Syria’s UN human rights envoy defects in Geneva

Updated 15 August 2012
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Syria’s UN human rights envoy defects in Geneva

GENEVA, Switzerland: In another blow to the Assad regime, Syria’s top representative at the UN Human Rights Council said Monday he had defected because he no longer felt able in that position to do anything for the Syrian people.
“Basically, when I felt I could not help my people any more I had to move on,” Danny Al-Baaj, the first Syrian diplomat in Switzerland to abandon Bashar Assad’s regime, told AFP.
“When I was involved in any negotiations (on Syria) my concern was to protect the country not the government,” he added.
Al-Baaj's move comes a week after Syria's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected along with other top officials and military commanders.
Thousands of military officers have also switched sides over the past months, many of them fleeing to Turkey before returning to Syria to join rebel forces.
Baaj said he took his decision a long time ago and had been in contact with Syrian opposition group the Democratic Forum based in Paris.
He had been in Geneva for two years and met the opposition group “some time ago,” before announcing his resignation last Friday, he said.
“I met the charge d’affaires (of Syria in Geneva) and I told him I had made my decision that I was going to the opposition... He said it was my choice and he wished me luck.”
Speaking from Geneva where he is considering his next move, Baaj described the Democratic Forum as one of the main opposition groups. It is headed by Michel Kilo, a long-time opponent of the regime.
The development comes ahead of the release on Wednesday of an official UNHRC independent commission of inquiry report into Syria.
Baaj said he “hoped” the Geneva-based body would make progress toward consensus on the situation in Syria despite many countries letting their own agendas interfere with finding a solution.
“At the last session the HRC was very close to reaching consensus ... I hope different countries put aside their agendas to help the Syrian people,” he said.
Baaj also stressed his opposition to outside military intervention in the conflict but supported the role of the UN’s Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), calling it “a good thing.”
“I hope it stays there. It’s very important to document abuses by both sides,” he said.

Violence increasing
In Damascus, the head of the United Nations monitors in Syria said violence was intensifying across the country, blaming both Assad’s forces and rebel fighters for ignoring the plight of civilians.
“It is clear that violence is increasing in many parts of Syria,” Gen. Babacar Gaye, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, told journalists in Damascus.
“The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centers are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians.
“I deeply regret that none of the parties has prioritised the needs of civilians.”
Activists say more than 18,000 people, including soldiers, rebels and civilians, have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising against Assad in March last year.
Assad’s forces are battling to regain control of the biggest city, Aleppo, from rebel fighters who went on the offensive last month, seizing districts of the capital and the northern commercial hub, as well as several border crossings.
Free Syrian Army rebels also control towns and villages in a wide swathe of territory near the northern border with Turkey.
Assad’s forces have hit back, regaining much of Damascus and bombarding opposition strongholds in and around the capital. Residents reported overnight shelling from the Qassioun mountains overlooking north Damascus into Jobar neighborhood.
Activists also reported shelling in the northern Damascus suburb of Tell, which they say has been under rebel control for two weeks, and in Muadamiya suburb, where they said four men had been found executed after troops pulled out.
State television said the army was battling rebels in the city of Homs and had attacked “terrorist lairs” in the town of Talbiseh to the north.
The mandate for the UN monitors, whose original mission was to observe an April cease-fire that never took hold, expires on Aug. 19. Their numbers have already been cut to a third because violence has made it impossible for them to move around.
“But the remaining 100 observers, along with our civilian colleagues, will operate till the last minute,” Gaye said.
“I call on the parties to cease military operations and come to the (negotiating) table,” he said, adding that he and his colleagues had delivered the same appeal in person to the government and the Syrian opposition abroad.

 


CNN Turk criticized for cutting opposition mayor interview

Updated 4 min 6 sec ago
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CNN Turk criticized for cutting opposition mayor interview

  • Imamoglu countered that the interview was supposed to last 30 minutes more, but was told time was up
  • CNN Turk has been mocked in the past for toeing the government line

ISTANBUL: CNN’s Turkish channel was criticized Tuesday after it cut short an interview with the opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor as he began to talk about the municipality’s “extravagant” spending.

Social media users lashed out at CNN Turk after it stopped Monday night’s interview with Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party half an hour ahead of schedule.

One Twitter user @muratagirel suggested CNN Turk change the program’s name from “Unbiased Zone” to “Biased Zone.”

Imamoglu was dramatically stripped of his victory in March’s vote after the country’s top election body annulled the results over claims of “irregularities” and ordered a new election for June 23.

He is rarely given time on Turkish screens, whereas President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered almost daily televised speeches ahead of the March vote on behalf of ruling party candidate Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister.

Imamoglu was interrupted by the CNN Turk anchor as he began to talk about the lavish spending in Istanbul municipality which he said he discovered during his brief 18-day stint as mayor.

He held up placards depicting alleged waste, such as high numbers of unnecessary official cars, and said his campaign would focus on turning this information into savings. 

FASTFACT

Ekrem Imamoglu was interrupted by the CNN Turk anchor as he began to talk about the lavish spending in Istanbul municipality which he said he discovered during his 18-day stint as mayor.

This prompted the anchorman, Ahmet Hakan, first to interrupt him for a commercial break and then to end the program entirely when Imamoglu insisted on talking about the finances.

Imamoglu countered that the interview was supposed to last 30 minutes more, but was told time was up.

Many social media users reacted with anger, such as one person on Twitter who wrote: “Ahmet Hakan you are a very bad journalist ... are you aware that the time is up for you and those like you?”

The Istanbul Municipality responded late Monday, denying Imamoglu’s allegations about the official cars and said the claims amounted to “intentional distortion” to manipulate public opinion.

Turkey is ranked 157th in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, which says the government has increasingly seized control of media outlets and is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.

CNN Turk has been mocked in the past for toeing the government line, particularly during the “Gezi Park” protests in 2013, when it ran a documentary about penguins instead of covering the demonstrations.

It is a joint venture of CNN’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting System International, and Turkey’s privately owned Dogan Media Group.

Dogan was sold last year to Demiroren Group, which has close ties to Erdogan.