Monday, April 17, 2017

Erdoğan wins narrow victory in referendum for sweeping powers

 The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has achieved a narrow victory in a historic referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that will grant him sweeping new powers.
Sadi Güven, the head of Turkey’s high electoral board (YSK), confirmed the passage of the referendum on Sunday night, based on unofficial results.
The yes campaign won 1.25m more votes than the no campaign, with only about 600,000 votes still to be counted, Güven told reporters in Ankara, meaning the expanded presidential powers had been approved.
However, disparities persisted into Sunday evening, with the opposition saying not all ballots had been counted and they would contest a third of the votes that had been cast.
Güven said the YSK had decided to consider unstamped ballots as valid unless they were proved to be fraudulent, after a high number of complaints – including one from the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) – that its officials had failed to stamp some ballot papers.
The no campaign said the YSK’s last-minute decision raised questions about the validity of the vote. But Güven said the decision was taken before results were entered into the system and that members of the AKP and the main opposition were present at almost all polling stations and signed off on reports. He said official results were expected in 11-12 days.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

At least 126 killed in blast near Aleppo

A large blast has killed at least 126 people in an attack near buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns, according to a monitoring group. The explosion on Saturday in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, targeted residents who were evacuated from the rebel-besieged towns of Fouaa and Kefraya in Idlib province under a deal reached between the Syrian government and rebels.The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Sunday said at least 126 people were killed in the blast, raising a previous death toll of 112. Syria: Evacuation buses leave Madaya, Zabadani for Idlib At least 68 children were among those killed, the monitor said. The Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria, had said on Saturday that at least 100 people were killed, while a report on Syrian state TV had given a death toll of 39.While there was no confirmation as to what caused the blast, state media said a "suicide bomber" allegedly used a van meant for carrying aid supplies to enter the area. The SOHR said the explosion came from a vehicle-born improvised explosive device. Al Jazeera's Adham Abul Hussam, reporting from the scene of the attack, said dozens of bodies littered the ground and ambulances were packed with victims. "The civil defence teams are recovering the bodies and searching for survivors. Many of the buses were totally destroyed," he said.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Saudi coalition poised to take Yemen's most important port, famine is looming

The Internationale Crisis Group (ICG) reports: 
 Yemenis are starving because of war. No natural disaster is responsible. No amount of humanitarian aid can solve the underlying problem. Without an immediate, significant course change, portions of the country, in the 21st century and under the watch of the Security Council, will likely tip into famine.  (NB this is a slightly abridged version of the ICG report)

 By numbers, Yemen is suffering from the largest food crisis in the world. According to the UN, an estimated seventeen million persons, 60 per cent of the population and three million more than were so afflicted at the start of the year, are food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance to save lives. Seven of the country’s 22 governorates are at a phase four emergency food insecurity level, one step away from phase five: famine. Areas affected include both government and Huthi/Saleh controlled governorates. UNICEF reports that 460,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Russia and Iran warn that there will be a response when the US attacks Syria again


 Damage assessment of the American attacks on Syria's airbase Shayrat. (Reuters)

A joint command center made up of the forces of Russian, Iran and allied militia alliance supporting Syrian President Bashar al Assad said the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base crossed "red lines" and it would now respond to any new aggression and increase their level of support to their ally.
"What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well," said the statement published by the group on media outlet Ilam al Harbi.

Egypt: Bomb attacks on churches kill at least 44, Sisi orders state of emergency

(Photo Mada Masr)

Updated. At least 44 people were killed in Egypt in bomb attacks at the cathedral of the Coptic Pope and a church in Tanta on Palm Sunday, and more than 100 people were injured. Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al Sissi ordered troop deployments and declared a three-month state of emergency.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred a week before Coptic Easter, with Pope Francis scheduled to visit Egypt later this month.
The assault is the latest on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants, and a challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100 km north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St. George (Mar Girgis) Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.
The second, a few hours later in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark's Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers who tried to stop the attacker from entering the cathedral, and injuring 48, the ministry added.
Coptic Pope Tawadros had been leading the mass at Saint Mark's Cathedral at the time of the explosion but was not injured, the Interior Ministry said.

Friday, April 7, 2017

President Tump attacks Syria with cruise missiles in reaction to ''Syrian chemical bombardment''

The United States has for the first time interved directly in Syria in the seven years that the conflict is running in that country.  On Friday it fired 59 cruise missiles at a government-controlled airbase in Syria, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town that killed scores of civilians.
The Pentagon said the Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield, targeting the base from where US officials believe Tuesday's attack in Khan Sheikhoun had been launched. At least six people were killed in the early morning strike, according to the Syrian army, which denounced the US "aggression" as a violation of international law.
US President Donald Trump said in a televised statement after the strike: "There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council."

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Jordan hangs 15 people, 10 of them ''terrorists''

Troops closed the entrances to Irbid during a firefight with the ''Ibid terror cell'' in March 2016.

Jordan hanged 15 death row prisoners at dawn on Saturday, in a further break with a moratorium on executions it had observed between 2006 and 2014. Ten were convicted of "terror" offences, including attacks on tourists, a writer, and security forces. Five others were convicted of crimes including rape, Mahmud al-Momani, Jordanian information minister told the official Petra news agency. The group of 10 were part of the so-called "Irbid terror cell", which was responsible for several attacks.
In 2005, King Abdullah II said Jordan aimed to become the first Middle Eastern country to stop carrying out executions, in line with most European countries. Courts continued to hand down death sentences, but they were not carried out. But public opinion blamed a rise in crime on the policy and in December 2014 Jordan hanged 11 men convicted of murder, drawing criticism from human rights groups. Opinion hardened after the murder by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group of captured Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh whose plane had crashed in a rebel-held region of Syria in December 2014. Grisly footage posted in February the following year of him being burned alive in a cage outraged the public.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mubarak goes free after last acquittal

Egypt's former strongman Hosni Mubarak is able to walk free after the Court of Cassation acquitted him on Thursday in his retrial on charges of killing protesters during the 25 January Revolution. Today's verdict is final.
In June 2012, Mubarak was sentenced by a criminal court to life in prison - 20 years in jail per Egyptian law -  for his complicity in the murder of protestors during the 18-day January 2011 uprising that ended his 30-year rule. However, in January 2013, the Cassation Court overturned Mubarak's conviction and ordered a retrial. The Cassation Court also upheld the acquittal of other defendants in the same case, including Mubarak's last interior minister Habib El-Adly and four of his aides.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kuwait executes seven people, including a prince

Kuwait has hanged seven prisoners, including a royal family member, according to a statement carried by the state-run KUNA news agency.The hangings on Wednesday were the first executions in the Gulf state since mid-2013. Its neighbour state, Bahrain, also executed three people recently.
Those executed in Kuwait included two Kuwaitis, two Egyptians, a Bangladeshi,a Filipina and an Ethiopian. They were convicted of offences ranging from murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and rape.The Kuwaiti government identified the royal as Sheikh Faisal Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah. He was convicted of shooting to death his nephew, another prince, in 2010 in what was a premeditated murder. He was also convicted of illegal possession of a firearm.
Nusra al-Enezi, a Kuwaiti woman found guilty of setting fire to a tent at her husband's wedding in 2009 as he married a second wife, was also executed. During the process she confessed that the fire, that killed 57 people, most women and children, was an act of revenge.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Egyptian high vourt rejects deal with S Arabia about islands in the Gulf of Aqaba

A top Egyptian courtm the High Administrative Court, has issued a final ruling rejecting a government plan to transfer two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in a deal that had provoked outrage among Egyptians and prompted rare protests.
Cheers broke out in the Cairo courtroom as the judge read out the verdict confirming Egyptian sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir and saying that the government had failed to provide evidence that the islands were Saudi.
The islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba control the narrow shipping lanes running north to the Red Sea port cities of Eilat and Aqaba, in Israel and Jordan.
The verdict, which is final, is a slap on the hnds of the Egy[ptian government that gave the islands away in exchange for a large Saudi loan. The case provoked angry reactions and three Egyptian lawyers filed a lawsuit. The verdict is bound to add to the friction that alraedy has risen between Riyadh and Cairo over a string of regional issues, including Syria and Yemen.

Bahrain executes three shia men convicted of killing police officers in 2014

Bahrain on Sunday has executed three Shia men who were convicted of killing three police officers in a bomb attack in March 2014, the authorities say.They were killed by a firing squad. The executions of the three men, who Bahraini officials say were part of the listed terrorist group Saraya al-Ashtar, are the first since a 2011 uprising, led by the Shia majority, calling for greater political rights. A week earlier a high court upheld their convictions.
Human rights officials say there are serious concerns that evidence may have been obtained under torture.The UN's special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Agnes Callamard, condemned the executions in a tweet saying: "Torture, unfair trial + flimsy evidence: these are extrajudicial killings."
"This is a black day in Bahrain's history. It is the most heinous crime committed by the government of Bahrain and a shame upon its rulers... This act is a security threat to Bahrain and the entire region," Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy told Reuters news agency.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani 1934-2017

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died on Sunday at the age of 82, a big blow to moderates and reformists deprived now of a most influential supporter in the Islamic establishment.
His pragmatic policies – economic liberalization, better relations with the West and empowering elected bodies - appealed to many Iranians but were despised by hardliners.Few have wielded such influence in modern Iran. But since 2009 Rafsanjani and his family faced political isolation over their support for the opposition movement which lost a disputed election that year to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rafsanjani headed the Expediency Council, a body which is intended to resolve disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council. He was also a member of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that selects the supreme leader, Iran's most powerful figure. His absence from that debate, whenever it happens, means the chances of a pragmatist emerging as the next supreme leader are reduced. His death ahead of May's presidential elections is a blow to moderate president Hassan Rouhani who allied himself with Rafsanjani to win the 2013 election and went on to resolve Iran's long standoff with the West on the nuclear program.