Syrian regime flag raised in Douma, rebels surrender heavy arms in Ghouta

Updated 13 April 2018
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Syrian regime flag raised in Douma, rebels surrender heavy arms in Ghouta

  • Syrian rebel group Jaish Al-Islam says a chemical attack by the regime had forced them to accept Russia’s terms
  • Russia-backed assault has left at least 1,700 civilians dead

DAMASCUS: Rebels in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons as their leader joined a convoy out of the enclave, a monitor said on Thursday, signalling an end to one of the bloodiest assaults of Syria’s seven-year war.

The Syrian flag was raised above the central mosque in Douma, the town where the regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack that sparked outrage and threats of Western military action.

Jaish Al-Islam, which has controlled Eastern Ghouta’s main town for years, had balked at a Russian-brokered deal similar to those that allowed other factions to be bussed to northern Syria.

The group’s political chief told AFP that a chemical attack by the regime had forced them to accept Russia’s terms and leave their former bastion.

“Of course, the chemical attack is what pushed us to agree” to a withdrawal, said Yasser Dalwan.

Syrian regime forces had yet to take over Douma on Thursday, but according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rebels had surrendered their heavy weapons.

“Jaish Al-Islam fighters handed over their heavy weapons to Russian military police in the town of Douma on Wednesday,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Their leader, Issam Buwaydani, joined a convoy out of Ghouta with thousands of other fighters, it said.

“Not all the leadership has left yet. Departures are ongoing,” Dalwan said.

Douma residents said Syria’s national flag was raised above the main mosque on Wednesday. But a dispute subsequently erupted, shots were fired and the flag was taken down.

Russian military police, who had started deploying in Douma as part of a deal that would allow some rebels to disarm and stay in the town, also left after the incident, residents said.

Simultaneously carrying out air strikes and supervising humanitarian operations, Russia was the key player in an assault that left at least 1,700 civilians dead.

“Today a significant event in the history of Syria took place,” Maj. Gen. Yury Yevtushenko, head of the Russian military’s center for reconciliation in Syria, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

“The raising of a regime flag signified control over Douma and consequently over Eastern Ghouta as a whole,” he said.

Moscow also said Russian military police had returned to the town and were in full control. “From today, units of the Russian armed forces’ military police are working in the town of Douma,” the defense ministry said.


Turkey to lift state of emergency after two-year purge

Updated 18 July 2018
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Turkey to lift state of emergency after two-year purge

  • The state of emergency, which normally lasts three months, was extended seven times
  • During last month’s presidential election campaign, which he won, Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged that the state of emergency would end

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s state of emergency which was imposed after the failed 2016 coup is to end Wednesday but the opposition fears it will be replaced by even more repressive legislative measures.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the state of emergency on July 20, 2016, five days after warplanes bombed Ankara and bloody clashes broke out in Istanbul in a doomed putsch bid that claimed 249 lives.
The measure, which normally lasts three months but was extended seven times, has seen the detention of some 80,000 people and about double that number sacked from jobs in public institutions.
The biggest purge of Turkey’s modern history has targeted not just alleged supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher blamed for the coup, but also Kurdish activists and leftists.
The former leaders of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas — are still languishing in jail following their arrest in November 2016 on charges of links to Kurdish militants.
During last month’s presidential election campaign, which he won, Erdogan pledged that the state of emergency would end.
And it will — at 1:00 am on Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday), simply by virtue of the government not asking that it be extended.
But the opposition has been angered by the government’s submission of new legislation to parliament that apparently seeks to formalize some of the harshest aspects of the emergency.
The bill, dubbed “anti-terror” legislation by pro-government media, will be discussed at commission level on Thursday and then in plenary session on Monday.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said the new measures would amount to a state of emergency on their own.
“With this bill, with the measures in this text, the state of emergency will not be extended for three months, but for three years,” said the head of the CHP’s parliamentary faction, Ozgur Ozel.
“They make it look like they are lifting the emergency but in fact they are continuing it,” he added.
Under the proposed legislation, the authorities will retain for three more years the power to sack civil servants deemed linked to “terror” groups, retaining a key power of the state of emergency.
Protests and gatherings will be banned in open public areas after sunset, although they can be authorized until midnight if they do not disturb the public order.
Local authorities will be able to prohibit individuals from entering or leaving a defined area for 15 days on security grounds.
And suspect can be held without charge for 48 hours or up to four days in the case of multiple offenses.
This period can be extended up to twice if there is difficulty in collecting evidence or if the case is deemed to be particularly voluminous.
The authorities have also shown no hesitation in using the special powers of the emergency — right up to its final days.
Following a decree issued on July 8, 18,632 people were sacked — 8,998 of them police officers — over suspected links to terror organizations and groups that “act against national security.”
The move came just two weeks after Erdogan was reelected under a new system that gives him greater powers than any Turkish leader since the aftermath of World War II.
The new executive presidency means government ministries and public institutions are now centralized under the direct control of the presidency.
Erdogan says it is necessary to have a more efficient government but the opposition claims it has placed Turkey squarely under one-man rule.
“The end of the state of emergency does not mean our fight against terror is going to come to an end,” said Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.