DDMA Headline Animator

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Iraqi units clear Mosul buildings after advances, IS attacks

November 05, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi special forces cleared buildings on Saturday in neighborhoods they entered in eastern Mosul a day earlier, after pushing out Islamic State militants in their drive to take back the city.

Fighting continued in the morning, with both sides firing mortars and automatic weapons on each other's positions, while the Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. Clashes were most intense in the al-Bakr neighborhood. Sniper duels played out from rooftops in the mostly residential areas, where the majority of buildings are two stories high.

"Daesh is in the city center and we must be very careful as our forces advance," said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group. With more densely packed neighborhoods ahead, his forces will be challenged to avoid both higher military and civilian casualties.

As he spoke, dozens of civilians in the Tahrir and Zahara districts emerged from their homes, some of them carrying white flags, and headed toward the troops to be evacuated from the battlefield. The special forces launched a two-pronged assault deeper into Mosul's urban center on Friday, unleashing the most intense street battles against IS militants since the offensive to retake the city began nearly three weeks ago. At least seven special forces troops have been killed in the fighting.

More than 3,000 Iraqi troops took part in the assault under heavy U.S.-led coalition air support, but the pace of the fight also slowed as Iraqi forces moved from fighting in more rural areas with few civilians to the tight, narrow streets of Mosul proper. At least seven suicide attackers in explosives-laden vehicles attacked troops on Friday, five of whom were killed before nearing their targets.

The operation to retake Mosul is expected to take weeks if not months. Moving from neighborhood to neighborhood in house-to-house battles through warrens of booby-trapped buildings is time consuming and Iraq's military has repeatedly opted for slower operations in an effort to minimize casualties.

Some 1 million civilians still remain in the city, complicating the advance. IS militants have driven thousands of residents deeper into the city's built-up areas to be used as human shields, while hundreds of others have fled toward government-controlled territory and thousands have headed west into Syria.

On Saturday, recent satellite images emerged showing that the extremists have set up formidable defenses designed to bog down advancing forces, including rows of concrete barricades, earthen berms and rubble blocking key routes leading to the core of the city.

The images taken Monday and made public by Stratfor, a private intelligence firm based in Austin, Texas, also showed that IS fighters have cleared terrain and leveled buildings around Mosul airport and a nearby former military base on the west bank of the Tigris. The defenses "will pose a substantial tactical challenge" to advancing Iraqi troops as they make their way toward central Mosul, the firm said.

Mosul is the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, and expelling the militant group from the city would be a major blow to the survival of its self-styled "caliphate" that stretches into Syria. Iraqi forces have made uneven progress in closing in on the city since the operation began on Oct. 17. Advances have been slower from the south, with government troops still some 20 miles (35 kilometers) away. Kurdish fighters and Iraqi army units are deployed to the north, while government-sanctioned Shiite militias are sweeping in from the west to try to cut off any IS escape route.

Some advances are being made in the south, however. On Saturday, Iraqi forces assaulted IS positions in the town of Hamam al-Alil, which lies along the Tigris river about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the southernmost parts of Mosul.

Kurdish television channel Rudaw broadcast live footage of Iraqi troops and armored vehicles amassing outside the city as an attack helicopter fired rockets into the city. Truckloads full of as many as 1,600 civilians may have been forcibly moved from Hamam al-Alil to Tal Afar earlier this week and could be transferred onward into Syria for likely use as human shields, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Friday. Another 150 families from the town were moved to Mosul itself, the U.N. said.

Also in the south, Iraqi troops approached the outskirts of Hamam al-Alil, but were facing resistance from IS fighters, said Lt. Col. Hussein Ali of the Iraqi Army's 15th division. He predicted that Iraqi forces could take the town in a day or two.

Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Irbil, Iraq and Balint Szlanko at Qayara air base contributed to this report.

Iraqi troops begin assault deeper into Mosul neighborhoods

November 04, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi special forces began their assault into more urban neighborhoods of Mosul from its easternmost district on Friday, the military's latest push to drive Islamic State fighters from the city.

The advance started with artillery and mortar strikes on the Aden, Tahrir, and Quds districts, just west of special forces' footholds in the Gogjali and Karama neighborhoods, Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi told The Associated Press.

IS responded with mortar fire, he added, kicking off small arms clashes between the two sides. Smoke from artillery strikes rose over the city. The Islamic State group is fighting to hold Iraq's second city of Mosul as Iraqi forces and allied Kurdish troops squeeze in from all directions with U.S.-led coalition support, mostly with airstrikes and reconnaissance.

On Tuesday, Iraqi troops entered the city limits for the first time in more than two years — soldiers had withdrawn from Mosul in the face of the Islamic State group's 2014 blitz that seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Now the Iraqi forces are gearing up for urban warfare expected to take weeks, if not months, as they work their way neighborhood by neighborhood, going through a warren of dense buildings prone to booby traps and ambushes.

More than 1 million civilians are stuck in the city, complicating the military's efforts to advance without harming innocents. IS militants have driven thousands of them deeper into the city's built-up areas, presumably for use as human shields, while hundreds of others have fled in the past days toward government-controlled territory despite the uncertainty of resettlement in displacement camps.

Mosul is the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, and expelling the militant group from the city would be a major blow to the survival of its self-declared "caliphate" that stretches into Syria. When IS seized Mosul and other territory in 2014, the much larger Iraqi military had been neglected and demoralized by corruption.

Iraqi forces have made uneven progress in closing in on the city. Advances have been slower to the south, with government troops still 35 kilometers (20 miles) away, although they seized a handful of villages late last week. Kurdish fighters and Iraqi army units are deployed to the north, while government-sanctioned Shiite militias are sweeping in from the west to try to cut off any IS escape route.

One of the leading Shiite militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, said on Wednesday that its fighters have gained control of a highway linking Mosul to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants' self-proclaimed caliphate.

The militias' umbrella group, the Popular Mobilization Units, say they will not enter Mosul and will instead focus on retaking Tal Afar, a town to the west that had a Shiite majority before it fell to IS in 2014.

Now we have hundreds of oppressors: Iraq's false democracy

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Recently, a phrase has become popular among Iraqis. “At least in the time of Saddam we had one oppressor, now we have hundreds,” they say to one another.

With the world’s eyes currently on the Mosul offensive and the drive to reduce the territory held by the Islamic State (IS), little attention is placed on the ideologies that resulted in the creation of such groups.

Or on the ongoing, broken system of the political elite which has kept the same select few in power and has allowed corruption to rise unchecked.

If, following the more or less guaranteed liberation of Mosul, the systems that fostered the creation of IS remain, lasting peace will be as unstable as Mosul’s infrastructure following IS’s destruction of the city.

The characteristics of democracy vary from country to country and region to region, with no universally agreed upon definition to date. Participation in elections does not constitute democratic freedoms. After all, Saddam Hussein held regular elections during his time in power.

Yet one of the principal motivations for the US-led coalition to invade Iraq, in what was dubbed “Operation Liberation”, was to bring democracy to the region. Britain's Tony Blair highlighted this in his famous speech during the parliamentary debate two days before the invasion: “Let the future government of Iraq be given the chance to begin the process of uniting the nation's disparate groups, on a democratic basis.”

Thirteen years on and only Tunisia is considered a democracy in the Middle East.

Same faces, different decade

Since 2003, Iraq has been burdened with mostly the same faces on the political scene. Politicians such as Nouri al-Maliki, Ayad Allawi, Fuad Masum and many others have all been lurking in the political sphere, pushing for various roles in government despite previously failed forays into power.

In contrast, during the same period the UK has seen four prime ministers come and go, with many more opposition leaders leaving politics.

Meanwhile, Maliki, although unable to gain the majority required to remain in power after the 2014 elections, refuses to concede the prime minister’s palace to his successor, Haider Al-Abadi.

This echoes the likes of Donald Trump who recently created a media storm for suggesting he would not concede defeat if Hilary Clinton wins the upcoming US elections.

Nonetheless, despite his stark polarization of public opinion which is not beneficial for a country with multiple, deep-seated divisions, Maliki is still pushing to retake power within Iraq, funding various works of propaganda, including a feature-length documentary.

It took David Cameron a few hours to announce his resignation as prime minister following defeat in the Brexit vote. Years after Maliki’s defeat in Iraq’s elections, he still insists on his role as PM.

Fake democracy

Hundreds of mini-oppressors – as the new saying goes - have taken their seats in a pseudo-democracy within Iraq, creating a cross between a democracy and authoritarian regime, dubbed a “hybrid system” by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Democracy Index.

Although elections take place, the influence of nepotism cannot be denied in Iraq. Take as an example the recently selected head of the largest bloc in parliament, the Shia National Alliance, Ammar Al-Hakim, also head of the Islamic Supreme Council political party.

Al-Hakim, a young Iraqi who has spent a major portion of his life in neighboring Iran and has little political and educational experience, took a position of power in Iraq following the death of his father, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, who was conveniently given a position of power after the death of his older brother, Mohammad Baqir Al-Hakim.

This principle of inherited power has been present in Iraq for decades, from the previous monarchy to the assumption that the heir of Saddam’s presidency would be one of his sons, Uday or Qusay.

Similarly, Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rose to fame in light of his father and uncle’s previous achievements, not necessarily due of his own merit, reasserting the notion that democracy in Iraq is a mere illusion.

Together, without a single vote cast in their direction, Al-Hakim and Sadr hold a significant amount of power in Iraq. Although neither hold high official positions, their realms of influence are greater than positions held by people in ministerial roles.

Many Iraqi MPs have committed their loyalty to either figure, who are seen as spiritual leaders. That’s a troubling concept as, being men of religion, they are outside the remit of accountability or questioning.

The return of fear

Fear of authoritarian figures has trickled back into society. Recently, during a taxi ride in Baghdad, the driver, in what is a common topic of conversation in taxi journeys in Iraq, claimed to me that Ammar Al-Hakim was pocketing a substantial amount of money from car imports from Iran.

But after I jokingly suggested that the other passenger was from the Hakim family, the driver quickly backtracked and I could see fear in his eyes.

Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person can put you in a difficult situation with various militias who occasionally patrol the streets of Baghdad in their military garb, severely limiting the possibility of government accountability, both by spreading fear in society to not question their roles and by taking on the role of the state.

The elite’s political system is evident wherever you go. Cars are frequently branded with logos of the political party to which they are affiliated and therefore expect various road privileges in Baghdad’s busy streets

Often in hospitals, if a patient comes from an elite political family, doctors will be forced to treat them first despite patients who are sicker. “Do you know what family he is from?” often echoes across the streets and corridors of Iraq.

Contempt for elite

This corruption has resulted in a huge lack of confidence in the Iraqi government with approval ratings constantly deteriorating. The result is that systems outside the Weberian concept of a state, like the historic tribal system for example, have greater ability to implement the law than the government.

Last month, a car bomb exploded at the entrance to the Green Zone, a heavily secured area in Baghdad reserved for government officials. When I explained what happened to an Iraqi colleague, he responded, “They deserve it.” The detachment of average Iraqis from the political elite is evident.

Prior to the 2014 elections, I recall a significant anti-Hakim sentiment across Iraq. However, on one occasion, walking past a football stadium, I found a substantial gathering of people, waving flags in support of Al-Hakim as they watched him speak live via satellite.

Being inquisitive, I asked some of those attending about the sudden support for Al-Hakim. “We were given free water and clothes,” many of the people told me.

In much the same way, Saddam Hussein was able to entice crowds to celebrate his arrival into various cities across Iraq. The influence of corruption, buying votes and limited freedom of press all contribute to the limitation of Iraq’s democracy.

'Thank God for our democracy'

Walking the streets of Baghdad, it does not take long before forced upon you is the staged smile of one of the political elites, commonly dressed in military uniform despite the fact that they have no intention to reach the frontlines.

These plastered, unsightly placards often have photographs of the individual’s relatives alongside them to reinforce their claim to power, reminding Iraqis that their rise was not necessarily on based on merit.

It is already enough that the faces of these individuals are forced onto Iraqis everyday on the street, but now Ammar Al-Hakim uses social media, paying for sponsored photographs of himself on Instagram to incorporate his presence in all aspects of daily life.

With elections coming up soon in Iraq and with no clear alternatives provided, it appears that the same faces will dominate the political scene.

Instead, Iraq needs an overhaul of its political system. Unelected individuals with positions of power and influence should be held to account for their role in the division of Iraq.

In a system where the president must be Kurdish, the prime minister Shia and the deputy prime minister Sunni, sectarian divisions are only going to be deepened, adding to the list of failures by the first unelected and inexperienced official to govern over Iraq, Paul Bremer.

If Mosul is to remain secure post-liberation, Iraq’s political scene must counter the divisions that paved the way for IS to enter the scene.

In the 1940s, Aziz Ali, a satirical Iraqi singer, wrote a sarcastic song that the government tried to censor, the song included the line: “Thank God for our democracy”, one that 70 years on still applies to today’s Iraq.

Source: Middle East Eye.
Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/now-we-have-hundreds-oppressors-iraqs-false-democracy-2136052094.

Jakarta rally calls for tolerance after blasphemy probe

November 20, 2016

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — More than 10,000 Indonesians took to the streets of their capital to call for tolerance and unity in the world's most populous Muslim nation, after police opened a blasphemy investigation into the city's Christian governor.

Earlier this month, Jakarta was rocked by a massive protest by conservative Muslims against the popular Gov. Asuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, with one person killed and dozens injured in rioting. Hard-liners have threatened more protests if Ahok isn't arrested.

Police last week named Ahok as a suspect in the blasphemy investigation. The rally Saturday attracted more than 10,000 people, including religious leaders, legislators and members of human rights groups, who marched at the National Monument and along nearby main streets.

"We are gathering here not to protest but to show that we are not easily divided by religious or political issues," said Budiman Sujatmiko, a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the country's largest political group.

The crowd, many waving the red-and-white national flag, cheered and chanted "United Indonesia cannot not be defeated." The Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group that wants to impose Shariah law in secular Indonesia, began 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.

Blasphemy is a criminal offense in Indonesia. Amnesty International documented 106 convictions between 2004 and 2014, with some individuals imprisoned for up to five years. Ahok is the second Christian governor of Jakarta since Indonesia declared independence in 1945, and the first ethnic Chinese to run the sprawling, chaotic city. He is popular with the city's middle class, but has made enemies from a tough stance against corruption and an urban program that has evicted thousands of the city's poorest from slums.

Lost Egyptian city discovered after 7,000 years

24 November 2016 Thursday

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Egyptian city and graveyard dating back to around 5300 BC, the antiquities ministry said on Wednesday.

The city and cemetery -- likely home to senior functionaries and grave builders -- was discovered about 400 meters (1300 feet) from the Temple of Seti I in the ancient city of Abydos in southern Egypt, said antiquities minister Mahmoud Afifi.

It is believed to date back to 5316 BC.

Excavators found huts, pottery and stone instruments, Afifi said.

They also discovered 15 large graves -- some of them even larger than royal graves in Abydos -- suggesting they housed the bodies of important figures.

"This discovery can shed light on a lot of information on the history of Abydos," a ministry statement quoted Afifi as saying.

The city of Abydos, founded by predynastic rulers, is famed for its temples such as that of Seti I and its graves.

Egypt is rich with ancient sites built by the pharaohs, but years of unrest and attacks have driven away many tourists.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/180612/lost-egyptian-city-discovered-after-7000-years.

Police arrest mayor in eastern Turkey

24 November 2016 Thursday

The mayor of Turkey’s eastern Bitlis city was arrested on Thursday as part of an anti-terrorism investigation, a police source said.

Teams from the Bitlis Police Department’s anti-terror branch arrested Mayor Huseyin Olan as well as Nevin Dasdemir Dagkiran, an alderman in the municipality, as part of an anti-PKK probe, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, said.

Police were also searching the municipality building.

Thursday’s detentions are the latest in a series of investigations into elected officials of Turkish municipalities.

On Nov. 17, the mayor of Tunceli, Mehmet Ali Bul, Van Mayor Bekir Kaya from the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), and four other municipality officials were arrested.

On Nov. 21, two suspended mayors, Ahmet Turk from Mardin province and Emin Irmak from the province’s Artuklu district, were detained.

Earlier this month, 13 lawmakers from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested. Ten, including co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, remain in custody awaiting trial on terrorism-related charges.

In October, the DBP co-mayors of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, were arrested and jailed pending trial on terrorism charges.

The PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU -- resumed its decades-old armed campaign in July last year and has been responsible for the deaths of more than 1,100 security force members and civilians, including women and children.

Around 10,000 PKK terrorists have been killed or apprehended in the same period.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/180610/police-arrest-mayor-in-eastern-turkey.

Erdogan: European Parliament vote on Turkey has 'no value'

November 23, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's president says an upcoming vote in the European Parliament on whether to freeze membership talks with Turkey is of no "value" to his country. European Union legislators are scheduled to hold a non-binding vote this week on whether Turkey's accession talks should be suspended over the Turkish government's unprecedented crackdown following the failed military coup in July.

Addressing an Organization for Islamic Cooperation Islamic Conference meeting on Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "Whatever the result is, in our eyes this vote has no value." EU nations have voiced concern over Turkey's post-coup clampdown, which has resulted in mass purges, the arrests of journalists and politicians and the closure of media outlets.

Erdogan suggested joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia and China, as an alternative to the EU.

Turkey fires 15,000, shuts 375 NGOs in latest coup purge

By Raziye Akkoc
Ankara (AFP)
Nov 22, 2016

Turkey on Tuesday dismissed over 15,000 state employees and ordered the closure of 375 associations within the state of emergency imposed after the July failed coup, in a purge that shows no sign of slowing.

More than 100,000 people have already been suspended or sacked so far in a crackdown on those alleged to have links to coup-plotters while dozens of media outlets have been shut down.

In the latest government decree published on Tuesday, 7,586 personnel working in the police, including police chiefs and commissioners, were dismissed.

Meanwhile 1,956 soldiers and personnel in the air force and navy were sacked while another 403 were removed from the gendarme, which looks after domestic security.

Thousands more were dismissed in government ministries and state institutions, including nearly 3,000 officials in the interior ministry and related institutions.

In total, 15,726 people have been dismissed under the latest decrees.

The dismissals are permitted under the state of emergency, which was extended by another three months in October, and was originally imposed in the wake of the coup.

But its scope has been vehemently criticized by the European Union and human rights activists.

- 'Silence critical voices' -

The decrees, published in the latest issue of the official gazette, also ordered the closure of 375 associations across the country working on issues ranging from rights to culture to women.

Critics have claimed that the crackdown goes well beyond the suspected coup plotters and targets anyone who has dared show opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The closure of nearly 400 NGOs is part of an ongoing and systematic attempt by the Turkish authorities to permanently silence all critical voices," said Amnesty International's Europe Director, John Dalhuisen.

Amnesty said the groups closed included lawyers associations working on preventing torture, women's rights groups working against domestic violence and local NGOs helping refugees.

Among those ordered closed is the leading Ankara-based children's rights NGO Gundem Cocuk (The Agenda is Children).

The decrees also ordered the closure of nine provincial press outlets and 19 health institutions.

Ankara blames the coup plot on the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen and says an unrelenting campaign is needed to root out his influence from public life. Gulen denies the allegations.

Erdogan indicated in a speech on Tuesday that the purges would continue, saying that not all Gulen supporters had been rooted out of Turkish institutions.

"We know that the state has not been entirely cleared of this treacherous network.

"They are still in our armed forces, our police organisations, inside our judiciary, inside different state institutions," he said.

In a separate development on Tuesday, Turkish authorities detained 20 staff at Silivri jail outside Istanbul accused of using the Bylock messaging app that Ankara says was specially developed by Gulen supporters for the coup plot.

Those detained include the head of the prison, named as H.T., it added. Hundreds of suspects rounded up after the coup are being held in the jail.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Turkey_fires_15000_shuts_375_NGOs_in_latest_coup_purge_999.html.

EU Parliament president Schulz to go into German politics

November 24, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The president of the European Parliament announced Thursday that he will leave his post and go into German politics, where he could become the main opponent to Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year's elections.

SPD Socialist Martin Schulz made the impromptu statement at the EU legislature. He has been European Parliament President since 2012 and said that deciding against seeking a third term, "didn't come easy." The 28-nation EU has come under increasing pressure since the 2008 economic crisis and Schulz said "a lot of trust was lost."

Yet, since Germany is ever more the fundamental cornerstone of the EU, Schulz feels the EU cause can be served from Berlin, too. "My commitment to the European project is unwavering. From now on I will be fighting for this project from the national level, but my values do not change," he said.

His decision leaves open who will succeed him. Most likely, it would be someone from the Christian-Democrat EPP group, the largest in parliament. The EPP, however, already has the EU Council presidency with Donald Tusk and the EU Commission presidency with Jean-Claude Juncker.

In Germany, Schulz's SPD is currently a junior partner in the coalition led by Merkel, who announced last week she would seek a fourth term as chancellor. The party is badly in need of a strong candidate since Merkel has reigned supreme in national politics since 2005. Party chairman Sigmar Gabriel still has to decide whether to run against Merkel, opening the way for Schulz to make a challenge. Schulz is a strong speaker, rarely shy to speak his convictions.

The 60-year-old has been an SPD member for over 40 years and was mayor of Wuerselen, near Aachen in western Germany, before moving to the European Parliament.

Turkey abandons child marriage bill following outrage

November 22, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's government on Tuesday scrapped a proposal that critics said would have allowed men accused of sexually abusing underage girls to go free if they were married to their victims.

The proposal, which had provoked a public outcry, was scheduled to undergo a final vote in parliament on Tuesday. It would have deferred sentencing or punishment for sexual assault of minors in cases where there was no physical force and where the victim and perpetrator were married.

Hours before the vote, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the government had withdrawn the bill to submit it to a review by a parliamentary committee. But Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag later said the proposal had been shelved and would only come back on the government's agenda if all parties in Parliament manage to reach a consensus.

"The issue has been closed," Bozdag said. The age of consent in Turkey is 18, although courts permit civil marriages for people as young as 16. Many boys and girls younger than that are married in Islamic ceremonies.

The government has argued for the need to redress "unfair treatment" of families where men were placed in jail for marrying girls under the age of 18 even if both parties and their parents consented. The proposal by the ruling Justice and Development Party, rooted in Turkey's Islamic movement, would have applied to cases that had occurred between 2005 and Nov. 16 of this year. The measure would have required men who were married to minors in Islamic ceremonies to formalize their union with civil marriages.

Opponents argued that the bill amounted to a pardon for statutory rape and would disrupt efforts to prevent child marriages and sexual assault on children. They maintained that it would, for example legitimize the practice of men taking brides as young as 13 or 14.

Hundreds of people, gathering in front of the parliament building to protest the measure, burst into celebrations after Yildirim announced that the government had pulled back the proposal from the Parliament floor.

"I am embarrassed that this issue is even being discussed," said Perihan Koksal, one of the protesters. "A child can't be a woman, can't be a mother." Opposition parties, rights groups and citizens had widely condemned the proposal since its initiation last week, issuing statements and staging demonstrations in a number of cities.

United Nations agencies, including the children's fund UNICEF, issued a joint statement on Monday warning that the proposal "would weaken the country's ability to combat sexual abuse and child marriages."

The government had insisted it was committed to fighting child marriages but said the one-time measure was needed to help some 3,800 families where underage marriages had occurred according to customs.

"We cannot ignore this (problem)," Yildirim said. "There are 3,800 cases and thousands of children. The children are paying the price of their parents' mistakes." In 2005, as part of efforts to join the European Union, the government scrapped loopholes in legislation that had allowed men to escape rape charges if they married their victims.

New missile system delivered to Turkish military

By Richard Tomkins
Nov. 22, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Turkish defense company Roketsan has delivered a new surface-to-surface guided missile system to the country's military.

The 303mm guided missile is the Kasirga, or Hurricane, which was developed by Roketsan engineers.

"The Kasirga is a system developed entirely by Roketsan and has an extreme accuracy up to 120-kilometer [about 75 mile] range," Defense Minister Fikri Işık said at a delivery ceremony. "Turkey has become a country that meets its needs with domestic and national opportunities as it also develops these technologies and sells them to friendly and brotherly countries."

The truck-mounted missile is intended to provide fire support to maneuvering units, Roketsan said.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2016/11/22/New-missile-system-delivered-to-Turkish-military/9481479808494/.

Turkey: 'Spring referendum on new constitution likely'

17 November 2016 Thursday

Turkey’s forestry and water affairs minister said Thursday that the process for a new constitution process will likely culminate with a referendum next spring.

Eroglu said: "Our prime minister has met with Mr. Devlet Bahceli and consequently the resolution [on a new constitution] has been conveyed to him,” referring to the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has pledged to work with the ruling Justice and Development (AK) on a new constitution.

“It will be referred to parliament. We presume it will win over 330 votes ... So it will be referred to the nation. I think that it can end with a referendum next spring."

MHP leader Bahceli confirmed Tuesday that he had received a new draft constitution from AK Party officials.

The MHP will work on the draft constitution, first within the party and later in an inter-party commission. The party aims to submit the agreed items to the full parliament "as soon as possible," according to Bahceli.

The new constitutional draft needs 330 votes to pave the way for a referendum.

The AK Party, with 316 seats, and the MHP, with 40, both back the bill.

If the draft constitution gets more than 367 votes, it can pass directly without the need for a referendum. But the AK Party has announced it will take the new constitution to a referendum even if none is needed.

Eroglu said that under the new constitution, the president would be a member of a political party. "This condition of being a party member is essential,” he argued.

Unlike the U.S. presidential system, Eroglu said there could be more than one vice president in the new system, and the ministers would not be deputies. "The ministers would be appointed from outside [parliament]. Parliament, deputies would pass the laws. The system will proceed on the separation of the executive and legislative powers."

He added, "There will be no prime ministry post in the new system."

The AK Party has sought to introduce a presidential system to replace the parliamentary model since Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first president by popular vote in August 2014.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/180315/turkey-spring-referendum-on-new-constitution-likely.

Former nuclear bunker becomes museum of Albanian persecution

November 19, 2016

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — A former top-secret nuclear bunker reopened Saturday as a museum in Albania's capital to show visitors how Communist-era police persecuted the regime's opponents. The 1,000-square-meter (1,077-square-foot) bunker with reinforced concrete walls up to 2.4 meters (8-feet) thick was built between 1981 and 1986 to shelter elite police and interior ministry staff in the event of a nuclear attack.

The museum that opened in Tirana now holds photographs and equipment that illustrate the political persecution of some 100,000 Albanians from 1945 until 1991. The "Pillar" museum, as the nuclear bunker was codenamed, is one of several former hideouts the Albanian government has repurposed for the public since it came to power three years ago.

Both an island fortress and another underground bunker designed for Albania's army command are now open to tourists, as is a leaf-covered villa that once housed the former communist country's secret police, known as Sigurimi.

More may come from the scores of military installations erected during the paranoid, isolationist regime of the late dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled with an iron fist after the end of World War II until December 1990.

Hoxha's regime, with an imaginary fear of invasion by the "imperialist United States and social-imperialist Soviet Union," built concrete bunkers of all sizes around the country. At one time there were rumored to be as many as 700,000, but the government says 175,000 were built.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the new museum reflects his Cabinet's "will to pay back a debt to the memory of the former political persecuted, forgotten in the last 25 years." Located downtown, it was designed to attract visitors from Albania and beyond "to learn about the ways that the former communist police persecuted their opponents," curator Carlo Bollino said.

"This is the first memorial for the victims of the communist terror," Bollino said. Twenty rooms in the new museum show Albania's police history from 1912 until 1991, as well as the names of 6,027 people executed during the communist regime, the 34,000 imprisoned and the more than 50,000 sent to isolated internment camps.

The bunker was never used, "though it has always been operational," according to Mehdi Sulo, 70, a museum guide. It also has been a focus of political demonstrations. In an anti-government rally a year ago, supporters of the main opposition Democratic Party destroyed part of a replica bunker built as the museum's entrance. They complained that Rama's governing Socialist Party was trying to glorify the country's dark past.

The holes the demonstrators made in the entrance purposely were not repaired. "Bunkers once aimed at putting the enemy away, now they serve to attract people to remember the difficult past," Rama said.

Syrian group: Rebels preventing refugees from fleeing Aleppo

November 23, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian monitoring group alleged Tuesday that rebels are preventing dozens of families from fleeing eastern Aleppo as Russian-backed government forces intensify their bombardment of the besieged quarter.

Such claims are difficult to verify and often distorted owing to the propaganda value of the matter. Syrian and Russian state media maintain that rebels are holding the enclave's 275,000 remaining inhabitants hostage to use as human shields, even as the government's air force pounds the east's hospitals and first responder groups.

Opposition outlets on the other hand want to show that civilians will never accept returning to the government's heavy-handed rule. Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad with vast military support as he fights to put down an uprising that is approaching its sixth year. Over 300,000 people have been killed in the raging war.

A resident of Aleppo's frontline Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood corroborated the report by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which maintains a network of contacts among both government and anti-government institutions.

Hajj Mohammed al-Jasim told The Associated Press his uncles' families were trying to cross from the Bustan al-Basha neighborhood in the east to the predominantly Kurdish enclave of Sheikh Maqsoud. "They've wanted to cross for a while because the circumstances have become very difficult," said al-Jasim, who confirmed his location near the al-Riz crossing via phone location services.

He said his relatives told him they were prepared to cross during the day but were advised by three rebel groups to wait until dark. "Then in the evening, (the rebels) began to fire at the crossing" to prevent passage, al-Jasim said. He said about fifty families were waiting to cross.

The autonomous Kurdish defense forces, the YPG, have promised housing in Sheikh Maqsoud to any families who cross, or secure passage on to opposition-held Azaz or Kurdish-held Afrin, two towns north of Aleppo, according to the al-Jasim.

The Observatory reported 100 families are waiting to cross, while Ahmad Hiso Araj, a political official for the YPG-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces, said 250 civilians were prepared to go. He said they were communicating with their relatives in Sheikh Maqsoud to evacuate Bustan al-Basha.

The government has recently stepped up its bombardment of eastern Aleppo, and by Sunday it had knocked out every hospital in the quarter, according to the World Health Organization. The Observatory says at least 140 civilians, including 18 children, have been killed.

The U.N.'s chief humanitarian official Stephen O'Brien said Monday the conditions had gone "from terrible to terrifying and now barely survivable." U.N. humanitarian official Jan Egeland warned two weeks ago that the east was running out of food. The area has been under siege by pro-government forces since August.

The government's air assault has been accompanied by pro-government troops pushing their way into neighborhoods on the edges of eastern Aleppo. Fighting on the southern edge, in the Sheik Saeed neighborhood intensified Tuesday. A major rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, said one of its leading commanders was killed there as they repelled advances by government troops.

In Damascus, Syria's military command announced it was forming a new anti-terrorism commando force, calling on volunteers interested in "achieving the final victory against terrorism" to apply. The announcement, which named the new anti-terrorism force the Fifth Corps, didn't specify where the force would be deployed. After nearly six years of combat, the Syrian conscription-based armed forces has become overstretched and has increasingly relied on its regional allies that have boosted its numbers and capabilities. Iran, Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah group have sent in hundreds of fighters who have fought alongside government troops, sometimes leading combat units, in decisive battles against armed opposition groups and extremist militants.

This comes a year after the Syrian armed forces announced the formation of the Fourth Corps, also an anti-terrorism force, soon after Russia began its military operations alongside the Syrian government.

The Syrian army declaration read on State TV also comes as the pace of government warnings to the residents of the besieged rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo city rises. An announcement Tuesday urged armed opposition groups to allow civilians to exit the besieged enclave through government-designated corridors. Another urged residents to cooperate with government forces. A third called on residents to avoid going out in the streets except in "dire need" and to stay clear of areas where armed groups operate.

Also on Tuesday, Syria's president received a Russian delegation in Damascus, headed by the Russian deputy prime minister, in a show of close ties between the two governments in the face of international criticism.

And the Pentagon on Tuesday said a Nov. 18 U.S. military airstrike killed senior al-Qaida leader Abu Afghan al-Masri, who had ties to militant movements across the Middle East.

With less fervor, Colombia takes another stab at peace

November 24, 2016

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — With less fervor and an added dose of uncertainty Colombia's government on Thursday will sign another peace accord with the country's largest rebel group — the second in two months.

The simple, hastily-organized ceremony in a Bogota theater reflects President Juan Manuel Santos' greater sense of urgency to end hostilities with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia after the original accord, brokered over four years of talks, suffered a shock defeat in a referendum a week after it was signed in front of heads of state and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Santos, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, has tried to project a conciliatory image in the face of the humbling defeat at the polls. The new, 310-page accord introduces some 50 changes intended to assuage critics led by still-powerful former President Alvaro Uribe. They range from a prohibition on foreign magistrates judging FARC crimes to a commitment from the insurgents to forfeit assets, some of them amassed through drug trafficking, to help compensate their victims.

But the FARC wouldn't go along with the opposition's strongest demands — jail sentences for rebel leaders who committed atrocities and stricter limits on their future participation in politics. In an act of protest, members of Uribe's political party are considering a boycott of next week's scheduled debate in congress on ratifying the agreement, accusing the legislature of disobeying the constitution. They're also threatening to call for street protests to denounce what they say is a "blow against democracy."

"The government preferred to impose itself in a way that divides Colombians instead of a national pact that would bring us together," Uribe's Democratic Center party said in a statement Wednesday. The lack of broad support for the accord will make the already-steep challenge of implementing it even tougher.

Colombians overwhelmingly loathe the FARC for crimes such as kidnappings and drug-trafficking. Ensuring that the 8,000-plus fighters don't wind up joining criminal gangs rampant throughout the country, or the much-smaller National Liberation Army, will also test the state's ability to make its presence felt in traditionally-neglected rural areas at a time of financial stress triggered by low oil prices.

There's also a risk that peace could trigger more bloodshed, as it did following a previous peace process with the FARC in the 1980s when thousands of former guerrillas, labor activists and communist militants were gunned down by right-wing militias, sometimes in collaboration with state agents.

That fear, although less prevalent than in the darker days of Colombia's half-century conflict, has become more urgent with more than a dozen human rights defenders and land activists in areas dominated by the FARC being killed by unknown assailants since the first signing ceremony in September.

Santos this week held an emergency meeting with his Cabinet and U.N. officials to discuss the murders, taking an opportunity to reinforce his message that peace can't wait. So far this year, 70 have been killed, according to Bogota-based We Are Defenders, more than in all of 2015 and 2014.

"We have to take action. There's no time to lose," Santos said in a televised address announcing Thursday's ceremony with less than 40 hours of anticipation. Once signed, Santos will introduce the accord to Congress, where a solid majority in support of peace is expected to ratify it as early as next week. Lawmakers will then embark on the nettlesome task of passing legislation so the guerrillas can begin concentrating in some 20-plus demobilization areas where they will begin turning over their weapons to United Nations-sponsored monitors.

Hamas blasts planned wall around Lebanese refugee camp

23 November 2016 Wednesday

Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has criticized plans by the Lebanese authorities to build a concrete wall around a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

The planned wall, the group said in a statement, is "the wrong way to deal with the issue of Palestinian refugees".

On Tuesday, reports emerged that the Lebanese authorities had begun erecting a concrete barrier around Ain al-Hilweh, the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp.

Located southeast of Lebanon’s coastal city of Sidon, Ain al-Hilweh is currently home to more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom came to the camp in recent years after fleeing the conflict in next-door Syria.

"This wall… will only serve to hurt the refugees’ cause, threaten their future, harm their interests and contribute to the deterioration of their already-dire humanitarian condition," Hamas said.

The group criticized what it described as Lebanon’s policy of "the collective isolation" of Palestinian refugee camps on its territory.

Hamas went on to assert that the planned wall would represent a violation of international law and the principles of human rights, and would likely strain Palestinian-Lebanese relations.

According to UN figures, roughly 460,000 Palestinian refugees are currently living in 12 major camps scattered across Lebanon.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/180574/hamas-blasts-planned-wall-around-lebanese-refugee-camp.

Poland's teachers protest education reform, feared jobs loss

November 19, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Poland's teachers and parents on Saturday protested the conservative government's plan to phase out middle schools that serve children between the ages of 12 and 16.

Organized by the teachers' union, the noisy protest in downtown Warsaw was another public show of discontent with the policies of Poland's year-old Law and Justice government. The organizers said about 50,000 people participated, while police estimated the crowd at 15,000.

Over the past year, Warsaw has seen repeated massive protests against various steps taken by the government, especially those which critics say undermine the rule of law. The Education Ministry wants to do away with the country's three-year middle schools starting next year. The ministry says the middle schools do a poor job of educating students. It wants to go back to a system used under communism of eight-year primary schools followed by a four-year secondary school. That system was changed in 1999, when middle schools were introduced, also amid great objections that it would complicate the education process.

The protesters, joined by some local governors from across Poland, said they fear the loss of thousands of jobs, and argued that the new curriculum would have to be written in haste and would be poor quality. Some teachers say the reform is intended to add nationalist values to the curriculum in addition to facts from the past that are key for Law and Justice policy.

"School in Poland doesn't need destruction. It needs some wise changes," teacher Artur Sierawski said. "So we are saying 'no' to the elimination of the middle schools and to the prospect of mammoth schools."

The marchers said that middle schools have helped bring Poland's education up to European standards, while a reform of the system would be costly, taking tens of millions of zlotys from the strapped education budget.

"This reform is done in haste. It will bring nothing but chaos for our children," said Ewa Gniatkowska, a mother of a 10-year-old from Warsaw. The protesters heaped pieces of chalk in front of the Parliament, to protest the draft law of the school reform and left a petition at President Andrzej Duda's office asking him to stop the reform.

Iceland left-green alliance fails to form government

24 November 2016 Thursday

Iceland's Left-Green movement said Wednesday it had failed in its bid to form a new coalition government, three weeks after snap elections triggered by the Panama Papers scandal.

Allied with the anti-establishment Pirate Party, the Social Democrats and the Bright Future party, the Left-Green had been in talks since Sunday in a bid to forge a governing coalition with the center-right Reform Party.

"It is evident that not all the parties are convinced to continue these negotiations so I have decided to stop them and I don't think that there is ground to continue," Katrin Jakobsdottir, the leader of the Left-Green movement, the second largest party, told state broadcaster RUV.

Jakobsdottir said she had informed the president of her decision.

It was not yet known what would happen next.

Asked if she would now return the power to form a government to the president, she replied: "I'm going to sleep on it."

Pirates co-chairman, Birgitta Jonsdottir, had said prior to the start of the talks on Sunday that she was optimistic the five parties would reach consensus on major issues.

"The people want very much to see improvement in both the work in the parliament and the image of the parliament", Jonsdottir said at the time.

Since its independence in 1944, Iceland has only seen one center-left government, which emerged from the 2009 election after the 2008 financial collapse.

Led by the largest election winner Independence Party, the center-right coalition failed to find common ground over a range of divisive issues including relations with the European Union, institutional reform and fishing.

The October 29 snap vote, prompted by a massive tax scandal ensnaring several Icelandic officials, saw the Pirates become the third largest party with 10 seats.

The Panama Papers, released in April, fueled the resignation of former prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and prompted the snap vote.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/europe/180611/iceland-left-green-alliance-fails-to-form-government.

Buhari makes history, signs eight bills into law in one day

November 19, 2016

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday engraved his name on the stones of history by assenting to eight different bills passed by the National Assembly into law.

His special adviser on National Assembly matters (senate), senator Ita Enang made the disclosure while briefing State House Correspondents on the developments at the presidential villa, Abuja.

The new Acts were:

*The Prevention of Crime Amendment Act 2016

*The National Crop Varieties and Livestock Breeds (Registration) Amendment Act 2016

*Telecommunications and Postal Offences Amendment Act 2016

*The National Agricultural Land Development Authority Amendment Act 2016

*The Produce Enforcement of Export Standards Amendment Act 2016

*The Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute Amendment Act 2016

*Bee Import Control and Management Amendment Act 2016

*Water Resources Amendment Act 2016.

Enang said that the Bills which had become an Act of Parliament and by extension, laws reflected the agenda of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

According to the presidential Adviser, they were all initiated by the National Assembly as none was an Executive Bill.

He said: “Mr. President assented to eight bills passed by the National Assembly. The different bills are on different sectors of the economy and development. The bills have, as from today, become an Act.

“These bills were passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to Mr. President for assent and Mr. President today assented to them today and they have automatically become law.

“Mr. President expresses his appreciation to leadership and membership of National Assembly for the great work they did in considering the bills and the details that have gone in to consider the bills.

“Mr. President considers the Act as very vital to the present administration and in consonance with All Progressive Congress, APC, agenda and thanks the National Assembly very much.

“He also directs that ministries, departments and agencies and all government functionaries, that whenever there is a bill pending before the National Assembly and there is a call for public hearing, they must attend and make inputs into those bills so that those inputs will be taken into accounts by the legislature when considering the bill. So that when the bills are eventually passed it would be easier to implement.”

Source: Vanguard.
Link: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/11/buhari-makes-history-signs-eight-bills-law-one-day/.

Great valley found on Mercury

Laruel MD (SPX)
Nov 21, 2016

Scientists have discovered a new large valley on Mercury that may be the first evidence of buckling of the planet's outer silicate shell in response to global contraction. The researchers discovered the valley using a new high-resolution topographic map of part of Mercury's southern hemisphere created by stereo images from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft. The findings were reported in a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The most likely explanation for Mercury's Great Valley is buckling of the planet's lithosphere - its crust and upper mantle - in response to global contraction, according to the study's authors.

Earth's lithosphere is broken up into many tectonic plates, but Mercury's lithosphere consists of just one plate. Cooling of Mercury's interior caused the planet's single plate to contract and bend. Where contractional forces are greatest, crustal rocks are thrust upward while an emerging valley floor sags downward.

"There are examples of lithospheric buckling on Earth involving both oceanic and continental plates, but this may be the first evidence of lithospheric buckling on Mercury," said Thomas R. Watters, senior scientist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and lead author of the new study.

The valley is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) wide with its floor as much as 3 kilometers (2 miles) below the surrounding terrain. The valley is more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) long and extends into the Rembrandt basin, one of the largest and youngest impact basins on Mercury.

The valley is bound by two large fault scarps - steps on the planet's surface where one side of a fault has moved vertically with respect to the other. Mercury's contraction caused the fault scarps bounding the Great Valley to become so large they essentially became cliffs.

The elevation of the valley floor is far below the terrain surrounding the mountainous faults scarps, which suggests the valley floor was lowered by the same mechanism that formed the scarps themselves, according to the study authors.

"Unlike Earth's Great Rift Valley in East Africa, Mercury's Great Valley is not caused by the pulling apart of lithospheric plates due to plate tectonics; it is the result of the global contraction of a shrinking one-plate planet," Watters said.

"Even though you might expect lithospheric buckling on a one-plate planet that is contracting, it is still a surprise when you find that it's formed a great valley that includes the largest fault scarp and one of the largest impact basins on Mercury."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Great_valley_found_on_Mercury_999.html.

Moscow to mull building Russian orbital station in Spring 2017

Moscow (Sputnik)
Nov 17, 2016

In spring, Moscow will consider Russian scientists' proposal to build a national orbiting space station to replace the International Space Station. The proposal to establish a Russian national orbiting space station to replace the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024 will most likely be debated by the government next spring, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Wednesday.

"Within the field of view is the idea proposed by our scientists to create a national orbital space station instead of the ISS. But this is a pending issue associated with political and technical issues. It will be probably decided in spring 2017," Rogozin told reporters.

Russia's space industry development strategy into 2030 should be developed in the next 90 days, Rogozin said.

Moscow's cooperation with the new US administration, the deputy prime minister said. "Much will depend on the political moments in relations with the Americans, with the new administration. It will be discussed," he said.

ISS' Life Span Could Extend Into 2028

The International Space Station (ISS) could see its life span extended by four years into 2028, the head of Russia's S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC) Energia said Tuesday.

"Maybe the ISS will receive continued resources. Today we discussed the possibility of using the station until 2028," General Director Vladimir Solntsev said at a high-tech industries conference. International Space Station, an international multirole orbital research facility, in space since 1998.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Moscow_to_mull_building_Russian_orbital_station_in_Spring_2017_999.html.