Iraqi PM reopens Kurdish airports to international flights

A Kurdish flag hangs in Irbil International Airport. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said that he is reopening airports in Iraq’s Kurdish region to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs. (AP Photo)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Iraqi PM reopens Kurdish airports to international flights

BAGHDAD: Iraq is reopening airports in the country’s Kurdish region to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs, according to a statement from Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Tuesday.
The announcement comes some six months after the airports were initially shut to international flights following a controversial referendum vote in northern Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region that overwhelmingly backed independence from Baghdad.
The airports are due to open “within a few days” government spokesman Saad Al-Hadithi told The Associated Press.
Al-Abadi described the move as “a gift to the people of Kurdistan,” during a meeting aired on Iraqi state television and added that the central government would also release salaries for government employees in the Kurdish region ahead of the celebration of the Kurdish new year later this month.
During the same meeting Tuesday, the interior minister added that 500 people suspected of having ties to the Daesh group were handed over to the central government from the Kurdish region.
At a news conference in Irbil, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, described Al-Abadi’s decision as “a step in the right direction,” and said he would continue to work to resolve issues between the region and the central government.
The Kurdish independence vote last September, though non-binding, was held across the autonomous region’s three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Iraqi Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad.
The referendum was vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq’s other neighbors, ratcheting up tensions in the region on the heels of military victories against the Daesh group.
The decision to lift the flight ban comes as Iraq is preparing for national elections slated to be held in May. Initially, Al-Aabdi’s tough line on Iraq’s Kurds translated into widespread public support among his base in Iraq’s Shiite-heartland.
However, Iraqi parliament remains deeply divided, raising fears of a protracted government formation process following national elections. Kurdish lawmakers boycotted a recent vote in parliament approving the country’s 2018 budget.
Iraq’s small landlocked Kurdish region has been increasingly isolated following the September referendum, straining relations with key allies such as the United States and neighboring Turkey.


Egypt detains activist blogger amid new wave of arrests

Updated 41 min 10 sec ago
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Egypt detains activist blogger amid new wave of arrests

  • Wael Abbas has campaigned against torture in Egypt for well over a decade, before and after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.
  • Earlier this month, Egyptian police arrested two prominent activists, Shady el-Ghazaly Harb and Haytham Mohamedeen, on an array of charges including belonging to an outlawed group and insulting the president.

CAIRO: An Egyptian activist and blogger known for documenting police abuse was detained on Wednesday, security officials said, the latest in a new wave of arrests following elections earlier this year.
Wael Abbas was taken from his home in a Cairo suburb on accusations that include disseminating false news and joining an outlawed group, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights said police raided Abbas’ home at dawn, seizing his computer and mobile phones. It says he was blindfolded before being taken to an unknown location.
Abbas has campaigned against torture in Egypt for well over a decade, before and after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. He has published graphic videos showing torture and police abuse on his blog, misrdigital.com, and has been detained on a number of occasions.
His YouTube account was shut down in 2007, resulting in the removal of hundreds of videos showing protests and abuses by security forces. In December, he wrote on Facebook that Twitter had suspended his account without providing an explanation.
Amnesty International on Wednesday condemned Abbas’ detention on Twitter, saying his arrest is part of a crackdown by Egyptian authorities on freedom of expression.
Authorities have arrested a number of secular activists since President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was re-elected to a second four-year term in March. He faced no serious challengers, after several potentially strong candidates were arrested or intimidated into withdrawing from the race.
Earlier this month, Egyptian police arrested two prominent activists, Shady el-Ghazaly Harb and Haytham Mohamedeen, on an array of charges including belonging to an outlawed group and insulting the president. Shady Abu Zaid, a young comedian, was arrested on accusations that include spreading false news.
The latest arrests come amid a wider crackdown on dissent. Thousands of people have been jailed, unauthorized protests have been banned and hundreds of websites, including many run by independent journalists and rights activists, have been blocked.
The government has said such measures are needed to restore stability and combat an insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula that has gained strength since 2013 and is now led by the Daesh group.
On Tuesday, a military court sentenced a freelance journalist who reported on the Sinai insurgency to 10 years in prison on terror-related charges. Ismail Alexandrani was convicted of spreading false news and joining an outlawed group.
International rights groups condemned the sentence and urged his release.
“Hauling a journalist before a military court not only violates his rights as a civilian but sends a chilling message to the media that independent coverage of political dissent and security threats will not be tolerated by Egypt’s rulers,” said Robert Mahoney, of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Sarah Leah Whitson, of Human Rights Watch, said the verdict “exemplifies the government’s vicious retaliation against journalists who report on sensitive issues.”