Archive for December 3, 2013

by Nesru Jemal
20 September 2013

The Djibouti Government on Thursday said that its rail project under construction would facilitate business activities and improve revenue for countries in the East African region.

The rail project is being undertaken by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) at a cost of 600 million dollars and financed by the China EXIM Bank.

Djibouti’s Transport Minister, Moussa Ahmed, had on Tuesday inaugurated a committee to supervise the project expected to be completed within two years.

Ahmed, who is attending the Joint Rail Commission meeting in Addis Ababa told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday that the railway line “will facilitate access to different markets in the region and will also link Djibouti to South Sudan through Ethiopia.”

Meanwhile Ethiopia’s Transport Minister, Workneh Gebeyehu said that the new railway line would change the socio-economic conditions of the two countries as well as generate jobs for youths.

Workneh appealed to the project handlers and the government of Djibouti to ensure its completion within the time frame for the speedy realization of its economic benefits to the countries.

The Ethiopian Government is also undertaking a similar project handled by the Chinese company linking Addis Ababa with Djibouti. The Ethiopian project is also expected to be completed within the next two years, the Ethiopian transport minister said.

Source: allAfrica.

October 23, 2013

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AP) — A new criminal law that could include penalties like amputation for theft and stoning for adultery will be enforced for Muslims in Brunei in six months, its ruling sultan announced.

Brunei’s Shariah Islamic court had previously handled mainly family-related disputes. The sultan has been hoping to implement the new law for years to bolster the influence of Islam in the tiny, oil-rich monarchy on Southeast Asia’s Borneo island.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said the Shariah Penal Code should be regarded as a form of “special guidance” from God and would be “part of the great history” of Brunei. “By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled,” the sultan said at a legal conference in Brunei’s capital.

The law would apply only to Muslims, who comprise about two-thirds of the population of nearly 420,000 people. The others follow mainly Buddhist, Christianity and indigenous beliefs. Brunei’s Mufti Awang Abdul Aziz, the country’s top Islamic scholar, told Tuesday’s conference that the Shariah law “guarantees justice for everyone and safeguards their well-being.”

“Let us not just look at the hand-cutting or the stoning or the caning per se, but let us also look at the conditions governing them,” Awang said. “It is not indiscriminate cutting or stoning or caning. There are conditions and there are methods that are just and fair.”

Under secular laws, Brunei already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offenses, for which convicts can be flogged with a rattan cane. Awang said there should be no concerns that foreign travelers might end up avoiding Brunei after the law is implemented.

“Please listen to our answer. Sir, do all potential tourists to Brunei plan to steal? If they do not, then what do they need to fear,” he said. “Believe me when I say that with our Shariah criminal law, everyone, including tourists, will receive proper protection.”

The implementation of Shariah criminal law is not expected to face vocal opposition in Brunei, which has long been known for conservative policies such as banning the public sale of liquor. Sultan Hassanal, who has reigned since 1967, is Brunei’s head of state with full executive authority. Public criticism of his policies is extremely rare in Brunei.

Associated Press writer Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

October 01, 2013

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia began holding its first post-war census Tuesday, a sensitive exercise expected to reveal the effects of ethnic expulsions during the 1990s conflict and also impact the country’s power-sharing system.

Over the next two weeks, officials will be knocking on people’s doors and asking them to answer around 70 questions. Preliminary results are expected in January. In the last census in 1991, Bosnia had 4.4 million people, of whom 43.5 percent were Muslims, 31.2 percent Serbs and 17.4 percent Croats and a small percentage of others. After separating from the then-Yugoslavia in 1992, the group known as Muslims were labeled Bosniaks.

The various groups all lived mixed throughout Bosnia but ethnic expulsions and killings during the 1992-95 war created ethnic exclusive territories, divided the country into almost autonomous ethnic regions and sent an estimated million people permanently abroad.

The country’s power-sharing system, imposed by a 1995 peace agreement, gives each of the three main ethnic groups in Bosnia a share of power based on the size of their populations according to the 1991 census.

Changes in the size of the ethnic groups in the past two decades could influence their share of power in the future.

November 03, 2013

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A special war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh on Sunday sentenced to death two Bangladeshis now living abroad for crimes against humanity during the country’s independence war against Pakistan in 1971.

Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, who lives in Britain, and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who lives in New York, were found guilty by a three-judge panel of abducting and murdering 18 people in December 1971, including nine university teachers, six journalists and three physicians.

The two were tried in absentia after they refused to return to Bangladesh to face trial. Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the 1971 war.

The two men were members of Jamaat-e-Islami during the war. The Islamic party is an ally of the country’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, a rival of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Hasina formed the special tribunal in 2010 to try war crimes suspects. A Supreme Court ruling last month that upheld the conviction and death sentence of a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdul Quader Mollah, triggered deadly clashes and a nationwide general strike.

October 12, 2013

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Thousands gathered in the capital of Azerbaijan on Saturday to protest the re-election of President Ilham Aliyev in a vote widely criticized by international election monitors.

The protesters in Baku demanded that the election be nullified and that Aliyev resign. Aliyev succeeded his father to the presidency of this small oil-rich nation in 2003, extending decades of dynastic rule.

Leading the march was Jamil Hasanli, the historian who ran as the main opposition candidate but snagged less than 6 percent of the vote to Aliyev’s 85 percent. Police estimated that there were 1,500 at the rally, whereas the opposition put the number between 8,000 and 10,000. The protest was significantly smaller than in previous presidential elections in 2003 and 2008, when at least three to four times as many people gathered to contest the results.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the Wednesday vote flawed. The day before, the Central Election Commission released the results of the vote on a smartphone app, showing Aliyev comfortably in the lead.

“This government must go and it will go,” said Hasanli. He criticized Azerbaijani election officials, saying “they will all receive their punishment.” Booming oil prices and a growing economy have allowed Aliyev to cement his control over the country, particularly after the tumultuous collapse of the Soviet Union, when Azerbaijan plunged into war with neighboring Armenia.

Years of relentless government crackdowns and bitter infighting has also weakened the opposition, which found it hard to mount a challenge to Aliyev in the latest vote. Hasanli was forwarded as a candidate at the last minute after the opposition’s first choice was unable to register because he had Russian citizenship, and many observers said his campaign was poorly planned and lacked energy.


October 10, 2013

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Something funny happened the day before Azerbaijan’s presidential election: The election commission announced the winner.

On Tuesday, a day before the voting began, the smartphone app of the Central Election Commission released results showing President Ilham Aliyev, whose family has been at the helm of the Caspian Sea nation for four decades, winning 73 percent of the vote.

On Wednesday, the commission said Aliyev had won 85 percent of the vote. His closest contender, Jamil Hasanli, trailed with 6 percent, it said. The commission apologized for the early result on Thursday, saying it was only a test at one polling station conducted by the software developer. It expressed “deep regret” for the “misunderstanding.”

International monitors said Thursday that the vote that kept the dynasty in power was marred by violations.

October 09, 2013

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan’s president won a third five-year term by a landslide in Wednesday’s election, according to preliminary results, extending decades of dynastic rule in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation allied with the West.

An opposition challenger quickly cried foul, protesting what he described as widespread vote-rigging and questioning the legitimacy of the vote. With 72 percent of precincts counted, Ilham Aliyev was leading the field with nearly 85 percent of the vote, said the Central Election Commission chief, Mazahir Panahov.

The main opposition candidate, historian Jamil Hasanli, had about 5 percent of the vote, followed by eight other contenders. Full preliminary results are expected Thursday. Exit polls have earlier shown similar figures, prompting Aliyev’s campaign chief, Ali Ahmadov, to quickly claim victory. “Ilham Aliyev has unconditional support of the population,” Ahmadov said.

In a statement after the election, Hasanli condemned what he called “total falsification and rude trampling on the people’s rights.” “Already now the legitimacy of the election can be called into question,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Hasanli said that his supporters registered cases of ballot stuffing at a number of polling stations. “Regrettably, many government officials are involved in falsification, becoming accomplices of a grave crime,” he said.

The Central Election Commission chief insisted that the vote was clean. International election monitors are to issue their report Thursday. International rights groups have accused Aliyev of pressuring and harassing government critics, leaving them little chance to campaign. The government, however, loosened restrictions ahead of the ballot, withdrawing its longtime ban on rallies in the center of the capital.

Aliyev has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 9 million since 2003, succeeding his father, Geidar Aliyev, who had been at the helm for most of the previous three decades, first as Azerbaijan’s Communist Party boss during the Soviet times, then as its president.

The younger Aliyev has presented himself as a guarantor of stability, an image with broad appeal in a nation where painful memories are still fresh of the years of turmoil that accompanied the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

A six-year war with neighboring Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh left ethnic Armenian forces in control of Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring areas in Azerbaijan and turned 1 million Azerbaijanis into refugees.

The Azerbaijani leader has shown little tolerance for dissent and extended his rule through elections criticized by Western observers. At the same time, he has firmly allied the Shiite Muslim nation with the West, helping to secure its energy and security interests and to offset Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian region.

Under Aliyev, Azerbaijan has basked in oil riches that have more than tripled its GDP and helped bolster his popularity. The State Oil Fund that accumulates oil revenues held $34 billion at the start of the year.

After hearing the exit poll data, hundreds of Aliyev’s supporters carrying national flags and pictures of the president took to the streets, some dancing to popular music. Motorists and bikers drove around the city, waving Azerbaijani flags and honking horns.

“We all are very happy and think that Azerbaijan in the coming five years will continue to prosper and will become the best country in the world,” Baku resident Samira Kulieva said.

__ Sophiko Megrelidze contributed to this report.

October 09, 2013

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Polls have opened in the presidential election in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

Polls opened at 0300 GMT on Wednesday in the presidential race dominated by incumbent Ilham Aliyev, whose low-key campaign for a third term reflected his confidence that he will roll over the main opposition challenger and eight fringe candidates.

Under Aliyev, the nation of 9 million has basked in oil riches that have more than tripled its gross domestic product. Aliyev inherited the presidency from his father, Geidar Aliyev, who had ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades.

International rights groups have accused Aliyev of pressuring and harassing government critics, leaving them little breathing space to campaign.

October 08, 2013

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Oil-rich Azerbaijan is booming and the wealth is trickling down to its poorest people. It all means that its president doesn’t even need to clamp down too hard to ensure he extends a decades-long dynastic rule in elections this week.

Ilham Aliyev appears to be so certain of his popularity that his government has magnanimously eased tight restrictions on the opposition and allowed it to freely convene for rallies in the center of the capital — only to see the events draw tepid crowds of a few thousand. Aliyev hasn’t even really bothered to campaign for Wednesday’s election, confident that the cult of personality that has sprung up around him is sincere.

Aliyev looks and sounds like a Western statesman — sporting immaculately tailored suits and speaking fluent English — but he has in the past shown little tolerance for dissent and extended his rule through elections criticized by Western observers. At the same time, he has firmly allied the Shia Muslim nation with the West, helping secure its energy and security interests and offset Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian region.

That strategy has translated into fabulous wealth. Under Aliyev, the nation of 9 million has basked in oil riches that have more than tripled its gross domestic product and transformed the once-gritty capital, Baku, into a shining modern city. The State Oil Fund that accumulates oil revenues held $34 billion as of the start of the year.

With his political foes weakened by years of relentless government pressure and bitter infighting, Aliyev is all but certain to roll over the main opposition challenger and eight fringe candidates on Wednesday.

Ali Ahmadov, the executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, said the president doesn’t need to campaign because his frequent trips across the country have brought him close to the people. “There is no need for the head of state to engage in propaganda during the election campaign,” Ahmadov said.

Aliyev’s glamorous wife Mehriban, who sits in parliament and heads a charity, has helped his popularity. “She has drawn the sympathy of many, including some of those who are in opposition,” said Elkhan Shahinoglu, an independent political analyst.

Aliyev inherited the presidency from his father, Geidar Aliyev, who had ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades. The son has presented himself as a guarantor of stability, an image that appeals to many in Azerbaijan, where painful memories are still fresh of the turmoil that accompanied the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Soon after the elder Aliyev lost his job in a shakeup of the Communist elite launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Azerbaijan plunged into an armed conflict with neighboring Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The six-year war left ethnic Armenian forces in control of Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring areas in Azerbaijan and turned 1 million Azerbaijanis into refugees.

Amid public anger over military defeats, Azerbaijan’s first president, Ayaz Mutalibov, stepped down and fled the country in 1992. His successor, Abulfaz Elchibey, was ousted the following year in a rebellion that paved way for Geidar Aliyev’s triumphant return to power.

Aliyev senior fully dominated the political scene, and just a few months before his death secured his son’s victory in an October 2003 presidential election that drew Western observer criticism over massive violations and triggered violent clashes between protesters and police.

Initially dismissed by critics as a playboy unfit for governing, Ilham Aliyev quickly consolidated his power and stifled dissent. He was re-elected by a landslide in a 2008 vote boycotted by major opposition parties and again criticized by Western observers. He then rammed through a constitutional referendum that scrapped presidential term limits.

International rights groups have accused him of pressuring and harassing government critics. Human Rights Watch said in a report last month that the clampdown on freedom of expression and assembly had intensified in the months preceding the vote. The government, however, loosened the reins ahead of the ballot, withdrawing its long-held ban on rallies in the center of the capital.

While leaving little breathing space for his domestic foes, Aliyev has expanded energy and security ties with the West, becoming an indispensable regional partner for the United States and the European Union.

BP, ExxonMobil and other Western oil giants have invested billions of dollars to tap Azerbaijan’s oil riches. An oil pipeline backed by the U.S. and the European Union to pump Azerbaijani crude via Georgia to Turkey, bypassing Russia, went into operation in 2005, a pivotal element in a Western strategy to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy resources.

In the future, Azerbaijan would be a necessary conduit for any prospective pipelines under the Caspian to carry energy resources from Central Asian nations to Western markets. Azerbaijan has further strengthened its relations with the West by contributing troops to the U.S.-led missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and serving as a key supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Azerbaijan’s ties with neighboring Iran, which has a sizable ethnic Azeri community, have grown strained in recent years as Tehran has become vexed by Azerbaijan’s growing security cooperation with the United States and Israel. Last year, the Azerbaijani security agency arrested dozens of people allegedly hired by Iran to carry out terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Israeli embassies as well as Western-linked groups and companies.

While Aliyev’s foes have compared him to autocratic rulers ousted by the Arab Spring uprisings and warned that he could face a similar fate, experts see few parallels between the former Soviet Union and the developments in the Middle East.

“These are different societies at different levels of development,” said Irina Zvyagelskaya, a leading expert with Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies. “What happened in the Arab world can’t serve as a model for the ex-Soviet lands.”

The opposition’s hopes of challenging Aliyev suffered a humiliating setback when election officials refused to register its original candidate on the grounds that he had dual Russian and Azerbaijani citizenship, something explicitly banned by the constitution.

As windfall oil revenues have filtered down to Azerbaijan’s poorest, the opposition has found it hard to assail the government’s economic policies, and the main opposition candidate, historian Jamil Hasanli, focused on government corruption and social inequality.

Gyulnara Samedova, a 47-year-old housewife who watched the debates, said nobody in her family was impressed by any of the challengers. “All we heard were mutual accusations and insults, nothing like a program for the country’s development,” she said. “We will vote for stability.”

__ Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

December 02, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Within minutes of opening a Twitter account this past week, the leader of Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group received an onslaught of criticism.

“Welcome to Twitter Mr. Western Puppet,” one comment to Ahmad al-Jarba read. Others called him a Saudi stooge and scorned the opposition’s perceived ineffectiveness. The comments reflect the deep disillusionment and distrust that many Syrians have come to feel toward the Syrian National Coalition, Syria’s main opposition group in exile. They also underline the predicament of who will represent the Syrian opposition at an upcoming peace conference in Geneva marking the first face-to-face meeting between Syria’s warring sides.

The Geneva talks have raised the possibility of a negotiated end to a conflict activists say has killed more than 120,000 people. But with a fractured opposition, many have little hope for strong negotiations with emissaries of President Bashar Assad.

“Each of them represents himself and maybe his wife,” said an anti-government activist in the central Homs province, who uses the pseudonym Abul Hoda. “Nobody here pays any attention to what they say.”

The Syrian National Coalition is seen by many as a disparate group of out-of-touch exiles with inflated egos and non-Syrian allegiances. Syrians often deride it as the “five-star-hotel opposition” for spending more time meeting in luxury hotels than being on the ground in Syria.

Damascus-based opposition groups call members of the coalition traitors for demanding U.S. military airstrikes against Syria following a chemical weapons attack in August that killed hundreds. But groups known as the “internal opposition” are themselves seen as aging and submissive to Assad’s government, incapable of playing an effective opposition role for fear of arrest.

More importantly, the rebel factions that hold the real power on the ground won’t go to Geneva. Some of the most powerful Islamic brigades have distanced themselves from the coalition. Meanwhile, rebels are losing ground to a crushing government military offensive.

“Given the lack of unity amongst the opposition, the West and regional allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia will struggle to establish a representative negotiation partner that is willing to engage with the Syrian government,” said Torbjorn Soltvedt, a senior analyst at the British risk analysis firm Maplecroft.

He added that negotiations likely will prove futile until there is a significant shift in the balance of power on the ground. “As such, the Syrian conflict is still likely to be decided on the battlefield,” he said.

The Syrian foreign ministry said this week that it will send a high-level delegation to the talks with clear directives from Assad. Although it hasn’t said who will be going, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem is expected to head the delegation.

It is much less clear who from the opposition side will be at the talks. Their deep splits will make it extremely difficult to select a unified opposition delegation. Western leaders have made clear they expect the coalition to be the chief negotiator on the opposition side at the conference, set for Jan. 22. The group has called on others to participate in a delegation under its command.

“The coalition will form the whole opposition delegation and it will lead this delegation. This is not up for discussion,” senior coalition member Ahmad Ramadan said. “The coalition is the only side responsible for that.”

The U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has said that the coalition will play a very important role in forming the delegation. “But I have always said that the delegation has to be credible and representative, as representative as possible,” he said in Geneva last month.

Hassan Abdul-Azim, a veteran opposition figure in Syria who leads the Syria-based National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, said his group was ready to go to Geneva with a unified delegation made up of internal and external opposition group. But he said the coalition rejected the idea because it considers itself the only legitimate representative.

Many smaller opposition groups, including Kurdish parties, have not decided whether they will go and who will represent them. The coalition has said it will meet in Istanbul in mid-December to discuss the makeup of the delegation. But members of the group itself are split on the whole concept of a peace conference. Some of its senior members insist that Assad should step down and stand trial before any talks.

“In Europe, a train crash leads to government resignation. What about destroying half of Syria, displacing half its people and the killing and maiming of a million people?” asked opposition figure Kamal Labwani. “I am totally opposed to the Geneva conference.”

Many believe the talks — if they go ahead — will be pointless, particularly now that Assad’s forces have the upper hand in the fighting on the ground. The talks aim to establish a transitional government that would take over the country. But the opposition insists Assad must step aside, as the government says that’s out of the question.

Gen. Salim Idris, the commander of the coalition’s military wing known as the Free Syrian Army, said his faction will not take part in the talks and will not stop fighting until Assad is brought down by force. Meanwhile, frustration in the opposition remains clear, as it does in Twitter messages mocking Jarba’s username “PresidentJarba.”

“I find it disturbing you are calling yourself president already,” one read. Another read: “100,000 Syrians martyrs and you … still issue ‘warnings.’ No wonder … Assad is still standing.”

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.