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Monday, June 12, 2017

Qatari forces in anti-Houthi coalition return to Doha


The move came days after the coalition terminated Qatar's membership in the anti-Houthi bloc, which has been launching an air campaign against Houthi rebels, who overran Sanaa and other Yemeni provinces in 2014.

According to QNA, top army brass had welcomed the troops on Tuesday.

On Monday, five Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen – cut ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism.

Qatar denied the accusations, saying the move to cut ties with it was "unjustified" and aimed to impose guardianship on the Gulf country.

The new escalation came two weeks after the website of Qatar’s official news agency was allegedly hacked by unknown individuals who reportedly published statements falsely attributed to its emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani.

The incident triggered a diplomatic row between Qatar and its neighbors, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Source: Anadolu Agency.
Link: http://aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/qatari-forces-in-anti-houthi-coalition-return-to-doha/836255.

Diplomatic crisis grows in Gulf


DUBAI - The diplomatic crisis surrounding the Gulf escalated further Friday after Saudi Arabia and its allies placed a number of Qataris and Doha-based organisations on a "terror list".

As many as 18 individuals were named, including members of Qatar's royal family and a former minister.

Also named were Doha-based Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Qatari-funded charities.

The list was published jointly by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain -- which accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist extremist groups and have cut ties with Doha.

"This list is connected to Qatar and serves suspicious agendas in an indication of the duality of Qatar policies," said the statement.

It shows that Qatar "announces fighting terrorism on one hand and finances and supports and hosts different terrorist organisations on the other hand".

In all, 59 people and entities were listed.

It was released hours after Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said Doha would not "surrender" and rejected any interference in its foreign policy.

Qatar said the blacklist had no basis in reality.

"The recent joint statement issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE regarding a 'terror finance watch list' once again reinforces baseless allegations that hold no foundation in fact," a government statement read.

"Our position on countering terrorism is stronger than many of the signatories of the joint statement -- a fact that has been conveniently ignored by the authors."

It added: "We lead the region in attacking the roots of terrorism."

- Spiraling crisis -

Friday's spat is unlikely to ease regional tensions in a spiraling political crisis which also threatens to involve the US, Russia, Europe and other major players such as Turkey and Iran.

Turkey's parliament has approved deploying troops to a base in Qatar and Iran has offered to send food to Doha.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain led a string of countries that cut ties with Qatar over what they say is the emirate's financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.

They also banned Qatar Airways from their airspace and closed Qatar's only land border with Saudi Arabia, moves Doha's foreign minister termed a "blockade".

On Friday, Sheikh Mohammed held surprise talks in Germany with his counterpart Sigmar Gabriel.

In a press conference, he claimed the actions by the Gulf states were "a clear breach of international law".

Denouncing the blacklist, he added: "There is a continuous escalation from these countries... but our strategic options are still diplomacy and dialogue."

Gabriel stressed that "this is the hour of diplomacy".

So far, European countries have largely stayed on the sidelines in the dispute.

Sheikh Mohammed is expected in Moscow Saturday, and officials said Friday he spoke with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by telephone.

- Blacklist steps up pressure -

The blacklist is the latest allegation by Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar since the crisis erupted late last month.

The Arab states have also ordered Qataris out within 14 days.

Qatar's national human rights committee said families had been split and hundreds of people affected.

The feud has raised fears of wider instability in an already volatile region that is a crucial global energy supplier and home to several Western military bases.

Kuwait -- which unlike most of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members has not cut ties with Qatar -- has led mediation efforts.

US President Donald Trump, who had initially backed the measures against Qatar in a tweet, called Sheik Tamim on Wednesday with an offer "to help the parties resolve their differences".

Qatar hosts the Al-Udeid military base, the largest US airbase in the Middle East that is central to the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Questions have also been raised over whether Qatar should retain the right to host the 2022 football World Cup and over its economic ability to sustain the crisis.

Qatar is the world's largest exporter of Liquid Natural Gas, but industry experts say shipowners are seeking clarity on the UAE's ban on Qatari-linked vessels calling at its ports.

"The ban will certainly have an impact on cargo contracts... where Qatar is a source or destination," said Singapore-based shipping lawyer K Murali Pany.

- Forged own policies -

Analysts say the crisis is partly an extension of a 2014 dispute, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain temporarily recalled their ambassadors over Qatari support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

A top Gulf official, on condition of anonymity, told AFP that a major concern was the influence of Sheikh Tamim's father Sheikh Hamad, who had allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha and helped arm Syrian rebels before abdicating in 2013.

Doha has for years forged its own alliances in the region, often diverging from GCC policies and taking in leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian Hamas and members of the Afghan Taliban.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83469.

Bahrain FM heads to Turkey amid bitter Gulf row


ANKARA - The foreign minister of Bahrain, one of the Arab countries to cut ties with Qatar amid a bitter row between the Gulf neighbors, will on Saturday visit Turkey which has close ties with Doha, the Turkish foreign ministry said

The announcement came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ratified on Friday a bill approved by Turkish lawmakers to deploy troops to a Turkish base in Qatar in a move seen as Ankara's support to Doha.

Earlier this week Erdogan criticized the sanctions against Qatar, saying he intended to "develop" ties, but he was careful not to criticize Riyadh.

Turkey has close ties with Doha including in the energy sector, but it also maintains good relations with the other Gulf states.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa will meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu , as well as Erdogan to discuss the "latest developments in the region", the ministry said in a statement.

A senior Turkish official said the Bahraini minister will spend four days in Istanbul.

Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and other states this week in cutting ties with Qatar over what they say is the emirate's financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.

The Arab countries closed air, sea and land links with Qatar, barred the emirate's planes from their airspace and ordered Qatari citizens out within 14 days.

The crisis escalated further on Friday after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain released a list of 59 Qatari and Doha-based people and entities linked to "terrorism".

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83471.

Thousands in Madrid back no-confidence vote against PM Rajoy

May 21, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of Spaniards have rallied in Madrid to support a no-confidence vote against conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy brought by the far-left Podemos party. Podemos organized the gathering Saturday to bolster its no-confidence vote against Rajoy's ruling Popular Party, which has been hit by a series of corruption scandals.

The rally under the slogan "We have to throw them out" was held in the Puerta del Sol, a large square in the heart of Spain's capital. Many protesters held signs that read "Enough!" or "Corruption!" "We are governed by a party that is not a party but is a corrupt institution that has robbed the country," said Jose Ramon de la Valencia, a 45-year-old unemployed worker. "If we don't take over the streets and the parliament, the Popular Party is going to do whatever they want."

Podemos registered its intent Friday to bring the no-confidence vote to Parliament. It is presenting the party's ponytailed leader, Pablo Iglesias, as an alternative candidate to replace Rajoy. No date has been set for the no-confidence vote but the move appears designed to fail. With only 71 members in parliament, Podemos would need help from other parties to reach the majority needed of 176. No other major party says it will back the move to topple Rajoy.

Iglesias struck a defiant tone at the rally, calling the Popular Party "a mafia-like party." "The people are not afraid. They are telling the corrupted to 'get lost, we want a Spain of the 21st century," Iglesias said. "This country is better than its parliament and we are showing the way to the future."

Rajoy has been dragged into the most damaging of the corruption cases involving the Popular Party, an alleged kickbacks-for-contracts scheme to finance party activities. Spain's National Court has called Rajoy as a witness in the case. Like his party, Rajoy has denied any wrongdoing.

On Monday, Podemos will present a motion for a separate no-confidence vote against Madrid's regional leader, Cristina Cifuentes, for another corruption investigation involving the Popular Party.

AP television producer Iain Sullivan contributed from Madrid.

Soccer coach Guardiola leads Catalan independence rally

June 11, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Soccer great Pep Guardiola has called on the international community to support a referendum on Catalan independence that Spain's government considers illegal. Guardiola read a manifesto at a rally of several thousand supporters of Catalan independence who gathered at a fountain in Barcelona on Sunday. He said "democracies in Europe and around the world to stand by us as we defend our rights of freedom, political expression and the right to vote."

Guardiola, a former coach and player for Barcelona soccer club, is now Manchester City's manager. On Friday, Catalonia's regional president Carles Puigdemont announced that his government would hold the independence referendum on Oct. 1.

Spain's government has promised to stop the vote on grounds that it is unconstitutional since the matter would affect all Spaniards.

Preliminary results: Ex-rebels win Kosovo election

June 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The coalition of former ethnic Albanian rebel commanders won the most votes Sunday in Kosovo's general election, which also saw a surge in popularity for a nationalist party, according to preliminary results.

The ex-rebels came in first with around 35 percent of the vote. The nationalist Self-Determination Movement was neck-and-neck with the coalition led by former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, which had around 26 percent each after the counting of about 70 percent of the votes, according to Democracy in Action, a monitoring group.

No group can govern alone and coalitions will be likely. The new Cabinet will have a tough job in resolving several thorny issues, including the border demarcation deal with Montenegro. The approval of another agreement with Serbia giving more rights to the ethnic Serb minority, and the continuation of fraught talks with Belgrade, which denies Kosovo's existence as a state, were also key concerns.

Ramush Haradinaj, whom the leading coalition has nominated to be prime minister, hailed Kosovars "for the trust given to the coalition," adding "these are the best elections ever held" in Kosovo. "The victory is convincing and make us capable of operating further to create the country's government," he said.

The final results for the new 120-seat parliament are expected later in the week. Ethnic Serbs and other minorities have 20 out of 120 seats in the parliament. Self-Determination Movement officials celebrated the results, which saw the party double its share of the vote. The party has been a disruptive force in the previous parliament and is the biggest opposition party to shun pre-election coalitions. The party's members and supporters released tear gas inside parliament and threw firebombs outside it to protest the contentious deals with Montenegro and Serbia.

The party has nominated its former leader, 42-year-old Albin Kurti, as a candidate for prime minister. If elected, the party says it "is the only one which is going to fight corruption in a successful way," send former officials to jail, end the current talks with Serbia while seeking a closer union with neighboring Albania.

Kosovo's election authorities say that preliminary figures put turnout in the country's general election at 41.79 percent. Central Election Commission head Valdete Daka says that "there have been no problems that would gravely damage the process."

The turnout is smaller than in the previous polls, for example in 2014, when it was 42.63 percent. Kosovo is the only western Balkan country whose citizens need visas to enter the EU's Schengen zone. To join, Brussels insists Kosovo's parliament must first approve a border demarcation deal signed with Montenegro in 2015.

Opposition parties say that deal meant a loss of territory, over 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), or less than 1 percent of Kosovo's land. The former Cabinet, international experts and the country's Western backers dispute that claim.

The Self-Determination Movement and others also oppose another deal signed in 2015 that gave more rights to the ethnic Serb minority. A further issue is the prospect of former ethnic Albanian senior rebel commanders facing prosecution in the newly established war crimes court. The court in The Hague is expected to shortly issue indictments for crimes committed against civilians during and after the 1998-1999 war with Serbia.

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Kosovo votes amid thorny issues of border, talks with Serbia

June 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Voters in Kosovo were casting their ballots Sunday in an early general election for the new 120-seat parliament. At stake are thorny issues of the border demarcation deal with Montenegro that brought down the previous government, and the approval of another deal with Serbia giving more rights to the ethnic Serb minority.

The continuation of fraught talks with Belgrade — which denies Kosovo's existence as a state — is also a key concern. Nineteen political parties, five coalitions and two citizens' initiatives, all promising to secure economic growth and ease Kosovars' travel restrictions to the European Union, have nominated candidates.

Among the contenders are a coalition of three major parties run by former rebel commanders. They have proposed Ramush Haradinaj, still regarded by Serbia as a war criminal, as prime minister. Others include Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's party, which nominates former finance Minister Avdullah Hoti for leadership, and the Self-Determination Movement, the biggest opposition party to shun pre-election coalitions, which put forward their founder Albin Kurti as a candidate for prime minister.

Valdete Daka, head of the Central Election Commission that manages the electoral process, called on Kosovars to vote "to show to the world we are part of democracy and know how to hold elections properly" after casting her ballot at a polling station in the capital, Pristina.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The new state has been recognized by 114 countries, including the United States and most of the EU members, but not by Belgrade. Kosovo is the only western Balkan country whose citizens need visas to enter the European Union's Schengen zone. To join, Brussels insists Kosovo's parliament must first approve a border demarcation deal signed with Montenegro in 2015.

Opposition parties say that deal meant a loss of territory, over 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), or less than 1 percent of Kosovo's land. The former Cabinet, international experts and the country's Western backers dispute that claim.

The Self-Determination Movement and others also oppose another deal signed in 2015 that gave more rights to the ethnic Serb minority. A further issue is the prospect of former ethnic Albanian senior rebel commanders facing prosecution in the newly established international war crimes court. The court in The Hague is expected to shortly issue indictments for crimes committed against civilians during and after the 1998-1999 war with Serbia.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Kosovo's general election poses headaches for the winner

June 10, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovars vote on Sunday to choose the new 120-seat parliament that will face some seemingly intractable problems. There is the thorny issue of the border demarcation deal with Montenegro that brought down the previous government; the continuation of fraught talks with Serbia, which denies Kosovo's existence as a state; and potential war crimes trials of some senior political leaders.

Nineteen political parties, five coalitions and two citizens' initiatives, all promising to break the isolation and secure growth, have nominated candidates. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The new state has been recognized by 114 countries, including the United States and most of the EU members, but not by Belgrade.

Kosovo is the only western Balkan country whose citizens need visas to enter the European Union's Schengen zone. To join, Brussels insists Kosovo must first approve the border demarcation deal. That deal with Montenegro was signed in 2015 but opposition parties say it meant a loss of territory, over 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), or less than 1 percent of Kosovo's land. The former Cabinet, international experts and the country's Western backers dispute that claim.

Another looming issue is the prospect of former ethnic Albanian senior rebel commanders facing prosecution in the newly established international war crimes court in The Hague that is expected to shortly issue indictments for crimes committed against civilians during and after the 1998-1999 war with Serbia.

There are three key groupings in the contest:


Three major parties run by former rebel commanders have joined forces to back Ramush Haradinaj for prime minister. Haradinaj briefly served as a prime minister in 2005 but was forced to resign after a U.N. war crimes court put him on trial for crimes allegedly committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 war with Serbia. He was acquitted twice.

Serbia still regards Haradinaj as a war criminal. Kosovo suspended EU-sponsored talks with Serbia earlier this year after Haradinaj was arrested in France on a warrant from Serbia. A French court refused to extradite him.

Haradinaj claims his coalition is "a new beginning " and has pledged he will persuade the EU to admit Kosovars to the visa-free regime within 90 days, and also bring fast improvements in the country's ailing economy.


The party of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa has joined forces with billionaire Behxhet Pacolli and Mimoza Kusari-Lila, a former deputy prime minister and trade minister from the Alternativa party. They have proposed the former finance minister, Avdullah Hoti, as a future prime minister.

Hoti boasts that he was successful in fighting corruption and bringing the customs and financial department in line with European standards. He earned a Ph.D. in economics at Staffordshire University in Britain and is a professor at the Pristina University.


The Self-Determination Movement, an aggressively disruptive force in the previous parliament, is the biggest opposition party to shun pre-election coalitions. Self-Determination Movement members and supporters released tear gas inside parliament and threw petrol bombs outside it to protest the contentious deals with Montenegro and Serbia.

The party has nominated its former leader, 42-year-old Albin Kurti, as a candidate for prime minister. Since the 2014 election, Kurti has been at the forefront of opposition forces. If elected, the party says it "is the only one which is going to fight corruption in a successful way," send former officials to jail, end the current talks with Serbia while seeking a closer union with neighboring Albania.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Italy exit polls: Populists trailing in main mayors' races

June 12, 2017

ROME (AP) — First exit polls indicate candidates from a populist movement did poorly in the main Italian mayoral races, with the leading candidates coming from both the traditional center-right and center-left camps.

Right after voting ended late Sunday night, pollsters for both state TV and private TV said their samplings indicated the anti-euro 5-Star Movement would fail even to make runoffs in the four top races, including a big setback in Genoa, which is home to Movement founder, comic Beppe Grillo.

The local races "put the brakes on the Movement's" rise, headlined La Stampa, the daily in Turin, a major city where only a year earlier the triumph of the populists' candidate there for mayor fueled 5-Stars' national ambitions.

Substantial actual results were not expected until sometime Monday morning. But if exit samplings prove accurate, voters delivered stinging defeats to the populists, keen on gaining the premiership for the first time via national elections due in 2018.

The anti-euro party ran candidates in some 225 of 1,000 races. In Genoa, as well as in the other main city up for grabs, Palermo, Sicily, the top two vote-getters, according to the exit polls, were shaping up to be candidates from center right and center left.

Runoffs will be held on June 25 in races where no one clinches more than 50 percent of the ballots. Until Grillo's Movement started gaining ground in the last few years, Italy's political scene had been dominated for a quarter-century by center-right coalitions, led by media mogul and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, and center-left alliances, currently led by ex-premier and Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi.

Only a year ago, the 5-Stars dealt the Democrats embarrassing losses in Rome and Turin mayoral races. But a generally lackluster performance by 5-Star Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, leading an administration dogged by scandals, has had many analysts wondering if the shine was fading for the Movement.

Turin's 5-Star Mayor Chiara Appendino initially received high marks, but lately has faced criticism, especially about security when panicked soccer fans watching a match in a Turin square recently set off an injury-causing stampede.

Renzi resigned the premiership in December after miscalculating that Italians would back his government's constitutional reforms in a referendum. Exit polls indicated the 5-Stars' hopes to make inroads in the south also would be dashed.

Leoluca Orlando, a center-left figure who made his name as an anti-Mafia maverick in the 1980s, appeared to be leading in his bid for a fifth mandate as mayor of Palermo, Sicily, exit polls indicated.

At least one town needing a mayor won't get one. No one offered to be a candidate in San Luca, a remote town in the Calabrian mountains and dubbed the "mamma of the 'ndrangheta" crime syndicate for its notoriety as a stronghold of mobsters, Sky TG24 TV reported. Officials appointed by the Interior Ministry will continue to run the town of 3,900 residents until elections can eventually be held.

Macron's takeover of French politics is all but complete

June 12, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Emmanuel Macron's takeover of French politics is all but complete. The newly elected French leader's gamble that voters wanted to throw out old faces and try something new is paying off in full — first by giving him the presidency and, on Sunday, the crucial first step toward securing the legislative power to deliver on his pledge of far-reaching change.

As when voters turned the previously unelected Macron into France's youngest president last month, Sunday's first round of voting in two-stage legislative elections again brought stinging black eyes to traditional parties that, having monopolized power for decades, are being utterly routed by Macron's political revolution.

His fledgling Republic on the Move! — contesting its first-ever election and fielding many candidates with no political experience at all — was on course to deliver him a legislative majority so crushing that Macron's rivals fretted that the 39-year-old president will be able to govern France almost unopposed for his full five-year term.

Record-low turnout, however, took some shine off the achievement. Less than 50 percent of the 47.5 million electors cast ballots — showing that Macron has limited appeal to many voters. Macron intends to set his large and likely pliant cohort of legislators, all of them having pledged allegiance to his program, to work immediately. He wants, within weeks, to start reforming French labor laws to make hiring and firing easier, and legislate a greater degree of honesty into parliament, to staunch the steady flow of scandals that over decades have eroded voter trust in the political class.

With 94 percent of votes counted, Macron's camp was comfortably leading with more than 32 percent — putting it well ahead of all opponents going into the decisive second round of voting next Sunday for the 577 seats in the lower-house National Assembly.

Macron's prime minister, Edouard Philippe, confidently declared Sunday night that the second round vote would give the assembly a "new face." "France is back," he said. Pollsters estimated that Macron's camp could end up with as many as 450 seats — and that the opposition in parliament would be fragmented as well as small.

The Socialist Party that held power in the last legislature and its allies were all but vaporized — their 314 seats likely reduced, according to pollsters' projections, to as few as 20 seats, and possibly no more than 30, in the new assembly. Projecting seat numbers is an imprecise science in the two-round system.

Socialist Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis warned that Macron's party could end up "almost without any real opposition." "We would have a National Assembly with no real power of control and without democratic debate to speak of," he said.

On the right, the conservative Republicans were also reeling, projected to end up with possibly no more than 110 seats, and possibly as few as 70, having controlled 215 in the outgoing parliament. The National Front of far-right leader Marine Le Pen looked unlikely to convert her strong showing in the presidential election into anything more than a small handful of legislative seats and certainly not enough to make the party into a major opposition force. That was Le Pen's hope after she advanced for the first time to the presidential runoff that Macron won on May 7. Le Pen complained that the legislative voting system didn't fully represent voters' wishes — because her party got around 14 percent of votes but wasn't able to greatly improve on the two legislators it had in the last legislature.

The party's secretary general, Nicolas Bay, warned of Macron getting "a majority so big that he will have a sort of blank check for the next five years." Another sign of voters' rejection of the political mainstream was that far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was, with the Communist Party, projected to see his camp win as many as 18 seats, an improvement on the 10 they held before.

Voters said polls that had predicted a large majority for Macron's camp likely dissuaded people from turning out. They also blamed the long election cycle, with party primaries that started last year before the two rounds of presidential and then legislative voting, for turning voters off.

"I've voted seven times in the last few months," voter Jean-Luc Vialla said after casting his ballot in an eerily quiet voting station in Paris where voters came in a trickle. "And the result seems written in advance. It demotivated people."

Associated Press writers Nicolas Garriga, Philippe Sotto and Angela Charlton contributed to this report.

France's Macron faces test in parliamentary elections

June 11, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French voters are choosing lawmakers in the lower house of parliament on Sunday in a vote that is crucial for newly-elected president Emmanuel Macron. A total of 7,882 candidates are running for 577 seats in the National Assembly in Sunday's first round of the two-stage legislative elections. Top vote-getters advance to the decisive second round June 18.

Polls suggest the elections will strongly favor Macron's party and dramatically shake up French politics, punishing the traditional left and right parties and leaving no single strong opposition force.

Macron's year-old centrist movement, Republic on the Move, is seeking an absolute majority to be able to implement his campaign promises, which include simplifying labor rules and making it easier to lay off workers in hopes of boosting hiring.

The government outlined the main themes of a major labor reform that has already angered French unions and is likely to prompt tensions over the summer. Macron also plans to quickly pass a law to strengthen security measures — effectively making the state of emergency permanent, after multiple Islamic extremist attacks in France — and another one to put more ethics into French politics.

The government needs a new Assembly in place to vote on the bills. Macron called on French voters to give him a "majority to make changes" on the night of his victory May 7. "That's what the country wants and that's what it deserves," he said.

A minimum of 289 seats is required to secure an absolute majority. According to the latest polls, Macron's movement appears in a position to win potentially as many as 400 seats. The candidates of Republic on the Move include many newcomers in politics, like a retired bullfighter, a fighter pilot and a mathematical genius. Half of them are women.

Candidates from the conservative Republicans party are expected to arrive in second position, and other parties with possibly more than 100 seats. The Socialists, who dominated the last Assembly are expected to suffer a stinging defeat and win just a few dozen seats.

In the wake of far-right Marine Le Pen's qualification for the presidential runoff, the National Front party is expected to get its highest-ever score — but does not appear able to become the major opposition force Le Pen had hoped for. Polls project it could win about a dozen seats, in part because of a voting system that favors the biggest parties.

Marine Le Pen herself is running for a seat in Henin-Beaumont in northern France. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came in a strong fourth place in the presidential vote with nearly 20 percent support, is running for a parliamentary seat in the southern city of Marseille. His movement could obtain between 10 and 20 seats.

The turnout rate is expected to be low for France, with possibly only half of the voters going to the polls. To win in the first round, candidates need an absolute majority and support from at least a quarter of the district's registered voters.

Otherwise, all contenders who get at least 12.5 percent of the votes of registered voters advance to the second round. The French Parliament is made up of two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate. The legislative elections don't concern the Senate, which is currently run by a conservative majority.

The National Assembly always has the final say in the voting process of a law.

UK leader May strikes tentative deal with N Ireland party

June 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May struck a deal in principle with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party on Saturday to prop up the Conservative government, stripped of its majority in a disastrous election.

The result has demolished May's political authority, and she has also lost her two top aides, sacrificed in a bid to save their leader from being toppled by a furious Conservative Party. The moves buy May a temporary reprieve. But the ballot-box humiliation has seriously — and possibly mortally — wounded her leadership just as Britain is about to begin complex exit talks with the European Union.

May's office said Saturday that the Democratic Unionist Party, which has 10 seats in Parliament, had agreed to a "confidence and supply" arrangement with the government. That means the DUP will back the government on key votes, but it's not a coalition government or a broader pact.

Downing St. said the Cabinet will discuss the agreement on Monday. The announcement came after May lost Downing St. chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who resigned Saturday. They formed part of May's small inner circle and were blamed by many Conservatives for the party's lackluster campaign and unpopular election platform, which alienated older voters with its plan to take away a winter fuel allowance and make them pay more for long-term care.

In a resignation statement on the Conservative Home website, Timothy conceded that the campaign had failed to communicate "Theresa's positive plan for the future," and missed signs of surging support for the opposition Labour Party.

Some senior Tories had made the removal of Hill and Timothy a condition for continuing to support May, who has vowed to remain prime minister. May's party won 318 seats, 12 fewer than it had before May called a snap election, and eight short of the 326 needed for an outright majority. The main opposition Labor Party surpassed expectations by winning 262.

May announced later that Gavin Barwell — a former housing minister who lost his seat in Thursday's election — would be her new chief of staff. May said Barwell would help her "reflect on the election and why it did not deliver the result I hoped for."

Conservative legislator Nigel Evans said the departure of the two aides was "a start," but there needed to be changes to the way the government functioned in the wake of the campaign. He said the Conservative election manifesto — which Hill and Timothy were key in drafting — was "a full assault on the core Tory voters, who are senior citizens."

"It was a disaster," he said. "Our manifesto was full of fear and the Labor Party's manifesto was full of promises." Martin Selmayr, senior aide to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, responded to the resignations by tweeting the word "bauernopfer" — German for the sacrifice of a pawn in chess.

May called the early election when her party was comfortably ahead in the polls, in the hope of increasing her majority and strengthening Britain's hand in exit talks with the EU. Instead, the result has sown confusion and division in British ranks, just days before negotiations are due to start on June 19.

May wanted to win explicit backing for her stance on Brexit, which involves leaving the EU's single market and imposing restrictions on immigration while trying to negotiate free trade deal with the bloc. Some say her failure means the government must now take a more flexible approach to the divorce.

The Times of London said in an editorial that "the election appears to have been, among other things, a rejection of the vague but harshly worded prospectus for Brexit for which Mrs. May sought a mandate."

It added that "the logic leading to Mrs. May's departure from Downing St. is remorseless." The Downing St. resignations came as May worked to fill jobs in her minority government and replace ministers who lost their seats on Thursday. Her weakened position in the party rules out big changes, and May's office has said that the most senior Cabinet members — including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd — will keep their jobs, but she is expected to shuffle the lower ranks of ministers.

The arrangement with the DUP will make governing easier, but it makes some Conservatives uneasy. The DUP is a socially conservative pro-British Protestant group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and once appointed an environment minister who believes human-driven climate change is a myth.

The DUP was founded in the 1970s by the late firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, and in the 1980s was a key player in the "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign, which unsuccessfully fought against the legalization of gay sex.

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, said she had asked May for assurances that there would be no attack on gay rights after a deal with the DUP. Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. in which same-sex marriage is illegal.

"It's an issue very close to my heart and one that I wanted categoric assurances from the prime minister on, and I received (them)," said Davidson, who is engaged to be married to her female partner. DUP Leader Arlene Foster recently denied the party was homophobic.

"I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality. That's not a matter for me," she said. "When it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage." A deal between the government and the DUP could also unsettle the precarious balance between Northern Ireland's British loyalist and Irish nationalist parties.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, riding a wave of acclaim for his party's unexpectedly strong showing, called on May to resign. Newspaper headlines saw her as just clinging on. "May fights to remain PM," said the front page of the Daily Telegraph, while the Times of London said: "May stares into the abyss."

But she seems secure for the immediate future, because senior Conservatives don't want to plunge the party into a damaging leadership contest. "I don't think throwing us into a leadership battle at this moment in time, when we are about to launch into these difficult negotiations, would be in the best interests of the country," Evans said.

Wounded May soldiers on as election shock complicates Brexit

June 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) — In a political drama both brutal and surreal, British Prime Minister Theresa May tried Friday to carry on with the business of governing as usual, while her Conservative Party reeled from losing its parliamentary majority and her opponents demanded she resign.

An election that May called to strengthen her hand as Britain leaves the European Union ended with her political authority obliterated, her days in office likely numbered and the path to Brexit more muddied than ever.

Meanwhile the supposed loser, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, savored a surprisingly strong result and basked in the adulation of an energized, youthful base. British newspapers summed it up in a word: Mayhem.

The Conservatives built their election campaign around May's ostensible strengths as a "strong and stable" leader, and the outcome is a personal slap in the face. But May soldiered on Friday, re-appointing senior ministers to her Cabinet and holding talks with a small Northern Irish party about shoring up her minority government.

"I obviously wanted a different result last night," a grim-faced May acknowledged, promising she would "reflect on what happened." With results in from all 650 House of Commons seats after Thursday's vote, May's bruised Conservatives had 318 — short of the 326 they needed for an outright majority and well down from the 330 seats they had before May's roll of the electoral dice.

Labor had 262, up from 229, and the Scottish National Party 35, a loss of about 20 seats that complicates the party's plans to push for independence. The final result was announced almost 24 hours after polls closed. After three recounts, Labor took the wealthy London constituency of Kensington from the Conservatives by just 20 votes.

Speaking outside 10 Downing St., May scarcely acknowledged the election's disastrous outcome, promising to form "a government that can provide certainty." She said the government would start Brexit negotiations with the EU as scheduled in 10 days' time.

"This government will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks ... and deliver on the will of the British people by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union," she said after visiting Buckingham Palace to inform Queen Elizabeth II that she would try to form a new government.

This is the first time since the 1990s that Britain has a minority government, in which the governing party cannot get measures though Parliament without outside support. May said she was in talks with the Democratic Unionists — a socially conservative, pro-British Protestant party in Northern Ireland — on an agreement to "work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom."

Cutting a deal with the DUP, which won 10 seats, may not be straightforward. The party's opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage places it at odds with modernizing Conservatives. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson — a rising star in the party — tweeted a link to a speech she made in support of gay marriage, drawing on her own experiences as a lesbian Christian.

May's snap election call was the second time that a Conservative gamble on the issue of Britain's relations with Europe backfired. Her predecessor, David Cameron, first asked British voters to decide in 2016 whether to leave the EU. When voters stunned him and Europe by voting to leave, he resigned, leaving May to deal with the mess.

The latest election shock is "yet another own goal" that will make "already complex negotiations even more complicated," said the European Parliament's top Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt. Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said it's not even clear whether May will now lead those negotiations.

"She might start off doing that but the Conservatives might well replace her mid-stream," he said. "That's going to make it difficult for the EU 27 because they're going to want to know who they're talking to and what their policy is."

In the Conservative Party, recriminations were immediate and stinging. Many analysts said it was unlikely May could remain leader for long now that her authority has been eroded. Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, called her "a zombie prime minister."

"Honestly, it feels almost like she is almost not aware of what has happened in the last 24 hours," Conservative lawmaker Heidi Allen told LBC radio. Allen said she couldn't see May hanging on for "more than six months."

The election's biggest winner was Corbyn, who confounded expectations that his left-wing views made him electorally toxic. A buoyant Corbyn piled on pressure for May to resign, saying people have had enough of austerity politics and cuts in public spending.

"The arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost, and we need to change," he said. Initially blind-sided by May's snap election call, and written off by many pollsters, Labor surged in the final weeks of the campaign. It drew strong support from young people with the promise to abolish tuition fees, the hope of better jobs and a chance to own property.

"The young have a bad deal," said Ben Page, chief executive of pollster Ipsos MORI. "They didn't want to leave the EU. It appears clear they were determined this time to make a difference and vote." Page said Corbyn, a lifelong left-wing activist who has spent decades speaking to crowds, was underestimated as a campaigner. While he was demonized by conservative newspapers, on Facebook Corbyn was trending.

Voter turnout in the election was up from 66 percent in 2015 to almost 69 percent, and half a million more young people registered to vote than before the last election. "I felt passionate about voting to make sure Theresa May knew that young people like me would never support her or a Conservative government," said 23-year-old student Janet Walsh, who voted Labor. "I blame her party for destroying Britain by pushing for Brexit and austerity, two things that will ultimately be bad for my generation. This was the first time I voted."

From the start, an election called by May when polls gave her a commanding lead did not go to plan. She was criticized for a lackluster campaigning style and for a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the "dementia tax."

Then, attacks in Manchester and London killed a total of 30 people and twice brought the campaign to a halt. They sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government's record on fighting terrorism.

It's unclear what role the attacks and their aftermath played in the election result. But the uncertain outcome is more evidence that after the populist surges that produced Brexit and President Donald Trump — and the centrist fightbacks led by Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron — politics remains volatile and unpredictable.

For many British voters, the feeling after the country's third major vote in as many years was weariness. "We're in another mess again, and probably we're going to have to have another election, and it's all such a waste of time at the end of the day," said 85-year-old Londoner Patricia Nastri.

Associated Press writers Paisley Dodds, Sylvia Hui, Gregory Katz, Jo Kearney, Sophie Berman and Niko Price in London and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this story

Al-Qaeda-linked group claims deadly UN base attack in Mali


LONDON - A powerful Al-Qaeda-linked group on Friday claimed an attack on a United Nations camp that killed three peacekeepers in Kidal in Mali's troubled north.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, a fusion of three Malian jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links, posted a statement on its Telegram channel saying it had targeted the UN base "with a set of mortar shells", wounding soldiers and causing significant material damage, the SITE extremism monitor reported.

The UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, said earlier on Friday their Kidal camp "came under heavy rocket/mortar fire" and "a little later a position nearby was attacked" outside their base, killing three peacekeepers and wounding eight more.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, also known as Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen in Arabic, is a fusion of three Malian jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links formed in March.

Led by the Malian jihadist Iyad Ag Ghaly, a former leader of the Ansar Dine Islamists, the group has claimed multiple attacks on domestic and foreign forces since its formation.

The UN mission said it "condemned in the strongest terms these cowardly attacks against its personnel and the danger they cause for the civilian population."

The attack is just the latest to target the 12,000-strong force in the west African nation. Guinean and Chadian soldiers make up the majority of troops stationed at the Kidal camp.

MINUSMA began work in 2013, providing security and assisting Malian troops struggling to keep the country safe. It has been targeted constantly by jihadists, with dozens of peacekeepers killed.

Northern Mali fell to jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in March 2012, including Ansar Dine, and although these forces were driven out of key towns by a French-led military intervention the following year, the Islamists have now spread further south.

Since 2015, jihadists have targeted Mali's center and their activities have spilled over into neighboring countries including Niger and Burkina Faso.

Their last attack killed two peacekeepers on May 23 near Aguelhok, near the border with Algeria, while a Liberian peacekeeper was killed earlier in May close to Timbuktu.

Both attacks were also claimed by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims.

France on Tuesday asked the UN Security Council to authorize the deployment of a five-nation African military force to buttress the fight against jihadists in the Sahel region, with its base in Mali.

The force would be under a separate command from MINUSMA and France's own counter-terror force in the Sahel region, but will be backed by the UN and European Union.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83467.

13 Philippine marines killed in fighting with militants

June 10, 2017

ILIGAN, Philippines (AP) — Thirteen Philippine marines were killed in fierce fighting with Muslim militants who have laid siege to southern Marawi city for nearly a month in the biggest single-day loss for government forces, the military said Saturday.

The marines were conducting a house-to-house search for militants allied with the Islamic State group who are still occupying parts of Marawi when the battle erupted Friday, said Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman for the Philippine army's 1st Infantry Division.

He said that about 30-40 militants used civilians as human shields, making it hard for troops to operate, and also positioned themselves in the city's many mosques. Forty other marines were wounded, he said.

The government had earlier said that the unrest had left 20 civilians, 134 militants and 39 government troops dead. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the city, parts of which were reduced to rubble by fighting and government airstrikes in an attempt to dislodge the rebels.

"This temporary setback has not diminished our resolve a bit," said military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo. "It instead primed up our determination to continue our prudent advances to neutralize the enemy, save the innocent lives trapped in the fight, and set the conditions for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines and home to a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion.