April 25, 2017 at 10:11 pm

Turkey targets Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria

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Turkish military jets have carried out air strikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq and northeast Syria, killing at least 70 people, according to a Turkish military statement.

A statement released by Turkey’s air force said that it carried out the air strikes against PKK targets located in the Sinjar Mountains region in northern Iraq and in Karachok Mountains in northeastern Syria on Tuesday.

The targets were hit to prevent the PKK from sending “terrorists, arms, ammunition and explosives to Turkey,” the statement said, adding that the operation was conducted “within the scope of the international law”.

The PKK are Kurdish fighters operating in Turkey, while the Rojava Defence Units (YPG) are Kurdish fighters operating in northern Syria and the Peshmerga fighters are in charge of security in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The three groups are currently fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

“At least six people were killed, five from the Peshmerga and a sixth from Asayish [Rojava],” Lieutenant-General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish government, told AFP news agency.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group which tracks the Syrian war, said that at least 18 YPG fighters were killed in the air strikes in Syria’s Hasaka province.

The YPG in northern Syria said on its Twitter account that Turkish warplanes targeted the headquarters of the General Command of the YPG in Mount Karachok, near the city of Derik in Hasaka.

The YPG also reported that a media centre, a local radio station, communication headquarters and some military institutions were hit.

The group forms a key component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and has been closing in on ISIL in Raqqa.

While Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the US and Russia were informed of the attacks, the US State Department said it was deeply concerned by the air strikes, which it said were not authorised by the US-led coalition fighting ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

YPG forms a key component of US-based fighters closing in on ISIL in Raqqa [Rodi Said/Reuters]

“We have expressed those concerns with the government of Turkey directly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

“These air strikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces.”

Earlier, Erdogan said Turkey was “obliged to take measures” that were “shared with the US and Russia”.

Following the attacks, the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs called upon the PKK to “withdraw from Sinjar Mountain and surrounding areas”. 

“This painful and unacceptable attack on Peshmerga forces by Turkish warplanes is a result of PKK’s presence in and around Sinjar,” the ministry said in a statement.

“PKK has been problematic for the people of the Kurdistan Region and, despite broad calls to withdraw, refuses to leave Sinjar. PKK must stop destabilising and escalating tensions in the area to allow life to return to the people of the area.”

Later on Tuesday, Turkish security officials said 13 PKK fighters and five Turkish soldiers were killed in operations in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

The PKK established a presence in Iraq’s Sinjar after coming to help the region’s Yazidi population when ISIL overran the area in the summer of 2014.


Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said the air strikes come at a moment of strained ties between Turkey and Iraq.

“The Turkish ministry says the air strikes were precise and successful,” he said.

“The Turkish military tipped up its campaign against the PKK on the border area and said it killed a dozen PKK fighters in the past days.”

Turkey sent tanks into the town of Bashiqa in northern Iraq in 2015, saying it was providing military assistance and training for the Peshmerga fighters battling ISIL, our correspondent said.

“The Iraqi government, on the other hand, has been asking the Turkish government to pull out the tanks threatening more confrontations.”

The PKK is designated a “terrorist group” by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/turkey-targets-kurdish-fighters-iraq-syria-170425081224935.html

at 10:11 pm

Ivanka faces tough questions over Trump in Berlin

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Ivanka Trump has faced tough questions over her father’s attitude towards women as well as scorn for his track record while making her first international outing as a White House adviser.

Ivanka Trump, 35, pledged to push for “incremental, positive change” for women in the US economy on Tuesday and told a Berlin conference on women that she is still “rather unfamiliar” with her role as first daughter and adviser to President Donald Trump.

Groans and hisses could be heard as she described her father as “a tremendous champion of supporting families”.

Ivanka Trump’s one-day visit was at the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel and Ivanka Trump were part of a high-powered panel discussion at the W20 Summit, a women-focused effort within the Group of 20 countries, entitled Inspiring Women: Scaling up Women’s Entrepreneurship.

They were joined by Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister; Christine Lagarde, International Monetary Fund chief; and the Netherlands’ Queen Maxima among others.

Ivanka Trump stepped away from running her fashion brand and from an executive role at the Trump Organization to become an unpaid White House adviser.

She said she is still finding her feet in her new role.

‘I’m listening’

Asked whether she represented the president, the American people or her business, Ivanka Trump replied: “Well certainly not the latter, and I am rather unfamiliar with this role as it is quite new to me too. It has been a little under 100 days.

“I’m listening, I’m learning, I’m defining the ways in which I think that I’ll be able to have impact” in empowering women in the US economy and beyond.

Ivanka Trump said she plans “to bring the advice, to bring the knowledge, back to the United States, back to both my father and the president – and hopefully that will bring about incremental, positive change. And that is my goal”.

Merkel invited Ivanka Trump to Berlin in order to have a direct line to the White House, according to Christine Berzina from the German Marshall Fund.

“It is remarkable that Merkel invited Ivanka to the summit to provide an American perspective,” Berzina told Al Jazeera.

“It is remarkable as an act of diplomacy because it is cunning in many ways. We know that when you have Ivanka in the room speaking to Merkel, you have the US president paying attention.”

Ivanka Trump has been a vocal advocate for policies benefiting working women and vocational training. But she has faced a backlash in the US, particularly from liberals who think she has done little to temper her father’s conservative agenda.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/ivanka-forced-defend-donald-trump-berlin-170425151412583.html

at 10:11 pm

India Maoist attack survivor recalls ordeal

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Raipur, India – “Grenades and bullets were raining down” on paramilitary soldiers in a Maoist attack that killed 25 Indian personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a surviving security personnel told Al Jazeera.

The soldiers were guarding road workers in the Sukma district, nearly 400km from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state, when they came under fire on Monday.

Constable Sher Mohammed was part of the more than 100 personnel from the 74th battalion of CRPF deployed in the jungles.

About 300 Maoists – a large number of them women – attacked from all sides while the soldiers were on their lunch break.

“We were sitting under the trees for lunch when we heard shots. Before we knew it, bulllets were flying around us. Some of our companions were falling like trees crashing down,” said Mohammed, who is recovering in a hospital in Raipur.

“It seemed as if hand grenades and bullets were raining down on us.”

The pain of losing his colleagues was clearly visible on his face as he lay on the hospital bed.

“They used weapons like AK-47 and fired from all sides. That made it difficult for us but we kept firing back,” Mohammed said.

“The distance between us and the Maoists was hardly 100 metres. As I tried to rescue a fellow soldier, seven or eight bullets hit my chest but my bulletproof jacket saved me.”

Monday’s attack was the latest in a long-running conflict between Maoist fighters and Indian forces in the rural areas of mainly central and eastern India.

At least 76 CRPF personnel were killed in a Maoist attack in the same district in 2010.

The Maoists, believed to be present in at least 20 Indian states, say they are fighting for the rights of the tribal people, the adivasis, and landless farmers against mining in the mineral-rich region.

In a recent statement in the parliament, Rajnath Singh, home minister, said the Maoists were frustrated because of the success of recent security operations against them.

Last year, 135 were killed, 700 were arrested and another 1,198 surrendered to government forces, Singh said, citing figures from NDTV.

READ MORE: India making inroads in Maoist stronghold

Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, sent his condolences to the families of the soldiers killed in the attack. Singh, for his part, dubbed it a “cold blooded murder”.

Bhupesh Baghel, from the opposition Congress party, blamed the attack on the lack of coordination between the CRPF and the state police.

However, Ramsewak Paikra, Chhattisgarh home minister, denied the claim, saying the development work done by the previous Congress government was the real reason behind the attack.

“The Maoists know that development is limiting the space for them. Maoist use tribals as their shield to prevent development,” Paikra told Al Jazeera.

Retaliation feared

Last month Maoist rebels killed 11 paramilitary policemen in the same state after ambushing their convoy.

Civil rights groups have criticised the attack but fear the security forces would “retaliate” by targeting ordinary civilians.

“Consequent arrests, beatings and killings will only intensify the cycles of violence and counter-violence,” said Dr Lakhan Singh, president of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties.

“A situation of civil war still prevails in Bastar [district in Chhattisgarh state] but the Indian government refuses to declare this an “internal armed conflict” perhaps to avoid monitoring by the UN.”

The government has deployed more than 100,000 troops, one-third of them paramilitary forces, to root out the five-decade old armed rebellion.

About 35,000 central paramilitary forces and more than 20,000 state police are deployed in Bastar, which is considered a stronghold of the Maoist fighters.

India’s home minister and the state’s chief minister visited the survivours in hospiutal [Alok Putul/Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera News

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/india-maoist-attack-survivor-recalls-ordeal-170425193246679.html

at 10:04 am

Arkansas carries out first double execution since 2000

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Arkansas has executed two death row inmates on the same gurney in a single day, marking the first double execution in the United States since 2000.

On Monday, attempts by the inmates’ lawyers to halt their execution proved unsuccessful and both were put to death by lethal injection. 

Marcel Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33pm Monday, 17 minutes after the procedure began at the Cummins Unit in southeast Arkansas. Inmate Jack Jones was executed earlier in the evening. 

Williams’ legal team unsuccessfully tried to convince the court to halt his execution, claiming that the Jones execution was botched earlier in the day. The lawyers argued that Jones gulped for air and suffered during his lethal injection, while the Arkansas attorney general’s office disputed that account.

US District Judge Kristine Baker temporarily stopped Arkansas from executing Marcel Williams on Monday, but lifted her stay after about an hour.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Williams’ execution on Monday night could proceed after the order was lifted.

It was not clear if his lawyers were pursuing other options to delay the punishment, with his death warrant due to expire at midnight (05:00 GMT on Tuesday).

The unprecedented execution plan in Arkansas, where eight inmates were initially scheduled to die in 11 days, has been widely criticised by rights groups due to the use of the drug midazolam, which has been linked to previous botched executions.

READ MORE: The struggle against America’s racist death row

Jones, 52, was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.

Reporters witnessing his execution said he delivered a lengthy last statement, including an apology to the young girl who he left for dead after murdering her mother.

Williams, 46, was sentenced to death for the 1997 kidnapping, rape and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson.

Arkansas authorities are in a rush to carry out the executions before the end of April, when its supply of midazolam expires.

One inmate was put to death last week, though the first three executions were cancelled because of court rulings.

A flurry of lawsuits and appeals have been filed on behalf of the inmates in Arkansas courts as well as the US Supreme Court.

Midazolam was used in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney.

INFOGRAPHIC: Death penalty around the world in 2016

The US has put to death 1,450 people since 1976, according to the Washington, DC-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Another 2,900 people are currently on death row.

Thirty-two states, as well as the US federal government, use lethal injection as their primary method for execution.

With recurrent legal efforts to effectively ban lethal injection, many states have alternative methods, including firing squads.

Source: News agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/arkansas-executions-170425003426592.html

at 10:04 am

Ciudad del Este heist seen as ‘robbery of the century’

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A gang of dozens of armed robbers have stolen several million dollars from a vault in Paraguay, in what local officials are dubbing the “robbery of the century”.

Initial estimates placed the cash haul at around $40m, but a spokesman for Prosegur, the private security company targeted in the raid, denied these reports. Authorities did not release any information on how much money was stolen. 

The culprits, who police said were from Brazil, killed one police officer during the Monday raid in Ciudad del Este, the South American country’s second-largest city.

READ MORE: Brazil’s prisons – A battleground in the drug wars

Officials said three civilians were injured in a blaze of gunfire and torched vehicles during the three-hour attack. 

Three robbers were killed hours later in an ensuing gun battle with Brazilian police across the border, the Paraguayan Interior Ministry said. 

Five members of the gang were arrested in Itaipulandia, 50 kilometres north of Ciudad del Este, the ministry added.

The robbers, armed with assualt rifles, used explosives to gain access to the vault at a cash-storage facility in the Paraguayan border city, which is known for its criminal gang activity.

Up to 80 people may have been involved in the attack, said Arsenio Correa, investigations chief in the city, told Associated Press.

“The criminals used snipers to guarantee the escape and torched more than 10 vehicles to distract the police,” he said.

Video footage showed burned armoured cars outside the crumbling remains of the company’s building.

Ciudad del Este sits in the “Triple Border” region, where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet and where contraband electronics, drugs and arms flow across porous borders.

Primeiro Comando da Capital, or PCC, a major criminal organisation in Brazil, were suspected of being behind the attack police spokesman Augusto Lima said, according to a report by the German news agency. Armed with assault rifles, the culprits are thought to have made their escape to Brazil by motorboat via the Parana river.

Some of the stolen money was recovered, according to newspaper ABC Color.

Source: News agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/ciudad-del-este-heist-robbery-century-170425081313608.html

at 10:04 am

How Israel denies rights to Palestinian prisoners

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In a photograph widely shared on social media this month, Kifah Quzmar, a final-year business student at Birzeit University near Ramallah, wears a red-and-white keffiyeh and a somewhat defiant look.

The difference between the 28-year-old and tens of other Palestinian students and youth arrested in recent weeks is perhaps that his story made it out to the rest of the world.

More than 70 international organisations and student groups around the world signed a statement asking for his release, after Kifah began a four-day hunger strike to protest spending 19 days under interrogation without access to a lawyer, and the continued extension of his detention without charge.

On April 6, Kifah was ordered to serve six months in administrative detention, without indictment or trial. He had been arrested a month earlier while crossing the Allenby Bridge, known by Palestinians as the Karameh border crossing, on his way back from Jordan.

READ MORE: Palestinian prisoners launch mass hunger strike

“We were waiting for Kifah to arrive and when he didn’t, we almost sensed he was arrested,” his brother, Ismat Quzmar, told Al Jazeera. It took four days for the family to determine his whereabouts as Kifah was moved from al-Moscobiyeh, also known as the Russian Compound – a detention centre in Jerusalem used for the purpose of interrogation – to another facility, and then back.

When Kifah’s lawyer, Anan Odeh, was finally able to locate him, the family learned that Kifah had been banned from having his lawyer visit.

“In my experience as an ex-prisoner, when they arrest you, the first thing they do is they ask you to sign a piece of paper that lists your rights and your obligations. The paper says you have the right to see your lawyer, you have the right to take a bath, to eat, and so on,” Ismat, who was imprisoned for a year in 2012 on what he said were charges related to his university activism, told Al Jazeera.

“But the first article in the obligations says that the interrogator has the right to deny you any of your rights if he thinks it’s necessary for interrogation,” he added.

“They use this technique to fully isolate the prisoner in the interrogation phase,” Ismat said. “So they can play their game, the game that is to say: Listen, you are here alone, there is no one who can help you except for us, so you have to cooperate with us if you want to get out of there.”

According to Israeli military law, which applies to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, a prisoner can be held without indictment for 90 days, which can be extended to another 90. Most commonly, interrogation lasts for 20 to 30 days, according to Aouda Zbidat, a lawyer for prisoners’ rights group Addameer.

In comparison, Israeli civil law allows detainees to be held without charge for 30 days. And while Palestinians in the military court system can be denied access to a lawyer for 90 days, under Israeli civil law, the ban can last a maximum of 21.

“In the Israeli system, they would request it only in more exceptional cases. Here, it is quite the norm,” Zbidat said. “You’d usually strike a balance between the detainee’s rights and the interest of the investigation. In the military court [system], the interest of the interrogation normally wins.”

Zbidat said that most detainees go through some form of psychological torture while under interrogation.

“The average detainee would usually be shouted at, threatened in different ways,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that interrogations can sometimes last many hours.

“In the cells, the light is always on and the bathroom is a hole in the ground, right next to where you sleep – on the floor, on a very thin mattress, with no pillow,” she added. “Being in this cell will take a toll on you. The walls are usually rough, there’s no chair or anything to sit on, and if you want to relax and lean on the wall, you can’t.”

Ismat noted that you have to “put on the intelligence guy’s hat”, adding that each prisoner is dealt with “as an information bank”.

“So, they don’t deal with you only about the [specific] case. They will start from day one: who are your parents, where were you born, who were your friends in school. The interrogation technique is based on the idea that they have to break the soul of the prisoner so they get everything from him. You need to destroy his self, to defeat him as a human being. So, they turn you into a talking machine, to whom you ask questions, and it gives answers,” Ismat said.

READ MORE: Israeli army ‘among world’s child rights violators’

Since 1967, around 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested. In March 2017, there were 6,300 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 500 administrative detainees, according to Addameer. Last month, 111 Palestinians were issued administrative detention orders.

A practice dating back to the British Mandate, under military law, the decision to order a prisoner to administrative detention is issued by the military commander based on a secret file. Neither the lawyer nor the detainee are allowed to know the content of this file.

International human rights law allows the use of administrative detention only in emergency situations to prevent a future threat. Israel has been under a state of emergency since its inception in 1948, and critics have argued the state routinely uses administrative detention after a failed investigation or failure to obtain a confession. Administrative detention has only ever been used against nine Israelis.

According to Birzeit University’s Right to Education campaign coordinator, Sundos Hammad, the past two to three months have seen an escalation in student arrests. Last January, Israeli forces raided the Birzeit campus, confiscated computers from the student council and “seized material, including propaganda belonging to Hamas”, according to a statement released by an army spokesperson at the time.

Eighty Birzeit University students are currently detained, the vast majority by Israel. This includes 10 under interrogation and 15 in administrative detention.

Student arrests tend to spike in advance of the annual student council elections in Birzeit University [Fadi Arouri/Reuters]

The student council is formed of student political blocs, all of which are considered illegal by Israel. Most arrests, according to the university’s lawyer, Eliya Theodory, are against the Islamic Bloc, the largest bloc in the student council. Arrests are known to spike in advance of the yearly student council elections. Most students, according to Theodory, are charged with membership of an illegal organisation.

“For us, the reason for the detention is arbitrary from the beginning,” Zbidat said, “because they are being arrested for political activities, in breach of their right to free expression.”

But Israel is not the only authority cracking down on Palestinian students’ freedom of speech and expression. Last year, Kifah Quzmar was arrested by the Palestinian Authority for a Facebook post in which he called the PA security services “rotten”. He was accused of insulting a public official, a crime that carries a six-month sentence.

The case of Basil al-Araj , who was killed in an Israeli raid last March after being arrested by the PA last year, has triggered mounting criticism of the PA’s security coordination with Israel among Palestinians.

“When Kifah was arrested, the PA arrested his friend,” Ismat Quzmar said. “Rather than a feeling of community and solidarity, that we as Palestinians are facing the occupation, now we have a Palestinian side cooperating with the occupation. This is a huge diversion from our norm as a Palestinian people.”

Source: Al Jazeera

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/israel-denies-rights-palestinian-prisoners-170419071909847.html

April 24, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Venezuela: What is happening today ?

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Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, has seen almost daily demonstrations in recent weeks, some of which have turned violent.

Critics are accusing President Nicolas Maduro of moving towards a dictatorship, and want him to resign.

But Maduro says the opposition is conspiring with foreign entities, specifically the US, to destabilise the country.

Clashes broke out on Wednesday in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, where hundreds of thousands of people held rival protests amid rising tensions over the country’s political crisis. Security forces fired tear gas at anti-government demonstrators, accusing Maduro of eroding democracy and plunging the economy into chaos.

Ten people have been killed during near daily clashes this month between security forces  and protesters.

Opposition leaders called for a silent march on Saturday, to commemorate those who died. However, after Saturday’s show of silent defiance, the center-right opposition returned to a more confrontational strategy on Monday, and called for Venezuelans to block roads in a bid to grind the country to a halt.    

The opposition’s main demands are for elections, the release of jailed activists and autonomy for the opposition-led congress. But protests are also fueled by the economic crisis. On Monday demonstrators wore the yellow, blue and red colours of Venezuela’s flag and held signs denouncing shortages, inflation and violent crime as they chanted: “This government has fallen!”

Demonstrations were largely peaceful, although there were some scattered reports of security forces dispersing people with tear gas. 

Opposition supporters attend to a rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on April 24 [Christian Veron/Reuters] 

1. How did the protests start?

Instability and political turmoil reached a peak on March 30, when Venezuela’s Supreme Court magistrates, aligned with socialist President Nicolas Maduro, ruled that it will take over the opposition-led Congress’ legislative powers, in a move condemned by opposition parties as an attempt to install a dictatorship.

In January 2016, the Supreme Court suspended the elections of four legislators – three that were enrolled with the opposition and one with the ruling party – for alleged voting irregularities.

The opposition accused the court of trying to strip them of their super-majority, and went ahead and swore in three of the legislators in question.

In response, the Supreme Court ruled that the entire National Assembly was in contempt and all decisions it made would be null.

The deadlock continued, when electoral officials suspended a stay-or-go referendum against Maduro and postponed regional elections until 2017.

After the National Assembly refused to approve the country’s state-run oil company, PDVSA ,from forming joint ventures with private companies, the government went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that it will take over the opposition-led Congress’ legislative powers.

Security forces violently repressed protests that broke out the next day, and although the court quickly reversed its decision, street protests have continued.

 2. What other problems is Venezuela facing?

Venezuela is not facing only one crisis but multiple interconnected crises.

Key among them is the state of the economy. In January 2017, according to estimates by the Finance and Economic Development Commission of the National Assembly (AN), it was predicted that inflation will close this year at 679.73 percent.

However according to the International Monetary Fund, this year and next year’s projection is even higher. The organisation estimates that inflation will reach 720.5 percent this year, the highest in the Americas, and  2,068.5 percent by 2018. 

However, the economic crisis is hitting Venezuela’s public health system the hardest. In the country’s public hospitals, medicine and equipment are increasingly not available.

READ MORE: Why some Venezuelans have turned to bitcoin mining

During a three-year economic crisis and record levels of violent crime and poverty, Maduro’s popularity has dipped to its lowest point of the last few years.

He also has been accused of using authoritarian methods to stop dissent.

Venezuela’s political opposition has been represented mainly by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of different parties including centrist, centre-left, left-wing and centre-right parties.

Many Venezuelans distrust parts of the coalition, which includes figures who were active in politics decades ago. 

The strength of the coalition has also been hit by internal power struggles as well as disagreements over ideology and policy.

READ MORE: Venezuela – Cancer in a time of crisis

3. What is the government defending? 

Maduro ordered the military on to the streets to defend the leftist  “Bolivarian Revolution” launched by his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.

“From the first reveille, from the first rooster crow, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will be in the streets … saying, ‘Long live the Bolivarian Revolution’,” he said in a televised address.

Maduro denounced his opponents as “traitors” and praised the military’s “unity and revolutionary commitment”.

4. What are the latest developments?

Venezuelan authorities have banned top opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office for 15 years, the latest move in an increasingly tense power struggle.

Capriles, 44, has been the most prominent leader of Venezuela’s opposition over the past decade, twice coming close to winning the presidency.

The current wave of marches, the most sustained protests against Maduro since 2014, has sparked regular clashes in which youths and National Guard troops exchange volleys of rocks and tear gas.

“We are protesting, because we are in disagreement with the government of Nicolas Maduro. We are experiencing a serious crisis that is suffocating us,” journalist Leonardo Bruzual told Al Jazeera. 

“For those of us who work and earn a normal salary, we can barely eat. We literally have young boys and girls, kids, elderly, eating from the garbage. We want a change in the government,” he added. 

Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami said on Friday the country is facing what he calls an “unconventional war” led by opposition groups working in concert with criminal gangs.

Riot police firing tear gas fought running street battles in the east, west, and south of Caracas with demonstrators demanding the ouster of Maduro, witnesses quoted by AFP news agency said.

On Thursday, the president said the opposition had agreed to new talks, but his opponents denied the claim, saying the only way forward was new elections.

Senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles slammed Maduro as a “dictator” and “mythomaniac”.

Eleven Latin American countries issued a joint statement this week calling on authorities to set a timeframe for elections to “allow for a quick solution to the crisis that Venezuela is living through”.

Source: Al Jazeera News

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/venezuela-happening-170412114045595.html

at 10:02 pm

Parisians react to first round, mull Le Pen’s chances

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Paris, France – French citizens have chosen centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen to contest the final round of the presidential election, set to take place on May 7.


Everything you need to know about the vote

How does the French presidential election work?

All you need to know about Le Pen and Macron

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Macron picked up 23.8 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 21.5 percent in Sunday’s first round, which saw a higher than expected turnout of 79 percent, according to the French interior ministry.

A 39-year-old former investment banker who has never stood for public office before, Macron is expected to beat Le Pen in the run-off election by a margin of around 20 points.

His support base is in the west of France, and major urban settlements, including the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris.

In the French capital, Macron picked up 35 percent of the vote, compared to Le Pen’s five, perhaps explaining the difficulty in finding voices willing to express support for National Front (FN) leader in the city. 

Al Jazeera asked Parisians how they felt about Sunday’s election and whether they believed a Le Pen victory is possible.


Emma is worried Le Pen may take France out of the EU [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Emma said she was disappointed to see Le Pen go through to the run-off because the far-right leader has mulled taking France out of the EU.

She also fears the language Le Pen has used to describe refugees but does not believe she can beat Macron in the second round.

“I don’t see Marine Le Pen winning because many supporters of (Benoit) Hamon and (Francois) Fillon (eliminated candidates) are going to vote Macron.”


Lisa said it was ‘crazy’ that Le Pen made the run-off  [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Lisa said it was “crazy” that Le Pen had reached the second round of the election, but added the high level of support for Melenchon among young people was a sign that they wanted change.

“The younger generation want something new, maybe Melenchon is too radical but we are stuck with politicians who do nothing,” she said, adding that she thought Le Pen had little chance of winning.

“All of the left is going to vote for Macron, and also a lot of the right, but we won’t know for sure until it happens.”

Sabrine, Adewele, and Charlene 

Sabrine (left) said she would leave France if Le Pen won [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Sabrine, Adewele, and Charlene, are student interns at an insurance company in central Paris.

While being interviewed, a colleague outside of the frame joked that they looked like Marine Le Pen’s vision of France.

“One Beur (Arab), one black, one white,” he said sarcastically.

The trio are fans of leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, but said they would now vote against Le Pen in the upcoming run-off vote.

“I plan to leave France if she becomes the next president,” said Sabrine, adding: “I don’t want my six-month old daughter growing up with Le Pen on her case.”

Adewele agreed and said he would move to an English-speaking country if Le Pen won, but does not think it is likely she will.

Charlene said Macron had “no charisma”, but people would vote for him because they wanted to “avoid having a President Le Pen”.


Hugo said he did not vote in the first round, but would not risk letting Le Pen in when it comes to the run-off [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Hugo did not vote in the first round despite being a Melenchon supporter, but said he would not risk the chance of Le Pen winning the second round.

“If French people made the effort to read Le Pen’s programme, they would understand how negative her proposals are,” he said.

“She can win and that’s why I’ll be voting in two weeks, if she does [win] then it’s a failure for France.”


Abdel said he supports Melenchon [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Abdel does not think Le Pen has a realistic chance of winning and thinks France will reject her on May 7:

“She has racist ideas and it’s not possible that France would elect such a president.”


Elodie said she did not expect Macron to make the second round [Al Jazeera] 

Elodie said she was shocked that Macron had made the second round at the expense of conservative candidate Fillon.

She told Al Jazeera she does not support Le Pen but sexism would count against her.

“Marine Le Pen cannot win because she’s a woman … France is less open minded than people believe,” she said.


Christian said Macron’s victory would be a ‘revolution’ [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Christian called Macron the “face of France” and someone who would “modernise the French political system”.

When asked if Le Pen had a shot at winning, he said: “No, no, no, Marine Le Pen is not going to win … Macron in the Elysee (palace) is already a revolution, Le Pen won’t win now, and neither will she in 2022.”

Source: Al Jazeera

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/parisians-react-mull-le-pen-chances-170424150147424.html

at 10:02 pm

US officials in Afghanistan suggest Russia arms Taliban

Posted by in Uncategorized

The United States must confront Russia for providing weapons to the Taliban for use against US-backed forces in Afghanistan, top US military officials say.

According to the Associated Press news agency, a senior US military official speaking on condition of anonymity said in Kabul on Monday that Russia was giving machine guns and other medium-weight weapons to the group.

The Taliban are using those weapons in Afghanistan’s southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan, the official said.

General John Nicholson, the American commander in Afghanistan, would not provide specifics about Russia’s role in Afghanistan at a news conference in Kabul alongside Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary.

But Nicolson would “not refute” that Moscow’s involvement includes giving weapons to the Taliban.

Asked about Russia’s activity in Afghanistan, where it fought a bloody war in the 1980s and withdrew in defeat, Mattis alluded to the US’ increasing concerns.

“We’ll engage with Russia diplomatically,” Mattis said. “But we’re going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law or denying the sovereignty of other countries.”

“For example,” Mattis said in the Afghan capital, “any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law.”

Moscow’s position

Russia denies that it provides any such support to the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until the US-led invasion in 2001.

Moscow says contact is limited to safeguarding security and getting the group to reconcile with the government – which Washington has failed for years to advance.

Russia has also promoted easing global sanctions on Taliban leaders who prove cooperative.

The Afghanistan war began in October 2001. The US has about 9,800 troops in the country.

They ended their combat mission against the Taliban in 2014, but are increasingly involved in backing up Afghan forces on the battlefield.

Source: News agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/officials-afghanistan-suggest-russia-arms-taliban-170424204006251.html

at 9:51 am

China urges restraint in dealing with North Korea

Posted by in Uncategorized

China’s President Xi Jinping has called for restraint when dealing with North Korea during a telephone call with President Donald Trump, according to Chinese state media.

The official broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi on Monday as telling Trump that China strongly opposed North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, which are in violation of UN Council resolutions, and hoped “all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation” on the Korean Peninsula.

The Trump administration has warned that all options, including a military strike, are “on the table” to halt North Korea’s ambitions of developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the US mainland.

The phone call, which took place on Monday morning Beijing time, came amid speculation that North Korea could hold a sixth nuclear test this week.

OPINION: Will China intervene in North Korea?

North Korea often marks significant dates by displaying military capability, and South Korean officials say there is a chance the country will conduct a nuclear test or a major missile launch around the founding anniversary of its military on Tuesday.

On April 15, North Korea showed off its advancing nuclear weapons and missiles programme in a massive military parade in Pyongyang honouring late state founder Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current ruler.

The displayed military hardware included prototype ICBMs and new midrange solid-fuel missiles that can be fired from land mobile launchers and submarines, making them harder to detect before launch.

Trump has pressed Xi to exert greater pressure against North Korea, given China’s status as the country’s sole economic lifeline and major ally. Monday’s call is the second time that the two leaders have spoken by telephone since meeting in Florida earlier this month.

Trump also spoke Monday with and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and they agreed to urge North Korea to refrain from what Abe called provocative actions.

Speaking in Sydney on Saturday, US Vice President Mike Pence said the American aircraft carrier USSCarl Vinson would arrive in the Sea of Japan, bordering the Korean Peninsula, “in a matter of days”.

The ship joined other warships for joint exercises with Japan in the Philippine Sea on Sunday.

Confusion has clouded the carrier group’s whereabouts in recent days after President Donald Trump suggested the “armada” was steaming towards North Korea when in fact it was sent towards Australia.

US citizen named

The US citizen detained by North Korea on Saturday has been named as Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk.

Kim, who is 58, taught accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology for about a month, according to the university’s chancellor Park Chan-mo.

Park said Kim was detained by officials as he was trying to leave the country from Pyongyang’s international airport. A university spokesman said he was trying to leave with his wife on a flight to China.

The detention brings the total number of Americans now being held in North Korea to three.

OPINION: When Xi Jinping met Donald Trump

Against this backdrop of tensions on the peninsula, the issue of North Korean refugees in Chinese detention was raised on Monday by Human Rights Watch.

China should immediately reveal the whereabouts of eight North Koreans it detained last month, the US-based rights organisation said.

It said they risk severe torture if they were returned to the North.

Most North Korean refugees begin their escape by crossing into China and then try to make it to third countries – often in Southeast Asia – where they seek asylum in the South.

If caught and returned to the North they can face severe punishment.

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and repatriates them based on a border protocol adopted in 1986.

“By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-un’s administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“There is no way to sugar coat this: if this group is forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” Robertson said.

More than 40 North Koreans, including children and pregnant women, have been held by China over the past nine months, Human Rights Watch said, and at least nine forcibly returned to the North.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, more than 30,000 North Koreans have escaped – most after a deadly famine in the mid-90s – and settled in the South.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is believed to have tightened border controls since he came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011.

The number of refugees arriving in South Korea plunged nearly 50 percent to 1,417 last year.

Source: News agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/china-urges-restraint-north-korea-trump-call-170424055213006.html

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