Obama hints at possible military action in Syria

Updated 02 May 2013
0

Obama hints at possible military action in Syria

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT/AMMAN: President Barack Obama is signaling that he would consider US military action against Syria if his administration obtains “hard, effective evidence” of chemical weapons use by the Assad government.
But Obama made it clear he would prefer to have the backing of the international community before escalating American involvement in the Syria’s fierce civil war.
In a White House news conference Tuesday, Obama appealed for patience, saying he still needs more conclusive evidence about how and when chemical weapons detected by US intelligence agencies were used. But if those questions get answered, Obama says he would consider options the Pentagon and intelligence community have readied for him in the event Syria crossed his chemical weapons “red line.”
Syria’s opposition yesterday denounced what it called “threats” by the head of Hezbollah, and warned against any intervention by the Lebanese group or by Iran in the Syrian conflict.
The speech was also criticized by Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri, who accused Hezbollah of “leading Lebanon to ruin” by intervening in Syria.
“The Syrians and the Lebanese hoped... that the Hezbollah leadership would stop their attacks on Homs and Damascus and take into account the gravity of the situation in the region,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement.
“But they heard nothing but threats... and warnings against setting the region on fire and an admission of their interference in Syrian affairs,” the key opposition movement said.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged that members of the group are fighting inside Syria and suggested Iran and other states could intervene to support the Damascus regime against rebels.
President Bashar Assad has “true friends in the region who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel and ‘takfiri’ groups,” he said of groups battling the regime.
“If the situation gets more dangerous, states, resistance movements and other forces will be obliged to intervene effectively in the confrontation on the ground,” he added.
“You will not be able to bring down the regime militarily,” Nasrallah told Syria’s rebel forces. “The battle is still long.”
The Syrian opposition has long accused Hezbollah of dispatching fighters to fight alongside government forces, including in Qusayr in central Homs province and at the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus.
The Coalition called on the Lebanese government “to immediately put an end to Hezbollah military operations in the regions close to the Syrian border.”
Hariri slammed Nasrallah in a statement, saying he “gave himself the right to expand Hezbollah’s operations from southern Lebanon to Qusayr and Sayyeda Zeinab in Syria.”
“Nasrallah is telling us that the (Lebanese) state... will forever be a hostage in the hands of Hezbollah,” he added, accusing the group of “leading Lebanon to ruin.”
He called on Lebanon’s citizens, “whatever their positions, to assume their historic responsibilities by standing against this project and using all democratic methods to reject it.”
Meanwhile, Syrian activists are reporting that that several rockets have fallen on a popular Damascus neighborhood.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rockets fell on the Bab Mesalla neighborhood in central Damascus. Initial information indicates that there were casualties, but the number could not be obtained immediately, the Observatory said.
It said police sealed off the area, which has restaurants, shops and a main public transportation station linking Damascus with the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida.
Meanwhile, the Observatory said that a bomb exploded in a nearby neighborhood, near police headquarters on Khalid Bin Walid Street. It said several people, including children, were wounded in the blast.
No other details were immediately available


Erdogan declares victory in Turkish presidential election

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he leaves his residence in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 min 18 sec ago
0

Erdogan declares victory in Turkish presidential election

  • Erdogan has just under 53 percent in the presidential poll while Ince, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 31 percent, state-run Anadolu news agency said, based on a 96 percent vote count
  • The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was polling 11 percent, well over the 10 percent minimum threshold needed to win 46 seats, which would make it the second largest opposition party in the new chamber

ANKARA: Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party claimed victory in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary polls on Sunday, overcoming the biggest electoral challenge to their rule in a decade and a half.
However, the main opposition party said it was too early to concede defeat and said it believed Erdogan could still fall short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a presidential runoff on July 8.
“Our people have given us the job of carrying out the presidential and executive posts,” Erdogan said in a short national address, even as votes were still being counted.
“I hope nobody will try to cast a shadow on the results and harm democracy in order to hide their own failure,” he added, clearly aiming to preempt opposition complaints of foul play.
Erdogan, 64, the most popular but also the most divisive politician in modern Turkish history, later waved to cheering, flag-waving supporters from the top of a bus in Istanbul.
Sunday’s vote ushers in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Erdogan and backed by a small majority of Turks in a 2017 referendum. Critics say it will further erode democracy in the NATO member state and entrench one-man rule.
Erdogan’s victory paves the way for another five-year term, and under the new constitution he could serve a further term from 2023, taking him to 2028.
An unexpectedly strong showing by the AK Party’s alliance partner, the nationalist MHP, could translate into the stable parliamentary majority that Erdogan seeks to govern freely.
“This sets the stage for speeding up reforms,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted of the results.
In early trading in Asia the lira currency firmed modestly versus the dollar on hopes of a stable working relationship between president and parliament.

OPPOSITION DOUBTS
Erdogan’s main presidential rival, Muharrem Ince of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) urged election monitors to remain at polling stations to help ensure against possible election fraud, as final results came in from large cities where his party typically performs strongly.
With 99 percent of votes counted in the presidential race, Erdogan had 52.5 percent, well ahead of Ince on 31 percent, broadcasters said.
The opposition raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the figures released by state-run Anadolu news agency, the sole distributor of the official vote tally.
However, an opposition platform collating its own vote tally from monitors based at polling stations around the country broadly confirmed the Anadolu figures.
Opposition parties and NGOs had deployed up to half a million monitors at ballot boxes to ward against possible electoral fraud. They said election law changes and fraud allegations in the 2017 referendum raised fears about the fairness of Sunday’s elections.
Erdogan said there had been no serious voting violations.
In Sunday’s parliamentary contest, the Islamist-rooted AK Party won 42 percent and its MHP ally 11 percent, based on 99 percent of votes counted, broadcasters said.
In the opposition camp, the CHP had 23 percent and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) 11 percent — above the threshold it needs to reach to enter parliament. The opposition nationalist Iyi (Good) party received 10 percent.
Election turnout nationwide was very high at around 87 percent for both contests, the state broadcaster said.
Erdogan argues that his new powers will better enable him to tackle the nation’s economic problems — the lira has lost 20 percent against the dollar this year — and crush Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Investors would welcome the prospect of a stable working relationship between the president and the new parliament, although they also have concerns about Erdogan’s recent comments suggesting he wants to take greater control of monetary policy.
Erdogan has declared himself an “enemy of interest rates,” raising fears he will pressure the central bank to cut borrowing costs after the election despite double-digit inflation.
He brought forward the elections from November 2019, but he faced an unexpectedly feisty challenge from Ince, a former physics teacher and veteran CHP lawmaker, who galvanized Turkey’s long-demoralized and divided opposition.
Turkey held Sunday’s elections under a state of emergency declared after a failed military coup in July 2016 Erdogan blamed on his former ally, US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
It limits some freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with decrees, though Erdogan says he will soon lift the measure
Since the coup attempt Erdogan has waged a sweeping crackdown on Gulen’s followers in Turkey, detaining some 160,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Critics, including the European Union which Turkey still nominally aspires to join, say Erdogan has used the crackdown to stifle dissent. He says his tough measures are needed to safeguard national security.