Russia says it’s not behind Syria chemical attacks

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, left, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confer in the United Nations Security Council, in this Jan. 18, 2018 photo. (AP)
Updated 24 January 2018
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Russia says it’s not behind Syria chemical attacks

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Russia rejected Tuesday fresh US accusations that it bears responsibility for recent chemical attacks by the Syrian government, calling instead fora new “truly impartial” international investigation.
During a last-minute United Nations Security Council meeting he called, Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia lashed out at American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for having “hastily accused the Syrian — as they call it — ‘regime’” of the reported attack in Eastern Ghouta that left its victims struggling to breathe.
“Now they are trying to drag Russia into this as well,” Nebenzia added.
His comments came as diplomats from 29 countries met in Paris to push for sanctions and criminal charges against the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.
Russia and China have blocked Western-backed efforts at the UN to impose sanctions on Damascus over their use.
“Does it not seem strange to anybody that this episode — the episode of which has yet to be confirmed — somehow coincided with the meeting in Paris and the forthcoming conference in Sochi? This is a strange coincidence,” Nebenzia added.
During the Security Council meeting, Nebenzia called again for establishing a “new international investigative body which, on the basis of irrefutable information, would be able to establish evidence to identify perpetrators in the use of chemical weapons.”
His plan would replace a chemical weapons panel known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, whose mandate could not be renewed due to Russian vetoes.
Moscow is also circulating a draft resolution that would establish the new investigative body that would be “truly impartial, independent, professional and credible.” Russia has repeatedly contested the JIM’s legitimacy.
US envoy Nikki Haley quickly indicated the Russian proposal had no chance of being adopted. The United States also holds veto power at the Security Council.
“We’re not going to accept any Russian proposal that undermines our ability to get to the truth or that politicizes what must be an independent and impartial investigation,” she said.
“If they want to work in good faith toward that goal, we are ready to re-establish the JIM, with its original independent and impartial mandate, right now. But anything less is unacceptable.”
She argued that Moscow had supported the JIM as long as its investigators pointed the finger at the so-called Daesh group, but challenged their conclusions when they blamed the Syrian regime.
“That is not how independent investigations work. You don’t get to question the findings when they don’t go your way,” Haley said.
Damascus has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons, with the United Nations among those blaming government forces for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun that left scores dead.
There have been at least 130 separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012, according to French estimates, with the Daesh group also accused of using mustard gas in Syria and Iraq.
A new round of peace talks is due to take place in Vienna on Thursday and Friday, while Moscow has organized negotiations in the Russian city of Sochi next week aimed at ending Syria’s civil war.


Another Turkish journalist jailed over Gulen links

Ali Unal was chief writer at the now-defunct Zaman newspaper. (Supplied)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Another Turkish journalist jailed over Gulen links

  • About 250 people were killed in the coup attempt and in the subsequent crackdown, Turkey jailed 77,000 people pending trial

ISTANBUL: A court sentenced Turkish journalist Ali Unal to 19 years in jail on Wednesday on a charge of being a leader in the network accused of carrying out a failed coup in July 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
The ruling followed a sustained crackdown in the wake of the coup attempt, but also came amid steps by the government that appear aimed at improving ties with the US and Europe, strained by the sweeping campaign of arrests.
Unal was chief writer at the now-defunct Zaman newspaper, widely seen as the flagship media outlet for the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says orchestrated the attempted putsch. Gulen denies any involvement.
Speaking by video link from jail to the court in the western province of Usak, Unal denied being a founder or leader of the network and denied involvement in the putsch, Anadolu said.
“I have no link with any terrorist organization,” he said, adding that he had spoken five or six times to Gulen and that he was being tried over his writing.
He was sentenced to 19 years and six months for “leading an armed terrorist group.” Six other Zaman journalists were convicted on similar charges in July.
About 250 people were killed in the coup attempt and in the subsequent crackdown, Turkey jailed 77,000 people pending trial. Authorities also sacked or suspended 150,000 civil servants and military personnel and shut down dozens of media outlets.Illustrating the scale of its actions, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday his ministry had dismissed 23 percent of its career personnel over links to Gulen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said some journalists helped nurture terrorists with their writing, and that the crackdown is needed to ensure stability in a NATO member bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. Critics say Erdogan has used the crackdown to muzzle dissent and increase his own power. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has also criticized the crackdown. The verdict came a day after another court threw out the conviction of former Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak, annulling a verdict sentencing her to two years in prison in absentia on charges of carrying out propaganda for Kurdish militants.