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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Witness says 3 suicide bombers explode in Jakarta Starbucks

January 14, 2016

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — At least three suicide bombers exploded themselves in a Starbucks cafe in downtown Jakarta on Thursday while two gunmen attacked a police post nearby, a witness told The Associated Press.

TVOne, a local television network, reported three other explosions in other parts of the city. At least one policeman was killed in addition to the bombers. An Associated Press photographer saw three bodies behind police lines, lying on a sidewalk. Their identities were unclear.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but suspicion is likely to fall on Islamic militant groups, which have carried out several attacks in the past across Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

It would be the first major attack in the capital Jakarta since the bombings of two hotels in 2009. "This act is clearly aimed at disturbing public order and spreading terror among people," President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, said in statement on television. Jokowi who is on a working visit in West Java town of Cirebon, said he is returning to Jakarta immediately.

"The state, the nation and the people should not be afraid of, and lose to, such terror acts," he said. The first explosion apparently triggered a gun-battle between the attackers and anti-terror police squads, and gunfire could be heard more than 1 ½ hours later.

Tri Seranto, a bank security guard, told The Associated Press he saw at least five attackers, including three suicide bombers who exploded themselves in the Starbucks. He said he was out on the street when he saw the three men entering Starbucks and saw them blowing themselves up one by one. He said the other two attackers, carrying handguns, entered a police post from where he heard gunfire. He said he later saw one policeman dead and three seriously wounded.

He said he was not injured in the explosions as he was a little distance away, but close enough to witness the attack at 10.30 a.m. (0230 GMT). He said the two gunmen ran away with police chasing them.

About two hours later, another explosion was heard from a cafe near the Starbucks, about five minutes after 25 anti-terror policemen entered it. It was not clear if the explosion was a controlled detonation or a bomb.

Gunshots were heard after the midmorning explosion in front of the Sarinah shopping mall and a police station. The area also has many luxury hotels, and offices and embassies, including the French. The other set of explosions were in neighborhoods where the embassies of Turkey and Pakistan are located.

Tweets from the account of Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, described a bomb and "serious" exchanges of gunfire on the street outside his Jakarta office. "Didn't experience this in 3.5 years in #Pakistan," he wrote.

"A massive #bomb went off in front of our new #Indonesia office as @collie_brown & I exit car. Chaos & we're going into lock-down," he wrote. And three minutes later: "Apparent #suicidebomber literally 100m from the office and my hotel. Now gunfire."

About 30 minutes after his first post about the bombing, he posted that things were "quiet. Not comfortable quiet." Indonesia has been a victim of several bombing attacks in the past, claimed by Islamic militant groups.

Last month, anti-terror police arrested nine men and said the group had wanted to "perform a 'concert' to attract international news coverage of their existence here." Police cited a document seized from the group that described the planned attacks as a "concert."

The country has been on high alert after authorities said they had foiled a plot by Islamic militants to attack government officials, foreigners and others. About 150,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed during New Year's Eve to guard churches, airports and other public places.

More than 9,000 police were also deployed in Bali, the site of Indonesia's deadliest terror attack, which killed 202 people in 2002. National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Anton Charliyan said security is focused on anticipating attacks in vulnerable regions, including Jakarta.

On Tuesday, the jailed radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir appealed to an Indonesia court to have his conviction for funding a terror training camp overturned, arguing that his support for the camp was an act of worship.

The 77-year-old leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network filed a judicial review of his 2011 conviction, when he was sentenced to 15 years in jail for setting up the camp in Aceh province. A higher court later cut the sentence to nine years.

Indonesia has suffered a spate of deadly attacks by the Jemaah Islamiyah network in the past. But strikes in recent years have been smaller and less deadly, and have targeted government authorities, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces.

China to build navy base in Djibouti: Djiboutian minister

Johannesburg (AFP)
Dec 4, 2015

China is to build its first naval base in Djibouti, the Djiboutian foreign minister said Friday, in the latest sign of China's growing international security presence.

Djibouti is seen as a key strategic location in the Horn of Africa, with United States, France and Japan already having facilities in the country.

"The negotiations have come to an end and the naval base will be built in Djibouti," Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told AFP on the sidelines of a summit of African leaders in Johannesburg.

"The goal of the base is to fight against pirates... and most of all to secure the Chinese ships using this very important strait that is important to all the countries in the world."

"For Djibouti, it's an additional strategic ally."

A former French colony, Djibouti guards the entrance to the Red Sea and, ultimately, the Suez Canal, and has been used by international navies as a hub in the fight against piracy from neighboring Somalia.

"For a few years with the instability in Somalia, this region has become a refuge for pirates and the terrorist movements," Youssouf said.

In May, Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh told AFP that talks over the military base were underway.

Guelleh met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit in Johannesburg, where China announced $60 billion of assistance and loans for Africa...

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/China_to_build_navy_base_in_Djibouti_Djiboutian_minister_999.html.

10 dead, 15 wounded in Istanbul tourist district explosion

January 12, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — An explosion killed at least 10 people and wounded 15 others Tuesday morning in a historic district of Istanbul popular with tourists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a Syria-linked suicide bomber is believed to be behind the attack.

Erdogan said in televised remarks that both Turks and foreigners are among the dead in the explosion in the Sultanahmet district. He did not provide details. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of government rules, said the explosion was believed to be "terror-linked." He did not provide further details.

Omer Celik, the spokesman for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's ruling party issued a statement condemning what he called "a heinous attack." The explosion, which could be heard from several neighborhoods, was at a park that is home to a landmark obelisk, some 25 meters (yards) from the historic Blue Mosque.

Turkey's Dogan news agency reported that at least six Germans, one Norwegian and one Peruvian were among the wounded, and Seoul's Foreign Ministry told reporters via text message that one South Korean had a finger injury. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry told Norway's news agency NTB that the Norwegian tourist was slightly injured and was being treated in a local hospital.

It was not immediately known if any foreigners were among the dead. Germany warned its citizens to avoid crowds outside tourist attractions in Istanbul, saying on a government website that further violent clashes and "terrorist attacks" are expected across Turkey. It also urged travelers to stay away from demonstrations and gatherings, particularly in large cities.

Police sealed the area, barring people from approaching in case of a second explosion, and a police helicopter hovered overhead. The Sultanahmet neighborhood is Istanbul's main sightseeing area and includes the Topkapi Palace and the Haghia Sophia museum.

Erdem Koroglu, who was working at a nearby office, told NTV television he saw several people on the ground following the blast. "It was difficult to say who was alive or dead," Koroglu said. "Buildings rattled from the force of the explosion."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu immediately convened a security meeting with the country's interior minister and other officials. As with previous attacks, authorities imposed a news blackout, barring media from showing images of the dead or injured or reporting any details of the investigation.

Turkey suffered two major bombing attacks last year, both blamed on the Islamic State group. More than 30 people were killed in a suicide attack in the town of Suruc, near Turkey's border with Syria, in July.

Two suicide bombs exploded in October outside Ankara's main train station as people gathered for a peace rally, killing more than 100 in Turkey's deadliest-ever attack. The prosecutor's office said that attack was carried out by a local Islamic State cell.

Last month, Turkish authorities arrested two suspected Islamic State militants they said were planning suicide bombings during New Year's celebrations in the capital Ankara. __ Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Mehmet Guzel in Istanbul contributed.

Turkey's Erdogan meets king in Saudi Arabia for Syria talks

December 29, 2015

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Hours before he arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syria's president of "mercilessly" killing hundreds of thousands of people and criticized Russia for backing him.

Erdogan was speaking to reporters before departing for Saudi Arabia, where he met King Salman for talks focused on the Syrian civil war and energy cooperation. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are strong backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran.

Erdogan said his government and Saudi Arabia are working "in solidarity and consultation" to find a political solution for Syria, as both countries push for an agreement that would remove Assad from power.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said Erdogan's talks with Salman were attended by other senior Saudi royals and officials, including the kingdom's crown prince, the deputy crown prince, and the ministers of finance, foreign affairs and information. Erdogan's delegation to Saudi Arabia includes the country's ministers of economy, energy and foreign affairs.

The two sides were expected to discuss energy cooperation as Ankara works to diversify its supplies following a rift with Moscow over the downing of a Russian plane. The Saudi Press Agency confirmed the two leaders discussed the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well developments in war-torn Libya and Yemen, where Saudi forces are battling Shiite rebels.

In comments apparently directed at Russia's military intervention in Syria, Erdogan said: "You cannot go anywhere by supporting a regime that has mercilessly killed 400,000 innocent people with conventional and chemical weapons."

Russia began airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 30, saying it wanted to support the Syrian government and defeat Islamic State militants and other extremists. But many of the strikes have hit Western-backed rebel groups in areas where IS is not present, and Syrian activists say the Russian strikes have killed civilians.

The U.N. says at least 250,000 people have been killed in the nearly five-year Syrian conflict, and some 12 million people displaced, triggering a massive refugee crisis. What began in 2011 as mainly peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring eventually spiraled into an armed conflict pitting rebels against the military, drawing in global powers as well as extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.

Though Kurdish fighters are among the strongest forces on the ground in Syria battling the IS group, Erdogan told reporters before arriving in Saudi Arabia that countries backing the Kurds are "adding fuel to fire." Turkey considers the Kurdish forces in Syria terrorists because of their links to an outlawed Kurdish rebel group in Turkey.

When Saudi Arabia hosted a meeting of major Syrian opposition groups this month, the main Kurdish militia known as the YPG and the largest Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party or PYD, were not invited.

This is Erdogan's third visit to Saudi Arabia this year. He flew to Riyadh in January to attend the late King Abdullah's funeral and again in March for bilateral talks with King Salman. The two leaders also met at the G-20 summit held in Turkey last month.

Saudi-Turkish ties were strained under Abdullah, who saw Turkey's support of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood group as a destabilizing threat to the region. Ties between the two countries have since improved under the new monarch Salman, who has worked closely with Sunni countries to stymie the reach of Saudi Arabia's top regional foe, Shiite Iran.

Turkey is a member of the 34-nation Islamic military alliance that Saudi Arabia announced this month.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

Erdogan's office says he stopped man from jumping off bridge

December 25, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office says Erdogan has talked a man out of jumping off a bridge.

Television footage on Friday showed Erdogan's motorcade stopping on Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge, where a man was apparently contemplating jumping off. Erdogan's aides are heard telling the man that the president wants to speak to him, then seen escorting him to Erdogan's car. Erdogan does not leave his vehicle and keeps his phone pressed to his ear, but the man leans in and the two are seen talking.

An official from Erdogan's office told The Associated Press the man was depressed because of family issues. Erdogan promised to help, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

Turkey tests its first armed unmanned aerial vehicle

Ankara, Turkey (UPI)
Dec 21, 2015

Turkish defense industry officials reported the testing of the country's first domestically produced armed aerial vehicle, the Bayraktar TB2.

During the flight test, the Bayraktar was able to engage targets from a range of almost five miles. The aircraft, the country's first armed drone, was armed missiles produced for the ATAK T-129 helicopter, making Turkey the fifth country to arm a UAV according to Daily Sabah.

The Bayraktar was produced as a joint-venture between two Turkish developers, Bakar and Kale Kalip. The ammunition armed to the aircraft was developed by state-owned missile manufacturer Rokestan. Company officials say the effort supports their intention to progress the program's production levels.

"There is an understanding between the industry and the government that Turkey should gradually gear up to earn armed drone capabilities," a procurement source told Defense News.

The Turkish military currently has no contract with the developers to procure the aircraft. However, officials say their work may win a contract in the future, allowing the country to produce armed drones domestically.

"We may either sign a modification contract to arm the drones currently in our inventory or sign a separate contract to acquire armed drones in the future," the procurement official added.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Turkey_tests_its_first_armed_unmanned_aerial_vehicle_999.html.

Turkey stops Russian ships from sailing in reciprocal gesture

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Turkish authorities have blocked 27 Russian ships from sailing towards the Mediterranean and Black Seas, claiming that they fail to meet the necessary criteria, local media reported on Wednesday.

According to the Daily Sabah, Turkey’s decision is reciprocation for a similar decision by the Russian authorities, which are, it is claimed, holding eight Turkish-registered vessels in port. Such moves are allowed for under the mutually-agreed memorandum of understanding for use of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Passage between the two has to be via the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

Although security sources have revealed that the Russian maritime authorities have given the green light for Turkey to overcome this problem, no time has been set aside for meetings or discussions over the issue. Commercial traffic to and from both countries has been affected by the situation.

Moscow suspended links with Turkey when the latter downed a Russian SU-24 jet last month after it breached Turkish air space. The Russians have demanded compensation. Turkey rejects this and stressed its right to protect its air space and for its borders to be respected.

Turkish officials have been trying to ease the tension by emphasizing that Russia is not an enemy of Turkey and reiterating that Russian claims about Turkish forces provoking Russian troops in Syria are an exaggeration.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/22897-turkey-stops-russian-ships-from-sailing-in-reciprocal-gesture.

First Turkish military base in the Middle East to be stationed in Qatar

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Turkey will establish a military base in Qatar as part of a defense agreement aimed at helping the two countries face “common enemies”, the Turkish Ambassador in Qatar said yesterday.

The agreement signed in 2014 and ratified by the Turkish parliament in June, promotes Turkey’s partnership with Qatar at a time of rising instability in the region.

Qatar and Turkey provided support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Syrian opposition fighters who are fighting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad.

The Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Demirok said in an interview with Reuters that 3,000 ground troops would be stationed at the base which is Turkey's first military installation in the Middle East as well as air and naval units, military trainers and special operations forces.

He added that the “multi-purpose” base will primarily serve as a venue for joint training exercises.

The agreement also grants Qatar the option of setting up its own base in Turkey, Demirok said.

“Turkey and Qatar face common problems and we are both very concerned about developments in the region and uncertain policies of other countries ... We confront common enemies. At this critical time for the Middle East cooperation between us is vital,” he added.

Demirok said 100 Turkish troops were currently in Qatar training the Gulf state's military. He gave no date for when the new Turkish base would be completed.

“Today we are not building a new alliance but rather rediscovering historic and brotherly ties,” he said.

King’s College London Professor Jean-Marc Rickli, who specializes in Qatar national defense, said: “With the perceived disengagement by the United States from the Gulf, what we are witnessing now is a diversification of potential allies.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/22894-first-turkish-military-base-in-the-middle-east-to-be-stationed-in-qatar.

Pro-China party likely to lose power in Taiwan's election

January 16, 2016

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Voting was underway Saturday in Taiwan's presidential election in which the island's China-friendly Nationalist Party appears likely to lose power to the pro-independence opposition, amid concerns that the island's economy is under threat from China and broad opposition among voters to Beijing's demands for political unification.

The Democratic Progressive Party's Tsai Ing-wen is poised to become the self-governing island's first female president, returning the main opposition party to power after eight years under Nationalist President Ma Ying-jeou, who is constitutionally barred from another term.

The outcome of the contest for a majority in the 133-seat legislature remains uncertain, with independents and smaller parties posing a threat to both the Nationalists and the DPP. A win for Tsai would introduce new uncertainty in the complicated relationship between Taiwan and mainland China, which claims the island as its own territory and threatens to use force if it declares formal independence.

"This is not about defeating the other party. This is about working to overcome the obstacles in Taiwan's path," Tsai told supporters gathered in the rain at a final rally Friday night in front of the presidential office building in the center of the capital, Taipei.

Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo of de-facto independence for the island of 23 million, although she has refused to endorse the principle that Taiwan and China are parts of a single nation to be unified eventually.

Beijing has made that its baseline for continuing negotiations that have produced a series of pacts on trade, transport and exchanges. Observers say China is likely to adopt a wait-and-see approach to Tsai's presidency, but might use diplomatic and economy pressure if she is seen as straying too far from its unification agenda.

Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1885 to 1945 and split again from China amid civil war in 1949. Tsai's Nationalist opponent, Eric Chu, was a late entry in the race after the party ditched its original candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu, whose abrasive style was seen as alienating voters. He has trailed Tsai by double digits in the latest polls.

China has largely declined to comment on the polls, although its chief official for Taiwan affairs this month warned of potential major challenges in the relationship in the year ahead. Tsai supporters appeared confident that ties with China would weather a change in government.

"As long as Tsai doesn't provoke the other side, it's OK," said former newspaper distribution agent Lenex Chang, 66, who attended Tsai's rally. "If mainland China democratizes someday, we could consider a tie-up," he added.

Associated Press writer Ralph Jennings contributed to this report.

Macedonia premier to step down under Western-brokered deal

January 14, 2016

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's prime minister has confirmed he will step down Friday before an early election on April 24, under the timeline of last year's Western-brokered deal to solve a deep political crisis triggered by a wiretapping scandal.

Nikola Gruevski said in a televised address to the nation late Thursday that he will present his resignation to the speaker of Parliament. He also insisted that the parliamentary election must be held on schedule 100 days after he steps down, despite opposition pressure for a delay.

Gruevski, who has governed for almost 10 years, has agreed to hand over to a candidate from his conservative VMRO-DPMNE party who will head a caretaker government. Last July's deal with the country's social-democrat main opposition followed mediation by the European Union and the U.S.

EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn is due in Macedonia on Friday for talks with Gruevski and opposition leaders on implementing the agreement. Hahn said Friday remains a key deadline. "I expect that the outstanding elements of the political agreement will be resolved before or during my visit, allowing the election authorities to organize credible elections according to the agreed timetable," he said.

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev has challenged the April date for an early election, claiming that crucial parts of the agreement meant to guarantee fair elections, such as revising the electoral roll and media reforms, aren't yet in place.

VMRO-DPMNE said that if the election is postponed, the deal is off and the caretaker government won't be formed. The political crisis stems from opposition allegations that the government illegally wire-tapped 20,000 people, including police, judges, journalists and foreign diplomats.

Zaev says the conversations allegedly reveal corruption at the highest level of government, including mismanagement of funds, electoral fraud and spurious criminal prosecutions of political opponents.

The government denies the claims. Gruevski says the recordings were fabricated with the help of foreign spies, and has accused Zaev of plotting a coup.

German politician sends bus with refugees to Merkel

January 14, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — A bus carrying 31 Syrian refugees arrived from southern Germany in Berlin on Thursday night as a district councilor in Bavaria followed up on his pledge to Chancellor Angela Merkel that he'd send refugees her way if his district could no longer provide accommodation for them.

The act came amid ongoing concerns about how Germany will deal with the 1.1 million asylum-seekers that flooded in last year. Peter Dreier, a Landshut district councilor, said he wanted to "send a sign that refugee policy cannot continue like this."

Dreier said he had talked with Merkel on the phone last year. He said he warned her that Landshut was reaching its capacity for housing asylum-seekers and told her he'd put refugees on buses to Berlin if his district could no longer handle the influx.

The bus arrived shortly after 6 p.m. (1700 GMT) in front of Merkel's chancellery in the center of Berlin. Several police officers shielded the 31 refugees from reporters as officials asked them to board another bus waiting nearby that was to take them to local shelters. However, the refugees refused to leave the bus and after a two-hour wait in front of the chancellery, the bus left for an overnight accommodation.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement that the city of Berlin had agreed to offer accommodation for the refugees for their first night in Berlin. Both German news channel n-tv and Zeit newspaper's online edition reported their reporters had talked to refugees during the ride to Berlin and that the migrants didn't know the trip had been organized as an act to criticize Merkel's refugee policy.

The refugees thought of the trip to the German capital as an opportunity and were upset when they found out they had been used by Landshut politicians to make a stance against the federal government's policy, both outlets reported.

Landshut spokesman Elmar Stoettner told The Associated Press earlier on Thursday that all 31 refugees on the bus had been granted asylum in Germany and volunteered to participate in the bus trip. Stoettner also said that some have relatives in the German capital and others would probably "go back to Bavaria if in Berlin they say that they don't want them."

Countering the district councilor's criticism of the government's refugee policy, Seibert said in the statement, that while the government is aware of the fact that the high number of refugees is a challenge for the communities, it also supports them financially in handling the refugee crisis.

The federal government has also pledged to provide more than 1 billion euros (1.08 billion dollars) annually until 2019 for social housing, Seibert pointed out. District councilor Dreier said in a statement that the 66 migrant homes in his district are full and that in addition to the asylum-seekers, about 450 people who have received asylum are also still living there because they can't find apartments.

Most migrants who arrive in Germany first set foot in Bavaria, and cities and communities there, as well as elsewhere across the country, have been struggling for months to provide accommodation for them.

Uncertainty in Guatemala as new president takes office

January 15, 2016

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — TV comic and political neophyte Jimmy Morales was sworn in as Guatemala's president on Thursday amid uncertainty over how he plans to run the Central American nation beset by entrenched poverty, rampant corruption and violent criminal gangs.

Dressed in a dark suit and accompanied by wife, Morales received a hug from his mother and applause from friends and party members as he mounted the stage. United States Vice President Joe Biden met with Morales and the leaders of El Salvador and Honduras before the swearing in Thursday.

Biden congratulated Morales for his commitment to fight corruption. He noted that thousands of Guatemalans had gone into the streets to demand change and elected Morales to do the job. Morales petitioned Biden Thursday to add Guatemala to the list of countries granted temporary protected status, which provides its eligible citizens in the U.S. a degree of temporary protection from deportation and allows them to work and travel.

El Salvador and Honduras already have the status known as TPS. It is usually granted in cases in which the country is suffering from an armed conflict or natural disaster that makes it difficult to receive its citizens.

Guatemala has been beset by corruption scandals that forced President Otto Perez Molina and his vice president from office. Last year, the U.S. Congress approved $750 million in aid to the three countries contingent on their efforts to reduce migration to the U.S. and the factors driving it.

Morales has yet to say who will make up his Cabinet, and he already suffered one political setback when prosecutors formally asked for the equivalent of impeachment proceedings against an allied lawmaker suspected of human rights violations dating to Guatemala's civil war.

"He is a president who takes office without a party, without well-qualified people he trusts and with a state apparatus that's really in financial and institutional ruin," said Edgar Gutierrez, an analyst at San Carlos University in Guatemala.

Morales won office in a runoff Oct. 25 after huge anti-corruption demonstrations. Perez Molina and his vice president are behind bars and facing prosecution, and the outsider's triumph was seen as a punishment vote from an electorate that wanted a fresh break.

Two and a half months later, Morales' most visible activities have included a tour of Central American nations and a visit to Guatemalan migrants' advocacy groups in the United States. Gutierrez said the president-elect would have been well-advised to spend the last two months creating alliances to construct a government, "but he didn't do that."

Morales spokesman Heinz Heimann vowed that the incoming team will be of the high quality necessary to respond to Guatemalans' needs and expectations. "There is nothing suspicious about our actions," he told The Associated Press via text message. "The government reserves the right to give information in a pertinent manner to keep the people informed."

Heimann promised the Morales administration will be marked by "strict adherence to the law" and called on different sectors of civil society to play a role in leading the country, but did not advance any more information on the new government's plans.

Prosecutors last week moved to lift the immunity of office for Edgar Justino Ovalle, a lawmaker and adviser to the president-elect. He and others are suspected of human rights abuses during the 1960-1996 civil conflict when some 245,000 people were killed or disappeared, many of them indigenous Guatemalans slain in countryside massacres.

More than a dozen retired military figures were arrested in the same case. Many of them are members of a veterans' group that supports the National Convergence Front, the party Morales ran with during the campaign. Ovalle is a party founder.

Although Morales has denied links to the former military officials, some say the allegations amount to a black eye for his new administration. "You can read it as saying: 'Look, Mr. Morales, do a better job of picking your allies ... because these are unqualified people who have serious accusations against them,'" Gutierrez said.

Biden is the highest-level Washington official to attend a Guatemalan inauguration in 30 years of civilian-democratic governments. Biden visited the country last year for talks with Central American leaders about a billion-dollar aid package requested for the region that aims to improve security and quality of life, and lower migration rates after the surge of unaccompanied minors showing up at the U.S. border.

Those impatient for reform have signaled they intend to hold Morales to his promises to clean up government. A public protest has been called for Saturday, just two days after the inauguration, to remind the new president of his campaign slogan: "Neither corrupt nor a thief."