Protest in Istanbul against bloodshed in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Syrian opposition politician George Sabra (C) takes part in a protest in front of Russian Consulate in Istanbul on Feb. 22, 2018 during a protest against the airstrikes and shelling by the Syrian government forces in Ghouta. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2018
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Protest in Istanbul against bloodshed in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

ISTANBUL: Over 200 people on Thursday protested outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul against the deadly assault on Syria’s rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.
More than 350 civilians have been killed in the five-day-old blitz by the Syrian regime led by President Bashar Assad in the rebel-held enclave near Damascus.
Regime supporter Russia has been accused of taking part in air strikes but the Kremlin denied involvement, on Wednesday calling the accusations “groundless.”
The demonstrators, most of them Syrians, chanted slogans against Damascus as well as Moscow and another regime supporter, Iran, an AFP correspondent said.
Others held placards saying “Russians, you are killing Ghouta’s children, but history records” and “Children are dying of hunger in under-siege Eastern Ghouta.”
Protesters called on the major powers to bring pressure to bear to “end the bloodbath.”
Over three million Syrian refugees live in Turkey including nearly 540,000 in Istanbul after fleeing the conflict which began with anti-government protests in 2011.
Now a multi-front war, Russia entered in September 2015, sending planes to back the Assad regime and turning the military situation around in Damascus’s favor.
Turkey, which has supported Syrian rebels in the conflict, has been working closely with Moscow and Tehran on a process to bring peace to Syria, despite occasional tensions.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Wednesday said Turkey condemned the attacks and “urged the Syrian regime to immediately put an end” to them.
“It is a crime against humanity. That is to say, killing innocent people in East Ghouta is unacceptable whatever the reason is,” Kalin said.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.