Pages

Monday, February 29, 2016

Turkey, Kurds and the US



By Robert Olson
February 26, 2016
There is no question that tensions between Turkey and the US have increased substantially as a result of differences over to what degree the US is supporting the Syrian Kurdish nationalist Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), which are the strongest political and most effective forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) and some of its affiliated groups in Syria. The PYD/YPG are also the strongest entities among the 14 competing Kurdish nationalist organizations in Syria.
The principal issue at hand is Turkey's stance that the US and the US-led coalition against IS are supporting the PYD/YPG forces, which recently have been mobilized under the name Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), comprising Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians and Turkmens, as well as Kurds. The inclusion of the non-Kurds is to give the SDF a sense of being “democratic” or at least pluralistic, when compared to IS, al-Qaeda and other jihadist and anti-Assad forces.
It has been known almost from the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011 that Turkey has been supporting jihadist forces in order to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey supported these forces not only in order to topple the Assad regime but also in order to emasculate, sever and/or destroy the close relations between the PYD/YPG and the Kurdish nationalist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) within Turkey itself.
When Turkey and the US came to an agreement in July 2014 that allowed the US and NATO air forces to use the İncirlik Air Base, enabling these forces to more effectively attack IS, it seemed to patch up differences between Ankara and Washington regarding Turkey's low-profile strategy against IS. But as it turned out, Ankara interpreted the agreement as a license to attack PKK bases in northern Iraq as well as within Turkey; subsequently, Turkey did occasionally attack some non-strategic IS sites.
Even at this stage of the war, there were mounting indications that Ankara and Washington were not on the same page regarding strategies and tactics versus the war against IS. The emerging divisions were clear: The major objective of the US (and the coalition against IS) was to constrain and degrade IS, although not to destroy it. Neither Turkey nor its partners Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) wanted IS destroyed, at least not at the time. Turkey's main objective in the “War against Terrorism” was to use the war to destroy the PYD/YPG and by extension emasculate the PKK and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), which Turkey -- at least the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- considered its major problem within Turkey's domestic politics as well as its biggest foreign policy challenge because of the PYD/YPG's close relationships with the PKK.
AKP's Strategy Becomes Clear After June 7
The AKP's strategy became clear after the June 7 parliamentary election and in the snap election that followed on Nov. 1, 2015. Between these two elections and subsequently, war raged between the PKK/KCK and government forces, which led to a full-scale war in the heavily populated Kurdish provinces of south-eastern Turkey, which are ongoing even as I write this article.
Tensions between Ankara and Washington had heightened in the fall of 2014 when it became clear that Washington was supplying arms and logistical help and providing advisory aid to the YPG. Turkey and the AKP characterized this as aiding terrorists. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made clear that as far as Turkey was concerned, there was no difference between the YPG and the PKK -- terrorists were terrorists. How could the US state that the PKK was a terrorist organization and not the PYD/YPG when Turkey and its intelligence agencies had presented hundreds of pages of evidence documenting to the US the close ties between the YPG and the PKK?
It is the above situation that has led to the current vituperative exchanges between Turkey and the US, as a result of the Feb. 17 bomb attack aiming to strike at the national security offices of the government and armed forces headquarters right in the center of Ankara in which 28 people, most of them armed forces personnel, were killed and 60 some wounded.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu immediately charged that the Foreign Ministry had evidence that the attack was carried out by a YPD/YPG operative. It was later asserted that the attack might have been carried out by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a militant Kurdish nationalist group that at one time had ties with the PKK. The recent decentralization of the PKK leadership leaves the possibility open that there are still ties between the two organizations. Davutoğlu stated on Feb. 20 that he did not rule out that if the attack was carried out by TAK, it acted as a proxy for the YPG. The leadership of the YPG denied that it had any role whatsoever in the attack. On the contrary, its leaders have said on several occasions that it wants good relations with Turkey. The attack was just too much for Erdoğan, who declared on Feb. 17, the day of the attack, once again to Washington: “I told you many times: Are you with us or against us? Hey, America. Because you never recognized them as a terrorist group, the region has turned into a sea of blood.”
Two countries, both allies, agree ardently with regard to policies against supposedly mutual enemies, in this case IS and the PKK, but disagree with regard to the YPG, which Turkey considers a terror organization.
The Difference in the Readouts
The differences were profoundly captured in the readouts of exchanges between Erdoğan's presidential office and the White House. The White House stated: “[US President Barack] Obama expressed concern over the advance of the Syrian regime and the YPG in north-western Syria. He urged Turkey to show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area.” But the Turkish readout differed from that of the White House, stating, “Obama underlined Turkey's legitimate right to self-defence, while expressing unwavering commitment to the United States to support Turkey's national security as a NATO ally.” But the White House' readout did not mention “Turkey's legitimate right to self-defence.” The White House was seen to insinuate that Turkey did not have the right to self-defence with regard to PYD/YPG actions within Syria. Such a position differs markedly from the White House's position with regard to Israel's 2014 war against Gaza on the basis that Hamas first fired rockets into Israel.
The exchanges between Turkey and the US with regard to the Feb. 17 attack in Ankara are extremely important for one essential reason, and that is Erdoğan's unanswered question: “Are you for us or with the terrorist organization?” The answer to that posed question is complex, and it rests on what one considers the vital national security interests of the United States vis-à-vis those of Turkey, especially regarding the “War against Terrorism,” which the US has declared as its prime national security policy since 2001. US interests are global, while Turkey's are a national and regional. When there is a major clash between a superpower and a strong regional allied power, with some exceptions, it is the superpower's policy that prevails. This is the dilemma of Turkey. Turkey's concern is what it defines as terrorism or terrorists and considers as threatening its national security, as in the case of the PYD/YPG and the PKK.
The row between Ankara and Turkey is, however, indicative and maybe even symbolic of differences not just between Turkey and the US but of the role that the Middle East will play in the future national security policies of the US. The major question to be asked is: Just how important is the Middle East in the major geo-economic and geostrategic developments occurring in the world?
The policies of the Obama administration that lessened the significance of the Middle East are bound to continue with the next American administration, regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat becomes president. The election propaganda about invading and carpet-bombing IS, al-Qaeda and jihadists of all types will quickly subside or disappear after Jan. 20, 2017. The reasons are clear. The US simply is not as dependent on Sunni Arab Gulf oil and gas as formerly. The state institutions of Iraq and Syria are destroyed. Israel can take care of itself, even without US help, although US aid will, of course, continue. Iran will be brought slowly into the comity of nations over the next decade or so. The US relationship with Saudi Arabia will be modified and reduced slowly and then expedited when IS and other terrorists threats are diminished. But such threats, of course, will not go away any time soon. In addition, the global economic system will require the energy resources of Arab Gulf countries far into the future.
This is clear in the case of Turkey. Turkey is and will remain a strong ally of the US, but Turkey will be on its own as far as most of its domestic and foreign policies are concerned. Turkey is and will remain a strong ally of the US, EU and NATO for the defence of the Black Sea, the eastern Mediterranean, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Turkey's ties, like those of Israel, will remain close to the US for other reasons as well. This is easily seen just by the two countries' close cooperation on the manufacture of the Lockheed Martin F-35 jet fighter, which is expected to be the workhorse of the next two generations of fighter jets. Turkey has been supporting and manufacturing hundreds of components for the program since 2004. Turkish companies are expected to earn some $12 billion for their production of everything, from components for the Pratt & Whitney engine, titanium integrated blade rotors and optical components for the targeting system. Turkey is also producing 40 percent of the F-35 wiring and interconnection system. Turkish companies are also producing air frame structures and assembling the precision-guided Standoff missiles to be used in the F-35.
Other than Israel, Turkey is the only country in the Middle East that has such a role in producing the F-35. Israel has a $5 billion program to build the wings for the F-35. This is yet another reason for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which already enjoy a $5 billion trade. It seems likely that Turkey, Israel and the US will continued to cooperate closely with regard to avionics, missile construction, cyber warfare and nuclear programs.
Nevertheless, it should be clear from the above that the US will be even more tolerant in the future of Kurdish nationalist movements throughout the Middle East, not just in Iraq and Syria but also within Turkey and Iran. Ankara has had ample time to see developments in Iraqi Kurdistan over the past 13 years and the past five years in Syria. Ankara should consider these developments as it contemplates what polices to pursue vis-à-vis the Kurdish nationalist movements within Turkey itself. In this regard, it will not get much help from the US.
Robert Olson is a Middle East analyst.
Source: todayszaman.com/op-ed_turkey-kurds-and-the-us_413427.html

After Elections, Iranian Women's Demands Are Forgotten



By Massoumeh Torfeh
28 Feb 2016
Iran's parliamentary elections this year included the highest number ever of women candidates from the combined reformist-moderate camp. Supporters of President Hassan Rouhani joined forces with the reformists presenting a combined list of 30 candidates for Tehran, eight - less than one-third - of which are women.
More or less, the same pattern was seen across the country. Photos of women candidates were branded around on campaign posters and the reformist media hailed this as a major success.
Despite persistent attempts by women to find a voice in the politics of the Islamic Republic, their presence has been minimal and, for the most part, cosmetic. It is now almost the norm that at important historical junctures, the male-dominated conservative establishment calls upon women to perform their "Islamic duty" and participate in elections. Once the elections are over, however, women's demands are forgotten.
Will Elections Change The Course Of Iranian Politics?
The encouragement to participate in this year's elections came first from the spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"There is no need for women to take permission from their husbands to take part in the elections," he said in one of his guidelines on elections.
Some newspaper columnists took this to be a liberating step. But since it is not a general edict and it refers only to women casting their vote, it can only be interpreted as a measure to persuade higher participation.
World Public Opinion
Rouhani followed suit, stressing the importance of the post-nuclear-deal environment, and saying: "Women's presence in elections is important for world public opinion."
Iran 37 years later: Any hope for reforms?
"Everyone who's qualified - whether male or female - should participate in the elections to the parliament and to the Assembly of Experts," said the president.
Iranian women who played a significant role in the revolution of 1979 have been pushed back time and again by the establishment not just on the Islamic dress code, but with all kinds of curtailments on their legal rights ...
Both elections were held simultaneously on Friday. But the Guardian Council has not approved a single woman candidate for the Assembly of Experts. And for the parliamentary elections, the council only approved a minimum of the lesser-known women out of the 1,400 who had registered.
Soheila Jelodarzadeh, one of the "moderate" women candidates, announced that the elections should be regarded as the 'nuclear deal number two' in which "the government would give the nation its rights".
Another, Parvaneh Salahshoor, recalled how effective women had been in the outgoing parliament: "Women gave 42 written warnings and posed 10 questions to ministers."
This clearly shows how limited the function of women is in the 290-seat parliament, which presently only has eight women MPs, one of the lowest levels in the world.
Yet, the publicity goes on.
"Iran has attained great achievements in women empowerment," says Shahindokht Molaverdi, vice president for Women and Family Affairs. As one of the few women in a high-level post she admits there are difficulties in "gender equality and women empowerment", which she believes are due to the "natural differences" that exist between men and women.
'Natural Differences'
Those "natural differences", plus the strict Islamist interpretations of women's role in society, have dwarfed women's progress in the parliament, making it go one step forward and two steps back. There have been no major political views expressed by women in the parliament nor any persuasive suggestions on new legislation. Those who were outspoken have been barred.
Iranian women who played a significant role in the revolution of 1979 have been pushed back time and again by the establishment not just on the Islamic dress code, but with all kinds of curtailments on their legal rights, even over their basic demands for equal treatment in family laws and the custody of their children. Many women activists who defended these rights have been labelled as "feminists" or "agents of foreign countries".
Even at the height of the reform period in the two terms in office of President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) in which there were 11 women MPs, no laws were changed to bring women any closer to equal rights.
"I was really keen to improve women's advancement to top jobs in the sixth Majlis," says Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, an outspoken woman MP in the Reformist-led parliament of May 2000, now in exile in the US.
"I advocated equal chances for top jobs for women. But almost everyone in the parliament, even my own reformist colleagues, disagreed with me."
Her point is crucial because it illustrates the fact that many of the women members of parliament do not necessarily seek equal rights even in the discriminatory laws of marriage divorce family or inheritance. This is either because they do not believe women should have equal rights or because they fear they will have no chance of success in Iran's political structure.
Reversing the Trend
Rouhani has tried to reverse the traditionalist trend by choosing three women deputies and a woman ambassador and has in his speeches invited women to be more active. But so far, he has failed to choose a woman minister, perhaps fearing rejection by the establishment.
That explains why the fight for equal rights has been mainly limited to the educated urban middle-class women whose frustration has intensified over the years.
Women bloggers, journalists and lawyers led the fight against the stoning of women to death. Thousands of women students marched across the country condemning violence against women and demanding equal rights. Women students called for academic freedoms to be included in candidates' policies.
Many women were sent to prison for being part of the international campaign, One Million Signatures. Leading members of the Stop Stoning Forever campaign were arrested in 2007. And several prominent women's and human rights lawyers have been arrested, barred from their practices and silenced over the years.
So, 37 years on, women in the Islamic Republic are still discriminated against in most aspects of family, social, economic and political life.
"Right to vote for all," Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted on Monday.
"Right to vote is a joke without the right to free elections," replied the veteran women's rights activist, Shadi Sadr, now living in exile in London.
Dr Massoumeh Torfeh is the former director of strategic communication at the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan and is currently a research associate at the London School of Economics and Political Science specialising in Iran Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/02/elections-iranian-women-demands-forgotten-160223074347892.html

A Test for Iran’s Future




By Ramin Jahanbegloo
February 29, 2016
Elections in an illiberal country like Iran are not merely a political show, since the outcome serves as a test for the balance among the country’s power centres.
On Friday, February 26, Iranians went to the polls to elect members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (ICA). These elections are part of a general process that also elects the 88 members of the Assembly of Experts (Assembly). This was the first time since 1979 that the two political bodies were elected simultaneously.
The Assembly is in charge of selecting the next Supreme Leader. Given the poor health of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the new Assembly, elected for an eight-year term, is likely to pick his successor. These were the first polls for Iranians since President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure began in 2013 and the landmark nuclear agreement in July 2015. Although Rouhani and his cabinet showed their political power by securing the deal and getting the sanctions reduced, these elections were a confrontation between Rouhani’s achievements and the strategies and agenda of Iran’s ultra-conservatives and hardliners.
Rouhani’s “constructive and dignified engagement with the world” has been developed as a permanent effort in striking a balance between continuity and change. Aware of the hawkish resistance before him, Rouhani chose a viable path of principled compromise by boosting the pragmatic centrist position in his electoral strategy. However, the real balance was in Rouhani and his allies’ political strategy to slow down the growth of the power-base of hardliners in the parliament and in the Assembly.
 Therefore, what emerged in the run-up to the elections was an alignment among three key figures of the Iranian Revolution — Hassan Rouhani, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Khomeini (late Ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson) — who, by targeting the Assembly, tried to push back ultra-conservative figures like Ahmad Jannati and Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi and win against all those empowered since the election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. Unfortunately, the Guardians’ Council (Council), the influential oversight body examining all laws passed by parliament, disqualified a large number of contestants.
While a total of 12,123 aspiring candidates registered to run, only 4,720 were qualified. Not surprisingly, out of the total 3,000 reformist candidates, only 30, or 1 per cent, were allowed by the Council.
The extent of disqualifications represents a tour de force by the hardliners who continue to be worried by Rouhani’s management of domestic politics and his close diplomatic relations with the West. As a result, every effort was made to block the entry of reformers to parliament and the Assembly, in order to consolidate the hard-liners’ hold and prevent Rouhani’s government from advancing its economic and political priorities.
It’s very unlikely, though, that the pragmatic centrists could bring about sweeping changes in the near future. But the elimination of reformists will not end Rouhani’s efforts to push his agenda among the more pragmatic and business-oriented members of the Revolutionary Guards and the more flexible sections of the conservative faction in parliament. After all, as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council in 1989-2005, Rouhani has learned his lessons well in Iranian Machiavellianism. He knows when and how to compromise with his allies, whether reformists or moderates inside the conservative camp.
Without reformists in the future parliament, Rouhani’s best chance would be a legislative body with a majority of moderates and semi-conservatives. The reality is that, with Hassan Khomeini’s disqualification, Rouhani’s hopes of forming a powerful faction within the Assembly ended. Surely then, the conservatives should have all the cards to dominate, although former president Rafsanjani’s qualification might steer the Assembly towards his own strategies in choosing the next Supreme Leader.
The outcome of the Assembly election (essentially a contest between those like Rafsanjani who advocate a permanent Leadership Council to take on the tasks of the Supreme Leader and hardliners who favour selection of a new Supreme Leader), will have a big impact on domestic and foreign policies. In view of the Supreme Leader’s important role, the new Assembly’s decision could be a turning point for the Revolution and its consequences.
One doesn’t have to be clairvoyant to discern the future of Iranian politics. The elections will change nothing immediately. But then, these polls are the closest politics can come to shaping Iran’s future. The real impact will be felt over the next few years when the battle for the next Supreme Leader begins. But the electoral outcome of February 2016 will be more significant than Rouhani’s 2013 presidential victory.
Source: indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-test-for-irans-future/99/print/

What Muslims Face In US



By Zeenat Khan
February 28, 2016
AT A time when Muslims who are living in America are facing ongoing verbal attacks from Donald Trump, a Republican frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination, American president Barack Obama’s first visit to a US mosque in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 3 has sparked new debates. The recent terrorist attacks have put the Muslims in a tough spot and they have to defend their identity as Muslims and explain away that there is a monumental difference between the terrorists and the good Muslims.
In his speech, Obama talked about the positive role Islam has played in the nation’s history. He denounced the violence and the anti-Muslim rhetoric that is on the rise since the deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California in 2015. He also emphasised that for the horrific acts of a few terrorists, an entire religious group should not be targeted. To the gathering Muslims at the Islamic Society mosque, Obama’s words reaffirmed the role of American Muslims. He reminded them of America’s tradition of religious freedom. He asked the religious leaders to speak out against extremism and to strengthen interfaith alliance. He again reiterated that America needs a fresher course on religious tolerance.
Since then Donald Trump has made endless condescending and repugnant remarks aimed at the Muslims. On February 20, before ending his final campaign in South Carolina, to rile up the crowd, Trump related an anecdote about a US four-star general. He told the crowd that roughly about a hundred years ago when the general was battling the Muslim insurgents in the Philippines, he made his troop dip bullets in pig’s blood before shooting them. Trump believes that similar practices can be an American strategy to teach the Muslims a lesson. The story, however, turned out to be a hoax. Because of such outrageous and made up tales of Donald, the Muslims in America are left with more questions about politics of fear than some much-needed resolutions as Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric continues to climb. There is no doubt left in people’s mind that Trump is a product of racism and Islamophobia.
Trump also called for a boycott of all Apple products since CEO Tim Cook is resisting a court order to give access to the FBI by providing them the security code of Farook and wife Tashfeen’s iPhones (a Pakistani couple responsible for the December San Bernardino, California attacks).
It is rather disheartening to see and read that some are comparing Trump’s anti-Muslim proposals with the civil rights movement because of his bold conservative statements. It is shameful to watch that Muslim activists who attend any of Donald Trump rally and dare to talk back to him with answers like ‘Islam is not the problem’ are bullied, given bad looks and sometimes escorted out in handcuffs by the police. Such police aggression is becoming a daily occurrence. Some fearless ones do continue with their fights as did Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and many other rights activists who fought against racism.
To quote American essayist Marilynne Robinson: ‘Since religion is central to most identities within the larger national culture, religious tolerance has been the great guarantor of the survival of the variety of cultures.’ This theory today does not apply to Donald Trump’s America. Today, sentiment of intolerance towards the Muslims or Islam is a glaring reality. With each passing day, such negative feelings are manifesting on a massive scale, erupting and engulfing a lot of people’s way of thinking. People are behaving emotionally as such anti-Muslim sentiments are sweeping through America.
In some work places, the Muslim workers are even being denied of their civil rights and religious freedom. This past January, there was an enormous dispute over prayer breaks in a meatpacking industry in Fort Morgan, Colorado. A huge number of workers there are refugees of East African descent. Eleven Somalian women workers were fired from their jobs over taking short breaks for prayer. The company’s supervisors were hostile to prayer requests and in protest, those women did not show up for work for a few days. Then they were let go.
Such workplace disputes are complex and workers who hold very strong religious and cultural beliefs face undue hardship. The company owners argued that in a slaughterhouse, making leeway for the workers’ religious accommodation imposes a significant cost on the employer, and, therefore, the company had a right to deny that request. It sounds rather a lame argument that a worker missing 10 minutes of work can slow down an entire shift.
Since the beginning of time, religious aggression has led to horrific mass killings of the Muslims. The Serbian aggression in Kosovo in the 1990s led by Slobodan Milosevic resulted in the genocidal ‘ethnic cleansing’ by torturing, killing and executing thousands of Albanian Muslims.
Donald Trump’s image may not immediately spring in mind as Milosevic’s evil twin, but he is not far behind. Since he launched his campaign, he has said things about punishing the Muslims in every conceivable way. Donald has very superficial knowledge about the Muslim world, who never took the time to understand the Islamic definitions of extremism and faith-based solutions. In such trying times in America, the Islamic scholars are holding seminars which focus on the reasons for the extremism, and what the Muslims should be doing to build healthy communities by dispelling the negative stereotypes about the Muslims. Trump has maligned and ridiculed the peaceful and law abiding Muslim communities in the United States, Europe and worldwide.
He even went after the few thousand Syrian refugees who were granted asylum in the United States. When the Obama administration is trying to reinforce the US refugee programme, he kept up his anti-Muslim slurs. With his billions of dollars and worldly comforts, Trump is simply unable to understand that these refugee families have escaped violence, civil war in countries like Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We cannot pretend that the Muslims have not done anything to attract criticism. For the last decade, acts of violence in the name of Islam have raised fear and confusion about this religion that has over 1.6 billion followers in the world. The ones who are responsible for so much mayhem and devastation are not peace-loving everyday Muslims. They are selected groups of terrorists who follow extreme idealism in the name of Islam. In recent history, it started with 9/11. Some of the victims’ families still continue to say explosive things like ‘Islam=Terror.’
Following the terrorist attack, the plan to build an Islamic Community Centre near Ground Zero in New York City had sparked huge controversy. The aim of that centre was to promote multi-religious and cross-cultural exchanges. Many Americans did not embrace the construction of the building as a symbolic attempt to reject bigotry and hatred.
The two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made the military families in the United States very impatient. Front-page stories showing US flag draped caskets carrying the remains of the dead soldiers reaching the American soil devastated many. American people know that it is the American president who had sent troops to those places and yet mainstream America vented its anger on the Muslims and Islam.
There were thousands of casualties on both sides, but the numbers of Muslims killed far exceed the coalition forces. The dead Muslims were termed as collateral damage.
During the Iraq war, a heartbreaking image of a Marine Corporal named Todd Nicely, a quadruple amputee in a wheel chair leaving his daily physical therapy session dismayed the Americans. In the photo, he had his wife Crystal by his side holding his prosthetic leg in one hand and a bouquet of flowers with another. Readers empathised with the couple’s anxiety ridden faces laced with uncertainty, and whatever challenges that lie ahead. Such an image of unbroken spirit only evoked sympathy for the couple, and many people once again blamed Islam.
The January 7, 2015 brutal terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo for publishing controversial Muhammad cartoons left 12 people dead. Al Qaeda’s offshoot in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for that attack. The November 13, 2015 attacks in the heart of Paris left 129 people dead and 352 wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack. The December 2 San Bernardino mass shooting attacks left 14 dead and 22 injured. It is alleged that the perpetrators, the married couple was supported by ISIS.
All of the above attacks were condemned from the Vatican to the White House. However, post-9/11 sentiment and the recent San Bernardino killings have left deep scar in the American psyche. Intolerance continues to grow because a person like Donald Trump with his anti-Islamic comments is adding fuel to the fire when public emotion is very raw against the Muslims.
In the multicultural and multi-faith America, immigrant Muslims must find a way to grow a new national sentiment against religious intolerance by emphasising that our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The goal should be to reconcile differences by igniting positive debates about acceptance of other religions and their teachings.
America is a home to one of the most diverse groups of Muslims in the world. American leaders have always preached their love for liberty, equality and freedom of religion. In the face of current tragedies, attitude and sympathy towards the Muslims are plummeting. It is essential for both party leaders to put themselves in the shoes of the American Muslims and focus on the current reality. Every day Americans by no means should give Donald Trump a free ride in bashing a minority group because of their religion. The pastoral leaders and religious scholars have a great role to play here. They can stand up and preach that the War on Terror only involves a small subset of Muslims.
If we are inept to be tolerant of different religious beliefs, we only give power to the likes of Donald Trump to tarnish the name of the good Muslims. This tolerance is much needed in America now. Otherwise, like a boogieman Donald will continue to keep us up at night!
Zeenat Khan is a US-based freelance writer.
Source: newagebd.net/206713/what-muslims-face-in-us/

The Persistence of Poverty in the Arab World



By Fraus Masri
28 Feb 2016
2016 ushered in the revamped United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which built on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000. Poverty eradication is the number one developmental goal of both the MDGs and SDGs.
Over the past two decades, global efforts have been successful as the number of people living in poverty declined by more than half, from more than 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. Despite such progress, the Arab world continues to lag in its efforts to combat poverty.
In fact, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of the population in the region making less than $1.25 a day increased from 4.1 percent to 7.4 percent (PDF). Previously, countries in the region had made progress in reducing poverty, but high levels of political unrest had reversed many of these improvements.
Poverty and Conflict: A Direct Correlation
The persistence of conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen remains one of the main drivers of poverty regionally. In Syria, after five years of civil war, it is estimated that 80 percent of the population lives in poverty, and life expectancy has been cut by 20 years.
Almost a decade after the US-led invasion in 2003, poverty rates are on the rise in Iraq, with statistics from the World Bank showing that 28 percent of Iraqi families live under the poverty line.
The mass displacement from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) controlled areas; the decline in global oil prices and higher unemployment rates has meant that despite its oil wealth, the Iraqi government has failed miserably in addressing the poverty rate in the country.
Arab governments should understand that poverty also has a security and stability dimension. The 2011 uprisings have shown that Arab societies have the ability to challenge incompetent governance and corruption.
Yemen's poverty rate has increased from 42 percent of the population in 2009 to an even more alarming 54.5 percent in 2012.
Despite an initial wave of optimism after the 2011 Arab uprisings, countries in North Africa continue to face economic challenges that have seen poverty rates increase in many areas.
In Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, five years of political upheaval have taken a toll on the economy. Increased unemployment, lower tourist arrivals, dwindling foreign currency reserves and a weaker Egyptian pound has meant that 26 percent of Egypt's 90 million people live under the poverty line.
Despite a relatively successful and ongoing political transition in Tunisia, one in every six Tunisians lives below the poverty line, as well. Tunisia is one of the highest contributors of ISIL fighters per capita, and Tunisian leaders continue to make a direct correlation between poverty and terrorism.
In the Palestinian territories, a lack of employment opportunities due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation continues to drive rising levels of poverty (PDF). Nearly two years after the war in Gaza, reconstruction efforts have slowed to a crawl. Such efforts promised employment for thousands of Palestinians; however, the slow trickle of foreign donations and a deficiency of construction materials indicate that the situation will not improve any time soon.
Although the outlook for the West Bank appears less grim than in Gaza, high levels of poverty persist as many Palestinians hold jobs that pay a meagre wage. This shortage of suitable employment forces many Palestinians to seek employment from companies operating in settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.
Even with some Palestinians performing these jobs out of necessity, per-capita income in the West Bank continues to decline. In Gaza, the situation is even worse with per-capita income 31 percent lower than in 1994.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The SDGs provide an ambitious blueprint for global development that includes a focus on education, the environment, women's rights, sustainable water, and many other critical areas. While all of these issues are of importance to the region, it will become increasingly problematic to progress these goals without a renewed emphasis on poverty eradication.
Countries currently in conflict pose the greatest challenge to poverty eradication efforts, as participants in these conflicts have pushed aside humanitarian concerns in the quest for victory. The international community should make preparations for post-war reconstruction in Syria and Yemen, while also remaining wary of incomplete political settlements that raise the prospect for the resumption of hostilities in the future.
Even though in Palestine it is unlikely that the Israeli occupation will end anytime soon, Fatah and Hamas should work towards a reconciliation to improve the system of governance in the territories. This will provide Palestinians with a united front to tackle the challenges posed by the occupation and ease the suffering felt in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Arab countries must recognise that absolute poverty is only one dimension of the problem and that redistributive policies can only go so far to address the issue. The uprisings have shown that Arab youth not only protested against economic inequality, but also against marginalisation and political disenfranchisement. Any renewed push for more economic opportunities must also provide Arab youth with a chance to shape their future.
Lower oil prices will likely affect the level of aid wealthier Gulf Cooperation Council countries give to poorer countries in the region. Nonetheless, such aid should not simply dry up. The Saudi-led coalition has destroyed a large portion of the Yemeni infrastructure, so the Kingdom and members of its coalition should bear a large part of the reconstruction effort.
Arab governments should understand that poverty also has a security and stability dimension. The 2011 uprisings have shown that Arab societies have the ability to challenge incompetent governance and corruption.
Food security remains a huge challenge for a region that imports much of its key food staples. Should poverty and food security issues not be addressed, any future wave of protests may constitute a "revolution of the hungry", that is likely to be more violent than the wave of 2011.
Fraus Masri is a research assistant at the Brookings Doha Center.
Source: .aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/02/persistence-poverty-arab-world-160228072928685.html

The Islamic State and the Evolution of the Afghan Insurgency



By New Delhi Times Bureau
Feb 29th, 2016
Once an up and coming rebel group, the Islamic State today stands at the frontline of rebel militant groups in the world. The mounting pile of beheaded corpses and the elongating bloody trails are just one of the proofs of the surging power of this zealot organisation. With the world becoming a hotbed for politico-religious expeditions by militant groups, ISIS is fast gaining stronghold in countries beyond Iraq and Syria.
Decreeing a global caliphate, ISIS has since 2014 claimed its authority, political and religious, over Muslims across the world and has been concentrating all its efforts in this direction. While the organisation has been condemned by religious and political leaders of the world for its actions against Islam as well as against the orders of the United Nations, ISIS is busy increasing its foothold in several countries, especially in Europe and Asia.
One such victim nation of the IS insurgency happens to be Afghanistan where several estranged members of the Taliban have begun pledging fealty to ISIS. Hinting at augmenting its presence in the Indian sub-continent, the Islamic State has been recruiting militants for its operations throughout Southern Asia, especially in the unstable country of Afghanistan. The black flags symbolic of the Islamic State have started becoming a common sight in the nation already terribly afflicted by Taliban.
Violent skirmishes between militants and the Afghan forces, blazing houses and beheaded cadavers are all indicative of the gradual rise of the dreaded organisation in Afghanistan. The aggressive attacks by Islamic State on the more established Taliban point to the increased influence of ISIS in the region, just as what occurred in Iraq and Syria when it got involved in scuffles with the already consolidated Al-Qaeda units.
Bearing in mind the establishment of caliphate as the ultimate objective, the Islamic State has begun to shrewdly exploit the political tensions rampant in Afghanistan in its own stride. The public beheadings of security personnel as well as local residents along with the swelling contingent of foreign militants enticed by the extremist interpretation of Sharia laws by ISIS has managed to further sabotage the security of Afghan populace and the peace of the land.
With US winding down its presence in Afghanistan and the Afghan military occupied in conflicts with Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, it was an opportune moment for the ISIS to enter the conflicted land. Much to the chagrin of the Afghan authorities, the emergence of Islamic State has exacerbated the peace and stability scenario of the nation, with no visible hopes for improvement in the near future.
The confirmation by American security personnel that the Afghan Islamic State militants really do have an association with the main ISIS group has been slightly compensated by their assertion that the situation is not as grave as it is in the Middle East. Nonetheless the fact remains that emergence of Islamic State in Afghanistan is a worrying development, how-so-ever diminutive.
Even though the Islamic State faction in Afghanistan is a cause of worry, it has been observed that the extent of their operations in the Afghan land, even after a year, remains very limited. To seek expansion the extremist group will have to vie with the local dynamics of the land- ethno-sectarian, militant and cultural. It is such factors more than any other development or guidance which shall dictate the advancement of Islamic State in Afghanistan.
While the Islamic State links of Afghan militants are alarming for the nation, it comes as a small respite that the organisation failed to make the desired impact in Afghanistan. It is believed that militants pledging allegiance to the extremist Islamist group are none other than the antagonized members of the Taliban group. Links with the main Islamic State or not, the Islamic State faction of Afghanistan is supposedly recruiting foreign fighters as well as the disgruntled Taliban members for the expansion of its activities in the nation.
While the IS faction is busy promoting and expanding its programme for consolidation of its powers in Afghanistan, it has faced frequent backlash from its rival group Taliban. The skirmishes between the two groups had had frequently increasingly unrest as the corollary, leading the path to a relatively precarious future for the nation. With the Taliban deeply entrenched in Afghan politics and with the emergence of new insurgent groups, the unpredictable milieu has pervaded the political and security aspects of the nation. With clashes among the consolidated anti-state organisations, ISIS and the Afghan military, there has been a considerable surge in insecurity in the nation.
 While the number of militants switching sides remains comparatively low, nonetheless ISIS is steadily gaining supporters in Afghanistan who favour Baghdadi’s aim of a global caliphate. With Afghan IS consisting of former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistanis and disgruntled Talibani fighters, the war scenario has becoming more complex, decreasing the likelihood of a peaceful resolution.
Even though the undeniable existence of ISIS in Afghanistan has sparked suspicions of the group’s expansion beyond Iraq and Syria, it is highly unlikely that it will gain a stronghold in Afghanistan the way Taliban does. While violent struggles between IS and other militant groups in Afghanistan are likely to continue this year, the Taliban will still remain the strongest anti-state actor in Afghanistan.
The emergence of Islamic State in Afghanistan is not only being seen as an existential threat to the existing insurgent groups, however weak the threat may be right now, but it has also posed speculations of interruptions at attempted peace talks of the government with Taliban. Also further fragmentations of the Taliban will likely put erstwhile Taliban members into IS ranks, exacerbating the current threat. It is only through forging local cooperative measures that the government can combat the insurgent forces and hope for a peaceful and secure nation.
Source: newdelhitimes.com/the-islamic-state-and-the-evolution-of-the-afghan-insurgency123/

The Clergy’s Power in Pakistan




By Yasser Latif Hamdani
February 29, 2016
In the last two weeks, the Council of Islamic Ideology’s (CII) chief Maulana Sherani has declared that a woman cannot seek Khula from her husband without his permission. Jamia Binoria’s Mufti Naeem has called Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy a Fahash Aurat(immoral woman) on television. Maulana Fazl ur Rahman has re-emerged as the foremost champion of the country’s constitution and ideology. The Maulana has called the pro-women law passed by the Punjab Assembly as being against Islam and the constitution.
Despite their past failures at the polls, the politico-religious parties and their allies have managed to gradually tighten their grip around Pakistan’s neck. It is always the mainstream and ostensibly secular elite, both political and military, that has entertained their demands, right from Liaquat Ali Khan’s time. Pakistan’s first military ruler, Field Marshall Ayub Khan, deployed the clergy against Fatima Jinnah by getting them to issue Fatwas against a woman being elected head of the state. General Yahya Khan, well known for his rambunctious lifestyle, had no qualms about co-opting Maulana Maududi and his Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), amongst the doughtiest opponents of Pakistan’s creation in 1947, for his ideology of the Pakistan project in wake of Bengali demands for autonomy. Next it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who — in his bid to be the Islamic Napoleon- unnecessarily fattened up both Maulana Maududi and Mufti Mahmood, Fazl ur Rahman’s father, by giving them a say in the Islamic provisions of the constitution in 1973.
The following year when Bhutto took the unprecedented step of conflating Pakistan’s National Assembly (NA) with the Islamic equivalent of Council of Nicaea in deciding that Ahmadis were Non-Muslim, he was joined in the act by the secular National Awami Party (NAP) led by Wali Khan. Contrary to the myth held on to by some on our left, the record shows that Wali Khan and his party wholeheartedly voted for the second amendment to the Constitution. In those days Mufti Mahmood was an ally of the secular NAP. In 1977, NAP, reborn as Awami National Party (ANP), joined the coalition called the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) against Bhutto and raised the slogan of Nizam-e-Mustafa i.e. implementation of an Islamic system in Pakistan. For 11 years General Zia played on that slogan, mutilating the laws and the constitution of the country beyond recognition.
 It was Nawaz Sharif’s government that refused to appeal the Federal Shariat Court’s decision on the death penalty under the blasphemy law. It was again Nawaz Sharif who tried to pass the notorious 15th Amendment to the Constitution which would have made the country an outright theocracy. General Musharraf, who many thought was going to be Pakistan’s Ataturk, retreated in the face of every challenge from clergymen, from their opposition to any reform of the blasphemy laws to their insistence on having the religion column on the passport. It was, however, the PPP government that presented the CII to Maulana Sherani and JUI-F on a platter, leading to the present craziness.
The clergy, say whatever you may about it, is actually ideologically committed to the goal of enforcing its own brand of Islam on the country. Unlike the ostensibly secular politicians, it is not power but ideology that concerns the clergy. It is happy to remain outside the halls of power, so long as the political and military elite do its bidding. The state gets nervous every time the clergy starts speaking of Islam. Obsessed with maintaining power status quo, the political and military elite will bend over backwards to ensure that clergy is kept mollified. This means passing bad laws and sacrificing the fundamental rights of ordinary citizens where necessary. This also means tolerating Maulana Abdul Aziz in Islamabad even if it means shutting down all communication systems in the capital city during Friday prayers for several weeks.
The problem is that such a state of affairs is unsustainable for a modern democratic state in this century. It is not simply a question of survival of the elites but a question of the survival of the country. If our religious divines are able to transform Pakistan into a medieval theocracy, the state will not last 24 hours, descending into bloodshed and chaos. Ghulam Abbas’ short story Hotel Mohenjo-Daro predicted the demise of the state at the hands of the clergy. It is the only possible end for a country so divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. Nor will such dissolution of the state produce any viable successors. The whole country will become a jungle, a dystrophic nightmare for its citizens. The political and military elites, who are enablers of the clergy today, will be nowhere. The powerful military will be consumed by the conflict. In the end what would be left would be factions, some armed with weapons of mass destruction. Tens of millions will perish. Imagine Somalia, only 20 times bigger and with nuclear weapons
There are marginal baby steps to reverse the trend. Legislation by the Punjab Assembly to protect women is one such step. The ruling elites need to grow a backbone and learn to put their foot down when blackmailed in the name of religion. It is important to reclaim our narrative also. Pakistan was a Muslim modernist project with true ideological roots in the hallowed halls of Sir Syed’s Aligarh University.
 It was not meant to be a theocracy to be run by priests with a divine mission. If there must be a CII, it must be populated by modernists, progressive Muslim scholars, enlightened jurists and renaissance men and women, not reactionary Mullahs who want to turn back the clock. Only then can we ensure that our future generations will live in a truly free and progressive state, and not some medieval dystopia which both our clergy and our many enemies outside want us to become.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality.
Source: dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/29-Feb-2016/the-clergy-s-power

Salman Taseer's Killer Mumtaz Qadri Hanged











Photo: Taseer's killer Mumtaz Qadri hanged

First Iran Vote after Nuclear Deal Gives Reformists Momentum
Islamist Group Kills 30 in Twin Blasts in Somali Town
----------
Pakistan
Salman Taseer's Killer Mumtaz Qadri Hanged
Lahore Court Sentences Brothers to Death Over 'Honour' Killing
Activist of banned outfit arrested in Islamabad
Wife of former ISI operative claims Nawaz Sharif received money from Osama Bin Laden
Pathankot JIT to complete air base attack probe this week: Tariq Fatemi
Pakistani troops off to UN mission
----------
Mideast
First Iran Vote after Nuclear Deal Gives Reformists Momentum
Erdoğan: Turkey Will Not Allow a Terrorist Corridor In North Syria
Election Results: Principlists Win Iran, Rreformists-Moderates Win Tehran
Iran’s pragmatic Rouhani cheers election triumph
Turkish military strikes on Syria would ‘deal blow’ to ceasefire plan – Russia
Draft requiring consent for trial of soldiers raises human rights concerns
Minister says 355,000 people have left Southeast due to clashes
Turkey denies Russian claim Syrian town attacked from its territory
Turkey has foiled 18 suicide attacks since start of year, minister says
Russia says Turkey has to admit downing jet ‘disaster’ to normalize ties
Soldier killed during anti-PKK operations in Sur
----------
Africa
Islamist Group Kills 30 in Twin Blasts in Somali Town
Deadline Given To Radical Muslim Groups in Bosnia Expires
Designing a Hospital like a Village Could Solve One of Africa’s Biggest Health Problems
----------
Arab World
Iraq Death Toll From IS Bombing Of Baghdad Market Now At 73
Over A Dozen Militants Killed In Clashes with Syrian Army in Aleppo
Saudi Forces Sustain Heavy Casualties in Ta'iz, Ma'rib Provinces
Syrian Army, Hezbollah Inflict More Defeats on Militants in Hama
Syrian Army Repels Militants' Offensive in Hama Province
Syria: Turkish Artillery Units Shell Key Town North of Raqqa
Over 100 Terrorists Cross Turkish Border to Syria
Syrian Sources Deny Terrorists' Claims about Taking Back Key Town in Aleppo
Syria: Russian Air Force Pounds Terrorists' Defense Lines in Idlib
----------
South Asia
MoD: 57 Militants Killed In Latest Counter-Terrorism Operations
Senior ISIS Commanders among 7 Killed In Nangarhar Drone Strike
3 killed, 11 wounded as explosion rocks Lashkargah city in Helmand
Gen. Salangi slams ISI for its destructive role in Afghanistan
1 killed, 10 wounded as rocket hits residential house in Kunar
NDS rescues 3 hostages in Logar, 4 still in kidnappers’ custody
----------
Southeast Asia
Indonesia Hopes Village Spending Will Counter Radicalism
Online shopping takes a hit in Malaysia
----------
Europe
IS Hacks UK Solar Firm Site in Revenge
Asian Man's Finger Cut-Off in Racist Attack in UK
Greece says up to 70,000 migrants may be 'trapped' next month
---------
North America
Canada Fulfils Promise to Take 25,000 Syrian Refugees
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

-------------
Salman Taseer's Killer Mumtaz Qadri Hanged
IANS | Feb 29, 2016
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities on Monday executed commando Mumtaz Qadri for the murder of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011.
Qadri was hanged at the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi after an anti-terrorism court convicted and sentenced him to death in October 2011 for shooting Taseer 28 times in Islamabad's Kohsar Market on January 4, 2011.
Governor Taseer had reportedly criticized Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws, prompting Qadri to shoot him in broad daylight, Daily Pakistan reported.
He had filed a mercy plea before President Mamnoon Hussain after Supreme Court maintained his conviction in October last year.
Religious parties had threatened nationwide protests if Qadri was hanged. In view of a possible backlash, the president's family has been moved from Karachi to Islamabad.
Strict security measures were taken within the jail premises and a heavy contingent of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) personnel were deployed to avoid any untoward incident.
All routes leading to the jail were sealed.
timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pakistan-hangs-ex-policeman-over-governors-murder/articleshow/51185981.cms
----------

Erdoğan says he does not obey or respect top court ruling on jailed journalists
February 28, 2016
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday he does not obey or respect the decision by the Constitutional Court declaring that the imprisonment of two prominent journalists for a report on alleged illegal arms transfers to Syria amounted to a violation of their rights.
Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and its Ankara representative Erdem Gül were freed in the early hours of Friday after 92 days in jail following the top court's ruling. The court said the journalists' right to freedom and security, the right to express their thoughts and freedom of the press under articles 19, 26 and 28 of the Constitution, respectively, were violated.
"The Constitutional Court may have reached such a verdict. I would only remain silent. I am not in a position to accept it," Erdoğan told reporters before departing for a visit to African countries. "I do not obey it nor do I respect it."
Dündar and Gül were arrested on charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist organization in November after the publication of video footage purporting to show the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) helping to send weapons to Syria when they were intercepted in 2014 by gendarmerie forces. The arrest drew international condemnation and revived concern about media freedom in Turkey.
Erdoğan, who had described the interception of the MİT trucks as an act of espionage aimed at undermining Turkey internationally, vowed that Dündar would pay a "heavy price" for reporting on the incident. "I will not let him go [unpunished]," he said back in November.
"The media cannot have unlimited freedom. These reports are an attack on the current president of this country," Erdoğan said on Sunday. "This has nothing to do with freedom of expression at all. This is an espionage case."
He also said the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court, which is overseeing the two journalists' trial and ruled for their release in line with the decision of the Constitutional Court, could have resisted the top court's ruling and refused to free them.
"That would have invalidated the Constitutional Court ruling or those who were freed would have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights," he said.
Despite their release from prison, Dündar and Gül are still facing possible life sentences in a trial, which is due to start on March 25. The indictment against the two journalists seeks an aggravated life sentence, a life sentence and 30 years of imprisonment on separate charges including “obtaining and revealing secret information pertaining to the security of the state for espionage purposes,” “seeking to overthrow the Turkish government” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization.”
Erdoğan's remarks lead to strong criticisms
Erdoğan's remarks on the Constitutional Court's decision about Gül and Dündar attracted strong criticisms from intellectuals, jurists and politicians.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu said Erdoğan has to respect and implement both the Constitution and the decisions of constitutional institutions as befitting his current position.
Tanrıkulu said: “A president cannot disregard the Constitution. If he says such a thing, this clearly implies he also does not respect the current constitutional order in the country. He is also encouraging people not to respect the Constitution and the court rulings.”
Bülent Tezcan, the deputy parliamentary group chairman of the CHP, also reacted against Erdoğan's statement on Twitter on Sunday. He said Erdoğan does not recognize the Constitution, adding, “Now, he [Erdoğan] is calling on the courts to not recognize the laws and the Constitution.”
Constitutional law professor and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Mithat Sancar said he was not surprised by Erdoğan's recent statement, underlining Erdoğan has not been respecting constitutional laws since he was elected president in August 2014. “Not only with his statements, he has also violated the Constitution with his acts. One of the most typical violation is engaging in an electoral campaign as though he was the chairman of a political party [ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)] before the June 7 election,” Sancar said.
Saying Erdoğan engaged in similar acts that do not comply with the Constitution while he was serving as prime minister before he was elected president, Sancar stated: “Actually, the AK Party has never been at peace with the rule of law. When it feels it is necessary, it puts the laws aside. When it also feels the need, it uses these laws against its opponents in the harshest manner.”
Responding to critics who accuse him of violating his constitutional limits, Erdoğan had said he was elected by the nation and is determined to use his authorities “to the end.”
"You can either accept it or not. Turkey's government system has been de facto changed in this regard. What should be done now is to finalize the legal framework of this de facto situation with a new Constitution," Erdoğan said during a speech on Aug. 16, 2015.
'Erdoğan staged a coup on anniversary of Feb. 28'
CHP deputy Özgür Özel held a press conference in Parliament on Sunday. Reminding that Sunday marks the anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1997 post-modern coup, Özel accused Erdoğan of staging a coup on the anniversary of Feb. 28 coup.
“Erdoğan made a coup against the judiciary on the anniversary of Feb. 28. He attempted to adjust the higher judiciary,” Özel stated.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group chairman Oktay Vural said Erdoğan has admitted that Turkey is no longer a state being ruled by law. Speaking at a press conference in Parliament on Sunday, Vural said that Erdoğan also gave an order to the local court during his speech, but Erdoğan had promised to respect the supremacy of law during his presidential oath.
“If you say you don't respect the court ruling, this means you don't think of a state as being ruled by law. There is no supremacy of law, but you have the law of superiors in your mind. This one-man, pro-coup mindset is against the rule of law and the supremacy of law. This is a typical example of the Feb. 28 [coup]," Vural maintained.
Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) President Ahmet Abakay said the president is obligated to respect the Constitutional Court. “However, we know that the president does not respect even the Constitution via his practices and statements. This situation does not comply with a democratic country. The state administrators have to respect the laws, Constitution and the judicial bodies and they are binding for them. But now in Turkey, the administrators do not respect the law,” Abakay said.
Pointing to Erdoğan's remarks that the trial of Dündar and Gül was not a case of freedom of expression but an espionage case, Abakay said this is not true. He added: “This is not an espionage case. For a journalist, whether a report is factual or not is important. Erdoğan has never said the report [of Cumhuriyet daily] was a lie. He even confirmed it by saying, ‘So what if the trucks were filled with weapons?' Reporting is the duty of those friends [Gül and Dündar] and they just did their job.”
Commenting on Erdoğan's remarks that the local court should have resisted the ruling of the top court, Abakay also said his statement was actually a clear threat against those judges who gave the decision. “He tells the judges in what way they should give their rulings,” Abakaya added.
Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal also posted a tweet on the issue on Sunday, stating: “I don't know what to say; you become tongue-tied, when you look at Erdoğan's reactions against the Constitutional Court's ruling. I repeat this: Stability is nothing more than a dream in a country with Erdoğan, who is disregarding the law in such level.”
Journalist Özgür Mumcu addressed Erdoğan in a tweet on Sunday, saying: “You are now in your palace because the Constitutional Court, which you say don't respect, did not decide to shut down your party previously. If people also had not respected that ruling of the court, where would you be now?”
Emin Çapa, CNN Türk's senior economy editor, also commented on the issue, saying that Erdoğan can say that he does not agree with the ruling, but he holds a position in which he is obligated to respect court rulings and implement those rulings.
The Constitutional Court's ruling, which Erdoğan is highly critical of, was praised by members of the European Parliament, Council of Europe and diplomats on Friday.
Pointing out that the top court's ruling reveals its implicit acknowledgment that pre-trial imprisonment is an act of illegal confinement, Rebecca Harms, president of the Greens in the European Parliament, noted that freedom of expression and opinion must not be labeled a criminal offense since pluralism and freedom of speech are basic prerequisites of a viable democracy.
Daniel Höltgen, Council of Europe spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday evening that he was glad to hear of the Constitutional Court's decision to release the two journalists. “I trust that the Constitutional Court will continue to assert itself for the sake of freedom of expression in Turkey, relying on the European Convention on Human Rights,” Höltgen said.
Commenting on the Constitutional Court's decision on her Twitter account on Thursday evening, European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri also welcomed the ruling and said both Dündar and Gül should be freed soon.
todayszaman.com/national_erdogan-says-he-does-not-obey-or-respect-top-court-ruling-on-jailed-journalists_413496.html
----------

Islamist group kills 30 in twin blasts in Somali town
Reuters | Feb 29, 2016
MOGADISHU: Somalia's al Shabaab Islamist group bombed a busy junction and a nearby restaurant in the town of Baidoa on Sunday, killing at least 30 people, police said.
Al Shabaab often carries out such suicide attacks in the capital and elsewhere in its bid to topple Somalia's Western-backed government.
The group wants to impose its strict version of Islamic rule in the Horn of Africa nation.
"The restaurant and the junction were very busy," Police Major Bilow Nurr told Reuters from Baidoa, which lies about 245 km (152 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.
Police Colonel Abdi Osman said the death toll was 30, with 40 others injured.
According to Hospital authorities, many of the bodies it received were charred beyond recognition.
"A suicide car bomb blew up at the junction while a second blast, possibly a bomb that had been planted or a suicide bomber struck the restaurant.
"We targeted government officials and forces," al Shabaab's military operation spokesperson Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters, adding that there was a police station nearby.
Ismail Olad told Reuters that the two locations were full of civilians and security forces. "I heard a huge crash at the busy junction and as I ran, I heard another blast at a restaurant ahead of me. The whole place was covered by smoke," he said.
The blasts follows a car bomb attack in Mogadishu near a park and hotel on Friday that killed 14 people, police said. He said three militants from the al Shabaab group were also killed.
timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/Islamist-group-kills-30-in-twin-blasts-in-Somali-town/articleshow/51185831.cms

----------
Pakistan
Salman Taseer's Killer Mumtaz Qadri Hanged
IANS | Feb 29, 2016
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities on Monday executed commando Mumtaz Qadri for the murder of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011.
Qadri was hanged at the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi after an anti-terrorism court convicted and sentenced him to death in October 2011 for shooting Taseer 28 times in Islamabad's Kohsar Market on January 4, 2011.
Governor Taseer had reportedly criticized Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws, prompting Qadri to shoot him in broad daylight, Daily Pakistan reported.
He had filed a mercy plea before President Mamnoon Hussain after Supreme Court maintained his conviction in October last year.
Religious parties had threatened nationwide protests if Qadri was hanged. In view of a possible backlash, the president's family has been moved from Karachi to Islamabad.
Strict security measures were taken within the jail premises and a heavy contingent of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) personnel were deployed to avoid any untoward incident.
All routes leading to the jail were sealed.
timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pakistan-hangs-ex-policeman-over-governors-murder/articleshow/51185981.cms
----------

Lahore court sentences brothers to death over 'honour' killing
Feb 29, 2016
LAHORE: A sessions court on Monday sentenced two brothers, Ahsan and Zeeshan Butt, to death twice for killing their sister and her husband over 'honour' six years ago.
Judge Naveed Iqbal also imposed a fine of Rs one million each on the convicted men.
The two brothers had shot dead their sister, Saba, and her husband, Shafiq, for marrying out of their own will six years ago.
The couple, who were residents of Yaki Gate area of Lahore's walled city, had married of their free will in 2009 and had moved away. But Ahsan and Zeeshan invited them over for a meal and shot dead the couple only a few months after their marriage.
The sentence comes as Pakistan celebrates its second Oscar win, courtesy of filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy whose documentary based on the heinous crime won the prestigious award.
Earlier in 2012 Sharmeen had won an Academy Award for the film Saving Face, which highlighted the plight of acid attack survivors.
More than 500 men and women died in honour killings in 2015, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
‘Honour killing’ is defined as: “killing of a female, and sometimes her love-interests and other associates, for supposed sexual or marital offenses, typically by her own relatives, with the justification being that the ‘offence’ has brought dishonour to the family.”
Such crimes are perpetrated for a wide range of offences, marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, flirting, refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of sexual assault, seeking a divorce even from an abusive husband or allegedly committing adultery, can all be perceived as impugning the family honour.
dawn.com/news/1242656/lahore-court-sentences-brothers-to-death-over-honour-killing
----------

Activist of banned outfit arrested in Islamabad
February 29th, 2016
ISLAMABAD: An activist of a banned outfit was arrested on the charge of distributing literature against the government and for seeking enforcement of Sharia in the country.
The Bhara Kahu police said the accused, a university student and worker of a banned organisation, had already been booked by the Sabzi Mandi and Industrial Area police under the same charges.
Shaukat Ali, an official of the Bhara Kahu police, told Dawn that the suspect was distributing literature in front of Farooqia Masjid on Murree Road when he was arrested.
“The literature was against the government and it stressed that Sharia should be enforced in the country. As the accused belongs to a banned outfit, he was arrested,” he said.
In reply to a question, Mr Shaukat said the suspect was a university student. He belongs to a well-educated family and his father is a retired government servant, he added.
The suspect has been involved in the circulation of banned material for a long time. In the past, cases were also registered against him by the Sabzi Mandi and Industrial Area police, he said.
“We have obtained two days’ remand of the suspect. During the interrogation, he will be asked who was providing him the material for circulation,” the official added.
dawn.com/news/1242569/activist-of-banned-outfit-arrested-in-islamabad
----------

Wife of former ISI operative claims Nawaz Sharif received money from Osama Bin Laden
By Khaama Press - Mon Feb 29 2016
NawazA new book authored by the wife a former operative of Pakistan’s spy agency has once again made the claim that Nawaz Sharif received money from al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
The book, Khalid Khawaja: Shaheed-i-Aman, is authored by Shamama Khalid, the wife of former ISI operative Khalid Khawaja.
“Chief of PML-N Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif received funding from Osama Bin Laden, founder of Al-Qaeda, to contest elections against Benazir Bhutto’s led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) after the end of Zia regime,” the book states, as per the report Pakistan’s Dawn news agency.
The book claims that Mr Sharif’s pledge of introducing an Islamic system attracted Khawaja as well as Bin Laden. But even though the Al Qaeda head honcho funded Nawaz Sharif heavily, the latter backtracked from all his promises after coming into power.
Book by slain spy’s wife claims Al Qaeda leader backed Sharif against Benazir Bhutto
The book also carries a note from former ISI director general, retired Lt-Gen Hamid Gul, which also claims that Khawaja was very close to Nawaz Sharif for some time. The book claims that Abdullah Azzam introduced Khawaja to Bin Laden.
Azzam, who is also known as the ‘father of global jihad’, was a Palestinian Sunni. Azzam raised funds and recruited jihadis from the Arab world, known as Afghan Arabs. A mentor of Bin Laden, he is said to have persuaded him to come to Afghanistan.
The book claims that Khawaja was killed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban while he was on a peace mission in the restive tribal areas.
Khalid Khawaja went to North Waziristan along with retired Col Imam and British journalist Asad Qureshi. Khawaja and Col Imam were killed while Qureshi was released in exchange for a ransom.
The Asian Tigers group, that claimed responsibility for the crime, had never been heard of before.
The book alleged that the Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were behind the killing of Khawaja and Col Imam.
khaama.com/nawaz-sharif-received-money-from-osama-bin-laden-report-4608
----------

Pathankot JIT to complete air base attack probe this week: Tariq Fatemi
February 29th, 2016
ISLAMABAD: The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the Pathankot air base attack earlier this year will complete its investigation this week, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi said Monday, Radio Pakistan reported.
There are currently two JITs probing the attack. A six-member investigation team was formed by the federal government to investigate the case soon after the attack, while a five-member JIT was constituted by the Punjab government last week after a First-Information Report (FIR) was filed by the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department against the attackers at a Gujranwala police station.
The FIR was filed after Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar accused Pakistan of "pretending to sleep" and not being serious about the probe into the air base attack.
Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz last week revealed that one of the mobile phone numbers linked to the Pathankot airbase attackers had been traced to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group’s headquarters in Bahawalpur.
JeM chief Masood Azhar has been named by India as the mastermind of the airbase attack and Sartaj had confirmed media reports that Azhar had been under “protective custody” since Jan 14.
He the FIR filed by the CTD had created legal basis for a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Pakistan to visit India to collect evidence. The SIT may visit Pathankot in the first few days of March to probe the attack, he said, adding that India had agreed to the SIT visit.
dawn.com/news/1242649/pathankot-jit-to-complete-air-base-attack-probe-this-week-tariq-fatemi
----------

Pak team to complete Pathankot probe this week
PTI | Feb 29, 2016
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani team investigating the Pathankot terror attack will complete its probe this week, a top official said on Monday, days after three suspects in the high-profile case were remanded to police custody.
"The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will complete probe into Pathankot incident this week," Prime Minister's special assistant on Foreign affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi was quoted as saying by Radio Pakistan.
Pakistan last week set up a five-member JIT to probe the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase, a week after it lodged an FIR over the assault without naming Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, who, India has accused of having masterminded the strike.
Earlier, a six-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) was set up by the federal government for the initial probe into the January 2 attack based on the leads given by India.
Three men arrested for their alleged role in the attack were sent to a six-day police remand by an anti-terrorism court in Gujranwala city of Punjab on Saturday.
The FIR by the counter-terrorism department of Punjab police has been lodged on the basis of information provided by National security advisor Ajit Doval that four attackers crossed from Pakistan into India and attacked the airbase.
The attack led to the postponement of a scheduled meeting between foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India in January in Islamabad. Since then, no date has been fixed for the talks.
Meanwhile, Fatemi also said the dates for the upcoming SAARC Summit in Islamabad are being worked out in consultation with member states.
He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also expected to attend the summit.
timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pak-team-to-complete-Pathankot-probe-this-week/articleshow/51193327.cms
----------

Pakistani troops off to UN mission
February 29th, 2016
LAHORE: A batch of 250 Pakistan army troops left for Central African Republic (CAR) on Sunday to perform peace-keeping duties under the aegis of the United Nations Mission.
Brig Maqbool Ahmad bade them farewell at the Allama Iqbal International Airport prior to their departure on a UN chartered aircraft.
The departing troops will replace the already deployed Pakistan army contingent in the war-ravaged country as part of the relieve and rotation schedule.
Speaking to troops, Brig Ahmad said the Pakistan army had added glorious chapters in the history of peace-keeping by rendering dedicated services for the restoration of peace all over the globe.
The services of Pakistani contingent to secure stable environments for maintenance of peace and order in Somalia, Eastern Slovenia, Bosnia, Haiti, East Timor, Liberia, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Congo and Sierra Leone had enhanced the country’s image among the comity of nations.
dawn.com/news/1242598/pakistani-troops-off-to-un-mission
----------
Mideast
Erdoğan says he does not obey or respect top court ruling on jailed journalists
February 28, 2016
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday he does not obey or respect the decision by the Constitutional Court declaring that the imprisonment of two prominent journalists for a report on alleged illegal arms transfers to Syria amounted to a violation of their rights.
Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and its Ankara representative Erdem Gül were freed in the early hours of Friday after 92 days in jail following the top court's ruling. The court said the journalists' right to freedom and security, the right to express their thoughts and freedom of the press under articles 19, 26 and 28 of the Constitution, respectively, were violated.
"The Constitutional Court may have reached such a verdict. I would only remain silent. I am not in a position to accept it," Erdoğan told reporters before departing for a visit to African countries. "I do not obey it nor do I respect it."
Dündar and Gül were arrested on charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist organization in November after the publication of video footage purporting to show the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) helping to send weapons to Syria when they were intercepted in 2014 by gendarmerie forces. The arrest drew international condemnation and revived concern about media freedom in Turkey.
Erdoğan, who had described the interception of the MİT trucks as an act of espionage aimed at undermining Turkey internationally, vowed that Dündar would pay a "heavy price" for reporting on the incident. "I will not let him go [unpunished]," he said back in November.
"The media cannot have unlimited freedom. These reports are an attack on the current president of this country," Erdoğan said on Sunday. "This has nothing to do with freedom of expression at all. This is an espionage case."
He also said the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court, which is overseeing the two journalists' trial and ruled for their release in line with the decision of the Constitutional Court, could have resisted the top court's ruling and refused to free them.
"That would have invalidated the Constitutional Court ruling or those who were freed would have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights," he said.
Despite their release from prison, Dündar and Gül are still facing possible life sentences in a trial, which is due to start on March 25. The indictment against the two journalists seeks an aggravated life sentence, a life sentence and 30 years of imprisonment on separate charges including “obtaining and revealing secret information pertaining to the security of the state for espionage purposes,” “seeking to overthrow the Turkish government” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization.”
Erdoğan's remarks lead to strong criticisms
Erdoğan's remarks on the Constitutional Court's decision about Gül and Dündar attracted strong criticisms from intellectuals, jurists and politicians.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu said Erdoğan has to respect and implement both the Constitution and the decisions of constitutional institutions as befitting his current position.
Tanrıkulu said: “A president cannot disregard the Constitution. If he says such a thing, this clearly implies he also does not respect the current constitutional order in the country. He is also encouraging people not to respect the Constitution and the court rulings.”
Bülent Tezcan, the deputy parliamentary group chairman of the CHP, also reacted against Erdoğan's statement on Twitter on Sunday. He said Erdoğan does not recognize the Constitution, adding, “Now, he [Erdoğan] is calling on the courts to not recognize the laws and the Constitution.”
Constitutional law professor and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Mithat Sancar said he was not surprised by Erdoğan's recent statement, underlining Erdoğan has not been respecting constitutional laws since he was elected president in August 2014. “Not only with his statements, he has also violated the Constitution with his acts. One of the most typical violation is engaging in an electoral campaign as though he was the chairman of a political party [ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)] before the June 7 election,” Sancar said.
Saying Erdoğan engaged in similar acts that do not comply with the Constitution while he was serving as prime minister before he was elected president, Sancar stated: “Actually, the AK Party has never been at peace with the rule of law. When it feels it is necessary, it puts the laws aside. When it also feels the need, it uses these laws against its opponents in the harshest manner.”
Responding to critics who accuse him of violating his constitutional limits, Erdoğan had said he was elected by the nation and is determined to use his authorities “to the end.”
"You can either accept it or not. Turkey's government system has been de facto changed in this regard. What should be done now is to finalize the legal framework of this de facto situation with a new Constitution," Erdoğan said during a speech on Aug. 16, 2015.
'Erdoğan staged a coup on anniversary of Feb. 28'
CHP deputy Özgür Özel held a press conference in Parliament on Sunday. Reminding that Sunday marks the anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1997 post-modern coup, Özel accused Erdoğan of staging a coup on the anniversary of Feb. 28 coup.
“Erdoğan made a coup against the judiciary on the anniversary of Feb. 28. He attempted to adjust the higher judiciary,” Özel stated.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group chairman Oktay Vural said Erdoğan has admitted that Turkey is no longer a state being ruled by law. Speaking at a press conference in Parliament on Sunday, Vural said that Erdoğan also gave an order to the local court during his speech, but Erdoğan had promised to respect the supremacy of law during his presidential oath.
“If you say you don't respect the court ruling, this means you don't think of a state as being ruled by law. There is no supremacy of law, but you have the law of superiors in your mind. This one-man, pro-coup mindset is against the rule of law and the supremacy of law. This is a typical example of the Feb. 28 [coup]," Vural maintained.
Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) President Ahmet Abakay said the president is obligated to respect the Constitutional Court. “However, we know that the president does not respect even the Constitution via his practices and statements. This situation does not comply with a democratic country. The state administrators have to respect the laws, Constitution and the judicial bodies and they are binding for them. But now in Turkey, the administrators do not respect the law,” Abakay said.
Pointing to Erdoğan's remarks that the trial of Dündar and Gül was not a case of freedom of expression but an espionage case, Abakay said this is not true. He added: “This is not an espionage case. For a journalist, whether a report is factual or not is important. Erdoğan has never said the report [of Cumhuriyet daily] was a lie. He even confirmed it by saying, ‘So what if the trucks were filled with weapons?' Reporting is the duty of those friends [Gül and Dündar] and they just did their job.”
Commenting on Erdoğan's remarks that the local court should have resisted the ruling of the top court, Abakay also said his statement was actually a clear threat against those judges who gave the decision. “He tells the judges in what way they should give their rulings,” Abakaya added.
Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal also posted a tweet on the issue on Sunday, stating: “I don't know what to say; you become tongue-tied, when you look at Erdoğan's reactions against the Constitutional Court's ruling. I repeat this: Stability is nothing more than a dream in a country with Erdoğan, who is disregarding the law in such level.”
Journalist Özgür Mumcu addressed Erdoğan in a tweet on Sunday, saying: “You are now in your palace because the Constitutional Court, which you say don't respect, did not decide to shut down your party previously. If people also had not respected that ruling of the court, where would you be now?”
Emin Çapa, CNN Türk's senior economy editor, also commented on the issue, saying that Erdoğan can say that he does not agree with the ruling, but he holds a position in which he is obligated to respect court rulings and implement those rulings.
The Constitutional Court's ruling, which Erdoğan is highly critical of, was praised by members of the European Parliament, Council of Europe and diplomats on Friday.
Pointing out that the top court's ruling reveals its implicit acknowledgment that pre-trial imprisonment is an act of illegal confinement, Rebecca Harms, president of the Greens in the European Parliament, noted that freedom of expression and opinion must not be labeled a criminal offense since pluralism and freedom of speech are basic prerequisites of a viable democracy.
Daniel Höltgen, Council of Europe spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday evening that he was glad to hear of the Constitutional Court's decision to release the two journalists. “I trust that the Constitutional Court will continue to assert itself for the sake of freedom of expression in Turkey, relying on the European Convention on Human Rights,” Höltgen said.
Commenting on the Constitutional Court's decision on her Twitter account on Thursday evening, European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri also welcomed the ruling and said both Dündar and Gül should be freed soon.
todayszaman.com/national_erdogan-says-he-does-not-obey-or-respect-top-court-ruling-on-jailed-journalists_413496.html
----------

First Iran vote after nuclear deal gives reformists momentum
AP | Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN: Iranian reformists appear have won all 30 seats representing the nation's capital in parliament, a definitive rebuke to the hard-liners opposing President Hassan Rouhani's efforts to open the economy and cooperate with the West.
In the first elections held since last year's nuclear deal, none of Iran's three main political camps; reformists, conservatives and hard-liners, is expected to win an outright majority in the 290-seat parliament, but early results indicate the best reformist showing in more than a decade.
Moderate conservatives also gained seats, and if their tentative coalition with the reformists holds, they could end the domination of parliament by hard-liners who were opposed to the nuclear deal. The reformist gains reflect strong public support for the agreement's promise of more economic opportunities now that the West has dropped crippling sanctions in exchange for limiting the nation's nuclear program.
State television said Friday's vote heralds ``the end of the presence of a powerful majority in the parliament that overshadowed decision-making apparatus in the country over the past decade.''
Rouhani thanked voters on Saturday night in a message that encouraged Iranians to help him end the nation's isolation.
``The competition has ended. Now it is time to open a new way through unity between people and the government to have a new chapter in growth of the national economy by using domestic strength and foreign opportunities,'' he said.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, called the vote ``proof of democracy'' at work in Iran.
But Khamenei also addressed hard-line concerns that greater integration with the West could undermine Iranian independence and morality. He urged the next parliament, which begins its work in May, to remain vigilant against ``foreign intervention,'' and warned that democratic progress does not mean ``integration into the global arrogance.''
The Interior Ministry is expected to release final results on Monday. Provincial reports suggest that of the first 185 districts reporting, 55 have gone to reformists, 66 to moderate conservatives and 64 to hard-liners.
Reformists hold fewer than 20 seats in the outgoing parliament and have been virtually shut out of politics since losing their parliamentary majority in the 2004 elections. Nearly 55 million of Iran's 80 million people were eligible to vote, and more than 60 percent turned out, based on partial results.
Iranians also elected a new Assembly of Experts, 88 senior clerics whose most important role is to select a new supreme leader. The assembly is elected every eight years and could be asked to choose a successor to Khamenei, 76, who had prostate surgery in 2014.
Mehrnaz Hemmati, a 21-year-old tailor shop worker, said she voted for the coalition of reformists and moderates; and won't celebrate until final results were announced.
``I expect more attention to be paid to job opportunities for women,'' Hemmati said. ``Rouhani, with help from the new parliament, should open doors to the world to bring in foreign investments.''
Mohammad Reza Shahabi, an accountant in a construction company, hopes that with hard-liners losing some influence, ``The government will have a more free hand in implementing deals with the world from now on. The elections should add to Rouhani's power, since new lawmakers will not create barriers like before,'' he said.
But Aida Ghorbani, an employee at an advertising and public relations firm, remains doubtful.
``Based on experience, they cannot take big steps because of the greater influence of hard-liners in the government, however I feel happy,'' she said.
timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/First-Iran-vote-after-nuclear-deal-gives-reformists-momentum/articleshow/51187866.cms?
----------

Election Results: Principlists Win Iran, Rreformists-Moderates Win Tehran
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Iranian Interior Ministry announced on Monday that Principlist candidates have won the most seats in the Friday parliamentary elections, while the reformists-moderates coalition has garnered a strong support in the capital.
According to the officials, with 100 percent of the votes counted by Monday, 30 seats belonging to the capital city at the parliament have been won by the coalition of reformist figures and the pro-Rouhani List of Hope.
However, reformists have lost the game in constituencies outside the capital. In Isfahan that is the second most constituency after Tehran, for example, the Principlists have earned a crushing victory over the Reformoderates candidates.
According to Interior Ministry results, the Principlists have won 50 percent of the seats, the reformoderates have garnered 44 percent of the votes and independent candidates have earned 6 percent of the 290-seat parliament. Meantime, in 34 constituencies, there will be election runoffs.
From the 34 candidates who have gone for the runoff vote in April, 45 percent are Principlists, 35 percent Reformoderates and 20 percent Independents.
Winners of Tehran Constituency:
1-Mohammad Reza Aref
2-Ali Motahari
3-Alireza Mahjoub
4-Soheila Jelodarzadeh
5-Elyas Hazrati
6-Kazzem Jalali
7-Mohammadreza Badamchi
8-Farideh Olad Qobad
9-Mostafa Kavakebian
10-Fatemeh Hosseini
11-Parvaneh Salahshouri
12-Abolfazl Soroush
13-Ali Nobakht Haqiqi
14-Gholamreza Heidari
15-Mehdi Sheikh
16-Fatemeh Saeidi
17-Mahmoud Sadeqi
18-Mohammad Ali Vakili
19-Behrouz Nemati
20-Parvaneh Mafi
21-Fatemeh Zolqadr
22-Seyed Farid Mousavi
23-Mohammad Javad Fathi
24-Tayebeh Siavoshi Shah-Enayati
25-Mohammadreza Najafi
26-Davoud Mohammadi
27-Mohsen Alijani Zamani
28-Ahmad Mazeni
29-Alireza Rahimi
30-Abdolreza Hashemzaei
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said turnout for the twinned elections stood at 62 percent.
At least 35 million out of the 55 million eligible voters took part in Iran’s 5th Assembly of Experts and 10th Parliamentary elections on Friday.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941209000822
----------

Iran’s pragmatic Rouhani cheers election triumph
February 28, 2016
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won an emphatic vote of confidence and reformist partners secured surprise gains in parliament in early results from elections that could accelerate the Islamic Republic's emergence from years of isolation.
While gains by moderates and reformists in Friday's polls were most evident in the capital, Tehran, the sheer scale of the advances there suggests a legislature more friendly to the pragmatist Rouhani has emerged as a distinct possibility.
A loosening of control by the anti-Western hard-liners who currently dominate the 290-seat parliament could strengthen his hand to open Iran further to foreign trade and investment following last year's breakthrough nuclear deal.
A reformist-backed list of candidates aligned with Rouhani was on course to win all 30 parliamentary seats in Tehran, initial results released on Sunday showed. Top conservative candidate Gholamali Haddad Adel was set to lose his seat.
"The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government," Rouhani said, adding he would work with anyone who won election to build a future for the industrialized, oil-exporting country.
The polls were seen by analysts as a potential turning point for Iran, where nearly 60 percent of its 80 million population is under 30 and eager to engage with the world following the lifting of most sanctions.
"Based on the votes that we have so far it looks like the principlists will lose the majority in the next Majlis (parliament) shy of 50 percent. The reformists gained 30 percent and independent candidates did better than before, gaining 20 percent," said Foad Izadi, an assistant professor at the Faculty of World Studies in Tehran University.
Principlists, otherwise known as hard-liners, hold 65 percent of the outgoing parliament and the rest is divided between reformists and independents who traditionally support Rouhani.
Izadi said the reformists' strong lead was prompted by Rouhani's success in reaching a nuclear agreement between Iran and international powers, the removal of most of the punitive sanctions that had strangled the country's economy over the past decade and restoration of relations with the West.
"It is a sweeping victory for Tehran but for other cities it is not yet clear cut. It is beyond expectations," he added.
Etemad, a reformist newspaper whose managing-editor Elias Hazrati won a seat in Tehran, has chosen the first headline of "clean up in the parliament."
"The next parliament will be like no other parliament in the history of Iran as no political faction will have the absolute say," the newspaper said on its front-page.
Millions crowded polling stations on Friday to vote for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, which selects the country's highest authority, the supreme leader. Both bodies have been in the hands of hard-liners for years.
Supporters of Rouhani, who promoted the nuclear deal, were pitted against hard-liners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who are wary of detente with Western countries.
Acumen
Rouhani and key ally and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were leading the race for the Assembly of Experts with most votes counted, and appeared to be sure of winning seats, early results released on Saturday showed.
Until now, the contest for this seat of clerical power was an unremarkable event, but not this time. Because of Khamenei's health and age, 76, the new assembly members who serve eight-year terms are likely to choose his successor. The next leader could well be among those elected this week.
Rafsanjani is among the founders of the Islamic Republic and was its president from 1989-1997. Nearly always at the center of Iran's intricate webs of power, the arch-fixer is famous for his pragmatism and political acumen.
Two prominent hard-liners were on course to be elected with lesser scores in the experts assembly race: Ahmad Jannati was in 11th place and the assembly's current chairman, Mohammad Yazdi, was 15th. Arch-conservative Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi appeared unlikely to win a seat, according to partial results.
The results were initially announced as final in an official statement. A later statement said the results were partial and a final tally would be announced in due course.
Influence
A Reuters tally, based on official results published so far, suggested the pro-Rouhani camp and allied independents were leading in the parliamentary vote. Some moderate conservatives, including current speaker Ali Larijani, support Rouhani.
A breakdown of the results had independents on 44, reformists on 79, and hard-liners on 106, the tally showed. A number of seats will be decided in run-offs in late April because no candidate won the required 25 percent of votes cast. Eight of the initial winners were women.
Analyst say the large number of independents may be significant as they could cooperate across ideological lines with Rouhani's government.
Whatever the outcome, Iran's political system places much power in the hands of the conservative Islamic establishment including the Guardian Council, which vets all laws passed by parliament.
todayszaman.com/world_irans-pragmatic-rouhani-cheers-election-triumph_413488.html
----------

Turkish military strikes on Syria would ‘deal blow’ to ceasefire plan – Russia
Feb 29, 2016
Russia is concerned about Turkey’s military preparations along its border with Syria, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Monday. He warned that an armed intervention by Ankara would deal an “irreparable blow” to the Syria ceasefire plan, Reuters reported. “Unfortunately, our Turkish colleagues still have not abandoned the idea of cross-border strikes,” Ryabkov told reporters.
https://rt.com/news/line/
----------

Draft requiring consent for trial of soldiers raises human rights concerns
February 28, 2016
A new draft proposal that will demand the consent of both the defense minister and the prime minister in order to prosecute soldiers charged with torture or ill-treatment while serving in the army could have terrible consequences, according to human rights advocates and security experts.
The draft legislation prepared by the Ministry of National Defense (MSB) and submitted to the Justice Ministry states that “all members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) engaged in the struggle against terror” should only be tried with consent.
According to a report in the Hürriyet daily on Sunday, there will be “no direct investigation” into accusations placed against members of the TSK engaged in combat. If there are grounds to open a case against a member of the TSK, the prosecutors will have to gain consent from the MSB. This constitutes the first part of the consent process, as if the defense minister consents to the investigation, the prosecutors will then have to apply for the consent of the prime minister.
A delicate cease-fire, which had been providing relative peace since March of 2013, was broken by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) when it killed two Turkish security personnel in July of 2015 in retaliation for the state failing to prevent a suicide bombing in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa on July 20 that killed 34 people and injured more than 100.
Nearly 40,000 people have been killed in clashes with the PKK since 1984, when the armed group launched its first attacks. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, the EU and Turkey.
According to Ali Fahir Kayacan, former secretary-general of the Military Court of Cassation, there are no rules indicating a need for consent when opening a court case against a member of the military.
“Regarding members of the army, there is the Code of Military Procedure. Military personnel are tried in a military court for crimes they have committed whilst performing their duties” he said.
Ercan Taştekin of the Research Center for Security Strategies (GÜSAM) in Ankara told Today's Zaman on Sunday that the introduction of the draft proposal will be a catastrophe for Turkey's struggle against terror.
“States need democratic, transparent procedures that adhere to the rule of law when facing combat against terrorist organizations,” he said.
Noting that terrorist organizations grow on the mistakes made by countries in combat with them, Taştekin said, “This [draft] will lead to possible human rights infractions, which will allow for terrorist organizations to trick youngsters into joining their ranks.”
The head of the Human Rights Association (İHD), Öztürk Türkdoğan, told Today's Zaman that the political executive is making a grave mistake if it is thinking of providing immunity to soldiers who may have committed crimes while on duty.
He noted that such laws bestowing impunity to members of the military who committed crimes were not even introduced during the military coup-era after 1980.
“The acceptance of this [draft] will have terrible consequences,” he said. “Until now, a policy of impunity was being conducted, not formally, but unofficially. If this draft law passes into existence, then this policy will become official.”
Stating that the most important ties citizens can have with their state stem from the belief that the state can carry out justice, Türkdoğan said that if citizens fail to believe the state can provide justice, their allegiance to the state will cease to exist. “This will render obsolete the feeling of belonging to the state, especially that of the Kurds.”
He noted that people will try to carry out their own justice if they feel that those responsible for certain crimes are protected by the ministers and prime ministers of this country. “This would be a call of insurrection to the people. Those who make laws should be thinking 1,000 times before they think of passing such laws,” he said.
Previously, the Constitutional Court endorsed a similar privilege granting immunity to members of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The top court only annulled two articles of a controversial law that was taken to the Constitutional Court by the Republican People's Party (CHP) in 2014.
The law, which entered into force on April 26 after it was approved by then-President Abdullah Gül, has been the focus of criticism from both domestic and international rights groups for sidelining fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Constitutional Court decided against annulling highly controversial articles in the amendment such as immunity of MİT agents from legal and criminal liability and the arbitrary phone tapping of suspects by order of the undersecretary of MİT or his deputy.
Noting that terrorist organizations grow on the mistakes made by countries in combat with them, Taştekin said, “This [draft] will lead to possible human rights infractions, which will allow for terrorist organizations to trick youngsters into joining their ranks.”
The head of the Human Rights Association (İHD), Öztürk Türkdoğan, told Today's Zaman that the political executive is making a grave mistake if it is thinking of providing immunity to soldiers who may have committed crimes while on duty.
He noted that such laws bestowing impunity to members of the military who committed crimes were not even introduced during the military coup-era after 1980.
“The acceptance of this [draft] will have terrible consequences,” he said. “Until now, a policy of impunity was being conducted, not formally, but unofficially. If this draft law passes into existence, then this policy will become official.”
Stating that the most important ties citizens can have with their state stem from the belief that the state can carry out justice, Türkdoğan said that if citizens fail to believe the state can provide justice, their allegiance to the state will cease to exist. “This will render obsolete the feeling of belonging to the state, especially that of the Kurds.”
He noted that people will try to carry out their own justice if they feel that those responsible for certain crimes are protected by the ministers and prime ministers of this country. “This would be a call of insurrection to the people. Those who make laws should be thinking 1,000 times before they think of passing such laws,” he said.
Previously, the Constitutional Court endorsed a similar privilege granting immunity to members of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The top court only annulled two articles of a controversial law that was taken to the Constitutional Court by the Republican People's Party (CHP) in 2014.
The law, which entered into force on April 26 after it was approved by then-President Abdullah Gül, has been the focus of criticism from both domestic and international rights groups for sidelining fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Constitutional Court decided against annulling highly controversial articles in the amendment such as immunity of MİT agents from legal and criminal liability and the arbitrary phone tapping of suspects by order of the undersecretary of MİT or his deputy.
todayszaman.com/national_draft-requiring-consent-for-trial-of-soldiers-raises-human-rights-concerns_413541.html
----------

Minister says 355,000 people have left Southeast due to clashes
February 28, 2016
Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu has said that 355,000 people have migrated from Turkey's Kurdish-majority Southeast to other cities across Turkey since the beginning of December 2015 due to clashes between the military and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Speaking at a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) meeting in Bursa on Saturday, Müezzinoğlu said that following the June 7, 2015 parliamentary election, the PKK has attempted to create an atmosphere of chaos in Turkey via terrorist attacks. The authorities had tried to stop terrorist activities by imposing curfews in the districts of Cizre and Silopi in Şırnak province and Sur in Diyarbakır province, Müezzinoğlu said, adding that the security forces had taken precautions to prevent civilians deaths during the anti-PKK operations, which were launched in Sur on Dec. 2 of last year and in Silopi and Cizre on Dec. 14.
The operations in Cizre and Silopi have since finished, with the curfew in Silopi being lifted in January, while the curfew imposed on Dec. 14, 2015 in Cizre is still in place. The anti-PKK offensive in Sur is still ongoing, along with a curfew.
“So far, 355,000 people [from the Southeast] have left their homes. We in the Ministry of Health have accounted for all of the displaced people. We ask them what their new addresses are, where pregnant women will deliver their children, whether there are dialysis patients who need medical services and whether there are cancer patients and where they are being treated. These people are citizens too,” Müezzinoğlu said.
A settlement process launched by the government in 2012 to end Turkey's long-standing Kurdish problem came to an end in late July 2015 with a revival of clashes between the PKK and the security forces in the Southeast. The end of the two-year cease-fire triggered the worst violence seen in the region in two decades.
The Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) said in a report in January that, as of Jan. 24, at least 198 civilians, including 39 children, have died in combat areas under curfew since August 2015. According to media reports, more than 260 members of the security forces have been killed in clashes in the region.
todayszaman.com/national_minister-says-355000-people-have-left-southeast-due-to-clashes_413510.html
----------

Turkey denies Russian claim Syrian town attacked from its territory
February 28, 2016
Russia's Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its coordination center in Syria had received information about an attack on the Syrian town of Tel Abyad from Turkish territory using large-caliber artillery, the Interfax news agency has reported.
Interfax cited the head of the coordination center as saying Russia had contacted a US center in Amman for clarification over the shelling of Syrian territory from Turkey. Turkish military sources denied the Russian claim. Speaking to Hürriyet newspaper, the sources said Turkish forces have not fired at targets of either of the warring sides in Tel Abyad, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
Tel Abyad came under an ISIL attack on Saturday only hours after a US-Russian engineered "cessation of hostilities" agreement went into effect at midnight. The attack prompted air strikes by the US-led anti-ISIL coalition to try to drive them back.
The Kurdish militia group YPG, which controls Tel Abyad, said the attack was repelled. YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said some of the attackers infiltrated from the Turkish border to the north, reiterating accusations that Turkey was supporting ISIL. Turkey has consistently denied such accusations and the security sources said recent measures to stop illegal crossings meant it was impossible for the attackers to have entered from Turkey.
The YPG captured Tel Abyad from ISIL last year in an offensive backed by US-led air strikes. The town lies north of Raqqa and had been a key supply line for the jihadi capital.
Turkish security sources told Reuters on Saturday that the attack on Tel Abyad was launched on two fronts and that the sound of gunfire and explosions, audible from the town of Akçakale on the Turkish side, had continued for several hours. While not directly addressing the Tel Abyad attack, 14 Turkish F-16s patrolled the Turkish-Syrian border on Friday, the Turkish military said.
----------

Turkey has foiled 18 suicide attacks since start of year, minister says
February 28, 2016
Interior Minister Efkan Ala, who is currently at the center of public criticism due to recent terror attacks, has said the Turkish police have prevented 18 suicide attacks since the beginning of 2016.
Accusations of negligence and deliberate connivance have been strongly leveled at the government and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in relation to the latest terrorist attack, in the heart of Ankara, which on Feb.17 claimed 28 lives and injured dozens more after targeting an area housing military headquarters and almost all state institutions. The death toll later rose to 29 when one of the injured died in the hospital.
Speaking on a TV program on Sunday, Ala said: "As the Interior Ministry and the police, we have called on everyone to be on alert regarding these issues [suicide attacks]. Since the beginning of the year, we have prevented 18 such incidents. Four vehicles [to be used in suicide attacks] were brought [to Turkey] and we seized three of them. We seized one of these vehicles at Boğaziçi recently."
Ala was referring to a suspected bomb-laden car that was discovered on the campus of Boğaziçi University in İstanbul last Thursday.
The minister also said a would-be suicide attacker who was planning to carry out an attack during New Year celebrations was arrested by the police before he could carry out the attack.
"We don't reveal most of the attacks plans we prevented. There is need not to do so. We are working to maintain peace for the public," he said.
Turkey has been shaken by major terrorist attacks over the past months following which government has faced accusations of negligence.
On June 5, 2015, a suicide attack that killed five civilians was staged by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant Orhan Gönder ahead of the June 7 general election as the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) was holding an election rally in Diyarbakır. It was revealed that Gönder had been monitored by police but was taken off technical surveillance on the day the bombing occurred, raising suspicions as to whether the attack was deliberately not prevented.
On Oct. 10, 2015, there was another terrorist attack, this time in Ankara, in which 103 people taking part in a peace rally were killed and hundreds more injured. Some politicians and the media raised similar accusations of security lapses and intelligence failures.
todayszaman.com/national_turkey-has-foiled-18-suicide-attacks-since-start-of-year-minister-says_413535.html
----------

Russia says Turkey has to admit downing jet ‘disaster’ to normalize ties
February 28, 2016
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has said Turkish-Russian relations will not be normalized until Turkey admits that the downing of a Russian jet on Nov. 24 of last year was a “disaster.”
Speaking to Sputnik news, Zakharova said the downing of the Russian jet last year by Turkey at the Syrian border was a “disaster.” Recalling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remarks saying that Russia has lost a friend like Turkey due to the mistakes of two Russian pilots, Zakharova criticized Erdoğan and said the pilots were Russian citizens and that it is not right to say the incident was all about the pilots' mistake.
She said Russia has lost two pilots and unfortunately Turkish-Russian relations have turned sour. Zakharova said the Russian pilots had not visited Turkey as tourists, but they were protecting not only Russia's but the world's interests, as they were fighting against terrorist organizations.
Zakharova said when Ankara admits that the jet's downing was a disaster, then the right steps will be taken to normalize Turkish-Russian relations.
She also refuted reports of Russia bombing civilians in Syria and asked to see evidence. Zakharova in addition criticized Turkey for not allowing Russian planes to fly at the Syrian border. She claimed this shows that Ankara has something to hide, such as smuggling oil and allowing jihadist militants to cross into Syria.
In the meantime, the Turkish Parliament has left Russia out when announcing the formation of parliamentary groups with other nations. Parliament has recently announced the establishment of parliamentary friendship groups with 129 countries around the world. Russia is not one of these countries. Israel, Syria, Egypt and Greece were also snubbed by Parliament as Turkey does not have normalized relations with those countries, either.
todayszaman.com/diplomacy_russia-says-turkey-has-to-admit-downing-jet-disaster-to-normalize-ties_413516.html
----------

Soldier killed during anti-PKK operations in Sur
February 29, 2016
A soldier has died after sustaining injuries in an attack by terrorists from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Sur district of Diyarbakır on Sunday, the General Staff announced.
Noncommissioned officer Can Çalışkan died at Diyarbakır Military Hospital despite medical efforts to save him, and his body was sent to his hometown of Ankara after a funeral ceremony in Diyarbakır on Monday.
Parts of Sur have been under curfew since Dec. 2, 2015, and operations by the security forces to remove barricades and fill trenches dug by PKK members are continuing.
todayszaman.com/national_soldier-killed-during-anti-pkk-operations-in-sur_413569.html
----------
Africa
Islamist group kills 30 in twin blasts in Somali town
Reuters | Feb 29, 2016
MOGADISHU: Somalia's al Shabaab Islamist group bombed a busy junction and a nearby restaurant in the town of Baidoa on Sunday, killing at least 30 people, police said.
Al Shabaab often carries out such suicide attacks in the capital and elsewhere in its bid to topple Somalia's Western-backed government.
The group wants to impose its strict version of Islamic rule in the Horn of Africa nation.
"The restaurant and the junction were very busy," Police Major Bilow Nurr told Reuters from Baidoa, which lies about 245 km (152 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.
Police Colonel Abdi Osman said the death toll was 30, with 40 others injured.
According to Hospital authorities, many of the bodies it received were charred beyond recognition.
"A suicide car bomb blew up at the junction while a second blast, possibly a bomb that had been planted or a suicide bomber struck the restaurant.
"We targeted government officials and forces," al Shabaab's military operation spokesperson Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters, adding that there was a police station nearby.
Ismail Olad told Reuters that the two locations were full of civilians and security forces. "I heard a huge crash at the busy junction and as I ran, I heard another blast at a restaurant ahead of me. The whole place was covered by smoke," he said.
The blasts follows a car bomb attack in Mogadishu near a park and hotel on Friday that killed 14 people, police said. He said three militants from the al Shabaab group were also killed.
timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/Islamist-group-kills-30-in-twin-blasts-in-Somali-town/articleshow/51185831.cms
----------

Deadline Given To Radical Muslim Groups in Bosnia Expires
AP News | Feb 29, 2016
Share on Facebook
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A deadline given by Bosnia's Islamic Community to radical Muslims to return to moderate Islam is expiring, with many refusing to obey.
The Islamic Community — the country's only official Muslim religious institution — ordered all breakaway congregations to dissolve by March 1 and believers to join official congregations that follow the moderate Islam traditional in Bosnia.
The institution claims some of the "illegal" congregations have inspired members to join the Islamic State. By Monday many of them had refused to disband, claiming they have nothing to do with extremism and formed their own communities because the official ones were not strict enough regarding bans on alcohol and gambling, and wouldn't let them pray in mosques more than five times a day.
http://townhall.com/news/world/2016/02/29/deadline-given-to-radical-muslim-groups-in-bosnia-expires-n2126470
----

Designing a hospital like a village could solve one of Africa’s biggest health problems
 Lily Kuo, 29 February 2016
Cape Town, South Africa
There’s a courtyard with a space for gardening, cooking in a shared kitchen, and laundry done under the shade of a roof that collects rainwater. The Maternity Waiting Village at the Kasungu district hospital in central Malawi emulates the communal spaces of traditional villages. The goal of the design is to attract expectant mothers from remote areas to the facility before giving birth.
Too often, pregnant women in Malawi, and other African countries, give birth at home because hospitals are far and commuting there is too expensive. While maternal mortality rates around the world have dropped drastically over the past two decades, they’re still far too high in Africa. Malawi is home to one of the Africa’s highest maternal mortality rates—510 deaths (pdf, p. 33) per 100,000 live births as of 2013, compared to the average of 239 deaths per 100,000 births in developing countries. The African continent accounts for the vast majority of global maternal deaths—550 of 830 deaths a day last year, according to the World Health Organization.
The design and development of the village, which was completed last October, was done by MASS Design Group, with Gates Foundation, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Malawi’s health ministry.
“Our approach is, let’s leave the big open ward of 45 people and reduce [it] to smaller rooms and have intimate outdoor spaces,” Christian Benimana, a Rwandan architect with MASS Design who led the project, told Quartz at the Design Indaba conference on Feb. 19th. “They can live close to how they are living in their own homes in their villages where they spend most of the time in the courtyards with their friends,” he said.
Expectant mothers who are at high risk of health complications are advised to stay at the maternity village between two and four weeks before moving to the hospital to give birth. Women who live in rural areas, far from a hospital, are asked to come early so that doctors can identify and monitor any complications early. Benimana hopes the shared spaces of 12 women per cluster will encourage new, and more experienced mothers, to interact, creating a “sense of security and belonging.” Up to 45 women can be housed in the village.
Public health advocates have promoted “maternity waiting homes” since the 1960s as a way to bridge the gap between urban and rural healthcare access. Previous attempts to build a maternity waiting home in Malawi have failed because of risks of infection and poor ventilation, according to MASS Studio. The Kasungu village works around this by focusing most of the activities outdoors and designing the houses to let in air and light.
Building smaller units is cheaper and modules for the buildings, made locally, are designed to be easily replicated. This model allows for hospitals and local governments to build and expand as their resources allow.
Benimana says, “Architects don’t just design and build buildings. We think about systems. How do we take the inherited natural architecture and change it into the built environment? That’s the mission of architects.”
http://qz.com/623722/designing-a-hospital-like-a-village-could-solve-one-of-africas-biggest-health-problems/
-----------
Arab World
Iraq death toll from IS bombing of Baghdad market now at 73
AP | Feb 29, 2016
BAGHDAD: In Iraq, the death toll from devastating back-to-back market bombings carried out by the Islamic State group the previous day in eastern Baghdad climbed to 73 on Monday, officials said.
Several of the critically wounded died overnight while 112 people remain in hospital, two police officials said.
Also, at least five people were still missing after the blast that ripped through the crowded Mredi market in the Shiite district of Sadr City, followed by a suicide bombing amid the crowd that had quickly gathered at the site to help the victims.
Three medical officials confirmed the latest death toll, which rose from the toll of 59 reported late on Sunday. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, called on security forces to "exert further efforts to prevent the terrorists from carrying out their crimes against innocent civilians."
Al-Abadi, in a statement released late on Sunday, said the attacks "will not stop us ... but they will increase the determination" of the army, security forces and paramilitary troops to dislodge the militants from areas under their control.
The special UN envoy to Iraq, Jan Kubis, called the Sadr City bombings a "particularly vicious and cowardly terrorist attack" aimed against "peaceful civilians who were going about their daily business."
"It is clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian strife," he said on Monday.
The Islamic State group, which controls key areas in northern and western Iraq, promptly claimed responsibility for Sunday's blasts. The militant Sunni Muslim group regularly targets government forces, civilians and especially Shiites, who the IS regards as heretics.
The market bombings in Sadr City were the deadliest attack in a wave of explosions that targeted other commercial areas in and outside Baghdad on Sunday and brought the day's overall death toll to 92.
Seven other civilians were killed in attacks elsewhere and in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, security forces earlier Sunday repelled an attack by IS militants that killed at least 12 members of the government and paramilitary troops and wounded 35 others.
timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Iraq-death-toll-from-IS-bombing-of-Baghdad-market-now-at-73/articleshow/51193066.cms
----------

Over A Dozen Militants Killed in Clashes with Syrian Army in Aleppo
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- At least 14 militants were killed and scores more were wounded in the Syrian Army troops' heavy offensive against the ISIL terrorists in the Southeastern parts of Aleppo province.
The Syrian army and its popular allies continued to hunt the members of the ISIL terrorist group in the Southern side of the town of Khanaser, which claimed the lives of many militants and inflicted major damage on their military hardware.
In relevant developments in the province on Sunday, the Syrian army troops and their popular allies continued to push the ISIL terrorists back from more positions in the Southeastern part of Aleppo province and seized full control over one more strategic village in the region.
The Syrian army, Hezbollah, the Republican Guard, and the National Defense Forces (NDF) captured the village of Abu al-Karouz after a violent battle with the ISIL in the Khanaser Plains.
The village of Abu al-Karouz is located in Jabal al- Souss (Al-Souss Mountain), which is not far from the recently captured town of Khanaser. 
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941210000442
----------

Saudi Forces Sustain Heavy Casualties in Ta'iz, Ma'rib Provinces
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Yemeni army and popular forces made remarkable advances in Western Yemen on Sunday, and inflicted heavy casualties and losses on the Saudi forces in Ta'iz and Ma'rib provinces over the past 24 hours.
Tens of Saudi forces were killed and dozens more were wounded in the Yemeni forces' offensives in Ta'iz and Ma'rib provinces.
Meantime, the Yemeni army and popular forces also inflicted heavy damage on the Saudi military grid in Azan region of the city of Zobab near Bab al-Mandeb in Southwestern Yemen.
A newly-published report by the pro-Saudi camp in Yemen shows that over 1,600 Saudi-led forces have been killed in just Ta'iz province since March 26.
According to a report submitted by the Ta'iz governor general to fugitive Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah cabinet in Riyadh, a sum of 1,630 Saudi military servicemen have been killed since the outbreak of the Saudi war in late March.
In a relevant development on Wednesday, the Yemeni forces killed at least 54 Saudi troops, including several commanders, in a ballistic missile attack in the Northern Jawf province.
The Yemeni Army, backed by Popular Committees loyal to the Ansarullah movement, targeted a Saudi military installation in Beir al-Maraziq region with a Qaher-1 ballistic missile.
A large number of Saudi forces also sustained injuries in the attack.
The Yemeni surface-to-surface missile also destroyed a number of military equipment of the installation and inflicted heavy damage on its infrastructure.
The Yemeni forces have fired tens of missiles on the military positions and gathering centers of Saudi-led coalition so far, killing hundreds of Saudi forces and injuring many more.
Yemenis carry out these attacks in retaliation for the US-backed Saudi strikes on civilian targets, launched with the aim of undermining Ansarullah movement and bringing back to power the country’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh and Washington.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941209001100
----------

Syrian Army, Hezbollah Inflict More Defeats on Militants in Hama
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army and Hezbollah fighters continued to push the ISIL terrorists back from more key territories in the Northeastern part of Hama province following hours of heavy fighting with the militant group.
The Syrian government forces, who had liberated the village on Hammam on Saturday, launched a mop-up operation in the surrounding heights of the village and cleansed the Northern side of the village and Hammam Height from the terrorists to restore more security to the Ithriya-Khanaser road.
The Syrian army and allies are fortifying their positions.
Hammam and its heights overlook Abu al-Karouz region. The Syrian army will soon launch another offensive to free two heights in the Eastern side of Abu al-Karouz region.
On Sunday, the Syrian army troops and their popular allies continued to push the ISIL terrorists back from more positions in the Southeastern part of Aleppo province and seized full control over one more strategic village in the region.
The Syrian army, Hezbollah, the Republican Guard, and the National Defense Forces (NDF) captured the village of Abu al-Karouz after a violent battle with the ISIL in the Khanaser Plains.
The village of Abu al-Karouz is located in Jabal al- Souss (Al-Souss Mountain), which is not far from the recently captured town of Khanaser.
Also on Saturday, military sources announced that the Army troops and their popular allies pushed the ISIL terrorists back from more positions Northeast of Hama province and imposed full control over one more strategic village in the region.
"The Syrian soldiers, Hezbollah, the Republican Guard and the National Defense Forces (NDF) retook full control over the village of Hammam after a violent battle with the ISIL," the sources said.
"The army men and their allies cleared the entire village after the ISIL attempted to recapture it during their brief offensive on Friday. As a result of their failed assault, the Syrian Armed Forces killed over 30 enemy combatants, while wounding another 40 fighters in the battlefield," they added.
"Clashes are still ongoing between the Syrian Armed Forces and the ISIL along the Sheikh Hillal-Ithriyah Road; however, the government forces are steadily advancing amid the Russian Air Force’s non-stop bombardment in Northeastern Hama," the sources went on to say.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941210000303
----------

Syrian Army Repels Militants' Offensive in Hama Province
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army troops thwarted al-Nusra Front's attempts to prevail over the government forces' lines of defense and forced them to retreat from the battlefield in the Southern part of Hama.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra terrorists stormed the Syrian army's base near Hirbnafsa 40 kilometers South of the city of Hama, but their attack was fended off by the Syrian soldiers.ح
The Nusra militants left behind several dead or wounded members and fled the battlefield to evade more defeats and casualties. 
In relevant developments in the West-Central battlefield of the country on Sunday, The Syrian army fended off the ISIL offensives in al-Salamiyah region and forced the terrorists to retreat from the battlefront under heavy fire.
The ISIL attempts to prevail over the government forces' lines of defense near the axis of Bari al-Sharghi, Aqareb, Ghab al-Basel and Tal Abyadh were repelled by the Syrian army.
The ISIL left behind scores of the dead or wounded members and fled the battlefront.
The Syrian army also destroyed a number of the ISIL vehicles and military equipment.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941210000250
----------

Syria: Turkish Artillery Units Shell Key Town North of Raqqa
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on Sunday that a newly-liberated town in the Northern part of Raqqa near the border with Turkey has been heavily shelled by the Turkish army's artillery units.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also confirmed that Tal Abyadh was shelled by artillery units from Turkish territories, Sputnik reported.
"Russia has received information of an assault on the Northern Syrian town of Tal Abyadh from Turkish territory," the head of the ceasefire monitoring center at the Russian Hmeymim airbase in Lattakia said Sunday.
"The Russian center for the reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria received late on February 27 information about the attack from Turkey on the Syrian city of Tal Abyadh," Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters.
Russia’s ceasefire monitoring center has asked its US counterpart in Amman, Jordan, to explain the shelling.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941209000837
----------

Army Wins Back Strategic Region in Aleppo Province
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army and the resistance fighters backed by the country's air force regained full control over a key village in Aleppo province in fierce clashes with the militants.
The army units won back a strategic village in Khanaser Plains in Aleppo province.
Scores of terrorists were killed and injured as the army was purging them from the newly captured areas in Aleppo province.
The Syrian army, popular forces and resistance forces also continued their military gains in other key provinces across Syria, inflicting heavy losses on them.
Aleppo
The Syrian Army troops and their popular allies continued to push the ISIL terrorists back from more positions in the Southeastern part of Aleppo province and seized full control over one more strategic village in the region on Sunday.
The Syrian army, Hezbollah, the Republican Guard, and the National Defense Forces (NDF) captured the village of Abu al-Karouz after a violent battle with the ISIL in the Khanaser Plains.
The village of Abu al-Karouz is located in Jabal al- Souss (Al-Souss Mountain), which is not far from the recently captured town of Khanaser.
The Russian fighter jets, in a fresh round of anti-terrorism combat flights on Sunday, bombed the concentration centers of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in the Eastern part of Aleppo province, inflicting major losses on the terrorists.
Gathering centers of the Nusra Front near Anadan, Hraytan, Qabtan al-Jabal, Maarat al-Artiq and Dar al-Izza came under the heavy bombardments of the Russian air fleet, which claimed the lives of several militants.
Nusra fighters' military hardware also sustained major damage in the air raids.
Lattakia
The Syrian commandoes pushed the militant groups back from their positions in the Northern part of the coastal province of Lattakia and won back one more strategic height overlooking Turkey.
The Syrian army, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), the Syrian Marines, the National Defense Forces (NDF) and Liwa Suqour al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade) imposed full control over Talat al-Nawareh after a tough battle with the terrorists of al-Nusra Front, Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, and the Free Syrian Army’s “1st Coastal Brigade”.
The militant groups left behind scores of dead and wounded members and fled their strongholds in the Northern part of Lattakia province after coming under heavy attacks by the Syrian Army and National Defense Forces.
The Syrian government forces engaged in a tough battle with the terrorists of al-Nusra Front and forced them to pull fighters back from the small town of al-Saraf in the Northwestern side of Rabei'eh.
Deir Ezzur
The Syrian government forces detected and destroyed a tunnel used by the ISIL militants in the Eastern city of Deir Ezzur, military sources said Sunday.
"The Syrian army troops and the National Defense Forces (NDF) seized a supply tunnel of the ISIL in the Old Airport District after fierce clashes with the terrorist group," the sources said.
In the meantime, one of the ISIL bases, its satellite communication station and a fuel reservoir near the village of al-Sfaira al-Fouqani were destroyed in the Syrian government forces' offensives.
Reports said earlier that the Syrian warplanes carried out several combat flights over the ISIL gathering centers in different parts of the Eastern province of Deir Ezzur and targeted them heavily leaving several terrorist commanders dead.
The Syrian army's aircraft tracked and targeted a hideout of the ISIL leaders in the villages of al-Sfaira al-Fouqani in the Northwestern part of the city of Deir Ezzur, which ended in the killing of several leaders of the group.
In the meantime, the ISIL concentration centers in the villages of al-Jafra in the Eastern part of the province came under the heavy strike of the Syrian fighter jets, which destroyed the militant centers' infrastructures.
The Syrian Army's anti-terrorism operation in the Eastern province of Deir Ezzur near the border with Iraq ended in the killing of at least 20 ISIL terrorists.
The Syrian army stormed the ISIL concentration centers in the regions of al-Kataf and al-Mosamakah near the town of Albu Kamal, destroyed their military equipment and killed or wounded many of the militants.
Raqqa
The ISIL terrorist group confirmed on Sunday that it has pulled its fighters back from a key town in the Northern part of Raqqa province at the border with Turkey under the heavy attacks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The Kurdish fighters have significantly advanced against the ISIL militants in the town of Tal Abyadh and have pushed the terrorists back form the town.
The YPG and SDF fighters are now engaged in fortifying their positions inside and outside of the town.
The ISIL suffered a heavy death toll in the attacks.
Hama
The Syrian army fended off the ISIL offensives in al-Salamiyah region and forced the terrorists to retreat from the battlefront under heavy fire.
The ISIL attempts to prevail over the government forces' lines of defense near the axis of Bari al-Sharghi, Aqareb, Ghab al-Basel and Tal Abyadh were repelled by the Syrian army.
The ISIL left behind scores of the dead or wounded members and fled the battlefront.
The Syrian army also destroyed a number of the ISIL vehicles and military equipment.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941210000364
----------

Over 100 Terrorists Cross Turkish Border to Syria
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- Russian sources announced that tens of terrorists have crossed the border from Turkey to Syria where they are fighting with the Kurdish forces in Raqqa province.
More than 100 militants have arrived in Raqqa province after crossing the Turkish border, the Russian-language media outlets reported, adding that the fresh terrorist troops have been sent to take the town of Tal Abyadh back from militants.
The news comes as the ISIL has confirmed that it has pulled its fighters back from key Tal Abyadh town in the Northern part of Raqqa province at the border with Turkey under the heavy attacks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The YPG and SDF fighters are now engaged in fortifying their positions inside and outside the town.
The Kurdish fighters have significantly advanced against the ISIL militants in the town of Tal Abyadh and have pushed the terrorists back form the town.
Reports said on Saturday that the YPG alongside the SDF have engaged in heavy fighting with the ISIL terrorists in the Northern part of Raqqa province.
The Kurdish forces stormed the ISIL positions near the town of Tal Abyadh and inflicted major losses on the terrorists.
On Wednesday, the Kurdish fighters, after almost six day of intense battle against al-Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Harakat Nouriddeen al-Zinki and Al-Shamiyah Front, imposed full control over the Bani Zeid Youth Housing Complex in Aleppo city.
The SDF that is comprised of mainly Kurdish fighters as well as a few hundred Syrian Arab dissident forces have received trainings from the US and have been provided with scanty US-coalition air support in their battles in Raqqa province in Northeastern Syria; but in Northern and Northwestern battlefronts, they have been operating alongside the YPG and received the Russian air backup in their Aleppo wars that started with the conquest of Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates early in February.
Assisted by the Syrian army - that has along with popular forces and Hezbollah conquered almost all militant-held regions in Eastern, Southern, Western and Northwestern Aleppo province - and Russian air support, the Kurdish forces fighting against the terrorists in North-Northeast Aleppo province have been making striking advances against the al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and ISIL terrorists in February.
Earlier this month, the YPG and SDF fighters prevailed over the terrorists in the highly strategic city of Tal Rifat in Northern Aleppo and captured the city.
The YPG, who enjoyed the Russian air backup, prevailed the terrorists' positions from the Western direction and shook hand with the Kurdish units of the SDF who entered the town from the North.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941209001066
----------

Syrian Sources Deny Terrorists' Claims about Taking Back Key Town in Aleppo
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- Battlefield sources in Syria refuted terrorists' claims about winning back a key town that they had lost to the army in the Southeastern part of Aleppo province earlier.
Social media activists from the Syrian opposition groups reported that the ISIL captured the strategic city of Khanaser today; however, a local battlefield correspondent denied these claims.
Reports said on Sunday that the Syrian Army troops and their popular allies continued to push the ISIL terrorists back from more positions in the Southeastern part of Aleppo province and seized full control over one more strategic village in the region.
The Syrian army, Hezbollah, the Republican Guard, and the National Defense Forces (NDF) captured the village of Abu al-Karouz after a violent battle with the ISIL in the Khanaser Plains.
The village of Abu al-Karouz is located in Jabal al- Souss (Al-Souss Mountain), which is not far from the recently captured town of Khanaser.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941210000595
----------

Syria: Russian Air Force Pounds Terrorists' Defense Lines in Idlib
Feb 29, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Russian warplanes, in a fresh round of anti-terrorism combat flights, targeted the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front's positions in the Southern part of Idlib province and inflicted a heavy death toll on the terrorists.
The Russian fighter jets stuck Nusra centers near the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, which ended in the killing or wounding of several terrorists and destroyed their military equipment, vehicles and weapons.
A report said on Friday that the Syrian army commandos stepped on the territories of the Northwestern province of Idlib after prevailing over the last defense lines of the militant groups and capturing of Ein al-Beidha in Lattakia province.
The Syrian commandos finally reached the strategic border with the Idlib province after several-month-long of nonstop fighting with the terrorists of al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the Lattakia province's Northeastern part.
On Friday morning in Jabal al-Akrad (Kurds Mountain), the Syrian army alongside the Syrian Marines, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), Liwa Suqour al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade) and the National Defense Forces (NDF) imposed full control over the strategic village of Ein al-Beidha at the Idlib border.
With the capture of Ein al-Beidha, the Syrian Armed Forces officially reentered the Idlib province after a 9-month-long hiatus due to the successful offensive by Jeish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) last Spring.
en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941210000368
----------
South Asia
MoD: 57 militants killed in latest counter-terrorism operations
By Khaama Press - Mon Feb 29 2016
At least 57 anti-government armed militants were killed during counter-terrorism operations led by Afghan National Army (ANA) forces in the latest crackdown on militant groups, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said.
The operations were conducted in the past 24 hours in Faryab and Baghlan provinces where the militants are actively operating in a number of its districts.
Providing operational update of the ongoing counter-terrorism operations, the Ministry of Defense (MoD), said at least 30 militants, including the group’s commander were killed and 10 others were wounded in Pashtunkot district of Faryab.
A statement by MoD said at at least 5 militants were killed in Dasht-e