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Sep 29, 2016

US Congress has 'buyer's remorse' on 9/11 bill: White Hous

White House spokesman Josh Earnest speaks at the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
White House spokesman Josh Earnest speaks at the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
The White House has censured the US Congress for having “buyer’s remorse” over overriding President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest made the remarks on Thursday during a press conference after two high-ranking Republican lawmakers suggested the bill needed changes.
On Wednesday, Senators voted 97-1 in favor of the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA),” which was vetoed by Obama last week. Only Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, voted to sustain the president’s veto.
Hours later, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted against the presidential decree, 348 to 77. Only 18 Republicans and 59 Democrats voted not to override the veto.
“Well, it’s hard to know where to start,” Earnest said. “I think what we’ve seen in the United States Congress is a case of rapid-onset buyer's remorse.”
On Thursday, less than 24 hours after Congress voted to override President Obama's veto, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan both said JASTA could have dire consequences for American service members and diplomats abroad. They said it could put them at risk of legal action.
US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) laughs as Senator Chuck Schumer (C) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drive nails into a piece of lumber at a c ceremony on September 21, 2016 outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)
Earnest said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and others claimed some lawmakers did not know what was in the legislation before they approved it.
“What’s true in elementary school is true in the United States Congress: Ignorance is not an excuse,” Earnest said.
He went on to call it “an abject embarrassment” that lawmakers are now considering possible changes to the measure shortly after its passage.
Earnest said Obama’s term would end in three months and it’s “awfully late for changes.”
On Wednesday, Obama said the measure sets a "dangerous precedent" in international law that could have repercussions for the United States.
"If we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal loss," he said.
Saudi Arabia has strongly opposed the bill, threatening to sell off $750 billion in American assets if it becomes law.
Of the 19 hijackers that allegedly carried out the attacks, 15 had Saudi Arabian nationality and available evidence suggests that some of them were linked to high-ranking Saudi officials.

Sep 21, 2016

Russians bear responsibility for UN aid convoy strike: US officials

Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jets (File photo by Sputnik News)
Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jets (File photo by Sputnik News)

Two top US officials say Russians bear responsibility for an airstrike that destroyed a UN humanitarian aid convoy near Syria’s Aleppo province on Monday.
US Air Force Colonel J.T. Thomas, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Tuesday that two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jets were in the skies at the precise time that the convoy came under attack.
The officials added that this led American intelligence to conclude that Russia was behind the attack, in which some 20 civilians were killed and 18 trucks from a 31-vehicle convoy were destroyed.

Aid is seen strewn across the floor in the town of Urm al-Kubra on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, September 20, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

An unnamed US military official told Washington-based The Hillnewspaper on Tuesday night that all of “the information we have is consistent with this being a Russian airstrike."
Moscow has denied that Russian or Syrian planes were involved in the incident. Earlier on Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry released drone footage showing that militants were using the UN aid convoy as cover.
Referring to the monitoring drone footage, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov noted that a militant pickup truck with a large caliber mortar can be clearly seen in the footage.
However, US officials still insist the attack looks like the result of an airstrike rather than an an attack from anti-government militants as the Russians have suggested.
"It does look like an airstrike. The only entities that fly in Syria right now are Russia and Syria. So this is, has been in the past, a strategic area for the Russians. They can speak for themselves on this, and we are interested to follow this just as you are," Colonel Thomas said at a news briefing.
"Whether this was the Russians or the regime, the Russians bear responsibility here. They are in Syria, they are backing the Assad regime, they are participating in his military campaign," the official added.  
Meanwhile, Senator Cardin said if it was found out that the strike was carried out deliberately, "it would amount to a war crime."  

"I call on the Russian Federation to fulfill the commitments it made in Geneva to ensure immediate, unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people," he said in a statement.  
"Additionally, all parties to the conflict must adhere to international humanitarian law, which includes the protection of aid workers," he added.  
The Monday attack comes two days after US-led airstrikes killed at least 62 Syrian soldiers in the Syrian city of Dayr al-Zawr, while surrounded by Takfiri militants in an airport.
According to De Mistura, more than 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Syria, since it broke out in March 2011.

Sep 20, 2016

Refugee workers remain unpaid in Qatar

This May 3, 2015 photo shows an Indian laborer working in Qatar, sitting in his tiny over-crowded room at a private camp housing foreign workers in Doha. (Photo by AFP)
This May 3, 2015 photo shows an Indian laborer working in Qatar, sitting in his tiny over-crowded room at a private camp housing foreign workers in Doha. (Photo by AFP)
Qatar has once again faced criticism over the way it deals with refugee workers, with reports saying a significant number of laborers, mostly from India, have gone unpaid for months.
Sources from the Indian community living in Qatar said Tuesday that a staff of about 400 working for an electrical company in the country had not received wages for the past several months.
“Around 300 to 400 people have not been paid,” said Arvin Patil of the Indian Community Benevolent Forum, adding that workers from other refugee groups also remained unpaid by the firm, which is based in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.
Patil said workers were planning to meet the Indian ambassador to Doha to discuss the issue, although he said the Indian government had no resources to compensate the workers.
“We could give money if there were one or two people, but 300 minimum is very, very difficult. We are interested in helping these people,” he said.
Thousands of refugees working in the stadiums that Qatar plans to build for World Cup 2022 are harshly treated and many of them remain unpaid months after being recruited.
Doha introduced the Wage Protection System (WPS) last November to ensure that wages were paid electronically. Under the new system, employers that do not comply with the law face fines or imprisonment.
The Arab country is home to the largest single group of Indian expatriates as some 545,000 Indians, most of them workers, live in the country of 2.5 million people.
India had previously hailed Qatar’s disciplined system of pay to expatriates, with a senior Indian embassy staffer saying in July that the mission faced almost no call for helping stranded laborers after losing their jobs. He said such a problem, which happened elsewhere in the region, did not exist in Qatar.
However, a sharp fall in the price of oil and gas has forced the Qatari government to tighten its belts as it faces an estimated budget deficit of more than 12 billion in 2016, its first in 15 years. Doha says more deficit would come in 2017 and 2018.

Sep 9, 2016

Clinton warns Israel cannot trust flip-flopping Trump

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a voter registration event at Johnson C. Smith University on September 8, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (AFP photo)
US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has warned that the Israeli regime cannot trust her Republican rival Donald Trump, who has “no reason to his comments about Israel.”
"He has said that we should be neutral on Israel on Monday. Then on Tuesday he has said that, oh he’s really supportive of Israel. Wednesday he might say Israel should pay back the defense aid it’s received over the years," Clinton said in an interview with the Israeli Channel 2 aired on Thursday. 
The former first lady said that Trump has floated the idea of using nuclear weapons against the Daesh terrorist group in Syria, right next to Israel.
“Using nukes against ISIS, not knowing the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas. How does that in any way help Israel,” she asked.
The former secretary of state contended that there is a “compelling case” that Daesh is “rooting for Donald Trump’s victory.”
“His understanding of the broader dangers in the region should alarm any Israeli no matter where that person is on the political spectrum,” Clinton said.
“The best I can tell, his only experience is marching in the Fifth Avenue Israel Day parade,” she quipped.
Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016. (AFP photo)
The Democratic candidate said that if elected president she would work closely with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to safeguard Israel’s strategic military edge.
“Shortly after being inaugurated I would invite the prime minister to Washington for meetings, I would send my joint chiefs and intelligence experts to Israel to meet with their counterparts,” she stated.
Washington and Tel Aviv have been negotiating the terms of a new 10-year military aid deal to replace the current one, which expires in 2018 and costs American taxpayers some $3.1 billion a year.
Netanyahu demands the US increase the annual aid to Israel.

Protesters stage massive rally against newly-installed president in Sao Paulo

Union members and social activists demonstrate in support of Brazil’s impeached president Dilma Rousseff and against President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 8, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Union members and social activists demonstrate in support of Brazil’s impeached president Dilma Rousseff and against President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 8, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Thousands of Brazilian demonstrators have held a massive rally to protest against the newly-installed President Michel Temer.
The supporters of former president Dilma Rousseff — who was ousted in an impeachment supported by Temer, once her ally — and others opposing the new government took to the streets in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo on Thursday to voice their anger.
The protesters, including union members and social activists, chanted anti-Temer slogans and held placards that read “Temer out.”
The protesters also denounced the removal of Rousseff from office.
Temer was booed at an Independence Day ceremony on Wednesday in the capital, Brasilia, in his first public appearance since taking office last week. Temer had arrived at the heavily-policed ceremony in a closed presidential vehicle instead of the traditional open top Rolls Royce normally used in such ceremonies.
In recent days, the supporters of Rousseff have staged several protest rallies urging the new president to step down. Protests against the new president had been held in Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities.
Union members and social activists demonstrate in support of Brazil’s impeached president Dilma Rousseff and against President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 8, 2016.  (Photo by AFP)
Temer took office last week after former President Dilma Rousseff was stripped of presidency following a Senate impeachment vote.
He is scheduled to complete Rousseff’s presidential term until the next scheduled election in late 2018.
Rousseff has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision on her ouster.
She was accused of breaking fiscal rules in her management of the 2014 federal budget, allegations that she strongly rejected. She consistently called the impeachment a coup d’état and denounced Temer as a “usurper.”
Temer himself faces allegations of campaign finance violations.

All Progressives Congress (APC) Deputy Gubernatorial Candidate, Mr. Phillip Shuaibu; Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode; Edo State Governor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole; APC Gubernatorial Candidate, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and National Chairman, APC, Chief Odigie Oyegun during the Edo State APC Grand Finale Campaign at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, on Tuesday, September 6, 2016.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has given reasons for retracting its earlier stance to proceed with the Edo State governorship election initially scheduled for Saturday.
Hours after the commission said it would go ahead with the election despite the contrary advice of the Police and the State Security Service, SSS, it retracted saying it had postponed the election by two weeks.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the Police and the SSS called on INEC to postpone the election and allow them address threats emanating from insurgents bent on attacking electorates and disrupting the election.
The electoral body initially refused to be “teleguided”. It said suspending the polls would be costly after reaching at least 97 per cent readiness level.
After a series of consultations, the Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC finally gave in to the demands of security agencies. It postponed the election to September 28.
In a telephone conversation with PREMIUM TIMES Thursday night, the spokesperson of INEC, Nick Dazang, said the latest decision was based on a better appraisal of the situation by INEC, following explanations from the security agencies.
“It was only as at this evening that we were officially communicated and they explained to us the challenges they had that would affect their capacity to secure the election,” he said.
“Before then, we were hearing just like any other person from the media that they were advising us to postpone. And as a responsible organisation, we did not think there was any way we could proceed on that basis.”
The spokesperson added that the commission’s previous decision to go ahead because it had earlier received reports from the same security operatives during a stake holders forum that there would be sufficient protection of lives and properties during the election.
“Don’t forget that the story started trending that we were advised to postpone the election as we were conducting the stake holders forum in Benin.
“The Police and the SSS were represented there, at the highest level. The DIG operations represented the IG and he was telling the stake holders, at the full glare of reporters, that they would secure the environment for the election.
“That was the reason for the initial stand. Those that gave the assurance were far higher than those who issued the statement. So if the IG is saying one thing and a much lower person is saying another, who should we follow?” he queried.
Mr. Dazang then provided more details of the security agencies claims.
“They explained that going ahead with the election would over stretch them and that giving the situation, it was crucial for them to ensure the protection of voters, as well as our staff.
“You know we are not in a position to secure our staff. And we do not want to put them in harm’s way,” he added.
While the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its officials condemned the postponement, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, did not.
Godwin Obaseki, the APC candidate, is slugging it out with Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP in the race to replace incumbent Adams Oshiomhole whose two-term tenure expires this November.

Sep 6, 2016

Israeli tanks once again fire shells at Gaza homes

Israeli soldiers run next to a tank in the Negev desert on June 7, 2016. ©AFP
The Israeli military has heavily shelled residential areas in the Gaza Strip days after a similar attack injured three Palestinians in the Israeli-besieged enclave.
The Palestinian Naba news agency reported that Israeli tanks fired artillery shells at Palestinian homes and agricultural lands in the eastern part of Deir al-Balah city in central Gaza early on Tuesday.
Israeli military officials claimed that the assault came in response to an alleged attack by a Palestinian sniper against Israeli special forces east of Deir al-Balah.
Israeli tanks also fired two shells at the Kayber military base belonging to the al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas resistance movement.
Another base with the Islamic Jihad resistance movement also came under a similar attack.
Meanwhile, Israeli military watchtowers in the Erez crossing on the northern Gazan border opened machine gun fire at a position of Gaza’s Interior Ministry.
The attacks caused material damage, but no injuries were reported.
In response, the Palestinian resistance fighters fired a barrage of machine gun bullets at the Israeli settlement of Ra’im near Gaza’s northern border.
A view of Gaza under Israeli attacks on September 6, 2016.
Amid the shelling, reports said Israeli fighter jets also dropped illumination flares on Gaza, with the regime’s spy aircraft flying over the territory.
Early on Sunday, the Israeli military fired a volley of shells on the northern Gaza Strip, wounding at least three people over an alleged gunfire by Hamas aimed at its forces along the border.
Israel continues to carry out attacks on the Palestinian enclave from time to time.
The regime’s fighter jets frequently bomb Gaza. The Israeli military uses drones over the impoverished region either to monitor and photograph Palestinian military units in the blockaded coastal enclave, or launch aerial attacks against targets.
Tel Aviv launched its latest large-scale war on the Gaza Strip in early July 2014. The 50-day military aggression, which ended on August 26, 2014, killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including 577 children. Over 11,100 others, including 3,374 children, 2,088 women and 410 elderly people, were also wounded in the war.
Gaza has been under an Israeli siege since June 2007. The blockade has caused a decline in the standard of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty.

We have not sacked Adeyanju as PDP New Media Director – Makarfi


The Peoples Democratic Party on Monday said its Director of New Media, Deji Adeyanju, has not been removed.
Ahmed Makarfi, Chairman of the party’s Caretaker Committee, told PREMIUM TIMES that the leadership of the party only had issues with some “far-reaching statements” distributed by Mr. Adeyanju “without clearance.”
Mr. Adeyanju was announced removed in a statement distributed by Dayo Adeyeye, the party’s publicity secretary, on Friday afternoon. The statement cited different acts of insubordination.
The statement, signed by Chinwe Nnorom on behalf of Mr. Adeyeye, also said @PdpNigeria, the official Twitter handle of the party run by Mr. Adeyanju, was no longer recognised by the party.
“In view of the above, the party has immediately re-launched a new handle: @officialpdpnig to form part of the social media platform of our great party for ease of communication, administration and control,” Mr. Adeyeye was quoted as saying.
But in a message to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna State, said the PDP still recognises Mr. Adeyanju and the new media department, but added that their activities would be streamlined going forward.
“If he was employed by the last National Working Committee, then we will have no reason to remove him but to streamline his work,” Mr. Makarfi said.
Mr. Makarfi is the head of an ad-hoc leadership set up by the party at its botched national convention in Port Harcourt last month.
Mr. Adeyanju was appointed in December 2015, and had been responsible for issuing press statements on behalf of the party.
After months of controversial statements following the party’s 2015 elections misfortune, the PDP apologised for contributing to the toxic atmosphere on social media and promied to improve on its opposition by making it more robust and constructive.
Last week, Mr. Adeyanju signed a statement calling for the resignation of President Buhari in the wake of the country’s descent into recession. It is not immediately clear if that statement contributed to the leadership’s disagreement with him.

Falana condemns Nigerian Army for ‘illegal’ occupation of property owned by Jonathan’s cousin

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call to order soldiers who invaded a property owned by Robert Azibaola in Abuja.
In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Falana described the soldiers’ occupation of the premises of Kakarta Civil Engineering Limited, owned by Mr. Azibaola, former president Goodluck Jonathan’s cousin, as illegal.
“The troops who were reported to have driven away the workers in the premises have since seized the property without a court order,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“Sequel to the illegal action of the army of occupation, the innocent workers in the company have been dispatched to the unemployment market.”
Armed soldiers, led by an unnamed General, last Saturday seized the property and barred all the workers from entering it, the lawyer said.
The army is yet to issue an official statement for its action.
Mr. Azibaola is facing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for the diversion of $40 million through One-Plus Holdings, a sister company of Kakarta Civil Engineering Limited, meant for securing oil pipelines contract.
Mr. Azibaola had pleaded not guilty to the charge.
“The implication of the plea is that he is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the prosecution,” Mr. Falana said.
“Therefore, if the Nigerian military authorities had wanted to dispossess him of the property in question they ought have applied for a court order.
“But by taking over the property under the pretext that it constitutes a threat to a nearby military barracks the military authorities took the law into their hands.
“The forceful seizure of the property should not be tolerated in a civilized society which operates under the rule of law.”
Mr. Falana called on the federal government to stop members of the armed forces from violating the rights of criminal suspects accused of engaging in the looting of the public treasury.
“By allowing the security forces to adopt Gestapo tactics in the recovery of the loot, the Buhari administration stands the risk of winning undeserved sympathy for the criminal suspects who are standing trial,” he said.
“Indeed, the security forces are unwittingly colluding with corruption to fight back.”
He also accused the army of usurping the functions of the police to maintain law and order in the society, adding that “power drunk military officers” now declare civilians wanted.
“Even under the defunct military junta, the courts never condoned the forceful seizure of the assets of citizens by armed troops,” said Mr. Falana.
“Since the seizure and the illegal occupation of Mr. Azibaola’s property cannot be justified in law the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai should order the immediate withdrawal of the armed troops and sanction the officers who have exposed the nation to ridicule in the circumstance.
“Having regard to the massive infringements of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people by armed soldiers President Buhari should order the Army to stop interfering in the police duty of maintaining law and order in the country.”

Nigerian journalist, Ahmed Salkida, declared wanted by the Army arrested – Reports

Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist declared wanted by the military overBoko Haram’s latest video, has been arrested, Nigerian media reported on Monday.
Sahara Reporters, a Nigerian news website, reported Monday afternoon that Mr. Salkida was apprehended by the State Security Service at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Mr. Salkida travelled aboard an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai using an emergency travel certificate and expressed fears about his possible arrest upon arrival in the country, Sahara Reporters quoted a female passenger who seated beside him as saying.
“Mr. Salkida further told the passenger that he did not know the whereabouts of Boko Haram leaders or Chibok girls. However, he admitted to receiving two video clips from Boko Haram before they were released to the public,” the website reported.
PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify reports of Mr. Salkida’s arrest as efforts to get confirmation from the Nigerian Army, the Defence Headquarters, the State Security Service and the police proved unsuccessful.
But Farooq Kperogi, a U.S.-based Nigerian Professor of Journalism who recently interviewed the journalist, told PREMIUM TIMES he had a conversation with Mr. Salkida recently and the latter briefly mentioned planning to come to Nigeria.
Mr. Salkida was declared wanted on August 14 alongside Aisha Wakil, a lawyer, and Ahmed Bolori, a peace activist based in Maiduguri.
Mr. Salkida, who was in Dubai at the time of the announcement, said he would expedite preparation to return to Nigeria and turn himself in.

We will not increase fuel price, Kachikwu says after meeting Buhari


After a closed door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, said the government has no plans to increase the price of petrol.
Mr. Kachikwu’s statement comes a day after former Group Managing Directors, GMDs, of the state oil firm, NNPC, advised the government to increase the price.
The former state oil chiefs argued that the current price cap of N145 per litre of petrol was “not congruent with the liberalization policy.”
The removal of the cap under a liberalised market environment would allow marketers of petroleum products to sell at a comfortable price based on factors such as the exchange rate and international crude price. With the Naira exchange rate going down by over 50 per cent to about N412 since the current petrol price was fixed, approving the recommendation would have meant Nigerians pay more for petrol.
While addressing journalists at the State House after meeting the President, Mr. Kachikwu indicated the government would not heed his predecessor’s advice.
The minister, who handed over as GMD of the NNPC to the current incumbent, Maikanti Baru, said the government had no plans to increase the price.
“Have you seen any memo to that effect?’’ he responded when pressed on the matter by journalists.
The minister was accompanied to the meeting with the president by Mr. Baru who also said the government has no plan to increase the price of petrol.
“There is nothing like that,” he said.
Both men referred journalists to the Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA‎.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the PPPRA also rejected the advice to increase fuel price.
While stating the government’s response, the acting Executive Secretary of PPPRA, Sotonye Iyoyo, said the proposal was the personal opinion of the former state oil chiefs.
“If it was a recommendation, that is what it is – a personal opinion. I’m not aware government is planning any fuel price increase. We are in a liberalised market already,” the acting Executive Secretary of PPPRA, Sotonye Iyoyo, said.

Buhari’s objection

Although the two oil chiefs did not provide details of their discussion with the president, the issue of petrol price is believed to be the main topic of discussion.
Mr. Buhari had been reluctant to increase the petrol price from N86 to N145 cap in May despite the hard biting scarcity of the product that left Nigerians queuing for days to get it. The scarcity persisted mainly because marketers refused to import the product saying it was not profitable to import and sell at N86.
The marketers have again called for an upward review of prices.
A senior official of the retail arm of the NNPC, who sought anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to journalists, narrated how the president conceded to the price increase only after so much pressure.
“Kachikwu threatened to resign if the president did not agree to the increase then” he said.
“I’m not sure the president will approve any such increase anymore, especially with the current economic situation,” he said in reference to Nigeria’s current economic recession that has seen tens of thousands of people lose their jobs, companies shut down, and states unable to pay salaries.

Israel detained 30 Palestinian teenagers in August: Rights group

In this file photo, Israeli soldiers are seen arresting a Palestinian teenager during a protest against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel and the construction of a separation wall in Salwad village, eastern Ramallah, occupied West Bank.
In this file photo, Israeli soldiers are seen arresting a Palestinian teenager during a protest against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel and the construction of a separation wall in Salwad village, eastern Ramallah, occupied West Bank.
A Palestinian human rights body says Israeli military forces arrested some 30 Palestinian teenagers last month, amid continued aggression in the occupied territories.
The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs announced in a statement on Monday that there were minors as young as 13 among the detainees in August.
The committee’s lawyer, Luay Akka, said 17 children were arrested when Israeli soldiers raided their homes across the West Bank, five were detained off the streets, four at military checkpoints, and four others turned themselves in after receiving summons from Israeli authorities.
Akka added that three of the teenagers are being held under the practice of administrative detention, which allows Israeli officials to keep detainees behind bars without charge for an indefinite time.
Mousa Khanafsa, a 14-year-old boy from the town of Abu Dis, told Akka that he was savagely beaten when Israeli soldiers arrested him on a street near his house.
Khanafsa said a group of plainclothes Israeli officers had chased and caught him before they “assaulted him with the butts of their rifles, stomped on him with military boots, and left him bleeding from his nose.”
On Saturday, Israeli police detained and assaulted 16-year-old Jamal al-Zaatari in the At-Tur neighborhood, located approximately one kilometer east of the Old City of Jerusalem al-Quds. The soldiers pepper-sprayed and violently beat Zaatari. The Palestinian teenager sustained injuries to his face, back, and feet.
The Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights recently warned against a growing trend of Israeli forces shooting and injuring young Palestinian men, especially in the knee and the leg, during overnight raids across the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs recently said Israeli forces had detained 560 children in the East Jerusalem al-Quds alone since the beginning of the current year.
According to the committee, 110 minors are currently being held in Israeli prisons and detention centers.

Obama backs down from Duterte showdown at ASEAN summit

US President Barack Obama (left) and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
US President Barack Obama (left) and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
US President Barack Obama has canceled a planned meeting with his Filipino counterpart Rodrigo Duterte after the latter insulted him with vulgar and undiplomatic language.  
The two leaders were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the 28th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on Tuesdayafternoon in Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
White House officials previously said Obama would confront Duterte about his country's handling of drug dealers, including alleged extrajudicial killings.
Hours later, a US spokesman announced the cancellation of the meeting after Duterte lashed out at Obama for wading into his campaign against drugs.
"President Obama will not be holding a bilateral meeting with President Duterte of the Philippines this afternoon," US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in Washington, DC.
Price said the US president, who is in Laos for meetings with South Asian leaders, instead will meet with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference following the conclusion of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on September 5, 2016. (AFP photo)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives at the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane on September 5, 2016 for the 28th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit to be held September 6-8. (AFP photo)
Hours earlier, the outspoken Filipino leader harshly criticized the US president and said, “I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people.
"You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a b***, I will curse you in that forum," Duterte told reporters when asked about his message for Obama whose country is a former colonial ruler of the Philippines.
Duterte said that he would not be lectured by the US leader on human rights, and blamed Washington for causing unrest in the southern Philippines.
Obama learned about the insult while emerging from the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China.

Clinton rejects invitation to visit Mexico

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Reno, Nevada on August 25, 2016. (photos by AFP)
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says she will not travel to Mexico, rejecting an invitation by the country’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto.
Clinton made the decision after her Republican rival Donald Trump created what the former secretary called a "diplomatic incident" in his foray there.
According to a written excerpt from an interview with ABC News to be aired Tuesday morning, Clinton said "no" when asked whether she would visit Mexico before the Noelection.
Nieto invited both Trump and Clinton to visit Mexico. Trump took up his invitation and traveled to the country on Wednesday.
He met with Nieto, who said the business mogul’s policies are a “huge threat” to his nation that should be “confronted.”
Nieto made the remarks shortly after meeting with Trump in the Mexican capital.
“His (Trump’s) policy stances could represent a huge threat to Mexico, and I am not prepared to keep my arms crossed and do nothing,” Nieto said in a television interview late on Wednesday.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) and US presidential candidate Donald Trump shake hands after a meeting in Mexico City on August 31, 2016. 
During a press conference with Nieto, Trump said, "We did discuss the wall. We didn't discuss payment of the wall. That'll be for a later date."
In her interview with ABC, Clinton said that Trump "came out saying one thing and the Mexican president contradicted him almost immediately."
"He didn't raise it, so he did choke. He didn't know how to even communicate effectively with a head of state. And I think that's a pretty clear outcome from that trip," she added.
Trump has repeatedly pledged to build a wall along the US southern border to prevent more immigrants from entering the US illegally, and has promised to force Mexico to cover  the construction costs.
He has also called undocumented Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, and has vowed to deport some 11 million of them.

US must scrap Syria regime change plan, analyst says

The United States must stop insisting on a regime change in Syria if it wants to reach a deal with Russia to effect peace in the Arab country, an analyst suggests.
In a phone interview with Press TV on Monday, James Jatras, a former diplomat and adviser at the US Senate Republican leadership, said failure to reach a deal on the Syria crisis following myriads of meetings between Russian and US officials is “hardly surprising.”
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on Monday to come to an agreement over the situation in the war-ravaged Muslim country, but to no avail.
Obama spoke of "grave differences with the Russians in terms of both the parties we support but also the process that is required to bring about peace in Syria."
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have also been holding meetings one after another for the past three months, yet have remained at odds.
According to Jatras, one of the main differences is related to the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“What is the future of Syria? The United States insists on regime change; Assad must go, and of course, the Russians are not going to accept that,” said the Washington-based analyst, voicing pessimism about “any kind of agreement that can be reached between the two sides as long as the Obama administration insists on an unrealistic and frankly illegitimate goal of regime change.”
As more meetings are set to be held over the five-year-old crisis, Jatras said, currently, the decisions are based on “military realities not on an agreement between Washington and Moscow.”
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The Syrian army has vowed to press ahead with its counter-terror operations and drive terrorists out of their major positions.

Sep 5, 2016

Two blasts go off near defense ministry in Afghan capital

Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of an attack at the American University of Afghanistan in the capital, Kabul on August 24, 2016. © Reuters
Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of an attack at the American University of Afghanistan in the capital, Kabul on August 24, 2016. © Reuters
At least two explosions have rocked the Afghan capital with casualties feared, an army official says.
The blasts went off near the Defense Ministry building in Kabul during late afternoon rush hour on Monday, the unnamed official added.
There is as of yet no immediate official report on the cause of the blasts and the casualties.
The explosions occurred after 13 people, including seven students, three police, two security guards and a doorman, were killed in an attack on the American University in Kabul on August 24. Thirty students were also injured.
Afghanistan has been gripped by insecurity since the US and its allies invaded the country as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror in 2001. Many parts of the country still remain plagued by militancy despite the presence of foreign troops.
Taliban have regrouped since the death of former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour earlier in the year and are reported to be currently in control of some areas in Afghanistan.
Fierce fighting is currently ongoing between the Afghan army and the militants across the country, notably in Helmand and around the northern city of Kunduz, which they had briefly seized last year.
Late last month, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it had recorded 1,601 civilian deaths and 3,565 injuries in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2016.

UK becomes world’s second biggest arms dealer

One of the Saudi Air Force's UK-made Typhoon fighter jets (file photo)
One of the Saudi Air Force's UK-made Typhoon fighter jets (file photo)
The UK government has become the world’s second biggest arms dealer, with bulk its weapons fueling deadly conflicts in the Middle East, according to official data.
According to latest data by the UK Trade and Investment, a government body that promotes British exports overseas, over the last 10 years the UK’s average arms sales exceeds that of Russia, China, or France and is only second to the United States.
According to a joint analysis by The Independent and Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), between 2010-2015, the British government has sold £10 billion in arms licenses to at least 39 of the 51 countries that have been ranked “not free” on the US-based Freedom House’s "Freedom in the world" report.
London has gone a step further and conducted sold £7.9 billion worth of arms deals with 22 of the 30 countries that have been blacklisted on the UK government’s own human rights watch list.
Interestingly, about two-thirds of the exports over the five-year period were destined to the Middle East, where many countries have been ravaged by conflicts resulting from Western intervention.
“The UK is one of the world’s most successful defense exporters, averaging second place in the global rankings on a rolling ten-year basis, making it Europe’s leading defense exporter in the period,” the government organization boasted in its report.
The Foreign Office maintains a “human rights priority countries” list which includes countries that it deems as having “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations.”
A Watchkeeper drone made by the British arms producer Thales.
Saudi Arabia, Israel and Bahrain were some of the customers on the controversial government list.
According to the Independent, Saudis have received British bombs, missiles, and fighter jets, which it has been using in its military aggression against Yemen, which has killed about 10,000 people since it began in March 2015.
Last year alone, London approved the sale of more than £3 billion worth of weapons to the Riyadh regime.
The UK has provided the Israeli regime with drone components and targeting equipment.
Bahrain, another repressive Arab monarchy, has also received machine guns from the UK, along with special police training that it has actively been using to curb a years-long popular uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa family.
“These terrible figures expose the hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy,” said Andrew Smith of CAAT.
“These regimes aren't just buying weapons, they're also buying political support and legitimacy. How likely is the UK to act against human rights violations in these countries when it is also profiting from them,” he asked.

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