Palestinian mission shuttered in Washington

The Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington ceased operations on Thursday following a demand by the United States to shut down but expressed hope the closure would be short-lived. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2018
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Palestinian mission shuttered in Washington

  • State Department officials on Monday ordered the office shuttered, in a bid to pressure the Palestinians to enter peace talks with Israel.
  • The closure came on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords.

WASHINGTON: The Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington ceased operations on Thursday following a demand by the United States to shut down but expressed hope the closure would be short-lived.
State Department officials on Monday ordered the office shuttered, in a bid to pressure the Palestinians to enter peace talks with Israel.
It was the latest point of tension between the administration of President Donald Trump and the Palestinians, who cut off contact with Washington after Trump recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
“Today is the deadline” for closure, Husam Zomlot, who headed the Palestine Liberation Organization mission, said in a Facebook video addressed to “the great people of America.”
The closure came on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, the first agreements between the rival Israelis and Palestinians which promised to end decades of deadly conflict, but which are now deadlocked and tarnished by soured relations.
Zomlot on Thursday denounced the “unfortunate and vindictive” US move to close the Palestinian mission.
“It was unsurprising to us the Trump administration gave us only two choices: either we lose our relationship with the administration or we lose our rights as a nation,” he said.
“Our president, leadership and the people of Palestine opted for our rights.”
Zomlot said the Palestinians were “extremely saddened by the current state of affairs.”
Addressing the “millions upon millions” of Americans who remain friends of Palestine, he hoped that “may we soon return to continue to be a symbol and a reflection of the historic relationship between the Palestinian and the American people.”
Prior to ordering the mission’s closure, the United States cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and canceled its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The move to not grant the mission its normal six-month renewal came after Palestinian leaders allegedly breached the arrangement by calling for Israeli officials to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Palestinian leaders say Trump’s White House is blatantly biased in favor of Israel and is seeking to blackmail them into accepting its terms.
Under Trump, the United States is further away than ever from playing its traditional role as mediator in the long-simmering Middle East peace process.
But Trump, a foreign policy novice, promised upon taking office to help broker the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Wait until the peace plan is released, and when it’s released, please read it cover to cover and judge the plan on its merits — not on rumors, not on speculation, not on news reports, but on what’s in it,” one of the US negotiators, Jason Greenblatt, said Thursday on Twitter.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, however, that the administration is “not ready to unveil” the plan but remains optimistic.
“There needs to be a different kind of approach. Nothing has worked so we’re trying a different approach,” she said.


Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

Updated 24 September 2018
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Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Polling booths in the Maldives closed Sunday after voting hours were extended in a controversial election marred by police raids on the opposition and allegations of rigging in favor of strongman President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen, who is expected to retain power, has imprisoned or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals. Critics say he is returning the honeymoon island nation to authoritarian rule.

The process is being closely watched by regional rivals India and China, who are jostling to influence Indian Ocean nations. The European Union and US, meanwhile, have threatened sanctions if the vote is not free and fair.

Many voters across the Indian Ocean archipelago said they stood in line for over five hours to cast their ballot, while expatriate Maldivians voted in neighboring Sri Lanka and India.

The elections commission said balloting was extended by three hours until 7 p.m. (1400 GMT) because of technical glitches suffered by tablet computers containing electoral rolls, and officials had to use manual systems to verify voters’ identities.

An election official said the deadline was also extended due to heavy voter turnout, and anyone in the queue by 7 p.m. would be able to cast their ballot.

“Eight hours & counting. Waiting to exercise my democratic right! Let’s do this, Insha Allah!” former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said on Twitter.

Maumoon, who is also the estranged niece of Yameen and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, cast her vote at a booth in the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo.

Yameen voted minutes after polling booths opened in the capital Male, where opposition campaign efforts had been frustrated by a media crackdown and police harassment.

Before polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and searched the building for several hours in a bid to stop what they called “illegal activities.” There were no arrests.

Yameen’s challenger, the relatively unknown Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, also cast his vote.

Solih has the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen although he has struggled for visibility with the electorate because the media is fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president of a newly democratic Maldives in 2008 but who now lives in exile, urged the international community to reject the results of a flawed election.

Some 262,000 people in the archipelago — famed for its white beaches and blue lagoons — were eligible to vote in an election from which independent international monitors have been barred.

Only a handful of foreign media have been allowed in.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign was heavily tilted in favor of 59-year-old Yameen.

Local observers said the balloting itself went off peacefully and most of the delays were due to technical issues. Results are expected by early Monday.

The government has used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom have been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.

There have been warnings that Yameen could try to hold on to power at all costs.

In February he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.

Yameen told supporters on the eve of the election he had overcome “huge obstacles” since controversially winning power in a contested run-off in 2013, but had handled the challenges “with resilience.” 

The crackdown attracted international censure and fears the Maldives was slipping back into one-man rule just a decade after transitioning to democracy.

The US State Department this month said it would “consider appropriate measures” should the election fail to be free and fair.

The EU in July also threatened travel bans and asset freezes if the situation does not improve.

India, long influential in Maldives affairs — it sent troops and warships in 1988 to stop a coup attempt — also expressed hopes the election would represent a return to democratic norms.

However in recent years Yameen has drifted closer to China, India’s chief regional rival, taking hundreds of millions of dollars for major infrastructure projects.