASA: The Congolese opposition on Saturday unveiled a rolling program of strikes and civil disobedience aimed at forcing President Joseph Kabila from power.
The announcement was made after two days of opposition talks in Kinshasa amid concerns that Kabila, in power since 2001, is seeking to remain in place in defiance of constitutional limits.
Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo are due this year under a transitional deal aimed at avoiding fresh political violence in the sprawling country of 71 million people after Kabila failed to step down when his second mandate ended in December 2016.
Under the deal, Kabila is allowed to remain in office pending the elections, in late 2017, ruling in tandem with a transitional watchdog and a new premier, chosen from within opposition ranks.
Under its newly unveiled plan of action, a two-day general strike will be held throughout the country from Aug. 8 “as a warning,” said Francois Muamba, rapporteur of the opposition conclave.
Then on Aug. 20, the opposition plans simultaneous rallies in the capital Kinshasa and 25 provinces.
If Kabila does not by the end of September set an election date he will “no longer be recognized as president of the republic on Oct. 1,” said Muamba, speaking at the headquarters of the main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in Kinshasa.
From that date the opposition will invite the people to stop paying taxes to the state or paying their bills to the water and electricity monopolies.
On New Year’s Eve, pro-government and opposition groups agreed to a deal brokered by the influential Roman Catholic Church that sought to avert a full-fledged crisis in the country.
But the death of veteran UDPS leader Etienne Tshisekedi, held up the accord.
And meanwhile the opposition coalition has struggled to live up to its name, thanks to a push by Tshisekedi’s son, Felix, to take over the party helm.
Felix Tshisekedi has called for “police and the military to no longer respect bad orders, especially those to kill Congolese people.”
Previous opposition rallies against Kabila, last September and December, ended in several deaths.

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Prayers of solidarity for Al-Aqsa to be held across the UK

British activist group, Friends of Al-Aqsa, are calling everyone to organise prayers and vigils for the safeguarding of Al-Aqsa mosque. Prayers dedicated to Al-Aqsa will take place on Monday 24 July during the afternoon congregational prayers across 16 cities in the United Kingdom, including Bolton, Bradford, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Huddersfield, Leicester, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, and Sheffield. With the continued violation by Israel’s forces, Friends of Al-Aqsa requests everyone to attend these events or arrange a similar event in their area. Follow our live blog: Day of Rage at Al-Aqsa Mosque Pope Francis used his Sunday Mass to address the violence in Jerusalem and called for dialogue and moderation to help restore peace. UN delegations of Sweden, Egypt and France requested […]


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Egypt forces kill 8 militants at camp in south

Egyptian security forces have killed eight suspected militants belonging to the Hasm movement in what officials said was a training camp in a southern desert region, the interior ministry said on Sunday. Five other militants were arrested in operations carried out in Giza and Sharqiya regions, it said. Automatic rifles, ammunitions and supplies were recovered at the Fayoum camp southwest of the capital, the ministry said. Hasm, a group that emerged last year and has claimed several attacks on security forces, said on Friday it had carried out a shooting last week in Fayoum, a province about 60 km (37.28 miles) south of Cairo, that killed one policeman and injured three others.   Egyptian security forces also killed two people […]