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Monday, October 24, 2016

Libya presidential guards defect as conflict deepens

17 October 2016 Monday

The Presidential Guards of Libya’s UN-backed unity government has defected and joined a rival administration.

In a statement on Monday, the Guards said they have joined the salvation government of the Tripoli-based General National Congress.

The statement accused the unity government of siding with “putschists” – in reference to gen. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of forces aligned with another rival government based in Tobruk in eastern Libya.

“The UN-brokered political agreement and unity government was put forth in order to establish a place for Khalifa Haftar and enable him to rule Libya by force,” the statement said.

On Friday, forces loyal to the salvation government took over offices of the unity government in Tripoli after clashes with unity government troops.

The government, which stepped aside in March in favor of the UN-backed cabinet, said it plans to seize all other state facilities in Tripoli, including the central bank and ministries.

Libya has been wracked by turmoil since 2011, when a bloody uprising ended with the ouster and death of longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government -- one in Tobruk and another in Tripoli -- each of which boasts its own military capacity and legislative assembly.

Last year, Libya’s rival governments signed a UN-sponsored agreement that resulted in the formation of a unity government that has largely failed to resolve the conflict.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/news/178781/libya-presidential-guards-defect-as-conflict-deepens.

Remembering the massacre of Algerians in Paris

October 17, 2016

Fifty-five years ago today, hundreds of Algerians were massacred by French police and had their bodies thrown in the Seine River.

What: Paris Massacre

When: 17 October 1961

Where: Paris, France

What Happened?

On 5 October 1961, a curfew from was imposed from 20:30 to 05.30 on Paris for “Algerian Muslim workers”, “French Muslims” and “French Muslims of Algeria”. The French Federation of the Algerian National Liberation Front called on Algerians in Paris to demonstrate peacefully against the curfew on 17 October 1961.

Paris police chief, Maurice Papon, assembled 7,000 policemen and riot police to block the demonstration and all access to the capital. Between 30,000-40,000 Algerians joined the demonstration as police raids were carried out all over Paris where 11,000 Algerians were arrested and transported to internment centers.

Those who remained in the demonstration where soon met by gunfire from police officers on the Neuilly bridge. Those that were injured were drowning and the bodies of the dead were thrown into the Seine River below. Around 200-300 Algerians died as a result of the police repression.

What Happened next?

Papon would later be convicted of crimes against humanity for his part in deporting Jews to death camps during the Nazi occupation. The officers under his command who perpetrated the massacre had served in Algeria and had been linked to the deportation of Jews in the city for the Gestapo 19 years earlier.

In 1998 France finally recognized the events of 17 October as a massacre however no one was prosecuted for their participation in the killings due to the general amnesty for crimes committed during the Algerian War.

In 2001, the event was officially acknowledged in Paris by the unveiling of a memorial plaque near the Pont Saint-Michel and on 7 October 2012, President François Hollande acknowledged the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris...

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161017-remembering-the-massacre-of-algerians-in-paris/.

Venezuela braces for turbulence after recall is stalled

October 22, 2016

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela is bracing for turbulence after the socialist government blocked a presidential recall referendum in a move opposition leaders are calling a coup. The opposition is urging supporters to take to the streets next week, while a leading government figure is calling for the arrest of high-profile government critics.

Polls suggest socialist President Nicolas Maduro would lose a recall vote. But that became a moot issue on Thursday when elections officials issued an order suspending a recall signature drive a week before it was to start.

"What we saw yesterday was a coup," said former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who had been the leading champion of the recall effort. "We'll remain peaceful, but we will not be taken for fools. We must defend our country."

The socialists won power nearly two decades ago with the election of the popular former President Hugo Chavez, and for years enjoyed easy election victories. But with the economy in free-fall, polls show most Venezuelans have turned against the party, and over the years, the administration has gradually become increasingly autocratic.

Critical television stations have been closed and several leading opposition activists have been imprisoned. The country's supreme court, packed with government supporters, has endorsed decree powers for Maduro and said he can ignore Congress following a landslide victory for the opposition in legislative elections.

The election commission, which has issued a string of pro-government rulings, halted the recall process on grounds of alleged irregularities in a first-round of signature gathering. Polls suggest 80 percent of voters wanted Maduro gone this year, and the electoral council on Tuesday also ordered a delay of about six months in gubernatorial elections that were slated for year-end which the opposition was heavily favored to win. It gave no reason for the delay.

The opposition charges that in the face of such overwhelming voter discontent, the socialist party has simply decided to put off elections indefinitely. The opposition coalition has called for a massive street protest Wednesday, on what would have been the start of the signature-gathering campaign.

Maduro was traveling outside the country, but in a televised address Friday he urged calm at home. "I call on everyone to remain peaceful, to engage in dialogue, respect law and order and not to do anything crazy," he said.

Meanwhile, one of his most powerful allies, Diosdado Cabello, said top opposition leaders should be jailed for attempting election fraud. And opposition leaders said the government might be taking steps in that direction.

Capriles and opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba on Friday posted online what appeared to be a local court order barring eight leaders from leaving the country. The document gave no reason. The opposition had centered its energy on rallying Venezuelans to sign petitions next week demanding a referendum on Maduro's removal. That would require collecting and validating 4 million signatures from 20 percent of the electorate within three days in each of the country's 24 states.

"This a big deal and reveals that the government was fearful of what could happen in the three-day signature collection period. They have effectively postponed the recall referendum indefinitely. This measure makes it difficult to think of Venezuela as a democracy," said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.

But the campaign had already become mostly symbolic because the election board ruled in September that no vote would take place this year. That timing is crucial. A successful vote to oust Maduro this year would have triggered a presidential election and given the opposition a good shot at winning power. If Maduro is voted out in 2017, though, his vice president will finish the presidential term, leaving the socialists in charge.

The electoral council said Thursday decision was based on rulings by courts in four states that found there was fraud in the initial stage of the petition drive, when the opposition collected signatures from 1 percent of electorate.

The council itself had validated those signatures in August and allowed the process to move forward. It gave no indication if or when the process would be resumed. The move sparked a new round of international condemnation of the socialist government.

Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called Friday for increased sanctions on Venezuela, the head of the Organization of American States promised concrete consequences for violating democratic norms, and U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the elections board was being used to block voters' "right to determine the direction of their country."

Opposition cries dictatorship after Venezuela blocks recall

October 21, 2016

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Venezuelan opposition's campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro has been thrown into disarray with elections officials' decision to suspend a recall drive against the socialist leader a week before it was to start.

In a related move, a court appeared to issue a ruling Friday blocking key opposition leaders from leaving the country. With the latest actions, the government has effectively halted the effort to stage a recall effort that polls suggest Maduro would have lost by a wide margin. The ruling is particularly dramatic because it comes just days before critics of the socialist administration were to start gathering the one-fifth of voters' signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot.

"This is a big deal and reveals that the government was fearful of what could happen in the three-day signature collection period. They have effectively postponed the recall referendum indefinitely. This measure makes it difficult to think of Venezuela as a democracy," said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Officials cited alleged fraud in a preliminary effort to get 1 percent of voters' signatures as justification for blocking the opposition from proceeding to the next stage of the referendum on Maduro's removal. His critics blame the late President Hugo Chavez's heir for Venezuela's economic collapse, bare store shelves and the jailing of opposition leaders.

The opposition immediately blasted the decision as unconstitutional. "The government is pushing toward a very dangerous scenario," former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said on Twitter. Capriles and opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba on Friday posted a document online that appeared to be from a local court, and barred eight leaders from leaving the embattled South American country without giving a reason.

The suspension of the recall came as a shock to many Venezuelans, who were gearing up for the chance to sign petitions next week seeking the embattled leader's removal. To trigger a stay-or-go referendum, the opposition needed to collect and validate some 4 million signatures from 20 percent of the electorate in 24 states over three days next week.

Critics of Venezuela's 17-year left-wing administration have made the recall their central political issue after being sidelined in Congress and in virtually all other public institutions this year. But the campaign had already become mostly symbolic after elections officials in September said no vote would take place this year.

That timing is crucial. A successful vote to oust Maduro this year would have triggered a presidential election and given the opposition a good shot at winning power. If Maduro is voted out in 2017, though, his vice president will finish the presidential term, leaving the socialists in charge.

The electoral council's decision Thursday was in response to rulings earlier in the day by courts in four Venezuelan states that found there was fraud in the initial stage of the petition drive. During that stage the opposition had collected signatures from 1 percent of electorate.

But in standing by those low-court rulings it appeared to be ignoring its own decision in August validating the signatures and allowing the process to move forward. It gave no indication if and when the process would be resumed.

"In adherence with the constitution, the National Electoral Council abides by the decisions ordered by the tribunals and has sent instructions to postpone the process of signature gathering until new judicial instructions are known," it said in a statement.

Although the government-stacked electoral board had already thrown a number of obstacles in the way of Maduro's opponents, many had hoped that the next stage of the complex process would have drawn onto the streets millions of Venezuelans who polls show overwhelmingly favor firing Maduro, who they blame for triple-digit inflation and long food lines.

The ruling comes on the heels of another decision by the electoral council this week to suspend by about six months gubernatorial elections that were slated for year-end which the opposition was heavily favored to win.

Polls say a majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone. The opposition charges that in the face of overwhelming voter discontent, the socialist party has simply decided to put off elections indefinitely.

The opposition staged its largest street demonstration in years on Sept. 1, with a rally in Caracas demanding a referendum against Maduro be held in 2016. But apart from that protest, most anti-government rallies this year have been relatively small and quick to disperse.

Hard line leaders immediately started calling for more massive street protests in the face of election authority's ruling. "This is the time for national unity," wrote former congresswoman Maria Corina Machado on her Twitter account. "Every single person must take to the streets, with strength and without fear, to make the transition a reality."

Thousands attend warlord's funeral in Ukraine's rebel east

October 19, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands turned out Wednesday for the funeral of a senior commander of pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, who was killed in a bomb blast. Arsen Pavlov, 33, also known by nom de guerre Motorola, was killed Sunday when an unidentified device exploded in an elevator of his apartment building in Donetsk. His bodyguard was also killed.

Thousands lined up in Donetsk on Wednesday to pay tribute at the local opera house, where his body was displayed. Rebel officials blamed the explosion on Ukrainian saboteurs and threatened retribution. He was reportedly called Motorola because he dealt with communications when he served in the Russian military in the 1990s.

Russian-born Pavlov became one of the most recognizable faces of the separatist movement. His unit took part in some of the fiercest battles in the conflict that has killed more than 9,600 since April 2014.

Ukrainian officials have accused Pavlov of war crimes, and he once admitted personally killing 15 prisoners of war. Pavlov's death came as leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France were set to meet in Berlin on Wednesday for talks aimed at reviving the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine.

The 2015 Minsk deal brokered by France and Germany envisaged that Ukraine regains control of the rebellious region's border with Russia after granting them special status, holding local elections there and offering amnesty to the rebels.

Ukraine has accused Russia of failing to withdraw its troops and weapons from the east, but Moscow has denied having any presence there. The Kremlin, in turn, has argued that Ukraine has failed to meet its end of the Minsk deal by not providing autonomy to the eastern regions and calling elections there.

Some said that Pavlov's killing could further fuel tensions in the region. "Despite a shaky truce, there is a real danger of the resumption of hostilities in eastern Ukraine," said Vadim Karasyov, a Kiev-based political analyst.

Romanians march to demand reunification with Moldova

October 22, 2016

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — More than 2,000 people marched through the Romanian capital Saturday demanding the country's reunification with neighboring Moldova. Demonstrators waved the virtually identical Romanian and Moldovan flags as they filed down the city's main streets. They shouted "Bassarabia is part of Romania," using the historical name for Moldova.

Some briefly scuffled with police. A photographer for The Associated Press saw police detain two people after fights broke out. Riot police said five were briefly detained and fined. Organizer George Simion said protesters wanted political parties running in Romania's December parliamentary elections to make reunification "a national project," and take steps to integrate the neighbors, such as developing energy links and a joint currency.

Some protesters remained in a central square Saturday evening after the march ended. Moldova was part of Romania until 1940, when it was annexed to the Soviet Union, and declared independence in 1991.

Some four-fifths of Moldovans, an Eastern European country of 4 million, are of Romanian descent. Romanian is the official language in Moldova, while Russian is widely used. However, the reunification cause does not have much support in either Romania or Moldova.

France moving more than 6,000 migrants, destroying huge camp

October 24, 2016

CALAIS, France (AP) — Lines of migrants with their lives in small bags walked to a registration center in the French port city of Calais Monday, the first day of the mass evacuation and destruction of the filthy camp they called home.

French authorities are beginning a complex operation, unprecedented in Europe, to shut down the makeshift camp, uprooting thousands who made treacherous journeys to escape wars, dictators or grinding poverty and dreamed of making a life in Britain.

Under the eye of more than 1,200 police, the first of hundreds of buses were arriving to begin transferring migrants to reception centers around France where they can apply for asylum, and level the camp in a weeklong operation. Hotels and even castles are among the hundreds of centers officials have been converting to migrant housing ahead of the big move.

Unaccompanied minors, many with family members in Britain, were to be housed on-site in containers set up earlier this year as their files are studied in London to see if they qualify for a transfer across the English Channel. The humanitarian organization France Terre d'Asile, says 1,291 unaccompanied minors live in the camp.

Authorities say the camp, known as the jungle, holds nearly 6,500 migrants who are seeking to get to Britain. Fourteen migrants have died this year in the Calais area. Officials were expected to begin dismantling hundreds of tents and shelters as their occupants depart, gradually closing down the camp that sprung up behind an official shelter housing women and providing showers and daily meals.

50 years on, UK marks mine disaster that killed 128 children

October 21, 2016

LONDON (AP) — People across Britain fell silent to mark 50 years since a mountain of coal sludge collapsed onto a Welsh village, killing more than 140 people in one of the country's worst mining disasters.

On Oct. 21, 1966, a mine dump above Aberfan collapsed, sending 2 million tons of waste cascading downhill, demolishing 18 homes and Pantglas Junior School. The wave of rubble killed 116 children and 28 adults.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was "a truly heart-breaking moment in our history, and no one who learns about the disaster can fail to be profoundly moved by it." A minute's silence was held Friday at 9:15 a.m., the exact moment disaster struck.

Later, Prince Charles is due to meet survivors and unveil a plaque in memory of the victims.

Agrarian newcomers claim victory in Lithuanian election

October 24, 2016

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuania's political newcomers, representing an agrarian union, claimed victory after Sunday's runoff in parliamentary elections as voters turned their backs on the ruling Social Democrats, blamed for being unable to revive a sluggish economy and held responsible for a sharp rise in prices following the adoption of the euro.

The Peasants and Green Union, led by 46-year-old millionaire farmer Ramunas Karbauskis were expected to end up with 56 seats in the 141-member Parliament, according to preliminary results provided by the Central Electoral Committee, in the biggest victory by a single party in 20 years.

The conservative Homeland Union-Christian Democrats would have 30 seats, while the incumbent ruling party, the Social Democrats, would take 18 seats, the preliminary results show. The remaining seats were split among several smaller parties.

At stake in Sunday's runoff were 68 seats. All the other seats had already been allotted after a first round of balloting on Oct. 9. In the first round, the ruling Social Democrats came in third with 13 seats, behind the Homeland Union-Christian Democrats, which won 20 seats, and the Peasants and Green Union with 19 seats.

Expecting a poor showing, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius acknowledged earlier Sunday "a kind of defeat" if his party was forced into opposition. "We should have focused more on the campaign, but we were working instead and hoped people would notice the progress," Butkevicius told reporters, when casting his ballot at a school in central Vilnius. He was referring to recent policies which the Social Democrats launched after gradually losing support since the last election in 2012, including a controversial labor law that favored employers and measures on transforming the energy sector, leading to a sharp drop in consumers' utility bills.

The preliminary results indicate that the agrarian bloc will likely form the basis of the next majority ruling coalition, but its partners were unclear. "We are not ruling out any possibilities, even a broad coalition if we agree on the major challenge: how to stop citizens fleeing Lithuania," Karbauskis, the party's chairman, told reporters. He has said, however, that he would not take the post of prime minister in any coalition.

Lithuania, like its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, regained independence after splitting from the Soviet Union in 1990 and has since lost nearly a quarter of its pre-independence population of 3.7 million with many seeking work elsewhere in Europe. It is a member of the 28-nation European Union and was hit hard by the global economic recession in 2009-2010. At the beginning of last year it adopted the EU's common currency, the euro, which has sharply increased prices while wages and pensions remain among the lowest in the bloc.

Both government and opposition parties had promised to raise living standards in the country of 2.9 million. The conservatives, who campaigned heavily for change were hoping for sizable gains in the election. Their leader Gabrielius Landsbergis, at age 34, had been expected to become Europe's youngest prime minister. He is the grandson of Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania's first head of state after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and considered by many as a national hero.

"This means that our message about necessary changes was not able to reach many voters. But again, this is just the beginning of the long road we will have to travel," Landsbergis said, visibly disappointed by the result.

Lithuanians vote in what is expected to be a close race

October 23, 2016

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuanians voted Sunday in a runoff election that is expected to bring the center-right opposition to power and end the rule of the current Social Democrat-coalition, with the incumbents taking the heat for a sluggish economy and a sharp rise in prices following the adoption of the euro currency.

At stake are 68 seats in the 141-member Parliament, with all the other seats already assigned after a first round of balloting on Oct. 9. Sunday's runoff is expected to be close, which could complicate government formation talks.

In the first round, the ruling Social Democrats came in third with 13 seats, behind both a conservative group, the Homeland Union-Christian Democrats, which won 20 seats, and the agrarian Peasants and Green Union with 19 seats.

"I voted for a conservative candidate today because the current Cabinet is a bunch of sleepy bureaucrats who have no idea how to get this country moving forward," said Vytas Kazlauskas, a 30-year-old teacher in Vilnius. "We all look at Estonia with envy; they had real reforms while we just keep on talking about them."

Casting his ballot at a high school in the Lithuanian capital, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius acknowledged that it is likely his party could end up in the opposition, which would be "a kind of defeat."

"We should have focused more on the campaign, but we were working instead and hoped people would notice the progress," Butkevicius told reporters. He was referring to recent policies which the Social Democrats launched after gradually losing support since the last election in 2012, including a controversial labor law that favored employers and measures that focused heavily on transforming the energy sector, which led to a sharp drop in consumers' utility bills.

Lithuania, like its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, regained independence after splitting from the Soviet Union in 1990 and has since lost more than a quarter of its pre-independence population of 3.7 million as many have sought work elsewhere in Europe. It is a member of the 28-nation European Union and was hit hard by the global economic recession in 2009-2010. At the beginning of last year it adopted the EU's common currency, the euro, which has sharply increased prices while wages and pensions remain among the lowest in the bloc.

Both government and opposition parties have promised to raise living standards in the country of 2.9 million. The conservatives, who campaigned heavily for change, are led by Gabrielius Landsbergis, who at 34 is trying to become Europe's youngest prime minister. He is the grandson of Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania's first head of state after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and considered by many as a national hero.

The leader of the agrarian party is a 46-year-old farmer millionaire, Ramunas Karbauskis, who has sponsored village-themed TV shows, musical festivals and built up his popularity by promoting ethnic Lithuanian culture.

The two men have exchanged harsh rhetoric since the first round, signaling that coalition talks between their parties — if not totally out of the question — would be long and complicated.

Lithuania opposition ahead in polls deemed blow to leftists

17 October 2016 Monday

Early results showed Lithuania's opposition ahead in the polls Monday, a blow to the Baltic state's leftwing government, with voters bitter over economic inequality and mass emigration.

With results in from three-quarters of polling stations, the national elections commission said the centrist Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union party (LGPU) had garnered 23 percent of the votes, while the Homeland Union conservatives took 19 percent.

"It was a protest vote against the ruling coalition," said Ramunas Vilpisauskas, director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science in the capital Vilnius.

He said a new labour law which makes it easier to hire and fire employees as well as corruption allegations had alienated voters already angered by low wages and mass emigration to Western Europe.

The election commission earlier tallied turnout at 50 percent of the 2.5 million eligible voters.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, leader of the Homeland Union, has vowed to seek a new center-right coalition with the LPGU.

Positioning itself as kingmaker, the LGPU said it was open for talks with both conservatives and leftists, but said it would not clinch any deal before the decisive runoff round in two weeks.

Seventy members of Lithuania's 141-seat parliament are elected by proportional representation from party lists in the first round. The remaining 71 are chosen in single-member constituency races.

Initial results showed LGPU, led by popular former national police chief Saulius Skvernelis, claimed 19 seats compared to 17 won by the conservatives and 13 for Social Democrats.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/178790/lithuania-opposition-ahead-in-polls-deemed-blow-to-leftists.

South Sudan rebel leader says he could return next month

October 21, 2016

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar says he could return to the turbulent country as early as next month, even if he has to enter the way he fled — on foot. He has begun speaking out again after a long silence, during which he trekked 40 days through the bush into neighboring Congo as South Sudan's capital erupted in renewed fighting. In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press in South Africa, Machar said his country's peace deal had "collapsed" and a new political process is needed to revive it.

But he did not commit to rejoining the peace deal on the same terms. Under the agreement signed in 2015 that sought to end a bloody two-year civil war, he had been vice president in a fragile national unity government under his rival, President Salva Kiir.

Machar says he has the right to be president, and that he has enough forces to "liberate" the capital, Juba. He called for his supporters to "wage a popular armed resistance against the authoritarian and racist regime" in his first public comments in exile last month. On Thursday he backed away from that call to arms, saying his statement was "resisting the war being forced on us."

Machar fled South Sudan in July when fighting erupted among security forces, and he last spoke with Kiir on July 15, less than a week after the gunfire began. The government quickly replaced him as vice president. Fighting has continued in several parts of South Sudan since then.

In one of his first interviews in exile, Machar on Thursday warned of coming atrocities by South Sudan's government, including possible genocide. On Wednesday, Kiir announced that tribalism had become a growing factor in the conflict and that the army supporting him was mostly his fellow Dinka.

"What is that going to do?" asked Machar, an ethnic Nuer. He said he is afraid South Sudan will see more attacks like the one by South Sudanese soldiers in July on the Terrain compound popular with foreigners, where Americans were singled out and aid workers and others were raped, forced to watch a local journalist be shot dead and subjected to mock executions.

If South Sudan's government can do that to foreigners from powerful countries, Machar asked, what does the world think it will do to its own people? Machar also described how he fled the country in July in a 500-mile (804-kilometer) march through the bush into Congo. There, he said, the United Nations peacekeeping force extracted him, even as South Sudanese helicopter gunships continued to target him beyond their border.

"I went through an ordeal," Machar said, describing an epic, zig-zagging hike in which he and supporters were reduced to eating wild fruit and snails. Five of his soldiers died, he said, likely from poisoning after eating raw cassava.

Now Machar is in a hit-and-miss pursuit of world leaders for talks on how to revive South Sudan's peace deal. After a stay in Sudan, where he failed to meet President Omar Bashir, he now hopes to meet South African President Jacob Zuma.

During his time in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, Machar said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni requested a meeting to discuss a political process. Museveni asked if Machar would participate in a dialogue. "I said I would," the rebel leader said.

South Sudan's government has given contradictory statements over whether it would allow Machar back or negotiate with him. On Thursday, government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said he would not be allowed in South Sudan "as a political leader," saying he has lost support among some in the opposition.

Analysts say some diplomats have tried to get Machar to accept exile, but he rejected the idea — "Why would I?" — saying he had a responsibility to return home. And Machar said he would support a U.N.-imposed arms embargo on South Sudan, saying that "it is the government that is buying arms." He would not say whether his forces are getting arms from outside.

Lynch reported from Juba, South Sudan.

South Africa's move on ICC raises concerns of African exodus

October 21, 2016

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa on Friday reversed its early support for the International Criminal Court and said it will withdraw from it, raising concerns of a possible African exodus that would undermine a human rights tribunal accused by some leaders of unfairly targeting the continent.

The announcement followed a similar decision by Burundi this week and was criticized by human rights groups that see the ICC as the best means of pursuing perpetrators of the world's worst atrocities. The treaty creating the court entered into force in 2002 after years of efforts by South Africa's post-apartheid government and others.

No country has ever withdrawn from the ICC. Now, the debate over a mass African withdrawal is expected to be a "hot issue" at an African Union summit in January 2017, said Oryem Okello, deputy foreign minister of Uganda, a critic of the court.

"We think the matter is best decided as a bloc," Okello said. Withdrawal takes effect a year after the U.N. secretary-general is formally notified. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the countdown for South Africa started on Wednesday. Countries have to cooperate with any ICC proceedings that begin before withdrawal takes effect.

South Africa's announcement is "devastating" for the ICC, said Mark Kersten, a Britain-based researcher. "It is unclear if other states will follow South Africa's lead, but it is clear that states are more likely to follow South Africa's lead than Burundi, with whom many African states have tensions," Kersten wrote in an email to The Associated Press. Kenya, Namibia and Uganda are among the countries that have indicated interest in leaving, he said.

The possible departure of more countries "really questions whether or not the court is going to survive because it simply will not have the number of countries that it needs in order to be seen as legitimate and international," said Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association.

Many African countries were supportive of the court's creation partly because of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, but grew uneasy due to ICC scrutiny of national leaders. Under the Rome Statute that created the court, signatory countries have a legal obligation to arrest anyone sought by the tribunal.

The treaty is "in conflict and inconsistent with" South Africa's diplomatic immunity law, Michael Masutha, the minister of justice, told reporters Friday. The treaty hinders South Africa's goal of promoting peace talks, which can include hosting adversaries on its soil, Masutha said. South Africa has hosted talks on Zimbabwe, Congo and Madagascar in the past.

Parliament is likely to pass the bill. The ruling African National Congress party holds a majority of seats, and its parliament office welcomed the decision, saying "the ICC has allowed non-member states to dictate and interfere with its work to suit their own imperialist agendas."

South Africa's announcement follows a dispute last year over a visit by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir was allowed to leave South Africa even though a local court ordered authorities to stop him.

Friday's announcement came ahead of a Nov. 22 Constitutional Court hearing in which the government was scheduled to appeal legal rulings against it in the al-Bashir case. Masutha said the state will drop its appeal.

South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it would go to court to declare the government's decision to leave the ICC unconstitutional. Richard Goldstone, a South African who was an international criminal prosecutor, said the move was demeaning to his countrymen.

"From a moral standpoint, it detracts from the inspiring legacy of the administration of President Nelson Mandela that so strongly supported the ICC and all of the mechanisms of international justice," Goldstone said in a statement.

On Tuesday, President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi signed legislation to withdraw from the ICC, which had said it would investigate political violence that followed Nkurunziza's decision last year to pursue a third term, which some have called unconstitutional.

The ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands, had 124 member states before Burundi's move. The United States, China, Russia and Israel are among non-members. ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said international support "in Africa and beyond" is necessary for the court "to fulfill its independent and impartial mandate" to prosecute perpetrators of genocide and other crimes.

The push among some African countries to withdraw from the court began after it 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.

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. The African Union has said it will not compel member states to arrest a leader on behalf of the ICC.

Masutha, the South African justice minister, said Africa is strengthening its own human rights institutions. Handing another country's leader over to the ICC would interfere in another nation's sovereignty, he said.

"One cannot think of a more plausible scenario of forced regime change by one country on another," Masutha said.

Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed.

South Africa to withdraw from International Criminal Court

By Stephen Feller
Oct. 21, 2016

OHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Less than a month after Burundi's parliament voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, South Africa on Thursday announced it's intent to become the second African country to pull out of the Rome Statute.

South Africa notified the United Nations of its intent to withdraw from the ICC, which is the formal beginning of the year-long process for withdrawing from the court.

The notice was signed by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's minister of international relations, however several experts have questioned whether the country can pull out of the court under an executive decision or if its parliament is required to vote on such an action as well.

"The Republic of South Africa has found that it's obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the International Criminal Court of obligations contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court," the letter says.

Several media organizations reported they received copies of the document notifying the United Nations of the planned withdrawal, though neither South Africa or the United Nations has commented on the withdrawal yet.

South Africa would be the second African nation to pull out of the permanent court, tasked with prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, since Burundi's announcement it would withdraw on Oct. 13.

Last year, South Africa declined to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was attending an African Union summit there. Al-Bashir is accused of genocide and war crimes in Darfur by the court, charges he denies he has committed.

The African Union has previously told its members not to cooperate with the court because it holds an anti-Africa bias -- a campaign that apparently pushed South African officials to move toward withdrawal after President Jacob Zuma visited Kenya last week.

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was previously accused by the court of committing crimes against humanity but the trial collapsed due to a lack of evidence against him.

At least one organization, Human Rights Watch, expressed concern at the movement of country's looking to leave the court and what it means for protecting human life in Africa.

"South Africa's proposed withdrawal from the International Criminal Court shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes," said Dewa Mavhinga, Africa division senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. "It's important both for South Africa and the region that this runaway train be slowed down and South Africa's hard-won legacy of standing with victims of mass atrocities be restored."

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/10/21/South-Africa-to-withdraw-from-International-Criminal-Court/4371477030559/.

Philippine leader meets China's president in charm offensive

October 20, 2016

BEIJING (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was meeting Thursday with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing as part of a charm offensive aimed at seeking trade and support from the Asian giant by setting aside a thorny territorial dispute.

Duterte was greeted by Xi with full military honors at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of the ceremonial legislature in the heart of Beijing. The two leaders are due to oversee the signing of a raft of agreements between their governments following their discussions.

China has hailed Duterte's visit as a step toward ending years of estrangement between the countries. Tensions ran high after the Philippines won a major arbitration lawsuit against Beijing's massive territorial claims in the South China Sea just three months ago.

Duterte has walked a tightrope in trying to mend damaged relations with China while defending his country's claims in the disputed South China Sea. In Beijing, the Philippine leader known for his devil-may-care, profanity-laden speeches said Wednesday he would not raise the issue that has angered China unless his Chinese counterpart first brought it up, out of "courtesy" to his host.

"As a matter of courtesy and in the Oriental way, you always wait," Duterte said ahead of a meeting with members of the Filipino business community in Beijing on Wednesday. "Because I am a visitor, I can't destroy the goodwill by just blurting out something."

He also signaled a major shift in reliance on the U.S., the Philippines' long-standing defense treaty ally, telling the Filipino community members: "So it's about time to say good-bye, my friend. Your stay in my country was for you own benefit."

He has already said he wants U.S. visiting troops to leave the southern Mindanao region and to President Barack Obama "you can go to hell." He has also said he would terminate joint combat exercises between Filipino and U.S. troops.

"No more American interference. No more American exercises. What for?" he said Wednesday night. "I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there." In interviews with Chinese state media published and aired this week, Duterte has said "only China can help" his country, urging the country not to leave out the Philippines from a regional trade initiative and to give his country a railroad "if you find it in your heart."

But the overtures have drawn criticism of Duterte at home in the Philippines, where the public is wary of taking a deferential attitude to a country regarded as a bully. His visit is being watched by Washington for signs of just how seriously the new Philippine leader intends to pursue a shift away from Washington and toward Beijing, a move that could have a major impact on regional power dynamics.

Philippine leader open to war games with China, Russia

Manila (AFP)
Oct 17, 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is willing to hold military exercises with China but not longtime ally the United States, Chinese media quoted him Monday as saying on the eve of a state visit.

Duterte heads to Beijing on Tuesday for a four-day trip that appears set to cement his dramatic foreign policy tilt away from United States, which he has railed against for criticizing his deadly war on crime.

"It's only China (that) can help us," China's state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Duterte as saying in an interview ahead of his visit.

Duterte also told Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television he was willing to hold joint military exercises with China and Russia.

"Yes, I will. I have given enough time for the Americans to play with the Filipino soldiers," Duterte said when asked if he was open to war games with those two nations, as he reiterated he would no longer hold any more with the United States.

"This will be the last. It has been programmed. I do not want my soldiers to be humiliated," Duterte said, in reference to one set of war games in the Philippines that ended last week.

Duterte has sought to reshape his nation's foreign relations since taking office on June 30 by pivoting towards China and Russia while moving away from the United States, the Philippines' former colonial ruler and mutual defense ally.

Duterte has repeatedly expressed anger over American criticism of his war on crime, which has claimed more than 3,700 lives and raised fears of mass extrajudicial killings.

He has branded US President Barack Obama a "son of a whore" and told him to "go to hell".

But, signalling his shift to China is also for pragmatic reasons, Duterte has repeatedly ridiculed the United States for what he sees as its weakening economic and military influence around the world.

In the Xinhua interview Duterte again thanked China for not criticizing the crime crackdown as he held out the Philippines' hand for soft loans and other forms of financial help.

- 'China never criticizes' -

"China never criticizes. They help us quietly," Duterte said, according to Xinhua.

Duterte is bringing an entourage of hundreds of businessmen with him to Beijing, and Philippine media have said deals worth billions of dollars are expected to be announced during the trip.

Asked if he would seek to buy military equipment from China during his visit, Duterte told Phoenix Television: "Yes, but not really in (large) numbers."

Duterte said he would also need small, fast attack boats from China to fight "terrorism".

"If China does not help us in this endeavor, we will have a hard time fighting terrorism," he said without elaborating, according to Phoenix Television.

Bilateral relations worsened under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino, who tried to challenge China's expansionism in the South China Sea.

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

To counter China, Aquino allowed a much greater American military presence in the Philippines and started joint patrols in the sea with US forces.

He also filed a legal case at a UN-backed tribunal, which ruled in July that China's claims to most of the sea had no legal basis. Beijing refused to accept the ruling.

Duterte has said he does not want to use the verdict to pressure China. In recent weeks he has also cancelled the joint sea patrols with the United States and said he may cancel a pact that allows a greater US military presence in the Philippines.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Philippine_leader_open_to_war_games_with_China_Russia_999.html.

Duterte won't 'barter' away Philippine territory to China

Davao, Philippines (AFP)
Oct 16, 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Sunday he will not "barter" away territory and economic rights ahead of a visit to Beijing, where he hopes to mend ties frayed by a row over the South China Sea.

Duterte will head to Beijing on Tuesday -- after a state visit to Brunei that kicks off late Sunday -- and will be bringing along a large business delegation in a bid to secure Chinese investment as relations sour between Manila and its traditional ally the United States.

Duterte Sunday said he would also raise with Chinese President Xi Jinping a ruling by an international tribunal that outlawed Beijing's claim to most of the South China Sea, including waters close to the Philippine coast.

China, which rejected the ruling, claims nearly all of the strategically vital waters and has in recent years built artificial islands in the disputed areas that are capable of hosting military bases.

Duterte had earlier vowed not to "taunt or flaunt" the July ruling as he aims to improve trade and investment ties, which some critics warned could entail surrendering exclusive economic rights to the sea to Manila's powerful neighbor.

"I will be very careful not to bargain anything (away) for after all I cannot give what is not mine and which I am not empowered to do by any stretch of imagination," he told reporters in Davao city.

"The international tribunal's decision will be taken up, but there will be no hard impositions. We will talk and we will maybe paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories and (exclusive) economic zones."

During the election campaign, Duterte said he was willing to "set aside" the sea dispute in return for China building a railway through the impoverished southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

His willingness to launch negotiations with China over the dispute has been welcomed by Beijing.

On Sunday Duterte said he agreed with senior Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio that the president could be impeached and removed from office if he gave away Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone that China seized in 2012.

"He is correct. I would be impeached. It's an impeachable offence. I don't fight with that statement. It's all correct it's all legal and so I agree with him," Duterte said.

"It belongs to the Filipino people. I cannot be the sole authorized agent, for that is not allowed under the constitution."

Since coming to power in May, Duterte's push to restore ties with China has been accompanied by fiery rhetoric against the United States.

He scrapped a series of annual war games and joint South China Sea patrols with the US military after President Barack Obama criticised Manila's brutal war on drug crime which has left more than 3,000 people dead.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Duterte_wont_barter_away_Philippine_territory_to_China_999.html.

Belorussian capital Minsk awarded 2019 European Games

October 21, 2016

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The capital of Belarus was chosen Friday to host the 2019 European Games, ending more than a year of uncertainty after the previous host pulled out. The European Olympic Committee's general assembly approved the choice of Minsk, which was the only candidate to stage the second edition of the multi-sport event.

The motion passed easily, despite calls led by the Danish Olympic Committee to postpone the decision, arguing there was a lack of clarity over financing. "Belarus is not a superpower but we pay a lot of attention to sports," President Alexander Lukashenko told the assembly. "You can count on Belarus."

Lukashenko also urged more events from the European Games to be made qualifiers for the Olympics in order to attract more top athletes and fans after some leading competitors opted to skip the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, last year.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic, is likely to face criticism over its human rights record. The country is also currently in recession, raising concerns over the cost of hosting the games. Belorussian sports have also been dogged by doping cases.

The 2019 European Games were originally scheduled to take place in the Netherlands, which pulled out last year citing financial reasons. Russia was the EOC's preferred backup choice, but showed little interest even before the International Olympic Committee said it was not an appropriate host because of doping scandals.

Last year's games in Baku were hounded by controversies over human rights and lavish spending. Launched as an equivalent to long-established continental events, such as the Asian Games and Pan American Games, the European Games cost several billion dollars, with many new venues built. The opening ceremony in Baku alone had a price tag of $95 million, Azerbaijan's sports minister said at the time.

Minsk would likely need to spend far less to host the games, having built or refurbished many sports venues in recent years. The Belorussian capital hosted the world track cycling championships in 2013 and world ice hockey championships a year later.

Previously, Belarus had said it would only host the games on the condition it received financial support, a question which was not resolved Friday by the EOC. "Money is the main issue here. The second European Games will require huge investments," Belarus Olympic Committee deputy president Maxim Ryzhenkov said Wednesday. "Belarus invites the International Olympic Committee and EOC to assume a part of the expenses."

Belarus has retained much of the economic and political structure from Soviet times, and Lukashenko has regularly been criticized by human rights groups over jailed political opponents and the country's use of the death penalty.

The country also has a record of doping in ice hockey, weightlifting and track and field. The head of the national track federation served a doping ban during his career as an athlete. The Minsk assembly took place without EOC president Patrick Hickey, who is unable to leave Brazil since he was arrested in August during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on ticket scalping charges.

Lukashenko said there was "no proof" Hickey had done anything wrong, while acting EOC president Janez Kocijancic said he was concerned for Hickey's health. "His health is deteriorating. He has problems with the heart. The surgeons and doctors suggest that he should be treated in Ireland," Kocijancic said. "Patrick Hickey deserves much better treatment, he deserves the opportunity to prove his innocence and he must be returned home to improve his health."

Belarus president: Country ready to host 2019 European Games

October 21, 2016

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The president of Belarus says his country is ready to host the 2019 European Games. President Alexander Lukashenko says "Belarus is prepared to host the Second European Games in 2019." He spoke following a meeting in Minsk, the capital which would be the host city, with the acting president of the European Olympic Committees.

The offer is subject to confirmation at the EOC assembly later Friday, though acting EOC head Janez Kocijancic endorsed the bid. The former Soviet republic could face criticism over its human rights record, and has admitted concerns about the cost of hosting the games.

The 2019 European Games were originally scheduled to take place in the Netherlands, which pulled out last year citing financial reasons. The first European Games were held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2015.

Russia 'may consider' giving air defense systems to Turkey

Moscow (AFP)
Oct 14, 2016

The Kremlin said Friday it "may consider" supplying Turkey with air defense systems in a further warming of ties after a feud over the downing of a Russian jet last year.

President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks in Istanbul on Monday in which the prospect of supplying Ankara with air defense systems was brought up, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

"Various missile defense systems were mentioned and if the Turkish side so desires, Russia may consider the possibility of supplying Turkey in various ways," Peskov was quoted as saying.

Turkey's private NTV channel, citing Turkish foreign ministry sources, said earlier this week that Ankara was ready to accept an offer from Russia for a Turkish tender to build long-range air defense systems.

Turkish officials, contacted by AFP, said they had no information about any development.

Putin's visit to Turkey -- his first since the November 2015 downing of a Russian war plane by Ankara sparked the worst dispute between the countries since the Cold War -- saw each side pledge to step up cooperation in all areas including defense and technology.

The Kremlin strongman on Monday hinted that concrete measures would be taken to reinforce defense ties with Ankara.

"We are ready to continue this (military-technical) cooperation and boost it with serious projects of mutual interest," Putin said.

"Proposals from both sides are being studied, and I am certain they have all the grounds to be carried out."

Ankara last year cancelled a preliminary deal on air defense systems with China amid concerns from its NATO partners.

At the time, Turkish officials said Ankara had instead an ambitious plan to build a Turkish-made missile defense system.

Despite the warming ties, Moscow and Ankara remain far apart on the conflict in Syria, with Russia supporting leader Bashar al-Assad and Turkey wanting him out.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Russia_may_consider_giving_air_defence_systems_to_Turkey_999.html.

Hundreds march to protest bullfighting's return to Barcelona

October 22, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Hundreds of people have marched in Barcelona to protest the return of bullfighting to the city. Spain's Constitutional Court overruled Catalonia's regional ban on bullfighting Thursday, saying the prohibition violated a national law protecting the controversial spectacle.

Spain's Pacma animal rights political party called for Saturday's protest as part of its "Mission Abolition." Pacma has said it will continue to fight to end bull-related spectacles at a national level.

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, the powerful northeastern region that outlawed bullfighting in 2010. The ban reflected a growing movement against bullfighting, but also was seen as a step in the Catalan government's push to break away from Spain.

Pacma has called for more protests to be held in Madrid and other Spanish cities.