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Thursday, June 23, 2016

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

May 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greek minister's visit to Albania greeted with a protest

June 06, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afghan Taliban elects new leader

25 May 2016 Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syrian refugees who want to return home are stuck in Germany

June 01, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan world's 8th refugee welcoming country

By Khetam Malkawi
May 23,2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Sahara independence movement leader Abdelaziz dies

May 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghannouchi re-elected as head of Ennahda

May 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tajikistan vote to allow longtime president to rule for life

May 22, 2016

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

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

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

Bahrain suspends main Shiite opposition party amid crackdown

June 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bahrain releases prominent activist from prison

May 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

Spain political parties kick off campaigns for June 26 vote

June 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swiss officials say solar-powered plane lands in Spain

June 23, 2016

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

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

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

26 people, mostly police, wounded in Paris protests

June 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Polls open in Britain's historic EU referendum

June 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

June 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austrian minister: Hitler birth house could be demolished

June 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Kenya: Protests over talk of assassinating opposition leader

June 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran to build military bases near Iraq-Saudi border, claims Lebanese cleric

June 11, 2016

A senior Lebanese Shia cleric has claimed that Iran is planning to build military bases in Iraq near the border with Saudi Arabia, AlKhaleejonline.com reported on Friday. Sayed Mohamed Ali Al-Husseini said that the bases will be supervised by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Speaking to the Italian news agency AKI on Thursday, Al-Husseini claimed that he had received “credible information” from multiple sources who follow Iranian and Iraqi issues closely, that Iran is planning to “crawl” towards Saudi Arabia through its long border with Iraq. Similar measure will be taken on the border with Kuwait, he pointed out.

Al-Husseini is the Secretary General of the Arab-Islamic Council, which is the political reference point for Arab Shia, much as Wilayat Al-Faqih provides political guardianship in Iran. The group is adopted by Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

He told AKI that claims by the Iraqi foreign minister that Iran’s Major-General Qasim Suleimani is simply a “military adviser” in Baghdad are an attempt to cover up his open role targeting the Arabs. “The ongoing battle in Fallujah,” the cleric said, “is a large military parade for Al-Quds Brigade led by Suleimani, which includes militias from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Afghanistan.”

The Arab Shia official added: “Today, there are clear calls by Wilayat Al-Faqih demanding the establishment of Iraqi Revolutionary Guards in the presence of weak and collaborating governments.” He pointed the finger of blame at Arab silence in the face of such Iranian measures and warned that the ambition of Wilayat Al-Faqih might not stop at the Iraqi borders. Targeting Iraq is based mainly on Iran’s vision for its project across the Arab region, he explained. If such plans are not stopped, Al-Husseini concluded, then the whole future of Arab identity is at risk.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160611-iran-to-build-military-bases-near-iraq-saudi-border-claims-lebanese-cleric/.