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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bangladesh reinstalls justice statue that irked Islamists

May 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flying Green in Bangladesh

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bangladesh approves Saudi-funded mosque project


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bangladesh police fire tear gas at anti-coal protest

26 January 2017 Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Nearly 500 suspects stand trial over Turkey's failed coup

August 01, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

7 staff members of opposition newspaper leave Turkish jail

July 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 11.

Turkish police chase away transgender marchers in Istanbul

July 02, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 ruling party officials shot and killed in Turkey

July 02, 2017

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

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

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

Turkish, Qatari ministers meet amid crisis with Arab states

June 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkey remembers Istanbul airport attack


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erdogan rejects Arab demands; Turkish troops stay in Qatar

June 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN says it is concerned about LNA siege of Derna

Tunis, 6 August 2017

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, has expressed concern about reports of severe shortages of medicine and other basic necessities in Derna.

The town, controlled by Islamist mujahideen, has been subject to a blockade by the Libyan National Army. However, this was tightened last week following the execution by the mujahideen of the LNA’s Air Colonel Adel Jehani whose plane was shot down near the town. Responding to the killing, the head of the Omar Mukhtar Operations Room tasked with taking Derna, Brigadier Salem Rifadi, last Sunday declared a total blockade. No food, medicines, cooking gas, petrol or anything else would be allowed in, he said.

For the past week, all roads in and out of the town have been blocked. Three days ago, faced with deteriorating conditions and fearing a humanitarian disaster, Derna’s council of elders issued an appeal.

“The town is being slaughtered in cold-blood by the siege. We call on all to put an end to it,” it said.

Telling on all sides in the conflict to respect humanitarian and human rights law, Ribeiro has called on the LNA to relax the blockade.

“I urge all parties to consider the safety and the wellbeing of the civilians a top priority and allow for the safe delivery of humanitarian supplies to ensure continued access to basic services, especially health”, she said.

The State Council’s second deputy president has added his voice to concerns about the siege, calling on Arab and European countries to put pressure on the LNA to lft it.

Source: Libya Herald.
Link: https://www.libyaherald.com/2017/08/06/un-says-it-is-concerned-about-lna-siege-of-derna/.

Venezuela's new assembly declares itself all-powerful

August 09, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The new constitutional assembly assumed even more power in Venezuela by declaring itself as the superior body to all other governmental institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.

That decree came Tuesday just hours after the assembly delegates took control of a legislative chamber and put up pictures of the late President Hugo Chavez, who installed Venezuela's socialist system.

Delcy Rodriguez, the head of the ruling socialist party and leader of the body, said the unanimously approved decree prohibits lawmakers in congress from taking any action that would interfere with laws passed by the newly installed constitutional assembly.

"We are not threatening anyone," said Aristobulo Isturiz, the constitutional assembly's first vice president. "We are looking for ways to coexist." Leaders of congress, which previously voted not to recognize any of the new super-body's decrees, said lawmakers would try to meet in the gold-domed legislative palace Wednesday, but there were questions whether security officers guarding the building would let them in.

The opposition to President Nicolas Maduro also faced another fight Wednesday before the government-stacked Supreme Court, which scheduled a hearing on charges against a Caracas-area opposition mayor. The judges convicted another mayor Tuesday for failing to move against protesters during four months of political unrest.

In calling the July 30 election for the constitutional assembly, Maduro said a new constitution would help resolve the nation's political standoff, but opposition leaders view it is a power grab and the president's allies have said they will go after his opponents. Before its decree declaring itself all-powerful, the assembly ousted Venezuela's outspoken chief prosecutor, established a "truth commission" expected to target Maduro's foes and pledged "support and solidarity" with the unpopular president.

The latest surge of protests began in early April in reaction to a quickly rescinded attempt by the government-supporting Supreme Court to strip the National Assembly of its powers. But the unrest ballooned into a widespread movement fed by anger over Venezuela's triple-digest inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and high crime.

Opposition lawmakers said security forces led by Rodriguez broke into the congress building late Monday and seized control of an unused, ceremonial chamber almost identical to the one where lawmakers meet.

"This government invades the spaces that it is not capable of legitimately winning," Stalin Gonzalez, an opposition lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, alluding to the opposition's overwhelming victory in the 2015 congressional elections.

Before the assembly met Tuesday, the pro-government Supreme Court sentenced a Caracas-area mayor to 15 months in prison for not following an order to remove barricades set up during anti-government demonstrations.

Ramon Muchacho was the fourth opposition mayor ordered arrested by the high court the past two weeks. His whereabouts were not known, but he denounced the ruling on Twitter. The constitutional assembly's meeting Tuesday came amid mounting criticism from foreign governments that have refused to recognize the new body.

The foreign ministers of 17 Western Hemisphere nations met in Peru to discuss how to force Maduro to back down. The ministers issued a statement after the meeting condemning the body and reiterating previous calls for the parties in Venezuela to negotiate on ending the political crisis.

Meanwhile, leaders from the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations, met in Caracas and declared the creation of the constitutional assembly a "sovereign act" aimed at helping Venezuela overcome its difficulties.

"We reiterate the call for a constructive and respectful dialogue," the alliance said in a statement read after the meeting. Since the disputed election, security forces have stepped up their presence. A U.N. human rights commissioner report issued Tuesday warned of "widespread and systematic use" of excessive force, arbitrary detention and other rights violations against demonstrators.

Only a few dozen demonstrators heeded the opposition's call to set up traffic-snarling roadblocks in Caracas on Tuesday to show opposition to the new assembly, underlining the fear and resignation among that has weakened turnout for street protests that once drew hundreds of thousands. At least 124 people have been killed and hundreds injured or detained during the protests.

Powerful Venezuela assembly meets again as pressure mounts

August 08, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Foreign ministers from 14 nations are meeting in Peru on Tuesday in hopes of finding consensus on a regional response to Venezuela's growing political crisis, while President Nicolas Maduro's all-powerful constitutional assembly is forging ahead on promises to punish the embattled leader's foes.

The assembly was expected to gather at the stately legislative palace in Caracas for the first time since voting Saturday to remove the nation's outspoken chief prosecutor, a move that drew condemnation from many of the same regional government that are sending representatives to the meeting in Peru's capital.

Peru's president has been vocal in rejecting the new assembly, but the region has found that agreeing on any collective actions has proved tricky. Still, Venezuela is facing mounting pressure and threats of deepening sanctions from trade partners, including a recent suspension from South America's Mercosur.

Despite growing international criticism, Maduro has remained firm in pressing the constitutional assembly forward in executing his priorities. He called for a special meeting Tuesday in Caracas of the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations.

The new constitutional assembly has signaled it will act swiftly in following through with Maduro's commands, voting Saturday to replace chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz with a government loyalist and create a "truth commission" that will wield unusual power to prosecute and levy sentences.

"It should be clear: We arrived there to help President Nicolas Maduro, but also to create strong bases for the construction of Bolivarian and Chavista socialism," Diosdado Cabello, a leader of the ruling socialist party and member of the new assembly, told a crowd of supporters Monday.

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, vowed to remain in their posts in their only government foothold — the country's single-chamber congress, the National Assembly. John Magdaleno, director of the Caracas-based consulting firm POLITY, said that rather than having co-existing assemblies and chief prosecutors, it is more likely that opposition-controlled institutions will be rendered powerless as Maduro's administration further consolidates Venezuela into an authoritarian state.

The opposition-dominated National Assembly "will be a body that in principal co-exists with the constitutional assembly but that will surely be displaced in practice," Magdaleno said. National Assembly president Julio Borges told fellow lawmakers Monday that they should keep an active presence in the legislative palace despite threats from the constitutional assembly to strip them of any authority and lock up key leaders. Borges called the building, with its gold cupola, the "symbol of popular sovereignty."

"We are a testament to the fight for democracy," he said. "It should be known this assembly was true to its mandate." In theory, both the National Assembly and the constitutional assembly could operate simultaneously, but the new super body created through a July 30 election has the authority to trump any other branch of government — and Venezuela's leaders have promised to do just that.

National Assembly members voted unanimously Monday not to recognize any of the new super body's decrees. "The intent is to pursue those who think differently," lawmaker Delsa Solorzano said of the constitutional assembly's plans.

Cabello said that the new assembly's decisions have all aligned strictly with the 1999 constitution crafted by the late President Hugo Chavez and that the new assembly would be in power for "at least two years."

"This is a completely legal process," he said. The widening political gulf comes as opposition parties face a rapidly approaching deadline to decide whether they will take part in regional elections scheduled for December. Candidates are expected to sign up to run this week. Opposition members refused to participate in the election for delegates to the constitutional assembly but have thus far been divided on taking part in the contests for governors.

While Maduro's popular support is estimated to run at no higher than 20 percent, some opposition leaders are skeptical of running in regional elections they fear could be rigged. The official turnout count in the constitutional assembly election has been questioned at home and abroad. The CEO of voting technology company Smartmatic said last week that the results were "without a doubt" tampered with and off by at least 1 million votes.

On Sunday, a band of 20 anti-government fighters attacked an army base in an apparent attempt to foment an uprising. The men managed to reach the barracks' weapons supply. Ten escaped, but two were killed and the remaining eight were captured after battling with soldiers for three hours, Maduro said.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said special units were being activated Monday to assist in the search for the escapees, who remained at large more than 24 hours after the attack.

Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Miami contributed to this report.

Migrant center in Berlin brings Germany Arabic culture

August 08, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany is the country of Goethe and Kant, Bach and Beethoven. But recent migrants are hoping to sprinkle Arabic poetry and Middle Eastern music, into that mix. At the "Between Us" cultural center in the German capital, migrants meet regularly to share their art, poetry and music — both to provide a flavor of home, and to educate the native citizens of their new home.

"There are almost no libraries with Arabic books or institutions for Arab culture here," said Muhannad Qaiconie, the 30-year old founder of the center. "Still, Berlin is now a hotspot for Syrian authors, artists and musicians, and we want to give them a meeting place and a platform."

Nearly 900,000 migrants flooded into Germany in 2015 and hundreds of thousands more have arrived since then, the largest single group being refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. Qaiconie, a native of the Syrian city of Aleppo, arrived two years ago, and founded the center this summer for his fellow Syrians and anyone else interested in stopping by.

The center, in a room on the top floor of a 16-story refugee hostel in central Berlin, hosts poetry readings and has a library that holds a collection of Arab books. It's funded by donations and staffed by volunteers.

On the weekends, Syrian musicians are invited to play at the center's outdoor space, on the rooftop of the hostel. At a recent concert Nabil Arbaain, who arrived as an asylum seeker from Syria two summers ago, charmed the crowd with melodies played on the oud, a pear-shaped instrument commonly used in Middle Eastern music, accompanied by a German guitarist and a Syrian percussionist.

The audience is international. Arabic is mixed with English and German and the crowd cheers after each song. In the background, the sun sets over the Berlin skyline. "Some people don't know anything about Syria" said Arbaain, 36, after the concert. "So we have to work hard to fix the image."

Arbaain travels across Germany to play concerts, and said in addition to fellow Syrians longing for a taste of their homeland, many Germans turn out to listen. Some have preconceived notions about migrants, but he said the first-hand contact and cultural exchange helps immediately.

"It is not so difficult to change German people's minds," he said. Meantime, Arbaain said migrants have their own challenges to work on, like learning the German language, which is helped by mixing with local residents.

"German is not hard — it's the first 100 years that are difficult and then it gets easy," he joked. But kidding aside, Qaiconie said most migrants that he knows are anxious to shed the name "refugee" and be accepted as individuals.

"When I introduce myself I don't introduce myself as a refugee, I introduce myself as a student," said Qaiconie, who is now working on a BA in English literature and philosophy at a small college in Berlin. "I don't think anyone likes being called a refugee."

The cultural center's library, which is open one day a week, attracts a steady flow of people looking for books. Most are looking for volumes they might have owned before fleeing or books that can help them with their studies, but some come because they are themselves writing about their experiences as migrants, and need help and inspiration.

With the passage of time and support of such efforts, Qaiconie said, he hopes that Syrian culture will become a part of Germany. "I think we will add to German society," he said. "We won't just take but we will add."

French president Macron wants to give a role to his wife

August 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — After more than three years without a first lady, the French don't appear to be very eager to get a new one. President Emmanuel Macron wants to formalize the role of his wife Brigitte, but critics say that would be too costly. The president's office is preparing a formal communication in coming days, Brigitte Macron's office said Tuesday.

During his presidential campaign, the 39-year-old outspoken centrist promised more "transparency" on the issue. Unlike in the U.S., France's first lady doesn't have an official status. As the president's popularity drops in polls, more than 280,000 people have signed a petition in the past few weeks against Macron's plan to grant a formal budget to finance his wife's activities.

"There's no reason why the spouse of the head of state would get a budget from public funds," the petition says. However the petition isn't pushing to get rid of Brigitte Macron's existing office and staff. It says her current setup — an office at the Elysee palace, two advisers, two secretaries as well as bodyguards — is "sufficient" and she shouldn't need an official budget or money for special activities.

It's not yet clear exactly what the president wants the first lady's role to be. His plan isn't to change the French Constitution or make a bill to give official status to his wife, but to publish a charter that would detail her public role, her staff and the cost to the French taxpayer, an official in Brigitte Macron's office told The Associated Press on customary condition of anonymity.

No estimation has been given of the cost of Brigitte Macron's current office or any potential changes. The status of the president's partner is a sensitive issue in France following a series of scandals in the past few decades, including Macron predecessor Francois Hollande's complex private life.

Hollande entered office with his girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler at his side, but she left him after a tabloid magazine exposed Hollande's secret affair with actress Julie Gayet in January 2014. The French got used to the absence of a first lady: Gayet never publicly appeared by Hollande's side.

Before him, Sarkozy was the first French president to divorce and remarry while in office. His former wife, Cecilia, had a prominent role at his side. The couple divorced in the first year of his term. Sarkozy then remarried, to supermodel Carla Bruni.

But the major scandal remains the one surrounding Francois Mitterrand, president from 1981 to 1995. Mitterrand had a secret family made up of his mistress, Anne Pingeot, and their daughter, who lived in a state-owned apartment in Paris.

Macron once said he wants to end "French hypocrisy" about the status of presidential spouses. The person living with the president "must be able to play a role and be recognized for that role" but wouldn't be paid for it, he said before his election.

Macron created an inseparable team with his wife Brigitte during his presidential campaign, something more often seen on American political stages than in France. Brigitte Macron, 64, a former teacher at Emmanuel Macron's high school, attended most of her husband's rallies. The president doesn't hide that she is also his close political adviser.

Lawmaker Clementine Autain, from the far-left movement France Insoumise, called the idea of giving official status to the first lady "stupid." "I'm sorry, but there's no need for a status of first lady in a democratic, modern, 21st-century system," she told BFM television.

Kenyan president leads in nearly complete election results

August 09, 2017

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was leading challenger Raila Odinga by a significant margin Wednesday in nearly complete election results, but the opposition said the counting process was flawed and disputed the tally.

The website of Kenya's election commission showed Kenyatta with 54.8 percent and opposition leader Odinga with 44.4 percent after votes were counted from more than 35,000 of the 40,833 polling stations. The commission did not release information about which constituencies had been counted, although Kenyan television news channels later showed results from individual areas that confirmed Kenyatta's lead.

The election body's omission of constituency results prompted sharp criticism from Odinga, who also ran against Kenyatta in the 2013 vote and unsuccessfully challenged the results in court with allegations of vote-tampering. The longtime opposition figure also ran in the 2007 election, which was followed by violence fueled by ethnic divisions that killed more than 1,000 people.

"A clean credible process would by now have a dashboard showing all tallies from all constituencies to add to a sum total so that country can know which part of the country has been counted and what the votes are," Odinga said in a statement Wednesday.

"The system has failed," Odinga said. He added that the election commission "has just said that no parties have disputed the results. How do parties dispute results which they do not even know their origins?"

Election officials acknowledged the opposition objection, but defended their actions. "We believe that by displaying results, we have been doing well to enhance transparency and accountability in the electoral process, consistent with the commitment the commission has made to the Kenya people," said commissioner Consalata Bucha Nkatha Maina, vice chairwoman of the election commission.

The commission's CEO, Ezra Chiloba, also said a results screen at the commission's counting center had frozen because too much data was being received, and that tallies would be updated later Wednesday morning.

A similar situation with a systems failure in the 2013 election led to Odinga's legal challenge at the time, though Kenya's Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kenyatta by validating the results. Kenyatta, the 55-year-old son of Kenya's first president after independence from British colonial rule, campaigned this year on a record of major infrastructure projects, many backed by China, and claimed strong economic growth. Odinga, 72, also the son of a leader of the independence struggle, cast himself as a champion of the poor and a harsh critic of endemic corruption.

However, many voters were expected to vote along ethnic lines. Kenyatta is widely seen as the candidate of the Kikuyu people, the country's largest ethnic group. Odinga is associated with the Luo voting bloc, which has never produced a head of state. There were six other presidential candidates, though they lack the wide support of the top two.

The winner of the presidential race must get more than 50 percent of the votes as well as one-quarter or more votes in at least 24 of Kenya's 47 counties, according to officials. If the front-runner falls short of those benchmarks, the two top contenders will contest a runoff vote.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is the chief election observer for The Carter Center, described Tuesday's vote as "an inspiring day in Kenya watching democracy in action." "Enthusiastic voters not fazed by long lines," he tweeted.

NKorea nukes, missiles top concerns in Japan defense review

August 08, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — The threat to Japan from North Korea has reached a "new stage" now that the country is capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons program has advanced, a defense ministry report said Tuesday.

North Korea was the main concern cited as Japan's Cabinet approved the report, less than two weeks after the North test-fired a second ICBM that analysts say has a range that could include more of the U.S. mainland, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

The security review came just a week after Itsunori Onodera, who was defense minister in 2012-2014, resumed that job when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamped his Cabinet after a slew of politically costly scandals.

Onodera told reporters Friday he planned to update Japan's defense guidelines to reflect the threat from the North, suggesting he may seek an offensive missile capability. "North Korea's missile launches have escalated tensions both in terms of quality and quantity. I would like to study if our current missile defense is sufficient just with the Aegis destroyers and (surface-to-air) PAC 3," said Onodera, who headed a ruling party study in March that called for beefing up Japan's missile response capability.

The ICBM North Korea tested July 30 flew on a highly lofted trajectory and landed about 200 kilometers (120 miles) off Japan's Hokkaido island. North Korea has been increasing the range, accuracy and versatility of its missiles and diversifying its launch sites and methods. It has conducted two nuclear tests and more than 20 missile launches over the past year alone, exceeding the total of 16 missiles launched over 18 years under former leader Kim Jong Il, the report said.

"North Korea's development of ballistic missiles and its nuclear program are becoming increasingly real and imminent problems for the Asia-Pacific region including Japan, as well as the rest of the world," it said.

The 532-page defense report also raised concerns over China's ongoing assertiveness in air and maritime activity in the regional seas, and raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the country's military buildup with its budget tripling over the past decade.

While North Korea's intentions are mainly to put the mainland U.S. in range, its weapons advancements have furthered Abe's effort to beef up the role of Japan's military and its missile defenses. Joint exercises with its ally the U.S., also, have dramatically increased. The Defense Ministry already plans to acquire upgraded ship-to-air interceptors SM-3 Block IIAs and mobile PAC-3 MSEs, which would double the coverage area of Japan's current defenses.

The defense report was originally meant to be issued Aug. 1, but that was delayed by the Cabinet reshuffle. Days before that, defense minister Tomomi Inada stepped down after admitting that ministry officials had covered up information about dangers faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops while they were stationed in South Sudan.

The rise in regional tensions with both China and North Korea has raised the level of alert in Japan. Despite Onodera's comments, the ministry's report did not mention the possibility of installing more advanced defense systems such as the land-based Aegis Ashore or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missiles, or THAAD, or allowing Japan's self-defense-only troops to conduct retaliatory attacks as proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The THAAD system was deployed last year in South Korea, much to the irritation of China, which has opposed the installation of systems that it suspects could be used to conduct surveillance from outside its borders.

In the East China Sea, China has stepped up activity around Japanese-controlled islands claimed by both countries, expanding to the south and also elsewhere along the Japanese coast, the Defense Ministry report said.

Increased Chinese activity in the East China Sea prompted Japanese air defense troops to scramble against Chinese military aircraft a record 851 times during fiscal 2016, up from 571 times the year before.

"China, particularly when it comes to maritime issues where its interests conflict with others, continues to act in a coercive manner," the report said. It expressed "strong concern" over China's behavior and its impact on regional security.

Rescuers gather bodies after southwest China quake kills 13

August 09, 2017

BEIJING (AP) — Rescuers picked away rubble from around a body in an area shaken by a powerful earthquake in mountainous southwestern China, then stood silently in a row, with helmets off and heads bowed to pay their respects.

Tuesday night's magnitude 6.5 quake killed at least 13 people and injured 175, authorities said Wednesday. It also knocked out power and phone networks, complicating efforts to locate and evacuate survivors.

State broadcaster China Central Television showed footage of orange-suited rescuers finding the body and using detectors to search for survivors in the dark of night, carrying a girl to safety and leading other people along a rubble-strewn road.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for rapid efforts to respond to the disaster, which struck a quake-prone region bordered by Sichuan and Gansu provinces at around 9:20 p.m. Tuesday. The area is on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and home to many Tibetan and other ethnic minority villages. It's also near Jiuzhaigou, or Jiuzhai Valley, a national park known for spectacular waterfalls and karst formations that attracts visitors from China and overseas.

Among the injured, 28 were listed in serious condition on Wednesday morning, according to the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture government in Sichuan. At least five of the dead were tourists, China's official Xinhua News Agency said. Hong Kong's immigration department said one of the city's residents was missing in the quake.

A Canadian woman suffered a slight head injury and a Frenchman was wounded in both legs and needed surgery to remove stone fragments, according to Xinhua. It said Frenchman Maxence Vallon, 18, was staying with his mother and brother at a hotel in Jiuzhaigou.

They were seeking shelter outside "when a big stone fell and hit my brother right in the leg," said Romain Vallon, who studies in Beijing. The dead included a performer in an arts group who was buried in the quake and found Wednesday morning. She and others had been performing in Jiuzhaigou when the quake struck. According to the Legal Evening News, they were acting out a scene about a deadly 2008 earthquake that struck nearby and killed nearly 90,000 people. When the quake hit, the performers ran off the stage in terror and the audience thought the tremor was part of the show.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 6.5, striking at a shallow depth of just 9 kilometers (5.5 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones. The China Earthquake Networks Center said the quake had at magnitude of 7.0 and a depth of 20 kilometers (12 miles).

It's not unusual for magnitude and depth readings to vary due to different technologies in use and the timing and distance from where quakes are measured. The earthquake's epicenter was about 39 kilometers (24 miles) from the county seat of Jiuzhaigou, which has a population of around 80,000, and was 285 kilometers (177 miles) from Chengdu, Sichuan's densely populated provincial capital, according to the Chinese quake center.

Xinhua said strong tremors could be felt in Chengdu and other cities in the area. Jiuzhaigou county lost electricity following the quake, said a man surnamed Song who answered the phone at a local emergency office in Aba prefecture, where Jiuzhaigou National Park is located.

Xinhua said more than 30,000 tourists visiting Jiuzhaigou were relocated to safer accommodations by tourist bus and private vehicle. On Wednesday morning, another strong earthquake struck in far northwestern China, some 2,200 kilometers (1,360 miles) from Jiuzhaigou, injuring three villagers whose home collapsed, Xinhua reported. That quake was measured at magnitude 6.3 by the USGS and 6.6 by China's agency and struck in a sparsely populated area of the Xinjiang region near the Kazakhstan border.

Earthquakes are common in China's west, although casualties are generally low because of the sparse population density. China's deadliest earthquake this century, a magnitude 7.9 temblor in May 2008, struck the same mountainous prefecture as Tuesday's quake, killing nearly 90,000 people.

Associated Press researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report.