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Friday, October 14, 2016

Turkey's president tells Iraqi leader to 'know his place'

October 11, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey can't be excluded from a possible operation to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul, Turkey's president said Tuesday, telling Iraq's leader to "know his place." Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks were likely to add to tensions between the two neighbors, which are key U.S. partners in the fight against the Islamic State group.

In a speech delivered in Istanbul, Erdogan also said Turkish troops wouldn't withdraw from a base near Mosul, saying the Turkish army wouldn't take orders from Baghdad. Turkey is training anti-IS fighters to help retake Mosul from the extremist group.

Turkey-Iraq relations became strained after Ankara sent troops late last year to the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, to train anti-IS fighters there — a move Baghdad has since labeled a "blatant violation" of its sovereignty. Iraq has demanded a Turkish withdrawal, but Ankara has repeatedly ignored the call.

Turkish officials say hundreds of their soldiers are based at Bashiqa, training more than 3,000 Turkmen, Kurdish or Sunni Arab fighters from Mosul. Turkey says about 700 IS militants have been killed in retaliatory attacks against the extremists carried out from the base.

Turkish warnings about possible sectarian clashes in Mosul if the majority Sunni region were placed under Shiite militia control also have drawn Baghdad's ire. Last week, both countries summoned each other's ambassadors while Iraq requested an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council over the presence of unauthorized Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

Speaking to Muslim religious leaders from the Balkans and Central Asia, Erdogan said objections from Iraq wouldn't stop Turkey from participating in any operation to free Mosul and proceeded to make vitriolic remarks against Iraq's prime minister.

"You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, you are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me," Erdogan said, addressing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. "Your screaming and shouting in Iraq is of no importance to us. You should know that we will go our own way."

Erdogan also said Turkey wouldn't withdraw its troops from the base in Bashiqa, adding that it was al-Abadi himself who had asked Ankara to train fighters there back in 2014. "Turkey's army hasn't lost enough of its quality to take orders from you," Erdogan said in response to Iraqi calls for the troop's withdrawal. "We would do whatever is necessary as we have done until today."

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington that the situation in Bashiqa was a matter for the Iraqi and Turkish governments to resolve. "What we support is continued dialogue between them that can lead to a speedy resolution of the matter. We call on both governments to focus on their common enemy, our common enemy, which is Daesh," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"Over the coming days and weeks, we believe it's imperative for all the parties to closely coordinate next steps to ensure unity of effort in that counter-Daesh fight. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, meanwhile, again warned that any operation to free Mosul shouldn't lead to any demographic change. Turkish is worried that once Mosul is liberated from IS, Kurds or Shiite groups may take Mosul over and push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmens.

"We have explained to all of our friends that the operation planned for Mosul should be limited to removing Daesh," Yildirim said. "If you, after removing Daesh, attempt to change Mosul's demographic structure, you will light the fire of a very big civil war, of a sectarian war. This is our warning," Yildirim said.

Malaysia, Turkey agree to deepen military cooperation

October 9, 2016

Malaysia and Turkey have agreed to enhance defense relations, including the strengthening and coordination of military cooperation, according to Malaysia’s defense minister.

In a statement emailed to Anadolu Agency on Sunday, Hishammuddin Hussein said that following a recent working visit to Turkey relations between the two countries would be more structured and focused moving forward.

He added that areas of potential collaboration discussed with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defense Minister Fikri Isik included the enhancement of tie-ups in the defense industry as well as other strategic areas of interest.

“We also discussed a range of counter-measures against the Islamic State [Daesh] threat and agreed that returning fighters from territories lost in Iraq and Syria pose a serious threat to Muslim countries that uphold democracy,” he said.

During the meetings, Hussein said he conveyed Malaysia’s unwavering support to Erdogan’s administration and condemned July’s attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.

“We both agreed to stand together in opposing unconstitutional attempts. Coups in any form that undermine the people’s will must never be tolerated,” he underlined.

Hussein said that Erdogan had also conveyed the need for continued cooperation between the two countries on issues related to terrorism.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161009-malaysia-turkey-agree-to-deepen-military-cooperation/.

Assad may take Aleppo – but then he faces a war against the victors

Mona Alami
Thursday 13 October 2016

President Bashar Assad’s forces are further consolidating their presence in the war-torn city of Aleppo where the area occupied by a besieged opposition shrinks day by day.

While the Aleppo battle appears to be strengthening Assad’s position as Syria’s leader, the sheer complexity and diversity of the forces fighting there underline the regime’s brittle decentralization as a result of manpower shortages and the system’s growing militarization.

In a recent interview with AP, Assad declared he would not stop until he regained control over all of Syria. If Assad captures Aleppo, he would technically be in control of Syria’s three largest cities - Damascus, Homs and Aleppo - and thus reinstate his authority.

Yet Assad’s hegemonic status has been eroded by manpower shortages and the growing influence of a wide array of militias whose loyalties often lie outside of Assad’s direct sphere of control.

Native shortfall

As of 2013, Syria’s army had lost half of its forces, shrinking from 220,000 before the war to approximately 110,000, according to International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates.

By last October, over 70,000 men had skipped their compulsory military service in provinces controlled by the regime, Now Lebanon reported. The latter reacted by adopting a two-pronged approach, either arresting youth or imposing mandatory conscription to state employees, teachers and prisoners.

To offset the bleeding, the Assad regime has become in large part reliant on militias, whether provincial, religious, linked to political and army bodies, business figures or foreign-backed.

According to Syria expert Aron Lund, the National Defense Forces (NDF), the largest militia network in Syria, was created through the rebranding and restructuring of local Popular Committees and seems to act with considerable autonomy.

Researcher Aymen Jawad Tamimi has identified other militias that exist alongside the NDF. Some militias have a religious base, for example, local Shia militias which, according to Tamimi, are linked to Hezbollah. These include Quwat al-Ridha or Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi.

Some, such as Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya and Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi, are linked to the Syrian army’s elite Fourth Armored Division. There are also Christian militias such as Quwat al-Ghadab and Sootoro.

Second, there are militias affiliated to business figures such as Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf and the charity he owns and runs, Al-Bustan Association, namely, Kataeb al-Jablawi, Deraa Alwatan and the Leopards of Homs.

Third, Tamimi has listed several militias affiliated to political parties and intelligence services such as the Lions of the Eternal Leader, Fawj Maghawir al-Badiya, Quwat Dir' al-Amn al-Askari; some affiliated to military security, including Lions of the Euphrates (Amn Dawla) and Tiger Forces (Air Intelligence); and finally the Baath Battalions.

“These militias operate to a large extent within the structure of the government or the provincial council or the army,” says Maen Tolla, a researcher from Turkey-based think tank Omran Dirasat.

Foreign fighters to the rescue

According to an AFP article, about 7,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards are deployed in Syria while a group of 3,000 Iraqi volunteers from Abu Fadl Abbas currently defend the Shia holy site of Sayyida Zeinab south of Damascus.

Another 3,000 Afghan "Fatimids" have fought in Deraa province in the south and 7,000 Hezbollah fighters have played an instrumental role in Qussay, Qalamoun and now Aleppo, according to sources within the party.

Additionally, last month about 1,000 fighters from the Iraqi Haraket Nusjabaa, a Shia militia, was sent to Aleppo. Another foreign party, the Lebanese Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP), has been involved in Syria under its armed wing Nusur al-Zawba’a (Eagles of the Whirlwind) which guarantees security in several Syrian towns  including Homs, Latakia and Wadi Nassara, according to Tamimi.

The regime's growing dependency on local and foreign militias is slowly building the potential for a complete breakdown of order, with militias having either competing backers or different localized agendas. This phenomenon is more specific to militia groups created or financed by wealthy patrons or foreign players.

Illustrating this rivalry is the case of Kata'ib al-Jabalawi, a Shia militia which harbors hostility to the Syrian army and all the battalions and militias loyal to it, including Hezbollah, according to Tamimi’s reports.

Syrian sources have also reported clashes between loyalist militias such as the Desert Hawks and the Air Force Intelligence-affiliated Tiger Forces over diverging economic interest and territorial control. Similar incidents have taken place between the NDF and other militia forces in Qalamoun and between Hezbollah and the Syrian army in Aleppo.

According to rebel accounts, mistrust also prevails between pro-regime factions, which prefer to handle each quitaa (military division) independently from one another. A leaked recording of a Hezbollah fighter in Aleppo, accusing allies of having fled the battle, is a case in point.

Pyrrhic victory?

Assad may remain for now the arbiter to many of these militias. “He has the power to reach out and punish when needed,” says Jihad Makdissi, who acted as the regime spokesperson before his defection in 2012.

However, Assad will be increasingly forced to compromise with newly empowered militia commanders if he is to retain their support. Militia commanders will be naturally gaining more autonomy as state funding declines and the more capable they are of creating a system of taxes and extortion in areas under their control.

In addition, militias affiliated to foreign backers such as Hezbollah or Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi may prove to be more loyal to their international patrons. This system’s militarization has translated to the political scene with parties pushing for more influence. For example, Liwaa Baqer and the SSNP were able to secure seats in the last parliamentary elections, points out Tamimi.

Assad’s gains in Aleppo may grant him the credibility he is looking for, yet it may be another pyrrhic victory as he may now have to contend with many allies and powerful lieutenants.

Source: Middle East Eye.
Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/assad-may-take-aleppo-then-he-faces-war-against-victors-459448837.

Doctor in besieged Aleppo launches legal action against the Russian Federation

October 12, 2016

Yesterday afternoon three initiatives were being launched – from Russian jets, blitz bombing Aleppo markets in their most brutal onslaught to date – from Westminster where protest raged and ministers could suggest no action and from Aleppo. One of the few remaining doctors, struggling with fellow medics to treat the wounded survivors of yesterday’s market place bombings was filing a direct legal challenge to Russia in the European Court of Human Rights. This David and Goliath action is based on critically important legal principles.

Dr Moawyah Al-Awad is a cardiologist who has been working in Al Quds hospital in Aleppo since 2012. The hospital now operates from an undisclosed location, its original site having been destroyed by a deliberate airstrike on 27th April 2016.

His claim against Russia is based on its violation of his right (and that of his patients) to life (Article 2) and of his right (and that of his patients) to live free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3).

On 29th September the circumstances in Aleppo were described to the UN Security Council by the its chief humanitarian official Stephen O’Brien in the following terms “Let me be clear, east Aleppo this minute is not at the edge of the precipice it is well into its terrible descent into the pitiless and merciless abyss of a human catastrophe unlike any we have witnessed in Syria. Syria is bleeding. Its citizens are dying. We all hear their cry for help”.

Dr Al-Awad’s action sets a standard beyond rhetoric. The case lodged with the European Court has, at his request, been sent to the UK and French foreign ministries, and those of the US and other European countries. It has been provided to all relevant UN bodies and special rapporteurs. It is now entirely up to them, as well as to the European Court, to utilise his initiative. An initiative taken by an exhausted doctor working 20 hour shifts in punishing conditions under fear of immediate death.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161012-doctor-in-besieged-aleppo-launches-legal-action-against-the-russian-federation/.

Gaza population passes two million for first time

Wednesday 12 October 2016

The population of the Gaza Strip surpassed two million for the first time in its history, officials announced on Tuesday night.

The births of two babies on Tuesday night brought the total population of the 365km/sq coastal enclave to over two million, a statement issued by Gaza’s interior ministry said.

The two-millionth person in the Gaza Strip, a newborn named Waleed Shaat, was born on Tuesday evening.

Shortly afterwards, a girl named Lana Ayad was born, becoming the 2,000,001 person in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip - which has been under an Israeli military blockade for years - currently has a population density of over 5,100 people per sq/km.

This makes it one of the most densely populated territories in the world, just ahead of the British territory of Gibraltar.

Gaza also has one of the world’s highest birth rates, with an average of 4.4 children per woman – falling from a peak of 8.3 children per woman in 1991.

During September, authorities in Gaza registered 4,983 new births, giving an average birth rate of 166 per day, or seven infants per hour.

At current rates, the Gaza Strip’s population is estimated to reach at least 2.1 million by 2020.

The area could also be “uninhabitable” by the same date, according to a UN report issued last autumn.

The report warned that the Gaza Strip has been “ravaged” by three military operations in six years that have left development “not only hindered but reversed”.

Source: Middle East Eye.
Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/gaza-population-passes-2-million-first-time-1805805867.

Lebanese military judge claims former mufti affiliated to Daesh

October 12, 2016

A Lebanese military judge announced yesterday that the former mufti of the Rashya neighborhood in Al-Beqaa District, Bassam Al-Tarras, had been arrested over his alleged affiliation to Daesh, a Lebanese security source said.

According to Anadolu Agency, the official Lebanese Al-Wataniyah News Agency reported the security source as saying: “The representative of the government in the military court, Judge Saqr Saqr, indicted the detained Sheikh Bassam Al-Tarras.”

The indictment, the source said, included two other fugitives known as Mohamed Qasim and Mahmoud Rabei. The source said that Al-Tarras contacted Daesh knowing that it was a terrorist organisation.

According to the source, the case of Sheikh Al-Tarras was transferred to an investigative judge of the military court.

Al-Tarras was previously arrested on the eve of the Muslim celebration of Eid Al-Adha over allegations of his suspected affiliation to terrorist organisations.

The Committee of Muslim Scholars, a body representing Sunni religious scholars in Lebanon, called for mass demonstrations against the Al-Tarras’ detention, stating that the authorities were obliged to release him.

Anadolu Agency reported a source as saying that the Committee of Muslim Scholars is to hold an emergency meeting in order to “take an appropriate decision in response to the measure” against Al-Tarras.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161012-lebanese-military-judge-claims-former-mufti-affiliated-to-daesh/.

Benkirane to remain PM of Morocco for second term

October 10, 2016

Morocco’s King Mohammed today named Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister for a second term after his party won the most seats in last week’s election, a senior party member said.

After five years in government, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) party won 125 seats while the rival Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) took 102, in a tight race for the 395-seat parliament that will complicate the formation of a coalition.

The elections were a test for Morocco’s constitutional monarchy, five years after the king devolved some powers to an elected government to ease Arab Spring-style protests demanding democratic change. The king still holds most executive authority and names the premier from the winning party in elections.

“I can confirm his majesty named him as the new prime minister,” Mustapha Ramid, outgoing justice minister and a senior PJD party official, told Reuters, after attending the nomination of Benkirane in Casablanca.

Benkirane confirmed his nomination to local news websites.

Under Morocco’s multi-party system, no one party can secure an outright majority, and must negotiate with others to form a coalition government. The PAM’s strong position means the PJD must join with at least three other parties to have a house majority.

Since being appointed prime minister in 2011, Benkirane has pursued economic reforms to reduce the budget deficit and tackle subsidies. The PJD has been popular for its anti-corruption message. No party in the vote directly challenged the palace.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161010-benkirane-to-remain-pm-of-morocco-for-second-term/.

Saudi criticizes Sisi's backing of Russia

October 10, 2016

Former Chief of the Saudi Royal Court, Khalid Al-Tuwaijri, yesterday condemned the Egyptian regime for voting on a Russian draft resolution.

In a tweet, Al-Tuwaijri expressed his disappointment and reminded the Egyptian authorities that it was the Saudis who assisted the Sisi regime.

Egypt voted on Saturday for two opposing draft resolutions on the Syria conflict. The first was a French-Spanish version and the other was by Russia, calling for relief in Syria, particularly in Aleppo.

Russia vetoed the French-drafted resolution demanding an immediate halt to the bombing campaign that the Syrian government and Russia are carrying out against opposition-held areas of Aleppo.

The Russian draft, which made no mention of a bombing halt, was rejected because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes needed for approval.

Syria has been trapped in a civil war for the last five years between its long-serving government and opposition factions who seek to eliminate Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Shortly after the war began, military and political power vacuums left room for extremist factions to grow, leaving the country in a military quagmire.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161010-saudi-criticises-sisis-backing-of-russia/.

Colombia to launch peace talks with ELN rebels

By Alexander Martinze, with Lissy de Abreu in Bogota
Caracas (AFP)
Oct 11, 2016

The Colombian government and the country's second-largest rebel group, the ELN, announced Monday they would launch negotiations on October 27 in Ecuador's capital, with President Juan Manuel Santos predicting "total peace".

Both sides have committed to doing everything in their power to "create an environment favorable to peace" once the talks begin, according to a joint statement delivered at the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry in Caracas.

The move comes as welcome news for Santos, fresh from his Nobel Peace Prize win but still reeling from voters' rejection in a referendum of a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest rebel group.

"We've been seeking negotiations with the ELN for almost three years to end the armed conflict with them as well... Now that we're moving forward with the ELN, we will have total peace," Santos said in Bogota.

The ELN freed a civilian hostage, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, ahead of what the rebels had billed as an "important announcement" on potential peace talks with the government.

It was the third hostage release in two weeks by the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN).

Colombia and the ELN agreed in March to launch peace talks, in parallel with the government's negotiations with the FARC.

But the government has said negotiations with the ELN cannot begin until the group frees all its hostages.

In the text presented in Caracas, the ELN vowed to "initiate the process to free hostages before October 27".

The Red Cross said ELN fighters had handed over the latest hostage, who it did not identify, in a remote area in the department of Arauca, on the Venezuelan border.

Catholic Church sources identified the hostage as Nelson Alarcon, kidnapped three months ago.

The ELN is still believed to be holding at least one hostage, former congressman Odin Sanchez. But the text announcing peace talks spoke of "two cases," without giving further details.

Sanchez handed himself over to the rebels in April in exchange for the release of his brother, Patrocinio Sanchez, a former governor who had fallen ill after nearly three years in captivity.

- Fight for peace -

Santos is working to end half a century of conflict in Colombia that has killed more than 260,000 people, left 45,000 missing and uprooted nearly seven million.

Over the decades, the conflict has drawn in several leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

The last two leftist guerrilla groups, the FARC and ELN, have been at war with the state since 1964.

The ELN is estimated to be about one fourth the size of the FARC, with some 1,500 fighters.

After nearly four years of talks with the FARC in the Cuban capital Havana, the government and rebels signed a peace deal on September 26 -- only for the Colombian people to unexpectedly vote against it six days later, sending both sides back to the drawing board.

Critics of the deal argued it was too soft on the FARC.

Its top opponent, former president Alvaro Uribe -- Santos's predecessor and former boss -- said the deal would give impunity to rebels who committed gross human rights violations and let them run for elected office.

- UN to stay -

Santos's Nobel prize was seen as a boost for the process, as the government negotiates with both the opposition and the FARC to salvage the deal.

Meanwhile, FARC leader Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez tweeted that the ELN could "count on our militant support and solidarity. Many successes in this process that has now started".

Formal peace talks with the ELN would mark another victory for Santos, who has staked his legacy on ending the oldest armed conflict in the Americas.

Separately, a United Nations mission sent to Colombia to oversee the FARC's disarmament -- part of the now-sidelined peace deal -- said Monday it would ask the Security Council to "adjust" its mandate so it can monitor a ceasefire as negotiators try to hash out a compromise.

"We think the conditions are in place at this time for the Council to continue its solidarity with the country," the head of the UN mission in Colombia, Jean Arnault, told a press conference.

He said he would travel to New York this week to make his case before the Security Council.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Colombia_to_launch_peace_talks_with_ELN_rebels_999.html.

Germany sees 213,000 new asylum-seekers so far this year

October 12, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's interior minister says some 213,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in the country this year, keeping it on course for a far lower total in 2016 than last year's 890,000. Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Wednesday the number of newcomers "is still declining but remains significant." He said the figure he gave for the year's first nine months reflects the number who "actually registered and entered."

De Maiziere's ministry said 272,185 people were registered in a computer system between January and September as incoming asylum-seekers — 15,618 in September, in line with the previous five months' figures.

However, that system doesn't register people by name and the figures have been inflated in the past by people registering multiple times. The number registered last year was initially given as nearly 1.1 million.

Germany to limit jobless benefits for other EU citizens

October 12, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — The German government on Wednesday approved legislation that would prevent citizens of other European Union nations who haven't worked in Germany from claiming full jobless benefits in their first five years as residents.

The Cabinet's decision followed a federal court ruling last year that nationals of the other 27 EU countries can seek jobless and other welfare payments after six months. Labor Minister Andrea Nahles' plan, under which foreign EU claimants who haven't worked would be entitled only to "bridging payments" for one month, requires parliamentary approval.

EU countries must allow full labor market access to other members' citizens. However, the EU's highest court has ruled in previous cases that Germany was entitled to refuse or cut off unemployment benefits to EU immigrants who made little or no effort to find work.

With the decision, "we are strengthening trust in the European idea one if its greatest achievements: freedom of movement for workers," Nahles said in a statement. "And we are protecting our municipalities, which have to shoulder welfare payments, from excessive financial demands."

Concern about perceived abuse of EU workers' freedom of movement and of welfare systems has mounted in recent years, particularly in Britain. In February, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron secured concessions on the payment of child benefits to other EU countries' citizens to help persuade Britons to stay in the EU. Still, British voters narrowly voted to leave the bloc in a June referendum.

New British Prime Minister Theresa May has signaled that she's prepared to prioritize immigration curbs in exit negotiations with the EU.

Aid groups say dismantling French refugee camp won't work

October 11, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Charities working with refugees and migrants living in a slum-like camp in northern France objected Tuesday to the government's plan to dismantle the site and disperse the occupants, saying French authorities should not act in haste.

Although no date has been announced for closing the refugee camp in Calais known as "The Jungle," the French government has announced it will happen by the end of the year. The first group of migrants is expected to be moved as soon as next week.

Homelessness charity Emmaus and other organizations working in the camp met again with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve Tuesday. Emmaus asked for the closure to be postponed, saying the conditions for an effective and humanitarian relocation have not been met.

"The government is heading straight into a wall," Emmaus France President Thierry Kuhn said ahead of the meeting. "We should not bury our heads in the sand; people will come back as long as we won't be able to offer them a solution adapted to their life plan."

A church organization, Secours Catholique, said it also opposes clearing out the area, where up to 10,000 migrants are living in the border refugee camp on the French side of the English Channel. The government announced plans over the summer to disperse Calais migrants to centers across France, where they would be able to apply for asylum.

"On the other hand, the people who are not entitled to asylum will be brought back," French President Francois Hollande said during a speech at the Council of Europe on Tuesday. "But most of those in Calais are entitled to the right to asylum. Everybody will be offered a solution."

The charitable groups say the plan is faulty because a large proportion of migrants in the camp have no interest in staying in France, but hope to cross the English Channel to Britain. "The government needs to take its time; otherwise, half of the people in the 'jungle' won't find a place in the relocation process," Emmaus official Frederic Amiel told The Associated Press. "They will disperse and return."

Christian Salome, the president of the Auberge des Migrants aid group, said he warned Cazeneuve about the high risk of seeing migrants set up new small camps in the immediate aftermath of the destruction.

"He said we must convince as many people as possible to stay in France," Salome said. "But some have good reasons to want to go to the UK and for them, we still have no answers." Another hot issue is the fate of hundreds of unaccompanied minors currently living in Calais. Under pressure from French authorities, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced that the British government would act with urgency to take in migrant children with relatives in Britain.

Kuhn, the Emmaus France president, wants guarantees that children and teenagers will be accommodated properly, either in France or in Britain. After the meeting with Cazeneuve, he said the minors' situation is another reason to postpone shutting down the camp.

"We understand it's probably complicated, but in the meantime, what should we do? We are waiting for answers and yes, we need to postpone the dismantling of the camp."

Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.

Larry Sanders' UK Parliament bid endorsed by brother Bernie

October 11, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Former U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says that he doesn't know "a heck of a lot" about British politics, but that hasn't stopped him from endorsing his brother's bid for a seat in Parliament.

He said Tuesday that his brother Larry Sanders is a "very, very caring human being who wants to see government represent all of the people, not just the people on top." Larry Sanders is running as a Green Party candidate in the Oct. 20 vote to fill the seat recently vacated by former Prime Minister David Cameron.

The 82-year-old Larry Sanders has pledged to prevent the privatization of the National Health Service in Britain, something applauded by his brother. Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination in a hard fought primary race.

Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visiting Japan

October 11, 2016

TOKYO (AP) — Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are in Japan on an official visit to mark 150 years of ties between the countries. They were welcomed Tuesday by Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at an outdoor ceremony at the Imperial Palace on an overcast fall day.

Philippe and Mathilde also greeted Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. The Belgian royal couple arrived Monday and will stay until Saturday. Philippe also met with Japanese business leaders Tuesday and is expected to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his stay.

The 56-year-old Belgian king ascended to the throne in 2013 after the abdication of his father, King Albert II. Earlier this year, the 82-year-old Akihito indicated his desire to abdicate, but that is pending necessary legislation.

Burundi lawmakers vote to withdraw from ICC; would be 1st

October 12, 2016

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Lawmakers in Burundi overwhelmingly voted Wednesday in support of a plan to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, something no country has ever done. The decision escalates a bitter dispute with the international community over the human rights situation in the East African country, which has seen more than a year of deadly violence after President Pierre Nkurunziza made a controversial decision to pursue a third term.

No state has withdrawn from the ICC, according to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. The court prosecutes cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ninety-four out of 110 Burundi lawmakers voted in favor of the withdrawal plan, months after the ICC announced it would investigate the country's ongoing violence.

Some African countries have threatened a withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, accusing the court of disproportionately targeting the continent. Only Africans have been charged in the six cases that are ongoing or about to begin, though preliminary ICC investigations have been opened elsewhere in the world.

Of the 124 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, 34 are African, the largest continental bloc. The United States is not a party to the treaty. Burundi's decision is not immediate. Observers say a county wishing to withdraw from the ICC must write to the U.N. secretary-general stating its intention, and the withdrawal takes effect a year after the day the secretary-general receives the letter.

Vital Nshimirimana, a Burundian rights activist, urged the U.N. to challenge the government's decision. "Already, we have information that intelligence agents are torturing, killing Burundians behind closed doors," he said. "The world ought to rescue the people of Burundi."

Burundi's government has repeatedly said it is the victim of propaganda by exiles and opponents who want to diminish its credibility. Hundreds have died in Burundi since Nkurunziza last year pursued and won a third term that many call unconstitutional. Since the ruling party announced his candidacy in April 2015, Burundi has seen violent street protests, forced disappearances and assassinations. More than 260,000 have fled.

On Monday, Burundi's government banned three U.N. human rights investigators from entering the country following the release of a report that cited massive rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security agencies.

The push among some African countries to withdraw from ICC began after the court indicted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on charges of crimes against humanity for 2007 post-election violence in which more than 1,000 died. The ICC prosecutor said threats to witnesses, bribery and lack of cooperation by Kenya's government led to the case's collapse.

Some countries want a separate African court with jurisdiction over rights abuses.

UN expected to approve Guterres for secretary-general

October 13, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations' 193-member states are expected to appoint Portugal's former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the world body's next secretary-general. Peter Thompson, president of the General Assembly, said in a statement that he hoped Guterres would be approved by a unanimous vote on Thursday.

Guterres, 67, was nominated by acclamation in the 15-member Security Council last week to replace Ban Ki-moon whose second five-year term ends on Dec. 31. He would be the ninth secretary-general in the organization's 71-year history.

Aside from leading Portugal from 1995 to 2002, Guterres spent 10 years as the United Nations' high commissioner on refugees from 2005 to 2015. Guterres' nomination disappointed those who had campaigned for a woman to lead the world body for the first time and also those who hoped the next secretary-general would come from an Eastern European country, but diplomats stressed they were voting for the best candidate regardless of other criteria.

"He'll take over on the first of January at a crucial time for the U.N., when it is facing huge challenges on peace and security but also on international development and human rights. And the world needs a strong United Nations and he is the best possible leader to build on the work of his predecessors to provide that leadership," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said.

The secretary-general manages a staff of 44,000 in addition to more than 100,000 peacekeepers. The position's responsibilities include dealing with issues such as human rights, refugees and climate change as well as fund raising for the world body's various campaigns.

Philippines' Duterte to visit China

Manila (AFP)
Oct 11, 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he would soon visit China and hoped also to travel to Russia, as he again criticized longtime ally the United States for "arrogance".

The mission to China will be Duterte's first outside of Southeast Asia since assuming the presidency on June 30, in a symbolic move highlighting the importance he places on improving ties with Beijing that soured over competing claims to the South China Sea.

"China has repeatedly invited me. I have accepted the offer," Duterte said in a speech at the presidential palace.

He gave no specific dates for the visit, but said it would take place before he went to Japan from October 25 to 27.

Duterte said he had originally planned to visit Japan, the Philippines' biggest source of foreign aid, ahead of China.

However he explained that Japan offered a "definite" date, then China told Duterte there was a "vacancy" earlier and so he accepted.

Duterte also said that, after Japan, "probably I will go to Russia".

Duterte has looked to build closer ties with China and Russia, while launching repeated tirades against the United States, the Philippines' former colonial ruler and defense ally.

His tirades have been largely in response to US criticism of Duterte's war on crime, which has claimed more than 3,300 lives and raised fears about extrajudicial killings.

Duterte has cancelled joint patrols with the United States in the South China Sea, said he may scrap a defense pact that allows thousands of US troops to rotate through the Philippines, and threatened to eventually cut ties completely.

Duterte has also branded US President Barack Obama a "son of a whore" for expressing concern about human rights in the drug war.

In contrast, he has described Chinese leader Xi Jinping as "a great president", and praised China and Russia for showing respect in not criticizing his crime crackdown.

- 'Arrogant' allies -

Duterte on Tuesday gave another lengthy critique of the United States, branding the nation as "arrogant" and powerless to stop Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

He also said the Philippines gained nothing from holding military exercises with the United States, which have been a mainstay of the defense relationship.

"What's the point? They are the only ones benefiting. We are not," he said, as the allies wrapped up a week of war games involving about 2,000 troops in the Philippines.

Duterte had said they were to be the last of his six-year term, putting on ice the 28 exercises they hold annually.

The Philippines had long been regarded as one of Washington's most loyal allies in Asia, with the two nations bound by a mutual defense pact signed in 1951.

Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino sought to draw the United States even closer in a bid to counter Chinese efforts to take control of the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, and has in recent years built artificial islands capable of hosting military bases in disputed areas.

The 2014 defense agreement and the joint patrols were key to Aquino's strategy to contain China.

Aquino further angered China by filing a case with a UN-backed tribunal in 2013 against Beijing's claims to most of the sea.

In July, shortly after Duterte took office, the tribunal ruled in favour of the Philippines, saying China's claims had no legal basis and its construction of artificial islands in disputed waters was illegal.

But Duterte vowed not to "taunt or flaunt" the verdict and to seek a "soft landing" with China on the issue.

He has launched negotiations with China over the dispute, a tactic rejected by Aquino.

China has welcomed Duterte's overtures.

"The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations," Chinese ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua said this month.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Philippines_Duterte_to_visit_China_999.html.

Will you become a citizen of Asgardia, the first nation state in space?

Nicola Davis
Wednesday 12 October 2016

Proposals for the “first nation state in space” have been unveiled by a team of scientists and legal experts, who say the move will foster peace, open up access to space technologies and offer protection for citizens of planet Earth.

Dubbed “Asgardia” after one of the mythical worlds inhabited by the Norse gods, the team say the “new nation” will eventually become a member of the United Nations, with its own flag and anthem devised by members of the public through a series of competitions.

According to the project website, Asgardia “will offer an independent platform free from the constraint of a land-based country’s laws. It will become a place it in orbit which is truly ‘no man’s land’”.

Initially, it would seem, this new nation will consist of a single satellite, scheduled to be launched next year, with its citizens residing firmly on terra firma.

Speaking to the Guardian through an interpreter, the project lead Igor Ashurbeyli, said: “Physically the citizens of that nation state will be on Earth; they will be living in different countries on Earth, so they will be a citizen of their own country and at the same time they will be citizens of Asgardia.”

“When the number of those applications goes above 100,000 we can officially apply to the UN for the status of state,” he added.

According to the project website “Any human living on Earth can become a citizen of Asgardia,” with the site featuring a simple registration form. At the time of writing more than 1000 individuals had already signed up.

When asked why people should register to become citizens of Asgardia, Ashurbeyli said: “I do believe that as soon as this country becomes a part of the UN family, citizenship of that country will be really quite prestigious.”

A Russian businessman and nanoscientist who also founded the Vienna-based Aerospace International Research Center and is currently chairman of Unesco’s Science of Space committee, Ashurbeyli says the project aims to open up a conversation about regulations surrounding space activity.

At present, the Outer Space Treaty that underpins international space law states that responsibility and liability for objects sent into space lies with the nation that launched them.

But the project team claim that Asgardia will set a new precedent, shifting responsibility to the new “space nation” itself.

“The existing state agencies represent interests of their own countries and there are not so many countries in the world that have those space agencies,” said Ashurbeyli.

“The ultimate aim is to create a legal platform to ensure protection of planet Earth and to provide access to space technologies for those who do not have that access at the moment.”

Christopher Newman, an expert in space law at the UK’s University of Sunderland, said the project reflects the fact that the geopolitical landscape of space activity has changed since the Outer Space Treaty was drawn up in the 1960s.

But, he added, it was not clear how Asgardia would fit into current international regulations, with the project facing significant hurdles,

from getting UN recognition for Asgardia, to issues around liability.

“It is an exciting development in many ways because it will be interesting to see how this goes,” said Newman. “But there are formidable obstacles in international space law for them to overcome. What they are actually advocating is a complete re-visitation of the current space law framework.”

Ashurbeyli says the hope is that Asgardia will eventually become an official “launch state”. But, he admits, at least in the short term cooperation from other countries will be required .

While the project’s proposals remain vague, the vision for Asgardia is lofty. The team say that one of their early plans is to create “a state-of-the-art protective shield for all humankind from cosmic, manmade and natural threats to life on earth.” Such threats, they say, include the dangers posed by space junk, and even asteroids. But, at present, details remain hazy about what form such a shield could take.

And while the project does not currently include plans to set up an Asgardian settlement in space, Ashurbeyli believes life beyond Earth will be vital to the future of humankind. “We are laying the foundations to make that possible in the distant future,” he said.

Source: The Guardian.
Link: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/12/will-you-become-a-citizen-of-asgardia-the-first-nation-state-in-space.

Russian media indirectly confirm Assad regime dumping bodies in Mediterranean

October 12, 2016

A Russian-government aligned news agency has perhaps indirectly confirmed that Assad regime forces are dumping the corpses of “women and children” into the Mediterranean Sea.

In a report published earlier this week, Sputnik News’ Arabic edition published a report that quoted a Russian mariner involved in Moscow’s Syria intervention, claiming that “terrorists” were killing civilians and then disposing of their bodies in the sea.

“[Russian] naval forces regularly find the corpses of civilians who were savagely killed by the terrorists near the northern coast of Syria, most of them women and children,” the unnamed Russian naval officer said.

Moscow and its ally, President Bashar Al-Assad, frequently brand all Syrian opposition forces as “terrorists” whether they are Daesh or not.

The Russian mariner also said: “[The corpses] are recovered on board ships to be transported to Tartous so that they may be buried in accordance with Islamic law.

Tartous is a coastal town that is home to a Russian naval base that is reportedly being expanded into a more permanent facility for a Russian fleet to be based in.

No coastal holdings for Syrian opposition

There are a number of concerns that have been raised with the Russian report, however.

The Syrian opposition factions, including groups such as Daesh and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly the Al-Nusra Front, have no coastal holdings or territories. In fact, the Syrian opposition and various armed rebel groups are all based in in-land Syria.

In comments to MEMO, Syrian journalist Muhammad Fares said: “It’s as if the besieged ‘terrorists’ in the inner cities have giant catapults to throw the bodies hundreds of kilometers from Raqqa or Aleppo into the coastal waters around Latakia.”

Fares accused the Russians of misinformation, explaining that “the Russian media is putting such a piece out because they are counting on ‘Syria news fatigue’ and so they think they can get away with it.”

“The so-called ‘terrorists’ that Russia are talking about are besieged…and there is no link between [rebel-held territory] and the sea in any way,” Fares told MEMO, placing much doubt on the Russian claim.

“Putin’s and Assad’s media outlets live in la-la land…Assad’s army [are the ones] who throw [their] opponents’ bodies into the Mediterranean,” the Syrian journalist concluded.

The Syrian regime has been responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths since the civil war erupted in 2011. The UN has said that 400,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the conflict, and recent attempts to end the conflict have failed, leading to intensified violence against opposition-held Aleppo.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161012-russian-media-indirectly-confirm-assad-regime-dumping-bodies-in-mediterranean/.

Russia to hold military drills in Egypt in October

Moscow (AFP)
Oct 11, 2016

Russia and Egypt will hold joint military drills involving airborne troops on Egyptian soil for the first time this month, the Russian defense ministry said Tuesday.

"The joint Russian-Egyptian drills will happen in mid-October 2016 on the territory of Egypt," it said, without specifying their start date.

The drills, called "Protectors of Friendship-2016", will include 500 troops, 15 planes and helicopters and 10 military hardware units, the ministry said, describing the exercises as "anti-terrorist".

"The airborne delivery by parachute of several Russian airborne troops' combat vehicles to the desert climate of Egypt will occur for the first time in history," the ministry said.

Last year Russia and Egypt held their first-ever joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean, which included the Black Sea fleet's flagship Moskva missile cruiser.

Russia has been waging an aerial bombing campaign in Syria for the past year in support of the Syrian government, part of the multi-front war that has claimed some 300,000 lives and has seen Moscow further estranged from the West.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russia_to_hold_military_drills_in_Egypt_in_October_999.html.

Recognize Palestine Walk reaches Australian capital

October 11, 2016

John Salisbury has reached the Australian capital Canberra in an effort to encourage the government to recognize the State of Palestine.

Starting at the Sydney Opera House on 2 October, Salisbury arrived at Parliament House today. He was greeted by fellow activists who held a reception for him.

On Facebook Salisbury wrote: “5am start this morning. Freezing cold as I set off in the darkness,” ahead of his final leg to the seat of government.

Supporters commended his efforts. Amal Moradi wrote on Facebook: “Amazing achievement, the world needs more John Salisbury’s.”

While Diane Dounas wrote: “Thankyou [sic] so much John for your incredible efforts to help bring about justice for the indigenous Palestinian people. You are a true hero!”

Salisbury submitted a petition calling on the Australian government to recognize the State of Palestine. “Congratulations on making it to Parliament House and being able to present those precious signatures, David. Now may our government please recognize and respond to the situation in Gaza and Palestine,” Maree Minter wrote in support of Salisbury’s initiative.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161011-recognise-palestine-walk-reaches-australian-capital/.