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Monday, December 19, 2016

UK restores order after worst prison uprising since 1990

December 17, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Security officers restored order Saturday at a prison in the central English city of Birmingham a day after an estimated 600 inmates seized control and launched a destructive rampage. Authorities called Friday's 13-hour takeover of HMP Birmingham the worst prison uprising since the 1990 riot in Strangeways in Manchester, which lasted 25 days and left one prisoner dead.

No staff members were injured but one prisoner remained hospitalized Saturday with a suspected broken jaw and eye socket. Trouble flared as prisoners rushed a guard and stole his keys, giving them eventual access to all four wings of the Victorian-era prison in England's second-largest city. Inmates lit fires, set off fireworks, broke into guards' offices to steal clubs and helmets, and smashed windows and toilet blocks.

A stream of security vans came and went Saturday from the prison. The Justice Ministry said at least 240 Birmingham inmates were being transferred to other prisons nationwide while more than 1,000 remaining would face greater restrictions on movement.

Justice Minister Liz Truss said the security failure will be fully investigated, while those convicted of rioting will face longer sentences. But prison officer leaders and other authorities warned that the scale of the latest unrest underscored a system-wide crisis of understaffing and overcrowding.

They pointed to a string of trouble in the past two months, starting with the stabbing death of an inmate Oct. 18 inside Pentonville in north London, a riot Oct. 29 in Lewes south of the capital, and another riot Nov. 6 in Bedford to the north.

Mike Rolfe, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said overcrowding and staff cuts meant Britain inevitably would face disorder. "Birmingham's lost over 30 staff in the last few weeks through resignations, people just not wanting to work there," Rolfe said. "It's such a difficult and dangerous job, and the whole service is in crisis."

Steve Dagworthy, a former convict who advises prison-bound clients, said spending cuts since 2010 had cost 7,000 guard positions and curtailed programs. "We have too few officers looking after too many prisoners (who) have too little to do," he said. "If you cage these prisoners like animals in these Victorian prisons, with two men to a cell which was designed for one, and you unlock them and say immediately, 'Sorry guys, you've got to go back to your cell,' inevitably they'll turn around and say: 'We've had enough, we're rebelling.'"

Talks stall over Congo's delayed election; violence feared

December 17, 2016

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Talks in Congo between President Joseph Kabila's party and the opposition are on hold after they failed to reach an agreement before the date Kabila was originally supposed to step down from power, mediators said Saturday.

Kabila's original mandate ends Monday, and many fear widespread unrest if he stays in office unless some kind of political compromise is reached. Anti-government demonstrations are expected Monday and Tuesday. Police and military forces were already patrolling, searching cars and setting up checkpoints Saturday in Kinshasa, the capital. Authorities plan to cut off access to social networks Sunday for an undetermined period of time.

The national election once set for November in this Central African nation has been delayed indefinitely, allowing the president to remain in power until a vote is held. Congolese authorities say that updating the voters' registrar will take until at least until July 2017 and budgetary constraints may delay the election even further.

Catholic church officials who have been mediating the talks announced Saturday evening that the negotiations won't resume until Wednesday, raising fears of potential violence in the sprawling nation that has suffered decades of dictatorship and back-to-back civil wars.

"Given the breadth of the topics, participants came to the conclusion that these questions should not be dealt with hastily," Monsignor Marcel Utembi said in a statement Saturday, adding that several church officials are now headed to Rome for a few days.

"Meanwhile we ask everyone to pray for our country," he added. Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi said he and his supporters maintain that a new election "must be held and can be held in 2017," despite calls from the presidential majority to hold them in April 2018.

Opposition parties also want political prisoners released and for the case to be dropped against opposition politician Moise Katumbi, who left the country after prosecutors said they would charge him with hiring mercenaries for his protection.

Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said the presidential majority was taking part in the talks with "an open mind to put an end to the crisis." He said while some prisoners could be released immediately, others might have to be pardoned by a commission.

Kabila came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father. Congo suffered through years of civil war, and some observers fear that tensions over Kabila's continued rule could once again unleash fighting in the mineral-rich country.

Massive demonstrations broke out in Kinshasa and several other cities across Congo in September when the electoral commission failed to call an election and clashes with police left over 50 people dead.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Saturday that concerns about unrest are high, especially since "no one to date has been held accountable" for the protesters' deaths in September.

"We call on the government, and especially its security forces, to take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly," he said.

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

Legislature: Ex-Mali president won't face treason charges

December 17, 2016

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's National Assembly has rejected the idea of trying former President Amadou Toumani Toure on treason charges. The former president was overthrown in a March 2012 coup that ushered in an era of instability throughout the Sahara Desert nation. He lives in exile in neighboring Senegal and could now return home unless the government takes other action.

Youssouf Toure, a National Assembly spokesman, said Saturday that members voted overwhelmingly 104-to-5 not to pursue charges. The allegations against the former president stems from accusations that his leadership had left the military in such a state of disarray that it could not defend Mali against foreign jihadists. The French military ousted the jihadists from power in northern Mali in 2013 but extremist remnants continue to launch attack on U.N. and Malian forces.

West African leaders aim to enforce Gambian election upset

December 18, 2016

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — West African leaders promised Saturday to enforce the results of a Gambian election that was won by a little-known businessman backed by an opposition coalition but rejected by the country's longtime coup leader.

A summit of the Economic Community of West African States ended with all leaders stating they will attend the Jan. 19 inauguration of Gambia's new president, Adama Barrow. They also pledged to "guarantee the safety and protection of the president-elect," who has said he fears for his life.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh surprised his fellow citizens by conceding defeat the day after the Dec. 1 vote, and then changed his mind and called for a new election. The United Nations, the United States and the African Union have all condemned the move.

The summit in Abuja, Nigeria, attended by 11 presidents with Jammeh absent, agreed "to take all necessary actions to enforce the results" of the Gambian election. It called for Jammeh to accept the results and refrain from compromising a peaceful handover of power.

A new deployment of soldiers across the country risks increased intimidation and harassment, the U. N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, warned late Saturday. "This is deeply worrying, given the record of human rights violations in Gambia, including excessive use of force against demonstrators, arbitrary detention and deaths in custody, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees," Zeid said.

The summit named a mediation committee headed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari with his deputy Ghana President John Dramani Mahama, who conceded defeat in an election a few days after Gambia's. It was Ghana's first electoral defeat of a sitting president.

The president of the West African community, Marcel de Souza, said this week that if diplomacy fails, a military intervention and "draconian measures" must be considered for Gambia. He spoke in an interview with Radio France International.

Jammeh's defiance challenges the first regional community in the world to agree to military interventions in member states accused of abusing human rights and democratic principles. It has spent 25 years nurturing democracy in a region once prone to military coups.

Jammeh acted after an opposition coalition official said he should be prosecuted for rights abuses. Jammeh used the excuse of errors in the vote tally, ignoring the country's Independent Electoral Commission, which said the winner remains Barrow with a revised count of 227,708 votes to Jammeh's 208,487.

The ruling party filed a court challenge against the results Tuesday, a constitutional move complicated by the fact that Gambia's Supreme Court does not have a quorum. The United States said it doubts it is "a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of Gambia's democratic process."

Jammeh on Tuesday sent troops to take over the electoral commission's office in Banjul, the capital, shortly before a delegation of West African leaders arrived on an inconclusive mission. Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 in the country of 1.9 million people known for its beaches.

Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.

Iran appoints ambassadors to Syria, Oman

December 17, 2016

Iran’s foreign ministry has announced that it had made decisions on its new ambassadors to be appointed to both Syria and Oman, and that their names would soon be released, The New Khaleej reported yesterday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said that the names of the two ambassadors to the two countries would be released when a series of diplomatic and strategic considerations were concluded.

He noted that the sensitivity of the situation in Syria is one of the reasons why the appointment of the ambassador to Damascus was delayed.

The news website noted that the appointment of Iranian ambassadors is subject to strict censorship by the intelligence branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Qods Force brigade that focuses on Iran’s extraterritorial activities.

Reports indicated that the administration of President Hassan Rouhani had been severely criticized in the Iranian parliament due to the delay of the appointment of the ambassadors for the two aforementioned countries, especially to Syria, where there are Iranian forces fighting alongside Assad regime forces.

In April, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the former deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, was chosen to head up the Iranian embassy in Muscat, but he withdrew himself from consideration for “personal reasons”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161217-iran-appoints-ambassadors-to-syria-oman/.

Iran threatens Bahrain, Yemen with 'Islamic conquest' like Aleppo

December 17, 2016

A senior Iranian military commander has threatened further wars of conquest after describing the recent collapse of the Syrian opposition in Aleppo as an “Islamic conquest”, as footage has appeared showing Syrian refugees attempting to evacuate the ravaged city being shot at by Iran-backed Shia jihadists.

In comments to local Iranian media, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Hossein Salami said: “It is now time for the Islamic conquests. After the liberation of Aleppo, Bahrain’s hopes will be realized and Yemen will be happy with the defeat of the enemies of Islam.”

The IRGC commander also said that “the people of Mosul will taste the taste of victory,” in reference to the ongoing Mosul operations.

The taste of “victory”, however, tasted of blood and terror in Aleppo as the Middle East correspondent for BuzzFeed News tweeted footage of what pro-Assad regime Iranian proxies were doing there.

Borzou Daragahi tweeted “This is what hell on earth looks like,” as video footage from the devastated city shows “hungry, freezing men, women and children” who are trying to evacuate Aleppo are fired upon by the Shia jihadists.

This footage was supported by further reports and footage from Syrian journalist Rami Jarrah. Jarrah’s footage shows witnesses recounting their stories of how their convoy that was travelling with the Red Cross was waylaid by the Assad regime.

As the men in the video are talking, they and a vast convoy of cars come under attack by Assad regime, creating panic as people try to escape.

Iran's 'empire' and 'Shia Liberation Army'

Salami’s comments are not the first to emerge from within influential and powerful Iranian official circles.

In March 2015, Presidential Adviser Ali Younesi said that the Iraqi capital of Baghdad was now a “capital of the Iranian empire,” inflaming the Arab world and especially Iraqis who have felt Iran’s pervading and dominating influence in their country.

Last November, Iranian army Chief of Staff General Mohammed Bagheri said that his country would in all likelihood set up military bases in Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries.

Speaking to the state-run Mashregh news agency in August, retired IRGC General Mohammad Ali Falaki said that Iran had created a “Shia Liberation Army” under the command of IRGC Qods Force commander Brigadier-General Qassem Soleimani.

According to Falaki, the Shia Liberation Army was already active on three “fronts” in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161217-iran-threatens-bahrain-yemen-with-islamic-conquest-like-aleppo/.