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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Iraq makes swift territorial gains against IS in Mosul

January 15, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces have won a string of swift territorial gains in Mosul in the fight against the Islamic State group after months of slow progress, with a senior officer on Saturday laying claim to a cluster of buildings inside Mosul University and another edge of a bridge.

Iraqi forces now control the eastern sides of three of the city's five bridges that span the Tigris River connecting Mosul's east to west. Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition bombed the city's bridges late last year in an effort to isolate IS fighters in the city's east by disrupting resupply routes.

At Mosul University, senior commanders said Iraqi forces had secured more than half of the campus Saturday amid stiff resistance, but clashes were ongoing into the afternoon. Iraqi forces entered the university from the southeast Friday morning and by nightfall had secured a handful of buildings, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil and Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said on a tour of the university Saturday.

"We watched all the IS fighters gather in that building, so we blew it up," said special forces Sgt. Maj. Haytham Ghani pointing to one of the blackened technical college buildings where charred desks could be seen inside. "You can still see some of their corpses."

Thick clouds of black smoke rose from the middle of the sprawling complex Saturday morning. By afternoon, clashes had intensified with volleys of sniper and mortar fire targeting the advancing Iraqi forces. Convoys of Iraqi Humvees snaked through the campus, pausing for artillery and airstrikes to clear snipers perched within classrooms, dormitories and behind the trees that line the campus streets.

IS fighters overran Mosul in the summer of 2014, announcing from there their self-styled "caliphate" after taking a large swath of Iraq and Syria in a lightning surge. Access to the city's central bank, a large taxable civilian population and nearby oilfields quickly made IS the world's wealthiest terrorist group.

Yet even as a punishing campaign of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes has pushed the militants underground, IS leaders continued to use Mosul as a key logistical hub for planning meetings. If recaptured by the Iraqi forces, IS territory in Iraq that once stretched across a third of the country would be reduced to small pockets in the north and west that troops will likely be able to mop up relatively quickly.

The massive operation to retake Mosul from IS was launched in October. Since then Iraqi forces have slowly clawed back more than a third of the city. IS maintains has tight control of the city's western half where Iraqi forces will likely encounter another wave of heavy IS resistance. The west of the city is home to some of Mosul's densest neighborhoods and an estimated 700,000 civilians.

As Iraqi forces have closed in on the Tigris that roughly divides Mosul into eastern and western halves, their pace has quickened. IS defenses in the city's east appear to be thinning and unlike in the surrounding neighborhoods, Iraqi officers said they believe Mosul University and recently retaken government buildings are largely empty of civilians — allowing them to use air cover more liberally.

Iraqi soldiers at Mosul University said while they were still coming under heavy small arms fire, IS resistance was significantly less than they faced during the first weeks of the Mosul operation. "We were targeted with only four car bombs where before (IS) would send 20 in one day," special forces Lt. Zain al-Abadeen said. "And they aren't armored like before, they're just using civilian cars."

Medics operating a small field hospital in eastern Mosul said civilian casualties have dropped significantly over the past three days as Iraqi forces moved into government complexes like the university rather than dense civilian neighborhoods.

Also Saturday, IS launched its biggest assault in a year on government-held areas of the contested Syrian city of Deir el-Zour in an attempt to maintain a grip on the eastern stretch of the neighboring country where the group's de facto capital of Raqqa lies.

Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Survey: 2 million women widowed or divorced in Iraq

January 11, 2017

Near continuous violence, absence of government assistance and a social fabric that is spiraling out of control has made Iraq’s women face some of the highest divorce rates in the world, as a frightening number of them are widowed daily due to the ongoing Iraqi government offensive to recapture Mosul from Daesh.

As part of a food security survey conducted by the official Iraqi Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), the review showed that almost two million Iraqi women were either divorced or widowed.

On Monday, Abdulzahra Al-Hindawi, the spokesman for the Iraqi planning ministry, was cited by Alkhaleej Online as confirming the above: “The number of divorcees and widows throughout Iraq in general has now risen to 1,983,000.”

Al-Hindawi suggested that this number could be significantly higher as “the survey did not include the two provinces of Ninawa and Anbar, as well as a number of districts of Kirkuk and Salahuddin.”

The four provinces mentioned by the official spokesman are some of those that have witnessed some of the heaviest fighting between US-backed Iraqi government troops and allied Shia jihadists on one side, with Daesh extremists on the other.

In these and other areas, Shia militants fighting under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) paramilitary organization and within the police and army, have committed grave war crimes against mostly Sunni Arab civilians.

An example of this are the almost 640 men from Saqlawiyah near Fallujah still unaccounted for after Iran-backed militants abducted them last summer during an Iraqi government offensive. These men almost certainly left behind families that were dependant on them.

Aside from the military confrontations and terrorism, Iraq is also facing rising rates of domestic violence against women. Women are often disadvantaged in Iraq, and their status in society has actually decreased substantially since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Rampant nepotism, corruption and chronic mismanagement has led to an Iraqi economy that is suffering, particularly with the drastic reduction in oil prices in recent years. Social problems relating to unemployment and poverty have led to breakdowns of marriages, and increased incidences of violence against women.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170111-survey-2-million-women-widowed-or-divorced-in-iraq/.

Battling IS, Iraq troops reach bank of Tigris River in Mosul

January 09, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi troops in Mosul have battled their way to the Tigris River running through the center of town, marking a milestone in the nearly three-month-old offensive aimed at reclaiming the northern city from Islamic State militants.

Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah said special forces reached the river late Sunday and now control the eastern side of one of the city's five bridges, all of which have been disabled by U.S.-led airstrikes in support of the offensive.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the recent advances were "big achievements for all the factions of the Iraqi security forces." "Thank God, our forces are liberating neighborhood after neighborhood," he said Monday in a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart in Baghdad.

In Mosul, Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the special forces told The Associated Press that troops were battling IS in the Baladiyat and Sukar neighborhoods after driving the extremists out of Muthana and Rifaq the day before. He said Iraqi forces repelled an overnight attack, killing 37 militants, without elaborating.

The Mosul offensive resumed last month after a two-week lull due to stiff IS resistance and bad weather. Since then, Iraqi forces have recaptured new areas in the city's eastern half after receiving enforcements.

Mosul is Iraq's second largest city and the extremist group's last major urban bastion in the country. Iraqi special forces have done most of the fighting within the city, while Iraqi troops have advanced on it from different sides. Kurdish forces and Shiite militias have driven IS from surrounding areas and sought to cut off militant escape routes.

Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014, when the extremists swept across much of northern and western Iraq. Iraqi forces have gradually retaken most of that territory over the past three years, and outside of Mosul the militants are largely confined to smaller towns and villages.

Iraqi forces retake series of IS villages


BAGHDAD - Baghdad's forces retook a series of villages from the Islamic State group in western Iraq as they fought to oust it from territory near the Syrian border, officers said Friday.

The operation, which aims to recapture the towns of Rawa, Aanah and Al-Qaim -- the last main populated areas held by IS in Anbar province -- was launched on Thursday.

"Our military units liberated seven villages from Daesh control between the town of Haditha and the town of Aanah," said Staff Major General Qassem al-Mohammedi, the head of the Jazeera Operations Command, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Staff Major General Noman Abed al-Zobai, the commander of the 7th Division, said that seven villages had been recaptured, and government forces had reached the outskirts of Al-Sagra, an area southeast of Aanah.

Iraqi forces have retaken Ramadi and Fallujah, the two main cities in Anbar province, but security in recaptured areas remains precarious.

Anbar is a vast province that stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the western approach to Baghdad, and has a long history of insurgent activity.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained much of the territory they lost.

They are now fighting to recapture Mosul, the last Iraqi city where IS holds signficant ground.

But the recapture of major population centres held by IS will not mark the end of the conflict against them. The jihadists are still able to carry out frequent bombings in government-controlled areas, and are likely to turn increasingly to such tactics as they lose territory.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80699.

No big New Year's celebrations for Iraq's displaced

December 31, 2016

BARTELLA, Iraq (AP) — There were no big New Year's celebrations for the Iraqi men, women and children who narrowly escaped the fighting in Mosul, only to wait for hours under armed guard while the fighting-age males among them were cleared of links to the Islamic State.

The lucky ones would go with their families to one of the wind-swept camps for displaced Iraqis, where they will endure the remainder of northern Iraq's bitterly cold winter in tents and learn to survive on insufficient supplies of food, heating oil and blankets.

Those whose names were found on the wanted list would be detained, interrogated and likely face trial. Many of the Iraqis told of going hungry in Mosul for weeks, surviving on a single daily meal and drinking murky water extracted from recently dug wells. There was no formula for their small children, who survived on bread soaked in tea or soup made of rice or crushed wheat. Life was miserable without electricity or medical care. They watched mortar shells or stray bullets kill their relatives and neighbors.

They don't know when they will go home, but are thankful. "The camp is the lesser of two evils. Life in Mosul now kills you," said 33-year-old English teacher Ahmed Abu Karam, from the IS-held Karama neighborhood east of the Tigris River. "What happens in 2017 is in the hands of God alone, but let me tell you this: My escape, thanks be to God, has given me a new life."

Abu Karam was among about 200 men ordered by grim faced Iraqi soldiers to squat outside a row of abandoned stores on a main road close to the mainly Christian town of Bartella near Mosul. It is the gathering point for the mainly Sunni residents who fled Mosul to avoid being killed in the crossfire between government troops and IS militants or because they ran out of food and money.

The ground where they gathered was wet from a heavy downpour a few days before and scattered with trash. Many men sported long beards they had to grow under IS rule, but some were shaving off their facial hair on Saturday as they waited. As the men were processed, the women and children sat on buses. The men were expected to be transferred separately, many in the back of army trucks, one of which flew a Shiite banner.

"We Sunnis are marginalized," said Abu Karam. "The security forces ran away and left us with Daesh in 2014. Now they suspect us of being terrorists," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. Iraq's Shiite-dominated military and security forces launched a new offensive in Mosul on Thursday, breaking a two-week lull in fighting that began in mid-October, more than two years after Iraq's military and police melted away in the face of an IS blitz across northern and western Iraq.

The renewed fighting in Mosul has forced hundreds of civilians to flee, joining an estimated 120,000 who already left. Most gathered in Bartella on Saturday came from neighborhoods where the latest fighting is taking place.

Electrician Ibrahim Saleh and his family escaped Mosul's Quds neighborhood on Friday and spent the night at the home of "kind strangers" in a suburb just east of the city. He said he, his wife and children endured most of the last two months hiding under their house's staircase for fear of shelling.

"We have survived only by divine intervention," he said. The camps for Iraqis displaced by the fighting in and around Mosul are mostly south and east of the city in Nineveh province and in the nearby self-ruled Kurdish region. There, many complain of rain and other severe winter conditions, or inadequate supplies of heating oil and medicines.

But in one of the larger camps for the displaced in the Kurdish region — Hassan Sham — a local non-governmental organization provided a welcome change from the drab daily life there by throwing a New Year's party for the children, complete with clowns and face painting.

But the children's excitement did little to conceal the camp's grim realities, or erode the painful memories of life under IS and the horrors of war in Mosul since October. Shortly before the party began, camp residents pushed and shoved over blankets and clothes distributed by local donors. Some spoke of feeling imprisoned in the camp, unable to secure a sponsor allowing them to live in the urban bustle of nearby Irbil, the Kurdish region's capital.

Akram Ali, a former cameraman for a Mosul TV channel, now makes less than 10 dollars a day cutting hair, but still enough to buy fresh vegetables and fruit to supplement the food handouts he, his wife and four children get from camp organizers.

"We died 20 times every day when we lived under fire in Mosul," he recounted emotionally. "Under Daesh, it was oppression, tragedies, persecution and suffering. I can do without food and water, as long as I and my family are safe."

Fellow camp resident Mustafa Mahmoud, a 21-year-old who quit school when IS took over his native Mosul in 2014, sees little to celebrate with the arrival of 2017. Since arriving at the camp six weeks ago, he goes to bed at 7 or 8 every evening.

"Nothing will change tonight," he said.

Some in Mosul wary of return of Iraq's government

December 31, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — The 19-year-old resident of Mosul pulled up his shirt and showed a festering wound on his back. It came, he said, from Iraqi troops who detained him for three days and beat him, trying to get him to confess to belong to the Islamic State group.

His story and similar stories by others only deepen worries among many of Mosul's mainly Sunni residents over what happens when the extremist group is defeated and Baghdad's Shiite-led government resumes control.

Almost all those fleeing the city say they are relieved to see the end of the Sunni extremists' grip. But they also have bad memories of Baghdad's rule in the past. Mosul's Sunnis long complained that the Shiite-dominated security forces treated them with suspicion and targeted them in indiscriminate crackdowns. They say the government intentionally neglect them, focusing on Shiite areas in the south, leaving Iraq's second largest city undeveloped and economically stagnant.

Mohammed Ayad said he was detained by troops earlier this month when he sneaked from his home neighborhood, which is under IS control, across the Tigris River into a district recaptured by the military. He intended to buy cigarettes to sell back in his neighborhood, where IS bans smoking.

"They arrested me while sleeping at friend's house on the east side," he said. "They suspected me when I showed them my ID that says I live on the other side," said Ayad. His interrogators beat him, asking him repeatedly when he joined IS. After they released him, he went to a camp of displaced people south of Mosul.

Several other Mosul residents at the camp said Federal Police, a Shiite-dominated force, barred them from returning to their homes in recaptured areas, now that they are relatively safe. A group of Sunnis who fled the recently freed town of Tal Abta, west of Mosul, said they too were barred by Shiite militias from returning.

"I feel like a third class citizen, like an Indian who will now have to live in a reservation," said one bearded Mosul resident who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals. "It is like they jailed us here," he said of the camp.

There have been no reports of major or systematic abuse of Mosul residents by the military or security forces, which have been fighting since October to recapture the city. That's a contrast to other former IS-held areas, where Shiite fighters are accused of pushing out or otherwise abusing Sunnis. The military denies torturing suspects and insists no one is denied permission to return to their homes.

But there is a recognition that Baghdad needs to reach out to Sunnis. "I really cannot blame them for being apprehensive about the return of government rule," said a top military commander in Mosul, who agreed to discuss the subject in return for anonymity.

"It is their right to feel that way. Before Daesh, there was too much corruption, and the security forces did nothing to help people," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS. Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been sending reconciliatory messages to Iraq's minority Sunnis, speaking of a country reunited by the fight against IS. "Societal reconciliation is the appropriate answer to Daesh," he said recently.

The military in Mosul has reached out to residents with goodwill gestures, including distributing food and water and treating wounded or ailing residents in their field hospitals. They have helped those wishing to leave the city. Children flash the "V' for victory signs to soldiers and yell "Mansoureen," or "may you be victorious," as they drive by in their Humvees.

"No matter how many times I say 'thank you' I can never give you your due," one woman told a senior army general Thursday as he toured her frontline Mosul neighborhood. But there is also mutual suspicion and apprehension. Faced with consistent IS bombing and shootings in recaptured areas, the military fears sympathizers and sleeper cells among the population.

"All a Daesh member has to do is take off his clothes and shave his beard and he becomes a regular citizen" said the military commander in Mosul. "That's why we cannot drop our guard." The army's security measures with the population don't help ease any ill-feeling.

Every day, hundreds of men, women, children and elderly fleeing the city wait for hours in the biting cold by a main road outside Mosul while security officials run their names through a database for any possible IS links.

There are no chairs or benches and nothing to shelter them from rain and wind. A shortage of buses means that most of those cleared are loaded onto army trucks, where they stand with nothing to hold on except each other, to be taken to camps.

Conditions are tough for those who remain in recaptured Mosul neighborhoods as well. Piles of trash are everywhere and green sewage water runs on the side of many streets. Water and power are still out.

Some residents close off their streets with makeshift barriers against suicide car bombs, and many motorists still fly a white flag, signs of the fragile security. Some 120,000 people have fled Mosul since the offensive began. The resources of the cash-strapped government are limited. It is trying to provide medical care, food, water and heating fuel to those staying put in the city and those who fled. But distribution has been chaotic, leaving some without, and it excludes residents of areas close to the frontline.

Mosul hospital clerk Waad Amin said he's glad the extremists are gone. While he's wary of the government, "No matter what, they are still better than Daesh," he said. But "it is so bad here, it's beyond description," he said of government-held parts of Mosul. The 53-year-old father of six works in a government clinic and hasn't been paid for nearly two years.

Amin is also worried that a wave of score-settling will break out among residents. Security forces have to keep control, but at the same time not get dragged in by informants wrongly accusing others of being IS members, he said.

"The government needs to have a security outpost in every neighborhood. If not, the situation will be very dire. They cannot leave us to kill each other, as they did before Daesh took the city." Mosul long had a reputation as a bastion of Islamic militancy. Before IS captured it in 2014, the group's fighters operated freely in some areas, attacking security forces and oil facilities. Militants ran protection rackets, and local government corruption was rampant. Authorities were seen as failing to dealing effectively with criminals and militants.

Ahmed Mohammed Hussein, a 52-year-old Mosul University employee, blames those government failures for the IS takeover of the city in June 2014. It has left him bitter and suspicious ever since. He spoke in a camp for the displaced in the northern city of Irbil, where he fled with his family. Nearby, his wife stood in line with other women to receive heating oil rations.

"If they come back and wipe away my tears, pat me on the head and help me get back my life, then they are all welcome," he said of the government. "But they will not be welcome if it's all going to be about marginalization again."

Iraqi troops resume Mosul fight after 2-week lull

December 29, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi troops backed by U.S.-led airstrikes pushed deeper into eastern Mosul on Thursday in a multi-pronged assault after a two-week lull in the operation to retake the Islamic State-held city.

Elite special forces pushed into the Karama and Quds neighborhoods, while army troops and federal police advanced into nearby Intisar, Salam and Sumor neighborhoods. Smoke rose across the city as explosions and machine gun fire echoed through the streets.

Stiff resistance by the militants, civilians trapped inside their houses and bad weather have slowed advances in the more than two-month-old offensive to recapture Iraq's second largest city, the extremist group's last urban bastion in the country. It is the biggest Iraqi military operation since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, commander of the special forces in eastern Mosul, said his forces have been bolstered by reinforcements and are now less than 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the Tigris River, which slices the city in half. A U.S.-led coalition airstrike this week destroyed the last remaining bridge over the river.

The special forces, officially known as the Counter Terrorism Service, have done most of the fighting, pushing in from the east. But regular army troops on the city's southeast and northern edges, as well as militarized federal police farther west, have not moved in weeks, unable to penetrate the city.

The troops have faced grueling urban fighting, often house to house against IS militants who have had more than two years to dig in and prepare. Even in districts that have been recaptured, Iraqi troops have faced surprise attacks, shelling and car bombs. The extremists have launched more than 900 car bombs against Iraqi troops in and around Mosul. Al-Saadi said 260 targeted his men.

He said he expected Iraqi forces would drive IS from Mosul and the rest of Nineveh province within three months. Iraqi leaders had previously vowed to drive the extremists from Mosul by the end of the year.

IS captured Mosul in the summer of 2014, when it swept across much of northern and central Iraq, and the group's leader declared the establishment of its self-styled caliphate from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

The city is still home to around a million people. Some 120,000 have fled since the operation began on Oct. 17, according to the United Nations.

Why the Mosul offensive against IS has slowed to a stalemate

By Paul Rogers, University of Bradford
Dec. 20, 2016

Given the appalling destruction and loss of life, the siege of eastern Aleppo has held the world's attention for weeks. But across the border in Iraq, developments in the city of Mosul may turn out to be just as crucial for the long-term future of the Middle East.

When the operation to take the city from the so-called Islamic State started in mid-October 2016, Iraq's Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, hoped that the operation would be complete by the end of the year. Instead, the war over Mosul has just entered its third month with no end in sight. Some Iraqi military sources are resigned to a conflict that could last through to summer 2017.

At the start of November, after two weeks of rapid progress, prospects looked good for government forces. But the optimism of the early days has now given way to what looks very much like a stalemate. Depending on which source you consult, it seems Iraqi government forces have taken between a sixth and a quarter of the city from IS but are now finding further progress remarkably difficult, in the process suffering serious casualties.

How has it come to this? In part, it's because IS has spent more than two years intensively preparing for an assault that was bound to happen at some stage. As soon as the U.S.-led air war started in August 2014, its sheer intensity made it obvious that the intention was to destroy the group altogether. Faced with that threat, the IS paramilitary leadership began to prepare for just the sort of conflict we're seeing now – even to the extent of establishing remarkably sophisticated production lines for the manufacture of a range of armaments.

They also created an astonishing network of underground tunnels, far more complex than even the Iraqi intelligence specialists had expected, coupled with the assembling of hundreds of young men prepared to deliver suicide bombs. All the while, IS has been pounded across Syria and Iraq in an extraordinarily intensive coalition air war that the Pentagon claims has killed 50,000 of its fighters. In these circumstances, its resilience in Mosul is turning out to be formidable.

As of now, nine weeks into the war, IS is believed still to have some 5,000 personnel available in Mosul, broadly the same as at the start and with those killed being replaced by new fighters. They are facing a complex force centered on the Iraqi Army but including numerous militias. An earlier article reported that the forces include:

Iraqi special forces, fronting much less well-trained regular Iraqi Army units. In addition there are Iraqi Shia militias, Iranian Revolutionary Guard elements, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Turkish Army units, American, French, British and possibly Australian special forces, American and French combat troops and scores of strike aircraft and helicopter gunships.

The forces ranged against IS number at least 60,000 – and yet the group is able to hold out. Apart from the extent of its preparations and its paramilitaries' utter determination to fight to the end, there's another reason for this: the nature of the forces they face. And at the core of those forces are the Iraqi special forces mentioned above.

Ground down

After IS captured the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and especially Mosul, the U.S. Army started intensively rearming and retraining the Iraqi Army, intensifying a program that had stretched over a decade.

Some 35,000 troops have been through the system, but the heaviest emphasis has been on the 1st Special Operations Brigade, also known as the counter-terror force and more popularly within Iraq as the Golden Brigade. Now known as the Golden Division because of its expansion to some 10,000 troops, it is intended to be non-sectarian, well-led and far less subject to corruption and favoritism than the more regular units.

The operation that started in eastern Mosul more than two months ago involved the Golden Division acting as the spearhead of the Iraqi forces moving through the outer districts of the city to the more densely populated areas close to the river and the heartland of western Mosul. The intention has been to clear districts and then hand over to regular army units who would maintain control while the Golden Division would move on.

This has worked to an extent – but with two huge problems, neither of which appears to have been foreseen.

First is IS's network of tunnels, through which IS paramilitaries have literally gone to ground. Its paramilitaries re-emerge when regular soldiers arrive to control districts, harrying them in rapid raids, often in the early hours of the morning, before disappearing back down the tunnels. The army units aren't just suffering serious casualties; some are in a near-permanent state of sleeplessness, with morale and combat effectiveness suffering.

A second and even bigger problem is that even as the Golden Division makes incremental progress, it's taking serious losses in the process. As Politico reported:

With the division suffering "horrific" casualties every day, senior U.S. Centcom officers are worried that the grinding battle is slowly destroying the division itself. If that happens, which appears likely, Iraq will lose its best guarantee against civil war – the only force capable of keeping the peace when Iraq's sectarian divisions, temporarily dampened by having to fight a common enemy, re-emerge.

Mosul may well fall to government forces some time in early 2017, but the grueling work of getting it back could cripple the one unit of the Iraqi Army that could help prevent a civil war. It would be the ultimate in Pyrrhic victories.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Opinion/2016/12/20/Why-the-Mosul-offensive-against-IS-has-slowed-to-a-stalemate/7471482264542/.

Indonesians at mass prayers urged to vote for Muslims

February 11, 2017

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Tens of thousands of Indonesians gathered at the national mosque in the capital on Saturday for mass prayers urging people to vote for a Muslim governor of the city as the country prepares for regional elections next week.

The crowds overflowed from Istiqlal Mosque in the heart of Jakarta into the surrounding streets. Clerics gave sermons calling on people to protect Islam and vote for Muslim candidates. Police denied hard-line groups permission to march through the city. Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono estimated the crowd at 60,000 to 70,000 people in the morning.

Protests against the minority Christian governor of Jakarta drew hundreds of thousands of people to the city's streets in November and December and shook the government of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama is on trial for alleged blasphemy but remains a leading candidate in elections for Jakarta governor set for Wednesday. His two main rivals are both Muslims and include the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono.

If none of the contenders gets more than 50 percent of votes, a runoff election between the top-polling candidates would be held in April. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation but recognizes several faiths and has a large Christian minority.

Ahok is popular for trying to eliminate corruption from the city administration and improve quality of life in the chaotic capital, which is the center of a greater metropolitan area of some 30 million people.

But the anti-corruption drive as well as evictions of slum neighborhoods have earned him enemies. Rivals have sought to tap into rising religiosity to swing Muslim voters against him.

Remembering Egypt's bloody military coup

July 3, 2017

Four years ago today the Egyptian army overthrew the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi. In the aftermath of the coup Egypt’s armed forces suspended the constitution and appointed the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, as interim head of state. Morsi and his presidential team were detained in an unknown location and later stood trial.

What: Military coup

When: 3 July 2013

Where: Egypt

What happened?

In January 2013, then army Chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi warned that the political crisis in the country might lead to a collapse of the state. Two months later the Tamarrod movement collected signatures for a petition calling for new presidential elections in light of Mohamed Morsi’s failure to restore security and fix the economy and organised mass protests to this effect.

On 30 June demonstrators took to the streets. Armed vehicles were deployed around Cairo and armed forces to areas they expected protests in support of Morsi, such as Cairo University.

Morsi warned the country that he was the elected leader and that attempts to overthrow him would lead to chaos but on 3 July he was arrested by the army and detained in an unknown location alongside other members of his presidential team.

That evening Al-Sisi set out his roadmap for Egypt in a televised statement.  President Morsi had ignored the calls of his people, he said, and therefore he was suspending the constitution, calling for early elections, putting the chief justice in charge, putting in place an interim government and setting up a committee to amend the constitution.

Opposition leader and then Vice President Mohamed El-Baradei and the Coptic Pope Tawadros II stood by his side.

What happened next?

In the weeks that followed, Morsi supporters joined mass protests and demanded his release. On 14 August 2013 1,000 people were massacred by the army in Rabaa Square where they had gathered to call for his immediate return to power.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders were prevented from leaving the country and Morsi and his presidential team were held at secret locations. In September 2013 state television announced that Morsi would stand trial for “incitement to murder and violence” during a protest between his supporters and the opposition and for ordering others to be tortured and unlawfully imprisoned.

In November 2013 Morsi and other top Brotherhood figures were put on trial for the first time. In April 2015 they were sentenced to 20 years in prison. They still face trials in a number of cases.

In March 2014, Al-Sisi officially announced his presidential bid and assumed power on 8 June that year. In the four years that have followed the coup the military-led government has inflicted a wide-scale crackdown on all members of the opposition, not just the Brotherhood.

Unprecedented numbers of people have been forcibly disappeared, tried in mass trials or military courts, given the death sentence, tortured in detention and denied medical care once detained. Children are arrested, detained with adults and sexual violence used against them. Human rights organisations and workers have been targeted as well as journalists, activists and lawyers.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170703-remembering-egypts-bloody-military-coup/.

Cairo population to grow by half a million people in 2017

March 12, 2017

Cairo’s population is set to grow by 500,000 this year, more than any other city in the world, adding to the pressure on an Egyptian economy struggling to recover from six years of political turmoil.

Greater Cairo, a metropolitan area including the cities of Cairo, Giza and Qalyubia, is home to some 22.8 million people and will gain another half a million in 2017, a Euromonitor International report released last week shows.

That represents a quarter of Egypt’s 92 million. The national natural population growth of 2.4 per cent per year is double the average of other developing countries, said Mohamed Abdelgalil, adviser to official statistics agency CAPMAS.

Stinging poverty in southern Egypt leads many families to have several children in the hope they can become sources of income. Those children eventually migrate to larger cities for job opportunities scarce in their hometowns.

“In rural areas, and in the south in particular, poor families have many children because they see these children as a safety net,” Maysa Shawky, the head of the National Population Council, told Reuters in an interview.

“Also, many of them have daughters until they have sons,” she added. “They want to produce breadwinners – instead of hiring a worker, they could have their children help them.”

Shawky said awareness campaigns at universities and schools have begun as part of a national population strategy.

New Capital

Internal migration is one of the main causes of overpopulation in Cairo. Egypt lists 351 slums as “unsafe”, most of them in the sprawling capital where the poorest have built ramshackle homes that lack basic amenities such as mains sewage and water. Some 850,000 people are believed to live in such dangerous slums.

“For the average citizen to not be affected by hikes in the prices of goods and services, the economic growth rate must be double the natural population increase rate,” Abdelgalil said.

Egypt’s economic growth was 4.3 per cent in 2015-2016, which is not enough to achieve that. The IMF expects it to be about 4 per cent this year, which is even less.

A new administrative capital, announced in March 2015, is intended partly to reduce the crowding in Cairo. Some 45 kilometres to the east, it will be home to government ministries, housing and an airport.

People will start moving to the as yet-unnamed new city in 2018, said Khaled Abbas, assistant to the housing minister for technical affairs. Work on 17,000-18,000 residential units is nearing completion and they will be put up for sale in April.

“Egypt’s population is expected to reach 160-180 million in 40 years. Where will all these people go?” said Abbas. “We’re also working on developing areas in northern and southern Egypt.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170312-cairo-population-to-grow-by-half-a-million-people-in-2017/.

Citing Russian defense ministry, Israeli website says Egypt to send troops to Syria next week

January 10, 2017

The Russian defence ministry has reportedly announced that Egypt would send troops to Syria to observe the implementation of the truce reached between the Syrian regime’s forces and the armed opposition, according to the Israeli website Rotter.

The news website added that the Egyptian troops will arrive in Syria early next week, noting that a number of Egyptian officers had been already in Syria to pave the way for the troops’ arrival.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Egypt as a partner to join his country along with Turkey and Iran in the talks on Syria’s future and the implementation of the truce, according to Rotter.

Russia had decided to halt flights to Egyptian airports after a Russian plane crashed in October 2015 over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 217 passengers on board. The Metrojet flight crashed after its departure from the Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh International Airport.

Rotter said that for Egypt to join the trio discussing Syria’s future would be a great Russian success, which is also interesting in light of Egypt’s tense relations with Turkey on the one hand and its relations with Iran on the other.

It will be also interesting to know the US response to this step, given that the United States and European countries are not taking part in the Syria talks, the Israeli website added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170110-citing-russian-defence-ministry-israeli-website-says-egypt-to-send-troops-to-syria-next-week/.

Activist behind Egypt's 2011 uprising released from prison

January 05, 2017

CAIRO (AP) — A leading Egyptian activist behind the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak was released from prison Thursday after serving a three-year sentence for violating a ban on unauthorized protests.

Ahmed Maher, who returned to his Cairo home, will remain under surveillance for three years as part of his sentence, his lawyer, Tarek al-Awadi, told The Associated Press. He will not be allowed to leave the country.

Maher, 36, was the co-founder of the April 6 movement, which used social media to bring protesters into the streets in Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations that forced Mubarak to resign in February 2011. Two and half years later, the military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president and the new government banned all unauthorized demonstrations.

Maher was arrested in November 2013, and the following month he was convicted along with April 6 co-founders Mohammed Adel and Ahmed Douma. Each was fined and sentenced to three years in prison. Adel will finish his sentence within a month while Douma is serving a life sentence in another case and is awaiting an appeal trial in April.

The government has waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent over the past three years, jailing thousands of people. Most of those imprisoned are Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown and jailed in 2013, but the crackdown has also swept up prominent secular activists like Maher, Adel and Douma.

It's unclear whether Maher will be able to return to activism in the current climate. Al-Awadi said the local police station charged with monitoring Maher would have wide discretion over his treatment.

"If they decide to put a lot of pressure on him, humiliate him and treat him like they treat thieves and drug dealers, they could order him to spend each night of the coming three years at the police station," al-Awadi said.

Maher's wife, Reham Ibrahim, welcomed his release in a Facebook post, saying "We will make up for what we missed." The two have a son and a daughter.

Bosnia marks 20 years since Princess Diana's visit

August 10, 2017

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia is marking the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's visit, her last overseas tour before she died in a car crash in Paris. Her crusade against land mines led to her three-day visit to Bosnia from Aug. 9, 1997, during which she met victims who sustained injuries from devices planted during the country's savage civil war in the 1990s.

Three weeks after her visit, which coincided with news of her romance with millionaire Dodi al Fayed, the pair died in a car crash in Paris when their driver lost control of his car as they were pursued by photographers.

British Ambassador Edward Ferguson said Thursday during a memorial conference in Sarajevo that Diana would be saddened by the fact that mines still kill people in Bosnia. "What I think 20 years ago Princess Diana did is that she shone a light on this problem with mines, and she really brought it into public attention in an enormous way, in a way, perhaps, that only she could have done," Ferguson said.

"By walking through a mine field in Angola, by visiting Bosnia-Hercegovina just a few days before she sadly died. She really got the public attention and therefore political attention as well." He said undetected land mines still represent a danger in Bosnia despite some recent progress. A half-million people, or about 15 percent of the population, live with this fear of mines, Ferguson added.

The princess' trip to Bosnia was organized by The Land Mines Survivors' Network, a group founded in 1995 by two American victims of land mines, Ken Rutherford and Jerry White. As part of the visit, Diana made a surprise visit to the Suljkanovic family in their modest home in the small village of Dobrnja near Tuzla.

Several weeks earlier, the father of the family, Muhamed Suljkanovic, had lost both his feet after stepping on a land mine in the forest outside his house, a remnant of Bosnia's three-year war. Diana took him some cake on Aug. 9, his birthday, his wife Suada remembered.

"Diana and her friend Ken (Rutherford), the American, they brought the birthday cake, and they sang happy birthday to him, and we were in shock. How did they know?" But the Suljkanovic family's joy turned to shock and disbelief when, just a few weeks after Diana's visit, they heard on the radio that the princess had died.

"What? I said to myself. How? Where? I could not believe it. Immediately after that I named my newborn daughter Diana, after the princess. They say we have to somehow remember good people, and we remember her like that," Muhamed Suljkanovic said.

During her visit, Princess Diana promised financial support for Muhamed for a new prosthesis. Just a couple of months after she died, the family say they received a donation from the royal family, the exact amount promised by Diana.

Another land mine victim, Malic Bradaric, was only 13 in 1996 when he stepped on one while playing in his village of Klokotnica. The incident left him without most of his right leg. When Diana came to visit, he said this week that he expected a royal in a shiny dress wearing a crown. Instead, she arrived on his doorstep wearing jeans and a white shirt.

Bradaric and his friends, who had a chance to meet Diana, said she was "a light at the end of the tunnel" for them. He now remembers the shock when he heard that the princess was killed. "That light that we saw at the end of the tunnel just turned off," Bradaric said.

Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

Bosnians dive into fast-flowing river in 451-year tradition

August 01, 2017

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Thousands of people converged on the southern Bosnian city of Mostar over the weekend for an annual diving competition from a historic bridge that has drawn crowds for more than four centuries.

Over 10,000 spectators cheered and let off smoke bombs as they watched 41 daring men take the plunge from the Old Bridge during Mostar's 451st annual diving competition. The competitors dove from a bridge 27 meters (89 feet) high into the cold, fast-flowing Neretva River below in front of a panel of judges studying the quality of the dive.

The fall from the top of the bridge to the 4.5-meter (15-foot) deep river underneath lasts nearly three seconds, with divers picking up a speed of around 80 kph (50 mph). At the end of a beautiful Sunday afternoon of diving, 38-year-old Mostar native Lorens Listo claimed his 11th competition victory.

"Every time I compete it is more difficult and every victory is thus sweeter," Listo said. Diving or jumping from the bridge, originally built by the Ottomans in 1566, has been a rite of passage for generations of Mostar youngsters.

The Old Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was destroyed during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, but was painstakingly rebuilt after the conflict. "I compete elsewhere as well, but I love diving from the Old Bridge more than anything else," Listo said.

The event climaxed with participants jumping from the bridge after nightfall with flares in their outstretched hands.

Bosnia: thousands mark 22 years since Srebrenica massacre

July 11, 2017

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Tens of thousands of people converged on Srebrenica Tuesday for a funeral for dozens of newly identified victims of the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town. Remains of 71 Muslim Bosniak victims, including seven juvenile boys and a woman, were buried at the memorial cemetery on the 22nd anniversary of the crime. They were laid to rest next to over 6,000 other Srebrenica victims found previously in mass graves. The youngest victim buried this year was 15, the oldest was 72.

Adela Efendic came to Srebrenica to bury the remains of her father, Senaid. "I was 20-day-old baby when he was killed. I have no words to explain how it feels to bury the father you have never met," Efendic said. "You imagine what kind of a person he might have been, but that is all you have."

More than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys perished in 10 days of slaughter after Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces on July 11, 1995. It is the only episode of Bosnia's fratricidal 1992-95 war to be defined as genocide by two U.N. courts.

Serbs hastily disposed of the victims' bodies in several large pits, then dug them up again and scattered the remains over the nearly 100 smaller mass graves and hidden burial sites around the town. Every year forensic experts identify newly found remains through DNA analysis before reburial.

Most coffins are lowered into their graves by strangers, because all male members of the victims' families had often been killed. "I was looking for him for 20 years...they found him in a garbage dump last December," Emina Salkic said through tears, hugging the coffin of her brother Munib. He was 16 when he was killed.

Srebrenica was besieged by Serb forces for years before it fell. It was declared a U.N. "safe haven" for civilians in 1993, but a Security Council mission that visited shortly afterward described the town as "an open jail" where a "slow-motion process of genocide" was in effect.

When Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic broke through two years later, Srebrenica's terrified Muslim Bosniak population rushed to the U.N. compound hoping that Dutch U.N. peacekeepers would protect them. But the outgunned peacekeepers watched helplessly as Mladic's troops separated out men and boys for execution and sent the women and girls to Bosnian government-held territory.

An appeals court in The Hague ruled this month that the Dutch government was partially liable in the deaths of more than 300 people who were turned away from the compound. Mladic is now on trial before a U.N. war crimes tribunal, but many Bosnian Serbs, including political leaders, continue to deny that the slaughter constituted genocide.

"We are again calling on Serbs and their political and intellectual elites to find courage to face the truth and stop denying genocide," Bakir Izetbegovic, Bosniak member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said in his address to the mourners.

Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, the head of the EU delegation to Bosnia, said that remembering what happened in Srebrenica was "the common duty of us as Europeans," especially as we live "in a world where facts and truth are being manipulated."

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the international community, "and in particular the United Nations," have accepted their share of responsibility, and that all parties must acknowledge "that these crimes occurred and our roles in allowing them to occur."

"The difficult task of building trust to allow for full reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina lies with the people of the country's various communities," Guterres said in a statement. "To build a better and common future, the tragedies of the past must be recognized by those communities."

Amel Emric in Srebrenica and Edie Lederer in New York contributed

College in Bosnia offers scholarships to people banned by Trump

February 3, 2017

A Bosnia-based international school said today it would offer scholarships to refugees and students from seven nations affected by the immigration ban issued last week by US President’s Donald Trump.

United World College (UWC) Mostar, one of 17 UWC schools worldwide that aim to bring together students from conflict zones, opened in 2005 with the goal of healing ethnic divisions after the Bosnian war of the 1990s.

“We offer scholarships to US students, as well as to refugees and students from majority Muslim countries banned by the US Executive order to send a signal for peace,” said Valentina Mindoljevic, head of the UWC Mostar.

Trump’s order bars the admission of people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and places an indefinite hold on Syrian refugees.

The school in 2011 extended a scholarship to Kim Han-sol, the grandson of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, after Hong Kong refused him a visa to study there.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170203-college-in-bosnia-offers-scholarships-to-people-banned-by-trump/.

Defiant Bosnian Serbs celebrate their controversial holiday

January 09, 2017

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnian Serbs celebrated a controversial holiday Monday in defiance of the country's other ethnic groups, its constitutional court and the international community.

The Jan. 9 holiday commemorates the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state in Bosnia, igniting the country's devastating four-year war. Police officers, firefighters and folklore groups paraded through the streets of Banja Luka, the de-facto capital of the Serb-run part of the country, Republika Srpska.

Members of a Bosnian Army regiment who come from the Serb chunk of the country were also in attendance despite warnings by the defense ministry and NATO that their participation would be considered illegal.

The soldiers did not take part in the parade, but were present on the orders of the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanic, who insisted he had the right to request a military honor guard.

The separate post-war militaries of Bosnia's three ethnic groups merged into a common army in 2005 in what was considered the country's most successful postwar reform. Monday's events were the first time that the army's unity and shared command — requiring unanimous decisions by the presidency's Bosniak, Croat and Serb members — had been challenged.

Bosnia's defense ministry said Monday it had issued a clear order vetoing participation of the Bosnian Army soldiers in the celebration. The ministry added in a statement that it will investigate how and why its order was disregarded.

Reacting to the celebration, the U.S. embassy in Bosnia said it was taking "any threat to the security and stability ... very seriously," adding that those responsible for the rule of law violations "must be held accountable"

Although Serb leaders insisted that Monday's celebrations would be a secular holiday, they participated in Serb Christian Orthodox ceremonies in the city's main church. That was broadcast live on local television, along with interviews with Bosnian Serb wartime military and political leaders who had been sentenced for crimes against humanity by a U.N war crimes court.

During the war that killed 100,000 people and turned half of the country's population into refugees, Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats were persecuted and almost completely expelled from Republika Srpska territory.

After the war, Republika Srpska became an autonomous region of Bosnia. Bosniaks and Croats who returned there view the holiday as a celebration of their expulsion. The holiday was banned last year by Bosnia's top court. It ruled that the date, which falls on a Serb Christian Orthodox religious holiday, discriminates against the country's other ethnic groups.

The continued celebration was repeatedly condemned by the top European Union and the U.S diplomats in Bosnia who urged Bosnian Serbs to stop defying the country's top court.

Turkey: Russian national detained over planned drone attack

August 10, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish authorities have detained a Russian national and suspected Islamic State group militant for allegedly planning a drone attack on U.S. aircraft at Turkey's Incirlik air base, police said Thursday.

Renad Bakiev was detained in the southern city of Adana over suspicions that he plotted to crash an American aircraft or attack the Incirlik air base using a drone, Adana police said in a statement. Turkish private news agency Dogan said a court later ordered him formally arrested pending a trial.

Bakiev also intended to attack the local Alevi community in Adana city, the statement said. It said he was affiliated with IS and had previously traveled to Syria. The Alevi religious minority is an offshoot of Shia Islam and is the largest religious group in Turkey after Sunnis. IS regards Alevis as heretics.

Bakiev appealed for 2,800 Turkish Lira (nearly $800) from other militants on the Telegram messaging application, which IS sympathizers use widely, to buy a drone, police said. The private Dogan news agency said during his questioning that he allegedly defended the need to kill Alevis and considered them "enemies of Allah," the statement said.

During police interrogations, Bakiev admitted to reconnoitering the air base for his strike, the police statement said. A previous attempt he made to attack Americans was unsuccessful. Bakiev's plans came to light in testimony from suspected IS members detained in a counterterror raid in June, according to Dogan news agency. That operation captured the alleged commander of an Adana-based IS cell, 32-year old Abdulkerim Cakar, and 10 others.

The U.S. Air Force has used Incirlik air base, near Adana, as a staging post for the air campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq since 2015. IS militants have used armed drones to deadly effect in Iraq and Syria, converting commercial drones to carry small explosives.

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

Qatar shipping company moves hub from UAE to Oman

August 9, 2017

Dubai’s status as a financial hub for the region is increasingly coming under threat as one of Qatar’s major shipping and logistics firm relocates its regional trans-shipment hub from Dubai to Oman’s Sohar port.

With the Saudi led blockade of Qatar now entering its third month, Milaha Maritime and Logistics, which “delivers a comprehensive range of services to some of the region’s biggest players in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors”, announced the move that may raise concerns in Dubai over its potential to remain the unrivaled economic hub of the region.

One of the measures taken by the blockading countries was to deny Qatar access to their ports. Typically, cargo for Qatar stopped at the UAE’s massive port in Jebel Ali, Dubai, or in Abu Dhabi, then got put on smaller boats heading to Doha. Following the blockade, international free trade zones like Jebel Ali were off-limits to Qatari companies. Hundreds of containers destined for Qatar were seized by the authorities in clear breach of the provisions and laws of the International Trade Organisation that safeguard the free flow of goods.

Oman was quick to announce its readiness to become the import/export hub of the region. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member was one of the countries that stood to benefit from the Saudi-led blockade after deciding to remain neutral and allowing Qatar-bound ships to use its ports. The country also launched one of its boldest projects; Bayan is the largest electronic system in the Sultanate that allows international traders to obtain government permits and licences quickly and efficiently.

An increasing number of companies have now turned to Oman, and that is likely to have a severe knock-on effect on Dubai. Analysts have warned that the economic embargo on Qatar could hurt Dubai’s status as a financial hub.

Industry analysts believe that both Kuwait and Oman will reap the benefit of trade transactions that used to take place in countries like the UAE. Qatar Petroleum chief Saad Al-Kaabi told Al Jazeera that, as the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) producing up to 77 million tonnes each year, it had to move quickly to mitigate the impact of the blockade and secure alternative routes. While stressing that the blockade has made Qatar much stronger, Doha was in any case unlikely to return to using ports within the blockading countries that previously serviced its global exports.

On Monday, Qatar’s transport ministry said three new direct shipping lines are being opened with Malaysia, Pakistan and Taiwan. These countries, along with Oman and Kuwait, are expected to benefit financially from doing trade with the countries affected by the boycott.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170809-qatar-shipping-company-moves-hub-from-uae-to-oman/.

UK opponents of Brexit mull new centrist political party

August 11, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Opponents of Britain's departure from the European Union are floating the idea of setting up a new anti-Brexit political party. James Chapman, a former top aide to Brexit Secretary David Davis, has become an outspoken critic of Britain's looming departure from the 28-nation bloc.

He is calling for a new centrist political party because both the governing Conservatives and main opposition Labor parties say they will go through with the decision to leave. Chapman said Friday "there is an enormous gap in the center now of British politics" that could be filled by an anti-Brexit force. He said that two members of Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet have contacted him to express support.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has also called for pro-EU politicians from all parties to unite. Chapman, a former journalist who was chief of staff to Davis until June, tweeted this week that "Brexit is a catastrophe" and called on "sensible" lawmakers to reverse it.

He has suggested the new party should be called the Democrats. But many politicians say Britons democratically voted to leave the bloc and it would be wrong to override the decision. Britain is currently negotiating its divorce from the EU and is due to leave in March 2019.

Progress has been slow on settling the big early issues, including the status of EU nationals living in the U.K. and the size of the bill Britain must pay to settle its commitments to the bloc. Meanwhile, U.K. economic growth is faltering amid uncertainty about what the country's future trading relationship with the EU will be.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bangladesh reinstalls justice statue that irked Islamists

May 28, 2017

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Authorities in Bangladesh reinstalled a Lady Justice statue near the country's Supreme Court, two days after its removal following complaints by Islamist hard-liners. Sculptor Mrinal Haque said Sunday workers put the statue back in place a few hundred meters (yards) from its original location.

Haque, who took care of the reinstallation work overnight, said he was shocked at the statue's removal Thursday night. He said it would be less visible in its new place. Security was tight and officials did not allow anybody inside the court area when the statue was re-erected. A dozen people nearby chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the work be stopped.

The removal was to appease hard-liners who said the statue was erected last year in front of a ground used for prayers during two Islamic festivals. But it also sparked criticism and protests among liberals, cultural groups and left-wing activists.

Many have accused Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of siding with the Islamists who are traditionally close to her rival Khaleda Zia, the opposition leader and a former prime minister. Hefazat-e-Islam, a platform of the Islamists, had welcomed the removal and vowed to wage new protests to press for removal of other sculptures on university campuses and intersections across the country.

The statue of a woman holding a scale and sword in her hands was installed in December. The statue is wrapped in a sari, a Bangladeshi revision of the usual representation, the Greek goddess Themis blindfolded and clad in a gown. Islamists oppose idol worship and consider the Lady Justice statue anti-Islamic.

The reinstallation of the statue can be seen as a blow to the hard-liners who are trying to get some political mileage ahead of next general elections expected to be held in December next year. Hefazat-e-Islam supporters have protested in front of the main mosque in Dhaka several times after the statue was erected. The group, which has a network of students from thousands of Islamic schools across the country, had threatened to launch a mass movement if the government failed to remove the statue.

In 2008, protests led to the removal of a statue of a Bangladeshi mystic poet at a road crossing near Dhaka's airport. The country of 160 million people is ruled by secular laws, but radical Islam has been rising.

In recent years dozens of atheists, liberal writers, bloggers and publishers and members of minority communities and foreigners have been targeted and killed.

Flying Green in Bangladesh

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

DHAKA, May 4 2017 (IPS) - New technology could be the answer to reducing negative climate impacts of aviation – one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases. And a recent quantitative research at North South University (NSU) of Bangladesh has found that upgrading the existing navigation system will reduce fuel use, hence decreasing carbon emissions as well as costs.

Currently, aviation in Bangladesh, like that in many countries, depends on fixed Ground-Based Navigation sensors that guide aircraft along pre-established routes via waypoints. These are often not available in direct paths between airports, hence aircrafts have to take an indirect, inefficient path, burning more fuel.

A new system named Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) has been developed which depends on satellite signals and computerized on-board systems, allowing flexible and optimum routing. This not only reduces costs, flight duration and infrastructure needs, but also contributes to mitigating climate change.

Many countries are in various stages of implementing PBN, and USA’s implementation is called the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. According to Leighton Quon of NextGen Systems Analysis, Integration, and Evaluation at NASA’s Ames Research Center, it will allow more efficient routes hence faster travel with fewer delays. This video shows how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has started to use PBN for Super Bowl flights.

Bangladesh has drafted a PBN Implementation Roadmap following International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 2007 resolution on global implementation of PBN. A.K.M. Rezaul Karim, Public Relations Officer, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) said CAAB is seriously working on implementing Required Navigation Performance or RNP (a variety of PBN) and achievements have been made since the roadmap was prepared.

A.K.M. Faizul Haque, Deputy Director (Air Transport), Flight Safety and Regulations Division, CAAB, said RNP approach procedures have already been introduced for Dhaka airport’s runway 14 but local carriers don’t use them, whereas Emirates – a foreign career – uses RNP approach for landing. He added that Emirates helped CAAB establish runway 14’s RNP approach through validation and even allowed CAAB to use Emirates’ flight simulator in Dubai.

“Implementing RNP requires significant, time consuming efforts such as transforming geographical coordinates, infrastructural development and validation,” Haque said. “Progress might seem little so far but it is getting implemented gradually.”

However, Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla – one of the leading domestic airlines of Bangladesh – expressed his reservations about the ability of CAAB to implement PBN.

“Our airports don’t even have the most basic of equipment and the controllers lack training. The surveillance radar has not been upgraded in 40 years,” he said.

Asif stated that the commercial airlines are willing to adapt to PBN, but for that the primary groundwork needs to be done. “Infrastructure and human resource needs to be developed and regulations put in place first then operators like us can insert the curriculum in our manual and train our crew,” he added.

While the Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB) wants to implement PBN, it has not carried out or published any analysis of PBN in the domestic setting. Thus, the local stakeholders do not know exactly how much improvement can be achieved through PBN, or if there will be any improvement at all.

To address this issue, Ahnaf Ahmed, a faculty member at North South University (NSU) and the lead researcher of the project “Satellite-Based Navigation in Civil Aviation: Performance Evaluation in the Context of Bangladesh” is using simulation and mathematical optimization to compare the two navigation systems under identical conditions, and find their extent of differences regarding flight duration, fuel burn, engine emissions, cost etc.

So far he has found that for Dash 8-Q400 aircraft RNP on average reduces 2.8 minutes in each flight to and from Dhaka and the other three cities, which means fuel consumption reduces by approximately 123.2 pounds per flight. In a year, this equates approximately to total fuel savings of 1.8 million pounds and CO2 emission reduction by approximately 4.9 million pounds.

Ahmed believes his findings can help policy-makers and local industry stakeholders because they are now able to make decisions after precisely knowing how much improvement can happen through RNP regarding costs, fuel consumption and engine emissions. And Haque of CAAB echoed his thoughts, stating that quantitative analysis and comparison data will be very worthwhile for CAAB.

The NSU authority has recently approved the research grant in this regard for which Ahmed applied last year. The fund will compensate for the research expenses he has personally borne so far in covering Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar, and will also allow him to expand the research to other cities to make the results more comprehensive.

“Although this is a small spoke in the big wheel of climate change, it will be great if the general people and the stakeholders can know about such findings to efficiently combat climate change and be aware of the solutions,” he says.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/flying-green-in-bangladesh/.

Bangladesh approves Saudi-funded mosque project


DHAKA - Bangladesh has approved a project to build hundreds of mosques with almost $1 billion from Saudi Arabia, an official said Wednesday, worrying minorities who fear they could be used to spread fundamentalist Islam.

The government plans to construct 560 mosques -- one in every town in Bangladesh -- as the secular administration woos Islamist groups before elections.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought the funds from Saudi Arabia, which will provide the lion's share of the $1.07 billion cost, during a visit to the oil-rich state last year, said planning minister Mustofa Kamal.

The centers of worship -- equipped with research facilities, libraries and cultural centers -- would be a "model" for worshipers in the Muslim-majority country, said Shamim Afzal, head of the state-run Islamic Foundation.

"It is a perfect idea of spreading the true knowledge of Islam," he said.

But minority groups are less certain, concerned the proliferation of Saudi-backed mosques could spread the ultra-conservative Sunni doctrine of Wahhabism practiced in the Gulf kingdom.

Bangladesh has suffered from a rise in extremism in recent years as the moderate Islam worshiped for generations has given way to a more conservative interpretation of the scriptures.

The government has ordered a crackdown on homegrown extremist outfits after a series of bloody attacks on secular activists, foreigners and religious minorities.

Rezaul Haq Chandpuri, from a federation representing Sufi Muslims who have been targeted for violence, said there was no justification for these new mosques.

"Saudi finance is a concern. They may use their money to promote Wahabism through these mosques," he said, adding minorities would feel "helpless and insecure".

But the scheme could also "help the government monitor hateful sermons", a tough task in Bangladesh where it controls few of the 300,000 existing mosques, said leading secular activist Shahriar Kabir.

"I think the government should take control of all mosques across the country. That way, it can easily identify where extremism are being promoted," he told AFP.

In a major concession to Islamist groups ahead of polls, Hasina this month announced her government would recognize degrees from hardline madrassas, paving the way for religious scholars to qualify for public service jobs.

She also supported conservative protesters railing against a symbolic statue of justice outside the Supreme Court which they deemed un-Islamic.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82799.

Bangladesh police fire tear gas at anti-coal protest

26 January 2017 Thursday

Clashes erupted in Bangladesh's capital Thursday as police fired tear gas at hundreds of campaigners protesting against a massive coal-fired power plant they say will destroy the world's largest mangrove forest.

Witnesses said Shahbagh Square, Dhaka's main protest venue, turned into a battleground as police used water cannon and fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of left-wing and environmental protesters.

"There were some 200 protesters. We fired tear gas at them after they threw bricks at us. We also used water cannon," Maruf Hossain Sorder, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told AFP.

Local television stations and an AFP correspondent at the scene said police also fired rubber bullets at the protesters. At least four people were injured, according to private Jamuna Television.

Campaigners have been protesting for the last three years against the under-construction plant which is 14 kilometers (nine miles) north of Sundarbans forest, part of which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Experts from both Bangladesh and India -- part of the forest also lies in eastern India -- say the project could critically damage the unique forest, which is home to endangered Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins.

UNESCO said there was a high chance pollution from the plant would "irreversibly damage" the Sundarbans which acts as a barrier against storm surges and cyclones that have killed thousands in impoverished coastal villages.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has defended the project and rejected concerns about it as politically motivated. She said the plant was needed to provide power to the impoverished south.

The website of the mass circulation Bengali daily Prothom Alo said protest marches were also held in other key areas in the capital although there were no reports of any violence.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/183740/bangladesh-police-fire-tear-gas-at-anti-coal-protest.

Azerbaijan's leader names his wife as 1st vice president

February 21, 2017

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan's president on Tuesday appointed his wife as the first vice president of the ex-Soviet nation — the person next in line in the nation's power hierarchy. Ilham Aliyev, 55 named his wife Mehriban, 52, to the position created after a constitutional referendum in September. Mehriban, who married her husband when she was 19, graduated from a medical university. She has served previously as a lawmaker and headed a charity.

The constitutional amendments approved at the referendum introduced the positions of two vice presidents, one of them the first vice president. The first vice president takes over the presidency if the president is unable to perform his or her duties. It doesn't describe the first vice president's duties, but it's expected that they will include overseeing the Cabinet.

Aliyev's critics say the September referendum that also extended the presidential term from five to seven years effectively cemented a dynastic rule. In 2003, Aliyev succeeded his father, who had ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades.

Aliyev and his wife have two daughters and a son. Aliyev has firmly allied the energy-rich Shiite Muslim nation with the West, helping secure his country's energy and security interests and offset Russia's influence in the strategic Caspian Sea region. At the same time, his government has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.

Azerbaijan's leader has cast himself as a guarantor of stability, an image that has a wide appeal in the country where painful memories are still fresh of the turmoil that accompanied the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Nearly 500 suspects stand trial over Turkey's failed coup

August 01, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Nearly 500 suspects, including generals and military pilots, went on trial Tuesday in Turkey accused of leading last year's failed coup attempt and carrying out attacks from an air base in Ankara.

The U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government blames for the coup, has been named as the main defendant in the case and will be tried in absentia. Gulen has denied involvement in the coup.

Former air force commander Akin Ozturk and other defendants stationed at the Akinci air base, on the outskirts of the capital Ankara, are accused of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including the parliament.

Many of the 486 suspects face life terms in prison for crimes that include violating the Constitution, murder, attempting to assassinate the president and attempting to overthrow the government. The trial is one of dozens underway in Turkey in relation to the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that resulted in 249 deaths. Some 30 coup-plotters were also killed. The government says the coup was carried out by followers of Gulen's movement.

The government says the coup-plotters used Akinci air base as their headquarters. Turkey's military chief Gen. Hulusi Akar and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup.

On Tuesday, a group of 41 defendants were paraded from their jail to a courthouse that was built especially at a prison complex to try the coup plotters. They were handcuffed, with two paramilitary police officers on each arm, and protected by armed special force officers.

A total of 461 defendants are behind bars while 18 were freed pending the outcome of the trial. Seven others, including Gulen and an alleged top operative in his movement, are still wanted by the Turkish authorities and are being tried in absentia.

Ozturk, the former air force commander, is also on trial in a separate case, accused of being a ring-leader of the coup. The families of those killed or wounded during the coup attempt staged a protest Tuesday. Some threw ropes toward the defendants, demanding that the government reinstate the death penalty and that those convicted be hanged. Others threw stones or tried to break through police lines to reach the suspects, shouting "Murderers!"

A total of 1,300 security personnel were deployed both inside and outside the courtroom, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The government declared a state of emergency following the coup and embarked on a large-scale crackdown on Gulen's network and other opponents, arresting more than 50,000 people and purging over 110,000 others from government jobs.

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

7 staff members of opposition newspaper leave Turkish jail

July 29, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Seven staff members of an opposition newspaper were released from a Turkish jail early Saturday pending the outcome of their trial on charges of allegedly aiding terror organizations. A court ruled for the release of Cumhuriyet newspaper's cartoonist Musa Kart and six others Friday, but ordered four others to remain held.

The daily newspaper is staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is one of the few remaining outlets in Turkey critical of the government. A total of 19 defendants went on trial Monday for allegedly aiding several outlawed organizations, including Kurdish militants, a far-left group and the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the government blames for a failed coup last year.

Upon being released from prison, Kart told reporters they had been imprisoned for nine months for "unjust, lawless, baseless allegations." He said the indictment would collapse with their release. Their families and supporters embraced them outside the prison on the outskirts of Istanbul. The terms of their release bar them from leaving Turkey.

"I thought I'd be very happy at the moment of my release," the 63-year-old cartoonist said. "Unfortunately, four of our friends are still in Silivri prison." Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, prominent columnist Kadri Gursel and chairman Akin Atalay remain behind bars.

The Cumhuriyet arrests are part of a wider crackdown in the aftermath of last summer's bloody coup attempt that has led to the imprisonment of more than 50,000 people. Critics say the crackdown that initially targeted people suspected of links to the failed coup has expanded to include government opponents. Among the jailed are opposition lawmakers, activists, and more than 150 journalists.

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 11.

Turkish police chase away transgender marchers in Istanbul

July 02, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police chased away a small group of transgender rights activists who attempted to march to Istanbul's main square Sunday while carrying rainbow flags despite an official ban on the event. Seven people were detained.

The rights group Istanbul LGBTI, host of the 8th Trans Pride March, had said on social media it won't recognize the governor's ban. Activists gathered in Harbiye district and in a live statement on Facebook said, "We are trans, we are here, get used to it, we are not leaving."

The organization tweeted "all roads lead to Taksim," using the hashtag "GameOfTrans," but police prevented them from reaching Taksim Square. A water cannon sent to the area wasn't used on the activists.

The Istanbul governor's office banned the march late Saturday for the second year in a row. It said "marginal groups" on social media had called for the march and it was being banned to preserve public order and to keep participants and tourists safe.

The ban also said, "very serious reactions have been raised by different segments of society," in reference to threats by conservative and ultranationalist groups made against trans and LGBT marches. Istanbul police announced Sunday they would close multiple roads to traffic at noon as part of its security measures. Large numbers of plainclothes and riot police officers were stationed around Taksim.

The U.S. Consulate in Istanbul issued a security message Friday informing its citizens of possible "heavy police presence and counter demonstrations" and asking them to exercise caution. The message also said participation in illegal gatherings could lead to detention or arrest under a state of emergency imposed after last summer's failed coup.

The LGBTI group's lawyer said seven protesters were detained. Turkey doesn't criminalize transsexuality, but its civil code requires court permission and forced sterilization for transgender men and women to undergo gender reassignment.

Rights activists say transgender individuals face rampant discrimination and hate crimes in Turkey, and want to march for visibility and acceptance. In 2016, Transgender Europe said Turkey has the highest number of trans murders in Europe. The brutal murder of 23-year-old Hande Kader caused an outcry in Istanbul and the global LGBT movement last summer.

The Turkish government says there is no discrimination against LGBT individuals and that current laws already protect each citizen. It also insists that perpetrators of hate crimes are prosecuted. Last week, the governor's office banned a march for LGBT rights for the third year. Police set up checkpoints to prevent participants from gathering and used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse crowds. Forty-one people were detained, among them activists and counterdemonstrators.

2 ruling party officials shot and killed in Turkey

July 02, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey's official news agency says two ruling party officials serving in district organizations have been shot and killed, and ruling party officials blamed Kurdish militants. The Anadolu news agency says Orhan Mercan, a vice president of an AKP branch in the southeastern Diyarbakir province, died Saturday after being shot near his house. It says Aydin Ahi, who was serving as vice president for a party branch in the eastern province of Van, was killed late Saturday.

AKP officials decried the slayings, which they blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Minister Omer Celik tweeted Sunday that "terror is attacking our nation's "political" institution."

A cease-fire between Turkey and the PKK collapsed in 2015, restarting a more than three-decade-long conflict that has left an estimated 40,000 people dead.

Turkish, Qatari ministers meet amid crisis with Arab states

June 30, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Qatar's defense minister held talks with his Turkish counterpart on Friday as the Gulf nation's feud with four other major Arab states deepens amid a sweeping list of demands to Doha, including the closure of a Turkish military base there.

U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, discussed ways to resolve the dispute in a telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said. Defense Ministry officials said Qatar's Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah met with Turkey's Fikri Isik in Ankara, but did not provide details.

Turkey is adamant to keep its base in the small Gulf Arab state and has sided with Qatar in the dispute, which saw Arab countries cut ties to Doha earlier this month, accusing it of supporting terror groups. Qatar denies the accusation.

In a sign of support, Turkey shipped supplies to Doha to help ease its isolation and swiftly ratified military agreements with Qatar, allowing the deployment of soldiers to its base. A contingent of 23 troops departed for Doha last week, joining some 90 soldiers already there.

Erdogan has rejected the four Arab nations' demand for an end to Turkish troop presence in Doha, calling it "disrespectful" and saying that Turkey would not seek permission from others over its defense cooperation agreements.

Turkey insists its troop deployment to Qatar aims to enhance regional security and is not aimed against any specific country. The White House said Trump and Erdogan spoke about ways to overcome the crisis "while ensuring that all countries work to stop terrorist funding and to combat extremist ideology."

"President Trump emphasized the importance of all our allies and partners increasing their efforts to fight terrorism and extremism in all its forms," the White House statement added. Other demands presented to Qatar by the four nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — include shuttering the Al-Jazeera news network and curbing diplomatic ties to Iran.

Erdogan has said the demand for Al-Jazeera's shutdown is an attempt to strip the network of its press freedom and urged rights groups to denounce the call. Qatar denies supporting extremism and considers the demands an attempt to undermine its sovereignty.

Turkey remembers Istanbul airport attack


ISTANBUL - Turkey on Wednesday marked one year since the triple suicide bombing and gun attack on its main international airport in Istanbul that left dozens dead and was blamed on Islamic State jihadists.

Late in the evening on June 28, 2016 three attackers shot randomly at passengers and staff at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport before blowing themselves up.

Forty-five people were killed, the deadliest attack on an airport in Turkey's history.

At a ceremony just outside the arrivals hall of the airport, weeping relatives of those killed laid flowers by a black memorial where all the victims' names are inscribed.

Some wept as they touched the inscriptions bearing the names of those they lost, an AFP photographer said. "We remember with respect, we will never forget," read a ribbon on a memorial wreath.

The government blamed the Islamic State (IS) group -- who at the time were holding swathes of neighboring Iraq and Syria -- although the jihadists never issued a claim for the attack.

The attack also heralded a summer of bloodshed in Turkey including the July 15 failed coup attempt to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which authorities blamed on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. He denies the charges.

After the airport attack authorities arrested 42 suspects, with four more still on the run. Those held, who include suspects from Russia, Algeria and Turkey, are due to go on trial on November 13.

The authorities have said a large number of those linked to the attack are from ex-Soviet Central Asia or Russia's mainly Muslim northern Caucasus region.

Two suicide bombers were identified as Vadim Osmanov and Rakhim Bulgarov, although the third was never named.

Later in the summer 57 people, 34 of them children, were killed in a suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in the southeastern city of Gaziantep also blamed on IS.

And on New Year's night 39 people were killed, mainly foreigners, in a jihadist gun attack on the elite Reina nightclub in Istanbul just 75 minutes into 2017.

IS claimed that assault, the first clear claim it has ever issued for any attack in Turkey.

The Uzbek gunman who carried out the Reina attack, Abdulgadir Masharipov, was detained by the authorities after 17 days on the run and is set to go on trial along with alleged accomplices on December 11.

The capture alive of Masharipov was seen as a major success for the security forces and raised hope that his interrogation may have allowed police to garner crucial intelligence about IS cells.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83695.

Erdogan rejects Arab demands; Turkish troops stay in Qatar

June 25, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey's president on Sunday rejected a demand by major Arab states to remove Turkish troops from Qatar, saying their sweeping list of ultimatums has threatened the small Gulf country's sovereignty.

Speaking after Eid prayers in Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the demand "disrespectful" and said Turkey would not seek permission from others when making its defense cooperation agreements.

"Demanding that Turkey pull its soldiers is unfortunately also disrespectful toward Turkey," he said. He said Turkey would continue to support Qatar against the many sanctions it has faced since several Arab countries moved earlier this month to isolate the country for its alleged support of terrorism.

In a sign of support, the Turkish parliament swiftly ratified a 2014 agreement with Qatar earlier this month, allowing the deployment of troops to its base there. The military said a contingent of 23 soldiers reached Doha on Thursday.

Erdogan said he made a similar offer to Saudi Arabia to set up a base there in the past but did not hear back from the king. Doha received a 13-point list from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain that included demands to shut down the media network Al-Jazeera and cut ties with Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. The energy-rich country said it was reviewing the ultimatum but added it would not negotiate under siege.

Turkey's president said his country "admires and embraces" Qatar's attitude, while slamming the demands by arguing they contradict international law. "Here we see an attack against a state's sovereignty rights," Erdogan said.

Erdogan called the demand that Qatar shut down Al-Jazeera an attempt to take away the network's press freedom and urged rights groups to speak out against that.

Turkish opposition party begins 265-mile 'march for justice'

June 15, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey's main opposition party set off on a 425-kilometer (265-mile) march Thursday from the capital to an Istanbul prison to protest the conviction of one of its lawmakers. Thousands took to the streets in Ankara, drawing criticism from the country's president.

The leader of the pro-secular Republican People's Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called the "march for justice" after parliamentarian Enis Berberoglu was convicted and sentenced to 25 years for revealing state secrets.

Kilicdaroglu said the verdict was "palace-motivated," a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Let the whole world hear, we are facing a dictatorial regime in Turkey, in our own land," he said.

At a dinner to break the Ramadan fast in Ankara, Erdogan criticized the march, saying the protesters should not forget a constitutional article on the independence of the judiciary. "Everyone should know their place," Erdogan said. "No one wins a thing when they, on the one hand, say they respect law and then go on the path of breaking the law ... they won't win anything with this and on the contrary, it will make them lose."

The case of Berberoglu, a former journalist and lawmaker, stems from a 2015 story by the Cumhuriyet newspaper suggesting Turkey's intelligence service had smuggled weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria. His lawyer has appealed the verdict.

Berberoglu was accused of giving journalists footage that showed local authorities searching Syria-bound trucks allegedly carrying mortar rounds and getting into a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials. Turkish leaders denied supporting Islamic rebels and said the trucks contained aid to Turkmens in Syria.

Can Dundar, Cumhuriyet's then editor-in-chief who is now abroad, and the paper's Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, are also on trial on similar charges. Separately, the three are being tried for "aiding a terror organization without being members," a reference to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of orchestrating last year's bloody coup attempt. Gulen has denied the claims. The prosecution believes Gulen's network to be the source of the leaked images.

After the verdict, Kilicdaroglu tweeted: "In this country, the punishment for covering the news of a truck filled with weapons heading to terror groups is 25 years in prison but illegal arm shipments are allowed!"

Berberoglu is the first legislator from the Republican People's Party to be imprisoned since a constitutional amendment stripped parliamentary immunities last year. A dozen pro-Kurdish lawmakers are already in prison for allegedly supporting terror and more than 50,000 people have been arrested for purported links to Gulen.

Kilicdaroglu, 68, said he would walk to Istanbul over an estimated 25 days and will be joined by party members in each province. Hundreds of people also gathered in an Istanbul park on Thursday morning.

"We want justice! We want a state of law, fair trials. We want democracy, more democracy!" said Birsen Ayisik, a 53-year-old protester.