Archive for August 4, 2015


Sunday, 03 May 2015

An Arab military force on Sunday joined militants loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi fighting against Shia Houthi militants around the airport of Yemen’s southern Aden city, local sources have said.

The Arab ground troops arrived earlier Sunday in Aden and joined the clashes around Aden International Airport on Sunday, pro-Hadi militant sources told Anadolu Agency, without providing information on the troop’s mode of transportation.

The sources added that the Arab force joined pro-Hadi militants, who’ve been besieging the airport for days.

“We have been unable to completely take control of the airport, because Houthi militants are barricaded in vital spots,” one source said.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel, for its part, quoted Riyadh-led coalition spokesman Ahmed al-Asiri as denying the deployment of any coalition ground troops in Yemen.

Earlier in the day, local sources told Anadolu Agency that some 30 soldiers belonging to the Saudi-led Arab coalition reached the coast of Al-Buraiqeh district in the southern province in Aden on Saturday.

This is the first deployment of Arab ground troops in Yemen since Saudi Arabia and several Arab allies launched a military campaign against positions of the Shiite Houthi group across the country in late March.

Riyadh says the anti-Houthi campaign is in response to appeals by Hadi – currently in Riyadh – for help against the Shia militia.

The Houthis, for their part, denounce the ongoing offensive as unwarranted “Saudi-American aggression” on Yemen.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/18406-arab-ground-troops-deployed-in-south-yemens-aden-province.

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April 03, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A Saudi-led coalition trying to halt the advance of Yemen’s Shiite rebels airdropped weapons to beleaguered fighters in a southern port city on Friday, while al-Qaida militants overran a key military base in eastern Yemen, further expanding their gains in this violence-wracked country.

The developments underscore the magnitude of Yemen’s turmoil and the swift unraveling of the country’s military and other forces still loyal to embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled Yemen to Saudi Arabia last week.

On one side, there is the ferocious fighting between Shiite rebels known as Houthis and southern militias loyal to Hadi. On the other, Yemen’s al-Qaida branch has been widening its area of influence in the country and gobbling up more territory.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the branch is named, has benefited from Yemen’s political crisis ever since the Houthis first surged from their northern strongholds last year to take over the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north. The rebels are backed in their push by military and police forces loyal to Hadi’s predecessor, ousted autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On Thursday, al-Qaida militants overrun Mukalla, a major port city in southern Yemen and the provincial capital of the country’s largest province, Hadramawt, seizing government buildings and freeing inmates from a prison, including a top Saudi-born leader.

The militants consolidated their hold of Mukalla on Friday, capturing its port and a major army base in the city, facing little resistance, said military officials. Soldiers fled the base without a fight as the militants advanced toward the city’s airport.

Hadramawt, which had been mostly peaceful as the crisis in Sanaa and Aden was building up, has a long stretch of the border with Saudi Arabia on one side and lies on the Arabian Sea on the other, making it strategically significant. It also houses key oil companies and close to the Mukalla port are fuel tanks that feed three major provinces.

Hadramawt’s governor, Adel Ba-hamed, described the fall of Mukalla as part of a “scenario aimed at dragging the province and its residents” into the chaos across Yemen. “The changes are terrifying,” said activist Mohammed al-Sharafi, adding he worries al-Qaida’s presence will bring the Houthis to fight the militants, which in turn could invite Saudi-led airstrikes.

To the west of Mukalla, coalition airstrikes continued to target Shiite rebels advancing on the southern port city of Aden, Yemen’s major hub and the embattled Hadi’s last seat of power before he fled to Saudi Arabia.

Coalition planes airdropped weapons to fighters battling the Houthis in Aden early Friday, the first such airdrop since the strikes began nine days ago. Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, the coalition spokesman, told reporters in Riyadh that the fighters in Aden have managed to “change the situation on the ground.” He said the coalition was giving them “logistical support.”

Street battles intensified in several Aden districts Friday, including the vicinity of a major weapons depot, according to the military officials. They said that weapons were dropped above the city’s port.

Local pro-Hadi fighters, who are poorly armed, have been trying to keep the Houthis from overrunning Aden and the surrounding province and have often complained of lack of weapons and leadership. Ali Hussein, one of the fighters, told The Associated Press over the phone that there is “near absence of leadership and coordination.”

Overnight airstrikes focused on Aden’s rebel-held airport, and at least 30 rebels and Saleh’s forces were killed in the strikes, according to medical officials. In the town of al-Mualla, also in Aden province, pro-Hadi fighters fought with the rebels on Friday, leaving at least eight dead on both sides, according to medical officials there. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

To the north of Aden, the rebels and Saleh loyalists shelled the city of Dhale and its surroundings for more than two hours on Friday, according to activist Ahmed Harmal. They area is a gateway to Aden.

Coalition planes also bombed the rebel-held municipal council building in Sanaa, killing three guards and wounding 32 civilians, the Interior Ministry said Friday. The U.N. under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, said Thursday that the violence in Yemen has killed an estimated 519 people in the past two weeks, 90 of them children, and that tens of thousands are fleeing their homes.

According to Abdel-Nasser al-Wali, a top medical official in Aden, 150 civilians were killed in Aden alone since March 28. The official said two Red Crescent ambulance workers were also killed by the rebels, who seized their vehicles.

Late Friday, the Saudi Interior Ministry said two border guards on the kingdom’s frontier with Yemen were killed in a cross-border shootout, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. It was the second reported fatal shooting along the border since the airstrikes started; a Saudi border guard was reported killed earlier this week in a similar incident.

The coalition also continued to strike an island in the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, the southern entrance to the Red Sea, officials said. Rami Tawfiq, a relief worker, said the airstrikes forced some 250 of the islanders, mostly fishermen, to flee across the sea toward Djibouti. The Houthis captured the island early Thursday.

Saudi and Egyptian warships have been deployed to Bab al-Mandab, which provides the only access to Egypt’s Suez Canal from the Arabian Sea and is a vital passage for shipping between Europe and Asia.

March 30, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Saudi-led naval forces imposed a blockade on Yemen’s ports as coalition airstrikes on Monday repelled an advance on the southern port city of Aden by Shiite rebels and forces loyal to a former president, in what appeared to be the most intense day of fighting since the air campaign began five days ago.

The move to block ports appeared aimed at preventing the rebels, known as Houthis, from rearming, and comes after the coalition achieved full control of the skies and bombed a number of rebel-held airports. The rebels are supported by Iran, but both Iran and the Houthis deny Tehran has armed them.

As night fell, intense explosions could be heard throughout the rebel-held capital Sanaa, where warplanes had carried out strikes since the early morning. Military officials from both sides of the conflict said that airstrikes were targeting areas east and south of the third largest city of Taiz, as well as its airport, while naval artillery and airstrikes hit coastal areas east of Aden.

“It’s like an earthquake,” Sanaa resident Ammar Ahmed said by telephone. “Never in my life have I heard such explosions or heard such raids.” He said he could hear missiles whistling through the air and see flames rising from a military area in the southern neighborhood of Faj Attan, where Scud missiles are believed to be stored.

Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, the coalition spokesman, told reporters in Riyadh that naval forces are blocking the movement of ships to prevent weapons and fighters from entering or leaving Yemen. He said they had not yet intercepted anything.

The airstrikes have targeted at least nine of Yemen’s 21 provinces and have prevented the Houthis from reaching Aden, the former capital of the once-independent south, where President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi declared a temporary capital after fleeing rebel-controlled Sanaa.

Hadi, who was a close U.S. ally against a powerful local al-Qaida affiliate, fled the country last week, but remains Yemen’s internationally recognized leader. The U.S. has provided support to the Saudi-led coalition but is not carrying out direct military action.

The conflict marks a major escalation in the regional struggle for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which also back rival sides in Syria’s civil war. Arab leaders unveiled plans Sunday to form a joint military intervention force, which could raise tensions further.

Asiri said much of the airstrikes on Sunday and Monday focused on slowing the Houthi advance on Aden. He said the Houthis tried to fire ballistic missiles on Monday but that they malfunctioned. Warplanes then struck the force that had tried to launch them, he said, without providing further details.

The Houthis’ TV network said the coalition bombed a displaced persons camp in the northern rebel stronghold of Saada, killing 40 people. Doctors Without Borders tweeted that 29 people from a displaced persons camp were dead on arrival at a hospital it supports and that it treated two dozen injured, among them women and children.

However, witnesses told The Associated Press that the camp — used to house people displaced by an earlier conflict that ended five years ago — is now occupied by Houthi forces and that most of those killed were fighters.

When asked about the allegations, Asiri said the Houthi fighters operate among civilians. It was not immediately possible to resolve the conflicting accounts. The Houthis and security forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh had earlier launched a fresh offensive against Aden, shelling it and battling local militias, but were pushed back by at least two airstrikes, security officials said. Saleh stepped down following a 2011 Arab Spring uprising, but has maintained wide influence through loyalists in the security forces.

Yemeni security officials say the combined force of Houthis and Saleh loyalists is positioned about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Aden, near the southern city of Zinjibar. The rebels have used artillery to target pro-Hadi militias known as the Popular Committees. Battles are also underway near the airport. Fighting in the area continued late into the night.

Reached by telephone, Aden resident Shakib Rajah said that the toughest fighting was taking place near the city’s northern Dar Saad neighborhood, where heavy weapons including tanks were being used. The account of the fighting was confirmed by four military and security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Emboldened by the airstrikes, the Popular Committees have largely held their ground in Aden province and still control most of the city. The death toll from the ground fighting in Aden since Thursday has reached at least 86, with some 600 people wounded, according to Abdel-Nasser al-Wali, head of a local medical center.

The strikes in Sanaa have targeted militants, jets, air defense systems and Scud missile launch pads that could threaten Saudi Arabia. Officials said aircraft struck areas near the presidential palace in Sanaa and several other sites across the city, sending fireballs rising into the sky, shattering windows and shaking houses. The thunder of rockets, artillery and tank rounds echoed through the streets.

The daily airstrikes have bred a climate of anxiety and uncertainty in Sanaa. Schools are shuttered, residents are staying indoors, and hundreds have fled to the safety of nearby villages. In the southern city of Baihan in Shabwa province, airstrikes mistakenly struck a gathering of anti-Houthi tribesmen, causing a number of deaths and injuries, a tribal leader said on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns. It was not clear how many were killed.

In the western coastal city of Hodeida, medical officials said one person was killed and others wounded when the Houthis dispersed a demonstration denouncing their takeover and demanding the release of detainees.

Fighting meanwhile intensified in the southern city of al-Dhale, where the Houthis and Saleh loyalists have been trying to open up a corridor to Aden. They have met fierce resistance there, and the city is currently split between supporters and opponents of the rebels.

Since the air campaign began, the Houthis have arrested some 140 foreign nationals on suspicion that they are providing the Saudis with intelligence on the locations of army barracks, radars and air defense positions, according to the rebel-controlled Interior Ministry.

August 02, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Political uncertainty inside the Taliban has cast doubt on the prospects for an end to the war in Afghanistan. On Saturday the Taliban’s controversial new leader vowed to continue fighting while urging unity among his followers in a message aimed at preventing a split in the group between those who want peace and those who still believe they can win.

An audio message purportedly from newly elected Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor came as cracks in the Taliban’s previously united front widened, two days after the group confirmed an Afghan government report that reclusive longtime leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died. The 30-minute speech attributed to Mansoor was emailed to The Associated Press by the Taliban’s spokesman. It could not be independently verified.

In it, the man purported to be Mansoor seemed to be carefully parsing his words to calm internal dissent and solidify his political base inside the Taliban, urging his fighters to remain unified and continue the jihad, or holy war, to establish an Islamic state in Afghanistan. He did not endorse or reject the nascent peace talks with the Afghan government despite the fact that, according to the government, Mansoor has been effectively running the Taliban for more than two years and the group’s decision to participate in landmark face-to-face talks in Pakistan last month took place under his leadership. A second round of talks, which has been scheduled to begin Friday in Pakistan, has been indefinitely postponed.

“We have to continue our jihad, we shouldn’t be suspicious of each other. We should accept each other. Whatever happens must comply with Sharia law, whether that be jihad, or talks, or an invitation to either. Our decisions all must be based on Sharia law,” he said.

Mansoor took over the Taliban after the group on Thursday confirmed that Mullah Omar had died and said they elected Mansoor as his successor. The Afghan government announced Wednesday that the reclusive mullah had been dead since April 2013; the Taliban has remained vague on exactly when Mullah Omar died.

Mansoor’s first priority seems to be quelling internal opposition to his election. Mullah Omar’s son Yacoob has publicly rejected Mansoor’s election, which was held in the Pakistani city of Quetta. He said the vote took place among a small clique of Mansoor’s supporters and demanded a re-election that includes all Taliban commanders, including those fighting in Afghanistan.

“We should keep our unity, we must be united, our enemy will be happy in our separation,” Mansoor purportedly said in the message. “This is a big responsibility for us. This is not the work of one, two or three people. This is all our responsibility to carry on jihad until we establish the Islamic state.”

Observers said the coming days should reveal how the Taliban leadership crisis plays out — a process which could have a seismic effect on Afghanistan’s political landscape. “There’s a lot of unknowns right now, but hopefully within the next few days we would know more about what will be the intentions of the new leadership and if the new leader would be able to keep unity within the Taliban,” said Haroun Mir, a political analyst.

If Mansoor fails to appease his fighters and field commanders on the ground, the ultimate beneficiary could be the Islamic State group. The rival Islamic extremist group, which already controls about a third of Syria and Iraq with affiliates in Egypt and Libya, has established a small foothold in Afghanistan and is actively recruiting disillusioned Taliban fighters, according to Afghan government and U.S. military officials.

The position of the Afghan government was also unclear, he said, as President Ashraf Ghani — who has made peace a priority of his administration — is in Germany for medical treatment. “We are hopeful that when President Ghani returns to Kabul, he will make a statement about this new event and about the future of the peace process,” Mir said.

Mullah Omar was the one-eyed, secretive head of the Taliban, who hosted Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He had not been seen in public since fleeing over the border into Pakistan after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban from power.

Under Mansoor’s shadow leadership, the Taliban has participated in a series of indirect meetings with government representatives, culminating in last month’s landmark meeting. But the Taliban has simultaneously intensified its attacks on Afghan security forces, expanding its footprint into the previously peaceful northern provinces after NATO and U.S. troops ended their combat mission and handed over security to local forces at the end of last year.

Officials said on Saturday that Taliban gunmen had surrounded a police station in southern Uruzgan province and were holding 70 police officers hostage. The head of the police in Khas Uruzgan district said that five police officers had been killed and four wounded in fighting so far.

“If we don’t get support then all 70 police will be either dead or captured,” he said. In a separate statement on Saturday, the Taliban refuted media reports that the leader of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, had died in eastern Afghanistan a year ago.

“These claims have no basis,” the statement said. It said the leader of one of the country’s most brutal insurgent groups, based in Pakistan’s tribal belt with links to al-Qaeda, “has been blessed with good health for a long time now and has no troubles currently.”

Like Mullah Omar, Haqqani has been reported dead on a number of occasions, but the reports have not been independently verified. Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin was elected as the Taliban’s deputy to Mansoor — a move possibly aimed at ensuring a steady cash flow from the Haqqani’s wealthy backers and appeasing hardliners.

The Haqqani Network is considered one of the country’s most vicious militant organizations, responsible for complex and well-planned attacks that often involve large numbers of suicide bombers and produce heavy casualties.

Saturday, 08 October 2011

By AL ARABIYA AND AGENCIES

More than 100,000 Syrians rallied against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday during the funeral of Mishaal Tammo, a Kurdish opposition figure slain the previous day, Abdessalam Othman, of the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria, told Al Arabiya.

Othman said security forces in civilian clothing randomly opened fire on demonstrators, killing five and wounding dozens.

Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more 50,000 people were participating in the Tammo’s funeral.

Protesters also took on the streets in the northern eastern cities of Amouda and al-Dirbasiya.

In the central city of Homs, roads were blocked to prevent protesters from demonstrating and communication was cut.

Gunmen shot dead Tammo on Friday in his home in the east of the country, activists said.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said four gunmen entered the house in Qamishli, shooting Tammo dead and wounding his brother, Reuters reported.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees said Tammo “was killed on Friday at his home by unidentified men. His son as well as female activist Zahida Rashkilo were wounded.”

The official SANA news agency reported “the assassination,” but gave a different account of Tammo’s death. It said he was killed “by gunmen in a black car who fired at his car.”

Tammo founded the liberal Kurdish Future Party, which considers the Kurds to be an integral part of Syria.

He was a member of the newly formed opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and had been released recently after spending three and a half years in prison.

Tammo’s killing sparked indignation at home and abroad.

The United States said Assad’s regime is escalating its tactics against the opposition with bold, daylight attacks on its leaders, while France said it was “shocked” by the news of the murder.

“This is a clear escalation of regime tactics,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, referring to reports of Tammo’s murder, as well as the beating on Friday of former MP Riad Seif.

Nuland said both opposition leaders were attacked in broad daylight.

France condemned the regime’s “brutal violence” in its crackdown on the opposition.

“We are shocked by the assassination of opposition figure Mishaal Tammo… and by the attack on opposition figure Riad Seif,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Seif, a former lawmaker, had to be given hospital treatment after being beaten outside a mosque in the capital’s commercial neighborhood of Medan.

Before the news of Tammo’s killing, a prominent Sheikh from the opposition was killed.

Source: al-Arabiya.

Link: http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/10/08/170791.html.

GAZA (BNO NEWS) — Protests in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners, who have been holding a hunger strike in Israeli jails for 12 days, took place on Friday in the West Bank, Palestinian media reported on Saturday.

In the southern West Bank village of al-Walajeh, Israeli soldiers allegedly shot tear gas canisters to end a demonstration of about 50 people. At least three Palestinians and one German solidarity activist were arrested, Palestine News Network (PNN) reported.

Two people were reportedly injured in nearby al-Ma’sara village when Israeli soldiers suppressed a protest. In the central West Bank village of Bil’in, popular committee media coordinator Ratib Abu Rahma said that dozens of Palestinians suffered from “severe tear gas inhalation.”

Violent clashes were also reported in the central West Bank village of al-Nabi Saleh, where three Palestinians were hit by Israeli tear gas canisters.

Hundreds of Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails have been refusing to eat since September 27 in protest of what they call ‘worsening’ prison conditions. The main demands of the prisoners are to end an alleged policy of isolation and of collective punishment. They also demand that Israeli authorities allow their families to visit them without restrictions and shackles, PNN reported.

The strike includes at least 500 people as of Friday. There are almost 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, including 143 people who have been detained for more than 20 years for serious crimes.

The hunger strike was called after Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the country would revoke benefits and privileges from Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons. Netanyahu was responding to Hamas’ refusal to let the International Red Cross visit soldier Gilad Schalit.

On June 25, 2006, Shalit, a Staff Sergeant with the Israeli Defense Forces, was abducted by Hamas militants and has been held in captivity since. His family has been trying to have contact with him without avail.

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Source: Wire Update.

Link: http://wireupdate.com/news/protests-in-the-west-bank-in-solidarity-with-hunger-striking-palestinian-prisoners.html.

August 01, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Family members of the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were among four people killed in a private jet crash in southern England, the Saudi ambassador to Britain said.

He did not further identify the dead, but Arab media and NBC News reported they included a sister, brother-in-law and stepmother of Osama bin Laden. The plane’s Jordanian pilot also died. The ambassador, Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf Bin Abdel-Aziz, offered his condolences to the wealthy bin Laden family, which owns a major construction company in Saudi Arabia.

“The embassy will follow up on the incident and its circumstances with the concerned British authorities and work on speeding up the handover of the bodies of the victims to the kingdom for prayer and burial,” the ambassador said in a statement tweeted by the embassy late Friday.

Police say a pilot and three passengers died when an executive jet crashed into a parking lot and burst into flames while trying to land at Blackbushe Airport in southern England Friday afternoon. The plane had been flying from Malpensa Airport in Milan.

No one on the ground was hurt. Police and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch launched a joint investigation. Blackbushe Airport said the Embraer Phenom 300 jet crashed near the end of the runway while trying to land at the airfield about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of London, which is used by private planes and flying clubs.

Andrew Thomas, who was at a car auction sales center based at the airport, told the BBC that “the plane nosedived into the cars and exploded on impact.” He said he saw the plane and several cars in flames.

The official Saudi Press Agency earlier identified the plane as Saudi-owned without mentioning the bin Ladens. It said a Saudi official would work with British authorities in investigating the crash. The plane’s pilot was Mazen Salem al-Dajah, a Jordanian in his late 50s. His brother Ziad told The Associated Press that al-Dajah’s family had been told of his death by a representative of the bin Laden family’s corporation. He said al-Dajah received his pilot’s license in California about 25 years ago and had been employed by the bin Laden family.

The bin Laden family disowned Osama in 1994 when Saudi Arabia stripped him of his citizenship because of his militant activities. The al-Qaida leader was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in 2011.

The family is a large and wealthy one. Osama bin Laden’s billionaire father Mohammed had more than 50 children and founded the Binladen Group, a sprawling construction conglomerate awarded many major building contracts in the Sunni kingdom.

Mohammed bin Laden died in a plane crash in Saudi Arabia in 1967. One of his sons, Salem, was killed when his ultralight aircraft flew into power lines in San Antonio, Texas, in 1988.

Gambrell reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.

August 01, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Saturday placed a major archaeological site in Crimea, which he has hailed as the country’s most sacred spiritual symbol, under federal control following turmoil over the appointment of its director.

The Kremlin said that Putin ordered the area of the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus to be placed under federal oversight. The site is located just outside Sevastopol, the main port city in Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine last year.

Putin’s order followed the Sevastopol governor’s decision last month to appoint a Russian Orthodox priest as director of the Chersonesus museum, a move that has angered its keepers and fueled strong public criticism that the appointee lacked education and experience.

While presenting the new director to museum workers, the governor, Sergei Menyailo, reportedly sought to counter protests by saying that “religion has always dealt with science,” a comment that drew mockery on Russian social networks. Menyailo’s claim that he had received Moscow’s approval for the appointment was denied by officials in Moscow.

Putin’s adviser for cultural issues, Vladimir Tolstoy, a descendant of novelist Leo Tolstoy, was among those who criticized the governor’s decision, saying the museum chief should be a professional. Tolstoy was quoted by the Interfax news agency Saturday as saying that the Culture Ministry will now be in charge of Chersonesus and choose its new director.

Excavations in Chersonesus, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, began in 1827. The city was founded by Greek colonists about 2,500 years ago, and later became part of the Byzantine Empire. The Kievan Rus ruler, Prince Vladimir, was baptized there in 988 before bringing Christianity to the region.

Putin has hailed the spiritual importance of Chersonesus for Russia, saying in last year’s state-of-the nation address that the site has a “huge civilizational and sacred meaning” for the Russian Orthodox Christians, just as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is to Jews and Muslims.

August 01, 2015

NEW DELHI (AP) — Tens of thousands of stateless people who were stranded for decades along the poorly defined border between India and Bangladesh can finally choose their citizenship, as the two countries swapped more than 150 pockets of land at the stroke of midnight Friday to settle the demarcation line dividing them.

Television images showed people bursting firecrackers and raising an Indian flag in the Masaldanga enclave, which became part of India. On the other side of the new border, thousands of people who have been living in the enclaves in Bangladesh cheered, danced and chanted “Bangladesh, Bangladesh.”

They lit 68 candles and released 68 balloons, then marched through the village of Dashiarchhara, highlighting that it took 68 years to settle the border dispute. The village in Kurigram district is 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

India’s External Affairs Ministry described July 31 as a historic day for both India and Bangladesh as “it marks the resolution of a complex issue that has lingered since independence” from British colonialists in 1947.

“We are very happy, our children will no more need to hide their identity to go to schools,” said Bashir Mia, 46. Many people posed as Bangladeshis to get their children admitted to schools in Bangladesh.

“We are free now, we are Bangladeshis,” he said. Nearly 37,000 people lived in 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh, while 14,000 lived in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. They now get citizenship of their choice as a result of the agreement between the two countries.

Relations between India and its smaller neighbor have significantly improved since Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised that her administration would not allow India’s separatist insurgents to use the porous 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) border to carry out raids in India.

Aided by India, Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan following a bloody nine-month war in 1971. The boundary dispute has been lingering since British colonialists carved Pakistan out of India in 1947, and granted independence to the two countries.

None from Bangladeshi enclaves within India opted for Bangladesh, while 979 people from Indian enclaves living inside Bangladesh applied for Indian citizenship, said Akhteruzzman Azad, the chief government administrator for Bangladesh’s Kurigram district.

The shifting of the people to the Indian side will be completed by November this year. Several television news channels in both countries broadcast the celebrations live. “This will end nearly seven decades of deprivation the people living in the enclaves have had to suffer being virtually owned by no one,” said the Bangladeshi English language Daily Star newspaper.

The two countries are implementing the Land Boundary Agreement in line with a deal signed in 1974, and approved by India’s Parliament recently.

Associated Press writer Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.