DDMA Headline Animator

Friday, January 22, 2016

Yemen talks begin in Switzerland as ceasefire takes effect

December 15, 2015

GENEVA (AP) — U.N.-brokered peace talks between Yemen's internationally recognized government and the country's Shiite rebels started on Tuesday in Switzerland as the guns went quiet across Yemen and air raids from a Saudi-coalition targeting the rebels were halted.

The week-long ceasefire, meant to give the warring factions a chance to find a solution to the conflict that has collapsed the Arab world's poorest country, went into effect at noon on Tuesday. But only Yemeni government officials were able to confirm it, Shiite rebel leaders could not be immediately reached for comment on how the truce was holding.

Yemen has been torn by fighting pitting the rebels, known as Houthis, and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against an array of forces, including the internationally recognized government, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition and supported by the United States, and also southern separatists, religious extremists and other militants.

In a statement, U.N. special envoy for Yemen Ismail Cheikh Ahmed said the talks in Switzerland "should mark the end of military violence in Yemen." According to the U.N., the war in Yemen has so far killed at least 5,878 people since March, when the fighting escalated after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels.

Just hours before the ceasefire started, the coalition and pro-government forces seized the Red Sea island of Zuqar from the rebels. Yemeni security officials, who have remained neutral in the conflict, said both sides had intensified the fighting to solidify their positions ahead of the truce. There was no immediate word on casualties and the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Past efforts to end the violence have ended in failure, as the government insisted the Houthis comply with a U.N. resolution that requires them to return seized weapons and territory they had captured over the past year, including the capital, Sanaa. In response, the Houthis demanded negotiations over the country's political future.

The two sides had initially agreed to halt fire at midnight Monday but the coalition delayed the truce to midday Tuesday, without elaborating. In Geneva, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said a total of 24 people were taking part in the "open-ended" talks. U.N. officials have declined to specify the location of the talks, but Swiss public radio on Monday said they were to take place in the village of Macolin, near the Swiss town of Biel.

Al-Haj reported from Sanaa, Yemen.

Sudanese refugee recounts forced deportation from Jordan

December 21, 2015

CAIRO (AP) — Ahmed Doury and his wife had fled their home in Sudan's Darfur region for safety in Jordan. But after Jordanian security forces violently rounded up and deported them and other Sudanese asylum seekers, the 32-year-old says he's now more determined than ever to go to Europe.

"I will take the sea ... I will get out of here by any means necessary," he said Sunday, adding that it was the only thing he could think about on the flight back to Sudan. Speaking by telephone from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, he recounted the deportation to The Associated Press with a solemn voice.

Doury had gone to Jordan in 2014, fleeing death threats for his tribal and ethnic ties in the war-devastated Darfur region. He registered as a refugee with the United Nations and worked intermittent menial jobs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to support himself and his wife.

Feeling discriminated against by authorities, the two joined a makeshift camp outside the U.N. headquarters where other Sudanese were living. On Wednesday, Jordanian security forces stormed the camp, tore it down and forced the asylum seekers onto vans headed to the airport.

The camp's proximity to the U.N. headquarters had given the group a false sense of safety, he explained. "We have no trust in the U.N. anymore after what happened. No one did anything to help us," Doury said, echoing a view widely held among Sudanese refugees in Jordan.

"Everyone was beaten ... they stepped on the people who fell down," he said. The troops marched in early in the morning, swearing and indiscriminately beating its inhabitants with rubber and electric batons, he said. They fired tear gas and rubber bullets and at one point shoved a pregnant woman to the ground. She fell, broke a leg and went into labor, he said.

Once dispersed, the Sudanese were driven to a holding bay near the country's international airport in vans "so crammed, (they) were barely able to breathe." Although all the asylum seekers were in metal or plastic handcuffs, Jordanian security continued to beat them at the holding area, and the trauma caused another pregnant woman to go into labor, he said.

On Friday, they were put onto planes taking them back to Sudan. Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani denied the use of force against the refugees. U.N. spokeswoman Aoife McDonnell said they believe the majority of those deported were registered refugees. Exact numbers were not available but the U.N. is "concerned about their status and the fear and apprehension that will pervade the remaining community here," she said.

The agency says majority of some 3,500 Sudanese in Jordan are from the troubled Darfur region where they risk being persecuted. The U.N. had warned Jordan that the deportations violate international laws, but the Jordanian government said Friday that those deported had come under the pretext of seeking medical treatment and that asylum protection did not apply to them.

Some 120 Sudanese managed to escape the dispersal and are now on the run in Jordan. Doury said most of the Sudanese sent back were interrogated for at least two hours upon arrival in Khartoum and allowed to leave, but some have been detained indefinitely.

Doury said his wife, who is two months pregnant, was beaten in the break-up of the camp and now has pelvic and abdominal pain. "I am worried for the baby," he said, but added that they don't have money to see a doctor.

Being deported from Jordan may have given him and other asylum seekers the push they needed to brave the seas in search for a better life in Europe. "This is indescribably bad situation," he said. "We tried the legal way, so now a lot of people will be trying the illegal way."

Associated Press writers Sam McNeil and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Pakistan's ex-President Musharraf acquitted in murder case

January 18, 2016

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A court acquitted former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf Monday in a murder case involving the killing of a separatist leader, Akbar Bugti, who had died in a 2006 military operation in Baluchistan province, lawyers said.

An anti-terrorism court announced the verdict in the southwestern city of Quetta, Baluchistan's provincial capital. The court accepted the defense's argument that Musharraf had nothing to do with the killing, said his lawyer Akhtar Shah. He added that he had been pleading his client's innocence ever since the case was registered in 2009.

Musharraf's government in mid-2000s launched a crackdown on separatist insurgents in Baluchistan province and Bugti was killed in a raid in 2006. Separatists in the province want complete autonomy from Islamabad and have been fighting for a greater share of revenue from their region's natural resources.

The case against Musharraf was brought by Bugti's son, Jamil Bugti. Bugti's lawyer Sohail Rajput said he will appeal the verdict in a higher court. He alleged favoritism extended to the former military dictator due to his powerful background.

The 70-year-old Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup and then stepped down in 2008. He later left the country, but returned to Pakistan in March 2013, hoping for a political comeback. Instead, he got embroiled in court cases, including one involving treason charges, which are connected to his decision in 2007 to declare a state of emergency and detain senior judges, including the chief justice.

Musharraf, who was not in court Monday, has been released on bail pending all cases against him. He lives under tight security in the southern port city of Karachi.

Pakistan seeks closer military ties with Sri Lanka

Colombo (AFP)
Jan 5, 2016

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called Tuesday for closer military cooperation with Sri Lanka on an official visit to the island.

Pakistan was a key supplier of arms and aircraft for Sri Lanka's military in their battle against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war that ended in May 2009.

In talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sharif also expressed a desire for more naval exchanges.

"I conveyed our desire for more frequent port calls, participation in military exercises and defense seminars and training of military personnel," Pakistan's leader said in a statement following an official welcoming ceremony.

Sharif held talks with Wickremesinghe soon after his arrival on Monday and is due to fly back Wednesday after visiting the Buddhist pilgrim city of Kandy.

Sri Lanka sends its military officers for higher training to both Pakistan and its arch-rival India as well as to several other countries, including the United States and China.

The island's closest neighbor India withheld arms and ammunition during the height of Colombo's war with Tamil rebels, who have close cultural and religious links with the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Sharif said he was also keen to expand trade with Sri Lanka and was eager to invest in its sugar and cement industries.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pakistan_seeks_closer_military_ties_with_Sri_Lanka_999.html.

Syrian army defectors tell of regime ruthlessness

Beirut (AFP)
Oct 8, 2011

When the Syrian army raided his village in the central province of Homs and began shooting at unarmed civilians, Amin knew it was time to join the growing ranks of soldiers defecting to the opposition.

"I was off duty that day in June and I couldn't bear what I saw," the 25-year-old lieutenant told AFP, asking that his real name not be used.

"I decided then to send my parents and siblings to a safe area and I slipped across the border into Lebanon."

Several soldiers who have defected in recent months and fled to Lebanon gave similar harrowing tales, describing a "scorched earth" campaign by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its much feared "shabiha," or pro-government thugs, to crush the seven-month popular revolt.

The soldiers showed AFP their army ID cards as proof of their identity.

Amin said that on one occasion, soldiers burst into the house of a suspected activist in his village and shot the man's wife and daughter in the legs to force them to reveal his whereabouts.

"When the army carries out such operations, the shabiha are then given a free hand to loot and destroy," he said.

According to reports that cannot be confirmed -- as the Syrian government has restricted access to foreign journalists -- more and more soldiers are defecting, with some forming an underground group called the Free Syrian Army.

Apart from Lebanon, Turkey has also become a refuge for defectors.

Experts and diplomats say that while the phenomenon is not widespread, it indicates growing frustration over the regime's fierce crackdown against a mostly peaceful uprising that has left nearly 3,000 people dead.

The cities of Homs and nearby Rastan have become hubs for defectors who have joined the opposition.

"I defected before being faced with the dilemma of having to kill someone or being killed myself for not obeying orders," said Rami, who was with army intelligence and fled to Lebanon in June.

He described an army in which many soldiers are disillusioned with the regime and hesitate to shoot at demonstrators, but fear reprisals from their commanders.

The army top brass usually hail from the ruling Alawite community, while the rank and file are mostly from the majority Sunni Muslim community.

"Soldiers are kept under close watch by their superiors and once they come under suspicion they become the target themselves," said Rami, who, like others interviewed for this article, did not use his real name.

"When that happens, it's time to quickly pack the family and get out."

He said soldiers whose loyalty is questioned are placed on the front lines when the army raids a town.

"If you fail to shoot, then they kill you and tell your family that it was the work of an armed terrorist gang," said Rami, in his 40s.

Yussef, a frail-looking 20-year-old who fled to Lebanon in August, said his unit in Homs province would often be ordered to shoot at people even not taking part in a demonstration, just to sow terror.

"I saw with my own eyes an unarmed older farmer in a village in Homs province go by on a bicycle and we were ordered to shoot him in the back," he said emotionally. "He was left there to bleed all day.

"I have no idea why he was killed. He didn't represent a threat."

Yussef said members of his unit, known for not using up their ammunition, were sent on a mission once and told to fire all their bullets or else.

He also said security services often shoot at army units to uphold the regime's "tale" that armed terrorist groups are behind the uprising.

Maher, an activist who is among some 5,000 Syrians who have sought refuge in Lebanon, said the opposition in Homs has organised to assist defecting soldiers and offer them safe houses.

"If the international community really wants to protect the Syrian people without getting involved militarily, then it needs to supply these soldiers with ammunition," he said.

"And this needs to be done quickly before the regime carries out new massacres."

Amin, Rami and Yussef said they believe that as the Assad regime intensifies its brutal campaign, more and more soldiers will defect.

But they also fear being tracked down in Lebanon by Assad's men or by his supporters in Lebanon, where the government is dominated by the powerful militant group Hezbollah and its allies.

"I got out because I need to live with a clear conscience," said Amin. "I joined the army to protect my people and my land, to free the Golan, not Homs and Daraa."

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Syrian_army_defectors_tell_of_regime_ruthlessness_999.html.

Spanish town celebrates bizarre, turnip-throwing festival

January 20, 2016

PIORNAL, Spain (AP) — Hundreds of people have been running through the streets of a tiny town in southwestern Spain, chasing a fancy-dressed, beast-like figure and pelting it with turnips.

The event Wednesday was part of the bizarre 'Jarramplas' festival which is held in Piornal each Jan 19-20. Following the yearly tradition, a town volunteer donned a costume of multicolored ribbons and a protective devilish mask with horns. He then charged through the streets, beating a drum until he couldn't stand the punishment anymore.

Local farmers supplied some 18 tons of turnips for the festival. Its origins are uncertain but the local tourism office says the 'Jarramplas' figure represents a cattle thief. Others say it has religious roots.

The festival finished later Wednesday with musical and gastronomic celebrations.

Unrest for 2nd day: 7,000 hold anti-govt protest in Moldova

January 21, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — About 7,000 people held an anti-government protest Thursday in the Moldovan capital, a day after demonstrators stormed the legislature after it approved a new pro-European government.

Protesters gathered outside government offices and Parliament in Chisinau to protest Prime Minister Pavel Filip, the former technology minister and former candy factory manager, who presented his Cabinet of politicians and specialists to President Nicolae Timofti late Wednesday.

Scuffles broke out Wednesday between police and the protesters who stormed the Parliament and 15 people were injured, including nine police officers. On Thursday, protesters blocked a main artery in the capital as they staged a peaceful protest. Demonstrators shouted "Down with the government! We are the people!" and "Early elections!"

The vote by Parliament on Wednesday ended a three-month standoff between Timofti and Parliament, which the president would have dissolved had it not approved a new government by Jan. 29. The previous government was dismissed in late October over corruption allegations.

Some demonstrators who support opposition political parties want closer links to Russia. Others are demanding a crackdown on corruption and a thorough investigation into the $1.5 billion went missing from three banks prior to the November 2014 parliamentary election.

Moldova has been mired in political instability since 2014. Last year, Moldova had five prime ministers and there were weeks of protests about the missing money. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Thursday urged Moldova's government to undertake reforms.

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.

Protesters break into Moldova's Parliament

January 20, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Hundreds of protesters broke through police lines on Wednesday to storm Moldova's Parliament after it approved a new government to end months of deadlock between the president and the legislature. Six police officers were injured in the scuffles.

Before the vote, protesters massed outside Parliament waving the Moldovan flag and yelling "early elections" as lawmakers met. Afterward, their numbers swelled to thousands who scuffled with police officers before forcing their way into Parliament. They yelled "Cancel the vote!" and "Thieves!"

Police later pushed the protesters back but they forced their way into the legislature again. Police then sent in reinforcements and protesters were later forced out. Moldova, an impoverished former Soviet republic of about 4 million, has been locked in political turmoil since up to $1.5 billion went missing from three banks prior to the 2014 parliamentary elections. Weeks of protests in the fall of 2015 demanded a thorough inquiry into the missing money.

Some of the protesters Wednesday believe the new government is a compromise solution which will not tackle endemic corruption and undertake reforms, while others oppose a pro-European government and think Moldova should remain in Russia's orbit.

Police and demonstrators fired tear gas, radio reported, and protesters set fire to part of the fence surrounding Parliament. Some police officers were beaten by the demonstrators, six of whom were later treated for non-life threatening injuries at the Chisinau Municipal Emergency Hospital, said Eufalia Negreata, a doctor. The head of the pro-European Liberal Party Mihai Ghimpu who voted for the new government, was punched, but did not require hospital treatment.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini called for restraint and a dialogue between the sides and Romania's foreign ministry also appealed for calm. The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau called for authorities to meet with the protesters and treat the issues in a calm and transparent way.

Earlier, Parliament had approved the pro-European government of Pavel Filip, the previous technology minister and a former candy factory manager, with 57 votes. The pro-Russian opposition boycotted the vote.

As the session got underway, lawmakers from the Socialists' Party booed, blew whistles and blocked off part of the Parliament. In the end, Filip merely announced his Cabinet. He later said he was committed to Moldova joining the European Union. Moldova signed a political and trade association agreement with the EU in 2014, something Russia opposed.

Parliament had to approve a government by Jan. 29 or face being dissolved. Lawmakers dismissed the previous government in October amid corruption allegations.

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania also contributed to this report.

Hungary government sides with taxi drivers against Uber

January 20, 2016

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Hungarian government says it supports taxi drivers in their protest against ride-hailing apps like Uber.

Officials said Wednesday they would initiate talks with drivers to draft legislation aimed at unifying regulations for taxis and other passenger services, like Uber. Uber said in a statement that it welcomed the government's position about the need for "a new, modern regulatory framework" and also welcomed the opportunity to participate in the talks.

State Secretary Bence Tuzson, however, told Hungarian state news wire MTI that Uber would not be invited to the talks and that it could be banned if it did not respect the laws. Since Monday, dozens of taxi drivers have been blocking off several lanes of a key intersection in downtown Budapest demanding that authorities ban Uber.

Latvia marks 25th anniversary of resistance to Soviet rule

January 20, 2016

RIGA, Latvia (AP) — With flowers and torches, Latvians on Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of building barricades across the country to defend against Soviet attempts to quash the small Baltic nation's quest for independence.

Hundreds of people gathered in Riga's old town, where white-striped burgundy Latvian flags flapped from buildings and on rooftops of the freezing capital. They huddled next to bonfires at Cathedral Square and outside Parliament, where in 1991 sandbags were erected to ward off a feared attack by Soviet troops.

This time Latvian soldiers marched beside people holding torches and waving flags in the snowy afternoon. In 1991, more than 15,000 people across the country participated in erecting barricades, including former policeman Renars Zalais, who was wounded in an attack by elite Soviet commandos against the Latvian Interior Ministry. He said the real barricades "were the Latvian people themselves" who helped guarantee the country's independence, which it gained later that year.

Led by Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, officials and lawmakers, Latvians laid wreaths at the central Freedom Monument during Wednesday's solemn celebration. Some Latvians are wary of a new perceived threat as neighboring Russia has been increasing its military presence in the region — and violating Baltic airspace — since it annexed Crimea in 2014.

Andris Vitolins, an artist who painted slogans on barricades and buildings as a teenager, says he would not hesitate to protect his country again. "If we had a situation right now that we had to protect our country, I would come and join ... We have such a crazy neighbor (Russia), it would be just like defending your house or your apartment," he told The Associated Press. "If anyone wants to break in, then there is no other way but to fight."

Wednesday's gathering was part of a series of events this year in the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to commemorate the end in 1991 of nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation.

Associated Press writer Matti Huuhtanen, who reported on the events in Riga in 1991 for the AP, contributed to this story from Helsinki.

Israeli minister calls for independent Kurdistan

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has called for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported.

“We must openly call for the establishment of a Kurdish state that separates Iran from Turkey, one which will be friendly towards Israel,” Shaked said at the annual INSS security conference in Tel Aviv.

“We are witnessing the disintegration of nation-states. We Kurds and Jews have a long history. We have common interests in trying to stop the Islamic State. The Kurds are fighting Daesh with all their might,” she added.

Shaked stressed the need for Israel to build cultural, economic and political relations with the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey.

The minister said that Israel explicitly declares its support for “the aspirations of the Kurdish people in the autonomous territories in northern Syria and Iraq”, adding that “the Kurdish people are partners with the Israeli people”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23453-israeli-minister-calls-for-independent-kurdistan.

Iran: 'We have no intention of restoring relations with US'

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Iran has no intention to restore relations with the United States, adviser of the Iranian Shura Council Chairman Hussein Shaykh Al-Islam said, noting that there are mediators seeking to normalize Iranian-Saudi relations, the Anadolu Agency reported.

Al-Islam said that the reason that Iran does not want to restore relations with the US is that there are “very big problems between the two countries.” He described these problems as “bigger than the nuclear issue.”

Relations between Washington and Tehran severed at the end of the 1970s after a number of university students stormed the American embassy in Tehran in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.

On 16 January, the EU and the US lifted economic sanctions placed on Iran due to its nuclear program. This came as a result of a commitment by Tehran to the demands of the nuclear agreement reached on 14 July 2015.

Regarding relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Al-Islam said: “Saudi Arabia is our neighbor and it severed the ties, not us,” noting that there are “initiatives being done by a number of countries, including Pakistan and China to normalize our mutual relations.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23456-iran-we-have-no-intention-of-restoring-relations-with-us.