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Sunday, June 26, 2016

UN warns 20,000 children are trapped in Iraq's Fallujah

June 01, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — The U.N. children's fund on Wednesday issued a stark warning to Iraqi troops and Islamic State militants in the battle for Fallujah to spare the children, the most vulnerable among the tens of thousands of civilians who remain trapped by the fighting for control of this city west of Baghdad.

Backed by aerial support from the U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary forces mainly made up of Shiite militias, Iraqi government troops more than a week ago launched a military operation to recapture Fallujah which has been under control of the extremist group for more than two years.

As the battled unfolded — with Iraqi forces this week pushing into the city's southern sections after securing surrounding towns and villages — more than 50,000 people are believed to be trapped inside the Sunni majority city, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.

The UNICEF estimated the number of the children trapped with their families inside the city at about 20,000, warning that they face a dire humanitarian situation, in addition to the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting by the IS militants.

"Children who are forcibly recruited into the fighting see their lives and futures jeopardized as they are forced to carry and use arms, fighting an adults' war," the organization said in a statement. It called on "all parties to protect children inside Fallujah" and "provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city."

Fallujah was the first large city in Iraq to fall to IS and it is the last major urban area controlled by the extremist group in western Iraq. The Sunni-led militants still control the country's second-largest city, Mosul, in the north, as well as smaller towns and patches of territory in the country's west and north.

The fight for Fallujah is expected to be protracted because the Islamic State group has had more than two years to dig in. Hidden bombs are believed to be strewn throughout the city, and the presence of trapped civilians will limit the use of supporting airstrikes.

Iraqi army suffers substantial losses in Fallujah

May 30, 2016

The Iraqi army is reported to have suffered heavy losses during the sixth day of an assault to retake the city of Fallujah from Daesh. As many as ten Iraqi soldiers and allied militiamen were killed in a suicide bombing in the south-east of the city, Al-Jazeera has reported. Seven militiamen were also killed in another attack by the militant group near Amiriyah Al-Fallujah, to the west of Baghdad.

Fierce battles have been reported by witnesses in the town of Saqlawiyah, north-west of Fallujah, especially in Alboshgeul, where the militants attacked Iraqi troops with car bombs. The Iraqi army has advanced towards Fallujah from the north-east and reached Alsijir, which now stands between it and the city’s northern neighborhoods.

Army sources said that 40 soldiers and militiamen were killed and others were wounded, including a very senior officer, in a surprise attack by Daesh against Heit, in the west of Al-Anbar Province. The sources added that militants had crossed the Euphrates in the dead of night and launched an attack against the city, 30 kilometers west of Ramadi, and now controlled several neighborhoods. Dozens of families have been forced to flee from the fighting.

The Iraqi forces, with air support from the international coalition, pushed Daesh to withdraw from Heit more than a month ago.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160530-iraqi-army-suffers-substantial-losses-in-fallujah/.

Iraqi MP: Army airstrikes are killing civilians in Fallujah

May 27, 2016

Scores of civilians have been killed in the ongoing Fallujah operation as a result of the Iraqi army’s airstrikes, the head of the Iraqi parliament’s human rights committee said today.

In an interview with the Anadolu Agency, Arshad Al-Salihi said tens of thousands of civilians live in Fallujah and suffer because of Daesh. They are also struggling to survive amid the random airstrikes by the Iraqi forces.

“These people are stuck between Daesh and the Iraqi army’s airstrikes,” Al-Salihi said, asserting that the government has not provided civilians a safe exit route from the area.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced the launch of a military campaign to regain control of Fallujah from Daesh with the participation of the Iraqi army, counter-terrorism units, the federal police, the Popular Mobilisation Forces and tribal fighters.

“It would be better for the civilians of Mosul and Tal Afar to abandon both cities for the time being,” Al-Salihi said, saying they may face the same fate of Fallujah’s civilians during similar operations.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160527-iraqi-mp-army-airstrikes-are-killing-civilians-in-fallujah/.

Iraq kicks off historic Fallujah operation against Islamic State

Mohammed A. Salih
May 23, 2016

Iraqi security forces have launched Operation Break Terrorism in collaboration with the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units and local Sunni tribal mobilization forces to drive the Islamic State (IS) from the key town of Fallujah, the last major IS stronghold in western Anbar province.

Fallujah, long a bastion of anti-government insurgent groups, was one of the first areas in Iraq to fall to IS and its allies in January 2014, months before the group overran Mosul and other Sunni-dominated parts of the country.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the launch of the operation in the early hours of May 23, saying, "There is no option for Daesh [IS] except to flee," referring to the group by its common Arabic acronym.

The operation was launched from the southeast, southwest, northwest and northern flanks of Fallujah, according to Karim al-Nuri, a spokesman for the mobilization units who spoke to Al-Monitor via phone from the Karmah area to the southeast of Fallujah, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Baghdad.

"Their [IS] resistance has not been as heavy as we have been expecting," said Nuri. "They have been relying on vehicle-borne suicide attacks, planted bombs and snipers so far."

IS supporters' accounts on Twitter circulated what appeared to be an official announcement from IS' Fallujah Wilaya, which claimed that 16 Iraqi forces were killed in a suicide car bomb attack east of Fallujah.

Nuri said that over 10,000 mobilization unit forces have been taking "an active part in the battle," adding that his forces are cooperating with Iraqi security forces as well as tribal Sunni fighters. The Shiite paramilitaries have surrounded Fallujah since last summer.

The US-led coalition also carried out seven airstrikes in the Fallujah area between May 14 and May 20 in preparation for the assault.

US forces are currently involved in Operation Break Terrorism by advising Iraqi forces. But Col. Steve Warren, the US military spokesman in Baghdad, has told Fox News that the US-led coalition is not going to "drop bombs in support of the Shiite militias" who are based on the outskirts of Fallujah. The United States has been worried about the involvement of Shiite paramilitaries in offensives in Sunni areas because those forces are largely supported by Iran.

According to Warren, between 500 and 1,000 IS fighters are believed to have remained inside Fallujah.

No figures have been released by Iraqi authorities about the overall number of forces taking part in the battle of Fallujah, but some Iraqi news outlets have pointed out that as many as 20,000 federal police units have also joined the operation.

Iraqi forces appear to have made some progress. Local media reported that Iraqi forces killed Abu Hamza, IS governor of Fallujah, and another senior leader known as Abu Amr al-Ansari on May 23. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saedi, the commander of the Fallujah operation, said May 23 that IS forces have fled the battlefield in the Karmah and Saqlawiyah areas in the eastern and northern sides of Fallujah. Saedi also told Iraqi news media that Iraqi forces had taken the district of Karmah, 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of Fallujah on the first day of the operation.

The attack on Fallujah by Iraqi forces came after an important victory in the nearby town of Rutba in Anbar on May 19. In December, Iraqi forces also recaptured Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi, from IS.

Fallujah is now the last major urban center in Anbar still under the control of IS jihadis.

"Taking Fallujah will be a big blow to IS," Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani's Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS), told Al-Monitor.

"Strategically, [the success of this operation will mean] IS will not be as close to Baghdad as now, as Fallujah is the strongest IS-controlled point to Baghdad," he said.

But pushing IS out of Fallujah will not mean the end of IS in Anbar province, which occupies around one-third of Iraq's area. Ali believes the extremist group will most likely relocate to the vast deserts of Anbar, "which will be very difficult to control."

Prior to the launch of the operation, the Iraqi military called on Fallujah's residents to evacuate the town. A day before the offensive, the town's mayor had told the official Iraqi news agency, NINA, that over 50,000 civilians were still trapped inside the town.

An important element of the Fallujah operation is the relationship between the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units and the local Sunni forces. In the past, local Sunnis and rights groups accused the mobilization units of abusing Sunnis in areas such as Tikrit and Diyala.

But Nuri said there is no reason for concern now.

"We are fighting with [Sunni] tribal forces from the area and this is the biggest testament of the level of trust between us," Nuri said.

Amid the political turmoil that has engulfed Iraq in recent months and culminated in attacks by angry protesters on Abadi's and parliament's offices, a victory in Fallujah will be a boost to the embattled prime minister, given the symbolic and strategic value of the town.

"A battlefield victory will bolster Abadi's position and help him dictate the points of the political agenda in Iraq," said Ali.

Source: al-Monitor.
Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/iraq-fallujah-liberation-operation-isis.html.

Egypt to build 11th prison in less than 3 years

June 15, 2016

Egyptian authorities are to build a new prison in Qalyubia Governorate, north of Cairo, the third to be built this year and the eleventh since the military coup three years ago, the Anadolu Agency reported yesterday.

Human rights groups have said that there are 40 prisons in Egypt, these along with police stations, military basis and secret prisons are all used to hold prisoners in terrible conditions.

Since the military coup against the first freely elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian authorities have increased arbitrary arrests based on political opinion.

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights said that the number of prisoners held in Egyptian jails and detention centers has reached more than 41,000.

Egyptian authorities have said that the country’s constitution dictates how prisoners are treated and that they adhere to international laws, a claim human rights groups deny.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160615-egypt-to-build-11th-prison-in-less-than-3-years/.

Erdogan rejects formation of political entity on Syrian-Turkish borders

June 15, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday renewed his rejection of the establishment of any political entity on the Turkish-Syrian borders, Al-Resalah newspaper reported.

“We will reject with all our political, diplomatic and military power the formation of any entity on our borders with Syria,” he said at an iftar at the Presidential Palace.

“The State will target terrorists with an iron hand, but it will show the merciful face to the people in the region [of anti-terror operations].”

“No one has the right to leave Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan and African women and children facing their fate in the dark of the Mediterranean,” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160615-erdogan-rejects-formation-of-political-entity-on-syrian-turkish-borders/.

Kurdish group claims responsibility for Istanbul attack

June 10, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Kurdish militant group on Friday claimed responsibility for a car-bomb attack in Istanbul this week that killed 11 people, saying it was just the beginning of a war. In a statement posted online, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons also warned tourists that Turkey was no longer secure for them.

"You are not our targets but Turkey is no longer safe for you," it read. "We have just started the war." The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and has carried out several attacks in the past.

It denounced the ruling Justice and Development Party, which was founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for its "wild war" against Kurds. Turkey's southeast plunged into violence last summer when a 2½-year fragile truce between the state and Kurdish rebels collapsed.

The rush hour car-bomb attack on Tuesday morning targeted a police vehicle in Istanbul and injured 36 people in addition to those killed. Istanbul's bombing was followed on Wednesday by a suicide attack in the southeastern town of Midyat that killed three police officers and three civilians.

On Thursday, The PKK said the Midyat attack was carried out by one of its "comrades," code name Dirok Amed. The authorities were quick to report they suspected Kurdish militants in both cases. The claims of responsibility confirmed those suspicions.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, also known as TAK, was also behind two deadly suicide bombings this year in Ankara, the capital. The PKK routinely attacks military and police targets in the southeast, where large-scale security operations to flush out Kurdish rebels have left hundreds dead, displaced entire communities and done extensive damage to urban infrastructure.

The PKK, labeled a terror organization by Turkey and its allies, is fighting for autonomy for Turkey's Kurds in the southeast. The decades-long conflict has claimed 40,000 lives. In the past year, Turkey has been hit by a series of bombings — including two in Istanbul targeting tourists — which the authorities have blamed on the Islamic State group. The attacks have increased in scale and frequency, scaring off tourists and hurting the economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.

In a bid to curb such attacks, the government is mulling measures to keep tabs on the sale of materials made to use improvised explosive devices, such as gas canisters commonly used for cooking, officials said Friday.

The announcement came a day after the agriculture minister said the government has temporarily suspended the sale of fertilizers containing nitrate that can be used to make explosives.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed reporting.

Erdogan ally wins vote of confidence in Turkish parliament

May 29, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's new government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's loyal ally, has easily won a vote of confidence in parliament. Legislators voted 315-138 on Sunday to approve Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's government.

Yildirim, 60, replaced former premier Ahmet Davutoglu, who stepped down after falling out of favor with Erdogan over a range of issues. They included Davutoglu's apparent lack of enthusiasm for constitutional changes, pressed by Erdogan, which would transform his largely ceremonial presidency into one where the president wields more power.

Yildirim has promised to immediately work toward passing the controversial constitutional changes demanded by Erdogan. On Sunday, Yildirim took a more unifying tone, saying the new government would serve the whole nation and advance democracy, human rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Turkey's Erdogan approves new government led by ally

May 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday approved a new government formed by one of his most trusted allies, who immediately asserted his intention to institute constitutional reforms that would expand the powers of the presidency.

Binali Yildirim, 60, formerly minister of transport and communications, replaces Ahmet Davutoglu, who stepped down on Sunday amid a range of differences with the president, including Davutoglu's apparently less-than-enthusiastic stance toward an overhaul of the constitution to give the largely ceremonial presidency executive powers.

"We will immediately start work to achieve a new constitution, including a presidential system," Yildirim told lawmakers of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in his first speech after taking office.

"Our priority is to make the constitution in harmony with the de-facto situation regarding our president's ties to the people," Yildirim said. Many fear the presidential system that Erdogan seeks will concentrate too many powers in the hands of the Turkish strongman, who has adopted an increasing authoritarian style of governing, has cracked down on media and government critics and is accused of meddling in the running of the government in breach of the constitution.

The new government — which Yildirim is widely believed to have formed in consultation with Erdogan — includes nine new names, although most ministers from Davutoglu's previous Cabinet retained key portfolios.

They include Mevlut Cavusoglu, who remains foreign minister, and Mehmet Simsek, the deputy minister who heads economic affairs. Volkan Bozkir, the minister in charge of relations with the European Union, was replaced by Omer Celik, a founding member of the AKP who is known to be close to the president. Erdogan's son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, kept his position as energy minister.

In a clear sign that Erdogan would continue to influence government, he was scheduled to chair the new Cabinet's first meeting at his palace on Wednesday. Domestically, the political reshuffling takes place as Turkey faces serious security threats including increased attacks by Kurdish and Islamic State militants. It is also comes as parliament is in disarray after a government-backed constitutional amendment has left 138 lawmakers vulnerable to prosecution.

Internationally, Turkey is also facing a delicate moment in its relations with the European Union. The implementation of a Turkey-EU deal to help stem the influx of migrants to Europe — which Davutoglu had helped negotiate — has repeatedly come into question.

Erdogan has warned that the migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel. The EU says Ankara must meet all of the EU's conditions to secure visa-free travel, including narrowing the definition of "terrorist" — which Erdogan says is out of the question.

Yildirim has served as transport and communications minister since 2002 with a short interruption in 2015. The engineering-trained politician who is a founding member of the ruling party, has been credited for his role in developing major infrastructure projects that have helped buoy Turkey's economy and boost the party's popularity.

Critics, including the leader of the main opposition party, have accused him of corruption — an accusation Yildirim rejects.

Dominique Soguel in Istanbul contributed.

Turkey threatens to suspend agreements with EU

May 23, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkey's president on Monday that Ankara must fulfill all the European Union's conditions to secure visa-free travel for its citizens, but Turkey responded that it would suspend agreements with the EU if the bloc does not keep its promises.

The EU says Turkey must narrow its definition of "terrorist" and "terrorist act." The bloc is concerned that journalists and political dissenters could be targeted. But Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that is out of the question.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit meeting in Istanbul, Merkel said that she doesn't expect the visa waiver to be implemented at the beginning of July as was originally hoped.

Merkel, who is facing pressure at home to be tough with Erdogan, also expressed concern about a move to strip legislators in Turkey of their immunity from prosecution. But she underlined her commitment to the EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming Europe's migrant influx, arguing that its success is a matter of "mutual interest."

The EU has offered Turkey a visa waiver as incentive — along with up to 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) for Syrian refugees and fast-track EU membership talks — to get it to stop migrants leaving for Europe. As part of the agreement, the EU planned to accelerate the introduction of visa-free entry for Turks, with a target date of June 30.

Turkey has fulfilled most of 72 conditions but Erdogan's refusal to revise anti-terror laws has emerged as a stumbling block. Erdogan has increased his belligerent statements against the EU in recent weeks, including accusing it of supporting an outlawed Kurdish rebel group, and has warned that the entire migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges.

On Monday, his adviser on economic issues complained of "double standards" by the EU and demanded that Brussels keep its side of the bargain. "So long as they continue with this attitude, Turkey very soon will make very radical and clear decisions." Yigit Bulut, the adviser, told state-owned TRT television.

The prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, told reporters in Istanbul that Turkey had to fulfill all obligations for the visa-free travel. An official from Erdogan's office said however, that during their meeting, the Turkish and German leaders agreed that more talks should be held between Turkey and EU institutions over the visa waiver deal to address Turkey's "sensitivities and priorities."

In a statement sent to journalists, the official said that Erdogan and Merkel concurred that the migration deal between Turkey and the EU was "fruitful" and that the cooperation should continue. The official cannot be named in line with government regulations.

Merkel said she "made clear ... that we need the fulfillment of all points to grant visa liberalization." Her comments were broadcast on German television. Erdogan "set out his difficulties in the fight against terrorism" and said that "changing terrorism laws is not up for debate for him at the moment," Merkel said.

She added that "everything must be done to keep talking." Merkel has faced criticism at home, including from within her own conservative bloc, over the deal with Turkey and a perceived unwillingness to address concerns over Erdogan's increasingly autocratic behavior. Several high-ranking German lawmakers called on Merkel to be outspoken during her trip.

"We need independent justice, we need independent media and we need a strong parliament," she said Monday. "And of course the lifting of the immunity of a quarter of the lawmakers in the Turkish Parliament is a cause for deep concern — I made this clear to the Turkish president."

Merkel said that "the fight against the (Kurdish rebels) PKK is important and necessary, but on the other hand everything must be done so that people of Kurdish origin have a fair chance in Turkey to lead a life that allows them to participate in the prosperity and development of the country."

During her trip to Istanbul, Merkel met various representatives of Turkish society, including the head of the Turkish lawyers' association, the editor of Hurriyet Daily News, a local Human Rights Watch official and a professor of Kurdish origin who is a constitutional expert, German government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said in Berlin.

Moulson reported from Berlin. Dominique Soguel in Istanbul contributed.

World Humanitarian Summit opens in Istanbul to tackle crisis

May 23, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — An unprecedented summit to revamp humanitarian aid and global responses to modern-day crises has opened in Turkey. The first World Humanitarian Summit is being convened in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday in a bid to better tackle what the United Nations describes as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The gathering was conceived four years ago by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In preparation, 23,000 people were consulted in over 150 countries, U.N. officials say. The U.N. under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, said the summit's success would be defined not by funds raised but by the number of commitments to action made.

He said the summit is "a once in a generation opportunity to set in motion an ambitious and far-reaching agenda."

Turkey's Erdogan asks longtime ally to form new government

May 22, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has formally asked his trusted ally, Transport and Communications Minister Binali Yildirim, to form Turkey's next government. Erdogan tapped Yildirim on Sunday to replace Ahmet Davutoglu who stepped down amid growing differences with the Turkish leader, including Erdogan's wish to overhaul of the constitution to give the largely ceremonial presidency executive powers. Davutoglu remains caretaker premier until Yildirim forms a new Cabinet.

Yildirim's appointment came hours after the ruling party confirmed him as its new party chairman at an extraordinary convention during which the 60-year-old politician vowed to follow Erdogan's path. He made clear he intends to work toward introducing a new constitution that would change Turkey's political system into a presidential one.

Spain votes again in attempt to break government stalemate

June 26, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Spaniards were heading to the polls Sunday for an unprecedented repeat election that aims to break six months of political deadlock after a December ballot left the country without an elected government.

Opinion polls in recent weeks have unanimously predicted the new ballot will also fail to deliver enough votes for any one party to take power alone. That would likely consign Spain to another period of protracted political negotiations — and, possibly, another election if there is no breakthrough.

Polls are prohibited in the last week of campaigning, but the most recent ones suggested the conservative Popular Party would win most votes but would again fall short of the parliamentary majority it had from 2011 to 2015. Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy is hoping to be re-elected as prime minister.

According to the Spanish Constitution, a government must win a vote of confidence in Parliament with more than 50 percent of the possible 350 votes before taking office. If it misses that target, in a second vote 48 hours later it must get 50 percent of only the votes that are cast — a lower bar which allows parties to abstain from the vote and let a party into power in return for concessions.

A new round of political negotiations could be complicated by support for a new far-left alliance called Unidos Podemos (United We Can). That group, which includes radical leftist party Podemos and the Communist Party, is expected to finish second. That would push the moderate, center-left Socialist Party, which has traditionally alternated in power with the Popular Party, into third place and the business-friendly Ciudadanos (Citizens) into fourth.

The election in Spain comes four days after the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst with the Teneo Intelligence political risk consultancy, said it is "unlikely" that decision would have much of an influence on the Spanish election.

"Nevertheless, the ongoing market turmoil fits well with the campaign message of ... Rajoy, who has framed the election as a choice between economic stability and a radical left-wing government potentially led by Podemos and its allies," Barroso wrote in an analysis Friday.

Polls opened at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) and were to close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) for the country's roughly 36.5 million voters. Exit polls with projections of the result are expected within minutes of polls closing, and most votes are expected to be counted by 11 p.m. (2100 GMT).

Public anger at high unemployment, cuts in government spending on cherished public services such as welfare and education, and unrelenting political corruption scandals have shaped the two-week election campaign.

After the December election, Rajoy couldn't get enough support from rival parties to form either a minority government or a coalition. The negotiations between parties dragged on for months as Pedro Sanchez, leader of the second-placed Socialists, also failed to clinch a deal that would let him govern.

Spain has never had a coalition government. Pablo Iglesias, the radical college professor leader of Unidos Podemos, has repeatedly said he wants a pact with the Socialists in order to oust Rajoy. But a major sticking point for such a deal is Iglesias's insistence on letting the powerful northeastern region of Catalonia stage an independence referendum — a possibility rejected outright by all the other main parties.

Ciudadanos is willing to talk to both the PP and the Socialists but want no deals with Unidos Podemos. Besides tension over Catalonia, Spanish political debate has been dominated by an unemployment rate that has stood at more than 20 percent for nearly seven years and is the second highest in the EU after Greece, and an unrelenting stream of corruption scandals, mostly involving the Popular Party and the Socialists.

Hatton contributed from Lisbon, Portugal.

Colombians cheer deal putting them on verge of peace accord

June 24, 2016

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombians cried and hugged as the leaders of their government and the country's biggest rebel group signed a cease-fire and disarmament deal moving their country to the verge of a final peace accord to end decades of fighting.

As the agreement was signed in Havana, hundreds of people watched the ceremony live on a giant screen set up in Colombia's capital, Bogota, many singing the national anthem and waving the Colombian flag.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, shook hands and described the moment as historic after their lead negotiators signed a deal setting out how 7,000 rebel fighters will hand over their weapons once a peace accord ends a 52-year war that has killed more than 220,000 people.

Santos has said he thinks the accord could come as early as next month, although negotiators have missed a series of other government-announced deadlines. "Colombia got used to living in conflict. We don't have even the slightest memories of what it means to live in peace," Santos said. "Today a new chapter opens, one that brings back peace and gives our children the possibility of not reliving history."

The disarmament and cease-fire deal does not mean an immediate halt to conflict or the start of rebels surrendering their arms. That will begin only after a final peace deal is formally signed. As nearly four years of peace negotiations seem close to success, attention is shifting to a referendum that Santos has promised to give Colombians a final say on its acceptance.

The peace deal could face difficulties due to the deep unpopularity of the rebels and the desire for revenge still felt by many Colombians over a conflict that killed so many and displaced millions. Supporters of the peace process also fear that too many voters could simply stay home, threatening to leave the referendum below the participation threshold needed to be valid.

FARC's aging leaders agreed to begin negotiations in 2012, after a 15-year, U.S.-backed military offensive that greatly thinned rebel ranks. "The Colombian armed forces that grew enormous during the war are now called to play an important role in peace," said Londono, the FARC commander is better known by the alias Timochenko. "They were our adversaries, but going forward they'll be our allies."

Momentum had been building toward a breakthrough after Santos said this week that he hoped to deliver a peace accord in time to mark Colombia's declaration of independence from Spain on July 20. But the agreement signed Thursday went further than expected.

In addition to a framework for a cease-fire, both sides agreed on a demobilization plan that will see guerrillas concentrate in rural areas under government protection and hand over weapons to United Nations monitors. Disarmament would be required to be completed within no more than six months of a peace accord's signing.

The deal also includes security guarantees for the FARC during its transition to a peaceful political party. A similar attempt in the 1980s led to thousands of rebels and their sympathizers being killed by paramilitaries and corrupt soldiers.

"This is historic, a great hope for Colombia," said Jimmy Gonzalez, a hotel worker in Bogota. "Let this end the spilling of blood that's affected us for so many years." A peace deal won't make Colombia safer overnight. The proliferation of cocaine remains a powerful magnet for criminal gangs operating in Colombia's remote valleys and lawless jungles. And the National Liberation Army, a much smaller but more recalcitrant rebel group, hasn't started peace talks.

The a strong element in Colombia opposed to a deal with the FARC is led by popular former President Alvaro Uribe, who spearheaded the military offensive against the FARC last decade. "It damages the word 'peace' to accept that those responsible for crimes against humanity like kidnapping, car-bombing, recruitment of children and rape of girls don't go to jail for a single day and can be elected to public office," Uribe said Thursday in reaction to the latest agreement.

Still, regional and international leaders were enthusiastic. Cuban President Raul Castro, whose country was one of the guarantors of the talks, said the end of five decades of war is close. "The peace process can't turn back," he said.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "Although hard work remains to be done, the finish line is approaching and nearer now than it has ever been."

Associated Press writer Libardo Cardona reported this story in Bogota and AP writer Michael Weissenstein reported in Havana. AP writers Cesar Garcia and Joshua Goodman in Bogota and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.

EU calls for UK to 'Brexit' quickly; Britain wants more time

June 25, 2016

LONDON (AP) — The European Union wants a quickie divorce, but Britain wants time to think things over. Senior EU politicians demanded Saturday that the U.K. quickly cut its ties with the 28-nation bloc — a process Britain says won't begin for several months — as the political and economic shockwaves from the U.K.'s vote to leave reverberated around the world.

"There is a certain urgency ... so that we don't have a period of uncertainty, with financial consequences, political consequences," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at a meeting in Berlin of the EU's six founding nations.

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the split was "not an amicable divorce" but noted it was never "a tight love affair anyway." Britons voted 52 to 48 percent Thursday in favor of ending their country's 43-year membership in the 28-nation bloc.

But no country has ever left the EU before, so no one knows exactly how the process will play out. Britain must, at some point, unambiguously notify the bloc of its intentions and set a two-year clock ticking for negotiating its departure. Until then, Britain remains an EU member.

In contrast to the clamoring of EU officials, the leaders of Britain's "leave" campaign, who had reassured voters that the EU would offer Britain good terms for a new relationship, were largely silent Saturday.

England's 300-year-old union with Scotland could be another casualty of the referendum, since most people in Scotland voted to remain in the EU but were outvoted by a majority in much-larger England. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said Saturday that her semi-autonomous administration would seek immediate talks with EU nations and institutions to ensure that Scotland could remain in the bloc.

"(We will) explore possible options to protect Scotland's place in the EU," she said after meeting with her Cabinet in Edinburgh, adding that a new referendum on Scottish independence is "very much on the table."

Scotland voted in 2014 to remain a part of the U.K., but that decision was seen as being conditional on the U.K. staying in the EU. The victorious "leave" campaigners have said there's no rush to trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which will begin a two-year exit process to renegotiate trade, business and political links between the U.K. and what will become a 27-nation bloc.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation Friday and said his successor, to be chosen by October, should be the one to navigate the tricky process of withdrawing from the bloc. The favorite to succeed him, former London Mayor Boris Johnson, has said there's "no need for haste" — but EU leaders are saying the opposite, in insistent tones.

Juncker said Saturday the British had voted to leave and "it doesn't make any sense to wait until October to try and negotiate the terms of their departure." "I would like to get started immediately," he said.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron expressed the frustrations that many EU politicians feel, accusing Britain of taking the EU "hostage" with a referendum called to solve a domestic political problem: challenges to Cameron from right-wing euroskeptics.

"The failure of the British government" has opened up "the possibility of the crumbling of Europe," Macron said at a debate in Paris. Top diplomats from the European Union's six founding nations — France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — met in Berlin for hastily arranged talks and stressed that the exit process should be speedy.

"There must be clarity," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told reporters. "The people have spoken and we need to implement this decision." France's Ayrault suggested Britain could name a new prime minister within "several days" — but that is likely instead to take several months. The process calls for Conservative lawmakers to winnow candidates down to two choices who will then be voted on in a postal ballot of party members.

Legally, there is little the EU can do to force Britain's hand, since Article 50 must be triggered by the country that is leaving. But political pressure and economic instability may force British politicians to act more quickly than they had hoped.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel struck a conciliatory note, saying it "shouldn't take forever" for Britain to deliver its formal notification of leaving. "There is no need to be particularly nasty in any way in the negotiations. They must be conducted properly," Merkel said at a news conference in Potsdam, outside Berlin.

Britain's "leave" campaigners have been accused of lacking a plan for the aftermath of a victory. Dominic Cummings, director of the "Vote Leave" group, said it would be "unthinkable" to invoke Article 50 before a new prime minister was in place. He tweeted: "David Cameron was quite right. New PM will need to analyze options and have informal talks."

Britain will remain an EU member until the divorce is finalized, but its influence inside the bloc is already waning. Leaders of the bloc will hold a summit in Brussels next week, and the second day, Wednesday, will take place for the first time without Britain.

On Saturday, Britain's representative on the EU's executive Commission, Jonathan Hill, stepped down, saying he was disappointed by the referendum result but "what's done cannot be undone." Juncker transferred Hill's portfolio of overseeing financial services to Latvian commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis — costing Britain a key voice in a sector that is hugely important to London, whose status as Europe's financial capital is threatened by Britain's EU exit.

The referendum has already triggered financial turmoil around the world. Stock markets plummeted Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping 611 points, or 3.4 percent, its biggest fall since August. It's not clear what will happen in the markets on Monday, the next trading day.

The pound on Friday dropped to its lowest level since 1985, plunging more than 10 percent from about $1.50 to $1.35 before a slight recovery, on concerns that severing ties with the EU single market of 500 million people will hurt the U.K. economy and undermine London's position as a global financial center.

Credit rating agency Moody's downgraded the U.K.'s economic outlook from stable to negative, saying Britain faces "a prolonged period of uncertainty ... with negative implications for the country's medium-term growth outlook."

The vote to leave the EU has upended British politics. The deeply divided Conservatives are facing a leadership battle to replace Cameron, and some members of the opposition Labour Party hope to oust their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who they accuse of failing to promote the "remain" side strongly enough.

"(Corbyn) clearly isn't the right person to actually lead the party into an election because nobody thinks he will actually win," said Labour legislator Frank Field. Corbyn said Saturday he would not resign and said Britain must react "calmly and rationally" to the divisive referendum result.

Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers David Rising and Geir Moulson in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Britain's Labor party leader fires shadow foreign secretary

June 26, 2016

LONDON (AP) — British Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn has fired his shadow foreign secretary amid a dispute over his leadership in the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the European Union. Hilary Benn told the Press Association Sunday that Corbyn dismissed him after he told him he had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party.

Benn said that "following the result of the EU referendum, we need strong and effective leadership of the Labor Party that is capable of winning public support." The dismissal follows claims in the Observer newspaper that Benn was plotting against Corbyn.

The opposition leader has faced accusations from his own lawmakers that he led a weak campaign in Britain's EU referendum and is facing a motion of no confidence.

Britons celebrate, bemoan EU exit vote

June 24, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Britain woke up a divided country on Friday as people reacted with jubilation and relief or shock and anger to the result of a historic vote that signals a historic shift in the country's relationship with Europe.

At London's Billingsgate market, vendors were delighted. "Absolutely wonderful, best news ever," said Allen Laurence, 65. "We want England — or Great Britain — to come back how it was years ago, and it's going the way that we want it to go."

Mathew Heart, a 46-year-old vendor, said that while the vote wouldn't affect him, he was pleased. "I think it's just great we've got our independence back," he said. Commuters at the main train station in the well-heeled southwest London borough of Richmond, which voted overwhelmingly to remain, expressed anger and frustration at the vote.

"I'm quite shocked really," said Martin Laidler. "My 9-year-old daughter asked me to vote to remain, so I was voting for her future." Olivia Sangster-Bullers, 24, said the result was "absolutely disgusting."

"My best friend and his partner, one of them is from Spain. How does he feel now?" she said. "I've just seen that the pound's crashed so good luck to all of us, I say, especially those trying to build a future with our children," she added.

Putin praises 'all-embracing' partnership of Russia, China

June 25, 2016

BEIJING (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday emphasized economic ties with China and praised what he called Russia's "all-embracing and strategic partnership" with its neighbor, during a visit to Beijing that takes place against the background of a drop in trade and lingering mistrust.

Putin told Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that ties were based firmly on common economic interests, a reference to Russian hopes for Chinese investment and purchases of its oil, gas and military exports. "Our relations really have the character of an all-embracing and strategic partnership," Putin told Li at the start of their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing.

While Russia and China are linked by cooperation on the international stage, as well as in culture, education and other spheres, "in one way or another, everything has an economic base," Putin said. Leaders from both countries have extolled the blossoming strategic partnership between the former communist rivals, despite a major decline in two-way trade and the failure to materialize of a slew of ambitious projects.

Observers attribute the slow progress to Beijing's hard-nosed bargaining position and the Kremlin's deep-seated suspicions about the growing might of China. Putin later met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, to whom he said the people of both countries had a strong desire to "strengthen, develop our relations."

"I'm sure our countries can reach a bigger success in all areas in trade, investment, agriculture, energy, and of course in high tech, which is a priority for us," Putin told Xi. Xi told Putin that the two countries should "promote widely the idea of being friends forever."

The close personal relationship between Putin and Xi and their shared desire to counter perceived U.S. global domination appear to be the main driving forces behind Russia-China cooperation. The renewed push to bolster relations with China came after the United States and the European Union imposed an array of crippling sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, cutting its access to world financial markets and blocking the transfer of modern technologies. Moscow was also purged from the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.

In May 2014, Putin visited Beijing and presided over the signing of numerous deals, including a mammoth 30-year natural gas contract worth $400 billion, seeking to show the West that Russia still had viable options.

A later deal saw a branch of Chinese state-owned energy company CNPC buying a stake in a project to build a giant liquefied natural gas plant on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic. Also in December, China's Sinopec bought a stake in Russia's Sibur energy company.

China has also promised to offer multibillion-dollar loans to help build a high-speed rail link between Moscow and the Volga River city of Kazan. Other ambitious deals have been expected, but most of them have floundered amid Russia's economic uncertainty.

The sharp devaluation of the Russian currency under the double impact of low global oil prices and Western sanctions has been a key factor behind bilateral trade dropping from nearly $100 billion a year in 2014 to just over $60 billion last year. Energy resources account for two-thirds of Russian exports to China.

Moscow has also been unsettled by Beijing's ambitious Silk Road Economic Belt project, intended to encourage infrastructure development in formerly Soviet Central Asia, which Russia sees as its home turf. China has promised to coordinate the project with the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, but clearly has put an emphasis on bilateral deals with Kazakhstan and other members of the bloc.

The prospect of potential Chinese expansion long has worried residents of Russia's sparsely populated far eastern regions, especially over the Kremlin's decision to surrender significant slices of land along the 4,200-kilometer (2,600-mile) border to China in a 2005 demarcation deal.

While ambitious hopes for closer economic cooperation haven't materialized, Russia and China have bolstered their military ties, which have included joint war games and contacts on missile defense. Russian weapons exports to China, which peaked in the 1990s and fell dramatically in the following decade, have received a new boost recently.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Erdogan ally set to be appointed Turkey's new prime minister

May 22, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's ruling party held a special convention on Sunday to confirm a longtime ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as its new chairman and next prime minister, a move that is likely to consolidate the Turkish leader's hold on power.

Binali Yildirim, the transport and communications minister and a founding member of the governing Justice and Development Party, is set to replace Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who announced earlier this month that he is stepping down amid differences with Erdogan.

Yildirim, 60, who is running unopposed for the party's leadership, is widely expected to be more in tune with Erdogan, who is pushing for an overhaul of the constitution that would give the largely ceremonial presidency executive powers.

Traditionally, the post of premier in Turkey goes to the leader of the largest party in parliament and Erdogan is expected to formally ask Yildirim to form a new government after the convention. Supporters credit Yildirim for his role in developing major infrastructure projects which have helped buoy Turkey's economy and boost the party's popularity. But critics, including the leader of the main opposition party, have accused him of corruption. Yildirim has rejected the accusation.

The change in party leadership comes at a time when NATO member Turkey is facing an array of security threats including renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, a wave of suicide bombings linked to Kurdish and Islamic State militants, as well as growing blowback from the war in neighboring Syria.

The transition also coincides with growing tensions with the European Union over a controversial deal to reduce the flow of illegal migrants from Turkey to Greece, which Davutoglu helped broker. Davutoglu, a one-time adviser to Erdogan and a former foreign minister, fell out with the president over an array of issues including the possibility of peace talks with Kurdish rebels, the pre-trial detention of journalists accused of spying and academics accused of supporting terrorism.

Turkey's president is pushing for a broader definition of terrorism, alarming rights groups who say existing laws are already too widely interpreted to crush dissent. His stance is also at odds with EU conditions for Turkish citizens to benefit from visa-free travel.

Crucially, Erdogan wants to turn the figurehead presidency into an all-powerful position while the independent-minded Davutoglu was believed to be less-than-enthusiastic toward that project. Many believe Yildirim will work to push Erdogan's agenda through.

Greek minister's visit to Albania greeted with a protest

June 06, 2016

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Protesters in the Albanian capital scuffled with police Monday ahead of a visit by Greece's foreign minister, as members of Cham community, which was expelled from northwestern Greece during World War II after Athens claimed they had collaborated with the Nazis, demanded their property back.

A few hundred supporters of the small Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, which represents the Cham community, tried block the entrance of the Foreign Ministry in Tirana as Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias was to arrive. Kotzias delayed his arrival briefly and his Albanian host, Ditmir Bushati, came out to meet PDIU leader Shpetim Idrizi to clear the road.

Four issues have soured bilateral ties between the two neighbors: the Chams' claims on their confiscated property; the technical state of war still in place since then-fascist Italy attacked Greece through Albania in 1940; an unresolved maritime dispute and Greek claims of discrimination against the ethnic Greek minority in Albania.

Hundreds of thousands of Albanians poured to Greece after the communist regime fell in 1990. Both ministers said dialogue will be the best way to resolve any disputes, insisting there is no territorial claim from both sides. They have agreed to create a joint mechanism that will convene periodically and also a road map for how to resolve the issues.

"Good neighborliness and the respect of the neighbor's territorial integrity dominate above everything," said Bushati at a news conference, adding that on the Cham issue, Tirana's stand was "on the respect of the fundamental freedom and rights of that population."

"We should resolve the existing problems and look forward to big future projects," said Kotzias. Bushati reiterated Monday that Greece was an important neighbor. "Relations with Greece are strategic ones and with a high potential that we should exploit to the best," he said.

Kotzias, the Greek minister, said at the news conference Monday that Athens believed a 1987 government statement and the 1996 bilateral friendship treaty mean the two countries were not in war now. "Albania's integration into NATO and its EU prospects makes us not only friends but partners too," he said.

Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

Afghan Taliban elects new leader

25 May 2016 Wednesday

The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday announced influential religious figure Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader after confirming supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour's death in a U.S. drone strike.

"Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him," the insurgents said in a statement.

It added that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of U.S. forces, and Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed his deputies.

Haibatullah was one of two deputies under Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Saturday, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil.

Mansour's killing is a major blow to the militant movement just nine months after he was formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle, and sent shockwaves through the leadership.

Haibatullah's appointment comes after the Taliban's supreme council held emergency meetings that began Sunday in southwest Pakistan to find a unifying figure for the leadership post.

Taliban sources said the supreme council members were lying low and constantly changing the venue of their meetings to avoid new potential air strikes.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/173077/afghan-taliban-chooses-new-leader.

Syrian refugees who want to return home are stuck in Germany

June 01, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Nine months ago, after the Syrian army razed his neighborhood, Mohammed was desperate to make his way to Germany. Now he is desperate to go back to Syria because his wife and eight children can't get out. But he fears the only way he can return is the same way he came — illegally.

Mohammed, a farm worker from the outskirts of Damascus, is one of at least hundreds of Syrian refugees who want to go home, often because it's taking too long to bring their families here. But in an unlikely twist, they are finding themselves stuck in Europe.

While Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers get financial support and organized plane trips to go home, the German government and the International Organization for Migration say they can't send Syrians back to a war zone. There aren't even flights from Germany to Syria because of the brutal civil war there. And neighboring countries that initially took in the bulk of the Syrian refugees have all but closed their doors; Turkey has introduced tough visa requirements, and Lebanon is refusing to take Syrians who left illegally through Turkey.

That leaves little hope for the dozens of Syrians per week who have requested departures since the beginning of this year, according to travel agents and case workers at migrants' return programs. "I came here only for the future of my children," said Mohammed, who did not want to give his last name because he is afraid the Syrian regime will harm his family. "If they're not here, it makes no sense for me to be here."

A stocky man with tired eyes who looks much older than his 45 years, Mohammed first came to Germany because his children could barely survive on the boiled grass their mother cooked for them. So he paid smugglers to take him across the Mediterranean on a shaky dinghy and trekked up the Balkans, in the hope of quickly finding a job and then bringing his family in.

He got asylum in March. But his wife calls him every day, crying and begging him to come back home. She doesn't have any money to feed their seven daughters, and their only son, 12-year-old Marwan, quit school to sell vegetables on the market.

He bought a plane ticket to Beirut in April, but German security didn't let him on the plane. Two weeks ago, Mohammed tried to board to Athens, but was again stopped. He pulled two crumpled online tickets slowly from the pocket of his oversized brown coat, a worthless reminder of his futile efforts. Covering his face with his hands, he said he will try until he finally finds a way out.

While nobody has exact figures, interviews with government officials, case workers, travel agents and dozens of refugees themselves show that the number of Syrians leaving Germany is growing steadily.

Alaa Hadroos, who runs the Golf Reisen travel agency in Berlin, said between five and 10 people come by his office every day asking him for ways out of Germany. At the beginning of the year, it was more like 20 daily, but now some have realized he can't help them.

"We are getting here a lot of Syrian refugees who want to go home, but it is very, very hard for them to actually get there in any way," he said. Hadroos said most Syrians now try to book flights from Germany to Athens, then hire traffickers to walk them across the Greek-Turkish border illegally to eventually make it back home.

"It's not a legal route, therefore we cannot offer this as a travel agency," Hadroos added. "We can only book flights for those who have valid travel documents to Athens. But we don't want to have anything to do with the route from Athens to Syria."

Several migrants confirmed to The Associated Press that they planned to use this route. They told the AP they had bought or were going to buy plane tickets to Athens from traffickers in Berlin, even though they had no valid travel documents because German authorities hadn't yet returned their passports. While Berlin and Athens are part of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, the airlines still need to see valid travel documents.

More than 420,000 Syrian refugees came to Germany last year, and the majority will eventually receive asylum. But the country is so overwhelmed that it is taking months, if not years, to process the requests, let alone the hundreds of thousands of applications for family reunions.

"We know how important it is for these people, who have only one wish — to be reunited with their families as quickly as possible," a spokesman for the German Foreign Office said earlier this month. The spokesman, Martin Schaefer, said the government has increased the staff at its embassies in the Middle East to speed up the visa process for Syrian family members. The capacity of the German embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut to issue visas has gone up from 5,000 a year in 2012 to 30,000. But because of war, Germany no longer has an embassy in Damascus, which makes it difficult for many Syrian families to even apply for visas in the first place.

Many Syrians say the long separation from their children and wives is unbearable. Others can't cope with life in cramped shelters, where they cannot work during the asylum procedure. And yet others say they are simply too homesick.

"They are more or less trapped in Germany," said Silvia Kostner, the spokeswoman for Berlin's Lageso office, which organizes voluntary returns for migrants. "Of course, they can try to get out through different ways — and some are doing exactly this because they're missing their families so badly — but we can't take on the responsibility to help these people travel back to a war zone."

Syrian refugee Abdullah Hamwi, a textile merchant who sold caftans at the old market in the city of Aleppo before it was destroyed, said he initially settled in Istanbul. But he moved to Germany in 2014 with his wife and baby son, hoping for a good education and better future.

After half a year in a shelter with 400 other migrants, no asylum, no work and the same three pieces of bread, butter and jam for breakfast every morning, they say they've had enough. They complain that they stand in line for days to pick up pocket money.

"Until now I didn't see anything good here," said Hamwi's wife, Dania Rasheed, embracing her big pregnant belly with her hands. "Everything is difficult, they want papers here, papers there; tell us to go here and go there — the treatment is bad, it's not the life we used to live in Syria."

The young couple went for days without heat in the middle of the winter. They get by on 330 Euros ($368) per month and said security staff enter their little room day and night. Hamwi, a pale, skinny man with dark circles under his eyes, takes his wife to the bathroom every time because he fears the strangers around.

Such grievances are not likely to be resolved quickly in any big German city where thousands — both citizens and migrants —are suffering from an acute housing shortage. Hamwi has already checked out the current smuggler's rate to get back to Istanbul: 300 euros per person for Berlin to Athens and another 1500 to get them all into Turkey.

"As soon as our daughter is born, we will find a way to get out of here and back to Istanbul," Hamwi said. "At least there we can live in dignity and work — here we are not getting any respect." Spiro Hadad, a journalist and a photographer, is one of those who have successfully made it home to Syria. After losing his house, he left Syria in June last year and went to Austria. He stayed there for six months and spent 4500 euros. But he soon became frustrated, among other things, that could not bring his mother in, so he asked the human rights office in Austria to allow him back home.

"They tried to convince me to stay, but I refused," he said. They eventually gave him a ticket to Istanbul and Lebanon. Lebanon let him in even though he had originally left illegally through Turkey, because he showed officials his press card. Then he drove home to Damascus.

"I lost everything in Syria and I tried to improve my conditions. Unfortunately, I lost much more," he said. "Most people prefer to return because they can't stand it."

Albert Aji contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria, Zeina Karam from Beirut, Lebanon and Dominique Soguel from Istanbul, Turkey.

Jordan world's 8th refugee welcoming country

By Khetam Malkawi
May 23,2016

AMMAN — Jordan ranked among the top 10 refugee welcoming countries, according to a global index issued this week.

The “Refugees Welcome Index” issued by Amnesty International, based on a global survey of more than 27,000 people and carried out by GlobeScan, ranks 27 countries across all continents based on people’s willingness to let refugees live in their countries, towns, neighborhoods and homes.

China, Germany and the UK topped the index measuring public acceptance of refugees; while Russia came in the bottom.

Jordan ranked 8th, with 96 per cent of the 1,000 surveyed Jordanians said they would take refugees into their country.

Generally, the index said that the vast majority of people (80 per cent) would welcome refugees with open arms, with many even prepared to take them into their own homes, but criticized the governments’ policies on hosting refugees.

“Globally, one person in 10 would take refugees into their home,” the report said, adding that 32 per cent said they would accept refugees in their neighborhood, 47 per cent in their city, town or village and 80 per cent in their country.

Globally, only 17 per cent said they would refuse refugees entry to their country.

“The Refugees Welcome Index exposes the shameful way governments have played short-term politics with the lives of people fleeing war and repression. Governments must heed these results, which clearly show the vast majority of people ready and willing to make refugees welcome in their country,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty in a statement posted on the organisation’s website.

The index also showed that 84 per cent of the surveyed Jordanians said the government should do more to support refugees. China topped this part of the index, followed by Nigeria and Jordan came third.

According to the latest official figure, Jordan hosts some 1.3 million Syrians with half of them registered as refugees, and 80 per cent of them living in host communities.

Iraqi refugees come second with more than 53,000, in addition to thousands of Sudanese, Libyan and Yemeni refugees, while there are about 400,000 Egyptian laborers.

Source: The Jordan Times.
Link: http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/jordan-world%E2%80%99s-8th-refugee-welcoming-country.

Western Sahara independence movement leader Abdelaziz dies

May 31, 2016

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The head of the independence movement in the Western Sahara, Mohamed Abdelaziz, died on Tuesday after a long illness, the Polisario Front said in a statement. He was in his late 60s.

The movement ordered a 40-day mourning period, after which a new secretary-general will be chosen, the statement said. The death of Abdelaziz, leader of the Polisario Front for four decades, comes at a time of growing tension over the fate of the Western Sahara. The Polisario Front has fought for four decades for independence for the vast, mineral-rich disputed territory, which was annexed by Morocco after Spain withdrew in 1975.

Morocco now considers the territory its "southern provinces" and has pumped funds into the area's development over the years. Abdelaziz was born in 1948 in Smara, in the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, and led the Polisario Front, which he helped found, since 1976, according to Algeria's state-run APS news agency.

The status of the Western Sahara has recently spread new friction between two North African neighbors, Morocco and Algeria, which supports the Polisario Front, and like numerous other African countries recognizes the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic it defends. The Polisario Front is based in Tindouf, in southern Algeria.

Abdelaziz's death comes at a critical time, with ties between Morocco and Algiers growing increasingly prickly, and Morocco increasingly assertive with the United Nations, which has worked for years to help settle the issue.

The Moroccan government has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for the region, but the Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for the local population — as called for in U.N. resolutions.

Morocco expelled most U.N. civilian staff last month after the U.N. chief used the word "occupation" to refer to the situation in the region following a visit to a camp for Western Sahara refugees in southern Algeria. The U.N. mission had nearly 500 military and civilian personnel but 83 were ordered to leave and a military liaison was ordered to close, crippling its operation.

In April, a top member of the Polisario Front, Bachir Mustafa Sayed, warned that war is possible over the disputed territory if the U.N. Security Council fails to set a timetable for a vote on self-determination.

Abdelaziz warned in an April letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Morocco will have "a green light to a military aggression" unless the Security Council imposes "real and direct pressure" on Morocco to restore the U.N. mission's work. He warned that the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara will defend their rights in the face of aggression "by all legitimate means, including armed struggle."

The Polisario had mounted a desert war against Morocco after the territory was annexed. According to Article 46 of the Polisario's internal rules, an extraordinary congress will be held to replace Abdelaziz in 40 days, at the close of the period of mourning, the Polisario statement said. The movement has appointed the head of the movement's National Council, Khatri Abdouh, as interim Polisario leader.

Elaine Ganley reported from Paris. Samia Errazzouki in Ouarzazate, Morocco, contributed to this report.

Ghannouchi re-elected as head of Ennahda

May 24, 2016

There are problems within the Ennahda party but assessing the situation is part of how the group operates, the party’s head Rachid Al-Ghannouchi said in a speech yesterday.

Ennahda has succeeded in renewing itself according to the needs of the Tunisian people, Al-Ghannouchi said, promising a path of reform and development.

The group has pioneered the way to revisit its thoughts and further reinforce democratic values, he said during a speech at the group’s tenth congress.

The veteran leader seemed for a moment moved when it was announced that he was re-elected as the party’s head with a comfortable majority.

“Ennahda was a pioneer in reinforcing the idea of democracy and in self-criticism and accepting constant revisions,” he said.

The party has already dealt with the issue of separating between religion and politics and is now focused on the Tunisian people’s daily needs, he explained.

During the congress, Nahda announced the full list of elected Shura council members. They include former ministers, parliamentarians and senior leaders.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160524-ghannouchi-re-elected-as-head-of-ennahda/.

Rights group: Algeria covering majority of expenses for 200,000 refugees and immigrants

June 15, 2016

An Algerian human rights organization said on Tuesday that the country is covering the majority of expenses for more than 200,000 secret refugees and immigrants coming from several Arab and African countries in the absence of international aid.

According to a report issued by the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, an independent organization, the figures constitute the outcome of its field investigation about refugees fleeing crises, as well as illegal immigrants.

The report emphasized that in the current month of Ramadan, for example, the number of restaurants allocated for refugees and immigrants to break their fast has gone down by more than 50 per cent compared with previous years due to the economic crisis that the country is facing.

The Algerian economic crisis has affected the volume of state funding for associations that oversee campaigns of solidarity with refugees and immigrants, including the Algerian Red Crescent.

The organization said: “Statistics confirm that Algeria spent on refugees on its territory $33 million in 2015, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Algeria provides less than $28 million in support.”

The report said that there are 165,000 Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, while the UNHCR in Algeria asserts that there are only 90,000.

The report also says there are 4,040 Palestinian refugees and 40,000 Libyan refugees, while the UNHCR in Algeria puts their number at 32,000 only.

Algeria depends on oil revenues which constitute 97 per cent of its income. The country has been suffering a severe economic crisis since the collapse of oil prices in the global market in mid-2014.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160615-rights-group-algeria-covering-majority-of-expenses-for-200000-refugees-and-immigrants/.

Tajikistan vote to allow longtime president to rule for life

May 22, 2016

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Tajikistan is holding a referendum on changing the Constitution to allow its authoritarian president to run for the office indefinitely, effectively allowing him to rule for life.

The 63-year-old President Emomali Rakhmon has ruled the former Soviet republic in Central Asia since 1992. During those 24 years in power, he has crushed or cowed all opposition to his rule and the referendum is expected to pass easily.

By mid-afternoon Sunday, the official turnout for the referendum was about 80 percent. One of the constitutional changes considered in the vote would lower the minimum age for presidents from 35 to 30 years. This would allow Rakhmon's son, now 29, to run in the next presidential election in 2020 and succeed him as leader of the country.

Bahrain suspends main Shiite opposition party amid crackdown

June 14, 2016

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain suspended the country's largest Shiite opposition group in a surprise court hearing Tuesday, intensifying its crackdown on dissent five years after Arab Spring protests rocked the island kingdom.

The Al-Wefaq opposition group has been suspended before amid turmoil over the protests and lingering unrest. The small Shiite-majority island off the coast of Saudi Arabia is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, which has imprisoned several activists and deported others.

A statement from the Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry carried on the state-run Bahrain News Agency accused Al-Wefaq of creating "a new generation that carries the spirit of hatred," and of having links with "sectarian and extremist political parties that adopt terrorism." It said a court in Manama ordered the party suspended and its funds frozen.

Abdulla al-Shamlawi, the lawyer who represented Al-Wefaq in court, denied all the allegations. He said he was served the court papers only Tuesday morning for the hearing and had to argue to be allowed to offer any sort of rebuttal. He said the complaint alleged Al-Wefaq had damaged Bahrain's national security since its inception in 2001 and also included allegations about it causing unrest during the 2011 protests.

"It was out of the blue," al-Shamlawi told The Associated Press. "They say Al-Wefaq is the sole danger to national security." He said the court set an Oct. 6 hearing to decide whether to "liquidate" the party — meaning the island's biggest opposition group could be entirely dismantled.

He said Al-Wefaq "presumably" would appeal the court's ruling, though the order suspending the party would stand unless an appeals court acts to lift it. By late Tuesday afternoon, police had surrounded Al-Wefaq's headquarters and took down its banners and posters while carrying away material inside, witnesses said.

In May, a Bahraini appeals court more than doubled a prison sentence for Al-Wefaq's secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. Salman now faces nine years behind bars, up from an earlier four, following his conviction last year on charges that included incitement and insulting the Interior Ministry.

Prosecutors meanwhile announced Tuesday that they'd launched investigations into three Shiite Islamist organizations and seized their assets on money-laundering allegations. The sudden court case and investigations came a day after authorities detained Nabeel Rajab, a prominent activist and the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Rajab, whom King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa previously pardoned over health concerns, faces a charge of spreading "false news," lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi said on Twitter. Al-Jishi did not respond to requests for comment.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is "concerned about the re-arrest" of Rajab, his spokesman said. Ban "reiterates the right of people to the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Bahrain and everywhere," Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Zainab al-Khawaja, another prominent activist, fled to Denmark earlier this month after being released from prison, fearing she would be detained again. The 2011 demonstrations called for greater political freedoms on the island, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The government crushed the protests with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since then, the island has seen low-level unrest, protests and attacks on police. Other prominent opposition figures and human rights activists remain imprisoned. Some have been stripped of their citizenship and deported.

In a speech Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, said at least 250 people lost their citizenship in Bahrain in recent years "because of their alleged disloyalty to the interests of the kingdom."

Rights groups say Bahrain refused to allow activists to leave the country to attend the Geneva conference where al-Hussein spoke. The raids appear to have been timed to serve as a snub of the U.N. meeting.

Tuesday's court decision shows Bahrain "is bulldozing its civil society," said Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. "Bahrain is only reforming itself into a state of silence and terror," al-Wadaei said in a statement.

Bahrain releases prominent activist from prison

May 31, 2016

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahraini authorities have released prominent rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja on humanitarian grounds after two and a half months behind bars, her sister told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Zainab al-Khawaja is the daughter of well-known activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence over his role in Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011. Her sister Maryam confirmed her release.

A dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, she was detained on March 14 and faced three years in prison on charges related to her participation in anti-government protests, including tearing up pictures of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry announced plans to release her earlier this month on account of her year-old son, who was allowed to stay with her in a special prison ward for new mothers.

Spain political parties kick off campaigns for June 26 vote

June 10, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Spain's four major political parties kicked off a two-week election campaign early Friday, aiming to break a deadlock that left the country with a caretaker government after voters shattered the nation's traditional two-party system.

Campaigning began just after midnight Thursday for the June 26 vote, with rallies by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party, Pedro Sanchez of the Socialists, Pablo Iglesias of the far-left Unidos Podemos alliance and Albert Rivera of the business-friendly Ciudadanos.

Polls suggest the Popular Party will win the most votes as it did in the last election on Dec. 20 but again fall far short of its 2011-2015 parliamentary majority. The surveys indicate Unidos Podemos could take 2nd place, overtaking the Socialists, with Ciudadanos fourth.

Analysts predict the vote could yield another political stalemate, with parties negotiating for months to try to form a coalition and Spain heading for a third election if they again fail to do so.

This story corrects that campaigning began early Friday and not at midnight Thursday.

Ukraine 'outraged' by UN chief's remarks on Russia

June 16, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Ukraine's U.N. ambassador said Thursday he is "completely outraged" by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's comments in a prepared speech saying Russia has a critical role to play in ending the conflict in his country.

Volodymyr Yelchenko said Ban's prepared comments for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia show he has lost "any moral right" to say anything about the conflict in Ukraine. He said he doesn't understand how the U.N. chief "can say such things which sort of praise the role of Russia in settling the conflict in Ukraine when the Russian Federation is the main player in aggressing Ukraine and in keeping this conflict boiling."

In the prepared speech circulated by the United Nations, Ban said Russia as a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council has "a critical role to play" in addressing "pressing global issues, from ending the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, to safeguarding human rights and controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The United Nations later circulated the speech the secretary-general actually delivered which made no mention of Ukraine. Yelchenko said Ukraine is sending a protest letter to the 193-member General Assembly asking for a correction and explanation. Ukraine's U.N. Mission said after the actual speech was circulated that "we have sent a letter asking to clarify this situation."

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said "we're not going to walk back from what we said." He urged everyone to read the entire speech, but said "I'm not going to analyze or respond to criticisms that may have been received."

Fighting in eastern Ukraine broke out in April 2014 after Ukraine's Russia-friendly president was ousted following months of street protests and Russia annexed Crimea — a move that led to crippling Western sanctions on Russia.

A February 2015 agreement has helped reduce fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, but frequent clashes have erupted and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled. Yelchenko also criticized Russia's crackdown on human rights in Crimea and said Ukraine has circulated "a number of letters describing how the Russian Federation is building up the nuclear potential in Crimea."

Swiss officials say solar-powered plane lands in Spain

June 23, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Swiss officials say an experimental solar-powered airplane has completed a three-day flight across the Atlantic in the latest leg of its globe-circling voyage. The Aero-Club of Switzerland said the Solar Impulse 2 landed in Seville in southern Spain at 0540 GMT on Thursday, ending a 70-hour flight which began from New York City on Monday.

It was the 15th leg of a planned around-the-world flight which began in March 2015 from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The Solar Impulse 2's wings, which stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries. The plane runs on stored energy at night.

The Aero-Club of Switzerland is responsible for validating records of the flight.

26 people, mostly police, wounded in Paris protests

June 14, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Some 20 police officers and 6 protesters were injured in Paris Tuesday as demonstrators protesting a contested French labor reform threw projectiles at police officers, who responded with tear gas.

Seven unions and student organizations planned the protests against the proposed law to loosen labor rules which saw crowds in central Paris swell into the tens of thousands. Paris police official Johanna Primevert said that in addition to the 26 injured, some 21 people were detained during the day's action against the law that is being debated in the Senate.

Protesters set out from southeast Paris heading for the Invalides plaza. Street protests also took place in other parts of France and rail workers and taxi drivers were on strike. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was closed Tuesday because the operators said they could not guarantee public safety and taxi drivers temporarily blocked some of the city's main access roads in the morning.

In a separate protest, Air France pilots were striking to demand better working conditions. About 20 percent of all Air France's flights were canceled, according to the company. At the Eiffel Tower, an electronic board was indicating "Monument closed - National strike."

"That's a shame for tourists because we didn't just come for the Euros but also the sightseeing," said Petlev Schultz, a German tourist who came to Paris to attend the European soccer tournament. "We've found out there are strikes everywhere," he added. "We are looking into finding ways to still experience the beautiful city."

Polls open in Britain's historic EU referendum

June 23, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Polls opened in Britain Thursday for a referendum on whether the country should quit the European Union bloc of which it has been a member for 43 years. More than 46 million people are registered for the vote, which asks: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

Polls are open until 10 p.m. (2100GMT), with results due early Friday. The referendum has exposed deep divisions over issues including sovereignty and national identity. "Leave" campaigners claim that only a British exit can restore power to Parliament and control immigration. The "remain" campaign led by Prime Minister David Cameron argues that Britain is safer and richer inside the 28-nation EU.

Financial markets have been volatile ahead of the vote, with opinion polls suggesting a tight race. Turnout is considered critical in the vote, as polling suggested there were a number of undecided voters. Those who waver at the end tend to go for the status quo, which would favor the "remain" campaign.

It was raining heavily in some parts of the country, which could have an effect on turnout. Downpours and flooding swamped parts of London and southeastern Britain. London's Fire Brigade received hundreds of calls of weather-related incidents early Thursday, including some reports of flooding and lighting strikes.

Britain's pro-EU side nervous as odds slashed on 'leave'

June 14, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Nervous "remain" supporters stepped up campaigning in Britain's European Union referendum Tuesday after odds on a vote to leave the bloc dramatically narrowed following a string of polls showing a surge in "leave" sentiment.

The pound fell to a two-month low against the dollar on Monday, to $1.4131, and the FTSE-100 share index fell below 6,000 points for the first time in nearly four months, as bookmakers cut the odds of an exit vote in the June 23 referendum to as short as 6-5. "Remain" was still the favorite, but only just, after several phone and online polls suggested growing support among voters for leaving the 28-nation bloc.

Senior Labour Party figures warned that leaving the EU could cause a recession and trigger big public-sector job losses. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said trade unions across Europe had "bought us better working conditions, longer holidays, less discrimination and maternity and paternity leave."

"We believe that a Leave vote will put many of those things seriously and immediately at risk," he said. Employment Minister Priti Patel, a "leave" supporter, insisted there would be "more than enough money to go round" if Britain doesn't have to pay millions a week to the bloc.

Polls suggest the "leave" campaign has had success by focusing on public anxiety about immigration, which has soared from other EU countries over the past decade. Free movement of people within the bloc is a key EU principle.

In a bid to regain ground on the issue, a senior Labour politician suggested the party could seek to limit free movement if it formed a government after a "remain" vote. "I think a future Europe will have to look at things like the free movement of labor rules," deputy leader Tom Watson told the BBC.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun tabloid on Tuesday urged its readers to vote for an EU exit, with a front-page editorial under the headline "BeLeave in Britain." The newspaper — which has a history of backing the winning side in elections — urged voters to reject a "dictatorial" EU that "has proved increasingly greedy, wasteful, bullying and breathtakingly incompetent in a crisis."

The Sun has seen its readership decline in the online news era, but it remains Britain's biggest selling newspaper, with a circulation of more than 2 million. Meanwhile, a top EU official said "the world needs the European Union," in a remark seen directed at Britain ahead of next week's vote.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had so far declined to comment on the referendum. During Tuesday's opening of a two-day conference in Oslo, Norway on conflict mediation, Mogherini said the EU internationally is "strong voice for peace on our global stage."

Mogherini said "the world needs also this kind of European Union," adding "it is sad to me to see that some European citizens have to be reminded of that from the outside."

Associated Press Writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this story.

Austrian minister: Hitler birth house could be demolished

June 12, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Austria's interior minister says he can imagine having the house where Adolf Hitler was born demolished, calling it "the cleanest solution." The Austrian government wants to expropriate the house in Braunau am Inn on the German border where the future Nazi leader was born in 1889 to ensure that it doesn't become a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis.

The Interior Ministry has rented the house since 1972 to prevent its misuse, subletting it to various charitable organizations. The building has stood empty since a care center for adults with disabilities moved out in 2011.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka told ORF television late Saturday that the expropriation is "necessary." He said that "we have tried to clear up all possibilities for using it and buying it with the owner, but with no results."

"For me, a demolition ... would be the cleanest solution," Sobotka said. Sobotka's ministry described that Sunday as the minister's personal opinion and noted that it would have to be clarified whether the demolition is legally feasible, the Austria Press Agency reported.

A commission of historians is to consider the house's future.

Kenya: Protests over talk of assassinating opposition leader

June 14, 2016

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Demonstrations erupted in Kenya's largest slum Tuesday over footage appearing to show a pro-government legislator saying top opposition leader Raila Odinga can be assassinated, an opposition official and witnesses said.

Analysts say the remarks reflect long-simmering tribal tensions that are heating up again, eight years after they exploded into violence that left more than 1,000 people dead in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election. Kenya is holding general elections next year.

A coffin marked with the name of the legislator, Moses Kuria, was burned during Tuesday's protests, said the head of the Orange Democratic Party in Kibera slum, Sam Ochieng. Odinga is the party's leader, and Kibera is an opposition stronghold.

An Associated Press reporter saw police fire tear gas at demonstrators, who responded with stones. Kuria and seven other legislators have been questioned by police over remarks that police say may amount to hate speech. The legislators include four opposition members of parliament who threatened to storm the office of the police chief if he doesn't take action against Kuria.

In a video shot at a party over the weekend, Kuria apparently refers to recent opposition demonstrations to remove Kenya's electoral commission, which the protesters accuse of corruption and bias. "He should be careful because he can as well bite a bullet," Kuria says. "We won't be disturbed by one person. He can bite a bullet, we bury him the next Monday, they (Odinga supporters) throw stones for one week and life continues, isn't it so?" He made the remarks in his mother tongue, Kikuyu.

Kuria is out on bond for two separate charges of incitement to violence and hate speech related to previous remarks.

UN says 65 million people displaced in 2015, a new record

June 20, 2016

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency says persecution and conflict in places like Syria and Afghanistan raised the total number of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide to a record 65.3 million at the end of last year.

The previous year, 2014, had already seen the highest number of refugees worldwide since World War II, with 60 million displaced people. But last year — when Europe staggered under the arrival of large numbers of migrants — topped that record by nearly 10 percent, the UNHCR said Monday in unveiling its annual Global Trends Report.

The Geneva-based agency urged leaders from Europe and elsewhere to do more to end the wars that are fanning the exodus of people from their homelands. "I hope that the message carried by those forcibly displaced reaches the leaderships: We need action, political action, to stop conflicts," said Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "The message that they have carried is: 'If you don't solve problems, problems will come to you.'"

With stark detail, UNHCR said that on average, 24 people had been displaced every minute of every day last year — or 34,000 people a day — up from 6 every minute in 2005. Global displacement has roughly doubled since 1997, and risen by 50 percent since 2011 alone — when the Syria war began.

More than half of all refugees came from three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Turkey was the "top host" country for the second year running, taking in 2.5 million people — nearly all from neighboring Syria. Afghan neighbor Pakistan had 1.6 million, while Lebanon, next to Syria, hosted 1.1 million.

Grandi said policymakers and advocacy groups admittedly face daunting challenges helping the largest subset of displaced people: Some 40.8 million internally displaced in countries in conflict. Another 21.3 million were refugees and some 3.2 million more were seeking asylum.

More than a million people fled to Europe last year, causing a political crisis in the EU. Grandi called on countries to work to fight the xenophobia that has accompanied the rise in refugee populations, and decried both physical barriers — like fences erected by some European countries — as well as legislative ones that limit access to richer, more peaceful EU states.

Such European policies were "spreading a negative example around the world," he said. "There is no plan B for Europe in the long run," Grandi said. "Europe will continue to receive people seeking asylum. Their numbers may vary ... but it is inevitable."