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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Iraqi forces pause at edge of Mosul, weather cuts visibility

November 02, 2016

GOGJALI, Iraq (AP) — An Iraqi special forces general says his troops are holding their positions along Mosul's eastern outskirts as poor weather hampers visibility in operations to rout Islamic State fighters from the country's second-largest city.

Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil says no advances are planned for Wednesday, as high humidity and clouds obscure the view of aircraft and drones. From the Mosul neighborhood of Gogjali, which is inside city limits but just outside more urban districts, the guns have gone largely silent, although sporadic rifle cracks could be heard as well as some army artillery fire on IS positions.

The pause comes after Iraqi troops on Tuesday set foot in the city for the first time in more than two years, gearing up for urban warfare expected to take weeks, if not months.

Iraqi forces assault Mosul district, IS returns missiles

November 01, 2016

BAZWAYA, Iraq (AP) — Fighting raged as Iraq's special forces began their assault on Mosul's eastern outskirts on Tuesday, part of operations to drive the Islamic State group from the country's second largest city.

Troops opened up with artillery, tank and machine gun fire on IS positions on the edge of the Gogjali neighborhood, with the extremists responding with guided anti-tank missiles and small arms to block the advance. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition supporting the operation added to the fire hitting the district.

If Iraqi forces enter Gogjali neighborhood it will mark the first time troops have set foot in Mosul in over two years, after they were driven out by a much smaller group of IS extremists in 2014. Mosul is the final IS bastion in Iraq, the city from which it declared a "caliphate" stretching into Syria. Its loss would be a major defeat for the jihadis.

From the nearby village of Bazwaya, smoke could be seen rising from buildings on the city's edge, where shells and bombs were landing. The IS fighters quickly lit special fires to produce dark smoke in order to obscure the aerial view of the city.

Inside the village, white flags still hung from some buildings, put up a day earlier by residents eager to show they wouldn't resist Iraqi forces' advance. Some residents stood outside their homes, and children raised their hands with V-for-victory signs.

The families, estimated to number in the hundreds, will be evacuated from the village to a displaced persons camp, according to Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of the Iraqi special forces. For over two weeks, Iraqi forces and their Kurdish allies, Sunni tribesmen and Shiite militias have been converging on Mosul from all directions to drive IS from the city.

Entering Gogjali could be the start of a grueling and slow operation for the troops, as they will be forced to engage in difficult, house-to-house fighting in Mosul's more urban areas. The operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Iraqi forces have made uneven progress in closing in on the city. Advances have been slower to the south, with government troops still 20 miles (35 kilometers) away. To the north are Kurdish forces and Iraqi army units, and Shiite militias are sweeping toward the western approach in an attempt to cut off a final IS escape route.

The Shiite forces, Iran-backed troops known as the Popular Mobilization Units, are not supposed to enter Mosul, given concerns that the battle for the Sunni-majority city could aggravate sectarian tensions.

Just behind the eastern frontline, the army's ninth division has moved toward Mosul on the path cleared by the special forces, and was now approximately 5 kilometers (3 miles) from its eastern outskirts.

The U.S. military estimates IS has 3,000-5,000 fighters in Mosul and another 1,500-2,500 in its outer defensive belt. The total includes about 1,000 foreign fighters. They stand against an anti-IS force that including army units, militarized police, special forces and Kurdish fighters totals over 40,000 men.

As the Mosul offensive has pressed on, bombings have continued in the capital, Baghdad, part of sustained IS efforts to destabilize the country. Dozens have been killed since the push on Mosul started in apparent retaliation attacks.

In dawn assault, Iraqi special forces near Mosul from east

October 31, 2016

BAZWAYA, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi special forces advanced on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul from the east on Monday, taking heavy fire but inching closer to the city's limits. Car bombers are trying to stop the advance, but the troops, just 2 miles (3 kilometers) from Mosul's eastern outskirts, aim to enter it later in the day, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil said.

The dawn assault saw armored vehicles, including Abrams tanks, move on the village of Bazwaya as allied artillery and airstrikes hit IS positions, drawing mortar and small arms fire. For two weeks, Iraqi forces and their Kurdish allies, Sunni tribesmen and Shiite militias have been converging on Mosul from all directions to drive IS from Iraq's second largest city. The operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Since the offensive began on Oct. 17, Iraqi forces moving toward the city have made uneven progress. Advances have been slower in the south, with government forces there still 20 miles (35 kilometers) from the city.

The U.S. military estimates IS has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters inside Mosul and another 1,500-2,500 in the city's outer defensive belt. The total number includes around 1,000 foreign fighters. A day earlier, thousands of fighters flocked to join Iraq's state-sanctioned, Iran-backed Shiite militias who are to cut off Mosul from the west. In a series of apparent retaliation attacks, suicide bombers on Sunday struck in Baghdad's mostly Shiite neighborhoods, killing at least 17 people.

The deadliest of the bombings, a parked car bomb, hit a popular fruit and vegetable market near a school in the northwestern Hurriyah area, killing at least 10 and wounding 34. On Monday, IS issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef contributed reporting from Cairo.

Indonesia president cancels trip abroad after deadly protest

November 05, 2016

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Saturday canceled a visit to Australia after a massive rally in the capital by Muslim hard-liners descended into violence, leaving one dead and nearly 200 injured.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said that Jokowi's trip scheduled from Sunday to Tuesday will be rescheduled because "current development has required the president to stay in Indonesia." Jokowi addressed the nation late Friday after clashes broke out between police and hard-liners who refused to disperse and demanded the arrest of Jakarta's minority-Christian governor for alleged blasphemy.

National police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told a news conference Saturday that one elderly man died from asthma attack after being exposed to tear gas, and more than 90 police and soldiers were injured, eight of them seriously. He said that about 160 protesters were hurt from tear gas effects, including four who were hospitalized.

Jokowi blamed "political actors" for taking advantage of the rally. He didn't elaborate, but his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had backed plans for the protest, drew tens of thousands of people.

The accusation of blasphemy against Jakarta Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese and minority Christian who is an ally of Jokowi, has galvanized Jokowi's political opponents in the Muslim-majority nation of 250 million, and given a notorious group of hard-liners a national stage.

The Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group that wants to impose Shariah law, is demanding Ahok's arrest after a video circulated online in which he joked to an audience about a passage in the Quran that could be interpreted as prohibiting Muslims from accepting non-Muslims as leaders. The governor has apologized for the comment and met with police.

Amar said the situation became uncontrollable when protesters broke through police barricades and security barriers in an attempt to enter the presidential palace before they were stopped by police firing tear gas. Three police and military trucks were burnt down and 18 vehicles damaged in the violence.

He said police are still investigating who was behind the violence and whether any political elements were involved with the aim of creating unrest. Ten people were arrested for allegedly provoking riots near the presidential palace and 15 others for vandalism in northern Jakarta.

Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono said rioting in north Jakarta involved the looting of a convenience store and damage to police vehicles.

War criminal sworn in as mayor of town in western Bosnia

November 08, 2016

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Several newly-elected mayors on Tuesday boycotted the swearing-in of a convicted war criminal as new mayor of the western Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa. Fikret Abdic was released in 2012 after serving his 15-year sentence in Croatia.

The 76-year-old Abdic was called up first during a ceremony in Sarajevo at which the mayors chosen during Oct. 2 local elections were certified. Mayors of towns around Velika Kladusa walked in to receive their certificates only after Abdic received his.

During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Abdic formed the province of Western Bosnia which fought against fellow Muslim Bosniaks loyal to Sarajevo. For war crimes committed back then, he was tried and served in neighboring Croatia.

Asked after the ceremony how he thinks he will be cooperating with mayors of neighboring towns who chose to ignore him, Abdic told reporters that all his life he was successful in every job he did. "Now I can promise that I can be even better," he said.

Among others sworn in is Mladen Grujicic, the mayor of Srebrenica and the first ethnic Serb elected in this Bosnian town whose name is synonymous with a slaughter carried out by Serbs. His election is a source of anxiety and anger to the town's Muslim Bosniaks, because Grujicic doesn't acknowledge that what happened in Srebrenica was "genocide," as international courts have defined it.

Grujicic said he will work for the benefit of all citizens of Srebrenica and form a multiethnic team in his municipality. "By forming such a team, we intend to improve the life of all in Srebrenica," he said. "I think this is the essence of the work in Srebrenica, that both Bosniaks and Serbs unite together," Grujicic said.

Residents of Bosnian town protest allegedly rigged election

November 02, 2016

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Hundreds of Bosnians protested Wednesday in Sarajevo, demanding a rerun of the municipal election in the southern town of Stolac that was halted by claims of irregularities and violent disruptions.

Members within Bosnia's Central Elections Commission disagree over whether to sanction those who allegedly manipulated the voting process on Oct. 2 or those who tried to prevent them. But the commission says sanctions must come before a repeat election.

The mainly Muslim Bosniak protesters say a month has been enough to decide and claim the Bosnian Croat nationalist party that has run the town for two decades has gained power by rigging every election.

Violence erupted when the opposition tried to stop Bosnian Croats suspected using false names and other irregularities. Voting was canceled shortly after noon and no ballots were counted. Opposition representatives have filed complaints to the Central Election Commission, saying they were immediately fired by the head of the local election commission, a Croat, as soon as they reported irregularities. They said those included people voting with foreign passports, fishing licenses and in the name of dead people.

The local election commission chief, Ivan Peric, has denied the accusations. Bosnian Croat units expelled the majority Muslim Bosniak population as well as other non-Croats from Stolac during the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian war. After the war, many non-Croats returned to the area but say rigged elections mean they have no say in its local government. They say if the town does not produce a fair election, they will consider civil disobedience.

The incident turned international when two days after the election, a government delegation from Croatia visited Stolac to express support for the party ruling there, the Croat Democratic Union. The incident was also discussed during Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic's visit last week to Sarajevo.

Bangladesh considering dropping Islam as state religion, according to senior minister

Gabriel Samuels
15 11 2016

Government officials in Bangladesh are considering dropping Islam as the country’s national religion after a senior politician claimed Bangladeshi people have embraced “a force of secularism”.

Dr Abdur Razzak, a leading member of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party, proposed the religion be withdrawn from the country’s constitution during a discussion at the National Press Club in the capital Dhaka.

“Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony. Here we live with people from all religions and Islam should not be accommodated as the state religion in the Bangladeshi constitution,” Dr Razzak said in his report.

“I have said it abroad and now I am saying it again that Islam will be dropped from Bangladesh’s constitution when the time comes.

“The force of secularism is within the people of Bangladesh. There is no such thing as a ‘minority’ in our country.”

Dr Razzak added he believed Islam had been maintained as the state religion for “strategic reasons”, but declined to elaborate on this during the discussion.

Islam is the largest religion in Bangladesh, with a practicing Muslim population of approximately 150 million - making it the fourth largest Muslim population in the world after India, Pakistan and Indonesia.

According to a national survey from 2003, religion was the primary way Bangladeshi citizens identified themselves, and atheism was found to be rare.

During a recent speech, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted the importance of “taking care” of those who follow minority religions.

“As a Muslim majority country it is the moral responsibility of the Bangladeshi citizens to take care of minorities,” she told a conference.

“Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony which should be maintained at any cost for development and brighten the country’s image.”

The prime minister also condemned the recent actions of the militant group Isis, who have carried out various violent attacks against religious minority communities this year.

“You have to remain careful so that no such incidents, which are taking place sporadically in different parts of the country, take place anywhere in the country,” she added.

Source: The Independent.
Link: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bangladesh-islam-state-religion-government-considers-dropping-a7418366.html.

Turkish govt shuts down 370 civic groups, raids offices

November 12, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish opposition groups protested Saturday in Istanbul after the Interior Ministry shut down 370 civic groups on terrorism-related charges — organizations that included professional associations and women's and children's rights groups.

The organizations were told about the government decision Friday evening, when police raided their offices and collected their records. The Interior Ministry said 153 of the organizations had alleged ties to the Gulen network, 190 to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, eight to the Islamic State group and 19 to the banned far-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front, or DHKP-C.

Lawyers at the left-wing People's Law Bureau resisted the raid, and their door was broken down by armed special forces who cleared the offices, detained four lawyers and changed the office's locks. The four were released Saturday morning.

The Progressive Lawyers' Association, which was also shut down, said it was not subject to such an order due to legislation protecting lawyers. Nergis Aslan, general secretary for the group, told The Associated Press the Turkish government gave no explanation for the move.

"There is serious suppression against any form of oppositional organization, association or any sort of group. We were expecting it," she said. Turkey has come under intense criticism from opposition groups and its allies over its crackdown on dissenting voices during the state of emergency declared after the July 15 coup. Close to 37,000 people have been arrested, more than 100,000 people dismissed or suspended from government jobs, and 170 media outlets and scores of businesses and associations have been shut down over alleged ties to terrorist organizations.

Critics note that the purge, initially meant to eliminate the Gulen network that the government accuses of staging the coup, has since been extended to other opponents of the government, including pro-Kurdish and left-wing individuals.

Mehmet Onur Yilmaz of children's rights organization Gundem Cocuk told the AP they weren't given a reason either for their shutdown but noted that his group had filed annual reports on child abuse, warning the government of its shortcomings.

"We would like a Turkey where none of that exists of course, but what they want is a Turkey where none of this is visible," he added. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus defended the closures Saturday, saying Turkey has to take measures against multiple terror threats.

"Yes, we are in a period of state of emergency, but we are acting within the legal limits afforded us by the state of emergency," he said, adding that any mistakes would be rectified. In the German city of Cologne, 20,000 protesters marched Saturday against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government's crackdown on dissent.

Colombia tries again for peace with sides signing new accord

November 13, 2016

HAVANA (AP) — Colombia tried a second time to achieve peace, with its government and largest rebel group signing a revised deal to end its brutal conflict following the surprise rejection of an earlier peace accord by voters in a referendum.

Government negotiator Humberto de la Calle and rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez announced the new, modified deal Saturday in Havana, moving to end a half-century-long conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven almost 8 million people from their homes.

The latest agreement aims to address some of the concerns of opponents of the original accord, who said the deal was too lenient on a rebel group that had kidnapped and committed war crimes. "The new deal is an opportunity to clear up doubts, but above all to unite us," said De la Calle, who described the text of the modified accord as "much better" than the previous one. The negotiator didn't say if or how it would be submitted again to voters for approval or to congress.

President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia inked an initial peace deal on Sept. 26 amid international fanfare after more than four years of negotiations. But voters rejected it on Oct. 2 by just 55,000 votes, dealing a stunning setback to Santos who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Colombia's conflict.

Santos immediately began looking for ways to rescue the deal and the sides extended a cease-fire until Dec. 31 to get the modified deal done. The rebels insisted they wouldn't go back to the drawing board and throw out years of arduous negotiations with the government.

"The meetings with the FARC delegation were intense," said De la Calle. "We worked 15 days and nights to reach this new agreement." De La Calle said some modifications made were related to justice, punishment for combatants accused of war crimes and reparations for the conflict's victims. He said negotiators had worked out the details of how and where those responsible for crimes would serve their sentences, addressing complaints by opponents that rebels accused of atrocities would not be imprisoned but submitted to "alternative punishments."

Other modifications include requiring the rebels to present an inventory of acquired money and holdings, and the provision of safeguards for private owners and property during reforms carried out in the countryside.

Cases of conflict participants accused of drug trafficking would be dealt with under Colombia's penal code and be heard by high courts. In a televised address Saturday night, Santos said he had instructed De la Calle and the negotiating team to return to Bogota to explain the details of the new accord to the "no" campaign led by conservative former President Alvaro Uribe.

Santos said that an issue where negotiators did not achieve advances was on the insistence by opponents of the peace deal that guerrilla leaders not be allowed to run for elected office. "We won't have assigned legislative seats. To the contrary, they will have to participate in elections. Nor will they have positions in government, as has occurred in other cases. But yes they can be elected," he said.

FARC negotiator Marquez said "the implementation of the accord is all that remains for the construction of the bases for peace in Colombia." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Colombians, including Santos and those from the "no" campaign, for reaching the new peace deal.

"After 52 years of war, no peace agreement can satisfy everyone in every detail. But this agreement constitutes an important step forward on Colombia's path to a just and durable peace. The United States, in coordination with the Government of Colombia, will continue to support full implementation of the final peace agreement," he said in a statement.

Hours before the deal was announced, Uribe, who was Colombia's president from 2002 to 2010, had asked that it "not be definitive" until opponents and victims of the conflict could review the text. Following a meeting with Santos, Uribe read a statement to reporters saying he had asked that the "texts to be announced from Havana" not be official until they had been reviewed.

Uribe and his supporters had demanded stiffer penalties for rebels who committed war crimes and criticized the promise of a political role for the FARC, a 7,000-strong peasant army that is Latin America's last remaining major insurgency. They didn't like that under the old deal guerrilla leaders involved in crimes against humanity would be spared jail time and allowed to enter political life.

Poland exhumes president, wife killed in 2010 plane crash

November 15, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The bodies of former Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife have been removed from their tomb in Krakow, the first of more than 80 exhumations planned on prominent Poles killed in a plane crash in Russia in 2010.

The exhumations that began late Monday are part of a new investigation into the crash ordered by Poland's conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, which is led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president's twin brother. Post-mortems will be carried out to determine the cause of the deaths and of the crash, identify all the remains and check for explosives, since some of Kaczynski's followers believe that a planned blast downed the aircraft, killing all 96 aboard.

Kaczynski has cast doubt on earlier investigations — carried out by both Poland and Russia — which concluded that the crash was an accident caused primarily by pilot error on approach to landing in dense fog. Kaczynski has for years encouraged a conspiracy theory suggesting Russia carried out an assassination with the support, or at least the consent, of the Polish prime minister at the time — Donald Tusk, now the president of the European Council.

Kaczynski wants to take Tusk, his nemesis, to court and is seeking evidence against him. "There will not be a free Poland, a truly free Poland, without the truth, without a proper honoring of those who died, without a closure of this case which has cast such a long shadow on our national and social life," Kaczynski said last Thursday.

According to the PAP news agency, the bodies of Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska, were removed from their alabaster tomb at the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, the resting place of many of Poland's kings and writers. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the presidential couple's daughter, Marta Kaczynska, and experts were seen arriving at the site to attend the exhumation. Priests were to say prayers during the procedure. The media had no access to the site.

Shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday, hearses were seen leaving the Wawel Cathedral area, PAP said. The remains were to be taken to a forensics laboratory at Krakow's renowned Jagiellonian University for a series of tests, including computer tomography and DNA tests.

Scientists will also look for the presence of explosives to check the belief held by many Kaczynski supporters that the plane, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 operated by the Polish air force, disintegrated in mid-air in an intended explosion.

Prosecutors say they plan to exhume and perform similar post-mortems on a total of 83 bodies through the end of 2017. Four bodies were cremated, while nine other bodies were already exhumed in 2011 and 2012 after families protested major errors in autopsy reports carried out by the Russians right after the crash. It turned out six victims had been buried in the wrong graves.

The Russians have said the mistakes occurred due to the fragmented state of the bodies, but to many Poles they are proof of wrongdoing by the Russians, suspicions fueled by Moscow's refusal so far to return the plane's wreckage and the flight recorders to the Poles.

Law and Justice, which assumed power a year ago, says Tusk's team neglected to have each of the bodies examined, out of disregard for the late president, a political rival, and out of concern that the findings could anger Russian President Vladimir Putin — something Tusk and members of his Civic Platform party deny.

The exhumations are proving controversial, with most Poles dismissive of the conspiracy theories, and some relatives aghast at the thought of their loved ones being exhumed. "We stand alone and helpless in the face of this ruthless and cruel act," the relatives of 17 victims wrote in an open letter.

"The forceful exhumations constitute a violation of a taboo existing in our culture that calls for the respect of the bodies of the dead," said Malgorzata Rybicka, the widow of Arkadiusz Rybicki, a lawmaker with Civic Platform, in an interview with the Tygodnik Powszechny Catholic magazine. "It also shows the lighthearted approach to the feelings of the families."

However, Malgorzata Wasserman, daughter of Zbigniew Wasserman, a lawmaker who perished, called the exhumations "a procedural must" given that Poland carried out no autopsies as the stunned nation watched the dozens of coffins, draped in white-and-red national flags, arrive from Russia in 2010. The Russian autopsy report on her father described him as having the healthy liver of a young man when in fact the 60-year-old had only part of his liver left after an operation.

The tragedy occurred April 10, 2010, when the presidential delegation was traveling to honor 22,000 Polish officers who were murdered by the Soviet secret police at the start of World War II in the Katyn forest and elsewhere. The delegation included government members, lawmakers, military commanders and the relatives of officers slain in the wartime massacre. The symbolism of the mission only added to the national grief and the suspicions.

Moldova election: Pro-Russia politician in clear win

November 14, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — A pro-Russian politician has secured a clear win in a presidential race that many Moldovans hope will rekindle ties with Moscow, final results showed Monday. In the full count, Igor Dodon won 52.2 percent of the vote. Maia Sandu, who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, had 47.8 percent.

Later Monday, up to 1,000 mostly young Moldovans marched to the offices of the Central Election Committee in Chisinau shouting "Down with the Mafia!" Anger also flared on Sunday after Moldovans voting in Britain, Ireland, France, Italy and elsewhere lined up for hours and ballot papers ran out. Sandu said the elections had been badly organized.

Dodon's victory was celebrated with fireworks early Monday in the semi-autonomous Gagauzia region, home of many ethnic Russians. The Socialists' Party leader promised to be a president to all Moldovans and said he seeks good relations with the nation's neighbors, Romania and Ukraine.

Moldova's president represents the country abroad, sets foreign policy and appoints judges, but needs parliamentary approval for major decisions. However, the office was expected to gain authority because Dodon was the first president in 20 years to be directly elected rather than being chosen by Parliament.

The 41-year-old Dodon, who painted himself as a traditional Moldovan with conservative values, tapped into popular anger over the approximately $1 billion that went missing from Moldovan banks before the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Dodon says he will move to rescind a law which obliges taxpayers to reimburse the $1 billion, but Parliament would have to agree. He hasn't called for a thorough investigation or to find those responsible for the heist.

He wants to restore ties with Russia, which placed a trade embargo on Moldovan wine, fruit and vegetables in 2014 after Moldova signed an association agreement with the European Union. However, the president cannot cancel the association agreement, which was ratified by Parliament.

"The new president will continue to pursue an active pro-Russia policy," said Nicolae Reutoi, senior analyst at Alaco, a London-based intelligence consultancy. "However, in practice, he will have to work in tandem with the ruling coalition, which declares itself pro-European."

Another analyst called Dodon "an authoritarian populist." "He promised everything to everyone," said Dan Brett, a commentator on Moldova and an associate professor at the Open University. Brett said the result suited the pro-European government in power since 2009 because "he is cut from the same cloth as them and they share the same self-interests."

Sandu, a former education minister who heads the Action and Solidarity Party, said the former Soviet republic would have a more prosperous future in the EU. Sandu needed a high turnout to hope to win, but the final turnout of 53.3 percent was less than she had hoped.

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.

Pro-Russia candidate favorite in Moldova presidential runoff

November 13, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldovans are voting in a presidential election Sunday in which the favorite has promised to restore ties with Russia that cooled after the former Soviet republic signed a trade deal with the European Union.

Igor Dodon, a pro-Moscow figure, has tapped into popular anger with corruption under the pro-European government that came to power in 2009, particularly over about $1 billion that went missing from Moldovan banks before 2014 parliamentary elections.

"I voted for the future of the country. I am totally convinced that Moldova has a future. It will be independent, united and sovereign," said Dodon, who heads the opposition Socialists' Party after voting, predicting an easy win.

Dodon says he wants to federalize Moldova to include the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester where more than 1,000 Russian troops are stationed, and his comments about a "united" Moldova alluded to that.

Rival Maia Sandu, an ex-World Bank economist, who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, urged Moldovans to get out and vote. She needs a high turnout to stand a chance of winning. At midday, about 22 percent of the electorate had voted — the same as in the first round.

"If the vote is correct, we will win.... it is important to be vigilant and not let them steal the vote," she said. The former education minister, who heads the Action and Solidarity Party, says the former Soviet republic will have a more prosperous future in the EU.

Dodon, who nearly won the election in the first round two weeks ago and leads in recent polls, has promised to restore friendly relations with Moscow. He has also recently hedged his bets, saying he also seeks good relations with Moldova's neighbors, Romania and Ukraine.

He has been criticized in Ukraine for saying Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, is Russian territory. Russia punished agricultural Moldova with a trade embargo on wine, fruit and vegetables after it signed a trade association deal with the EU in 2014.

Russia and the West seek greater influence over the strategically-placed, but impoverished agricultural country of 3.5 million. Former Romanian President Traian Basescu, who obtained Moldovan citizenship this month, voted at the Moldovan Embassy in Bucharest.

"I want European values in this state," he said.

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

German lawmaker: Merkel will run again for chancellor

November 15, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — A senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party says she will seek a fourth term in the country's national election next year. Norbert Roettgen, the head of Parliament's foreign affairs committee and a former environment minister under Merkel, told CNN in an interview Tuesday that in the 2017 fall election "she will run for chancellor and she is absolutely willing and ready to contribute to strengthen the international liberal order."

Merkel herself, who has been in office for 11 years, has not yet said whether she will run again. Peter Tauber, her Christian Democrats' general secretary, told reporters in Berlin that she hasn't yet said when she might make her announcement, but that he hoped she would run again.

Germany bans Islamic organization, police search 190 sites

November 15, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Hundreds of police officers searched about 190 offices, mosques and apartments of members and supporters of the Islamic group "The true religion" as the German government announced a ban of the organization Tuesday.

Police raided places in 60 cities in western Germany and also in Berlin seizing documents and files, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. Nobody was detained. The group — also known as "Read!" — has been distributing German-language copies of the Quran across the country. The interior minister said that more than 140 youths had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join fighters there after having participated in the group's campaigns in Germany.

"The translations of the Quran are being distributed along with messages of hatred and unconstitutional ideologies," de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin. "Teenagers are being radicalized with conspiracy theories."

Young men in long robes and bushy beards handing out German copies of the Quran has been a common sight in downtown and shopping areas across Germany for several years. The ban of the group comes a week after security authorities arrested five men who allegedly aided the Islamic State group in Germany by recruiting members and providing financial and logistical help. The recent operations suggest that the German government is trying to clamp down hard on radical Islamists.

The German interior minister stressed that the ban does not restrict the freedom of religion in Germany or the peaceful practice of Islam in any way, but that the group had glorified terrorism and the fight against the German constitution in videos and meetings.

"We don't want terrorism in Germany ... and we don't want to export terrorism," de Maiziere said adding that the ban was also a measure to help protect peaceful Islam in the country.

German foreign minister tapped to become next president

November 14, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's foreign minister, who once referred to Donald Trump as a "hate preacher," was tapped Monday to become his country's next president. Frank-Walter Steinmeier would take over the largely ceremonial role as head of state from Joachim Gauck, whose five-year term ends in February.

German news agency dpa reported Monday that Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Union bloc would back Steinmeier's nomination for the post. Together with the votes of Steinmeier's own center-left Social Democratic Party, the 60-year-old political veteran would likely have enough support to win a vote among the 1,260 delegates who elect Germany's next president on Feb. 12.

Social Democratic Party leader Sigmar Gabriel told reporters Monday that Steinmeier had earned widespread respect and the necessary trust required to fill the post. Steinmeier is regularly ranked among Germany's most popular politicians. While normally studiously diplomatic, Steinmeier strongly criticized U.S. President-elect Donald Trump during the American election campaign.

Asked in August about the rise of right-wing populism in Germany and elsewhere, Steinmeier slammed those who "make politics with fear." He cited the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, promoters of Britain's exit from the European Union, and "the hate preachers, like Donald Trump at the moment in the United States."

Following Trump's election, Steinmeier said the Republican's victory meant "nothing is going to get easier. A lot will get harder." He said Germany would seek dialogue with the Trump administration, but warned that American foreign policy would likely become "less predictable."

Steinmeier first gained national attention in 1998 when he became chief of staff to Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder. He was credited with keeping a sometimes chaotic center-left government running smoothly and seeing through a package of economic reforms and welfare-state cuts in 2003.

The reforms, launched at a time of high unemployment and economic stagnation, were credited with helping fuel growth and make the economy more resilient, but critics said they fueled social divisions.

He won widespread respect in 2010 when he took a few weeks away from politics to donate a kidney to his wife, Elke Buedenbender, a judge at a Berlin administrative court. Steinmeier's promotion would leave a void in the foreign ministry, where he led efforts to resolve conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, declined to comment Monday on a possible replacement for Germany's top diplomat.

Bulgarian PM resigning after his party loses presidency

November 13, 2016

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced his resignation after exit polls showed his party losing badly in Sunday's runoff presidential election. Surveys by several polling organizations showed Gen. Rumen Radev, 53, a former non-partisan chief of Bulgarian Air Force, taking about 58 percent of the vote.

"We accept the will of the people and we congratulate those who have the support of the majority of the voters," Borisov said. Tsetska Tsacheva, a 58-year-old lawyer and member of Borisov's center-right party, had about 36 percent.

Initial results from the official vote count were expected later on Sunday. The new president will face a possible rise in migrants from neighboring Turkey and growing tensions between Russia and the West.

In the first round of voting, Radev surprisingly finished first with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Tsacheva with 22 percent. Bulgaria, which joined the European Union a decade ago, remains the poorest member of the 28-nation bloc. Its 7.2 million people are very much divided in its loyalties.

Bulgaria belongs to NATO and the EU, but many Bulgarians still feel a cultural and historical affinity with Russia, and the country's heavily dependence on Russian energy supplies leaves it vulnerable to political pressure by the Kremlin.

Borisov, whose party has triumphed in all national elections in the last decade, has said he will resign if Tsacheva loses the runoff, opening the way to an early parliamentary election. Halfway into its four-year term, Borisov's coalition government has managed to restore political stability after months of anti-corruption protests, but its popularity has faded due to the slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and overhaul the judicial system.

A political rookie, Radev has attracted many Bulgarians who are fed up with corrupt politicians. The former NATO fighter pilot who once studied at the U.S. Air War College in Alabama, has pledged to maintain Bulgaria's place in NATO but also says "being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian."

Tsacheva, seeking to become Bulgaria's first female president, was expected to continue her party's pro-Europe foreign policy. She has tried to rally other right-wing parties behind her, urging them not to allow "Bulgaria to return to the dark past" of being under Russia's thumb.

Economy, Russia top issues as Bulgarians pick new president

November 13, 2016

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarians are choosing their new president in a hotly contested runoff Sunday that may also determine the fate of the country's center-right government. The new president will face a possible rise in migrants from neighboring Turkey and growing tensions between Russia and the West.

The choice is between Gen. Rumen Radev, 53, a former non-partisan chief of Bulgarian Air Force, backed by the opposition Socialist party, and the speaker of Parliament, Tsetska Tsacheva, a 58-year-old lawyer and member of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's center-right party.

In the first round of voting, Radev surprisingly came in first with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Tsacheva with 22 percent. Bulgaria, which joined the European Union a decade ago, remains the poorest member of the 28-nation bloc. The Balkan country of 7.2 million people is very much divided in its loyalties. It belongs to NATO and the EU, but many Bulgarians still feel a cultural and historical affinity with Russia, and the country's heavily dependence on Russian energy supplies leaves it vulnerable to political meddling by the Kremlin.

Borisov, whose party has trumped in all national elections in the last decade, says he will resign if Tsacheva loses the runoff, opening the way to an early parliamentary election. Halfway into its four-year term, Borisov's coalition government has managed to restore political stability after months of anti-corruption protests, but its popularity has faded due to the slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and overhaul the judicial system.

A political rookie, Radev has attracted many Bulgarians who are fed up with corrupt politicians. The former NATO fighter pilot who once studied at the U.S. Air War College in Alabama has pledged to maintain Bulgaria's place in NATO but also says "being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian."

Tsacheva, seeking to become Bulgaria's first female president, is expected to continue her party's pro-Europe foreign policy. She has tried to rally other right-wing parties behind her, urging them not to allow "Bulgaria to return to the dark past" of being under Russia's thumb.

Lithuania acquires sniper rifles

Vilnius, Lithuania (UPI)
Nov 8, 2016

Lithuania's military has received new British-made sniper rifles which will be distributed to troops by the end of the year.

The weapons are AXMC sniper rifles manufactured by Accuracy International Ltd under a contract worth more than $1.4 million.

The AXMC rifles can use either .338 Lapua Magnum or .308 Win ammunition through a barrel change, even in field conditions.

The Lithuanian Land Force previously did not have sniper rifles and used an FN SCAR-H PR semi-automatic precision rifles instead. AXMC sniper rifles double the effective range of the FN's 1,968 feet.

"Accuracy International of the United Kingdom cherishes old traditions of weapon making and is respected worldwide," said MSgt. Ernestas Kuckailis, an expert of sniper and precision rifles with Juozas Lukša Warfare Training Center, Lithuanian Land Force. "The weapons it manufactures are of high quality and reliability in any conditions, including arctic or desert.

AXMC rifle has a powerful Kahles sight and night vision. The new weapon will allow Lithuanian Land Force personnel destroy targets at nearly 1.5-kilometer [nearly 1 mile] distance both during the day and at night."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Lithuania_acquires_sniper_rifles_999.html.

Portland police arrest dozens after anti-Trump protest turns to 'riot'

By Andrew V. Pestano
Nov. 11, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore., Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Oregon's Portland Police said it arrested at least two dozen people "during riot" that emerged from a peaceful anti-Donald Trump protest escalated through violence by "anarchists."

About 4,000 people participated in the peak of the demonstration, which began as a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest but turned into what police described as a riot. The violence was encouraged by people not affiliated with the initial protest, Portland community organizer Teressa Raiford and Portland Police spokesman Pete Simpson said.

"Due to extensive criminal and dangerous behavior, protest is now considered a riot. Crowd has been advised," Portland Police said in a statement. "Those not wanting to be associated with anarchists should leave the area immediately. Peaceful protesters encouraged to go to Pioneer Square."

Police said some of the protesters attacked drivers on roads, threw rocks at police, smashed windows, vandalized cars, set small fires, smashed electrical boxes with baseball bats and spray painted buildings.

The peaceful protesters attempted to stop those being more violent but were unsuccessful.

"Many in crowd trying to get anarchist groups to stop destroying property, anarchists refusing. Others encouraged to leave area," Portland Police said. "After several orders to disperse, police have used less lethal munitions to effect arrests and move the crowd."

Thursday night, Trump said the protests being held against him are unfair and were "incited by the media." Later, on Friday morning, he praised those taking to the streets.

"Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country," he tweeted. "We will all come together and be proud!"

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2016/11/11/Portland-police-arrest-dozens-after-anti-Trump-protest-turns-to-riot/2511478862810/.

US reinforcing troops in Europe as planned

Washington (AFP)
Nov 10, 2016

The United States is continuing to reinforce its military forces in Europe as planned, irrespective of President-elect Donald Trump's future intentions, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Trump, who will take office in January, raised serious concerns in Europe by promising during his campaign that US engagement in NATO under his presidency would be conditional on members' payments to the alliance.

Washington is scheduled to start deploying an additional combat brigade in Europe in February to bring the number of brigades on the continent to three.

The plan is part of an effort to boost Eastern European defenses against possible attack by Russia.

"We are executing plans as they were constructed with our NATO allies," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

"We leave it to the next administration to speak their policy choices," he added. "We have one commander-in-chief at a time."

The new brigade is set to begin its deployment with an exercise in Poland before sending companies to Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic States.

Trump, who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, has criticized President Barack Obama's policy toward Moscow, saying he wants to improve relations.

Asked about the possibility that the current defense secretary, Ash Carter, would remain in office under Trump, Cook declined to comment on what he called "hypothetical" situations.

Carter "is focused on his job right now and he wants to serve this president until the end of his term," he said.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_reinforcing_troops_in_Europe_as_planned_999.html.

Protesters shut down highway, burn effigy in reaction to Donald Trump win

By Stephen Feller
Nov. 10, 2016

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Protesters in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and other cities blocked the entrances to Trump Tower and other properties owned by President-elect Donald Trump, airing fears about policies endorsed by him during the campaign.

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest Trump's electoral win over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Demonstrators took to the streets in the early hours Wednesday on the West Coast soon after Trump's victory was announced, and continued throughout the day and night across the country.

Even before the election was officially called for Trump, activist and advocacy groups, and supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took to the Internet and streets expressing concern about the president-elect's proposed policies on immigration, reproductive rights, health insurance and the environment, among others.

"We are making noise. We are telling Donald Trump that we don't like that he's here. I feel like we're doomed. This can't be real," one activist told KGW- TV.

In Chicago, protesters marched down North Michigan Avenue toward Trump Tower, where they gathered, blocking the entrance to the building and shouted "Not my president," "Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Donald Trump must go away!" and "[Expletive] your wall!"

Many in the crowd, some with children, said they felt it was the only thing they could do in reaction to Trump's election and their concern about some of his proposed policies.

"The president is supposed to be a role model for children and somebody that they look up to. I feel like if I stand by my values, I can't be quiet for the next four years. I have to be a role model if our president won't be," said Kathryn Schaffer, a protester who brought her 3-year-old daughter with her.

On the campus of American University in Washington, D.C., a flag was burned. At least 10,000 people protested at multiple locations in New York City, virtually shutting down Midtown. Protests also occurred in Pittsburgh, Portland, Nashville and Austin, Texas.

Many of the protesters shared a sentiment of fear about the direction of the country.

"The question on the minds of these people is if Trump will govern the way he campaigned," Andrea Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, told NBC News. "He's said a lot, but without a track record, it's unclear what he will actually do."

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2016/11/10/Protesters-shut-down-highway-burn-effigy-in-reaction-to-Donald-Trump-win/3621478745151/.