Archive for December, 2014

21 December 2014 Sunday

Nationwide elections slated for April 2 will now be held on April 13, the head of Sudan’s elections committee said on Saturday, in a move seen as preventing legal confusion over a constitutional amendment.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir proposed a constitutional change on Nov. 3 to make state governors appointed positions rather than elected ones, but the alteration only becomes legally valid 60 days from that date.

Postponing the election allows for the state governor positions to be removed from the forthcoming poll before the new nomination period starts on Jan. 11.

Mokhtar al-Assam, the elections head, did not mention the constitutional issue in comments to Reuters, but said: “The postponement came for very important reasons that we will announce tomorrow.”

Sudan’s ruling National Congress party last month chose Bashir as its candidate for the presidential vote, making it almost certain that he will extend his rule after 25 years in power.

The opposition Popular Congress party has said it will boycott the election because of what it sees as a restrictive political climate.

Source: World Bulletin.


Thu Dec 25, 2014

At least five al-Shabab militants have reportedly been killed after attacking a military base belonging to the African Union (AU) mission in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Colonel Ali Aden Houmed, spokesman for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), said on Thursday that the militants launched an attack on the Halane military base, Somalia’s largest base for AU troops, in Mogadishu.

The AU official said at least eight militants stormed the base, adding that three of them were shot dead, while two others detonated their explosives and died near a fuel depot.

Three others were also believed to have fled the scene of the attack.

The al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility for the assault, saying it was targeting a Christmas party at the base near the capital’s airport, which also houses UN offices.

Witnesses said the attack prompted a heavy exchange of fire between the AU forces and the militants.

The Somali government and the African Union forces have stepped up safety measures in an effort to prevent assaults by al-Shabab, which was pushed out of Mogadishu by the African Union troops in 2011.

However, the group still holds several smaller towns and areas in the center and south of the country.

Somalia has been the scene of clashes between government forces and al-Shabab since 1991.

The country did not have an effective central government until September 2012, when lawmakers elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president.

Source: PressTV.



MOGADISHU – Somalia’s president on Wednesday appointed a new prime minister, 11 days after the war-torn nation’s previous premier was ousted amid bitter infighting.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said he had appointed political heavyweight Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, 54, who becomes the first person to hold the post twice.

“I’m very happy that I have picked Omar Abdirashid Ali as the new prime minister of the country. I expect him to fulfill his commandments,” the president said at Villa Somalia, the fortified compound and seat of the country’s fragile internationally backed government.

Sharmarke, a dual Canadian and Somali national, replaces sacked prime minster Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, ousted by parliament after just over a year in the post.

The United Nations, United States and European Union have all warned that power struggles in the Villa Somalia were a damaging distraction for the country as it tries to battle Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels.

United Nations special envoy Nicholas Kay also said the tensions put at risk political goals including a referendum on a new constitution due to take place next year, ahead of elections in 2016.

The new prime minister told reporters he would “continue working on the efforts to bring about stability” and “taking the country the way forward to free elections”.

– Son of former president –

The economist was previously prime minister during the transitional government from 2009-2010, when he resigned after falling out with the then president.

Most recently, he became in July the first Somali ambassador to the United States in over two decades, and has previously worked for the United Nations as political adviser, including in Sudan.

Sharmarke’s father was also a former prime minister and was president between 1967 and 1969. He was assassinated by his own bodyguard, paving the way for the takeover by Siad Barre.

Hardliner Barre ruled Somalia until he himself was toppled in 1991 as the country descended into the civil war that still continues.

Like previous prime ministers, he faces a giant task to rein in corruption, quash Shebab insurgents battling to topple the central government, and rebuild the troubled Horn of Africa nation.

Sharmarke was born in the capital Mogadishu but comes from the northeastern Puntland region, from the Majeerteen clan.

In Somalia’s complex clan politics, each community expects to be represented in the corridors of power.

The Somali government, which took power in August 2012, was the first to be given global recognition since the collapse of Siad Barre’s hardline regime in 1991.

Billions in foreign aid has been poured in, including funding for the UN-mandated 22,000-strong African Union force, which has done much of the heavy fighting against Shebab rebels.

Source: Middle East Online.


By Isaiah Esipisu

DADAAB, Kenya, Oct 5 2011 (IPS) – When Aisha Diis and her five children fled their home in Somalia seeking aid from the famine devastating the region, she could not have known the dangers of the journey, or even fathom that she would be raped along the way.

Diis left her village of Kismayu, southwest of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, for the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya’s North Eastern Province in April.

“I was in a group of many women and children, but four of us had come from the same village, hence, we related (to each other) as one family. Along the way, we stopped to make some strong tea since the children were feeling very tired and hungry. One woman remained behind with the children and the three of us went to search for firewood,” Diis told IPS through a translator.

“We were ambushed by a group of five men who stripped us naked and raped us repeatedly,” she said as tears rolled down her cheeks. “It is something I have not been able to forget. But I wouldn’t like my children to know about it.”

But the trauma Diis and the other two women had to undergo is not an isolated incident.

As hundreds of tired, weak and malnourished women and children stream into Dadaab from famine-hit Somalia daily, the journey, for many of the women, would have been a harrowing one.

Tired and dusty, most women carry their babies tied to their backs. For many this precious cargo is the only possession they have managed to save from their homes in Somalia. Some, however, are slightly more fortunate and come with their children and what few belongings they have packed onto donkey carts.

They rarely talk about what has happened to them on the way here, when they arrive.

Instead, most register as refugees and undergo medical screening with their children. Then they are allocated a tent and basic household equipment.

The tents have no lockable doors, no windows, and no furniture, not even a bed. But all the same this is a place that the refugees can call home – for now, and perhaps for many years to come. (Some of the refugees were born here in 1991 when the camp was first established, and have not known any other home.)

But even after the women have settled in, many do not come forward to speak about the violence they experienced on their way to the camp.

“Gender-based violence is a hidden side of the famine crisis,” said Sinead Murray, the gender-based violence (GBV) program manager for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at Dadaab.

“As per the rapid assessment done on GBV in Dadaab released by the IRC in July, rape and sexual violence were mentioned as the most pressing concerns for women and girls while fleeing Somalia and as an ongoing, though lesser concern, in the camps,” Murray told IPS.

“Some women interviewed during (the IRC) survey said they witnessed women and girls being raped in front of their husbands and parents, at the insistence of perpetrators described as ‘men with guns.’ Others were forced to strip down naked, and in the event they were raped by multiple perpetrators,” said Murray.

But Diis, and the two women who were raped with her, are some of the few Somali women who reported the violence they have been subjected to on their journey to Dadaab. In Diis’ case, she was brave enough to do so because she is a widow, and does not fear recrimination from her family as other women do.

“I did not fear to disclose my case to the medical officer because I did not have a husband,” said the widow whose husband was gunned down in Somalia by unknown assailants seven months ago.

“Many women are assaulted on their way to the refugee camp by unknown armed men, especially when travelling in a group without men,” said Ann Burton, a senior public health officer at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at Dadaab.

“However, most of them are reluctant to report such cases since they fear that their families will blame them, communities will reject them or simply because they feel ashamed to talk about it.”

Diis was given post exposure prophylaxis, a short-term antiretroviral treatment used to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection, after she reported her rape.

“After I reported my case I was given some medicine, and I was monitored for three months after which I was informed that I had not contracted HIV. That was one of my biggest concerns,” said Diis. She also received counselling.

The other two women who were raped with Diis were also counselled and received post exposure prophylaxis.

Diis said that she is aware of other women who were raped before their immediate family members and did not report it to the medical staff at the camp.

Not reporting the rape just adds to the suffering of the women. Burton said: “Survivors often do not get critical life-saving care because of keeping it a secret.”

So far, only 30 cases of rape were reported between January and July 2011 according to the UNHCR at Dadaab. But medical experts at the camp say that this is a small fraction of a huge problem faced by women.

Once they arrive at Dadaab some women continue to experience gender-based violence from their intimate partners. Murray said this includes early marriages and survival sex – where women are forced to exchange sex for access to basic needs.

Though such GBV incidents are said to be less frequent within the camps, some women told IPS that they feel insecure and scared at night while sleeping in the makeshift shelters.

“The camps do not have fences and at the same time we are not able to lock our shelters throughout the night. Anything can happen in the dark hours,” said Amina Muhammad who lives in Dadaab.

The biggest risk at the camp, according to the women IPS spoke to, is when they travel long distances in search of firewood.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).


December 24, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s prime minister announced Thursday the country will set up special trial courts under the supervision of military officers to prosecute terrorism cases in the wake of the Taliban school massacre.

Nawaz Sharif spoke in a nationally televised address after a marathon meeting with all political parties and the country’s military leadership to hash out new counter-terrorism policies in the wake of the horrific attack.

“The Peshawar attack has shocked the nation. We will not let the blood of our children go in vain,” said Sharif. In the wake of the Pakistani Taliban attack on Dec. 16 that killed 149 people the government has scrambled to show that it is getting tough on militancy.

The military has stepped up operations in the tribal areas, and the government has reinstated the death penalty. Already six people have been executed. The military-run courts were the most controversial of 25 measures announced by Sharif after the daylong meeting earlier Wednesday in the capital. He gave few details about how the courts would function, except to say they would operate for the next two years and that changes to the current laws would be needed.

In the wake of the Taliban attack on a school in the frontier city of Peshawar, the government has been discussing numerous options for battling militancy, including ways to make it easier to detain and prosecute suspected terrorists.

Suspected terrorists are rarely convicted in Pakistan’s troubled legal system due to shoddy police investigations and intimidation of witnesses and judges. Court cases can also drag on for months and years with little resolution, so the military courts are seen as a way to speed up the system.

But courts supervised by the country’s powerful military raise questions of whether there will be enough or any civilian oversight or media access and how much rights suspects will have. Critics contend that quick-fix measures such as military courts or reinstating the death penalty do little to improve the legal process and the police in the long run. The new courts would also greatly strengthen the role of the military in a country where the army has already taken power in three coups and still wields enormous power behind the scenes.

Some of the other issues Sharif mentioned in his speech were the need to cut off funding for terrorists, preventing banned militant groups from simply changing their names so they can freely operate and stopping the media from glorifying militants or their statements.

December 20, 2014

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — One of the gravediggers at Peshawar’s largest graveyard has a rule. He says he never cries when he buries the dead. He’s a professional, he says.

But as the dead bodies — mostly children — started coming in from a school massacre this week that killed 148 people, he began to weep. “I have buried bodies of the deceased of different ages, sizes, and weights,” Taj Muhammad told The Associated Press. “Those small bodies I’ve been burying since yesterday felt much heavier than any of the big ones I’ve buried before.”

Muhammad spoke during a break from the digging, as he drank green tea with one of his colleagues and his two sons who work with him in the Rahman Baba graveyard, named after a beloved Sufi poet, in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Wearing a faded shalwar kameez, a traditional dress of baggy pants and a long tunic, the 43-year-old Muhammad was covered in dust from a freshly dug grave. The school massacre on Tuesday horrified Pakistanis across the country. The militants, wearing suicide vests, climbed over the fence into a military-run school, burst into an auditorium filled with students and opened fire. The bloodshed went on for several hours until security forces finally were able to kill the attackers. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

For hours after, the dead, wrapped in white sheets, were brought to the cemetery. In Islam, the dead are generally buried quickly, so most funerals were held Tuesday and Wednesday. This was the worst terrorist attack in years but it was hardly the first in Peshawar, a city near the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan where militants have their strongholds.

Muhammad has buried some of the dead from those past attacks as well, like the Mina Bazaar bombing in 2009 that killed 105 people, and the Khyber Bazaar bombing, also in 2009, that killed nearly 50. But Tuesday’s bodies were hard to take.

For the first time “I couldn’t control my tears. I cannot explain but I wept. I know it was against the rules of our profession but it was the moment to break the rules,” the father of eight children said.

Muhammed said he usually charges 2,000 to 5,000 rupees — about $20 to $50 — to dig a grave. And it is money he needs. In the past six or seven months, his income has dropped with fewer bodies to bury, a sign of the lull in violence in the city until this week.

But he didn’t charge anyone to bury the victims of Tuesday’s attack. It was like burying his own children, he said. “How could I ask or receive money for making the grave of my own child?”

Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.

December 25, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Iraq and Turkey on Thursday discussed cooperation in countering the threat posed by the Islamic State group, including an Iraqi request for intelligence sharing and the possible delivery of Turkish arms to Iraqi forces, Iraq’s prime minister said.

Haider al-Abadi told reporters during a visit to the Turkish capital that he had provided “lists” of things Iraq was requesting from Turkey that included military cooperation, training and delivering weapons to fighters.

“(Islamic State group) is not only a threat to Iraq and Turkey, but is it a threat to the whole region. Therefore, there is a need for cooperation. That’s what we expect of Turkey,” al-Abadi said. “Whether it is military, intelligence sharing, training or even arms — these were talked about,” al-Abadi said.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey was ready to provide Iraq the assistance it needed but didn’t elaborate. He said the countries’ defense ministries were holding discussions. “On the issue of support, we are ready to provide training… We have provided support to the Peshmerga forces that are battling Daesh in northern Iraq,” Davutoglu said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “We are open to all kinds of opinions concerning the support to be provided.”

Turkey has declared it is willing to train and equip forces fighting IS and has also allowed about 150 Peshmerga fighters to cross into Syria from its territory, but has been reluctant to provide greater support to the U.S.-led coalition. Turkey insists that the coalition must also aim to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom it regards as the source of the crisis in Syria.

Al-Abadi said the campaign against IS had been successful in weakening the group and driving it out of some regions but said the militants continued to pose a threat. Turkey has been accused of facilitating the transit of militants through its territory into Syria — a charge the country strongly denies.

Davutoglu said Turkey opposes the presence of all foreign fighters both in Syria and in Iraq.

December 23, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — The gunmen came to the all-girls’ elementary school in the Iraqi city of Fallujah at midday with a special delivery: piles of long black robes with gloves and face veils, now required dress code for females in areas ruled by the Islamic State group.

“These are the winter version. Make sure every student gets one,” one of the men told a supervisor at the school earlier this month. Extremists are working to excise women from public life across the territory controlled by the Islamic State group, stretching hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo in the west to the edges of the Iraqi capital in the east.

The group has been most notorious for its atrocities, including the horrors it inflicted on women and girls from Iraq’s minority Yazidi community when its fighters overran their towns this year. Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls were abducted and given to extremists as slaves. A report by Amnesty International released Tuesday said the captives — including girls as young as 10-12 — endured torture, rape and sexual slavery, and that several abducted girls committed suicide.

In day-to-day life, the group has also dramatically hemmed in women’s lives across the Sunni Muslim heartland that makes up the bulk of Islamic State group territory, activists and residents say. Their movements are restricted and their opportunity for work has shrunk.

In Iraq’s Mosul, the biggest city in the group’s self-declared caliphate, “life for women has taken a 180-degree turn,” said Hanaa Edwer, a prominent Iraqi human rights activist. “They are forbidding them from learning, forbidding them from moving around freely. The appearance of a woman is being forcefully altered.”

At least eight women have been stoned to death for alleged adultery in IS-controlled areas in northern Syria, activists say. At least 10 women in Mosul have been killed for speaking out against the group, Edwer said. In August, IS detained and beheaded a female dentist in Deir el-Zour who had continued to treat patients of both sexes, the U.N. said.

Relatives of women considered improperly dressed or found in the company of males who are not relatives are lashed or imprisoned. In the IS-controlled town of al-Bab in Syria’s northern Aleppo province, an activist described seeing armed militants walking with a stick in hand, gently whacking or jabbing at women deemed inappropriately dressed.

“Sometimes they follow the woman home and detain her father, or they confiscate her ID and tell her to come back with her father to pick it up,” said Bari Abdelatif, now based in Turkey. Enforcement varies from one place to the other, much of it depending on the whims of the Hisba, or vice police enforcing those rules. Most of the areas taken over by IS were already deeply conservative places where women had a subordinate role in society, but the extremists have sharply exacerbated the restrictions.

Abdelatif said women in al-Bab are harassed for venturing outside their home without a “mahram,” or male guardian. In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital, activists said women were allowed to leave their homes on their own, but needed a male companion or permission of a male relative to leave the city.

An IS all-female brigade, called al-Khansa, patrols the streets in some areas to enforce clothing restrictions. Across the territory, women now have to wear the “khimar,” a tent-like robe that covers the head, shoulders and chest. The khimar leaves the face exposed but very often the militants go ahead and force women to put a niqab veil over their faces as well, leaving only the eyes visible.

In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, an elementary school teacher said militants recently dropped by the school to deliver the niqab, robes and gloves for the students to wear. “I used to wear make-up on occasion but I don’t anymore,” she said, speaking by phone on strict condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The militants have segregated schools and changed the curriculum. In some cases they shut schools down, summoning teachers to take a course in their hard-line version of Islamic Shariah law before reopening them. In many instances in both Iraq and Syria, parents have opted not to send their children to school to avoid IS brainwashing them.

Hospitals have also been segregated. A woman has to be seen by a female doctor, but there are very few women doctors left. Early marriage is on the rise because parents want to find husbands for their daughters quickly for fear they will be forced to marry Islamic State fighters, according to the U.N.

“The psychological and physical harm caused by ISIS’s treatment of women, the onerous instructions imposed on their dress code, and restrictions on their freedom of movement demonstrate discriminatory treatment on the basis of gender,” a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in the Syrian conflict said last month.

It said the killings and acts of sexual violence perpetrated by IS constitute crimes against humanity. While the Islamic State group imposes its extremist vision of Islamic law on Sunni Muslim women under its rule, it went further when it overran the Iraqi villages of the Yazidi minority in early August. The extremists consider followers of the Yazidi faith as infidels — and thus permissible to enslave.

Amnesty International interviewed more than 40 former captives who escaped the militants and described being abducted, raped and being “sold” or given as “gifts” to Islamic State fighters or supporters.

One girl told how a 19-year-old among them named Jilan committed suicide, fearing rape. In the bathroom, “she cut her wrists and hanged herself. She was very beautiful,” the girl quoted in the report said. “I think she knew she was going to be taken away by a man.”

Associated Press writer Vivian Salama contributed to this report from Baghdad.

December 22, 2014

MOUNT SINJAR, Iraq (AP) — Kurdish fighters in Iraq pushed deeper Monday into the town of Sinjar, held by the Islamic State group, but are facing stiff resistance from the Sunni militants who captured it in August.

One of the fighters, Bakhil Elias, said clashes since late last night have been “fierce” and that IS militants are using snipers. At least two Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed by snipers and 25 were wounded in the latest fighting.

Large plumes of black smoke are billowing into the sky from inside the town. The Kurdish forces say the militants are burning tires and oil to create a smoke screen of thick dark clouds to obstruct airstrikes against their positions by the U.S-led coalition.

Last week, the Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched the operation to retake Sinjar and were able to reach thousands of Yazidis who were trapped on Mount Sinjar. Peshmerga fighters opened up a corridor to the mountain and are regularly bringing truckloads of aid and food to the area.

In neighboring Syria, Kurdish fighters pushed into an IS-held neighborhood in the northern town of Kobani, capturing a cultural center that they had besieged on Saturday. “The center is very important morally and militarily,” said Kobani-based activist Mustafa Bali, referring to the site, located on a hill that overlooks several neighborhoods east and southeast of the town.

“This will change the military rhythm in the coming days,” Bali said, adding that the aim of Kurdish fighters in Syria is to evict IS militants from Kobani and nearby villages. Kurdish fighters have been slowly advancing in Kobani over the past weeks backed by Iraqi peshmerga fighters who came to help, and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

The IS group began its Kobani offensive in mid-September, capturing parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages. Hundreds of fighters on both sides have been killed since. Idriss Nassan, a Kobani local official, said that over the past days the Syrian Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, “has taken the initiative” and advanced in IS-held neighborhoods.

Nassan said peshmerga fighters usually bombard IS positions in the town while YPG fighters carry out the ground attack with the help of airstrikes that target militant positions.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

December 26, 2014

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A radio station funded by the U.S. government says its office in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku has been raided by prosecutors who claim to have a court decision to shut it down.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted the director of its Azerbaijani service saying that the office has been locked down since early Friday morning by prosecutors and armed police. Two RFE journalists could not be contacted by The Associated Press.

The Prosecutor General’s Office told the AP the search was conducted to investigate a “grave crime” but would not elaborate. The station’s top reporter Khadija Ismayilova was jailed earlier this month pending a trial on charges of driving a man to suicide, which critics dismissed as an attempt to gag an influential journalist.