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Friday, February 12, 2016

Al-Qaeda seizes south Yemen town on key highway

Feb. 01, 2016

Agence France Presse

ADEN, Yemen: Al-Qaeda fighters have taken control of a town in southern Yemen on a major road linking two provincial capitals, a local official and tribal chiefs said Monday.

Militants swept unopposed into Azzan, in Shabwa province, before raising the Al-Qaeda flag over public buildings, the sources said.

"The state is absent and it is not surprising that this vacuum is filled by Al-Qaeda," a local official told AFP.

Azzan lies on the highway between Shabwa province capital Ataq and the city of Mukalla, the capital of the vast desert Hadramawt province overrun by jihadists in April.

According to tribal chiefs, most of the fighters who seized Azzan come from the surrounding area.

Yemen, home to what the United States considers Al-Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate, has been convulsed by unrest since the Iran-backed Houthis seized Sanaa in September last year.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has exploited the turmoil to tighten its grip on parts of southeast Yemen, including Mukalla, imposing a strict form of Islamic law.

AQAP fighters briefly seized the southern town of Jaar in December in what analysts said was a "show of force" to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Islamist militants, including AQAP and the ISIS group, have also gained ground in and around the main southern city of Aden, where Hadi's government has established its temporary headquarters.

Source: The Daily Star.
Link: https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Feb-01/334964-al-qaeda-seizes-southern-yemeni-town.ashx.

UN announces end of Yemen peace talks amid new fighting

December 20, 2015

BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Peace talks between Yemen's warring sides came to an end on Sunday as fierce fighting wracked the country and the United Nations blamed "numerous violations" of a cease-fire agreement.

Speaking at a news conference in Bern, U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the talks between the internationally recognized government and Shiite rebels were hindered by violations of the truce that went into effect last Tuesday.

"There was noticeable progress but not enough to reunite Yemen ... unfortunately there were numerous violations (of the cease-fire)," he told reporters, adding that the two sides had agreed on a framework for further negotiations on Jan. 14 at a venue to be determined.

"It's very clear that unfortunately, the cease-fire that was agreed upon as I said earlier wasn't respected, and in some cases was violated from the first hours, even of these talks," he said. Both sides broke the cease-fire during the peace negotiations that began Tuesday in the Swiss village of Macolin.

The Yemen conflict pits the internationally recognized government backed by a Saudi-led, U.S.-supported coalition against the rebels, known as Houthis, who are allied with a former president and backed by Iran. Local affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos to grab land and exercise influence.

On Saturday, fierce fighting and airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition pounded the country's north. More than 40 rebels and 35 government troops were killed in the three days to Saturday, Yemeni security officials and witnesses said, speaking anonymously since they were not authorized to brief reporters.

According to U.N. figures, the war in Yemen has killed at least 5,884 people since March, when fighting escalated after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels.

Yemen rebels halt peace talks in Switzerland, set conditions

December 18, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni peace talks in Switzerland were halted on Friday after the country's Shiite rebel delegation suspended all meetings with the internationally recognized government in protest over its cease-fire violations, members of Yemen's two warring sides told The Associated Press.

The rebels, known as Houthis, said they would not resume talks unless the U.N. condemned the breaches by government forces of the week-long truce, the delegates said. Houthi fighters have also ignored the cease-fire agreement.

But the United Nations, which is mediating the talks, cast doubts on the alleged suspension. "In my latest meeting with the heads of delegations, they all renewed their commitment for a ceasefire," the U.N. special envoy for the country, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, tweeted Friday evening.

The deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq, told the AP that the U.N. had no confirmation of any suspension of talks and that Ahmed "remains in touch with the parties." The U.N. later said Ahmed "held several sessions with the participants on the fourth day of the peace talks." Its statement also said Ahmed was "deeply concerned at reports of violations of the cessation of hostilities announced earlier today."

The U.N. has urged all factions in the conflict to end the violence and is pressing to keep the talks going. The Houthis appeared to be tactically stalling to avoid meeting their obligations under a deal reached with the government a day earlier, government delegates told the AP.

On Thursday, the Houthis agreed to permit the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries into the besieged city of Taiz and to exchange prisoners, including the government's Defense Minister Mahmoud al-Sabahi — concessions they were reluctant to make.

The war in Yemen pits the Houthis and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against pro-government forces, which are backed by a U.S.-supported, Saudi-led coalition, as well as southern separatists, religious extremists and other militants.

The peace negotiations began Tuesday at the Swiss Olympic House in the village of Macolin, a training center for elite athletes. Police armed with automatic weapons patrolled outside the facility, which was cordoned off with metal barriers requiring journalists to keep about 50 meters (yards) away.

The U.N. mediator has sought to keep a lid on communications about the goings-on inside — with mixed results. Officials have never fully acknowledged the location of the talks, and Ahmad Fawzi, a U.N. spokesman in Geneva, has said participants signed a "non-disclosure" agreement pledging not to speak to the media until they were over.

On the ground, fighters from both sides are refusing to respect the cease-fire, security officials neutral in the conflict said. A member of the Houthi delegation said that U.N. envoy Ahmed had "promised to condemn the government and then he did not."

"They are using the cease-fire as an excuse although they were the first to break it," a government delegate said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. __ Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Probe violence against Coptic Christians, HRW says

Oct. 11, 2011

NEW YORK, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- The death toll from attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt highlights the need for an impartial investigation by independent authorities, a rights group said.

Coptic Christians demonstrating against the burning of a church in Aswan province were fired on by Egyptian military police. Reports indicate at least 200 people were injured and Human Rights Watch said at least 17 were killed when they were run over by military vehicles.

The rights group called for a swift and transparent investigation into the weekend violence, including an examination into the role of military and police in the clashes that followed the demonstrations.

"Time and again since February, the Egyptian military has used excessive force in responding to protests," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "The high death toll from the clashes on (Sunday) shows the urgent need for thorough investigations that lead to accountability and better protection for the Coptic community."

Stork's group said an independent panel should probe the violence because military authorities don't have a solid track record in examining past human rights abuses.

The ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces is facing growing frustrating with the pace at which it is ushering in new political reforms.

SCAF took control after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign during the country's revolution in February. More than 20 people were killed in Alexandria when a Coptic Christian church was bombed New Year's Day.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/10/11/Probe-violence-against-Coptic-Christians-HRW-says/UPI-51681318354086/.

Germany, Turkey vow diplomatic effort to end Aleppo violence

February 08, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — As tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing violence massed at Turkey's border, Turkish and German leaders pledged Monday to redouble diplomatic efforts to end the fighting around the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo and prevent more refugees making their way into Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after talks with Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, that she was "not just appalled but horrified" by the suffering caused by the bombing in Syria, primarily by Russia.

Merkel said Turkey and Germany would push at the United Nations for all sides to adhere to a U.N. resolution passed in December that calls for an immediate halt to attacks on civilians in Syria. Merkel was in Ankara for talks on how to reduce the influx of migrants into Europe, mostly via a perilous boat crossing from Turkey to Greece. Turkey's coast guard said Monday that another 27 migrants had died after their boat capsized in the Bay of Edremit while trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.

Her visit came after a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive around Aleppo sent up to 35,000 Syrians fleeing toward the border with Turkey in recent days. Turkey has taken in 2.5 million Syrian refugees since the conflict began, and authorities say the country has reached its capacity to absorb refugees. The border crossing remained closed for a fourth day on Monday and aid groups continued to provide assistance to the Syrians massed at a displaced persons camp nearby.

Syrian army troops meanwhile, recaptured another village north of Aleppo on Monday, bringing troops and allied militiamen to within a few miles (kilometers) of the Turkish border. Aleppo "is de facto under siege. We are on the verge of a new human tragedy," Davutoglu said.

"No one should excuse or show tolerance toward the Russian air attacks that amount to ethnic massacres by saying, 'Turkey takes care of the Syrian refugees anyway,'" Davutoglu said. "No one can expect Turkey to take on the burden on its own."

Added Merkel: "We have been, in the past few days, not just appalled but horrified by what has been caused in the way of human suffering for tens of thousands of people by bombing — primarily from the Russian side."

"Under such circumstances, it's hard for peace talks to take place, and so this situation must be brought to an end quickly," Merkel said. Hussein Bakri, an official in the interim government set up by the Syrian opposition, said more than 70,000 people had been displaced from Aleppo and urged the international community to "shoulder the responsibility of protecting the Syrian people by stopping the Russian bombing."

"If the situation continues like this, it will lead to the displacement of up to 400,000 people from Aleppo province and from Aleppo city," Bakri said. "It is clear that the Russians are aiming for the encirclement and to lay siege to Aleppo as has happened in other parts of Syria."

The EU has urged Turkey to open its border and let in the thousands fleeing the Aleppo onslaught. But Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said after a Cabinet meeting on Monday that Turkey's priority is to keep the fleeing Syrians within the borders of their country "and provide them with assistance there."

Merkel and Davutoglu said Germany and Turkey would work together to provide aid to the refugees at the border. Another top Turkish government official reacted angrily to the EU pressure on Turkey to open its doors to the Syrian refugees, yet seal them for migrants trying to leave Turkey and reach the EU via the water crossing into Greece.

"On the one hand they say 'Open your borders, take everyone in,' and on the other hand they say, 'Close your border, don't let anyone through,'" Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said. "Why don't you take them in?"

At the Turkish border gate of Oncupinar, opposite Syria's Bab al-Salameh crossing, several dozen Syrian refugees waited on Monday in the hope that it would be opened so that their friends or family could cross into Turkey.

"If Aleppo falls, people will come out in the millions to Turkey wearing nothing but the clothes on their backs," said Aleppo native Yasser, who declined to give his surname out of concerns for his safety. "We thank Turkey because they have stood with us more than our Arab brothers but we ask that this border gate be opened in both directions."

Turkish officials have not offered a reason for keeping the border closed but aid workers said that opening the gate would spur more arrivals. "We are worried that opening the gates will lead to an increase in refugees," said Burak Kacacaoglu, a spokesman for the non-governmental Islamic charity group, Humanitarian Relief Foundation. "We are concerned about the airstrikes which are increasingly targeting civilian areas. This is what causes refugees."

The deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria was further highlighted by a United Nations report on Monday that said thousands of detainees held by the Syrian government have been executed, beaten to death or otherwise left to die on a scale that amounts to "extermination" under international law. The U.N.-backed Commission of Inquiry on Syria called for "targeted sanctions" against high-ranking Syrian officials responsible for such crimes, but did not name any suspects. It also documented mass executions by the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.

Moulson reported from Berlin. Dominique Soguel in Kilis, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Al-Qaeda tightens its grip on south Yemen coast

Feb. 08, 2016

Agence France Presse

ADEN, Yemen: Al-Qaeda overran a police headquarters in a south Yemen provincial capital Saturday, strengthening their grip on the coast road overlooking the Gulf of Aden, security sources said.

Militants, who hold parts of the lawless south of the war-torn country, seized the headquarters in Zinjibar unopposed by pro-government forces who fled the capital of Abyan province, the sources told AFP.

Militants have controlled other government buildings in Zinjibar for weeks and also have a large presence in the nearby town of Jaar.

Also Saturday, a Saudi patrol was hit in the southwestern region of Assir, killing the soldier, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

Later in the day, the southwestern city of Najran was struck, leaving dead a foreign resident, a civil defense spokesman said in a statement on SPA.

About 90 civilians and soldiers have died from shelling and skirmish along the border since March, when the Arab-led military coalition began air and ground action on Yemeni territory.

Earlier this week, Al-Qaeda seized the town of Azzan in neighboring Shabwa province.

They have also seized the towns of Shoqra and Ahwar, giving them complete control of the coast road between their stronghold city of Mukalla in the southeast and the city of Zinjibar.

Zinjibar is only about 50 kilometers from Yemen’s key southern city Aden, the government’s temporary home after the capital Sanaa fell to the Houthi rebels in September 2014.

The security sources also said that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has named Tawfiq Belaidi, brother of Jalal Belaidi who was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike Thursday, as the “emir [ruler] of Zinjibar.”

The U.S. State Department said Jalal Belaidi was a regional AQAP emir responsible for multiple provinces in Yemen.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information on Belaidi over his alleged involvement in plotting bomb attacks on Western diplomatic officials and facilities in Sanaa in 2013.

The U.S. has kept up strikes on militants during months of fighting between pro-government forces and the Houthi rebels who control large parts of Yemen.

Loyalists backed by a Saudi-led coalition have recaptured Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Shabwa, and Daleh from the rebels since July.

But the Saudi-led coalition has so far not targeted militants including AQAP and Daesh (ISIS), who have gained ground in the south, attacking government officials and clashing with loyalist forces.

Source: The Daily Star.
Link: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Feb-08/336136-al-qaeda-tightens-its-grip-on-south-yemen-coast.ashx.

Kurdish fighters capture military air base in northern Syria

February 11, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — An opposition activist group and a rebel say Kurdish fighters and their allies have captured a military air base in northern Syria.

Abdul-Jabbar Abu Thabet, a local rebel commander in the Aleppo province, said Thursday that Mannagh air base fell to the People's Protection Units, or YPG, and their allies after fierce battles. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the offensive came as warplanes believed to be Russian carried out 30 airstrikes in the area. It said the air base and a nearby village, also called Mannagh, fell late Wednesday.

With Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes waging a major offensive between the northern city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, the Kurds appeared to be exploiting the chaos to expand their nearby enclave, known as Afrin.

Seoul cuts off power supplies to factory park in North Korea

February 12, 2016

PAJU, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals.

It is the latest in an escalating standoff over North Korea's recent rocket launch that Seoul, Washington and their allies view as a banned test of missile technology. The North says its actions on the Kaesong complex were a response to Seoul's earlier decision to suspend operations as punishment for the launch.

On Thursday night, the 280 South Korean workers who had been at the park crossed the border into South Korea, several hours after a deadline set by the North passed. Their departure quashed concerns that some might be held hostage, and lowered the chances that the standoff might lead to violence or miscalculations.

But they weren't allowed to bring back any finished products and equipment at their factories because the North announced it will freeze all South Korean assets there. The North also said it was closing an inter-Korean highway linking to Kaesong and shutting down two cross-border communication hotlines.

"I was told not to bring anything but personal goods, so I've got nothing but my clothes to take back," a manager at a South Korean apparel company at the complex, who declined to give his name, told The Associated Press by phone before he crossed to the South.

Chang Beom Kang, who has been running an apparel company in Kaesong since 2009, said from South Korea that his company has about 920 North Korean workers — who didn't show up Thursday — and seven South Korean managers at Kaesong.

He said one of his workers, who entered Kaesong earlier Thursday, was about to cross the border to return to South Korea with thousands of women's clothes produced at the factory. But at the last minute the employee had to drive back to the factory to unload the clothes because of North Korea's announcement that it would freeze all South Korean assets there.

"I'm devastated now," Kang said by phone, saying he's worried about losing credibility with clients because of the crisis. Seoul's Unification Ministry said in a statement Friday that it had stopped power transmissions to the factory park. Ministry officials said the suspension subsequently led to a halt of water supplies to Kaesong.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said the North Korean action was "very regrettable" and warned the North not to damage South Korean assets in Kaesong. The South Korean government said Friday it will extend loans, provide low-interest loans, and defer taxes and utility bills for the companies forced out of Kaesong. Many of the companies now have to find new jobs for their employees who normally work in Kaesong and build new production lines so they can keep supplying their buyers.

The current standoff flared after North Korea carried out a nuclear test last month, followed by the long-range rocket launch on Sunday that came after Seoul had warned of serious consequences. In one of its harshest possible punishment options, South Korea on Thursday began work to suspend operations at the factory park. Seoul said its decision on Kaesong was an effort to stop North Korea from using hard currency earned from the park to pay for its nuclear and missile programs.

The North's reaction was swift. The country's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement later Thursday that the South's shutdown of Kaesong was a "dangerous declaration of war" and a "declaration of an end to the last lifeline of North-South relations."

Such over-the-top rhetoric is typical of the North's propaganda, but the country appeared to be backing up its language with its strong response. The statement included crude insults against South Korean President Park Geun-hye, saying she masterminded the shutdown and calling her a "confrontational wicked woman" who lives upon "the groin of her American boss." Such sexist language is also typical of North Korean propaganda.

North Korea has previously cut off cross-border communication channels in times of tension with South Korea, but they were later restored after animosities eased. North Korea, in a fit of anger over U.S.-South Korean military drills, pulled its workers from Kaesong for about five months in 2013. But, generally, the complex has been seen as above the constant squabbling and occasional bloodshed between the rival Koreas, one of the last few bright spots in a relationship more often marked by threats of war.

Park, the South Korean president, has now done something her conservative predecessor resisted, even after two attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010. She has shown a willingness to take quick action when provoked by the North. When North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test last month, for instance, she resumed anti-Pyongyang propaganda from loudspeakers along the border, despite what Seoul says was an exchange of cross-border artillery fire the last time she used the speakers.

A group of people braved the rain for hours on the southern side of a cross-border bridge on Thursday anxiously waiting for their family members and co-workers to return to South Korea. "I don't think I want my husband to ever work in Kaesong again," commented a woman who declined to give her name but said her husband was a manager at Taesung, a maker of cosmetics products.

"Whenever the North does something provocative, we worry about our loved ones," she said. The factory park, which started producing goods in 2004, has provided 616 billion won ($560 million) in cash to North Korea, South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said.

Combining South Korean initiative, capital and technology with the North's cheap labor, the industrial park has been seen as a test case for reunification between the Koreas. Last year, 124 South Korean companies hired 54,000 North Korean workers to produce socks, wristwatches and other goods worth about $500 million.

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim, Youkyung Lee and Foster Klug in Seoul, South Korea, and Kim Tong-hyung in Paju contributed to this report.

Ireland slams threats to reporters covering Dublin gang war

February 11, 2016

DUBLIN (AP) — Two reporters covering the Dublin gang war have received death threats from criminals because of their work, but they won't be deterred from exposing Ireland's underworld, the country's largest newspaper group said Thursday.

"This is an outrageous threat to the freedom of the press in Ireland and we are taking the threats with the utmost seriousness," said Stephen Rae, editor-in-chief of Independent News and Media, which owns more than a dozen newspapers in Ireland.

Independent News and Media declined to identify the two reporters whose lives are being threatened by criminals angered by their coverage of the past week's tit-for-tat gun attacks in Dublin. Those shootings left two men dead and two wounded and spurred police to mount armed road checkpoints. Nobody has yet been charged in the attacks.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny and other Irish leaders condemned the threats. "In any self-respecting society, journalists must be afforded the freedom to go about their jobs without fear of reprisal," Kenny said.

The newspaper group's Dublin-based titles — the Independent, Evening Herald and Sunday World — are noted for their aggressive coverage of Ireland's crime scene. Thursday's reported threats come nearly 20 years after a crime reporter for the group's Sunday Independent newspaper, Veronica Guerin, was shot to death by members of a Dublin drug-trafficking gang that she was investigating. Her killing inspired a crackdown on gang crime and two Hollywood films.

Ireland's National Union of Journalists urged reporters covering the current conflict "to remain vigilant and mindful of their personal safety." Crime analysts say the feud pits henchmen loyal to Christy "The Dapper Don" Kinahan against those loyal to Gerry "The Monk" Hutch. It has grown since September, when one of Hutch's nephews was killed by the Kinahan cartel in its Spanish power base — followed by a failed attempt on Hutch himself on New Year's Eve in the Canary Islands.

On Friday, gunmen attacked a Dublin boxing weigh-in ceremony that several Kinahan lieutenants, including his son Daniel, had traveled from Spain to attend. Daniel Kinahan was not shot but three other men linked to the Kinahan gang were, one fatally.

Three nights later, gunmen presumed to be Kinahan supporters killed Hutch's brother Eddie in the hallway of his Dublin home.

French govt reshuffle makes Ayrault the new foreign minister

February 11, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, a low-key veteran of the Socialist Party much acquainted with German culture, will become France's new foreign minister.

Ayrault, 66, replaces Laurent Fabius in a government reshuffling announced Thursday by French President Francois Hollande's office. Fabius, who helped clinch a landmark climate accord in Paris last year and played a prominent role in negotiations on a nuclear accord with Iran, is going to become chief of the Constitutional Council, France's top court which makes sure that legislation complies with the constitution.

A few green party members are joining the government as well in an apparent effort to quell tensions within Hollande's camp ahead of next year's presidential election. Other leading ministerial positions are unchanged, including Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron. The French government now counts 18 ministers and 20 junior ministers in addition to Prime Minister Manuel Valls and as many women as men.

"This is a government that must act, that must reform, that must move forward," Hollande told the TF1 and France 2 TV channels, refusing to say if he will stand for re-election next year. "We must have results."

He said he chose Ayrault for his experience and knowledge of international issues. Ayrault was Hollande's first prime minister from 2012 to 2014. He is generally considered a hard worker, discreet and even shy. He is a former teacher of German, a skill considered a key advantage in conducting French-German diplomatic relations.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he's "glad" that Ayrault, "a French politician closely linked to Germany" is Fabius' successor. Not everyone cheered the move. The No. 2 of the far-right National Front party, Florian Philippot, told iTele television that Ayrault's appointment was a symbol of France's "submission" to Germany.

When Ayrault left the government in 2014 to be replaced by Valls, his unpopularity was approaching a record high. He notably failed to boost France's stagnant economy or to lower the unemployment rate. Since 2014, he has been a lawmaker at France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, a position he previously held from 1986 to 2012.

In other governmental moves, Environment Minister Segolene Royal saw her position extended to international relations on climate issues. The head of the green party EELV, Emmanuelle Cosse, got the housing ministry. Members of another green party named "Ecologists" are also joining the government as junior ministers.

Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin was replaced by Audrey Azoulay, previously adviser to Hollande on culture and communication issues. The president's office also stressed that a junior minister put in charge of "helping victims," Juliette Meadel, was the result of last year's deadly attacks in Paris.

Cyprus president: peace talks headway on governance, economy

February 11, 2016

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Peace talks aimed at reunifying ethnically split Cyprus have made significant progress on how power will be shared with breakaway Turkish Cypriots and how the economy will function under a federation, the country's president said Thursday.

Briefing lawmakers at a special parliamentary session, Nicos Anastasiades said he and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have also agreed after nine months of negotiations on the legal ways to deal with property lost during Turkey's 1974 invasion that followed a coup aiming at union with Greece.

He said a population ratio of four Greek Cypriots to one Turkish Cypriot will remain constant and will be reflected in the makeup of the lower house of Parliament. A 40-member upper chamber, or senate, will be composed of an equal number of Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Anastasiades said a property committee will decide whether owners can either fully or partially reclaim their property, be given property elsewhere, exchange the property, receive monetary compensation or a combination of those events. Courts will adjudicate cases were owners aren't satisfied.

Citizens will have the right to work, live and own property in either constituent state, Anastasiades said, while courts will have an equal number of Greek and Turkish Cypriot judges. The euro will be the country's official currency from day one of reunification and the country will have one central bank.

The Cypriot president said differences remain — including a Turkish Cypriot insistence on a rotating presidency. Another key issue that's unclear is how much territory will fall under Greek or Turkish jurisdiction.

Greek Cypriots also staunchly reject military intervention rights accorded to Turkey under Cyprus' existing constitution. Anastasiades said no European Union member state can be subject to any such rights ceded to another country.

The Cypriot president also signaled to Turkey that without its support for a deal, it won't fulfill its ambitions to become a regional energy hub and join the European Union, which Cyprus joined in 2004. A deal would also improve EU-NATO relations, he added.

Anastasiades said more time was needed to produce an accord "that won't be subject to misinterpretation." A clear-cut deal is seen as essential to gain support from both Greek and Turkish Cypriots who, if an agreement is reached, will vote on it in separate referendums.

"The aimed-for solution must be a product of an honorable compromise that will create conditions of mutual respect and won't permit the imposition of the minority over the majority and naturally vice versa," said Anastasiades.

Anastasiades spent a sizeable portion of his speech rebuffing critics who either oppose or have expressed serious misgivings with the federal model under negotiation, which they fear could legitimate the island's ethnic divisions and strip Greek Cypriots of rights.

Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in the island's northern third in 1983. The state is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains more than 40,000 troops there.

Nigerian suicide bomber gets cold feet, refuses to kill

February 12, 2016

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Strapped with a booby-trapped vest and sent by the extremist Boko Haram group to kill as many people as possible, the young teenage girl tore off the explosives and fled as soon as she was out of sight of her handlers.

Her two companions, however, completed their grisly mission and walked into a crowd of hundreds at Dikwa refugee camp in northeast Nigeria and blew themselves up, killing 58 people. Later found by local self-defense forces, the girl's tearful account is one of the first indications that at least some of the child bombers used by Boko Haram are aware that they are about to die and kill others.

"She said she was scared because she knew she would kill people. But she was also frightened of going against the instructions of the men who brought her to the camp," said Modu Awami, a self-defense fighter who helped question the girl.

She was among thousands held captive for months by the extremists, according to Algoni Lawan, a spokesman for the Ngala local government area that has many residents at the camp and who is privy to information about her interrogation by security forces.

"She confessed to our security operatives that she was worried if she went ahead and carried out the attack that she might kill her own father, who she knew was in the camp," he told the AP on Thursday.

The girl tried to persuade her companions to abandon the mission, he said, "but she said she could not convince the two others to change their minds." Her story was corroborated when she led soldiers to the unexploded vest, Awami said Thursday, speaking by phone from the refugee camp, which holds 50,000 people who have fled Boko Haram's Islamic uprising.

The girl is in custody and has given officials information about other planned bombings that has helped them increase security at the camp, said Satomi Ahmed, chairman of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency.

The United States on Thursday strongly condemned the bombings. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. remains committed to assisting those afflicted by the conflict and supports efforts to provide greater protection for civilians and the regional fight against terrorism.

Boko Haram's 6-year-old Islamic insurgency has killed 20,000 people, made 2.5 million homeless and spread across Nigeria's borders. The extremists have kidnapped thousands of people and the increasing number of suicide bombings by girls and children have raised fears they are turning some captives into weapons. An army bomb disposal expert has told the AP that some suicide bombs are detonated remotely, so the carriers may not have control over when the bomb goes off.

Even two days later, it's difficult to say exactly how many people died at Dikwa because there were corpses and body parts everywhere, including in the cooking pots, Awami said. "Women, children, men and aged persons all died," he said. "I cannot say the exact number as some cannot be counted because the bodies were all mangled."

The latest atrocity blamed on Boko Haram extremists was committed against people who had been driven from the homes by the insurgents and had spent a year across the border in Cameroon. Some 12,000 of them had only returned to Nigeria in January when soldiers declared the area safe. The scene of the killings is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the border with Cameroon and 85 kilometers (53 miles) northeast of Maiduguri, the biggest city in the northeast and birthplace of Boko Haram.

Such attacks make it difficult for the government to persuade people to return home. The extremists have also razed homes and businesses, destroyed wells and boreholes and stolen livestock and seed grains that farmers need to start their life again.

Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria