Archive for October 22, 2012

October 22, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese troops launched a major security operation on Monday to open all roads and force gunmen off the streets, trying to contain an outburst of violence set off by the assassination of a top intelligence official who was a powerful opponent of Syria. Sectarian clashes killed at least five people.

Opponents of Syria have blamed the regime in Damascus for the killing of Lebanese Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan in a Beirut car bomb on Friday. With Lebanon already tense and deeply divided over the civil war next door, the assassination has threatened to drag the country back into the kind of sectarian strife that plagued it for decades — much of it linked to Syria.

“The nation is passing through a crucial and critical period and tension has risen in some areas to unprecedented levels,” the army said in a statement. It urged politicians to be careful not to incite violence “because the fate of the nation is on the edge.”

“Security is a red line,” the statement said, adding that strict measures are being taken to “prevent Lebanon from being an arena for settling regional problems.” Cracks of gunfire rang out in Beirut as soldiers and armored personnel carriers with heavy machine guns took up position on major thoroughfares and dismantled roadblocks. The state news agency reported sporadic gunfire in parts of Beirut and around the northern city of Tripoli.

Tripoli saw clashes between two neighborhoods that support opposite sides in Syria’s conflict and have a decades-long history of shooting at each other. Four people were killed in the fighting between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Tabbaneh and the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which supports the Syrian regime.

Lebanon and Syria share similar sectarian divides that have fed tensions in both countries. Most of Lebanon’s Sunnis have backed Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Lebanese Shiites tend to back President Bashar Assad who belongs to the minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Tripoli residents said scores of soldiers deployed around the city in an attempt to bring back calm. The military also set up checkpoints, searched cars and asked people for identity cards. Security officials also said one man was killed in the Wadi Zayneh area north of the southern city of Sidon. They said the clashes also wounded at least six people in Beirut and 11 in Tripoli. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Hassan, the assassinated intelligence official, was a Sunni who challenged Syria and its powerful Lebanese ally, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Al-Hassan’s killing has imperiled Lebanon’s fragile political balance. Many politicians blamed Syria for the killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after al-Hassan’s funeral on Sunday, venting their rage at leaders they consider puppets of a murderous Syrian regime. But they were pushed back by troops who fired their guns in the air and filled the street with tear gas.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni, told As-Safir newspaper that when he took up his post last year, he intended to protect all Lebanese, particularly Sunnis. “I was convinced that through this mission, I am protecting my country, my people and especially fellow members of my sect,” he said.

The prime minister of Lebanon is usually a Sunni according to a sectarian division of top posts in the state. Over the past year, pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies have come to dominate the government.

On Sunday night, a group of anti-Syrian protesters started an open-ended sit-in outside Mikati’s house in his hometown of Tripoli. The protesters said they will only end the sit-in when Mikati resigns.

Ambassadors of Britain, the U.S., Russia, China and France and the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon met President Michel Suleiman to express support for him. “The permanent members at the United Nations call upon all the parties in Lebanon to preserve stability,” Derek Plumbly, the U.N. representative, told reporters in Arabic while surrounded by the five ambassadors. “We strongly condemn any attempt to shake Lebanon’s stability.”

Later in the day, Mikati met with Suleiman but did not make any statements afterward. An Associated Press photographer saw dozens of gunmen roaming the streets on Monday in Beirut’s predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Tariq Jadideh, where fighting has taken place. Local Sunni leaders were calling the gunmen by telephone urging them to pull out of the streets.

In some roads around Tariq Jadideh, masked Sunni gunmen set up checkpoints, stopping cars and asking people about their destination and where they were coming from. A woman who lives in the neighborhood said the fighting began shortly after midnight and lasted until sunrise.

“We couldn’t sleep because of the shooting. There were also some booms,” she said, referring to rocket-propelled grenades. She asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisals.

Oct. 3, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey, Oct. 3 (UPI) — Bilateral energy ties with Russia aren’t affected significantly by a decision to end a contract for pipeline supplies, the Turkish energy minister said.

State-owned Turkish Pipeline Corp., or BOTAS, during the weekend said it wasn’t renewing its 25-year natural gas deal through the so-called Western pipeline because Gazprom wasn’t offering a discount to Ankara.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz noted that a deal with Russia for the Blue Stream pipeline, which carries more than 200 billion cubic feet of natural gas to Turkey, was still in place.

“Our cooperation with Russia will move forward and grow stronger,” he was quoted by Turkish daily newspaper Today’s Zaman as saying.

Yildiz said natural gas prices for Turkey are up 39 percent in the past two years. Turkey is one of the key export markets for Russian natural gas.

Ankara aims to position itself as a regional transit hub for natural resources. It already hosts part of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, one of the longest in the world. It could play host to the Nabucco gas pipeline for Europe as well as South Stream, a natural gas pipeline designed to carry Russia’s natural gas.

Alexander Medvedev, the head of exports for Gazprom, was quoted by Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti as saying his company had other options in Turkey.

“If the contract with state company BOTAS is not extended, we are ready to supply these volumes to our current and new partners — private firms — for a further sale to final consumers on the Turkish market,” he said.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


Tue Oct 4, 2011

Anti-government protesters continue to cause huge traffic jams on the streets of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in a protest campaign against the repressive policies of the Al Khalifa regime, Press TV reports.

As part of the protest campaign, which is dubbed “Manama Storm,” protesters have created massive traffic jams in Manama, according to Press TV sources.

The campaign continues in defiance of an Interior Ministry’s warning in late September that warned the protesters of losing their driver’s licenses for up to one year if they deliberately created traffic jams.

Meanwhile, a Bahraini court handed out three-month jail terms to two people on Tuesday and fined each USD 265 for blocking traffic.

This comes following Monday rulings of a Bahraini military court which sentenced 14 protesters to life imprisonment and handed long jail terms of up to 18 years to 22 others.

The military court, however, rejected pleas by attorneys of those sentenced for an independent probe into the reported torture of defendants.

Earlier on Thursday, the Bahraini court also sentenced 20 medical workers to jail terms of between five and 15 years for treating injured anti-government protesters.

Since mid-February, thousands of anti-government protesters have been staging regular demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling on the US-backed Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power.

On March 14, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist Bahraini rulers in their brutal crackdown on peaceful anti-government protesters.

According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested in the regime crackdown.

Source: PressTV.



The 2nd International Renewable Energy Exhibition of Oran will open on October 19th, Liberte reported on Monday (October 3rd). More than 65 foreign companies and exhibitors have confirmed their participation at the three-day event. Panel discussions will focus on the Algerian approach to energy and sustainable development.

Source: Magharebia.



Protests against the 2011 Mauritanian national census continued Sunday (October 2nd) in Nouakchott, PANA reported. The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), an anti-slavery NGO, staged sit-ins to denounce what it calls a “discriminatory and selective” census that it accuses of depriving some Mauritanians of their “natural citizenship rights”.

Meanwhile, the Mauritanian Forum of Human Rights Organisations (FONADH) on Saturday (October 1st) called for an official probe into the death of a teenager killed during an anti-census protest last Tuesday. Lamine Mangane was shot in Maghama during clashes between anti-riot police and protesters from the “Hands Off My Nationality” movement. The members of the movement oppose the census for its alleged exclusion of the country’s black population.

Source: Magharebia.


Participants at the Algiers book event examined how to preserve the achievements of popular revolutions and pursue people’s quest for freedom.

By Fidet Mansour for Magharebia in Algiers – 03/10/2011

The Arab Spring has found its way to the 16th Algiers International Book Fair (SILA), which wrapped up on Sunday (October 2nd). More than 500 publishers from 32 countries gathered at the ten-day event to dissect, analyse and explain the epic changes rocking the Arab world.

Authors, poets and essayists from Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, South Africa, France, Russia, Spain and other countries participated in the discussion panels held under the theme, “The book delivers”.

Some 500 Tunisian titles were on display, including “the most important works published after the January 14, 2011 revolution”, Publishers Union chief Noureddine Abid said.

Former Algerian foreign minister and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi discussed the modern history of the Arab world and the ferment experienced by the region, marked by a desire for a real break with the past. The challenge facing the Arab world is how to rebuild itself and continue along the path of reform, he said.

The challenge now is “how to preserve the achievements of the revolutions and pursue the people’s quest for democracy, liberty and development” as well as avoid committing fatal errors, explained Amr El Shoubaki, a senior analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. The answers to these two problems, the speaker said, will be the key to successful revolutions.

The symposium produced some other remarkable insights. Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, Vice-President of the Arab and African Research Center in Cairo, highlighted the particular role played by women and youths in the reform process triggered by the uprisings. Their role was “primordial” given the large number of women and young people who took to the streets, whether in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya, to demand change.

Another subject of debate was the economic aspect of revolutions. The participants also discussed the coverage of the Arab Spring in the Western media.

The event, however, did not pass without controversy. The religious affairs ministry decided to withdraw more than 400 books intended for display at the fair. Rachid Hadj Nacer, the director of books and reading at the Ministry of Culture, said that “the majority of those were religious books.”

Culture Minister Khalida Toumi explained that the books included “those supporting colonialism, terrorism, racism, and those attacking the revolution of national liberation”.

According to national daily newspaper Echorouk, the banned books included the ones that could propagate fundamentalist thought or ignite ethnic problems in Algeria.

Source: Magharebia.


Mauritanians upset with the way authorities are handling the latest census are taking to the streets in violent demonstrations.

By Bakari Guèye for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 03/10/11

The southern Mauritanian city of Kaedi erupted into violence late last month as young protesters from the “Don’t Touch My Nationality” movement clashed with security forces over the country’s census.

“The damage is enormous,” according to Hassan Baradji, a prominent Kaedi resident. “Public and private buildings such as the palace of justice, the head offices of the transport federation, the census office and the market have been ransacked and burned.”

The violence began in town along the Senegalese border on September 24th, with rioters saying they feared being treated as second class citizens as a result of the census. Kaedi’s Director of Security was dismissed from his post following the riots. Clashes were also later reported in Nouakchott, resulting in 56 arrests as of Friday (September 30th), according to AFP.

Police tried to restore calm in Kaedi by negotiating with the Don’t Touch My Nationality movement. Group co-ordinator Wane Abould Birane said that the movement was launched “following the wholesale rejection by the enrollment committees of a significant body of Mauritanian Negroes marginalized by an oppressive system which has always been ready to exclude the Mauritanian Negro”.

“The movement was launched on the social networks by young Negro-Mauritanian white-collar workers from various backgrounds,” he said. “The census committees have been humiliating Black African citizens, acting as judge and jury, even putting the nationality of a Bal, Fall, Traore or Sarr to the vote.”

The co-ordinator cited the example of one person who was asked to recite a particular verse from the Qur’an while “another had to prove his Mauritanian credentials by recognizing a key figure from presidential circles or by speaking in the Hassania language”.

Mauritanian Interior Minister Mohamed Ould Bolil met with leaders of the movement following the riots but the clashes continued to spread, reaching the town of Maghama, where one person was killed on September 27th.

The Mauritanian Parliament took up the issue at the opening of its September 25th session. “The biggest threat to national cohesion at this time is the census currently under way,” said National Assembly President Messaoud Ould Boulkheir. He urged authorities to review the census program while at the same time calling for citizens to “return to peace and dialogue in order to resolve all national problems”.

“The waves made by the current census are due to a manifest lack of information,” according to Senate President Bâ M’Baré. He said the census would involve all Mauritanians. “The operation to enroll all Mauritanians will take as long as it takes. No son of this country will be left at the roadside,” he added.

Mauritania’s main opposition party, the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD), blamed the violence on “authorities’ repression of a demonstration”, adding that the party condemned “all forms of repression against peaceful demonstrations which are provided for in the Constitution”.

Source: Magharebia.


Ankara, Turkey (UPI)

Sep 30, 2011

Turkey is building its political and military profile as a regional power while contributing to EU moves to promote mediation for peace and humanitarian assistance in the region’s multiple crises, from Libya, Syria to the Palestinian territories.

As the West and European Union in particular ponder their role in a reforming Egypt, Turkey has already accomplished a high-powered dash to Cairo, secured contracts worth $1 billion and reached political accords that are seen likely to outlive the transition from the military to a democratic civilian regime.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan led a 268-member trade delegation to Cairo in the midst of a tense standoff between the generals and the politicians and walked away with wide-ranging economic and political accords.

Erdogan was a peace mission nominally on behalf of Europe and NATO, which has seen its stock rise after the largely successful installation of a transitional government in Libya, even as the uncertain future of deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi looms on the horizon.

Turkey was the colonial power in the vast expanse that includes Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian territories right up to the early part of the 20th century. Ankara commanded respect in Gadhafi’s Libya without subscribing to his politics. Despite frequent rows over payments for multimillion-dollar contracts, Ankara was able to “handle” the maverick former leader without cozying up with him.

Turkey’s current diplomatic rise is a complex outcome of Erdogan’s measured brinkmanship, an ongoing quarrel with Israel that raised Turkey’s standing among the Arabs and the EU’s dependence on Turkey’s unrivaled diplomatic contacts in the Middle East and North Africa region.

“He is polling as the most popular politician, by far, in virtually every country of the Middle East, and for the revolutionary generation who turned to the Middle East’s only Muslim democracy for inspiration, he is a conquering hero,” The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto said of Erdogan in a dispatch from London.

Syndicated columnist Patrick Seale described Turkey’s rise as part of the emergence of the region’s alternative “heavyweights” including Saudi Arabia. At the heart of the problem, Seale said, was growing anger in the region over lack of progress in a resolution of the Arab-Israeli problems.

Seale called it “in effect a rebellion against American and Israeli hegemony as spectacular as the Arab Spring itself. The message these regional powers are conveying is that the Palestine question can no longer be neglected.”

Turkey, until recently a close military and political partner of Israel, broke ranks after an Israeli attack on a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza in May 2010.

The Gaza flotilla raid left nine peace activists dead and 10 of the Israeli commandos wounded, one seriously. The flotilla, organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, was carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials to Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Turkish-Israeli ties went downhill from that incident and in September this year Turkey downgraded relations with Israel because of its refusal to apologize over the attacks.

Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in 1949, before Iran under the pro-Western Pahlavi monarchy.

Source: Space War.


Baghdad (UPI)

Oct 3, 2011

Iraq is likely to order a second batch of Lockheed Martin F-16 combat jets following last month’s contract to buy 18 of the aircraft, Iraqi officials say.

This appears to be a concerted, but belated, drive by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to give the country’s emerging postwar air force a credible defensive punch funded by windfall oil revenues and to shore up an important gap in Iraqi defenses as U.S. forces withdraw.

Mudher Khidr Nasir, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, has told the Iraq Daily Times the 18 F-16 Block 52 aircraft order — enough for one squadron — was so small as to be “ridiculous.”

Ali Musawi, a close Maliki aide, said the 18 jets were “a first installment and hopefully there will be another 18 to make a total of 36.”

He said the first batch of F-16s with “enhance” Iraqi capabilities to protect its airspace, but 18 aircraft will be far too few to effectively cover an area of 169,234 square miles.

Iraq, which has been fought over for millennia, is bordered by Jordan in the west, Syria in the northwest, Turkey in the north, Iran in the east and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the south.

“So looking at Iraq’s position in the region, having those planes is not much,” Musawi observed, “but it is a beginning.”

The Block 52s are built at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, assembly plant.

The contract is worth at least $3 billion but will probably swell to $4.2 billion once training programs, spare parts, maintenance and weapons systems are included.

The first of the aircraft Baghdad has ordered aren’t expected to be delivered until the fall of 2012 and most likely not until 2013.

Ultimately, Iraqi commanders have said they want 96 F-16s, enough for five squadrons deployed around the country at air bases built by the Americans following the 2003 invasion.

But that’s as much as a decade away from fruition as it takes years to build up a fully operational air force, train air and ground crews and install a nationwide radar and air-defense network with guns and missiles.

The development of that system is being discussed between Iraqi and U.S. military officials, says U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq.

It’s this lack of Iraqi air-defense infrastructure that was partly behind the current effort to find ways to maintain a sizeable number of U.S. troops in Iraq after the Dec. 31 deadline for completing the U.S. military withdrawal, U.S. officials said.

Buchanan said that amid the U.S. pullout under a December 2008 security agreement between Washington and Baghdad, the acquisition of F-16s was a major step forward for Iraq’s military forces.

“The F-16’s a good example of them taking a step to reinforce their sovereignty, increase their self-reliance and deal with one of those security gaps that they still have,” he said.

Meantime, U.S, forces are handing over a considerable amount of equipment to the Iraqi forces as the withdrawal counts down to the deadline. However, it’s not clear whether that includes air-defense systems.

Still, the Iraq Daily Times reported that Iraqi air traffic controllers will take over responsibility for flights below 15,000 feet in the central part of the country, the last part of Iraqi air space still controlled by the Americans.

“Iraq’s air-defense radar and long-range radar systems will be fully functional by the middle of next year,” the newspaper said, without elaboration.

The Iraqi military, it added, also “now has a modern air-operations center that controls military aircraft throughout the country and is able to sound a warning if the borders are breached.”

The F-16s now on order will be the first combat aircraft for the Iraqi air force. The first batch of 10 pilots is already undergoing supersonic training with the U.S. Air Force.

Buchanan insisted the first delivery of F-16s will give the Iraqis “a robust capability… where they currently have none.”

Source: Space War.


Tuesday, 04 October 2011

Leader of the so-called Syrian Free Army, Col. Riyadh al-Asaad, denied to Al Arabiya the media reports about his arrest by Syrian government forces.

Syrian forces hunted protesters in the central region of Homs as they sought to crush armed resistance that is emerging after six months of protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, Reuters reported.

Monday’s crackdown came a day after Syrian opposition groups met in Istanbul and urged international action to stop what they called indiscriminate killings of civilians by the authorities.

The United States welcomed the development, saying it was encouraged by the opposition’s statements supporting non-violence, and blamed the mounting death toll on the Syrian authorities.

Local activists said a military operation on Monday focused on Talbiseh near Homs, 150 km (94 miles) north of Damascus, after security forces entered the nearby town of Rastan, which lies on the highway between the capital and the northern city of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the defected Khalid Ibn al-Walid battalion said that it has withdrawn from Rastan for the sake of protecting civilian lives.

Battling protesters and army deserters

For about a week, tank- and helicopter-backed troops have battled protesters and army deserters in Rastan, in the most sustained fighting since Syria’s uprising began in March. The official Syrian news agency said on Saturday government forces had regained control of the town.

“Tank fire targeted Talbiseh this morning and communications remain cut. The town was key in supplying Rastan and now it is being punished for that,” one activist said. “House to house arrests are continuing in the area for the second day.”

Armed protesters, mostly in the central Homs region and the northwestern province of Idlib, have been so far outgunned.

Activists said dozens of villagers had been arrested in Talbiseh in the past 48 hours and there were deaths and casualties from the raids.

Information also was scarce from Rastan, which has been sealed off since tanks moved in at the weekend. Activists said hundreds of people were believed to have been arrested and held in schools and factories in the town.

Activists told The Associated Press that Syrian troops, going house to house, have detained more than 3,000 people in the past three days in Rastan, which saw some of the worst fighting of the 6-month-old uprising recently.

The activist group Local Coordination Committees said fighting in the town has now stopped after the military operation that left dozens dead. The group and a Rastan-based activist confirmed about 3,000 in the town of 70,000 had been detained. The activist told AP by telephone that the detainees are being held at a cement factory, as well as some schools and the Sports Club, a massive, four-story compound.

“Ten of my relatives have been detained,” said the activist, who asked that he be identified only by his first name Hassan for fear of retaliation. He said he was speaking from hiding in Rastan.

Events on the ground are difficult to verify as the authorities have expelled independent journalists from the country or banned them from working, although some foreign reporters have been allowed to visit.

While some Assad opponents have taken up arms, others are still staging demonstrations against his 11-year rule. Night protests erupted on Sunday in several districts of Homs, where a crowd in the Khalidiya district shouted, “Homs is free.”

Assad, 46, who succeeded his father in 2000, blames the violence on foreign-backed armed gangs. His officials say 700 police and soldiers have died, as well as 700 “mutineers.”

Surge in sectarian killings

A surge in sectarian killings has heightened tensions in the city. The state news agency said “armed terrorist groups” killed five people there on Monday. Residents said two bodies had turned up in the city’s Sunni Qarabid neighborhood.

Homs has a mixed population, with a few Alawite neighborhoods inhabited by members of Assad’s minority sect, alongside others populated by majority Sunni Muslims.

Underlining the turn towards violence, the authorities said Sariya Hassoun, the son of Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, Syria’s state-appointed top cleric, was assassinated in Idlib on Sunday.

It was the first attack on the state-backed Sunni clergy who have backed Assad for decades, despite widespread Sunni resentment at Alawite dominance.

As Syria’s struggle has grown bloodier, claiming at least 2,700 lives so far, according to a U.N. count, demonstrators have begun to demand some form of international protection that stops short of Libya-style Western military intervention.

A statement issued in Istanbul on Sunday by a newly formed opposition National Council rejected intervention that “compromises Syria’s sovereignty,” but said the outside world had a humanitarian obligation to protect the Syrian people.

“The Council demands that international governments and organizations meet their responsibility to support the Syrian people, protect them and stop the crimes and gross human rights violations being committed by the current illegitimate regime.”

The council said the uprising must remain peaceful but that military assaults, torture and mass arrests were driving Syria “to the edge of civil war and inviting foreign interference.”

It also said the Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus Declaration — which groups established opposition figures — and grassroots activists had all joined the Council.

Source: al-Arabiya.