Archive for September, 2015

August 30, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Big crowds of protesters returned to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to demand the resignation of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over a financial scandal, after the first day of the massive rally passed peacefully.

The protesters camped overnight wearing yellow shirts of the Bersih movement — the coalition for clean and fair elections — even after authorities blocked the organizer’s website and banned yellow attire and the group’s logo in a bid to deter the rallies, which were also held in other Malaysian cities.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has been spearheading calls for Najib’s resignation, added momentum to the rally when he made a surprise brief appearance late Saturday with his wife to loud cheers from the crowd, and telling protesters to “carry on.”

Najib has been fighting for political survival after leaked documents in July showed he received some $700 million in his private accounts from entities linked to indebted state fund 1MDB. He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East, fired his critical deputy and four other Cabinet members as well as the attorney general investigating him.

He slammed the protests for tarnishing Malaysia’s image. “Those who wear this yellow attire … they want to discredit our good name, scribble black coal on Malaysia’s face to the outside world,” Najib was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama.

Police estimated Saturday’s crowd at 25,000, while Bersih says 200,000 participated at its peak. The rally was scheduled to last until midnight Sunday to usher in Malaysia’s 58th National Day. “This is a watershed moment. Malaysians are united in their anger at the mismanagement of this country. We are saying loudly that there should be a change in the leadership,” said protester Azrul Khalib, who slept on the street with his friends.

He said he was aware that the rally will not bring change overnight, but he wants to be “part of efforts to build a new Malaysia.” Some used colored chalks to scrawl their demands on the street: “We want change,” and “We want clean and fair (elections).”

Scores of police barricaded roads leading to the Independence Square, a national landmark that authorities declared off-limits to protesters ahead of the national day celebrations on Monday. Previous two Bersih rallies, in 2011 and 2012, were dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons.

Analysts said the rally attracted a largely urban crowd with a smaller participation of ethnic Malays, which could be the reason why the Najib government allowed it to go on. “They feel safe because it has not really affected the rural Malay segment, their bedrock support,” said political analyst Ibrahim Suffian. However, he said this doesn’t mean that rural Malays are happy with the government, as many are upset with the plunging currency and economic slowdown.

A nation of 30 million, Malaysia is predominantly Malay Muslim with significant Chinese and Indian minorities. Its ambitions to rise from a middle income to a developed nation this decade have been stymied by slow-paced reforms and Najib’s increasing authoritarianism.

Support for Najib’s National Front has eroded in the last two general elections. It won in 2013, but lost the popular vote for the first time to an opposition alliance. Concerns over the political scandal partly contributed to the Malaysian currency plunging to a 17-year low beyond 4 ringgit to the dollar earlier this month.

Apart from Najib’s resignation, the demands being sought are institutional reforms that will make the government more transparent and accountable.

August 29, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Defying authorities, thousands of Malaysians wearing yellow T-shirts and blowing horns began gathering Saturday in Kuala Lumpur for a major rally to demand the resignation of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The crowds were undeterred by heavy police presence after authorities declared the rally illegal, blocked the organizer’s website and banned yellow attire and the logo of Bersih, the coalition for clean and fair election that’s behind the protest.

Najib has been fighting for political survival after leaked documents in July showed he received some $700 million in his private accounts from entities linked to indebted state fund 1MDB. He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East, fired his critical deputy and four other Cabinet members as well as the attorney general investigating him.

Protesters in yellow Bersih T-shirts and headbands converged at five different locations, in preparation to march to areas surrounding the Independence Square, where celebrations to mark Malaysia’s 58th National Day will be held Monday.

Scores of riot police have sealed off roads leading to the square, which authorities have said is off-limits to protesters. Some activists were carrying canvas bags with the words “My Prime Minister Embarrasses Me.” Some held placards saying “We will not be silenced,” while others chanted “Bersih” and waved Malaysian flags.

In one area near the square, a comedian entertaining the crowd poked fun at Najib. Dressed up as an Arab, he pretended to hand over a multi-billion-ringgit check as a donation to a rally participant. “Stop treating us like fools, Mr. prime minister,” said businessman Tony Wong. “We deserve to know the truth about 1MDB. Where has the money gone to?”

1MDB, set up by Najib in 2009 to develop new industries, has accumulated 42 billion ringgit ($11.1 billion) in debt after its energy ventures abroad faltered. Critics have voiced concern about 1MDB’s massive debt and lack of transparency.

Concerns over the political scandal partly contributed to the Malaysian currency plunging to a 17-year low, beyond 4 ringgit to the dollar, earlier this month. Apart from Najib’s resignation, the rally, which will go on overnight, is also demanding institutional reforms that will make the government more transparent and accountable.

A nation of 30 million, Malaysia is predominantly Malay Muslim with significant Chinese and Indian minorities. Its ambitions to rise from a middle income to a developed nation this decade have been stymied by slow-paced reforms and Najib’s increasing authoritarianism.

This is the fourth rally organized by Bersih, and the third one since Najib took power in 2009. Tens of thousands of people turned up for the last two rallies in 2011 and 2012, which were dispersed by authorities using tear gas and water cannon.

Bersih activists said rallies were also held simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Kuching in Malaysia’s Sarawak state and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah state. Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed has warned police will take action if the rally turns violent or protesters break the law. He has said that protesters should show their unhappiness with the government at the ballot box, not in the streets.

Support for Najib’s National Front has eroded in the last two general elections. It won in 2013, but lost the popular vote for the first time to an opposition alliance.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Nine more members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Egypt, Anadolu has reported. In the same session, four other members of the movement were each sent to prison for four years.

Those convicted by the Criminal Court in Ismailiyah included a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Office, Mohamed Taha Wahdan, and the local spokesman for the movement in the city, Ali Abdullah, in addition to the main Brotherhood official in the governorate, Sabry Khalafallah.

All were arrested following the dispersal of a pro-democracy demonstration in December 2013. They were accused of attempting to undermine Egypt’s security, public safety, taking part in an illegal demonstration and being affiliated with Egypt’s largest Islamic movement.

A source in Ismailiyah added that the Appeal Court had released a number of pro-Brotherhood individuals on bail.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


September 09, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Thousands of Lebanese demonstrators braved a sandstorm and oppressive humidity to take to Beirut streets on Wednesday and rally against government dysfunction, as politicians met for the first round of talks aimed at averting a political crisis that stemmed from a trash crisis that has engulfed the country’s capital.

Activists near the parliament building, which was closed off by security forces, shouted “thieves!” and hurled eggs as politicians’ convoys drove by. Tensions rose further after a morning gathering of lawmakers and senior politicians ended without results, while the Cabinet convened late into the night to discuss the deadlock. Outside the government building, protesters chanted: “Revolution, revolution against the system.”

Just before midnight, the government said it had approved a plan that promises to end the trash crisis. “They are feeling the sand shifting under them,” Elias Nassour, a 28-year-old protester, said of the government leaders. “Nothing will pass so easily anymore. They can’t belittle us anymore.”

The trash crisis has ignited the largest Lebanese protests in years and has emerged as a festering symbol of the government’s paralysis and failure to provide basic services. It was sparked by popular anger over the heaps of trash accumulating in Beirut’s streets after authorities closed the capital’s main landfill on July 17 and failed to provide an alternative.

The protests quickly moved beyond just the trash in the streets to target an entire political class that has dominated the country and undermined its growth since the civil war ended in 1990. Lebanon has a confessional power-sharing system that often leads to incessant bickering and cronyism among the country’s politicians.

Thousands of people have taken part in huge demonstrations over the past two weeks. Among other things, they are demanding new parliament elections, to be followed by presidential elections. The country has been without a president for over a year, and members of parliament have illegally extended their term twice amid disputes over an election law.

After meeting for three and a half hours, leaders of Lebanon’s various sectarian blocs issued a brief statement, saying the talks would resume in a week. “They did not even bother to meet tomorrow or the day after, they postponed it for a week and came out without any decision,” said Assaad Thebian, an organizer with the main group behind the protests, which calls itself “You Stink.”

“They showed that they are indifferent and should not be in leadership positions,” he told The Associated Press. “This dialogue is a joke. They are meeting to see how they can split the cheese,” said Marwan Basha, a 57-year-old engineer taking part in the sit-in near parliament, as riot police stood nearby. His T-shirt had Arabic words on the front, asking: “Where is the water, where is the electricity, where are the job opportunities?”

On the barbed wire that separates protesters from the building, activists pinned a large banner with the pictures of the 128 members of parliament reading: “You have failed at everything … Go Home.”

So far, the only response to the growing protest movement has been a promise by the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, for the high-level talks among the politicians. His call has been backed by the main political leaders, who attended the meeting Wednesday, but it was unclear how such talks among the same veteran politicians being vilified by the protesters would help break the deadlock.

The leaders are deeply divided over core issues, such as what a new election law would look like, and whether it should be passed before or after a president is elected. Following the meeting, a government official said they discussed the urgent need to elect a president. Adnan Daher said the next dialogue session would be held on Sept. 16.

At Beirut’s main Martyrs’ Square, thousands waved red-and-white Lebanese flags and chanted anti-government slogans as night fell. “The people want to topple the regime,” many shouted — a chant common during the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.

Ahmad Amhaz, a 23-year-old activist who is among eight who have been on a hunger strike for days, called for the resignation of the environment minister. “This dialogue is a failure. If they agree, we starve and if they disagree we get killed,” he said. His flip-flops were plastered with photographs of Lebanese politicians.

Earlier on Wednesday, 61-year-old Albert Aswad who owns a printing house, brought more than two dozen eggs and a bag of tomatoes and hurled them at the politicians’ convoys as they passed by on the way to their meeting. “Politicians in this country have no morals,” he said.

Just before the morning meeting, Prime Minister Tammam Salam urged the politicians to make every effort to help end the paralysis. He then called for a Cabinet meeting. “I hope at the Cabinet meeting today … there will be an immediate solution to rid the country of garbage as a way to propagate trust in the country,” Salam told journalists.

After nearly six hours of Cabinet meeting, and shortly before midnight, minister of Agriculture Akram Chehayeb said a plan has been approved to remove trash from the streets, open new landfills and allow municipalities to manage the portfolio previously handled by the government.

Details of implementation are still unclear, but the plan meets some of the protesters demands, such as passing the trash handling to the municipalities level.

Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Beirut.

Thursday, 03 September 2015

More than 20 Jordanian parties on Wednesday criticized the new election law for 2015, which was announced by the government two days ago. The government said that it adopted the election law of 1989, Quds Press reported.

In a press conference held in the head office of the United Jordanian Front, the representative of the parties said that lawmakers did not adopt the mixed electoral law, which maintains involvement of political parties in the political and parliamentarian life.

The opposition parties said that the “adoption of this law [of 1989] does not achieve the interests of the country or citizens in the upcoming parliamentarian elections and the parties will re-evaluate their positions towards the elections.”

In addition, the parties said that this law does not contribute to the development of the country or the reformation of the political process, which has been ongoing for a long time. They called on MPs to turn down this law for the sake of the country.

The parties said that the new law is based on prioritizing social representation over political processes.

The Islamic Action Front, which is the largest acting party in the country, in addition to other Islamist, secular and leftist parties, has been vocal in its opposition to the law.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


September 01, 2015

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A court in Azerbaijan convicted an investigative journalist on Tuesday of several financial crimes and sentenced her to 7½ years in prison, in a case widely criticized by human rights organizations.

Khadija Ismayilova and her supporters say the charges were retribution for her reports on alleged corruption involving President Ilham Aliyev and his family in the oil-rich former Soviet republic. Several other journalists and rights activists also have been imprisoned in Azerbaijan in what has been widely seen as an effort by the authoritarian government to stifle dissent.

The Baku court convicted Ismayilova of embezzlement, illegal business activity, tax evasion and abuse of power, but found her not guilty of inciting a colleague to commit suicide. The case against her was initiated when the colleague filed his complaint, but he later withdrew the accusation.

The prison sentence was slightly less than the nine years requested by prosecutors for 39-year-old Ismayilova, a contributor to U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “Khadija Ismayilova’s trial has been a farce, yet the consequences for her, and for all Azerbaijani journalists, are gravely serious,” Nina Ognianova of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. She called on Azerbaijan to overturn the conviction on appeal and “for Baku’s international partners to stop turning a blind eye to the country’s human rights abuses.”

Azerbaijan is holding at least seven other journalists in jail, CPJ said. Other rights groups also condemned the verdict. “The government has stepped up its brutal crackdown on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders — indeed anyone who dares to publicly raise a critical voice,” Denis Krivosheev of Amnesty International said in a statement.

In August, a prominent rights defender and her husband were convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison terms of 8 ½ years and seven years, respectively.

29 August 2015 Saturday

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hailed the new cabinet announced on Friday, which he said represented every color of the country.

“I am of the opinion that we have formed a good cabinet where every color from Turkey has been represented,” Davutoglu said in Ankara on Friday.

He said that the results of the new cabinet would be beneficial.

The interim cabinet includes lawmakers from the Justice and Development (AK) Party, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), but not the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The prime minister said that the interim cabinet was a “constitutional government” and not a government of AK Party.

In remarks made after the announcement of the cabinet, Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said that this was neither a coalition government, nor an AK Party government.

“This is a government formed by each deputy out of constitutional necessity and a sense of political responsibility,” he said.

Source: World Bulletin.


28 August 2015 Friday

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced his interim Cabinet on Friday, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assigned him to form a caretaker government.

Davutoglu submitted the composition of the new government to Erdogan at 7.10 p.m. local time (1610GMT).

Since Tuesday, the prime minister has been making efforts to form a provisional government that will run Turkey until early election is held on Nov. 1.

The June 7 election saw a stalemate with no party winning the majority necessary to form a single party government. Coalition talks between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the other three parliamentary parties had not produced any result.

All but one party — the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) — had refused to join the caretaker government.

The new cabinet consists of 11 MPs from ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), 11 independent candidates, and 3 representatives of the opposition – Tuğrul Türkeş (Nationalist Movement Party -MHP), and 2 MPs from pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) – Müslüm Doğan and Ali Haydar.

Davutoglu announced the list of members of the interim Cabinet at a press conference in Ankara which is as follows:

Prime Minister – Ahmet Davutoglu

Deputy Prime Minister –  Yalcin Akdogan

Deputy Prime Minister – Numan Kurtulmus

Deputy Prime Minister – Cevdet Yilmaz

Deputy Prime Minister – Tugrul Turkes


Foreign Minister – Feridun Sinirlioglu

EU Affairs Minister and Chief Negotiator – Ali Haydar Konca

Minister of Family and Social Policies – Aysen Gurcan

Minister of Justice – Kenan Ipek

Minister of Science, Industry and Technology – Fikri Isik

Minister of Customs and Trade – Cenap Asci

Minister of Environment and Urban Planning – Idris Gulluce

Minister of Economy – Nihat Zeybekci

Minister of Youth and Sports – Akif Cagatay Kilic

Minister of Internal Affairs – Selami Altinok

Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communication – Feridun Bilgin

Minister of Labour and Social Security – Ahmet Erdem

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources – Ali Rıza Alaboyun

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock – Kudbettin Arzu

Development Minister – Muslum Dogan

Minister of Culture and Tourism – Yalcin Topcu

Minister of Finance – Mehmet Simsek

Minister of National Education – Nabi Avci

Minister of National Defence – Vecdi Gonul

Minister of Forest and Water Management – Veysel Eroglu

Minister of Health – Mehmet Muezzinoglu

Source: World Bulletin.


August 31, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Defying warnings from Washington and the fury of Afghanistan’s government, Pakistani authorities are turning a blind eye to a meeting of hundreds of Taliban supporters in a city near the Afghan border aimed at resolving a dispute over the group’s leadership following the death of figurehead Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The gathering in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Taliban’s leadership has been largely based since they were pushed from power by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, has drawn some 1,000 Taliban adherents who have openly descended on the city for a “unity shura,” a meeting intended to resolve the leadership crisis and reunite the group, whose divisions have been publicly aired since Mullah Omar’s death was revealed in late July.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has accused Pakistan of harboring groups that are waging war on his country. His deputy spokesman, Zafar Hashemi told The Associated Press that Pakistan was failing to take action against “those groups holding gatherings in public and declaring war against the Afghan people,” a reference to the Taliban meetings in Quetta.

The Taliban’s struggle to overthrow the Kabul government is nearing its 14th year. Thousands of U.S. and NATO soldiers, along with many more thousands of Afghan civilians, troops and police have been killed in the fighting, which has intensified following the drawdown last year of most foreign combat troops. The Taliban are clearly testing the Afghan forces as they take on the insurgency alone, though their fighters have made little significant progress on the battlefield.

The leadership struggle became public after the Afghan government announced in late July that Mullah Omar had been dead since April 2013. His deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, was declared his successor, but Mullah Omar’s family objected, saying the vote to elect the new leader was not representative of the group. The unity shura — essentially a dispute resolution committee — was established in early August to deal with the crisis and shura leader Ahmad Rabbani says its decision could be reached in days.

In an indication of what is at stake, the Taliban published a biography Monday of Mansoor in a clear attempt by his backers to shore up his support among the Taliban leaders, religious scholars, battlefield commanders and rank-and-file supporters as deliberations come to a close. They have met at various spots around Quetta — in Chaman near the Afghan border and in tribal areas of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, troubled by its own insurgency.

With impressive organizational skills, the Quetta-based Taliban have taken on the task of hosting hundreds of visitors from Afghanistan, billeting them in madrassas, mosques and private homes, ensuring they are fed and that transport is arranged so they can get to their meetings on time. Many attendees, including religious scholars and commanders, traveled from remote regions of Afghanistan. Many of the fighting men have already departed, shura leaders said, having made their preferences clear.

Rabbani said that Mansoor has yet to inform the shura that he will adhere to whatever decision is made, although Mullah Omar’s brother, Manan, and son, Yaqub, have done so. Mansoor has been given until Tuesday to state his position, Rabbani said, adding: “We don’t need his permission to announce our decision, and have made contingency plans for whether he says he will follow our decision or not.”

He said the committee’s decision on the leadership could come as early as Wednesday. The meetings appear to have been untroubled by the Pakistani authorities, who habitually deny that they sponsor the Taliban or other terrorist groups, such as the Haqqani Network whose leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is one of Mansoor’s deputies.

“Yes, our officials have contacts with them. Our officials have ability to contact and bring them to the negotiation table. That doesn’t mean that our intelligence agencies have control on each and every thing,” said Pakistani security analyst Zahid Hussain.

Ghani’s condemnation of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban boiled over in early August after a series of deadly attacks on the capital, Kabul, that left 50 people dead and hundreds wounded. After almost a year of trying to mend fences with Islamabad, the Afghan leader went on live TV and accused Pakistan of being the source of violence in his country. Relations between the neighbors have suffered, with an Afghan delegation returning empty-handed from a visit to Pakistan meant to hammer out a way of dealing with the insurgency.

“The decisions the Pakistani government will be making in the next few weeks will significantly affect bilateral relations for the next decades,” Ghani said in his TV address. “We can no longer tolerate watching our people bleeding in a war exported and imposed on us from outside.”

Peace talks between Ghani’s administration and the Taliban, which had been supported by Pakistan, were indefinitely postponed after the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death. Analysts and diplomats say it could be years before they are revived and that in the meantime the war could get worse as the new Taliban leader consolidates power and tries to win over all elements, including extremists who have been disaffected by the Taliban’s lack of progress towards it goal of retaking Kabul.

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with Pakistani leaders on Sunday to discuss efforts to revive peace talks. In a statement, the White House said she “underscored the U.S. commitment to an Afghan-led peace process, and urged Pakistan to intensify its efforts to counter terrorist sanctuaries inside its borders in order to promote regional peace and stability.”

In recent days, gunmen loyal to Mansoor and to a powerful supporter of Mullah Omar’s family in the leadership contest, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, have fought openly in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan. At least five fighters were killed in battles on Saturday, Rabbani said.

Dadullah condemned the release of Mansoor’s biograhy, accusing him of being “desperate” for power “and using every tactic to increase his popularity.” The 5,000-word document, emailed to journalists in five languages, describes Mansoor, who was born in 1968, as a tireless holy warrior, good listener and ardent protector of civilians, who was appointed as the insurgents’ leader “in full compliance with Islamic Shariah law.”

Mansoor “never nominated himself for leadership, rather he was selected as the only candidate … by members of the leading council of the Islamic Emirate and religious scholars,” the biography says, using the name of the former Taliban government.

“Mansoor is trying to show that he is the leader and no one can reach him on that level,” said Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, the foreign relations adviser to the Afghan government’s High Peace Council, which is charged with ending the war.

Mansoor is believed to have gained power in the Taliban in part because of his connections to Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which long has had ties to Afghan militants. He is believed to have acted in Mullah Omar’s name in recent years and taken the Taliban into a peace dialogue with the Afghan government at the same time as stepping up the battle against Afghan forces, all at the ISI’s behest, Qasimayar said.

With the backing of the Pakistani intelligence agency, Mansoor “is the only one right now that has more support than anyone else for the leadership,” Qasimyar said. “With Pakistan’s support, it doesn’t matter who supports him and who doesn’t.”

However, Habibullah Fouzi, a diplomat under the Taliban and now a member of the Afghan government’s peace council, said there could be more dissension within the Taliban. He said many rank-and-file members supported Mullah Omar’s family. “It is clear that Mullah Mansoor has been imposed into this position by others,” he said.

Mansoor’s biography also for the first time gives a date for Mullah Omar’s death: April 23, 2013. The Taliban said it kept his death a secret as “2013 was considered the last year of resistance and struggle” before the drawdown of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan and Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Tuesday, 01 September 2015

The Turkish Red Crescent Society has spent nearly $345 million in aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey and Syria since the crisis began in 2011.

The president of the relief agency, Ahmad Lutfi Akar, said in a statement on Monday that his agency does not discriminate in providing assistance on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or language.

Akar pointed out that the Society had lent a helping hand to those in need in many countries around the world, including as Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and some African countries.

The agency provides assistance to the poor and victims of disasters, as well as refugees from Syria whose numbers have swelled to about 2.5 million.

Source: Middle East Monitor.