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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

IS attacks Iraq city of Kirkuk, power plant amid Mosul fight

October 21, 2016

KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) — Islamic State militants armed with assault rifles and explosives attacked targets in and around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk early Friday in an assault that appeared aimed at diverting Iraqi security forces from a massive offensive against the IS-held city of Mosul.

At least 11 workers, including two Iranians, were killed when IS militants stormed a power plant north of Kirkuk and then blew themselves up. Multiple explosions meanwhile rocked the city, and gun battles were ongoing, said witnesses in Kirkuk, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were concerned for their safety. Much of the fighting was centered on a government compound in the city. They said the streets were largely deserted out of fear of militant snipers.

IS said its fighters targeted the provincial headquarters. The claim was carried by the IS-run Aamaq news agency and could not immediately be verified. Local Kurdish television channel Rudaw aired footage showing black smoke rising over the city as extended bursts of automatic gunfire rang out. It quoted Kirkuk Gov. Najmadin Karim as saying that the militants have not seized any government buildings.

In the power plant attack, which took place in Dibis, a town north of Kirkuk, three IS suicide bombers entered the facility and took 10 workers hostage, said Maj. Ahmed Kader Ali, the Dibis police chief.

The attackers asked to be taken to the Iranians who worked at the plant. One of the workers took them to the Iranians before escaping. The militants then killed the Iranians and the other workers, and detonated their explosive vests when police arrived, Ali said.

Kirkuk is some 170 kilometers (100 miles) from the Islamic State-held city of Mosul, where Iraqi forces have been waging a wide-scale offensive since Monday. The oil-rich city is some 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad and southeast of Mosul. It is claimed by both Iraq's central government and the country's Kurdish region. Kurdish forces assumed full control of Kirkuk in the summer of 2014, as Iraq's army and police crumbled in the face of a lightning advance by IS.

Later Friday, Rudaw TV said all IS militants who took part in the Kirkuk attack had been killed except for two who were holed up in a newly built hotel, which was damaged in the attack and from where they were battling Kurdish forces.

Kirkuk police commander Brig. Gen. Khattab Omer said clashes were still underway, without providing further details. There was no immediate word on casualties among civilians or Kurdish forces in Kirkuk, and the TV report could not immediately be confirmed.

Kemal Kerkuki, a senior commander of Kurdish peshmerga forces west of Kirkuk, said the town where his base is located outside the city also came under attack early on Friday. He said the base is now under control.

He said IS maintains sleeper cells in Kirkuk and the surrounding villages. "We arrested one recently and he confessed," he said, adding that the attackers may have posed as displaced civilians in order to infiltrate the city.

Kirkuk province has absorbed hundreds of thousands of displaced people from neighboring provinces since IS first overran wide stretches of northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014, capturing Mosul, the country's second largest city.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition launched a multi-pronged assault this week to retake Mosul and surrounding areas from IS. The operation is the largest undertaken by the Iraqi military since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Iraqi officials said they had advanced as far as the town of Bartella, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Mosul's outskirts, by Thursday. IS, which still controls a swath of territory stretching across Syria and Iraq, has a history of launching diversionary attacks on distant fronts when it comes under pressure. In April 2015, Iraqi forces announced the liberation of the central city of Tikrit. The following month, IS militants captured the western Iraqi city of Ramadi and the eastern Syrian city of Palmyra. Both cities have since been retaken by Iraqi and Syrian forces.

Schreck reported from Irbil, Iraq. Associated Press writers Susannah George in Irbil, Ahmed Sami and Joseph Krauss in Baghdad and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Rohingya groups say Rakhine deaths now excuse for purge

17 October 2016 Monday

Rohingya advocacy groups worldwide are continuing to express serious concerns over what they claim is a continued military and police crackdown in western Myanmar, as authorities seek those responsible for the murder of nine police officers.

The nine died along with eight armed men in three separate attacks on police outposts on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in western Rakhine State on Oct. 9.

The outposts are located in Maungdaw and Yathay Taung townships, two areas predominantly occupied by the country's stateless Rohingya Muslim population -- described by United Nations as one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world.

Late Sunday, a statement from the groups headlined Save Rohingya from Annihilation claimed that military and police have since been indiscriminately killing Rohingya and torching and plundering their homes and villages, under the pretext of looking for the attackers.

"Two mass graves were found, and about 100 Rohingya civilians were extra-judicially killed that included old men, women and children," it said.

According to Myanmar media, however, since Oct. 9 no more than 33 people -- including four soldiers and 29 suspected attackers -- have been killed, including two women.

Monday's statement added that at least five Rohingya villages had also been set ablaze as the army sought those responsible.

"The grave situation has caused many Rohingya to flee their villages. An estimated 5000 Rohingya have been internally displaced causing great humanitarian disaster. Due to curfew order and blockade, there is an acute shortage of food, medicine, and other essentials. The situation is exponentially worsening," it underlined.

On Oct. 14, Myanmar’s government said that the initial raids on the police outposts were conducted by the Aqa Mul Mujahidin organization, which it described as being affiliated with the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a shadowy extremist group that takes its name from the Rohingya.

It has blamed the attacks on non-Myanmar nationals, but has said they were aided by some members of the local community.

“The attacks in Maungdaw Township were systematically planned in advance over a long period of time, assisted by foreign funding and the support of members of foreign terrorist organizations,” said a president’s office statement.

Though most experts believe the RSO’s continued existence is a myth, the government has classified it as an extremist group and officials blame it for recent attacks on border areas.

While Muslim organizations in Myanmar condemned the original attacks, Sunday's statement said that they have since been used as an excuse to attack innocent Rohingya, and then claim that the Muslim community was burning down its own homes in an effort to gain international sympathy.

"Whilst these crimes against humanity have been manifestly committed by the joint armed forces with impunity, the authorities, as a part of an evil design, are spreading lies to the media that 'Bengalis' -- a racial slur in reference to the Rohingya people -- are burning down their own houses to leave the international community in a state of confusion," it said.

Local nationalists have long labelled Rohingya “Bengali” -- a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and therefore have no right to Myanmar citizenship.

It called on the European Union, United Nations and other members of the international community to make an objective assessment of the situation and help the victims of human rights violations on humanitarian grounds.

"We also request the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene into the matter and put an end to the military crackdowns on the civilian population,” it added.

On Oct. 3, Suu Kyi called on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states for support in solving the “complex situation” in Rakhine, home to around 1.2 million Rohingya.

Since her party's victory in the Nov. 8 election, Suu Kyi has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by Rohingya but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country's nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate the country's Buddhist traditions.

Suu Kyi has, however, enforced the notion that the root of many of the impoverished region's problems are economic, and is encouraging investment in the area, which in turn the National League for Democracy hopes will lead to reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Monday's statement was signed by Rohingya organizations from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Japan, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malaysia, and the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/178794/rohingya-groups-say-rakhine-deaths-now-excuse-for-purge.

Kashmir protests completes 100 days

17 October 2016 Monday

In occupied Kashmir, dozens were injured in Indian forces action while protests were held and clashes took place in various parts of the Valley as the ongoing uprising completed 100 days on Sunday.

As many as 110 people have been killed while over 14,000 have sustained injuries during the uprising which erupted on July 9, a day after Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, was martyred by the Indian occupation troops in a fake encounter.

Reports from South Kashmir’s Shopian district said at least 20 people were injured when clashes erupted in Nagbal village against the beating of people and vandalizing of property by the Indian forces.

People from adjoining villages like Wedipora also rushed towards the village to protest.

The forces fired pellets and bullets at the protesters. One of the youth received a firearm injury in his leg and was shifted to the District Hospital Islamabad.

The police, however, said that police and forces cordoned off the Urpora Nagbal area and conducted search operations early morning.

At the time of withdrawal, people in large numbers from Hushnpora, Daschnu and Humana assembled and pelted the joint party with stones.

Thirty-eight police CRPF men were injured, and four of their vehicles were damaged.

Late evening reports said that clashes erupted in Tahab area of Pulwama where forces fired dozens of teargas shells in which three youths sustained injuries.  One of them was referred to Srinagar for treatment.

Reports from Sopore said that a protest demonstration was held at the Jamia Masjid.

The protest ended peacefully. Clashes erupted at Arampora and Chinkipora Sopore after forces intercepted a group of protesting youth. Reports said that protests were staged at Nutnusa and Ganapora villages of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.  In Srinagar clashes broke out at Batamaloo and Tengpora areas. However, there were no reports of any injuries.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/178782/kashmir-protests-completes-100-days.

Iraq forces shell IS near Mosul; group urges airstrike probe

October 24, 2016

BARTELLA, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces shelled Islamic State positions outside Mosul on Monday as fighting to retake the extremist-held city entered its second week. A rights group, meanwhile, urged a probe into a suspected airstrike last week that mistakenly hit a mosque, killing over a dozen civilians.

The purported airstrike in northern Iraq struck the women's section of a Shiite mosque on Friday in the town of Daquq amid a large Islamic State assault on the nearby city of Kirkuk. That assault was meant to distract the Iraqi forces and their allies from the massive operation around Mosul.

Human Rights Watch said Daquq's residents believe the attack was an airstrike because of the extent of the destruction and because planes could be heard flying overhead. The New York-based watchdog said at least 13 people were reported killed.

The U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi military, which are waging the offensive to drive IS from the northern city of Mosul, are the only parties known to be flying military aircraft over Iraq. Col. John Dorrian, a U.S. military spokesman, said the coalition had "definitively determined" that it did not conduct the airstrike that killed civilians in Daquq, and had shared its findings with the Iraqi government, which is carrying out its own investigation.

"The Coalition uses precision munitions and an exhaustive process to reduce the possibility of civilian casualties and collateral damage because the preservation of civilian life is paramount importance to us," Dorrian said.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, confirmed the Iraqi government was investigating the attack. He declined to say whether Iraqi or coalition planes were flying in the area at the time of the explosion.

The strike in Daquq, around 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Kirkuk, took place as dozens of IS militants attacked several government and police compounds in the city of Kirkuk, some 170 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Mosul.

Daquq Mayor Amir Khodakram said on Saturday that the alleged airstrike killed 17 people, mainly women and children, and wounded another 50. He said it wasn't clear who carried out the airstrike. Over the past week, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been battling IS in a belt of mostly uninhabited towns and villages to the north, east and south of Mosul, pushing to within 9 kilometers (5 ½ miles) of the city.

On Monday, Iraqi special forces began shelling IS positions before dawn near the town of Bartella, said Maj. Gen. Haider al-Obeidi. Bartella, a historically Christian town 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the east of Mosul, was retaken by Iraqi special forces last week.

Shortly afterward, a convoy of special forces advanced toward the village of Tob Zawa, encountering roadside bombs and trading heavy fire with the militants. Loudspeakers on the Humvees blared Iraqi patriotic music as they pushed toward the village.

The campaign to retake Mosul comes after months of planning and involves more than 25,000 Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters and state-sanctioned Shiite militias. It is expected to take weeks, if not months, to drive IS out of Iraq's second largest city, which is still home to more than a million people.

The militants captured Mosul in the summer of 2014, when they swept across much of northern and western Iraq. IS has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year, and Mosul is its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

Krauss reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Iraqi forces advance near Mosul as IS attacks western town

October 23, 2016

KHAZER, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi Kurdish forces pushed toward Mosul on Sunday, cordoning off eight villages and coming within 9 kilometers (5 ½ miles) of the northern city held by the Islamic State group, which staged an attack in a western town hundreds of miles away in an apparent diversionary tactic.

The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, said the area they cordoned off measures around 100 square kilometers (38 square miles), and that they also secured a "significant stretch" of highway. The statement said eight car bombs were destroyed in the operation, including three by U.S.-led coalition aircraft, and "dozens" of militants were killed.

The offensive near the town of Bashiqa came nearly a week after Iraq announced the start of the long-awaited Mosul offensive. Iraqi and Kurdish forces are approaching from the north, east and south through a belt of mostly abandoned and heavily mined villages scattered across the Ninevah plain.

Maj. Gen. Haider Fadhi, of Iraq's special forces said they also took part in the operation, and that Bashiqa was completely encircled. IS has put up stiff resistance in many areas and has carried out attacks further afield that appear aimed at diverting attention from the Mosul operation.

IS militants stormed into the town of Rutba, in far western Iraq, unleashing three suicide car bombs that were blown up before hitting their targets, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.

He said some militants were killed, without giving an exact figure, and declined to say whether any civilians or Iraqi forces were killed. He said the militants did not seize any government buildings and that the situation "is under control."

The IS-run Aamaq news agency had earlier said militants stormed Rutba from several directions. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, confirmed there had been a complex attack in Rutba and said he expects more such diversionary attacks as Iraqi forces close in on Mosul.

IS carried out a large assault on the northern city of Kirkuk on Friday, in which more than 50 militants stormed government compounds and other targets, setting off more than 24 hours of heavy fighting and killing at least 80 people, mainly security forces.

The Mosul offensive involves more than 25,000 Iraqi ground forces as well as U.S.-led coalition aircraft and advisers. It is expected to take weeks, if not months, to drive IS from Iraq's second-largest city, which is home to more than a million civilians.

Bashiqa is close to a military base of the same name where some 500 Turkish troops are training Sunni and Kurdish fighters for the Mosul offensive. Turkey's prime minister, Binali Yildirim, told reporters Sunday that Turkish tanks and artillery had begun aiding the Kurdish forces in the Bashiqa offensive.

The presence of the Turkish troops has angered Iraq, which says it never gave them permission to enter the country and has called on them to withdraw. Turkey has refused, insisting that it play a role in retaking Mosul from IS.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has visited both countries in recent days, and was in the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil, on Sunday. After meeting with Turkish leaders, Carter announced an "agreement in principle" for Turkey to have a role in the operation. But Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told Carter on Saturday that Mosul was an "Iraqi battle."

The forces taking part in the Mosul offensive include Iraqi troops, the peshmerga, Sunni tribal fighters and state-sanctioned Shiite militias. Many fear the operation could heighten tensions between Iraq's different communities, which are allied against IS but divided over a host of other issues, including the fate of territories near mostly Sunni Mosul that are claimed by the largely autonomous Kurdish region and the central government.

Carter praised the peshmerga, saying they "fight extremely well," but also acknowledged that they had suffered casualties. Brig. Gen. Halgord Hekmet, a spokesman for the Kurdish forces, told reporters that 25 of their troops have been killed since the battle to retake Mosul began and a "large number" had been wounded. He said the peshmerga have had good coalition air support, but could use more armored vehicles and roadside bomb detectors. Most of the fallen peshmerga were riding in unarmored vehicles, he said.

The U.N. agency for children meanwhile expressed concern over the more than 4,000 people it says have fled from areas around Mosul since the operation began. UNICEF's Iraq representative, Peter Hawkins, said that in at least one refugee camp the conditions for children were "very, very poor." He said UNICEF teams delivered water, sanitation and other supplies expected to last seven days.

They also provided immunizations against polio and measles, which he said had not been available during the more than two years that the people lived under IS rule. UNICEF has plans to assist more than 784,000 people, including up to 500,000 children.

Hawkins says children in and around Mosul are at risk of death or injury from the fighting, as well as sexual violence, kidnapping and recruitment by armed groups.

Krauss reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad, Lolita C. Baldor in Irbil, Iraq, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Iraq pushes into town near Mosul after IS assault on Kirkuk

October 22, 2016

BARTELLA, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces pushed into a town near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul on Saturday after a wave of militant attacks in and around the northern city of Kirkuk set off more than 24 hours of heavy clashes, with ongoing skirmishes in some areas.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter meanwhile arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit to meet with Iraqi commanders to discuss the offensive to retake Mosul, which the U.S. is supporting with airstrikes and advisers on the ground.

The Iraqi army said the 9th Division has pushed into the town of Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida, and raised the flag over its central government compound, but the troops were likely still facing resistance in and around the town. Similar past announcements have often proved premature.

Two officers from the 9th Division confirmed troops had captured the government compound and raised the flag over it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The town is around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mosul. Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale offensive earlier this week aimed at retaking Mosul, the country's second largest city, which fell to IS in 2014.

Hamdaniyah is believed to be largely uninhabited. IS has heavily mined the approaches to Mosul, and Iraqi forces have had to contend with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs as they move closer to the city.

IS said it foiled an attack on Hamdaniyah and seized vehicles and weapons left by retreating Shiite militiamen. The claim, carried by the extremist group's Aamaq news agency, could not be confirmed. An Iraqi television station says one of its reporters was shot dead near Mosul, the second journalist in as many days to be killed while covering the conflict.

Alsumaria TV says cameraman Ali Risan was shot in the chest by a sniper Saturday during a battle in the al-Shura area. Journalist Ahmet Haceroglu of Turkmeneli TV was shot dead by a militant sniper Friday, while covering the IS assault on Kirkuk.

Iraqi forces retook the town of Bartella, around 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of Mosul, earlier this week, but are still facing pockets of resistance in the area. Islamic State militants launched a rocket and opened fire on an Iraqi convoy near the town on Saturday, and the Iraqi special forces in the convoy returned fire. No one was wounded in the exchange, but it highlighted the dangers Iraqi forces face in areas that have recently been retaken from the militants.

Inside Bartella, a road extending more than 100 meters (yards) was completely demolished, with all the homes on either side reduced to rubble. IS graffiti was scrawled across the walls, and the militants appeared to have renamed streets and neighborhoods after famous fighters during the more than two years they controlled the area.

In Kirkuk, meanwhile, some fighting continued a day after IS launched a massive attack in and around the city, some 170 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Mosul. The assault appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from Mosul.

The area around the provincial headquarters, where the fighting was heaviest on Friday, was quiet. But witnesses said there were ongoing clashes in the Asra wa Mafkudin neighborhood, where at least two IS fighters were killed Saturday. They spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.

Col. Redah Sheikh Latif of the Kurdish peshmerga forces in Kirkuk confirmed there were ongoing skirmishes between IS snipers and security forces in the neighborhood, but said the situation was contained. He said there was also fighting in Wara Tappa, a suburb.

On Friday the militants killed 13 workers, including four Iranians, at a power plant north of Kirkuk. It was not clear if there were other casualties among civilians in Kirkuk or the Kurdish security forces who control the city.

Iraq launched a long-awaited operation on Monday aimed at retaking Mosul, its second largest city, which fell to IS in 2014. It is the largest operation undertaken by Iraqi forces since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Carter's visit comes two days after a U.S. service member was killed outside Mosul, underscoring the risk that American troops are taking as they advise Iraqi forces in the fight. The U.S. service member killed earlier this week was the fourth U.S. combat death in Iraq since the U.S. began military operations against the Islamic State in August 2014, and the first since the Mosul operation began. The service member was working with Iraqi special forces northeast of Mosul and serving as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist.

More than 4,800 U.S. troops are in Iraq and there are more than 100 U.S. special operations forces operating with Iraqi units. Hundreds more American troops are playing a support role in staging bases farther from the front lines.

U.S. military officials say that a fire at a sulfur plant in northern Iraq set by Islamic State militants on Thursday is creating a potential breathing hazard for American forces and other troops at a logistical base south of Mosul.

Two officials said that while the fire was set two days ago in Mishraq, the winds shifted earlier Saturday, sending the smoke south toward Qayara West air field, a staging area for the Mosul offensive. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

They said troops at the base were wearing protective masks because of the breathing concerns, and estimated it could take two to three days to put the fire out.

Matti reported from Kirkuk. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Joseph Krauss in Baghdad, Adam Schreck and Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Iraqi town outside Mosul rises up against militants

October 20, 2016

AL-HUD, Iraq (AP) — The mutilated bodies of Islamic State group fighters were still strewn on the ground of this northern Iraqi town on Wednesday. One was burned. Another's face was flattened by abuse.

Iraqi troops on the march toward Mosul moved into al-Hud a day earlier and declared it liberated. But they found residents had already risen up and killed many of the militants in the town themselves.

With the offensive to recapture Mosul in its third day, Iraqi forces advancing from the south and east are fighting to retake the towns and villages the dot the plains and line the Tigris River leading to the city. At times, they've met fierce resistance, with the militants sending explosives-packed vehicles careening toward the troops' positions.

This area has been under control of the militants ever since the summer of 2014, when IS fighters captured Mosul and much of the north in a lightning advance. In al-Hud, a Sunni Arab town on the Tigris, residents saw their chance to get rid of them. On Monday, a man paraded through town with an Iraqi flag in a show of defiance, residents told The Associated Press. IS fighters shot and killed him.

A group of residents gathered in a shop, news spread among the hundreds of people living in the town, and soon a crowd turned on the militants. One resident, Ahmed Mohammed, said he and others shot a militant who was hiding by an outhouse behind a shop. "That didn't work. Then one of our guys came and threw a grenade on him from the top," he said.

Gasim Mohammed said his father was killed in the uprising against the militants. He kicked the head of one of the bodies. "This one smells like a dog," he said. "I hate them. Anyone I catch, I'll drink his blood. Even if it's a child," he said.

It was not clear how many militants had been in the village or how many were killed. The Associated Press saw at least five bodies. The head of the Iraqi military's operations command for Nineveh province where the offensive its taking place confirmed the residents' account.

"Before we reached the village they fought them and killed many of them," Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jobori said. On Wednesday, residents were celebrating. Children ran toward an Iraqi military convoy waving peace signs while others threw stones at the bodies of the dead IS fighters. Residents fired celebratory rounds into the air and cars long the main road still flew white flags of surrender.

At Qayara air base, near al-Hud, a senior Iraqi general called on Islamic State group fighters in Mosul to surrender. Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati told reporters that up to 6,000 IS fighters are in the city.

East of Mosul, troops have moved about a kilometer (half-mile) from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida, to the east of Mosul, an Iraqi officer from the 9th Division told the AP.

Over the past day, IS sent 12 car bombs against the troops, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, he said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, did not provide specific figures.

At least 5,000 people fled the Mosul area to a refugee camp in northeastern Syria in the last 10 days, with another thousand waiting to enter at the border, Save the Children said. Tarik Kadir, head of the group's Mosul response, said conditions there are "among the worst we've seen." More than 9,000 people in the camp only have access to dirty, untreated water and have to share 16 latrines, leaving the area polluted by human waste "with a looming risk of disease," the group said.

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien told the U.N. Security Council that no large-scale displacement of civilians has been reported since the operation began. But he said the U.N. anticipates "a displacement wave of some 200,000 people over the coming weeks, with up to one million displaced in the course of the operation in a worst-case scenario."

Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Khazer, Iraq, and Sinan Salaheddin and Joseph Krauss in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Turkey-trained forces join Mosul offensive

17 October 2016 Monday

Turkish-trained forces are participating in the military operation to recapture Iraq’s northern city of Mosul from ISIL extremist organization, the former Mosul governor said Monday.

Atheel Nujaifi, who is also the commander of Nineveh Guards, which were trained by Turkey in Bashiqa camp, said some 2,000 Sunni fighters have joined the offensive and they were acting with the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Iraqi forces began advancing Sunday midnight on Mosul, the last ISIL stronghold in northern Iraq.

In televised statements, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said only Iraqi army and police forces would be in the city.

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) also said a simultaneous operation has started against ISIL with the participation KRG peshmerga forces.

U.S.-led coalition jets also supported peshmerga forces in the anti-ISIL campaign, it said.

Last December, Turkey sent 150 troops and about two dozen combat tanks to Bashiqa, located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) northeast of Mosul.

Ankara and Baghdad have been locked in a row about the presence of Turkish troops there.

Turkey fears that the participation of Shia militias – which the Iraqi army relied on in the past -- in the Mosul offensive will stoke sectarian tension and trigger an exodus of refugees.

Ankara has insisted that nearly 3,000 Sunni tribal forces trained by Turkish forces at the Bashiqa base on the eastern outskirts of Mosul join the anti-ISIL offensive and remain in the city as a police force. Baghdad is still at odds with that proposal.

In mid-2014, ISIL captured Mosul and overran vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq.

Recent months, however, have seen the Iraqi army, backed by a 60-nation air coalition led by the U.S., retake a large portion of that territory.

Nevertheless, the extremist group remains in control of several parts of the country, including Mosul.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/178772/turkey-trained-forces-join-mosul-offensive.

Fearless teacher helps children of Albania's blood feuds

October 19, 2016

SHKODRA, Albania (AP) — Where most people, even police, fear to set foot, Liljana Luani takes books, household supplies, and a lifetime of experience helping families marked for death. The 56-year-old school teacher from Shkodra in northern Albania uses her spare time to travel to remote hillside villages where children trapped in a centuries-old tradition of blood feuds are hidden by their families.

The feuds, often related to criminal rivalry, stem from an ancient code of conduct known as the Kanun, a detailed but primitive form of self-administration. A cycle of reciprocal killings that lasts for generations may start from an incident as serious as murder or as minor as a land dispute.

When Luani visits a village, the guard dogs recognize her and the people who live there barely react as she opens the metal gate and steps into a house. But the sense of danger is constant. "I am aware that my job is like walking through land mines. If I slip somewhere my family will pay for it," Luani told The Associated Press, speaking in the home of a young boy hidden away to protect him from a vendetta. She gave him a lesson in math, grammar and the ancient Greek tale of "The Odyssey."

"I am a teacher and teaching is not a profession for me. It's a mission." Typically only men are targeted in blood feuds. The feuds were largely suppressed during communism, but have been revived mainly in remote areas where the rule of law is perceived as weak. Victims are typically pursued over years and eventually ambushed, gunned down in the street, in a country awash with unlicensed weapons.

Police don't report figures on the motives for murders, but revenge killings are blamed for dozens of deaths every year. Women are generally exempt, allowing Luani to travel without being targeted or followed. But post-communist revenge killings have occasionally strayed from traditional rules and the male bloodline to include women, minors, multiple killings and the use of assassins.

Luani says she is still haunted by the memory of a teenage boy who insisted on attending school and was shot dead in an ambush. For that reason, she doesn't give specifics about the students she visits or why they are embroiled in blood feuds, because she's scared that they will be identified. AP journalists also met with some blood feud targets who asked not to be identified for fear they would be found and killed.

On a typical weekday, Luani finishes classes, cooks at home for her family, and then sets off into what locals call the "accursed mountains," steep and inhospitable, traveling by taxi van for up to an hour to reach the stranded children.

Several years ago, she helped start and support a pioneer shelter school in southern Albania, in some cases taking additional risks to persuade parents to let their children travel. "The school was a miracle, but it closed after three years due to corruption in public administration," she said.

She fought in court to have it reopened, insisting that private donations were squandered through mismanagement by regional authorities. She won the case, but no action was taken. Groups that track blood feuds estimate that several thousand people, including young children, live in isolation because of them. Treated by many as outcasts, they often only venture out at night to get firewood, food and other supplies.

"Confined children do not grow up the way normal children do," Luani said. "They miss everything. They miss freedom. They grow up fearing they will be killed or are focused on how to kill ... Imagine that life."

One recent visit was to a rundown house where a 40-year-old woman lives with her three sons, ages 14 to 19. They use a small yard to grow vegetables, and keep chickens and a cow. Neighbors and relatives provided some assistance, while Luani persuaded the power company to offer electricity at a discount.

The woman's husband is in jail for murder and the family is unaccustomed to visitors. The mother cried frequently, while the two older boys disappeared into another room. Luani teaches the youngest son, in the hope it will help him escape the cycle of violence.

"I believe that when people are educated they usually do not fall prey to the blood feud phenomenon," she said. Much of her effort, Luani says, is now focused on trying to persuade mothers not to bring up their sons to continue the vendettas. She accompanies them to municipal classes to that teach basic cooking, hygiene and personal care skills.

"Many say 'well done' to me, and make me out to be a hero. I don't want that. I want much, much more to be done for these people," she says. "As long as I am physically able to walk and talk, I will be with my students, my children."

Llazar Semini in Tirana contributed to this report.

Over 7,700 Syrians return to Jarabulus city from Turkey

25 October 2016 Tuesday

More than 7,700 Syrians have returned to northern Syria’s Jarabulus city from Turkey’s Gaziantep province, two months after the city was liberated from the ISIL extremist group, the regional governor's office said Tuesday.

Syrians can be seen waiting in line at Turkey’s Karkamis border crossing to go to Jarabulus after registration and security checks.

Oktay Bahceci, head of the Gaziantep regional migration office, said Jarabulus was now clear of all extremist groups.

“After our office carries out the registrations, they may go to their hometowns,” Bahceci said. “To date, a total of 7,741 people have returned to Jarabulus."

Operation Euphrates Shield, which began on Aug. 24 backed by the Turkish Armed Forces, is aimed at bolstering border security, supporting coalition forces and eliminating the threat posed by extremist organizations in Syria, especially ISIL.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests – which erupted as part of the Arab Spring uprisings – with unexpected ferocity.

The Syrian Center for Policy Research, a Beirut-based NGO, has put the total death toll from the five-year conflict at more than 470,000.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/179119/over-7700-syrians-return-to-jarabulus-city-from-turkey.

After al-Hameh & Qudsayya .. Muadamiyat al-Sham's inhabitants leave to #Idlib

19 October, 2016

The Negotiations between the delegated Committee by the al-Assad regime and the Muadamiyat al-Sham’s people got to the final stages, to be on Wednesday the date of the fighters’ exit the city with their families who refuse to reconcile with the regime.

620 Fighters with their families decided to get out of Muadamiyat al-Sham, bringing the number to 1,500 people, and go to the city of Idlib northern Syria, pointing out that among the displaced families people came from Darya and KafarSoseh and Mezzeh, according to media sources.

Last week, about 2,500 people had left “al-Hameh and Qudsayya” towards Idlib’s towns, as part of an agreement held for the residents’ evacuation of the besieged areas in Rif Dimashq to the city of Idlib under international auspices.

The al-Assad regime imposes a genocidal blockade on the Eastern and Western Ghouta areas several years ago, in order to compel the people of those areas for reconciliation, or to leave the entire region, as happened in the town of Darya, which its current population are Iraqi and Afghan families.

Source: el-Dorar.
Link: http://en.eldorar.com/node/3516.

"Euphrates Shield" Expands northern #Aleppo, close to al-Assad regime's zone

18 October, 2016

The Free Syrian Army factions fighting within the process of the "Euphrates Shield" made new progress on the IS Group-held areas of the northern Aleppo countryside; where they expanded south of Dabiq town and have become close to the al-Assad regime’s sites.

Seven new areas seized by FSA backed by the Turkish army: "Tal Maled, al-Sayed Ali, Albarrozah, Tannorah, Baraan, Ataiwahnyah, Asamoukah Bridge and al-Wash" all of which are located south of Dabiq town which seized by FSA earlier, ElDorar’s correspondent reported.

Our correspondent pointed out that "the Euphrates Shield" forces are in close proximity to areas controlled by the al-Assad regime; there are just three villages separate the FSA controlled areas and the al-Assad forces’ areas, namely: "Sorouj, Hasasek and al-Wahshya."

It should be noted that the Turkish president, "Recep Tayyip Erdogan," said in a statement today that the Democratic Union Party’s fighters will be driven off from the city of Manbej after the al-Bab’s Battle, in an indication that the fight is so close.

Source: el-Dorar.
Link: http://en.eldorar.com/node/3512.

Gaza University to launch first film major in Palestine

October 23, 2016

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza is getting ready to launch its first film studies major in the Palestinian territories in January 2017. The university program will be implemented in universities, as hundreds of students wishing to major in cinematography and film studies are unable to travel abroad to pursue their studies given the closure of crossings in the Gaza Strip, namely the Rafah crossing.

Although launching the program could be a bumpy ride given the lack of the necessary equipment, such as school curricula and other work equipment, the program organizers, a group of people who hold university degrees from art faculties in Egypt, are seeking to bring in some material from abroad or tap into the available modest tools in Gaza after having obtained preliminary approval by the Ministry of Culture in early October.

Mai Nayef, an academic and one of the people in charge of the program, told Al-Monitor, “The main reason behind this initiative is the lack of any film and cinematography major in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, despite the large number of students who wish to pursue this career.”

She added, “Gaza, in particular, is a fertile ground for the success and growth of such an initiative. The drama works and art projects that are produced every year, which culminate during the month of Ramadan through TV series and programs, are further proof of Gaza’s ability to thrive in this domain."

Nayef noted that the produced works by Gazan directors, filmmakers and photographers are made on an ad hoc basis and are drawn from their own personal experience without having acquired any scientific or academic expertise. Therefore, many Gazan artists and workers in the cinema industry will seek to enhance their skills through this new academic specialization. She also said that her group has been contacted by several directors, cinematographers and scriptwriters inquiring about the program’s schedule and admission dates.

She added that the needed textbooks will be brought in from Egypt given the scarcity of the necessary teaching material in Gaza’s libraries, stressing that her group is seeking to conclude an agreement with the Academy of Arts in Egypt for the procurement of the textbooks. This is in addition to contracting with some Egyptian academics to give lectures through video conferences and Skype calls.

Mohammed al-Bayoumi, a holder of a doctorate degree in cinematography from Egypt’s Academy of Arts and one of the program’s creators, expects the program to have a high turnout of students who are interested in cinema studies.

He stressed that the program’s administrators will focus on both theory and practice during the studies to ensure that the students will acquire the necessary experience to engage in the labor market.

Bayoumi told Al-Monitor that the program will be focusing on “acting, script writing, film directing and cinematography.” He expects that after completion of the two-year program, students will be able to engage in the labor market and participate in big film festivals in Gaza and abroad.

He stressed that several conditions were implemented for selecting educators, saying that applicants must hold a university degree in film studies, have experience in this domain and have won some awards for their productions and works.

Palestinian director Abdullah al-Ghoul told Al-Monitor, “This program is a great opportunity for many directors, actors and cinematographers in Gaza. Although they have acquired experience through work, they seek to obtain a degree in this domain.”

He noted that the many social, political and economic events and developments in Gaza can be shown to the world through short films and even TV series. Ghoul expressed hope that such a step would shift the attention back to the Palestinian cinema industry that burgeoned in the 1930s.

Gaza used to have 10 film theaters, first of which was al-Samer Cinema, established in 1944 in central Gaza. However, all of them are out of service. Some theaters were demolished, some were completely shut down, while other theaters were turned into public facilities. Gaza’s cinemas used to play Arab and Western ms brought in from abroad.

Lina Bukhari, the head of the cinema department at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, told Al-Monitor that the ministry supports such initiatives to promote the Palestinian cinema industry, stressing that this domain is highly advanced in the Gaza Strip in comparison with the West Bank.

She also stressed that concerted efforts between Gaza University, which will be launching the film studies program, and the Ministry of Culture along with other institutions could lead to a new strong infrastructure to serve as a launch pad for the program. This is especially true in terms of providing necessary academic equipment, material and references.

Photographer Alaa Suleiman, who is eagerly waiting to enroll in the program, told Al-Monitor that she is seeking to be admitted to the film studies program as she aspires to become a filmmaker. She said that she has been working as a photographer at a TV station because university majors in Gaza are limited to audiovisual and printed media.

Aspiring students must be holders of a high school diploma to be able to enroll in this new program.

Suleiman also said that she is expecting some difficulties down this path, as the film industry is seen as reserved for men only. She noted that she has faced some hardships when she first started working at Al-Aqsa TV three years ago, but she shrugged off all criticism.

Nuhad Abu Saleh, a Palestinian high school student, told Al-Monitor that he was considering stopping the enrollment procedures in the Fine Arts Faculty at Al-Aqsa University and will wait to apply for the new program at Gaza University that is scheduled to start in the beginning of 2017.

Saleh said he is passionate about acting, especially since he has taken part in many successful experiences during his school years. He sees the program as a way to develop his skills through scientific study so as to gain more experience and academic credentials.

Eventually it all boils down to the efforts of the trailblazers and their ability to attract students and to overcome the anticipated obstacles, such as acquiring the necessary materials, curricula and staff.

Source: al-Monitor.
Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/10/gaza-university-film-studies-major-students.html.

Welcome to Gaza's first deer farm

October 23, 2016

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinians have always raised animals such as goats and camels, but one man has now taken up a new activity that is the first of its kind in the Gaza Strip — deer farming.

Majed Sharab, a resident of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza who owns Cardinal Garden, a shop for rare birds, as well as the new deer farm, told Al-Monitor, “I started raising deer four years ago because I wanted to have a farm and a zoo for people to visit and enjoy the many types of deer and several species of rare birds.”

He said, “I learned that someone in Khan Yunis owned a small female European deer and I contacted him immediately and offered to buy the deer for $2,300. I then placed it in a small garden I had next to my house where I kept my rare birds and animals.”

Sharab added, “But I had to look for a male deer to make them reproduce. Male deer are expensive and very rare in Gaza. I had to finally rent a male deer from a zoo in Shajaiya neighborhood in Gaza City to impregnate the female deer. I paid the zoo owner a large sum of money, and six months later the first baby deer was born. I repeated this process until the total number of deer finally reached six — four females and two males. The process cost me a lot, and I eventually had to buy a male deer from Abdul Rahman Zoo on al-Jalaa Street in Gaza City for $3,000 for reproduction. Now I have a male deer [permanently] for reproduction.”

Speaking about the purpose of deer farming, Sharab said, “I find great pleasure in raising deer. I spend most of my time taking care of them and feeding them. Raising deer is not that different from raising goats and sheep; they require the same kind of food such as grass and grains, and the climate in Gaza is adequate for them. Only their physical structure differs, as they are really fast and not easy to catch.”

He continued, “If my goal was to make quick money, I would have sold the deer and made major profit. But my goal is to have a zoo with several types of deer and the best species of rare birds. And I hope to turn [this zoo] into a national project that people can visit. This first goal would be to make a good profit for myself, and the second would be to improve the Palestinian environment by providing such new zoos for people to visit and have fun.”

Although there are many small zoos around the Gaza Strip, they are suffering under difficult circumstances in light of the Israeli blockade. Zoo owners are no longer able to provide new species or even the required care for existing animals.

Deer farming is not easy and requires a lot of effort and patience. A female deer can be impregnated once every six months, and the mating season is autumn. Raising deer and feeding them requires $500 per month for food and veterinary care. There are only 15 deer in the Gaza Strip, most of which are kept in zoos. They are very expensive and sold at a minimum price of $2,500.

Falah Abu Dabbagh, a veterinarian and an expert on animal life, told Al-Monitor, “There are dozens of types of deer in the world that cannot easily live in Gaza. … These animals can only live in the wild where they can find grass and natural herbs. Deer are not slaughtered, although their meat is one of the most delicious meats there is, but it is expensive. They do not live in groups and only gather around mid-October for the mating period. However, when deer meet, the males fight over the females to impregnate them.”

He said, “Sharab needs a long time to adapt to the deer's life and see how their nature changes once they are locked up after being used to living freely in the wild. He needs to make a lot of effort for reproduction because deer mate differently than other animals; they have peculiar habits where fierce fights take place between males over the females.”

Abu Dabbagh added, “This is why Sharab needs to find vast areas to raise deer to guarantee the maximum for reproduction — for the number of deer to grow faster.”

Economic expert and researcher at the Palestinian Planning Center, Mazen al-Ajala, told Al-Monitor, “This is a pioneer idea [in Gaza] and it is one of the Palestinian youth’s attempts to create new economic projects that generate a regular income in order to overcome unemployment, which runs rampant among young people.”

He added, “If such an idea is developed and new species of animals and rare birds are introduced, we would have a large and improved zoo that would play a cultural role for environment and biodiversity researchers, as well as an entertaining role for citizens and children. Such projects could be a lever for the Palestinian economy.”

Developing this pioneering idea requires willpower and official and government support, mainly from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, which is in charge of such projects. They would provide these projects with the necessary financial requirements for it to succeed.

Source: al-Monitor.
Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/10/palestine-gaza-deer-farming-zoo-unemployment.html.

Syria refugees in Lebanon now get aid with debit card

October 25, 2016

BAR ELIAS, Lebanon (AP) — International agencies in Lebanon have begun distributing aid to Syrian refugees through a single debit card. The card is meant to simplify aid delivery and give refugees more choices. It is valid for five years, a reflection of the protracted Syria conflict that has displaced millions.

The card replaces separate distributions for food, cash and winter aid, also by debit card. Contributors include the World Food Program, the U.N. refugee agency and the Lebanon Cash Consortium, an aid alliance that offers $175 a month in "unconditional" cash to the most vulnerable.

On Tuesday, hundreds lined up in the town of Bar Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to pick up the new cards. Refugee Watfa al-Faraj, 38, said she relies on the aid to buy medicine for a sick teenage son.

Venezuela's congress opens political trial against Maduro

October 25, 2016

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress has opened a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro for breaking the constitutional order, deepening a standoff triggered by the authorities' suspension of a recall referendum against the embattled socialist leader.

The move, in a special legislative session Tuesday, had been expected ever since opposition leaders declared themselves in open rebellion and called for mass street demonstrations to force Maduro from office. But it's unlikely to have any legal effect as Maduro still controls other branches of government, including the Supreme Court, which has already declared the National Assembly illegitimate.

In Tuesday's vote, in which the opposition argued Maduro had stopped doing his job and effectively abandoned the presidency, several lawmakers also questioned whether he was a dual Colombian national and therefore constitutionally ineligible to hold Venezuela's highest office. It's an old, unproven claim widely seen as a stretch but one that analysts say is a natural reaction to the government's own trampling of the constitution in scrapping the recall that offered the best hope of peacefully resolving Venezuela's political and economic crisis.

"If Maduro has dual nationality, he has no constitutional right to govern Venezuela," said Juan Miguel Matheus, an opposition lawmaker. "He'll go down as one of the biggest liars in history and the constitutional mechanisms to remove him from power and call new elections should be activated."

Unlike other countries in Latin America such as Brazil, where Dilma Rousseff was removed from the presidency in August, Venezuela's National Assembly can't impeach the president. That decision lies squarely with the government-stacked Supreme Court, which has never voted against Maduro and has invalidated all legislation emerging from National Assembly until it remove three lawmakers linked to vote-buying claims.

Maduro, speaking at a rally Tuesday, accused opposition lawmakers of behaving as if in a "circus" and trying to carry out a "parliamentary coup." "Congress is useless for our people's interests," he told thousands of mostly state workers outside the presidential palace. "It has a single goal: to damage Venezuela."

He also lashed out at President Barack Obama. "Obama is going and before he leaves he wants to cause Venezuela damage," he said. "This is Obama swiping his tail before he leaves." Even as tempers flared, with Maduro's opponents gearing up for a mass demonstration Wednesday, promoters are calling the "Taking of Venezuela," the government and opposition have agreed to embark on an attempt at dialogue to defuse the crisis.

The talks, being sponsored by the Vatican and other South American governments, are set to begin Oct. 30 in the Caribbean island of Margarita.

Former Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle dies at 88

October 25, 2016

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Former President Jorge Batlle, an extroverted and irreverent politician who was a force in Uruguayan politics for half a century and led it during one of its worst economic recessions, died on Monday. He was 88.

Batlle underwent surgery to stop a cerebral hemorrhage after he fainted and struck his head earlier this month during an event for his Colorado Party. But the former president never fully recovered and the Sanatorio Americano hospital where he was interned announced his death late Monday.

Batlle, who was known as outgoing, even politically incorrect at times, remained active in politics until the end, needling his successors through newspaper columns and social media after leaving office.

He practiced law, worked as journalist and was a senator and a member of the lower house of Congress before serving as president from 2000-2005. He had promised that his presidency would be "fun," but it was overshadowed by an economic depression that brought Uruguay, long one of Latin America's most stable economies, close to bankruptcy.

The slump left one of every three Uruguayans below the poverty line — a blow to a country where generous social benefits had for years assured one of the region's highest living standards. As president, Batlle also pursued closer ties with the United States at a time when leftists were taking power in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela and distancing themselves from Washington.

Born on October 25, 1927, Batlle came from a political family. His father, Luis Batlle Berres, was president of Uruguay between 1947-1951 and 1954-1958. He was related to 19th century Presidents Jose Batlle y Ordonez and Lorenzo Batlle.

But his road to the presidency was challenging. After an unsuccessful first run in 1966, his image was dented by a financial scandal in 1968, when he was accused of using privileged information on an imminent devaluation. The claim was never proven.

In 1971, he lost another presidential election. During the 1973-1985 military dictatorship, he was detained on several occasions, as were dozens of other political leaders. After the return of democracy, he was elected senator for the Colorado Party.

After another unsuccessful run in 1994, Batlle finally won election in 1999 and took office in 2000. In 2001, Uruguay was hit by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that forced the country to suspend all exports of meat, a backbone of the economy. Shortly after that, Uruguay was dragged down by an economic crisis in its neighbor and major trading partner, Argentina.

By 2002, Uruguay's foreign reserves had dived and unemployment reached 20 percent. Batlle used his good relation with U.S. President George W. Bush to help obtain $1.5 billion in credit to stave off default.

Battle broke diplomatic relations with communist-led Cuba in 2002 after a war of words with Fidel Castro following Uruguay's decision to condemn Cuba's human rights record in an annual U.N. vote in Geneva. Relations were restored in 2005.

Batlle was succeeded by Tabare Vazquez, Uruguay's first leftist president. Although Batlle promised to steer clear of politics after leaving office, he often criticized Vazquez and his successor, Jose Mujica, and their Broad Front coalition of socialists, communists and former Tupamaro guerrillas.

Romanians celebrate 95th birthday of their last king

October 25, 2016

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians on Tuesday celebrated the 95th birthday of their former king, Michael, the nation's last sovereign and one of the last surviving heads of states from the World War II era.

Michael, who has lived in exile in Switzerland since he was forced to abdicate by the Communists, remains an important symbol of Romanian tradition that was broken by decades of communist rule. He is respected by many Romanians for a devotion to the nation he maintained during his decades of exile. Some Romanians, however, say he did not do more to oppose the communist regime.

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos praised Michasel for "defending democracy and fundamental freedoms" in the post-communist years and called him "a symbol of dignity, courage and love of country." To mark his birthday, the National Library in Bucharest opened an exhibition of photographs and documents illustrating the life of Michael, who is a great-great grandson of Queen Victoria and a first cousin of Britain's Prince Philip.

The Jurnalul National daily wished him a happy birthday on its front page and praised the former royal family for its "loyalty, courage, respect, seriousness and modesty." In the evening, a concert was held in the 19th-century Atheneum concert hall to celebrate his birthday.

In a sign of the respect he commands in neighboring Moldova, the mayor of the Moldovan capital Chisinau Dorin Chirtoaca visited Michael in Switzerland last week to ask him to sign the Chisinau book of honor. When Michael was crowned in 1940, Moldova was part of Romania. Months later it was annexed to the Soviet Union.

Michael, who suffers from leukemia, spent his birthday at his home in Switzerland with two of his five daughters. His wife of 68 years, Anne, died in August, and was returned to Romania for her funeral burial, but Michael's health prevented him traveling to for the ceremony.

Michael was first crowned king in 1927 when he was 6 after his father King Carol II abdicated. He held that title until 1930, when his father re-took the throne. He was again king from 1940 until 1947, when the Communist government forced him to abdicate and go into exile.

In 1944, during World War II, Michael deposed the government of Hitler ally Marshal Ion Antonescu in a coup and Romania switched sides to the Allies. The only other surviving European leader from that era is the former Bulgarian child king, Simeon II, now 79.

Hungary: Publisher of suspended opposition newspaper sold

October 25, 2016

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A company linked to an ally of Hungary's prime minister said Tuesday it had acquired the publisher of the main opposition newspaper, which suspended publication 2 ½ weeks ago.

The Opimus Group said it bought 100 percent of the shares of Mediaworks Hungary through its fully-owned Opimus Press subsidiary at an undisclosed price. Mediaworks was owned by Vienna Capital Partners, belonging to Austrian businessman Heinrich Pecina.

Opimus has been linked to Lorinc Meszaros, a former gas fitter whose businesses greatly expanded with the help of large state contracts. He has attributed his success partly to his friendship with Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The deal, announced on the website of the Budapest Stock Exchange, seemed to confirm concerns that the sale of Mediaworks, publisher of the leftist Nepszabadsag and many other newspapers and magazines, would further diminish press diversity and increase the influence of Orban's government over Hungarian media.

"A huge media company has just gotten closer to (Orban's) Fidesz party," Gabor Polyak, a lawyer who leads the Hungarian watchdog group Mertek Media Monitor, said. Polyak noted that the 12 county papers in the Mediaworks portfolio, which also includes sports daily Nemzeti Sport and business daily Vilaggazdasag, reached an audience that does not usually rely on independent, online news sources.

"With the local newspapers, they are acquiring a very important group of readers," Polyak said. Nepszabadsag is unlikely to be revived, even as a right-leaning paper as some observers have assumed, since two other pro-government daily newspapers already are on the market, Polyak said.

In the last few years, several other publications and radio and television stations have been set up by Orban's inner circle or have come under its control, and now show an unquestioning, pro-government bent.

Vienna Capital Partners said the permanent closure of Nepszabadsag "was at no time an option" and that it sold Mediaworks to Opimus because "it declared an interest and preparedness to seriously review the re-launch, as always planned by us, of the temporarily suspended Nepszabadsag."

"We hope that the new owner will be successful ... in solving the current issues at Nepszabadsag," VCP said in a statement on its website. U.S.-based media watchdog Freedom House, whose 2016 report categorizes media in Hungary as "partly free," said the deal reflected the government's growing influence over media matters.

"Hungary's government uses ownership as a political tool to silence critical coverage," Robert Herman, Freedom House's vice president for international programs, said. "The EU and the United States should forcefully condemn this attack on the press."

Egyutt (Together), a small opposition party, said that as a result of the purchase of Mediaworks, Hungary's "freedom of the press is being eliminated at a (Vladimir) Putin- and (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan-like tempo," in reference to the presidents of Russia and Turkey.

Since returning to power in 2010, Orban has exerted strong state influence over practically all aspects of Hungarian life. The government has extended its business activities, from textbook publishing to energy supplies, and state media, always under political control to some degree, has been turned wholeheartedly into a government propaganda machine.

In the midst of the migrant crisis, Orban has also taken to emphasizing the Christian values of Hungary and Europe in contrast with the many Muslims reaching the continent.

Evacuation in progress, crews tear down French migrant camp

October 25, 2016

CALAIS, France (AP) — Crews in hard hats and orange jumpsuits on Tuesday started dismantling a makeshift camp in France that has become a symbol of Europe's migrant crisis while thousands of people remained there waiting to be relocated.

The workers used their gloved hands to tear down flimsy plywood shelters, tarp-covered huts and other temporary buildings at the camp in the port city of Calais known as "the jungle." Backhoes, construction dumpsters and trucks carted off the debris.

The demolition took place under the watch of police officers as authorities are emptying the camp of an estimated 6,300 people who have been living there, down from a height of 10,000 this summer. "I'm very sad. It's our home here ... We can't feel anything, even life." Ahmed Anwar, 28, of Sudan, said as backhoes tore up the first dwellings. "No one cares about us."

Local officials said the demolition work would be lengthy given the delicate task of clearing the camp by hand and with small machines. Extra precautions are being taken to make sure no one is inside the structures and that workers are not injured.

Earlier in the day, police were deployed to keep order among young migrants as French authorities entered the second day of a planned weeklong mass evacuation and closure of the camp. Dozens of migrants pushed barriers and jumped over railings to get to the temporary processing center at the camp, the first step to being relocated elsewhere in France and the chance to apply for asylum.

Most identified themselves as unaccompanied minors with relatives across the English Channel in the United Kingdom. Hassan Ali, a 25-year-old Pakistani who was among the crowds at the gates to the processing center early in the morning, said he was excited to get resettled and that his 3-month stay at the Calais camp had been "an experience of life."

Ali said he hoped to return to university and find a job in France, having been unable to make it to Britain. On Monday, authorities started emptying people from the makeshift camp that emerged 18 months ago on the French side of the English Channel as the first step toward its demolition.

To discourage migrants from congregating in Calais and trying to board a ferry or truck to Britain, authorities last year destroyed half the camp in a haphazard and sometimes violent way that drew criticism from human rights groups.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 1,918 people had been sent to 80 locations around France on day one of the mass evacuations. The Calais prefecture said that as of noon on Tuesday 656 additional migrants had boarded buses from Calais to reception centers in other parts of France.

The prefecture said 539 unaccompanied minors were being housed in heated containers at the camp pending evaluation. Volunteers and local government officials invited the remaining migrants to destroy their own shelters and load the fragments into trash bins.

Many more migrants were preparing to depart Wednesday. "People are leaving tomorrow. Lots of people have planned for tomorrow," Abdul Walia, a community leader among the sizeable Afghan population of the camp, said.

Walia said the camp departures have been peaceful, despite the uncertainty for migrants being forced to leave. "Lots of people are upset as their hope is to go to England," he said. "But this hope is finished."

Meanwhile, at the other end of the journey from the "jungle," upbeat migrants stepped off buses in regions all around France to local welcomes. Thirty-two Sudanese and one Afghan migrant arrived from Calais to a reception and orientation center in Chatellerault, in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, on Monday evening and were welcomed by local authorities.

But the welcome in other regions, such as the eastern village of Chardonnay that had a group of Sudanese migrants arrive Monday, have been lukewarm, according to local media.

Adamson reported from Paris.

Brazilian soccer great Carlos Alberto Torres dies

October 25, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of Brazil's World Cup-winning team in 1970 and scorer of one of the sport's most memorable goals, died on Tuesday. He was 72 and died of after a heart attack at his home in Rio de Janeiro.

A statement on Carlos Alberto's Facebook page confirmed the death. "It is in deep sorrow that we inform that this Tuesday morning our eternal captain Carlos Alberto Torres passed away in Rio de Janeiro," the statement said.

Brazil's football confederation CBF said that his coffin will be placed at its headquarters in Rio on Tuesday evening, enabling the public to visit and pay their respects, and that a funeral service may be held there. He will be buried on Wednesday.

In a statement, the CBF said "Carlos Alberto Torres leaves an enormous legacy of achievements and lots of hard work to support our football." Last month, his twin brother Carlos Roberto died. One of the best defenders of his generation, Carlos Alberto was innovative in playing box-to-box soccer. That style of play allowed him to score his famous goal at the 1970 World Cup, blasting in a pass from Pele in the 4-1 win against Italy in the final.

That goal, scored after a touch by almost every Brazilian on the pitch , is seen as the pinnacle of a team that was so dominant that it made their yellow shirts into a global brand. Pele, one of Carlos Alberto's closest friends, said they had a "winning partnership" as teammates and remained close even after they retired. "I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend and brother," the three-time World Cup winner said in a statement.

At the end of that 1970 final, the 25-year-old Carlos Alberto became the last captain to lift the Jules Rimet trophy — the first three-time World Cup winners earned the right to keep it. The trophy that he famously kissed before lifting as a champion was later destroyed by thieves.

After those glorious days in Mexico, Brazil won two more World Cups in much less impressive fashion. This made Carlos Alberto one of the biggest advocates among his countrymen of a return to an attacking style of football.

For many Brazilians, he was just "The Captain" — even to his friends and family. He made 53 appearances for Brazil. "He was more than a leader, he was an innovative player. That is why he is our eternal captain," said Carlos Alberto Parreira, a physical therapist on that 1970 team and later the coach when Brazil won the 1994 World Cup.

Former Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer, writing on social media, said Carlos Alberto "was like a brother" to him. Beckenbauer played alongside the Brazilian in the United States at the New York Cosmos.

Former Argentina captain Diego Maradona, among many others, also expressed his condolences. Carlos Alberto's club career in Brazil was primarily with Santos, but he later played for the Cosmos and briefly for the California Surf.

His friendship with Pele was built around their years at Santos. He also played for Rio de Janeiro clubs Fluminense, Botafogo and Flamengo. He retired in 1982. All of those clubs expressed condolences to his family and fans.

His coaching career was not as impressive, but Carlos Alberto still won a Brazilian championship with Flamengo in 1983. The former footballer also had a brief appearance as a city councilor in Rio from 1989 to 1993.

Carlos Alberto was working as a soccer commentator for sports channel SporTV and was on the air on Sunday covering a match.

Stephen Wade in Rio de Janeiro also contributed to this report.