DDMA Headline Animator

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

UN aid official decries lack of attention given to Yemen war

February 19, 2016

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian agency's coordinator for Yemen has decried the lack of attention that has been given to the war in the Arab world's poorest country. Jamie McGoldrick says "civilians are the losers" and that the fighting in Yemen is being "overlooked" amid greater attention on Syria's war.

His remarks came on Friday as he detailed a $1.8 billion funding appeal for Yemen this year by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. He says most of that money would go toward food assistance for nearly 7.6 million people in Yemen.

The U.N. estimates at least 6,000 people have died in a nearly year-long conflict pitting the government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels allied with an ex-president.

Turkmen demand representation in new Iraqi cabinet

Sunday, 03 April 2016

Turkmen lawmakers on Saturday demanded to be represented in Iraq’s new cabinet, saying that a lack of representation will create “crises.”

“During our meeting with the prime minister and the leaders of political blocs, we did not sense any desire to enlist a Turkmen figure among the cabinet’s candidates,” Arshad Salehi, a Turkmen MP, said during a press conference at the parliament.

Salehi, who was joined by other Turkmen MPs, also said that the Turkmen community has qualified candidates that the government should consider.

Turkmen are represented by nine MPs and had only held one ministerial post (Ministry of Human Rights) in the past. That ministry was later canceled by Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi.

Meanwhile, Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, said in a separate press conference that the prime minister of the new government needs to be “independent.”

The Iraqi parliament set 10 days before voting on Al-Abadi’s new proposed cabinet.

On Thursday, prominent Shia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr announced the end to sit-ins organized by his supporters in front of the Green Zone in central Baghdad.

Al-Sadr’s move came after Al-Abadi submitted his new cabinet line-up to parliament. Al-Sadr had warned that his bloc in parliament would vote to withdraw confidence from Al-Abadi if the latter failed to appoint a new government.

Al-Sadr’s “Ahrar” bloc holds 34 seats in the 328-seat body.

Last summer, Iraq’s parliament approved a sweeping raft of reforms proposed by Al-Abadi.

The reforms were aimed at meeting popular demands to eliminate government corruption and streamline state bureaucracy.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24810-turkmen-demand-representation-in-new-iraqi-cabinet.

Iraq PM pushes back against deadline for new cabinet

Baghdad (AFP)
March 29, 2016

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called Tuesday for parliament to support or reject his calls for a technocratic government, pushing back against a looming deadline for a new cabinet line-up.

"It is not wise to present a ministerial line-up that faces rejection by parliament," Abadi said in televised remarks, calling on lawmakers to clarify their position.

Parliament must decide if it wants him "to present ministers from the political blocs or to present technocratic ministers from outside the blocs," said Abadi.

Abadi has repeatedly called for the current cabinet of party-affiliated ministers to be replaced with technocrats, but has faced resistance from powerful blocs and their ministers who rely on ministries for patronage and financial gain.

Lawmakers voted to give the embattled premier until Thursday to present a new cabinet line-up, with the speaker's office terming it "the final deadline".

With his remarks on Tuesday, the premier apparently aimed to put the onus back on parliament, leaving it up to lawmakers to act so the process can move forward.

Abadi is also under pressure from powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose has orchestrated an 11-day sit-in at entrances to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where the government is headquartered.

Sadr had warned his supporters would storm the Green Zone if Abadi failed to present a line-up of technocrats.

But buying Abadi a little more time, Sadr entered the Green Zone alone on Sunday, asking his supporters to remain outside the perimeter.

Iraq withdrew significant forces involved in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group, which overran large areas in 2014, in order to increase security in Baghdad during the protests, according to military officers.

Abadi implicitly called for Sadr's sit-in to end on security grounds, saying the country's forces were under "major pressure".

"We call on all our people and their political forces to consider that and reduce the pressure on the armed forces," the premier said.

The scion of an influential clerical family from the holy city of Najaf, Sadr first made a name for himself at the age of 30 as a vociferous anti-American cleric who raised a rebellion.

His influence ebbed after the 2011 US pullout but he retained strong support among the lower classes and is now casting himself as the champion of the fight against graft.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iraq_PM_pushes_back_against_deadline_for_new_cabinet_999.html.

Russian sappers with robots to clear mines in Palmyra

March 31, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian combat engineers arrived Thursday in Syria on a mission to clear mines in the ancient town of Palmyra, which has been recaptured from Islamic State militants in an offensive that has proven Russia's military might in Syria despite a drawdown of its warplanes.

The Defense Ministry said the sapper units were airlifted to Syria with equipment including state-of-the art robotic devices to defuse mines at the 2,000-year-old archaeological site. Russian television stations showed Il-76 transport planes with the engineers landing before dawn at the Russian air base in Syria.

Sunday's recapture of Palmyra by Syrian troops under the cover of Russian airstrikes was an important victory over Islamic State militants who operated a 10-month reign of terror there. Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff said Russian military advisers had helped plan and direct the Syrian army's operation to recapture Palmyra.

He said Russian warplanes had flown about 500 combat missions from March 7 to March 27, striking 2,000 targets around Palmyra, including artillery positions and fortifications. The Russian jets also hit IS militants as they tried to flee toward their strongholds of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour, Rudskoi added.

The high number of sorties flown in support of the offensive on Palmyra demonstrated Russia's ability to provide strong backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad's military despite a partial pullout of Russian combat jets from Syria earlier this month. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the drawdown should help the Syria peace talks that began in Geneva, but he has vowed to continue fighting IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

A Russian- and U.S.-brokered cease-fire in Syria that began on Feb. 27 has largely held, but the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front have been excluded from it. Rudskoi said the truce helped the Syrian military intensify its operations against those two rebel groups.

While some Russian warplanes were sent back home after a heavy-duty service in the air campaign that began on Sept. 30, the Russian military have deployed new weapons at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, the heartland of Assad's Alawite minority. The Russians tested their latest helicopter gunship, the Mi-28, for the first time in combat.

Rudskoi emphasized that the Russian jets used precision weapons to avoid any damage to Palmyra's archaeological treasures. He said Russian sapper teams will now have to search more than 180 hectares (445 acres) of both historic and residential areas in Palmyra for mines. He added the job is even more difficult because, along with standard military mines, the area is littered with a large number of booby traps and other self-made explosive devices.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Thursday urged other nations to join the effort of clearing Palmyra from mines. Rudskoi emphasized that the seizure of Palmyra had strategic importance due to its location at the junction of major highways.

"The restoration of the Syrian army's control over Palmyra will make it significantly more difficult for the bandit groups to regroup and move their resources between Syria's northern and southern regions, and it will also significantly weaken their capability around Damascus and Aleppo," he said.

He added that losing areas rich in natural resources will hurt rebels' ability to buy weapons and ammunition and pay their forces. The operation to recapture Palmyra highlighted Russian military deployments to the front lines to assist the air power.

Russian television stations showed reports Thursday about Alexander Prokhorenko, a Russian military officer who helped direct Russian airstrikes around Palmyra. He died when he was surrounded by IS militants.

Prokhorenko became the fifth serviceman killed in action in Syria, according to Russian statements. A Russian pilot whose plane was downed by Turkey in November was shot dead as he was parachuting down, a marine was killed on a mission to rescue the pilot's crewmate, a military adviser serving alongside the Syrian army died in shelling by militants and another soldier was killed on a reconnaissance mission. One soldier at the Russian base killed himself, officials said.

A senior tank officer and several artillery officers were among the Russian servicemen whom Putin recently awarded with medals for their valor in Syria.

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Jordan arrests Syrian Islamist activist


AMMONNEWS - Two Syrian political asylum seekers sheltering in Jordan say authorities here have arrested a Syrian Islamist activist.

They say Abdul-Salam al-Shuqairi was seized by Jordanian security six days ago from his shelter near the northern Jordanian-Syrian border.

They said Wednesday they did not know the reason behind the arrest.

Jordanian government officials declined comment. The refugees spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by Jordanian security.

Al-Shuqairi, 37, is a native of the restive southern Syrian town of Daraa, where the uprising began. He escaped to Jordan a month ago and was staying with 185 other Syrian refugees in a northern shelter.

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=14118.

Militia-backed Tripoli administration cedes power to Libyan unity government

April 6, 2016

TRIPOLI // The authorities in Libya’s capital announced late on Tuesday that they were ceding power to a UN-backed unity government in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed.

“We inform you that we are ceasing the activities entrusted to us as a legislative power," said the statement issued almost a week after prime minister-designate Fayez Serraj arrived in Tripoli to assert the unity government’s authority.

The statement, bearing the logo of the so-called National Salvation Government headed by Khalifa Ghweil, said the Tripoli prime minister, his deputy premiers and cabinet ministers were all stepping aside.

It said the Tripoli authorities took the decision to quit because they were determined to “preserve the higher interests of the country and prevent bloodshed and divisions" in the country.

The administration, which was never recognized by the international community, said it was “no longer responsible ... for what could happen in the future".

Libya has had two rival administrations since mid-2014 when the Libya Dawn militia alliance overran the capital, setting up its own authority and forcing the internationally- recognized parliament to flee to the country’s remote east.

Mr Serraj, a businessman from Tripoli, and his unity government have not yet received the endorsement of the government backed by the internationally-recognized parliament in the east.

The country has been in turmoil since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, with rival forces battling for its cities and oil wealth.

Mr Serraj, who was named prime minister-designate in December under a UN-brokered power-sharing deal, arrived at a naval base in Tripoli by sea on Wednesday following growing international calls for Libya’s rival political camps to unite behind his administration.

Since then he has received numerous pledges of allegiance, including from the National Oil Corporation and the Central Bank, backbones of the country’s oil wealth and both based in Tripoli.

Hours after Mr Serraj arrived in the capital, the Tripoli authorities demanded he leave or “hand himself in", branding the unity government “illegal".

* Agence France-Presse

Source: The National.
Link: http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/militia-backed-tripoli-administration-cedes-power-to-libyan-unity-government.

Icelandic PM proposes party's vice chairman take over

April 05, 2016

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Iceland's embattled prime minister, facing accusations of conflict of interest because of offshore accounts, stepped aside Tuesday and proposed that the vice chairman of his party take over.

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson has become be the first major figure brought down by a leak of more than 11 million financial documents from a Panamanian law firm showing the tax-avoidance arrangements of the rich and famous around the world.

Sigurdur Mar Jonsson, press secretary of the Icelandic government, said in a statement Tuesday that Gunnlaugsson has suggested Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, his Progressive Party's vice-chairman, takes over as prime minister for "an unspecified amount of time."

Iceland's president has not yet confirmed any changes to the leadership and the situation remained muddled as hundreds of protesters gathered outside parliament to demand the ouster of Gunnlaugsson. There were contradictions throughout the afternoon and evening as officials first said Gunnlaugsson had resigned as prime minister, statements that were later contradicted by the press secretary's communique, which indicated he was only stepping down for a period of time. The statement also suggested that Gunnlaugsson would remain as party chairman.

It was not clear if new elections would be held or if the governing coalition would be able to weather the crisis that developed several days ago with the release of the Panama papers. The lack of a clear resolution angered some protesters who blew whistles and banged on pots and pans in front of parliament.

"I'm here because the government still hasn't resigned," said store manager Elfar Petursson. "The finance minister and the interior minister are still sitting in parliament, they refuse to resign, they both have offshore accounts."

Revelations in the Panama Papers about offshore accounts held by Gunnlaugsson and his wife have infuriated many residents who suffered during the financial collapse of 2008 and 2009. Gunnlaugsson has denied wrongdoing and said he has paid taxes and done nothing illegal regarding his offshore holdings.

Opposition lawmakers say the holdings amount to a major conflict of interest with his job. Gunnlaugsson said his financial holdings didn't affect his negotiations with Iceland's creditors during the country's acute financial crisis. Those assertions did little to quell the controversy.

The prime minister sought at first to dissolve parliament Tuesday and call an early election, but President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said he wanted to consult with other party leaders before agreeing to end the coalition government between Gunnlaugsson's center-right Progressive Party and the Independence Party.

"I need to determine if there is support for dissolving (parliament) within the ruling coalition and others. The prime minister could not confirm this for me, and therefore I am not prepared at this time to dissolve parliament," Grimsson said.

The president met with Independence Party lawmakers later Tuesday to discuss the governmental crisis. Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, chairman of the Independence Party, criticized the prime minister for unilaterally seeking to dissolve parliament.

"It was a total surprise for us to see that. I don't think it was the rational thing to do. I've never seen it done before in Icelandic politics and I hope that I will not see it again," he said. The impact in Iceland from the leaks has been the most dramatic, but leading officials in Russia, Ukraine, China, Argentina and other countries are also facing questions about possibly dubious offshore schemes used by the global elite.

The leaked documents allege that Gunnlaugsson and his wife SET UP A COMPANYcalled Wintris in the British Virgin Islands with the help of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm. Gunnlaugsson is accused of a conflict of interest for failing to disclose his involvement in the company, which held interests in failed Icelandic banks that his government was responsible for overseeing.

Arni Pall Arnason, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Alliance, said Gunnlaugsson's position was not tenable. "I think it's obvious that we cannot tolerate a leadership that is linked to offshore holdings," he said. "Iceland cannot be the only western European democratic country with a political leadership in that position."

Iceland, a volcanic island nation with a population of 330,000, was rocked by a prolonged financial crisis when its main commercial banks collapsed within a week of one another in 2008. Since then Icelanders have weathered a recession and been subjected to tough capital controls — another reason the prime minister's offshore holdings rankle many.

Hungary talent show for young classical artists going global

April 05, 2016

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A Hungarian talent show for young classical musicians is on the verge of being replicated around the world. The creators of "Virtuosos" have signed a deal with Dick Clark Productions, the company behind the American Music Awards, to license the format of the successful Hungarian program internationally.

Dick Clark Productions said there was interest in the show from China and Japan among others, and were working on a U.S. television deal. Mariann Peller, creator and producer of "Virtuosos," said it was "a great joy that a Hungarian format can finally set foot abroad."

In Hungary, "Virtuosos" is recording its second season of nine episodes lasting 90 minutes on average, including a gala event, and chose the 81 participants in the initial round from over 2,200 musicians in three age groups.

Greece: Pause in deportations, asylum claims mounting

April 05, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Authorities in Greece have paused deportations to Turkey and acknowledged that most migrants and refugees detained on Greek islands have applied for asylum. The European Union began sending back migrants Monday under an agreement with Turkey, but no transfers were planned Tuesday.

Maria Stavropoulou, director of Greece's Asylum Service, told state TV that some 3,000 people held in deportation camps on the islands are seeking asylum, with the application process to formally start by the end of the week.

She says asylum applications typically take about three months to process, but would be "considerably faster" for those held in detention. "There will be a difficult few months ahead," Stavropoulou said. "We are dealing with people who speak 70 different languages and many have traveled to Greece without papers because they are escaping war."

Under the EU-Turkey agreement migrants must be screened by asylum services before they are deported. Returns are starting with migrants who have not applied for asylum or whose claims are considered inadmissable.

Only 30 of 400 migration officers from other EU countries have arrived in Greece so far, Stavropoulou said, while additional locally hired staff would take "several months" to train and integrate into the Asylum Service, Stavropoulou said.

On Monday some 202 migrants from 11 countries were sent back to Turkey, on boats from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios. It was unclear when the send-backs would resume. Local officials on the island Chios said more migrants could be sent back from there Wednesday.