Sunday, June 30, 2013

Taking Outsize Role in Syria, Qatar Funnels Arms to Rebels

    Sunday, June 30, 2013   No comments
WASHINGTON — As an intermittent supply of arms to the Syrian opposition gathered momentum last year, the Obama administration repeatedly implored its Arab allies to keep one type of powerful weapon out of the rebels’ hands: heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles.

The missiles, American officials warned, could one day be used by terrorist groups, some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda, to shoot down civilian aircraft.

But one country ignored this admonition: Qatar, the tiny, oil- and gas-rich emirate that has made itself the indispensable nation to rebel forces battling calcified Arab governments and that has been shipping arms to the Syrian rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.

Since the beginning of the year, according to four American and Middle Eastern officials with knowledge of intelligence reports on the weapons, Qatar has used a shadowy arms network to move at least two shipments of shoulder-fired missiles, one of them a batch of Chinese-made FN-6s, to Syrian rebels who have used them against Mr. Assad’s air force. Deployment of the missiles comes at a time when American officials expect that President Obama’s decision to begin a limited effort to arm the Syrian rebels might be interpreted by Qatar, along with other Arab countries supporting the rebels, as a green light to drastically expand arms shipments.

Qatar’s aggressive effort to bolster the embattled Syrian opposition is the latest brash move by a country that has been using its wealth to elbow its way to the forefront of Middle Eastern statecraft, confounding both its allies in the region and in the West. The strategy is expected to continue even though Qatar’s longtime leader, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, stepped down last week, allowing his 33-year-old son to succeed him.


Egypt's Mohamed Morsi remains defiant as fears of civil war grow

    Sunday, June 30, 2013   No comments
In exclusive interview with the Guardian, Morsi defiantly rejects call for elections, setting stage for trial of strength on the streets

The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has vowed there will be no second revolution in Egypt, as thousands planned to gather outside his presidential palace calling for his removal after a year in power.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Morsi rejected opposition calls for early presidential elections and said he would not tolerate any deviation from constitutional order. He said his early resignation would undermine the legitimacy of his successors, creating a recipe for unending chaos.

"If we changed someone in office who [was elected] according to constitutional legitimacy – well, there will be people opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later they will ask him to step down," Morsi said.

"There is no room for any talk against this constitutional legitimacy. There can be demonstrations and people expressing their opinions. But what's critical in all this is the adoption and application of the constitution. This is the critical point."

At least seven people have been killed and over 600 injured in clashes between Morsi's Islamist allies and their secular opposition over the past few days.

With tensions set to rise on Sunday, Morsi's defiant stance sets the stage for a trial of strength that will be played out on the streets of Cairo in front of his official residence. Once gathered, the opposition have vowed not to leave it until he resigns.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Turkish security forces fire on protesters in Diyarbakir

    Saturday, June 29, 2013   No comments
One person was killed in south-east Turkey as security forces fired shots to disperse hundreds of people protesting against the expansion of an army outpost, according to local officials.
Nine people were also wounded, two of them seriously, according to a statement from the governor's office in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

The army opened fire after the crowd of around 300 torched construction tents and marched on the construction site, hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces, said Diyarbakir governor Cahit Kirac.

The incident shattered a lull in the volatile region, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has waged a bloody campaign for autonomy for nearly three decades, leaving 45,000 people dead.

The PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the West, reached a ceasefire agreement with Ankara in March. Its fighters are still withdrawing into northern Iraq in line with that deal.


Brzezinski: Saudi Arabia, Qatar produced the crisis in Syria

    Saturday, June 29, 2013   No comments
Brzezinski: I can’t engage either in psychoanalysis or any kind of historical revisionism. He obviously has a difficult problem on his hands, and there is a mysterious aspect to all of this. Just consider the timing. In late 2011 there are outbreaks in Syria produced by a drought and abetted by two well-known autocracies in the Middle East: Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He all of a sudden announces that Assad has to go—without, apparently, any real preparation for making that happen. Then in the spring of 2012, the election year here, the CIA under General Petraeus, according to The New York Times of March 24th of this year, a very revealing article, mounts a large-scale effort to assist the Qataris and the Saudis and link them somehow with the Turks in that effort. Was this a strategic position? Why did we all of a sudden decide that Syria had to be destabilized and its government overthrown? Had it ever been explained to the American people? Then in the latter part of 2012, especially after the elections, the tide of conflict turns somewhat against the rebels. And it becomes clear that not all of those rebels are all that “democratic.” And so the whole policy begins to be reconsidered. I think these things need to be clarified so that one can have a more insightful understanding of what exactly U.S. policy was aiming at.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Police crush protesters, block Ankara gathering

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments
The Dikmen district of Ankara was scene of yet another harsh police intervention on June 27, with the police not allowing crowds to gather and intervening as early as 10 p.m., using pressurized water and tear gas without warning.

For the past couple of days, Dikmen has played host to confrontations between police and protesters, but the police intervention usually comes around midnight after protesters build barricades in the late hours of the evening. On this particular occasion, the police intervened in advance, after street lights were turned off around 9:30 p.m.

The police used pressurized water and tear gas against people on side streets, without any warning, while a number of protesters were taken into custody. The intervention was particularly intense due to the presence of four Scorpion (Akrep in Turkish) jeeps and three Mass Incident Intervention Vehicles (TOMA). Both Scorpions and TOMAs are armored riot control vehicles, while the former are also used for taking individuals into custody.

Of the 19 people taken into custody during the protests, 13 were arrested, later on to be jailed, Anadolu Agency reported on June 28.

Those held under custody due to a public prosecutor’s demand were interrogated throughout the night from Article 10 of Anti-Terror Law (TMK). Judge Abdullah Bahçeci issued the ruling on the case.


Azerbaijan Stirred, Not Shaken by Turkish Protests

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments
Seen from Azerbaijan, the mass protests in Turkey have evoked particularly strong feelings, and have promptied some to wonder whether the same kind of thing might be possible in their own country.

There are obvious parallels – the two countries are bound together by old cultural and linguistic ties, and more recently a political alliance. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is seen as increasingly autocratic by his opponents, while Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev looks set to stay in power indefinitely.

For young Azerbaijanis opposed to Aliyev, events in Istanbul have inspired feelings of excitement and envy. Previously, they observed the protest movements in Iran in 2009, in Russia in 2011, and in Georgia last year, and wondered whether something similar was possible in Azerbaijan .

“Since there is no opportunity for political activity, any political event in a neighbouring country excites Azerbaijanis,” Arastan Orujlu, head of the East-West Research Centre in Baku, said.

The impact of the Turkish demonstrations has been more immediate, partly because of the cultural kinship and partly because of this autumn’s presidential election in Azerbaijan, in which opposition groups hope to put up more of a challenge than before.

Facebook users in Azerbaijan shared news stories, photos and videos of the protests, which began over plans to redevelop the Gezi Park but expanded to include concerns about freedom of expression and the trend towards Islamicisation.

There are many Azerbaijanis living in Istanbul for work or study, and some of them went to the protests to add their own messages on banners saying, “Baku is with you, Gezi”, and “Aliyev, it’s your turn now”.


Turkish Power Struggle: Brotherly Love Begins to Fray in Ankara

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gül have long been political allies. But ongoing protests in the country have caused their relationship to fray and the ensuing power struggle could spell the end of the AKP.
The two men came from different backgrounds, but shared a belief in Allah and a common goal: power. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gül, now respectively prime minister and president of Turkey, have worked together since the 1990s and their alliance has helped political Islam attain more power than ever before.

The current protests in Turkey, though, are threatening to break that alliance apart. Elements of Turkish society have risen up against their government and called on Prime Minister Erdogan to resign. Yet even as protesters and police clash in the streets, another power struggle is taking place in Ankara. President Gül is increasingly seeking to distance himself from his former political ally.

Erdogan and Gül are different in both background and character. Erdogan worked hard to get where he is today. As a child, he sold sesame rings in Istanbul's port neighborhood of Kasmpasa. He was also an avid soccer player, earning himself the nickname "Imam Beckenbauer." Although he managed to attend university and later became Istanbul's mayor, Erdogan was never able to conceal his simpler origins -- nor did he want to. He is moody, temperamental and unrestrained, qualities that may well be his undoing in the current crisis.

Gül, on the other hand, comes across as being diplomatic and moderate. Unlike Erdogan, he speaks English. Gül's parents were relatively well-to-do, sending their son to study economics in Istanbul and London. Gül worked as a manager for an Islamic bank in Saudi Arabia before being elected to Turkish parliament in the 1990s as part of the Islamist Refah movement.

At the time, the country was run by the military, a legacy from the days of Mustafa Kemal, known as Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. The country was secular, militaristic and authoritarian. At the time, Gül promised: "The secular system has failed. We want to change it definitively."

Erdogan, too, was involved in the Refah movement. He and Gül had little in common on a personal level, but were aware they would only succeed in their power struggle against the secular establishment if they worked together.


Turkish PM Erdoğan’s Gaza trip to take place in ‘shortest and most correct time’

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Gaza is on the agenda, but no date has yet been set, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said today.

“No speculation should be made about the date,” Davutoğlu said at a joint press conference with visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, expressing his wish that the “visit to Palestine takes place in the shortest and most correct time.”

During his visit to Washington in May, Erdoğan said that he would "probably" visit Gaza in June, a visit that would include the West Bank. “Gaza is ready. We cannot ready ourselves because of other incidents, but we could make a surprise at any time,” Erdoğan said on June 25 in Ankara.


Turkish minister warns that companies uncooperative on cyber crime will receive ‘Ottoman slap’

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments
Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Binali Yıldırım has warned that authorities which do not cooperate with the government over cyber crimes will receive an “Ottoman slap” in response.

“The Turkish Republic doesn't recognize those who don’t recognize it,” Yıldırım said. “79 million [people] will hit them with an 'Ottoman slap.'”

The minister gave his message during a speech at a media conference, following the negative response of social media websites with regard to sharing data about posts made during the recent Gezi Park protests.

Yıldırım said the government was comfortable with the free use of the Internet, but added that using it as a tool for violence and crime was "unacceptable."

"They shouldn't behave swaggeringly, feeling as if millions of users stand on their side," he said, strongly hinting at micro blogging site Twitter.


Iranian leader: West's Stubbornness Blocks Settlement of Iran's N. Issue

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments
"As I said on the first day of the New Iranian Year (March 21), a number of countries which comprise the opposition front against Iran and falsely call themselves as the international community stubbornly don’t want the (Iranian) nuclear issue to be solved. But if they leave their stubbornness, Iran's nuclear issue will be solved easily and swiftly," Ayatollah Khamenei said, addressing a number of Iranian Judiciary officials in Tehran on Wednesday.

"Iran's nuclear issue has many times neared the moment of settlement, but Americans have raised new excuses then," he added.

Ayatollah Khamenei pointed to a written document signed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the settlement of the problems whcih existed in Iran's nuclear issue, and said, "Therefore, Iran's nuclear case should have been closed, but Americans raised new issues right away since they see the nuclear issue a proper point for threatening and pressuring Iran."


Egypt braced for rival mass demonstrations

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments

President Mohammed Morsi's supporters are to hold "open-ended" rallies - two days ahead of opposition protests calling for the president to resign.

Meanwhile, one person died and a number of others were injured in clashes in northern Egypt late on Thursday.

Mr Morsi said divisions threatened to "paralyse" Egypt, in a speech on Wednesday to mark a year in office.

Troops have been deployed in the capital Cairo and other cities.

Mr Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt's first Islamist president on 30 June 2012, after winning an election considered free and fair.

His first year as president has been marred by constant political unrest and a sinking economy.

The president also used his televised speech late on Wednesday to warn the media not to abuse free speech.

Within hours ripples from the speech could be felt across Egyptian media.

A talk show on the al-Fareen TV channel ended abruptly on Thursday night when the presenter learned he was to be arrested. Host and owner Tawfiq Okasha is accused of spreading false information, and the channel has ceased broadcasting.

Another prominent presenter resigned on air on state-run television in protest at what he called government interference in the editorial content of his programme.


U.S Retired Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright under investigation for allegedly leaking information about cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments
By Michael Isikoff
National Investigative Correspondent, NBC News
Legal sources tell NBC News that the former second ranking officer in the U.S. military is now the target of a Justice Department investigation into a politically sensitive leak of classified information about a covert U.S. cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
According to legal sources, Retired Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has received a target letter informing him that he’s under investigation for allegedly leaking information about a massive attack using a computer virus named Stuxnet on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Gen. Cartwright, 63, becomes the latest individual targeted over alleged leaks by the Obama administration, which has already prosecuted or charged eight individuals under the Espionage Act.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer Banned From Entering UK

    Thursday, June 27, 2013   No comments
Two prominent US bloggers have been banned from entering the UK, the Home Office has said.

Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer co-founded anti-Muslim group Stop Islamization of America.

They were due to speak at an English Defence League march in Woolwich, where Drummer Lee Rigby was killed.

A government spokesman said individuals whose presence "is not conducive to the public good" could be excluded by the home secretary.

He added: "We condemn all those whose behaviours and views run counter to our shared values and will not stand for extremism in any form."


Former al-Qaeda member Sheikh Nabil Naiim: Jabhat al-Nusra is led by a CIA operative

    Thursday, June 27, 2013   No comments

The revelation is shocking, even for the CIA given the recent history of their modus operandi and even after we take into consideration the way the USA and its FUKUS Axis friends have behaved over the last few decades: there is a link between the al-Qaeda terrorists fighting in Syria and the USA's CIA. Worse, the link between al-Qaeda and the CIA.

The allegation is made by the former al-Qaeda member Sheikh Nabil Naiim, who has spoken out on a video, claiming that the principal force fighting against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, the one with strong links to al-Qaeda, is led by a CIA operative, Mohammed al-Jawlani.

Firstly, Sheikh Nabil Naiim should know. After all, he was the historic leader of the Islamist Jihadist movement in Egypt, he was leader of the Safwa al-Qaeda training camp; he met Osama bin Laden and he fought with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Sudan. He was involved in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and was imprisoned for a failed assassination attempt against President Hosni Mubarak. After the Mubarak government was ousted, Naiim renounced violence and is now setting the record straight, saying which of his former colleagues in violence and terrorism are on the CIA payroll.


Morsi: I have made mistakes

    Thursday, June 27, 2013   No comments
The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, used a televised address on Wednesday to admit to making mistakes in his first year in office. But the president also widened the divide between his Islamist supporters and Egypt's secular opposition during his speech, blaming unspecified "enemies of Egypt" for sabotaging the democratic system and warning that the polarised state of the country's politics threatened to plunge it into chaos.

Morsi pledged to introduce "radical and quick" reforms in state institutions, admitting some of his goals had not been achieved.

"Today, I present an audit of my first year, with full transparency, along with a roadmap. Some things were achieved and others not," he said. "I have made mistakes on a number of issues."

Yet in a meandering speech that lasted more than two and a half hours, Morsi refused to offer serious concessions to the opposition – and pointedly praised the army, whom many opposition members hope will facilitate a transition of power in the coming weeks.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The U.S. Wants Snowden. Why Won't The World Cooperate?

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013   No comments
China appeared perfectly happy to let Edward Snowden slip away despite a U.S. request for his

Why is it proving so difficult for a superpower to get a bit of international cooperation over Snowden? He has acknowledged leaking details of U.S. government surveillance programs, and has been charged with espionage and other offenses.

President Obama recently met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in hopes of setting a positive tone for what is widely regarded as the single most important international relationship.

And the Obama administration has often touted its "reset" with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, though there's been plenty of ongoing friction.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, columnist Bret Stephens sees the Snowden episode as part of a broader decline in American influence.

arrest. Russia appears to enjoy thumbing its nose at Washington as Snowden cools his heels at a Moscow airport. Ecuador is toying with the notion of granting him asylum.

Two people were killed and dozens injured in street fighting on Wednesday north of Cairo

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013   No comments
Two people were killed and dozens injured in street fighting on Wednesday north of Cairo between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s Islamist president, hours before Mohamed Mursi was to address the nation.

With Egypt gripped by fears of a showdown between Islamists and their opponents, security sources said 90 people wounded in the city of Mansoura after hundreds of men were involved in rock-throwing street skirmishes. Witnesses heard gunfire and state television showed a man in hospital with birdshot wounds.

Similar outbursts of violence, often prompted by one side or the other staging rallies, have hit towns across the country in recent days. At least two men died last weekend. The opposition plans mass protests this weekend, calling for Mursi to resign.

He shows no sign of doing that and is expected to blame the deadlock that has aggravated an economic crisis on resistance from those loyal to his ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak.


How did China, Russia, Cuba, and Ecuador become the champions of political freedom?

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013   No comments
It may be years before the full cost of Edward Snowden’s intelligence leaks can be measured. But his disclosures about top-secret surveillance programs have already come at a price for the U.S. government: America’s foes have been handed an immensely powerful tool for portraying Washington as a hypocritical proponent of democratic values that it doesn’t abide by at home.


When China and Russia become protectors of activists, the West’s double is highlighted

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013   No comments
How does the case of Edward Snowden stand in comparison to those of Chen Guangcheng, Boris Berezovsky, and Andrei Borodin?

Russia and China are more than resisting pressure from the U.S. for their role in harboring Edward Snowden, Chinese and Russian leaders might use it to limit the West’s support of activists in the two countries. Consider the following official statements and editorials to get a sense of the reversal of roles and the declining U.S. credibility when it comes to foreign policy.

Alexei Pushkov, the head of the State Duma's international affairs committee :

 "By promising asylum to Snowden, Moscow has taken upon itself the protection of those persecuted for political reasons… There will be hysterics in the US. They only recognize this right for themselves.”

As an editorial in the Guardian pointed out, one of the recurring themes in Russian foreign policy is to slam the West for having “double standards,” such as judging pro-Western dictatorships by a totally different yardstick from anti-Western ones, a tactic that works extremely well because it is so often true. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov most recently used that line in a tough statement hammering Western hypocrisy about Syria. Speaking in a recent interview with America's CBS network released on Monday evening, Lavrov said the West had a policy of double standards in approaching foreign regimes, particularly in the current Syrian conflict between the government and rebel forces.

“You either deny terrorists any acceptance in international life, or you make your double standard policy work the way it has been working - 'I don't like that guy in this country, so we will be calling him a dictator and topple him. This guy in another country is also dictatorial, but he's our dictator.”

Here are a couple of news items and editorials that stress the same points. Of particular interest is the case of academic freedom stemming from NYU support of the Chinese activist and buckling under pressure to save an expansion opportunity.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

As The Arab Spring Fades And The Turkish Model Collapses, Can Islam Foster Prosperity?

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013   No comments
There’s nothing wrong with hope, but it should always be balanced with a little truth. But the optimism which has been hanging over so much of the discussion about the middle east and central Asia, has been a bit long on hope and short on truth.

The Arab Spring has more than lived down to the predictions of critics (like me: link here), but no one had any long-term reputation invested in that. However, the much vaunted ‘Turkish Model, is another thing altogether. It is has long been the great multicultural hope for mankind, an Islamic modern democracy. Investors were told to get on board before losing a great chance. The rest of the equatorial world was told to behold the new world of Islamic modernity. The recent ordeal of oppression and uprising more impression, must come as a crushing disappointment. That could have been avoided by simply consulting history.


Turkey's Alevi community doubtful of government initiatives

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013   No comments
The government is working on a new plan to broaden the rights of Alevis, members of the second-largest Islamic sect in the country, but these fresh attempts have received a suspicious reaction from the community.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked for a study and report on the issue, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ revealed in a televised interview over the weekend, adding that a broad range of negotiations would follow after the new steps.

Bozdağ’s remarks came days before the anniversary of the July 1-2 killings of 35 people in an arson attack in 1993 led by a mob at a hotel where many Alevi intellectuals and artists who had come to Sivas for a conference were staying. On June 23, thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Anatolian district of Kadıköy to mark the day.


The West should intervene in Syria for many reasons. One is to stem the rise of Persian power

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013   No comments
The growing risk of a nuclear Iran is one reason why the West should intervene decisively in Syria not just by arming the rebels, but also by establishing a no-fly zone. That would deprive Mr Assad of his most effective weapon—bombs dropped from planes—and allow the rebels to establish military bases inside Syria. This newspaper has argued many times for doing so on humanitarian grounds; but Iran’s growing clout is another reason to intervene, for it is not in the West’s interest that a state that sponsors terrorism and rejects Israel’s right to exist should become the regional hegemon.

The West still has the economic and military clout to influence events in the region, and an interest in doing so. When Persian power is on the rise, it is not the time to back away from the Middle East.

read more from the article... , or read a sample from Readers' Comment below:

wow... I'm kind of stunned. I understand everyone has a bias but this article is seriously crossing the line. For the Economist to remain respected surely it has to really check what it's preaching.

From what I have read, you are advocating increasing the weapons supply in one country (therefore the carnage, loss of life etc..) so that you can affect things in an entirely different country (Iran). On top of that the only reason for doing this is so that another small country (Israel) remains militarily supreme in the region.

In other words your willing to use the lives of Syrian people so that Israel can dictate to it's neighbors how things are.

This is not some xbox game, these are real people you advocating "sacrificing" for some greater political good of another country. That's kind of nuts.

How about this... If Israel wants that supremacy. Why doesn't it go to Iran and directly fight it out and put its own people on the line rather than "use" the Syrians?

It's like you (Economist) are willing to put up with any level of destruction or any country as long as Israel can be top dog. It's such a strange position to take.

Israel have enough military power to defend themselves against anyone. So what if other nations get better weapons? Does it mean Israel cannot defend it self? Or do they think every country around them has a suicidal death wish and they just cant wait for everyone to be nuked?

It feels like the west/israel want the ability to impose themselves on others rather than defend their right to exist. That seems kind of mad, and dare I say it, evil in itself.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lebanese army storms Islamist mosque as Syria crisis spreads

    Monday, June 24, 2013   No comments
 Lebanese soldiers stormed a complex holding gunmen loyal to a radical Islamist cleric in the city of Sidon on Monday and arrested dozens of his supporters, security sources said, in a second day of clashes fuelled by neighboring Syria's civil war.

The fighting is the deadliest outbreak in Lebanon since Syria's two-year conflict began. The army said 12 soldiers were killed in the southern Mediterranean port city, while security sources gave a higher army toll of 18 dead and 128 wounded.

A medic told Reuters that 22 bodies had been pulled from the mosque complex but he expected the final death count to be higher. He said 94 wounded had been treated by the Red Cross.


State secrets: Kerry’s department downplays Iran’s role in Latin America; likely to anger Congress

    Monday, June 24, 2013   No comments
Iran is not supporting active terrorist cells in the Western Hemisphere, according to a State Department report set to be released this week that is likely to ignite a major battle with Capitol Hill.
Although the number of Iranian officials operating in Latin America has increased in recent years, Tehran has far less influence and activities than some congressional Republicans have suggested, sources familiar with the report said.
The analysis found no reliable information pointing to imminent Iranian-backed terrorist plots in the Western Hemisphere, said sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of the report and because it had not yet been sent to Congress.
The State Department declined to comment on the document, which is expected to be delivered to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, at the end of this week.
The findings are likely to baffle lawmakers who pushed legislation that mandated the State Department to produce the report, along with a strategy for countering “Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.”

Video shows Turkish police badly beating Gezi protesters for minutes in Antalya

    Monday, June 24, 2013   No comments
A group of young people who were hiding in a parking lot in the southern province of Antalya after a police intervention in a protest were badly beaten, according to camera footage obtained by lawyers.

The young people hid in a parking lot owned by the municipality in central Antalya before being caught there by a group of policemen with batons, on June 2, the video showed. The policemen then badly beat the young people, especially two males, for a few minutes.

Other instances of police brutality used against peaceful protesters in Turkey:


Turkey's prime minister has brushed off criticism by human rights groups and some European countries, insisting police officers have displayed "legendary heroism" in quelling weeks of anti-government protests.
Addressing police academy graduates at a ceremony in Ankara Monday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was protesters – not police – that were violent, and praised the security forces for showing restraint.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Depths of Syria's War: “You see, they have always been traitors”

    Sunday, June 23, 2013   No comments
The ambush was a simple affair, compared to some of the complex and brutal operations devised in Syria’s civil war. But in a society whose divisions are historic, even if they have only now exploded like a leaky petrol tanker, the circumstances were unusual.
The target was a Sunni Muslim man married to a Shia woman, an intermarriage that is more dangerous nowadays. He was also an ammunition supplier to the Free Syrian Army, while his brother was killed serving in the regime’s Popular Committees - a Shabiha, or criminal ghost, in the insulting vernacular of the revolution.
The husband, Emad Juma Yusef, was picking up his wife and their children from her parents’ home, and he drove straight into the trap.
“She was waiting for me, but some of them were hiding in the grass,” he said. “They shot at me through the doors of the car. One bullet came right through the windscreen. They were trying to kill me.”
He was unscathed - his wife, hit in the foot by a stray bullet, was the only casualty. But he was seized and carted off to the local prison.


French President Francois Hollande: "moderate rebels must take territory held by radical Islamists"

    Sunday, June 23, 2013   No comments
French President Francois Hollande, whose country has been at the forefront of Western efforts to re-organize and back the opposition, said moderate rebels must take territory held by radical Islamists whose involvement in the conflict, he said, gives Bashar al-Assad a pretext for more violence.

"The opposition needs to win back control of these areas ... ‮‮‮they have fallen into the hands of extremists," Hollande told a news conference in the Doha a day after the Friends of Syria met in the Qatari capital.

"If it seems that extremist groups are present and tomorrow they could be the beneficiaries of a chaotic situation, it will be Bashar al-Assad who will seize on this pretext to continue the massacre," Hollande said.

In Damascus, the Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamist Tawhid al-Asima brigades detonated a car bomb in an area known as Mezze 86, inhabited by members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has controlled Syria since the 1960s. Two people were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Rebels also attacked two security compounds in Damascus, killing at least five people, sources in the capital said.

In regional repercussions of the increasingly sectarian Syrian conflict, four Lebanese soldiers were killed in clashes with followers of a Sunni Islamist cleric who is a critic of the role of Hezbollah - the Shi'ite Lebanese group - in giving military support to Assad.

Sources in the city said the fighting broke out when a follower of Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir was arrested at an army roadblock in Sidon, 40 km (28 miles) south of Beirut.

The clashes were followed by fighting between Hezbollah members based in the mostly Sunni city and Assir's followers in which automatic weapons and shoulder fired rockets were used, the sources said.


2.5 million people attended Gezi protests across Turkey: Interior Ministry

    Sunday, June 23, 2013   No comments
Some 2.5 million protestors hit the streets across Turkey since the unrest began on May 31 over the attempt to demolish Istanbul's Gezi Park.

Only in two cities did people not attend protests while 79 cities witnessed big protests, the Interior Ministry’s record of protests said according to daily Milliyet’s report.

A large majority of the protests were staged in Istanbul and Ankara, according to the report, while Bayburt and Bingöl did not witness any protests.

Some 4,900 protesters were detained and 4000 people were injured including 600 riot police.

After the violent clashes slowed down, “standing man” civil disobedience protests increased in the country and everyday some 50 people stood silently in their cities’ centres.

The damage toll, on the other hand, showed that 58 public buildings and 337 private businesses were damaged while 240 police vehicles, 214 private cars, 90 municipality buses and 45 ambulances were left unusable.

Some 68 city cams, known as MOBESE, were also broken.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Who are the “Friends of Syria”? And what is their strategy for ending the Syrian crisis?

    Saturday, June 22, 2013   No comments
With the start of the Syrian uprising, a group of countries organized themselves under the name “Friends of Syria.” When they met for the first time in Tunisia in February 2012, over 70 countries attended. This weekend, the group met again in Doha, Qatar. Only 11 countries attended: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Apparently, the smaller the group, the more desperate they become.

Before concluding their meeting, they “authorized” each country to supply the rebels with arms as they see fit. Apparently, the United Stated administration was present not to commit to providing weapons, but to insist that all weapons must be channeled through the leader of the FSA, Salim Idris.

So far, the friends of Syria have contributed very little to actually help the Syrian people. The Gulf states took no refugees at all but they are all eager to send more weapons. Clearly, the name "Friends of Syria" does not match their commitments, they ought to refer to themselves as the "Friends of the Syrian Opposition" to be be factually accurate so that they can be taken seriously.


Islamic voices against Erdoğan

    Saturday, June 22, 2013   No comments
About a week ago, another voice came from a more prominent and mainstream Islamic circle: “The Labor and Justice Platform.” At a meeting in the offices of Mazlumder, a leading Islamic Human Rights Organization, the members of the platform announced a declaration which condemned the “state arrogance” that the AKP government has shown against the protestors in Gezi Park. They argued:

“Ignoring Gezi Park protestors’ demands, and subsequently labeling them as ‘plunderers,’ reflects the arrogance of a political power that mistakes itself to be the country’s landlord. Ravaging of the environment, cars and stores were triggered by the rough treatment of the police, whenever police violence stopped, protests took a peaceful turn.”

The text went on reminding the persecution and humiliation that Turkey’s pious Muslims went through in the late 90’s, during the “post-modern coup” era, but argued that a similar process was taking place right now against the secular camp:

“We, as Muslims, have not forgotten how media abused the whole country, and sullied the innocent 15 years ago. Today, conservative and mainstream media are using the same language to terrorize a certain part of the population – what has changed then? Did we forget what police forces have done to our kids? Why should police be rightful in persecuting others who are not like us? Is justice not a divine command that has to be kept alive against every form of hatred?”

The signatories of this text include some two dozen prominent Islamic public intellectuals such as Ali Bulaç, Cihan Aktaş or Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu --- quite respected names in Islamic circles. They, probably, represent a larger segment among religious conservatives who might not be openly challenging Erdoğan but who probably find his growingly tough attitude not terribly helpful.
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Nadia Umm Fuad watched her son being shot by Islamist rebels in Syria after the 14-year-old referred to the Prophet Mohammed as he joked with a customer at his coffee stall in Aleppo

    Saturday, June 22, 2013   No comments
Nadia Umm Fuad: 'I saw rebels execute my boy for no more than a joke’

Nadia Umm Fuad watched her son being shot by Islamist rebels in Syria after the 14-year-old referred to the Prophet Mohammed as he joked with a customer at his coffee stall in Aleppo. 

Mohammed Katta's mother witnessed the execution of her son in three stages.
She was upstairs at home when she first heard the shouting. The people of the neighbourhood were yelling that "they have brought back the kid", so she rushed out of her apartment.
"I went out on my balcony," Nadia Umm Fuad said. "I said to his father, they are going to shoot your son! Come! Come! Come! I was on the stairs when I heard the first shot. I was at the door when I heard the second shot.
"I saw the third shot. I was shouting, 'That's haram, forbidden! Stop! Stop! You are killing a child.' But they just gave me a dirty look and got into their car. As they went, they drove over my son's arm, as he lay there dying."
Mohammed was 14 when he was killed, earlier this month, prompting international condemnation. He has become a symbol of the fears many Syrians have for the future of a country where jihadists are vying with the regime for control.



Friday, June 21, 2013

Erdogan and the Protests: Turkey's Stubborn Man on the Bosphorus

    Friday, June 21, 2013   No comments
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on the way to becoming the most successful leader of his country since Atatürk. But he has reacted to recent protests as a tone-deaf despot. It is a tragedy for him and his country.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often sought out influential opponents. First there was the secular elite that tried to thwart his bid to become mayor of Istanbul. Then there were the courts in Ankara, which tried to ban his conservative Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP). Finally, there were the generals, who had been in control since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the country, and whose power he broke.

After 10 years as prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan had so much power that, in the end, only one person could stop him: Erdogan himself.
Journalist Fiachra Gibbans aptly described Erdogan's political career in the Guardian recently as a "Shakespearean tragedy." The prime minister, who defied attempted coups and survived a court challenge, is now in trouble because of a few hundred trees in a city park. He is becoming the victim of his own hubris.



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