Assad forces overrun Qusair

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Updated 13 June 2013
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Assad forces overrun Qusair

DAMASCUS: Syria’s army has overrun the strategic town of Qusair, state media said on Wednesday, after a blistering offensive spearheaded by thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
Such a major battlefield success for President Bashar Assad’s forces, if confirmed, would come as officials from Russia, the US and the UN gathered in Geneva to work on a peace conference amid fresh allegations that the Damascus regime has used chemical weapons.
“The Syrian army totally controls the Qusair region in Homs province after killing a large number of terrorists and capturing others,” state television report said, using the regime’s terminology for the rebels.
Official news agency Sana said the army had “reestablished total security in the town of Qusair,” while Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television, which has a correspondent on the ground, said the rebels had fled the region.
Assad forces and Hezbollah fighters launched an offensive to retake the Qusair region on the Lebanese border, on May 19.
Rebels fighting to retain control of the town, only some 10 kilometers (six miles) from the frontier, were later joined by hundreds of reinforcements from Lebanon, most close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
That lead to pitched battles in which civilians, many of them wounded, became trapped.
Doctors had appealed for the Red Cross to be allowed in to treat the wounded, but Syrian officials said this would only be permitted once the rebels had been defeated.
Civilians who had managed to flee Qusair described it as “a ghost town, heavily damaged and filled with the sound of bombs,” the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday.
Those who had escaped were mainly women and children, because men risked being killed at checkpoints, said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
Control of Qusair is vital for the rebels as it is their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from Lebanon.
It is also strategic for the regime because it is located on the road linking Damascus with the coast, its rear base.
On the diplomatic front, officials meeting in Geneva hope to hammer out terms to get Assad’s camp and the rebels to negotiate directly for the first time.
The meeting comes a day after France said it had proof that Assad’s regime had used the deadly nerve agent sarin gas in Syria’s civil war.
Earlier, a UN report said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that both sides in Syria had used chemical weapons.
However, Washington said it needed more evidence before concluding that sarin had been used.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France 2 television: “We have no doubt that the gas is being used. The conclusion of the laboratory is clear: there is sarin gas.”
Experts had analyzed samples brought back from Syria, he said. They had sent their results to United Nations experts investigating the issue.
Earlier, Fabius had said in a statement: “France is now certain that sarin gas has been used in Syria several times and in a localized fashion.”
It did not say who had used the gas, but in a televised interview later, Fabius said that in at least one case, there was “no doubt that it was the regime and its accomplices.”
“A line has been indisputably breached... We must react, but at the same time we must not block an eventual peace conference,” he added.
Washington and Moscow are trying to get the regime and opposition together to negotiate a way out of the war, which has cost more than 94,000 lives in 26 months of fighting.
But a tentative date for the conference, initially planned for early June, has slipped back into July amid wrangling over the exact guest list and agenda.
The White House reacted cautiously to the latest allegations of chemical warfare: they wanted to know more before concluding such weapons had been used.
“We need to expand the evidence we have... before we make any decision,” said spokesman Jay Carney. President Barack Obama has said that the use of the deadly nerve agent would be a “game-changer” for Washington.
In Geneva, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on Tuesday that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons.”
It was the first time it had made such an allegation.
Most of the incidents concerned their use by government forces, it said in its report to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The conflict in Syria has reached new levels of brutality,” it added.
Government forces and their militia had committed “murder, torture, rape... and other inhumane acts” against civilians.
Rebel groups had also committed war crimes including murder, torture, hostage-taking and pillage, but on a lesser scale, it said.
It called on Syria to let UN investigators in to check for the possible use of chemical weapons, something the regime has so far refused.


Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey’s presidential election

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he leaves his residence in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. (REUTERS)
Updated 42 min 13 sec ago
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Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey’s 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

ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s landmark election Sunday, the country’s electoral commission said, ushering in a new system granting the president sweeping new powers which critics say will cement what they call a one-man rule.
The presidential and parliamentary elections, held more than a year early, complete NATO-member Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system of government to a presidential one in a process started with a referendum last year.
“The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty,” Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul after a near-complete count carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency gave him the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Speaking early Monday, Supreme Election Council head Sadi Guven said 97.7 of votes had been counted and declared Erdogan the winner.
Guven said that based on unofficial results, five parties passed the threshold of 10 percent of votes required for parties to enter parliament.
Cheering Erdogan supporters waving Turkish flags gathered outside the president’s official residence in Istanbul, chanting, “Here’s the president, here’s the commander.”
“Justice has been served!” said Cihan Yigici, an Erdogan supporter in the crowd.
Thousands of jubilant supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, also spilled into the streets of the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unofficial results from Anadolu showed the party coming in third with 11.5 percent of the legislative vote — surpassing the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
The HDP’s performance was a particular success since presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, eight more of its lawmakers and thousands of party members campaigned from jails and prisons. HDP says more than 350 of its election workers have been detained since April 28.
The imprisoned Demirtas, who has been jailed pending trial on terrorism-related charges he has called trumped-up and politically motivated, was in third place in the presidential race with 8.3 percent of the vote, according to Anadolu.
Revelers waved HDP flags and blared car horns. One party supporter, Nejdet Erke, said he had been “waiting for this emotion” since morning.
Erdogan insisted the expanded powers of the Turkish presidency will bring prosperity and stability to the country, especially after a failed military coup attempt in 2016. A state of emergency imposed after the coup remains in place.
Some 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under the emergency, which opposition lawmakers say Erdogan has used to stifle dissent.
The new system of government abolished the office of prime minister and empowers the president to take over an executive branch and form the government. He will appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget and decide on security policies.
The Turkish Parliament will legislate and have the right to ratify or reject the budget. With Erdogan remaining at the helm of his party, a loyal parliamentary majority could reduce checks and balances on his power unless the opposition can wield an effective challenge.
The president’s critics have warned that Erdogan’s re-election would cement his already firm grip on power and embolden a leader they accuse of showing increasingly autocratic tendencies.
Erdogan’s apparent win comes at a critical time for Turkey. He recently has led a high-stakes foreign affairs gamble, cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin with pledges to install a Russian missile defense system in the NATO-member country.
Ince said the results carried on Anadolu misrepresented the official vote count by the country’s electoral board. The main opposition party that nominated him for the presidency, the CHP, said it was waiting for an official announcement from the country’s electoral board.
Erdogan also declared victory for the People’s Alliance, an electoral coalition between his ruling Justice and Development Party and the small Nationalist Movement Party, saying they had secured a “parliamentary majority” in the 600-member assembly.
The unofficial results for the parliamentary election showed Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, losing its majority, with 293 seats in the 600-seat legislature. However, the small nationalist party the AKP allied with garnered 49 seats.
“Even though we could not reach out goal in parliament, God willing we will be working to solve that with all our efforts in the People’s Alliance,” Erdogan said.
The president, who has never lost an election and has been in power since 2003, initially as prime minister, had faced a more robust, united opposition than ever before. Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what they call Erdogan’s “one-man rule.”
A combative president, Erdogan enjoys considerable support in the conservative and pious heartland, having empowered previously disenfranchised groups. From a modest background himself, he presided over an infrastructure boom that modernized Turkey and lifted many out of poverty while also raising Islam’s profile, for instance by lifting a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and public offices.
But critics say he has become increasingly autocratic and intolerant of dissent. The election campaign was heavily skewed in his favor, with opposition candidates struggling to get their speeches aired on television in a country where Erdogan directly or indirectly controls most of the media.
Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, was backed by the center-left opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. He wooed crowds with an unexpectedly engaging campaign, drawing massive numbers at his rallies in Turkey’s three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were eligible to vote.