Archive for September 2, 2013

Friday, August 16, 2013

Former Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, an ethnic Arab who rose to the top of the Revolutionary Guards during the Iran-Iraq War, this week made unprecedented criticism on the Iranian regime’s treatment of Ahwazi Arabs while visiting a mosque in Ahwaz City during Eid celebrations.

Regarded as a regime loyalist and the only Arab to have held a cabinet position in the Islamic Republic, Shamkhani accused the regime of “sectarianism” for launching a new television channel, Ahwaz TV, which is intended to counter Ahwazi Arab opposition.

Often praised for his role in the fight against Iraqi forces, Shamkhani accused the government of failing to reconstruct and develop the Ahwazi Arab region for the benefit of the people following the end of the 1980-88 war, which saw many towns devastated and still has a legacy of one of the world’s worst landmine problems. He highlighted various challenges facing the region in relation to good resource management and human development, but although government officials have often acknowledged the problems they have failed to act.

In a side-swipe at the ruling theocracy, Shamkhani claimed that native people had felt marginalized by the government’s decision to import extreme Shia fundamentalists from Arab countries, such as Tunisian theologian Muhammad Al-Tijani, to confront Sunnis. He claimed these theologians had little understanding of local Arab society and had proven to be counter-productive, fueling conversion from Shi’ism to other faiths.

Instead of progandising with religion and television channels, Shamkhani called on the government to deal with discrimination and resolve problems of poverty, which motivate disloyalty among Ahwazi Arabs. He claimed that in spite of frequent changes of administration and 15 different provincial governors, the policies in the region have not changed.

Source: Ahwaz New Agency.


August 18, 2013

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AFP) – Turkmenistan’s president announced Saturday he was stepping down as leader of the ruling party while he remained in office to promote a multi-party system in the isolated former Soviet state.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov told a party congress that he was resigning as leader of the ruling Democratic Party, which he has led since 2006, because he wanted to remain above party politics, according to television footage broadcast Saturday evening.

“I am suspending my membership of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan while I am president,” Berdymukhamedov said.

“I also think that it would be useful for those who hold positions of responsibility in the government not to be members of a party while they are carrying out their functions,” he added.

A government source earlier in the day had quoted Berdymukhamedov as telling the party congress that “the president of a country should not be a member of any party, so as not to create advantages for his party in a multi-party system.”

Berdymukhamedov, a dentist by profession, took power in 2006 after the death of his father, eccentric dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, who erected a golden rotating statue of himself as part of a bizarre personality cult.

Berdymukhamedov also took over as Democratic Party leader from Niyazov. Formerly the Turkmen branch of the Soviet Communist Party, it was the country’s only party for two decades.

Last year, a new law authorized the creation of a new political party called the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan.

Both parties are set to contest parliamentary elections in December.

Berdymukhamedov has embarked on tentative reforms, although his critics say the stabs at change have been little more than window dressing and he has done little to truly dismantle Niyazov’s legacy.

The president also said that as leader of the armed forces, the law bars him from being a member of any party, according to a government source.

It was unclear whether the party members would immediately vote for a new leader.

Aug. 19, 2013

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 19 (UPI) — The United Nations said it was concerned by allegations a Somali woman was raped by members of an African Union peacekeeping force in the country.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said sexual violence is one of the worst challenges facing the fledgling Somali government. OHCHA documents approximately 800 cases of sexual violence in Mogadishu during the first six months of 2013.

U.N. special envoy for Somalia Nicholas Kay said he was concerned by reports members of the African Union Mission in Somalia raped a woman near its military campus in Mogadishu in early August.

“It is important that any investigation is rigorous and prompt,” he said in a statement Sunday. “If there is a case to answer, any perpetrator should be prosecuted and held fully accountable while basic rights are protected.”

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia is tasked with providing support to African Union troops as they train for deployment. Kay said the U.N. mission would continue working on addressing sexual violence as it works to support its mandate for Somalia.

Somalia last year formed a central government for the first time since the 1990s. It’s struggled to exert its influence beyond Mogadishu because of terrorist control and separatist ambitions.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


September 01, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s military has bulldozed 13 homes along the Gaza Strip border and caved in tunnels beneath them as a prelude to the possible creation of a buffer zone to reduce weapon smuggling and illegal militant crossings, angering residents who said they were evicted with no compensation, security officials and residents said Sunday.

The military envisions creating a building-free zone with no trees 500 meters (1,640 feet) wide and 10 kilometers (6 miles) long starting at the Rafah border crossing and ending at the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Sinai government officials said. The homes were knocked down over the last 10 days as a test of the buffer zone idea in an area called el-Sarsoriya, a few kilometers (miles) from the Rafah crossing, while explosives were used to collapse the tunnels. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The move comes as Egypt’s interim government and military attempt to assert more stringent state control over the largely lawless northern Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic militants have turned large areas into strongholds from which they have waged repeated attacks on security forces, Christians and tribal leaders — compounding the country’s security woes following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July. Homes and trees along the Gaza border have been used as cover for militants to fire at border guards.

Ehab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said he feared the creation of a buffer zone would be a step toward imposing “a new blockade on Gaza and increase the suffering of its people.”

“Buffer zones are not needed between neighboring countries that have historical and social relations,” Ghussein said, calling instead for the establishment of a free trade zone at the Egypt-Gaza border.

The Egyptian military has closed much of the once-bustling tunnel system, but some remain along the 15-kilometer (9-mile) stretch of border. Residents angered by the past days’ bulldozing staged a sit-in protest in Rafah Sunday.

One tribal leader claimed that many more homes were demolished and that the bulldozers showed up without notice, giving people little time to leave with their belongings. And the government has offered no compensation, he added, to residents who lost their homes. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from authorities.

Samir Faris, who lives in Rafah, said many more people fear losing their homes if the buffer zone is expanded beyond the small area leveled so far. Most homes along the border are two to three stories high and house more than one family, he said.

“Officers come to houses, tell people they must leave now because they want to expand borders,” he said. “We have no objections, but first give us a clear plan.” At the sit-in, residents decided to propose a committee to authorities made up of the military, local officials and tribal leaders who could negotiate over the relocation of people living in houses proposed for demolition. Residents themselves are divided about moving. Some insist they want to stay while others would agree to leave with compensation because they agree with the military that the tunnels are a threat to Egypt’s national security.

The tunnels have been used for years to transport goods and people including weapons and militants back and forth between Sinai and Gaza. The Egyptian military estimates it has closed 350 tunnels, or about 80 percent of the total. Officials say efforts to destroy the tunnels have accelerated along the border since Morsi’s ouster by the military after millions protested his rule.

Egypt is concerned about militants moving back and forth between Gaza and Sinai through the illicit tunnels, and is struggling to control jihadist sympathizers in the desert peninsula in what it calls a “war against terrorism.”

Under its peace treaty with Israel, Egypt must coordinate any large-scale military operations in the northern Sinai with Israeli officials. The Egyptian officials said Israel has repeatedly accepted Egyptian requests to move equipment and troops into the area.

News of the home destructions came a day after Egyptian authorities arrested a top militant named Adel Jabara, identifying him as an al-Qaida leader in the Sinai Peninsula. He is accused of masterminding the killings of 25 off-duty soldiers last month. The attack was one of Egypt’s worst militant strikes since last year’s killing of 16 soldiers near Rafah by masked gunmen.

Last month, the army foiled an attempted suicide car bomb attack targeting a police station in the Gaza border town of Sheikh Zuweyid, killing three militants before they could reach their target.

Associated Press Gaza correspondent Ibrahim Barzak and reporter Mamdouh Thabit from southern city of Assiut contributed to this report.

Sunday, 01 September 2013

The officers and men of Egypt’s security services who smashed the anti-coup, pro-Morsi protests last month leading to the deaths of thousands of civilians have been rewarded for their efforts. Hundreds of thousands of people were also wounded when the protests were broken up “with excessive force” in mid-August.

The Interior Minister, General Mohamed Ibrahim, has announced that a total of 30 million Egyptian pounds (almost £3 million) has been set aside for the payments. The amounts will range from £20 per private soldier to £40 for a more senior officer. Such sums are very significant in Egypt’s parlous economic situation.

Human Rights Watch called the “rapid and intense use of excessive force” by the coup security forces “the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history”. A report by the organisation says that the police decision to use live ammunition against unarmed civilians reflected a “lack of concern for international standards of policing regarding the use of lethal force”. The authorities, alleges Human Rights Watch, failed to provide a safe exit for demonstrators, including those in need of urgent medical attention.

“This represents a serious violation of international standards,” the report says. “We did not find any evidence to justify the rapid resort to lethal force on a large-scale by the police against a large number of unarmed demonstrators.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.


28 August 2013

The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy called for nationwide protests to take place on Friday and for a civil obedience to start then to “restore the revolution and have deposed President Mohamed Mursi to return to the presidency,” said a statement they issued on Wednesday.

In their statement, the Islamist umbrella group for supporters of the ousted president said they will hold a press conference on Thursday to announce the details of Friday protests.

Describing the demonstrations staged by Mursi supporters throughout the past two weeks, the statement said, “The Egyptian people are being enslaved yet again. The crowds protesting across the country reveal the people’s rejection of the state of emergency and curfew imposed.”

Source: allAfrica.


August 28, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities detained more than 60 people associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in less than 24 hours, including relatives of the group’s leaders, officials said Wednesday.

The crackdown on the group, from which ousted President Mohammed Morsi hails, started shortly after the July 3 coup. It intensified this month after security forces cleared out two of the group’s sit-ins, killing hundreds and sparking unrest that killed more than 1,000 people in a few days. The Interior Ministry says more than 100 policemen and soldiers have also been killed since mid-August.

The local media, in close step with the new leadership after Morsi, repeatedly describe the actions of the Brotherhood and its supporters as acts of terrorism. Many have been charged with inciting violence. Security forces have arrested much the Brotherhood’s senior and midlevel leadership, while others remain in hiding.

Some in Egypt fear the Brotherhood’s once powerful political party and its allies could be barred from politics and be forced underground again. In an interview late Tuesday with the Arabic satellite channel MBC Misr, interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said dissolving the group is not a solution and warned against taking dramatic decisions during turbulent times. He suggested it is better that the government monitor political parties rather than force any to operate secretly, as the group had done for decades.

But in a widening campaign, police have started going after members’ relatives, including the son of Khairat el-Shater, a Brotherhood deputy and financier charged in relation to the killings of protesters outside the group’s headquarters in June. A U.S. citizen, the son of a fugitive Brotherhood figure, was also detained this week.

It was not immediately clear why police detained el-Shater’s 23-year-old son. Officials only said Wednesday that police had arrested Saad el-Shater and that he had threatened to release documents allegedly showing ties between his father and U.S. President Barack Obama. Officials did not elaborate.

The brother-in-law of fugitive Brotherhood figurehead Mohammed el-Beltagy also was arrested in the latest sweep on charges he incited violent protests aimed at toppling the military-backed government that took over after Morsi. Police officials said Saeed Zaki Eissa and two others known to be affiliated with the Brotherhood were detained in Egypt’s second largest city of Alexandria after prosecutors ordered their arrest.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media. Morsi was Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president after the uprising against his predecessor, longtime autocrat and air force pilot Hosni Mubarak.

In a symbolic move, the country’s military-backed interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree published Wednesday that changed the military oath, removing a line that has soldiers pledge allegiance to the presidency. Soldiers now will only be required to pledge loyalty to their “leadership” — which includes top generals — and the country, instead of directly to the presidency.

In Egypt, the president is the supreme commander of the country’s armed forces. Egypt’s former leaders, except Morsi, all came from the military. Morsi’s group accused the defense minister and general commander of the armed forces, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, of betraying the presidency by removing Morsi in the coup. El-Sissi said he acted to oust Morsi after millions protested for days demanding the president steps down.

The security clampdown appears to have weakened the Brotherhood-led protests, which have been much smaller across the country this past week. There are planned protests Friday and calls for civil disobedience.

A statement by military spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali on Wednesday said two protesters were shot dead during a march of about 500 people against Morsi’s ouster in the province of Bani Sueif. The spokesman alleged that the marchers had attacked a security patrol belonging to the military, prompting soldiers fire gunshots “in the air” to disperse the crowd late Tuesday.

August 27, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — In every corner of the Egyptian capital, a bustling city of 18 million that rarely sleeps, people are locked up in their homes at night under a military-imposed curfew that has driven people up the walls, sometimes literally.

To kill time, one said he spent the night counting flowers on his wallpaper — a staggering 865. Another tested how many cucumbers he can fit in a refrigerator drawer. A third calculated the speed of an ant crawling on his balcony rail.

The curfew has been a shock to Cairo, a city where cafes stay packed into the night and parents routinely take their children out for dinners nearing midnight. The two-week-old military-backed government’s curfew, after violent unrest following the July 3 coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, slashed the typical Cairo 24-hour life to just 13 hours.

Forced to close early, businesses and restaurants are hurting in a city where nightlife is a key source of income. The city’s metro system reportedly loses $71,500 a day. So how have people handled what some online have referred to as “British boarding school hell?”

A few have defiantly attempted to break the curfew, dodging the abundant police and military checkpoints on major highways and overpasses. They have organized underground slumber parties, publicized among friends via social media and mass text messages.

One cafe in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek even opened for the first time less than two weeks ago and almost all its business has come after curfew hours. On a recent night, tables were full of people smoking shishas, the water pipe tobacco.

“The first few days we were conforming to the curfew, but then people demanded we stay open later and so we did,” said manager Mohammed, who asked his last name and the name of the cafe not be published to avoid reprisals. “People are just not used to sitting at home or adhering (to rules).”

Four students at the cafe studied for a marketing exam for their summer course. “Before the curfew I am home. After the curfew I go out,” said Mahmoud Emam, 20, as he and his friends laughed. Others chose to flee the heat and turmoil in Cairo to the Mediterranean coastline, where the curfew doesn’t exist. Weddings, also typically held close to midnight with parties lasting until dawn, have been postponed.

Many find it a challenge to fill the time. Some predicted a baby boom next winter. Cynics suggest a hike in divorce rates — spouses are locked up together for longer hours. The Arabic Twitter hashtag “discoveries of the curfew” has become a way for some to vent their frustration. One man discovered that his refrigerator drawer can take 78 lemons or 65 cucumbers standing upright, or 75 if laid horizontally. Another mused that he has found 33 positions to sleep at night and 12 different ways to hug a pillow.

“Boredom is the devil. It makes you do things that you can never imagine,” a young Egyptian on a popular online video says. The humorous short, filmed in a distorted view, includes his cry: “Mr. President, how long can we go on like this?”

“We are turning into toothpaste tubes because of how much we are stuffing our face with food,” he says. Some offered more blunt discoveries: One female activist declared she’s only now realized it’s been three years since she’s had a job.

This is the second government-called curfew in Cairo since Egypt’s 2011 uprising against autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. The army first tried it in 2011 but hundreds of thousands held their ground in Tahrir Square, demanding Mubarak step down.

This time, however, has seen widespread compliance. Part of that comes from fear, as more than 1,000 people had been killed across Egypt in recent violence. Others view it as a stand with the military against the country’s ousted president and the Muslim Brotherhood, blamed by the government for inciting much of the unrest.

But even those who acquiesce to the early evening lockdown are sometimes caught in traffic gridlock as the curfew starts. Soldiers have generally been forgiving, but in some cases have stopped drivers by the side of the road until the curfew ends at 6 a.m. Soldiers also shot a journalist to death at a checkpoint in one incident, increasing public fears.

Those watching television at home at night also find themselves exposed to pro-military and anti-Brotherhood comments in programming, with commercials showing Egyptian soldiers running across deserts with rifles and helicopters flying in the sky. Others broadcast scenes of violence from the recent unrest. Television stations sympathetic to the Brotherhood have been taken off the air.

Army leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah “El-Sissi is imposing the curfew to make us all sit at home and watch TV propaganda aimed to make us all love him and hate terrorists,” said Tarek Shalaby, who runs The Planet, an agency that creates and develops websites.

In defiance of the curfew, the Planet has hosted a cooking night, a movie screening and a seminar on how to create web pages during curfew hours. On peak evenings, two dozen people attended. Other activists organized pot-banging sessions at the peak of the curfew to protest both the military and the Brotherhood.

As the curfew drags on, some worry a culture of fear is returning to a nation that prides itself in having rebelled against authority after years of repression. Tarik Salama has proudly posted his findings online of places open after curfew, including a quiet garden and poolside restaurants at two different hotels. He plans to celebrate his 56th birthday this month during curfew hours to make a statement.

“The curfew is not for security reasons,” Salama said. “It is purely to make people feel that the army is in charge, for psychological reasons.”

August 27, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — A fugitive leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has denied accusations his group is committing acts of “terrorism” following the coup that toppled the country’s president.

Mohammed el-Beltagy’s address, which aired Tuesday, comes as the Brotherhood plans new demonstrations to defy a crippling security crackdown that has put most of its senior and mid-level leadership behind bars. Among those detained Monday was 25-year-old U.S. citizen Mohamed Soltan, the son of outspoken Brotherhood figure Salah Soltan, family and security officials said.

El-Beltagy, a former lawmaker, is wanted himself on accusations of inciting violence and has been hunted by authorities for nearly three weeks. In a videotaped message aired by Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, an affiliate of the Qatar-based broadcaster, el-Beltagy said that authorities were trying to turn a “political crisis” into a security problem by accusing his group of orchestrating a terrorism campaign.

Egypt’s media, almost uniformly anti-Brotherhood after the closure of Islamist television stations, have described the crackdown as a “war against terrorism.” “Don’t be fooled by these lies and deception that aim to label us with terrorism, violence, (and) killing … at a time when the hands of the coup regime are drowned in blood,” el-Beltagy said.

El-Beltagy went into hiding earlier this month after authorities violently broke up protest encampments held by supporters of President Mohammed Morsi, overthrown July 3 by the military after days of mass protests against him. Hundreds died in the crackdown, including el-Beltagy’s daughter.

In retaliation, Morsi supporters attacked police stations, government buildings and churches (Note from Defender Owl: Facts are the coup people were behind such attacks. Believe it or not). Hundreds of Brotherhood members, the group’s top leaders and Morsi supporters were arrested, many accused of orchestrating and taking part in violence.

Airport authorities also said Tuesday that well-known Egyptian cleric Yousef al-Qaradawi, based in Qatar, would be arrested upon entry to the country. The elderly sheik is very close to the Brotherhood and has spoken out vehemently against the country’s military chief who led the coup.

The current bout of violence is the worst in Egypt’s 2 ½ years of turbulent transition. More than 1,000 people, mostly Morsi supporters, were killed in the raids and other violence since mid-August. Violence has waned in the past few days.

An official in the Interior Ministry said Tuesday that 106 security personnel have been killed since Aug. 14 and that more than 900 have been wounded in violence, including soldiers and policemen. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

In the latest round-up of Brotherhood supporters, authorities said they arrested Soltan and three others at the pro-Brotherhood Rassd Network News service’s office in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. Also detained in the group arrest was the manager of the news service, a broadcaster and one of Rassd’s founders.

Soltan, a graduate of Ohio State University, was active online in support of the Brotherhood and had posted a picture of his arm after he was shot during the security raid on the sit-ins two weeks ago. His father is wanted by police on charges he incited violence during speeches.

Police said the group was in possession of plans to spread chaos and violence in the country by inciting splits among the ranks of the army and police and through acts of civil disobedience. Police officials said they confiscated a Thuraya satellite phone, six mobile phones, three laptops and a camera from the group.

A Facebook group managed by his friends and family called “Free Soltan” described him as a “pro-democracy activist.” The administrators of the page say they do not know where he is being held and that they are contacting members of Congress and Senate to push for his release.

“He is a peaceful person and strongly committed to non-violence and social justice,” a posting on the Facebook page said. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo could not be immediately reached for comment.

The pro-Morsi camp is planning large new rallies on Friday to press for its demands, including justice for those killed and the “leaders of the coup” be put on trial. Many are still calling for Morsi’s return to power, though a Brotherhood official told The Associated Press on Monday that the group is open for talks only after “confidence-building measures” from the new government.

The size of their rallies has dramatically shrunk in the past week (Note from Defender Owl: Once again facts are different from this “report” from the Associated Press on that issue). Islamist groups allied to the Brotherhood have proposed a truce between the interim government and the Morsi camp in which the authorities would end the crackdown and the media campaign in exchange for an end to street protests. Scattered protests continued across the country Tuesday.

Meanwhile Tuesday, an intelligence official said masked militants and snipers attacked the headquarters of military intelligence in the Sinai border town of Rafah. The official said troops responded and injured two of unidentified assailants.

In a separate attack, a stolen ambulance laden with explosives exploded when army troops opened fire at it before it hit a police station in the town of Sheikh Zuweyid near border with Gaza, the official said. The remains of the three attackers’ bodies were found in the wreckage, he said.

The official spoke anonymously in line with regulations.

Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam in el-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.