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Sweden Pledges More Aid to Lebanon After Visiting Refugees

By , January 26, 2015 10:48 pm

Sweden Pledges More Aid to Lebanon After Visiting Refugees

Posted 2015-01-27 01:36 GMT

BEIRUT — Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lovin announced additional assistance for Lebanon following a visit to an informal settlement of around 600 Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley.

There, she met with Syrian refugee children and vulnerable Lebanese children receiving aid. Lovin was accompanied by Ambassador Diana Janse, head of mission of the Embassy of Sweden in Damascus, and representatives from various aid agencies, including UNHCR, UNICEF, World Vision and Save the Children.

“Sweden is an important donor to UNICEF, and contributed to UNICEF Lebanon’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs in 2014,” the agency’s Lebanon representative Annamaria Laurini said.

Sweden was UNICEF’s fifth largest donor globally in 2013.

Last year, the country donated over $ 6 million to projects aimed at those suffering from the Syrian war, both inside the country and in host countries.

Assyrian International News Agency

More Than 700,000 Rally in France After Islamist Attacks

By , January 11, 2015 6:33 am

Paris (AFP) — More than 700,000 people on Saturday took to streets across France in tribute to the 17 people killed in three days of violence by Islamist extremists, the interior minister said.

From Nice and Marseilles in the south to Besancon in the east and Lille in the north, people poured onto the streets to express their solidarity following Wednesday’s attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead. The massacre was followed by the fatal shooting of a police officer on Thursday and the murder of four hostages during a siege at a Jewish supermarket on Friday.

“700,000 people have marched” in cities around France, Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters on the eve of a huge Paris rally planned due to be attended by a string of world leaders.

Cazeneuve did not give a detailed breakdown of the figure, but according to an AFP tally of demonstrations many thousands turned out across the country.

In the southern city of Toulouse, police said around 80,000 people took part in a march, with the “enormous” procession stretching up to two kilometres (1.2 miles), according to an AFP journalist.

“Live together, free, equal and in solidarity,” read the banner behind which at least 30,000 people also marched in the western city of Nantes.

In Marseille, 45,000 people expressed similar sentiments with a rally banner that said “For democracy, equality, freedom, let’s fight fascism”.

Individual marchers held up placards with the words “Not Afraid!”

In Pau, a further 30,000 to 40,000 people staged a silent march with school pupils leading the way holding a banner emblazoned with the words: “We are all Charlie”.

“It’s a great popular movement… it’s beautiful and significant, infinitely precious,” the southwestern city’s mayor Francois Bayrou told AFP.

In Besancon, another 20,000 took to the streets, an AFP correspondent said, while in northern Orleans around 22,000 rallied, according to a police source.

In Nice, at least 23,000 demonstrators were counted, police sources said, in a demonstration which snaked for around a kilometre along the famous seafront Promenade des Anglais, ending at the war memorial where a wreath was laid in the presence of representatives of different faiths.

A further 22,000 people turned out in northern Lille and thousands more in several other towns and cities across France.

Outside France, several thousand people, including many Muslims, rallied in Milan with many carrying signs that said “I am Charlie” or “Not In My Name”.

The rallies come ahead of a march expected to draw up to a million people on Sunday in which French President Francois Hollande will be joined by a host of world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Others due to participate include Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and US Attorney General Eric Holder.

The prime ministers of Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands will also attend along with the presidents of Mali, Niger and Ukraine.

Hollande will also be joined by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, president of the European Union Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

“This will be an extraordinary demonstration… which must show the power and the dignity of the French people who are going to proclaim their love of freedom and tolerance,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

Ahead of that mass rally in Paris, hundreds of troops were on Saturday deployed around the city, which is already on the highest possible alert.

Following a crisis meeting, the French government announced that all necessary measures would be taken to ensure the safety of those attending.

The three-day killing spree by three Islamic militants ended on Friday following a massive police operation.

All three gunmen died in final confrontations with police.

Assyrian International News Agency

US Donates More Abrams Tanks, Humvees to Iraq

By , January 7, 2015 5:39 am

US Donates More Abrams Tanks, Humvees to Iraq

Posted 2015-01-06 22:39 GMT

US MRAPs in Kuwait await shipment to Iraq (photo: US State Department).WASHINGTON — The United States provided the Iraqi armed forces with $ 300 million in donated military equipment in 2014, and over the next two months will deliver six more Abrams tanks and 50 up-armored Humvees at no cost to the Baghdad government, according to information provided by the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The deliveries come on the heels of the announcement that the US had donated 250 mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles to Iraqi and Kurdish forces since late December in a deal that also provided six months of US-provided maintenance for the hulking blast-resistant vehicles.

“The number one threat to the Iraqi security forces are roadside bombs and vehicle-borne bombs,” US Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones said in a Tuesday statement. “These MRAP vehicles provide increased ballistic and counter mine protection for Iraqi security forces.”

Some of the equipment provided by Washington includes 12,000 sets of body armor, Kevlar helmets, medical kits, counter-IED equipment, vehicle maintenance and sustainment, and tank and helicopter maintenance training. Preparations are also being made to ship 10,000 M16 rifles to the Iraqi Army in the coming weeks.

The multinational coalition against the radical Islamic State has conducted more than 900 airstrikes against targets in Iraq since Aug. 8 at an average daily cost of over $ 8 million, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

That would put the price tag at more than $ 1.2 billion as of Tuesday.

And it is not only the MRAPs that are being shipped to help protect Iraqi troops from the threat of roadside bombs. US troops stationed in Baghdad, Taji and Al Asad Air Base are training Iraqi security forces in counter-IED tactics, and “the United States is providing Iraq with millions of dollars in equipment to defeat IEDs, booby traps, and homemade bombs,” according to a statement by the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Assyrian International News Agency

US Releases 5 More Guantanamo Bay Prisoners, Sends Them to Kazakhstan

By , January 2, 2015 5:57 am

The Defense Department announced Wednesday that five more prisoners will be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay to another nation, in the latest step by the Obama administration to whittle down the prisoner population in pursuit of ultimately closing the camp.

The five men will be transferred to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan for resettlement, the U.S. government announced.

The two men from Tunisia and three from Yemen — who have been at the camp for a dozen years — had been cleared for release from the prison by a government task force but could not be sent to their homelands. The U.S. has sent hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo to third countries but this is the first time Kazakhstan has accepted any for resettlement.

Their release brings the prison population at Guantanamo to 127, according to a Pentagon statement on Tuesday.

The transfer appears to be the latest step in the administration’s strategy to rapidly bring down the prison population at Guantanamo, potentially to under 100, so that the White House can make a more aggressive argument to Congress that the camp should be closed. Congress continues to block Guantanamo prisoners from being brought for detention on the U.S. mainland.

Many vocal critics of the administration’s push to close the camp, though, have not backed off their concerns. And the accelerated prisoner transfers have raised additional security concerns.

All the prisoners being transferred to Kazakhstan had been captured in Pakistan and turned over to the U.S. for detention as suspected Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda.

The U.S. identified the Yemenis as Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, who is about 46; Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, who is about 36; and Sabri Mohammad al Qurashi, about 44.

According to a 2007 Defense document, posted on The New York Times website, Al-Khalaqi was “assessed” to be part of Al Qaeda and was captured alongside an Al Qaeda commander at Tora Bora.

Al Qurashi, likewise, allegedly got “militant training” at an Al Qaeda training camp and was arrested at an Al Qaeda safe house. Both were assessed to be “medium risk.”

The U.S. identified the Tunisians as 49-year-old Adel Al-Hakeemy, and Abdallah Bin Ali al Lufti, who military records show is about 48.

None of the men were ever charged and a government task force determined it was no longer necessary to hold them.

The U.S. does not say why they could not be sent home but the government has been unwilling to send Yemenis to their country because of unrest and militant activity there while in the past some Tunisians have feared persecution.

Nearly 30 prisoners have been resettled in third countries this year as part of Obama’s renewed push to close the detention center over opposition from Congress. Earlier this month, four Afghan detainees were returned to their home country.

The Washington Post reported that the administration plans to “significantly reduce” the camp’s population over the next six months by transferring prisoners out. Officials reportedly are hoping other nations will accept the roughly 60 prisoners approved for transfer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

US Releases 5 More Guantanamo Bay Prisoners, Sends Them to Kazakhstan

By , January 2, 2015 5:57 am

The Defense Department announced Wednesday that five more prisoners will be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay to another nation, in the latest step by the Obama administration to whittle down the prisoner population in pursuit of ultimately closing the camp.

The five men will be transferred to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan for resettlement, the U.S. government announced.

The two men from Tunisia and three from Yemen — who have been at the camp for a dozen years — had been cleared for release from the prison by a government task force but could not be sent to their homelands. The U.S. has sent hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo to third countries but this is the first time Kazakhstan has accepted any for resettlement.

Their release brings the prison population at Guantanamo to 127, according to a Pentagon statement on Tuesday.

The transfer appears to be the latest step in the administration’s strategy to rapidly bring down the prison population at Guantanamo, potentially to under 100, so that the White House can make a more aggressive argument to Congress that the camp should be closed. Congress continues to block Guantanamo prisoners from being brought for detention on the U.S. mainland.

Many vocal critics of the administration’s push to close the camp, though, have not backed off their concerns. And the accelerated prisoner transfers have raised additional security concerns.

All the prisoners being transferred to Kazakhstan had been captured in Pakistan and turned over to the U.S. for detention as suspected Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda.

The U.S. identified the Yemenis as Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, who is about 46; Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, who is about 36; and Sabri Mohammad al Qurashi, about 44.

According to a 2007 Defense document, posted on The New York Times website, Al-Khalaqi was “assessed” to be part of Al Qaeda and was captured alongside an Al Qaeda commander at Tora Bora.

Al Qurashi, likewise, allegedly got “militant training” at an Al Qaeda training camp and was arrested at an Al Qaeda safe house. Both were assessed to be “medium risk.”

The U.S. identified the Tunisians as 49-year-old Adel Al-Hakeemy, and Abdallah Bin Ali al Lufti, who military records show is about 48.

None of the men were ever charged and a government task force determined it was no longer necessary to hold them.

The U.S. does not say why they could not be sent home but the government has been unwilling to send Yemenis to their country because of unrest and militant activity there while in the past some Tunisians have feared persecution.

Nearly 30 prisoners have been resettled in third countries this year as part of Obama’s renewed push to close the detention center over opposition from Congress. Earlier this month, four Afghan detainees were returned to their home country.

The Washington Post reported that the administration plans to “significantly reduce” the camp’s population over the next six months by transferring prisoners out. Officials reportedly are hoping other nations will accept the roughly 60 prisoners approved for transfer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

Jihadists Want More Dutch Muslims Fighting in Syria

By , December 30, 2014 9:32 am

Jihadists Want More Dutch Muslims Fighting in Syria

By Janene Van Jaarsveldt

Posted 2014-12-30 11:07 GMT

The Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini has called on Dutch Muslims to go to Syria and join the jihad. This is according to SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that tracks jihadist groups.

According to the usually reliable online jihad monitor, a Dutch fighter in the terrorist group Al Nustra posted a video on the internet with the call. Muhaysini, a famous jihad ideologue, urges Dutch Muslims to join Al Nusra or one of the associated groups. Al Nusra is the Al Qaeda branch in Syria.

Muhaysini is a popular cleric who has settled in Syria to support jihadist groups fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. His calls on social media are very well followed. His posts on Twitter are viewed by 240 thousand followers. Another of his Twitter accounts, on which he posts news on Syria, has 224 thousand followers.

Assyrian International News Agency

Will the Taliban Attack on a Peshawar School Generate More Reform Than the Newtown School Shooting?

By , December 22, 2014 1:28 pm

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Since Sandy Hook, there have been nearly 100 school shootings. How many more Pakistani children need to die?
Foreign Policy In Focus

Euro Continues to Drop on Expectations of More Easing

By , December 18, 2014 5:18 am

1,200 eurosThere are expectations of more easing early in the coming year, and that is sending the euro lower today. Expectations that the ECB will have to take more steps to support the eurozone economy are being priced into the market right now.

Years of austerity are taking their toll in the eurozone. While the austerity measures are meant to help eurozone countries get back on track with their balance sheets, the reality is that it has been slowing down the eurozone economy. As a result, the European Central Bank has had to participate in easing measures in an effort to stimulate the economy. These measures weaken the euro against its counterparts.

However, even with the weakening euro, there hasn’t been a lot of success for the eurozone economy. It continues to see difficulties in recovery, and the ECB is expected to try fresh measures next year. The addition of Lithuania isn’t expected to be a lot of help to the eurozone economy, and meanwhile there are concerns about the ability of Germany and France to shore up the rest of the eurozone.

At 11:30 GMT EUR/USD is down to 1.2327 from the open at 1.2342. EUR/GBP is down to 0.7876 form the open at 0.7926. EUR/JPY is down to 146.1200 from the open at 146.4890.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Euro, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Erdogan’s Regime Becoming More Dictatorship Than Democracy

By , December 17, 2014 1:42 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to transform his regime into a one-man dictatorship reminiscent of strong-man regimes in the Arab world and far less like a European democracy.

In which direction is Turkey’s government headed — to be more in the mold of European democracies such as England, Germany or Italy, or more like the dictatorships of Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Libya’s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi or Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir? The oft-repeated Erdogan quote that analysts cite again and again bears repeating — that democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination.

Sunday’s raids on the Zaman daily and Samanyolu television marked an escalation in Erdogan’s battle with former Islamist ally Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric.

Erdogan’s ruling AK Party as well as large parts of the bureaucracy were penetrated by Gulen’s Hizmet movement.

Erdogan, a Sunni Islamist who, along with Qatar, supports the Muslim Brotherhood regionally — including Hamas — is moving to the next phase. Whereas ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi tried to move too fast, Erdogan has been smartly taking over the country at a slow pace since he became prime minister in 2003.

Since the Gezi Park protests last summer, it seems that Erdogan has become less patient. And the war in Syria has also revealed where Erdogan’s heart lies: seeking President Bashar Assad’s downfall at the hands of the Islamist-dominated opposition and refusing to play a significant role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State.

“Turkey has been on the road to an authoritarian regime for several years as infringements on human rights have gradually increased,” Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post.

The longer Erdogan rules, “he becomes more power hungry and his authoritarian personality becomes clearer,” said Inbar, adding, “Nowadays, he arrests even Islamist journalists that are critical of his policies.”

“Turkey never had a political system with checks and balances able to constrain attempts to consolidate power around one politician,” notes Inbar, adding that in recent years, “Erdogan has weakened further the few constitutional constraints against ‘Putinization’ of the Turkish political system.”

Prof. Henri Barkey of Lehigh University and a former member of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff dealing with Middle East issues, told the Post that “Turkey’s democratic past has always been checkered.”

“You had military-backed or influenced governments that made a mockery of justice and the freedom of the press. The big difference between then and today is that power seems to be concentrating in the hands of one person and not an institution like the military,” explained Barkey.

“The other difference, of course, is that the AKP came to power with a promise to bring more democracy and it did, but now it has reversed itself and gone back to the country’s ‘factory settings’ so to speak.”

Yet, asserts Barkey, it is too soon to name the regime a dictatorship.

As to the quest to join the EU, this is “dead for the foreseeable future.”

And asked about moving closer to the Arab world, Barkey observes that Erdogan’s government has poor relations with almost every single Arab country except for Qatar.

Erdogan is depending on Turkey’s historical strategic regional role and its strong economy to lead the region, he says.

Asked if Erdogan is going full-out Islamist, losing any liberal pretensions in his quest for power, Barkey says it depends how you define Islamist.

Surely the Turkish president is influenced by Islam and wants to shape the state in that image, “but Islamists have such negative connotations,” he said, noting that it depends how one defines the term.

The term Islamist is used to describe Islamic State, al-Qaida, and others, so Barkey prefers not to use it in this context.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

By Pushing for More Sanctions, U.S. Hardliners Play Into Hands of Iranian Hardliners

By , December 4, 2014 12:50 am
Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

“Buoyed by the failure of the US and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program,” writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service, “pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.” But, he continues,

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

In the Wall Street Journal, Kareem Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace writes that not only would more U.S. sanctions

… threaten the unity among Washington’s negotiating partners (the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany). They also risk tainting U.S. standing among the Iranian people and precipitating an escalation that could result in military conflict.

Why? Because

Iranian calculations are driven in part by the view that President Barack Obama is averse to conflict and that Washington, not Tehran, would be blamed for abrogating the joint agreement reached last November.

Therefore

Additional U.S. sanctions are less likely to produce greater concessions than they are to encourage Tehran to recommence its nuclear activities and curtail its already limited [sic] cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Association.

Furthermore, while

… the global embargo on Iran’s economy has remained largely intact. … it’s unclear whether the European Union, Russia, and Asia would continue to forsake commercial and strategic ties with Iran to placate the U.S. in the event of a diplomatic breakdown.

In fact

Today, China, Russia, and even many European allies believe that Iran is too critical to regional stability to be shunned and that President Hasan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are reasonable leaders who should be engaged and strengthened, not sanctioned and weakened.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests,” Sadjadpour writes, “is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels. Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

More U.S. sanctions would not only discourage the cooperation of Iran, but that of China, Russia, and Europe. In other words, it’s a self-defeating ploy designed to play to the domestic political cheap seats (not to mention the luxury suites).

Foreign Policy In Focus