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Monday, January 9, 2017

French farmer faces risk of prison for helping migrants

January 04, 2017

NICE, France (AP) — A French activist farmer facing potential prison time defended his aid to illegal African migrants in court Wednesday, calling it an act of humanity and not a crime. "Helping someone is not an offense!" read a placard at a protest in support of farmer Cedric Herrou outside the Nice courthouse where he went on trial Wednesday.

The case has called attention to those who have resisted Europe's anti-migrant sentiment and are offering food, lodging or other aid to people from impoverished or war-torn countries coming to Europe illegally. There has notably been an outpouring of support in the Roya valley in the Alps, where Herrou has taken in dozens of migrants over the past year.

Herrou went on trial charged with helping illegal migrants enter France, travel in France and stay in France. His lawyer Zia Oloumy pleaded for acquittal, insisting a crime hasn't been proven. The prosecutor asked for an eight-month suspended prison sentence and confiscation of Herrou's vehicle. The court could sentence him to up to five years in prison and 30,000 euros in fines if a guilty verdict is delivered Feb. 10.

Herrou says he is doing his civic duty and will keep helping the migrants, who are mainly from Eritrea and Sudan. "The law is against me, against actions to help people in need, so we have to change the laws," he told reporters.

Lucia Palermo, a 36-year-old artist from the Italian border town of Vintimiglia, was among several people demonstrating in support of Herrou. "I'm concerned by the fact that if we show solidarity with a European, there is no problem. But if you show solidarity with a migrant ... it's a problem. This concerns me a lot," Palermo said.

Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Deep freeze grips Europe, threatens homeless, migrants

January 08, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Blizzards and dangerously low temperatures persisted in parts of Europe on Sunday, prompting Pope Francis to draw attention to the homeless suffering in freezing weather. In Serbia, aid workers scrambled to help hundreds of migrants sleeping rough in parks and makeshift shelters.

The extreme winter weather that has gripped Europe in the past days has caused more than a dozen deaths, left villages cut off, caused power and water outages, frozen rivers and lakes, grounded flights and led to road accidents. Serbia's authorities on Sunday banned river traffic on its stretch of the Danube — one of Europe's main rivers — because of ice and strong wind.

Two men died of cold in Poland on Saturday, bringing the nation's death toll from winter weather to 55 since Nov. 1, authorities said Sunday. Temperatures dropped to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit) in the mountains of southern Poland.

In Italy, eight deaths were blamed on the cold, including a man who died in the basement of an unused building in Milan, and another one on a street flanking Florence's Arno River. Francis asked God to "warm our hearts so we'll help" the homeless.

In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, several hundred men, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, remained in an abandoned customs warehouse by the city's bus station, where aid organizations distributed heaters, blankets, clothes and food in an attempt to keep them warm.

"We are all working together to help these people," Mirjana Milenkovski, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, said. While most of the several thousand migrants in Serbia have stayed in the Balkan country's asylum centers, hundreds have refused to do so, looking for ways to move on toward western Europe.

In neighboring Bulgaria, police said two men from Iraq and a Somali woman died from cold in the mountains near Turkey as they tried to make their way toward Europe. Many in the Belgrade warehouse were sick after few days in extreme cold, aid workers said.

"The next few days are critical, and for sure the health condition of these people is worsening," said Stephane Moissaing, MSF Head of Mission in Serbia. German federal police said Sunday they picked up 19 migrants — including five children — at a highway stop in Bavaria who were suffering from hypothermia after their driver disappeared and left them on the back of an unheated a truck for hours in the freezing cold.

Elsewhere, emergency measures were declared in several municipalities in Serbia's south and southwest. Dozens of villages in Serbia's remote Pestar region were sealed off by heavy snow, prompting the evacuation of some 100 people by emergency crews. Authorities said 70 kilometers of water pipes there were frozen.

Numerous villages in northern Bulgaria also were left without electricity and water. Power outages were also reported throughout the region. Polar temperatures of between minus 15 and minus 26 degrees Celsius (5 and minus 15 Fahrenheit) saw ice forming on the Adriatic sea and the Danube, while countless smaller rivers, lakes and ponds froze.

Montenegro's port of Bar in southern Adriatic closed down on Saturday, while sea traffic was suspended for days in neighboring Croatia. Police in Bulgaria said a passenger train was derailed Sunday after it hit a pile of snow in the central part of the country. Snow fell on Istanbul, Turkey, for the third straight day, and Turkish Airlines grounded hundreds of flights in and out of the city's two airports.

A dozen major roads remained closed in Romania due to heavy snow and some ferry services between Romania and Bulgaria across the Danube were canceled. Authorities said schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday in many areas, including in the capital, Bucharest.

Four Portuguese nationals were killed when a bus skidded on an icy road in eastern France early Sunday. The road is notorious for fatal accidents. Black ice across northern and western Germany has caused countless accidents and injuries — firefighters in the city of Hamburg said Sunday they were called to weather-related accidents 415 times during the weekend.

Near Hannover, one person died in a car accident when his car skidded against a tree on an icy road, German news agency dpa reported. City authorities shut down the public transportation system and across the country, people were asked to wait out the severe weather conditions at home.

For hundreds of Muscovites, however, the fact that the temperature had plunged to minus-27 Celsius (minus 17 Fahrenheit) was no reason to avoid going for a group bicycle ride. About 500 cyclists, many equipped with fur hats and other nonstandard gear, held a ride of about eight kilometers (five miles) along the Moscow River on Sunday as the capital shivered through a fierce cold snap.

Veselin Toshkov in Sofia; Marko Drobnjakovic in Belgrade; Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Frances D'Emilio in Rome; Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland; Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania; Mike Corder in Istanbul; Jim Heintz in Moscow; and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

Heavy snow, icy weather grip Italy, Greece and Turkey

January 07, 2017

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Heavy snowfall and below-freezing temperatures continued to sweep the European continent Saturday, causing more than a dozen deaths, grounding airplanes and crippling ferries in Italy and Turkey.

At least 10 people have died in the cold that has gripped Poland in recent days, included seven men ages 41 and 66 who died Friday, authorities said. A 51-year-old died of asphyxiation with carbon monoxide from a malfunctioning heater.

Temperatures in Poland dropped below -20 degrees Celsius (-4 F) on Saturday, and weather forecasts said they would sink more overnight. A man died also died Saturday in Belgium when his truck slid off a highway.

In Italy, sub-freezing temperatures were blamed for the deaths of a half-dozen homeless people. Heavy snow and high winds resulted in re-routed flights, delayed ferries, canceled trains and closed roads, media reported.

With no indications of a letup, some schools in southern Italy were ordered not to open on Monday because of the meter (yard) of snow already had buried some areas, the ANSA news agency reported. The chill didn't spare sunny Rome. The fountains in St. Peter's Square froze overnight and dripped icicles instead.

Temperatures dropped to -7 degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit) in Greece's second largest city of Thessaloniki, and -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) was expected Sunday, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

Several Greek islands, otherwise known for their sunny and warm weather, were blanketed in snow. Roads were closed temporarily across large swathes of northern Greece due to snow and ice. Heavy snow also crippled Istanbul, and national carrier Turkish Airlines canceled more than 650 flights. The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that even the Bosporus Strait — which runs through Istanbul and is one of Europe's busiest shipping lanes — was closed and ferry service halted.

Turkey's private Dogan news agency reported that one of the main highways in Istanbul practically turned into a parking lot after drivers deserted their cars Friday night to walk home rather than battle the gusting snow and slippery roads.

A pair of delivery men whose truck was parked on a side street made the best of the situation, engaging in a snowball fight in between pushing their loads through mounds of snow that built up at the roadside.

In northern Europe, where residents are accustomed to subzero temperatures and snowy winters, police in Denmark warned about icy and slippery roads after dozens of minor traffic accidents. Temperatures in Latvia were forecast to drop to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit) late Saturday, the Baltic News Agency said.

Raf Casert in Brussels, Mike Corder in Istanbul, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

Blizzards, icy weather grip parts of Europe

January 06, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Blizzards swept parts of Europe on Friday, causing at least nine deaths, closing roads and resulting in traffic accidents, travel delays and medical evacuations. In Poland, the cold snap was blamed for five deaths in 24 hours. Three people died from hypothermia, while two more died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by malfunctioning heaters, the government Security Center said.

Officials in neighboring Ukraine reported that four people had died from effects of the cold in the Lviv region near the Polish border. In Romania, authorities said 90 people were rescued from stranded cars and that crews were working to save people stuck in some 30 cars on a major highway. More than 40 trains were not running due to snow on the tracks.

Senior emergency situations official Raed Arafat said Romanian authorities also evacuated 622 people who needed dialysis and 126 pregnant women. The blizzard is expected to ease off late Friday. Snowfall and heavy winds closed roads and some train services in central Italy, pounded areas hit by recent earthquakes and forced the cancellation of some ferry crossings to islands off Naples and Sicily. Even Naples itself got a rare dusting of snow.

The frigid temperatures canceled many Epiphany festivities, though about 35,000 people braved the cold to attend Pope Francis' blessing in St. Peter's Square. Serbia's state television reported that 22 people, including children, were injured in a pileup caused by the wintry weather on the outskirts of the southern city of Nis.

Local official Dragan Dimitrijevic said emergency crews were "helpless against the wind" and snow drifts that piled up to two-meter (6.6-feet) high. "New piles form almost immediately after we clear up," he said.

Turkey's national air passenger carrier, Turkish Airlines, canceled 192 domestic and international flights that were scheduled for Saturday after heavy snow, icy conditions and strong winds were forecast for Istanbul.

Bulgarian authorities said some 650 villages across the country were without electricity due to high winds and heavy snow. Emergency officials rescued snowed-in residents in villages in northern Albania, where up to 120 centimeters (47 inches) of snow fell, leading to power outages.

The temperatures dipped below freezing even along Croatia's Adriatic coast, where winds up to 160 kph (100 mph) halted some ferry traffic to the islands and over the bridges along the coastline. In Poland where temperatures dropped to minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 F) early Friday in the southern mountainous region, winds whipped up to 90 kph (56 mph), and more than 2,000 households were without heating in the southern Rybnik area.

In Moscow, the Emergencies Ministry warned the temperature could plummet to minus 35C (minus 31 F) over the weekend and urged people not to stay too long outside.

Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria; Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland; Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; Karel Janicek in Prague, the Czech Republic; Jim Heintz in Moscow; Nicole Winfield in Rome; and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Calls for UK to expel Israeli official

January 8, 2017

The UK government should immediately remove Israeli Embassy official Shia Masot from the country after he was filmed discussing how to “take down” a senior government minister, the Scottish National Party said today.

Shai Masot was caught on camera talking to Tory MP Robert Halfon’s former chief of staff Maria Strizzolo at a restaurant in Kensington in October. Masot can be seen saying deputy foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan is causing “a lot of problems” and describes foreign secretary Boris Johnson as “an idiot”.

Following an apology from the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev the UK Government said it considered the matter closed which Alex Salmond has described as “completely unacceptable”.

However, SNP Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond said: “It is completely unacceptable for the UK government to declare the matter closed – Shai Masot must go and go immediately before the end of his tenure at the Israeli Embassy.”

“Boris Johnson must right now revoke Mr Masot’s diplomatic status and remove him from the country as would most certainly have happened had the circumstances been reversed. Perhaps then the Israeli Government representatives will regard the foreign secretary as less of a fool.”

“I would expect the UK government to fully investigate this matter so that we can be confident our elected officials are free to carry out their jobs to the best of their ability and without fear of having their reputation smeared by Embassy officials who do not agree with their views.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170108-calls-for-uk-to-expel-israeli-official/.

Endgame looms in efforts to reunite Cyprus after 43 years

January 07, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The division of Cyprus is now in its 43rd year. Next week may mark the decisive moment when the small eastern Mediterranean island nation starts to be stitched back together again.

After 19 months of talks aimed at reunifying the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south with the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, the final details of a peace deal are set to be thrashed out, potentially bringing some good news to a region wracked by conflict and distrust.

But many hurdles remain — hurdles that have not been cleared in previous reunification attempts. The Conference on Cyprus is scheduled to start on Jan. 12 in Geneva, and is intended to hammer out some of the toughest aspects of a peace deal — including how to ensure security for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots once an aimed-for federation is established. The leaders of Greece, Turkey and the former colonial power Britain — the so-called guarantors — are widely anticipated to make an appearance at the summit.

Making sure there's no repeat of the events of 1974 is key. In the summer of that year, Cyprus was split into two after Turkey invaded in the wake of a Greek-backed coup that aimed to unite the island with the rest of Greece. Following the invasion, the country was cleaved along ethnic lines with the Turkish Cypriots controlling 36.5 percent of Cyprus' land mass backed by more than 35,000 Turkish troops deployed in the north. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey.

Before the official opening of the summit, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have earmarked three days from Jan. 9 to clear up a string of outstanding issues — including the pivotal matter of how much territory each side will control in a federation.

Here's a look at where things stand:


Talks almost broke down in November because Anastasiades and Akinci couldn't agree on how much territory the Greek and Turkish federal zones would control.

The difference was marginal — just a percentage point. Its impact was immense.

Greek Cypriots say enough territory must be returned under their control in order to allow at least 90,000 Greek Cypriots displaced by the 1974 invasion to reclaim lost homes and property in a relatively short time. The argument is that an agreement on those lines would reduce the financial burden of a peace deal by limiting the compensation amounts that will have to be paid to those not able to reclaim their homes and land. It would also potentially boost Greek Cypriot support for a deal when it's put to a vote — a previous peace deal in 2004 was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum.

Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, want to limit the numbers that relocate. Telling Turkish Cypriots to leave what they have considered home for decades is unlikely to go down well with many in any subsequent referendum.

Both Anastasiades and Akinci are expected to produce maps showcasing their intentions. Anastasiades said without maps to sort out a final deal, talks won't move to the top issue — security.


There's another layer when it comes to Cyprus, an island that's seen its share of big power intrigue through the centuries, from Alexander the Great's invasion in the fourth century B.C., through Roman times, the Crusaders and most recently the British.

Legally, negotiations that touch on Cyprus' security must include Greece, Turkey and Britain because Cyprus' 1960 constitution accorded them "guarantor" status. The idea was to have the three protect the fledgling democracy at its independence from British rule which had followed four years of a guerrilla campaign by Greek Cypriots aimed at unifying the island with Greece — something the minority Turkish Cypriots deeply opposed.

Turkey invoked its intervention rights from its status as a guarantor in 1974.


Trust is therefore essential.

Turkish Cypriots fear that the majority Greek Cypriots could overwhelm them in the future. That's why they are insisting that Turkish troops should remain as a bulwark.

Greek Cypriots, meanwhile, have worries over the might of Turkey and insist that a country outside the European Union — of which Cyprus is a member — should neither keep troops on the island nor the right to militarily intervene. EU officials have backed that notion.

Turkey's increasingly authoritarian ways and recent security problems, evidenced further in the New Year's Day attack in Istanbul that killed 39 people, have done little to either assuage Greek Cypriot fears or foster trust. United Nations officials are reportedly trying to work out a formula that would answer the security fears of both sides.


Word is that Greece, Britain and Turkey will be represented at the Cyprus Conference at the highest levels. Top EU officials including Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini are said to be going, too. Anastasiades said that U.N. Security Council members may also attend on the sidelines if they so wish.

U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide has said the talks may expand to include issues that affect EU-Turkey relations, such as what to do with all the refugees who have fled Syria for Europe. Akinci has said that if a deal is struck in Geneva, it may take a few more months to thrash out the legal details before accord is put to a vote in the summer.


A peace deal would bolster regional security and ease cooperation in tapping potentially huge oil and gas reserves beneath the Med seabed.

For the wider region, a deal could be a beacon of hope.

Greeks and Turks, Muslims and Christians working things out could send a powerful message of peace.

UN chief sees 'historic opportunity' for Cyprus breakthrough

January 07, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believes there is "a historic opportunity" for a breakthrough in upcoming negotiations that would reunite the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus after more than four decades, the United Nations said Friday.

The new U.N. chief will be opening and chairing a conference that starts Jan. 12 with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders and Cyprus' three guarantors — Britain, Greece and Turkey — that will be seeking agreement on post-settlement security arrangements, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The Geneva conference will follow three days of talks between the island's Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci starting Jan. 9 to try to reach a settlement.

"We're at a very decisive phase in the Cyprus peace talks," Dujarric said. "At this point it's really about being supportive of the process and seeing how the parties can finally bridge the final gaps."

The island was split into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by Cypriot supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it and keeps 35,000 troops there. While the island joined the European Union in 2004, only the internationally recognized Greek-speaking south enjoys full membership benefits.

Guterres met Thursday with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and late Friday afternoon with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. Kotzias called it a "very nice" meeting but refused to comment on the Cyprus talks.

Dujarric said Guterres "expressed his appreciation for Greece's continued support to the Cyprus talks and commitment to a comprehensive settlement of the issue." "He recognized the historic moment for Cyprus" presented by the conference starting Jan. 12 and "lauded the unprecedented progress made by the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities," Dujarric said.

The secretary-general "appealed to all parties to use this opportunity to find creative and mutually acceptable solutions that address the concerns of both communities," Dujarric said. Earlier, Dujarric said that Gutteres emphasized "the historic opportunity" in his meeting with and "underlined the need for mutually acceptable solutions that address the concerns of both communities."

He said the secretary-general also "expressed hope that all parties would demonstrate the necessary creativity in seeking innovative solutions." The two sides have been trying to strike an accord for decades, with U.N. support.

Cavusoglu told reporters Thursday he is "more optimistic than ever" that an agreement can be reached, but stressed that there are still "serious issues" regarding territory, the map, security and guarantees.

The summit is seen as the apex of 19 months of talks between the two leaders that have produced significant progress on how an envisioned federation will function after an accord is approved in separate votes on both sides of the island.

Associated Press Writer Menelaos Hadjicostic contributed to this report from Nicosia, Cyprus.

South Africa backs Polisario at talks


PRETORIA - South African President Jacob Zuma on Friday held talks in Pretoria with the leader of Western Sahara's Polisario Front independence movement, in a show of support for the territory's struggle against Morocco.

Brahim Ghali was making his first visit to South Africa -- a long-time ally of Western Sahara -- since he was elected in July.

Morocco insists the sparsely-populated desert region is an integral part of the kingdom, despite UN resolutions to hold a referendum on self-determination.

"It is unfathomable that Western Sahara... still remains colonized," Zuma said.

"We remain committed to continue to walk with the people of Western Sahara until you are free to live in your own land and able to determine your own future."

Morocco quit the African Union more than 30 years ago when Western Sahara -- known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) -- was accepted as a member.

But Morocco is now lobbying to return to the AU.

"The Sahrawi people are struggling to recover the total sovereignty of their state, of all their national territory," Ghali told reporters.

"We are unfortunately confronting military occupation from the neighboring state, the kingdom of Morocco."

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, was annexed by Morocco in 1975.

An insurgency pushing for independence ended with a UN-brokered truce in 1991.

Morocco says it will not change its stance on Western Sahara despite its efforts to rejoin the AU.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80709.

Nigeria: West Africa will act on Gambia election crisis

January 07, 2017

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — West African leaders will make a decision Saturday on how to resolve Gambia's electoral crisis and its longtime leader's refusal to accept defeat in elections, Nigeria's presidential spokesman said Friday. A military intervention led by Senegal could be in the offing.

"One way or the other, a decision will be taken," spokesman Garba Shehu said. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari heads a committee named by the Economic Committee of West African States to resolve the crisis.

The regional bloc has threatened to send troops led by neighboring Senegal if President Yahya Jammeh does not step down Jan. 19, when his mandate ends. Shehu said a decision will be made Saturday when West African leaders meet for the inauguration of Ghana's new president. It will be the fourth time a Ghanaian president has peacefully stepped aside to make way for a newly elected leader, after the country suffered more than a decade of military dictatorship.

In Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh initially conceded defeat in the Dec. 1 vote then later demanded a new election. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and others have united in criticizing him.

The West African bloc has pledged to protect Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow, who has said he fears for his life under a Jammeh administration accused of gross human rights violations including arbitrary detentions and deaths in custody of political opponents.

The president of Gambia's electoral commission fled the country this week. Human rights groups said Friday political opponents are being detained and some have received death threats. Critics say thousands of Gambians have fled abroad to escape persecution and an untold number of political dissidents have been jailed and some killed.

Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 in the country of 1.9 million people known for its beaches.

I.Coast's mutinous soldiers withdraw after deal

08 January 2017 Sunday

Ivory Coast's mutinous soldiers withdrew from the streets of the second city Bouake Sunday after the president announced a deal on their demands for bonuses, pay rises, housing and faster promotion.

"There has been no firing since Saturday night," a correspondent in Bouake said. "Traffic has resumed this morning and the shops have reopened."

In Abidjan -- a bustling seaport that is home to the presidency and parliament -- national television reported that shots had been fired at the eastern Akouedo barracks on Saturday morning.

On Sunday, Abidjan's central Plateau area where several government offices and leading businesses are located, was calm.

"Life is back to normal," a resident said.

The same was true for the northern city of Korhogo and Man in the west. A Man resident, who identified himself as Jean, said: "The soldiers have returned to their barracks."

On Saturday evening President Alassane Ouattara announced an agreement had been reached. In a brief televised address he said it took into account "the demands relating to bonuses and improving the living conditions of soldiers".

"Having given my agreement, I ask all soldiers to go back to their barracks to allow decisions to be carried out calmly," he added, without giving any details of the accord.

The soldiers had detained Defence Minister Alain Richard Donwahi on Saturday for two hours in a tense standoff over their demands, firing Kalashnikovs and heavy arms around the home of a senior local official where Donwahi was meeting with the soldiers' representatives.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/182836/icoasts-mutinous-soldiers-withdraw-after-deal.

Ivory Coast president says deal reached to end army mutiny

January 08, 2017

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast's president said a deal was reached Saturday to end a two-day army mutiny that renewed security concerns in the world's top cocoa producer and Africa's fastest-growing economy.

President Alassane Ouattara made the announcement during a cabinet meeting Saturday evening. Earlier in the day, his defense minister, Alain-Richard Donwahi, led a delegation to negotiate with disgruntled soldiers in the country's second-largest city, Bouake, where the mutiny that saw troops shooting their weapons began Friday morning.

But in an early sign not everyone was on board, mutineers in Bouake fired Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons again after Ouattara's announcement, trapping Donwahi in the home of a local official along with other members of his delegation and journalists.

The group was finally able to leave just before 10 p.m., said one of the hostages, Aboubacar Al Syddick, a journalist for the local newspaper L'Intelligent d'Abidjan. The defense ministry then released a statement denying Donwahi had been held against his will, saying he was merely continuing negotiations.

In his announcement, Ouattara said he was willing to take into account soldiers' demands for more money and an improvement in their living and working conditions, but he criticized the mutineers' tactics.

"I want to say that this manner of demanding is not appropriate. In fact, it tarnishes the image of our country after all of our efforts at economic development and diplomatic repositioning," he said.

Ouattara came to power in 2011 after a postelection crisis that claimed more than 3,000 lives. The crisis was triggered by former President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat and step down. It capped more than a decade of turmoil that began with the country's first coup in 1999.

The new president faced enormous challenges in trying to create a unified army. Analysts had predicted the government would offer payoffs to defuse this week's crisis, as it did when soldiers staged a similar revolt in 2014.

The details of the deal were not immediately available. Despite the government's attempt at a quick resolution, the incident points to lingering problems with Ivory Coast's recovery, said Cynthia Ohayon, West Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group.

"This is another reminder that the longstanding issues that led to the crisis are still unresolved," she said. "Some people forget and think that everything is going well in Ivory Coast. I think this should be toned down."

For most of Saturday, the mutiny appeared to be gaining momentum with alarming speed. Heavy gunfire erupted at a military camp in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city, and barricades were erected in the city center amid unconfirmed reports that mutinous soldiers had reached the military headquarters and defense ministry. The ministry denied those reports on its Facebook page

Gunfire was also reported in Bouake for a second straight day and in the western city of Man. Abidjan residents stocked up on food and water amid fears the city could see more violence. The U.S. embassy advised staffers to keep off roads and to stay near their homes, while France advised restricting travel to the country's interior and avoiding military camps in Abidjan.

Ivory Coast is no stranger to mutinies, having experienced about 10 since 1990, according to Maggie Dwyer, an expert on mutinies in West Africa at the University of Edinburgh. Like Ohayon, Dwyer warned that the resolution announced Saturday might not hold.

"If your soldiers are coming to the streets for pay, there are probably deeper tensions within the military structure, and those often go unaddressed," she said.

Associated Press journalist Hilaire Zon contributed reporting from Abidjan.

Ghana's new president sworn into office

08 January 2017 Sunday

The leader of the New Patriotic Party, Nana Akuffo Addo, took the oath of office as Ghana’s new president Saturday, marking the beginning of his first four-year term after defeating ex-President John Mahama at the polls last December.

Following an inauguration ceremony at the Independence Square in the capital, Accra, Akuffo Addo promised economic transformation and ending corruption.

"I shall protect the public purse by insisting on value for money in all transactions," he said in reference to his election promise of fighting corruption.

The veteran politician, who also campaigned on tax cuts, said taxes would be reduced "to recover the momentum of our economy".

"We will rekindle the spirit that made Ghana the leading light of Africa," the new president said.

The 72-year-old lawyer becomes the fifth president since the West African state returned to constitutional rule in 1992.

About a dozen African leaders, including African Union chair and president of Chad, Idriss Deby, Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari, Ivory Coast President Alhassane Ouattara and Gabon’s President Ali Bongo were in attendance.

Saturday's ceremony was also attended by all three former presidents of Ghana, John Rawlings, John Kufuor, and Mahama as well as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

All 275 members of parliament were also sworn into office for the next four years.

This is the third time Ghana has witnessed a violence-free change of government from one political party to another.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/182825/ghanas-new-president-sworn-into-office.

Ghana's new president, vice president peacefully sworn in

January 07, 2017

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Ghana's newly elected President Nana Akufo-Addo was sworn into office Saturday in a peaceful handoff of power that stood out in a region facing political crises. Thousands of people gathered in Accra's Independence Square, dressed in the red, blue and white colors of the New Patriotic Party, to witness the swearing in of Akufo-Addo as president and Mahamudu Bawumia as vice president.

"My government will provide the vision and shine the light for farmers and entrepreneurs to thrive in the country," Akufo-Addo said at the ceremony, promising an improved economy under his leadership.

Akufo-Addo, 72, a former attorney general and foreign minister, won the Dec. 7 election on his third run for Ghana's highest office, defeating incumbent John Dramani Mahama with the largest margin of victory for a presidential candidate since 1996.

The race was largely seen as a referendum on how the incumbent party had managed the economy in the long-stable democracy. The new president said Ghana had no excuses for remaining impoverished 60 years after gaining independence from Britain.

He also provided assurance that the country would deepen its commitment to democracy, noting his peaceful assumption of power was an important step. Ghana stands as a democratic model in West Africa, a region historically plagued by coups and strongman rule. The country has seen peaceful presidential transitions during every change of government since the country moved from military to democratic rule in 1992.

Leaders of other African countries attended Akufo-Addo's swearing-in ceremony. Those from the West African regional bloc also met to discuss the political crisis in Gambia. Gambia's longtime ruler, Yahya Jammeh, has called the vote that pushed him from power not credible, raising worries he will not step down on Jan. 19.

Israeli arrested for threatening convicted soldier's judges

January 05, 2017

JERUSALEM (AP) — Police have arrested an Israeli man for inciting against military judges who convicted a soldier for manslaughter over the fatal shooting of a badly wounded Palestinian attacker. Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says Thursday the arrest came after a threatening Facebook post. She says police will act against those inciting to violence against public officials.

The rare conviction of a soldier for operational conduct has deeply divided Israel and led to an unprecedented campaign in support of Sgt. Elor Azaria and against the military establishment, long the country's most admired body.

In protests outside the courtroom, demonstrators chanted veiled death threats against military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who supported charging the soldier. The trial's three military judges and the lead prosecutor have also faced threats and have been assigned bodyguards.

Russia eyes naval drills with Philippines as 2 ships visit

January 03, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Russia is eyeing naval exercises with the Philippines and deployed two navy ships for a goodwill visit to Manila on Tuesday as Moscow moves to expand defense ties with a Filipino president known for being hostile to the U.S.

Rear Adm. Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia's Pacific Fleet, led the five-day visit of vessels including an anti-submarine ship and showcased what his country can offer to a Southeast Asian nation that's long been a staunch American treaty ally.

"You can choose ... to cooperate with United States of America or to cooperate with Russia," Mikhailov told reporters through an interpreter at the Manila harbor after a welcoming ceremony. "But from our side we can help you in every way that you need."

"We are sure that in the future we'll have exercises with you. Maybe, just maneuvering or maybe use of combat systems and so on," he said. The anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma have a wide range of combat features. Filipinos will be allowed to tour the huge ships and Russian marines will demonstrate their combat capability during the high-profile visit, according to the Philippine navy.

With an underfunded and underequipped military, the Philippines has struggled to deal with attacks by ransom-seeking Abu Sayyaf militants and allied gunmen, who have kidnapped crewmen of tugboats and ships from neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia in the Sulu Sea and outlying waters.

Russia can help through future combat drills, Mikhailov said. "We have an experience in fighting these (threats)," he said. "We will share to you our knowledge on these problems, how to solve piracy and terrorism."

After Russian and Philippine officials met in Manila in August, the two countries began drafting a proposed defense cooperation accord that could be signed during a planned visit by President Rodrigo Duterte to Russia in April.

The visit by the Russian navy ships is the third to the Philippines and the first under Duterte, who took office in June. Duterte has lashed out at outgoing President Barack Obama and his administration for criticizing Duterte's deadly crackdown on illegal drugs which is feared to have left more than 6,000 suspected drug users and dealers.

Contrastingly, Duterte has reached out to China and Russia — whose leaders he has met recently — in a dramatic shift in Philippine foreign policy that has put Washington in a dilemma. The Philippines has depended heavily on the U.S., its treaty ally, for weapons, ships and aircraft for years, although it has turned to other countries for defense equipment. After visiting Moscow last month, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippine military was considering purchasing sniper rifles from Russia.

Duterte has repeatedly threatened to scale back U.S. troop presence and joint exercises with the Americans in the Philippines.

Hundreds protest as Sri Lanka launches Chinese industrial zone

07 January 2017 Saturday

Sri Lanka police fired teargas to disperse hundreds of people protesting the launch Saturday of a special industrial zone in the island's south that hopes to attract billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

Protesters pelted government supporters with stones and police retaliated with teargas and water cannon at the launch, which was also attended by the prime minister and the Chinese ambassador, a police official told AFP.

Authorities said about 25 people were hurt in the skirmishes, including 12 police.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and ambassador Yi Xianliang said the zone in Hambantota, 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Colombo, will generate thousands of jobs and bring in about $5 billion in Chinese investment.

But residents are afraid they will loose their land to the project, which is situated adjacent to a loss-making $1.4 billion harbor that Colombo hopes to turn into a joint venture with a Chinese company.

The port has already proved controversial in itself with hundreds of temporary dock workers going on strike in December demanding that they be absorbed into the main port-owning company ahead of any sale to the Chinese.

The government denies residents will lose any land to the new industrial zone, saying 95 percent of the area allocated for the project is state-owned and the remainder will be bought from private owners. They say there will be no forced acquisitions.

"In the next two to five years, if everything is OK, there will be about $5 billion of (Chinese) investments in this zone," ambassador Yi said at the launch, adding that 100,000 jobs could be created.

"The Hambantota port was going to sink us (Sri Lanka), but we are now trying to leverage it to create new economic activity and boost growth," Wickremesinghe said.

The government, which came to power in 2015, has been trying to renegotiate the terms of its $8-billion Chinese debt, which includes the construction costs of the Hambantota port as well as a nearby international airport which is used by only one airline.

The former administration relied heavily on China to build ports, highways and railways as Western nations shunned it over its dismal human rights record.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/182812/hundreds-protest-as-sri-lanka-launches-chinese-industrial-zone.

500 Muscovites brave intense cold for bike ride

January 08, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — For hundreds of Muscovites, the fact that the temperature had plunged to minus-27 Celsius (minus-17 F) was no reason to avoid going for a group bicycle ride. About 500 cyclists, many equipped with fur hats and other nonstandard gear, held a ride of about eight kilometers (five miles) along the Moscow River on Sunday as the capital shivered through a fierce cold snap. Sunday was the last of Russia's winter holiday period that stretches from New Year's through Orthodox Christmas.

The roundtrip ride from a residential area to the Kremlin was the second annual iteration of a winter ride aimed at demonstrating that bicycles can be year-round transport. The popularity of cycling in Moscow has soared in recent years as city authorities improve paths for two-wheelers to navigate the notoriously traffic-choked city.

Russia downsizing Syria military deployment


MOSCOW - Russia's military on Friday said it has begun scaling down its deployment to Syria, with Moscow's sole aircraft carrier set to be the first to quit the conflict zone.

"In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces Vladimir Putin, the Russian defense ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria," Russian news agencies quoted military chief Valery Gerasimov as saying.

Gerasimov said that a naval group headed by aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would be the first to leave the area.

"The tasks set for the aircraft carrier group during its military mission have been fulfilled," added Russia's main commander in Syria Andrei Kartapolov, agencies reported.

Kartapolov said that Russia still had sufficient air defense capabilities in Syria thanks to its S-300 and S-400 systems deployed in the war-torn country.

Since September 2015, Russia had boosted its firepower on land in Syria and off the coast in the Mediterranean in support of regime forces targeting the second city of Aleppo.

Troops loyal to Russia's ally Bashar al-Assad finally ousted rebels from the city last month in their biggest victory in more than five years of fighting, paving the way for the Kremlin to launch a fresh push for a political solution to the conflict.

Russian President Putin ordered a reduction in his forces in Syria on December 29, as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces that has since dampened down the fighting.

Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, are currently pushing for peace talks to be held later this month in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

Moscow launched its bombing campaign in Syria in September 2015, helping to turn the tide in favor of Assad's ailing forces.

Putin already announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March 2016, but Moscow later had to ramp up its presence again as fighting increased.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80696.

Influential former Iranian leader Rafsanjani dead at age 82

January 08, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily political survivor and multimillionaire mogul who remained among the ruling elite despite moderate views, died Sunday, state TV reported. He was 82.

Iranian media reported he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized north of Tehran, where doctors performed CPR in vain for nearly an hour and a half before declaring him dead. A female newscaster's voice quivered as she read the news.

She said Rafsanjani, "after a life full of restless efforts in the path of Islam and revolution, had departed for lofty heaven." Rafsanjani's mix of sly wit and reputation for cunning moves — both in politics and business — earned him a host of nicknames such as Akbar Shah, or Great King, during a life that touched every major event in Iranian affairs since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

His presence — whether directly or through back channels — was felt in many forms. He was a steady leader in the turbulent years following the overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah, a veteran warrior in the country's internal political battles and a covert go-between in intrigue such as the Iran-Contra arms deals in the 1980s.

He also was handed an unexpected political resurgence in his later years. The surprise presidential election in 2013 of Rafsanjani's political soul mate, Hassan Rouhani, gave the former president an insider role in reform-minded efforts that included Rouhani's push for direct nuclear talks with Washington. World powers and Iran ultimately struck a deal to limit the country's nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions.

While Rafsanjani was blocked from the 2013 ballot by Iran's election overseers — presumably worried about boosting his already wide-ranging influence — the former leader embraced Rouhani's success. "Now I can easily die since people are able to decide their fate by themselves," he reportedly said last March.

However, Rouhani now faces a crucial presidential election in May which will serve as a referendum on the deal and thawing relations with the West. Rafsanjani was sharply critical of a move by Iran's constitutional watchdog to block moderates, including Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder, from running for a top clerical body in elections last year.

Rafsanjani was a close aide of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and served as president from 1989 to 1997 during a period of significant changes in Iran. At the time, the country was struggling to rebuild its economy after a devastating 1980-88 war with Iraq, while also cautiously allowing some wider freedoms, as seen in Iran's highly regarded film and media industry.

He also oversaw key developments in Iran's nuclear program by negotiating deals with Russia to build an energy-producing reactor in Bushehr, which finally went into service in 2011 after long delays. Behind the scenes, he directed the secret purchase of technology and equipment from Pakistan and elsewhere.

Rafsanjani managed to remain within the ruling theocracy after leaving office, but any dreams of taking on a higher-profile role collapsed with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009 and the intense crackdown that followed. Rafsanjani's harsh criticism of Ahmadinejad branded him as a dissenter in the eyes of many conservatives.

In a sign of his waning powers, Rafsanjani's stance cost him his position as one of the Friday prayer leaders at Tehran University, a highly influential position that often is the forum for significant policy statements.

But some analysts believe that Rafsanjani was kept within the ruling fold as a potential mediator with America and its allies in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. His past stature as a trusted Khomeini ally also offered him political protection. Rafsanjani was a top commander in the war with Iraq and played a key role in convincing Khomeini to accept a cease-fire after years of crippling stalemate.

Nearly 25 years later, Rafsanjani tried to revive his credentials among a new generation of reformers by recounting proposals he made to Khomeini in the late 1980s to consider outreach to the United States, still seen by hard-liners as the "Great Satan."

His image, however, also had darker undertones. He was named by prosecutors in Argentina among Iranian officials suspected of links to a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Some Iranian reformers accused him of involvement in the slaying of liberals and dissidents during his presidency — charges that were never pursued by Iranian authorities.

"The title of Islamic Republic is not just a formality," he said in 2009 in the chaos after Ahmadinejad's re-election. "Rest assured, if one of those two aspects is damaged we will lose our revolution. If it loses its Islamic aspect, we will go astray. If it loses its republican aspect, (the Islamic Republic) will not be realized. Based on the reasons that I have offered, without people and their vote there would be no Islamic system."

Rafsanjani — a portly man with only sparse and wispy chin hairs in contrast to the full beards worn by most Islamic clerics in Iran — first met Khomeini in the Shiite seminaries of Qom in the 1950s and later became a key figure in the Islamic uprising that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

His smooth-skinned visage gave him another nickname that also fit his ruthless image: The Shark. He was elected as head of Iran's parliament in 1980 and served until 1989, when he was elected for the first of two four-year terms as president.

Here, Rafsanjani began to build his multilayered — and sometimes contradictory — political nature: A supporter of free enterprise, a relative pragmatist toward foreign affairs and an unforgiving leader who showed no mercy to any challenges to his authority.

Rafsanjani took a dim view of state control of the economy — even in the turbulent years after the Islamic Revolution — and encouraged private businesses, development of Tehran's stock market and ways to boost Iranian exports. His priority was to rebuild the country after eight years of bloody war with Iraq that killed an estimated 1 million people.

He built roads and connected villages to electrical, telephone and water networks for the first time, earning the title of Commander of Reconstruction by his supporters. There were certain self-interests at play, as well.

Rafsanjani was assumed to be the head of a family-run pistachio business, which grew to become one of Iran's largest exporters and provided the financial foundation for a business empire that would eventually include construction companies, an auto assembly plant, vast real estate holdings and a private airline. In 2003, he was listed among Iran's "millionaire mullahs" by Forbes magazine.

His economic policies won him praise from Iran's elite and merchant classes, but brought bitterness from struggling workers seeking greater state handouts. Rafsanjani also faced warnings from the ruling theocracy about pushing too far. None of his reforms dared to undercut the vast power of the Revolutionary Guard — which Rafsanjani briefly commanded, and which controls every key defense and strategic program.

Rafsanjani's complex legacy also was shaped by the times. He took over the presidency in a critical time of transition just after the death of Khomeini. He tried to make overtures for better ties with the U.S. after the American-led invasion of Kuwait in 1991 to drive out Iraqi forces, arguing that Iran paid too high a price for its diplomatic freeze with Washington.

But he could not overcome opposition from Iranian hard-liners and failed to win the backing of Khomeini's successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for bold foreign policy moves. He also angered the West by strengthening Iran's ties to armed groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

"One of the wrong things we did, in the revolutionary atmosphere, was constantly to make enemies," he said in a 1987 interview. "We pushed those who could have been neutral into hostility." Rafsanjani was born in 1934 in the village of Bahraman in southeastern Iran's pistachio-growing region of Rafsanjan. His father, too, was a pistachio farmer with a growing business that would later be expanded into a colossal enterprise.

Rafsanjani was jailed for several years under the shah. He then helped organize the network of mullahs that became Khomeini's revolutionary underground. In 1965, he is reputed to have provided the handgun for the assassination of Iran's prime minister, Hassan Ali Mansoor.

Only months after the revolution, Rafsanjani was shot once in the stomach by gunmen from one of the groups vying for power amid the political turmoil. He was not seriously wounded — and neither was his wife, who jumped in front to shield him from the attack.

"Great men of history do not die," Khomeini said in announcing that Rafsanjani had survived. In 1980, Rafsanjani was appointed head of the new parliament, or majlis, and was often regarded as the second most powerful man in the country. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the republic's first president, who was forced into exile in 1981 during a power struggle, described Rafsanjani in Machiavellian terms.

"He's a man with a marked taste for power," he said in a 1989 interview with The Associated Press from his exile in France. "He's a political animal." Bani-Sadr said Rafsanjani also used to play the role of court jester to amuse Khomeini.

"He's a man who makes people laugh," Bani-Sadr said. "It's a great art. He makes Khomeini laugh. He uses this to gain his objectives ... He's not brilliant as an organizer and he doesn't have too many original ideas, but he's a manipulator and he's intelligent."

During the 1980s, he used his links with Lebanese Shiite extremists to help secure the release of Western hostages in Lebanon and was a key middleman — identified as "Raf" in Pentagon documents — in the secret Iran-Contra dealings to funnel U.S. arms to Iran in exchange for money used to fund Nicaraguan rebels.

Although Rafsanjani was seen by Washington as a potential ice breaker in relations, his views were far from solidly pro-Western and displayed conflicted positions. Shortly after becoming president in 1989, he urged Palestinians to kill Westerners to retaliate for Israel's attacks in the occupied territories.

"It is not hard to kill Americans or Frenchmen," he said. In February 1994, Rafsanjani survived a second assassination attempt. A lone gunman fired at him as he was speaking to mark the 15th anniversary of the revolution. Unhurt and unshaken, Rafsanjani calmed a crowd of thousands and continued his speech.

The Iran-Contra fallout is an often-told tale about the dangers of crossing Rafsanjani. After word was leaked to a Beirut magazine about Rafsanjani's involvement, he ordered the arrest of the source, a senior adviser to the ruling clerics named Mehdi Hashemi, for treason and other charges. Hashemi and others were executed in September 1987.

After leaving the presidency, Rafsanjani's main forum was his spot as one of the Friday prayer leaders. His sermons could run for more than two hours and were delivered without notes. In 1999 — amid the first major pro-reform unrest at Tehran University — he praised the use of force to put down the protests.

A decade later, however, he was dismayed at the brutal crackdown against opposition groups and others claiming Ahmadinejad won re-election in June 2009 through vote rigging sanctioned by the ruling theocracy.

Khamenei decided to throw his backing behind Ahmadinejad, effectively snubbing Rafsanjani and his complaints. Later, Rafsanjani fell short on efforts to mobilize enough moderate clerics in the Assembly of Experts — the only group with the power to dismiss the supreme leader — to force possible concessions from Khamenei on the postelection clampdowns.

Rafsanjani was forced out of the post in 2011, but remained as head of the Expediency Council, an advisory body that mediates disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council, a watchdog group controlled by hard-line clerics.

In January 2012, a court sentenced Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, to six months in prison on charges of criticizing the ruling system. In 2013, Iran's election watchdog rejected his nomination for the presidential campaign, hinting at his age.

In 2015, a court sentenced his younger son, Mahdi, to a 10-year prison term over embezzlement and security charges. Rafsanjani is survived by his wife, Effat Marashi, and five children.

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report. Biographical material in this story was written by former AP staffer Brian Murphy.

Facebook closes accounts of Palestine activists

January 7, 2017

Facebook has closed the accounts of a number of Palestinian activists after using a hashtag lamenting a Palestinian assassinated by Israel 20 years ago, Quds Press reported yesterday.

Former female prisoner Ghofran Zamel, fiancée of Hassan Salameh who is spending several life sentences in Israeli jails, said that she was surprised to find her Facebook account was shut down yesterday.

Zamel said that when she wanted to open her accounts, a message appeared telling her that the accounts were closed but without giving any reasons. She said she sent messages to Facebook to complain.

Meanwhile, several activists reported their accounts were closed in addition to accounts managed by Hamas activists after using a hashtag which praised a Hamas fighter.

On 3 January, a bill authorising Israeli courts to block or delete social media content under the pretext of incitement passed its first hurdles in the Knesset.

Israeli TV Channel 7 said that this bill, if passed into law, would give the Israeli courts the power to shut down websites inciting against Israel and close Facebook or Twitter accounts that are considered as inciting to violence or that are provocative.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170107-facebook-closes-accounts-of-palestine-activists/.

Police deployed to guard Muslim ceremony in Myanmar

08 January 2017 Sunday

Security personnel were deployed to guard a Muslim ceremony in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon on Sunday after a group of Buddhist nationalists tried to disrupt the event.

Dozens of police arrived as the crowd tried to interrupt the ceremony in Botataung Township in Yangon, accusing the worshipers of holding it without the approval of local authorities.

Among those trying to stop the event were hardline Buddhist monks, who many blame for a rise in persecution of Muslims in Myanmar.

Police said that the nationalists were in the wrong as permission for the ceremony had been granted.

“We explained to them that the authority already given a permit for this religious event,” police officer Tun Tin said by phone.

“Then they demanded to observe the event, and we allowed five of them to do so after negotiations with Muslim elders."

Muslim residents later complained that some nationalists had behaved badly as they tried to pray.

Thein Nyunt, a Muslim resident of Botataung, said that once they were allowed to observe, the monks then switched attack and accused the worshipers of meeting to plan violence.

“We are just celebrating a religious event. This is ridiculous. They made us feel very unhappy,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“We love our country, and we would never do such a stupid thing,” he underlined.

Hardline nationalist monks -- such as the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) -- rose to prominence in Myanmar on the back of communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine State in mid-2012.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric from the group has been seen as deliberately stoking the flames of religious hatred in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/182850/police-deployed-to-guard-muslim-ceremony-in-myanmar.