UN chief urges halt to war in ‘hell on Earth’ Syria enclave

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta where a Syrian government bombing campaign has turned the rebel-held enclave into “hell on Earth” for civilians. (Screenshot)
Updated 22 February 2018
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UN chief urges halt to war in ‘hell on Earth’ Syria enclave

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for an immediate halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta where a Syrian government bombing campaign has turned the rebel-held enclave into “hell on Earth” for civilians.
“My appeal to all those involved is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Eastern Ghouta allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need” and for medical evacuations, Guterres told the Security Council.
The UN chief said he was “deeply saddened by the terrible suffering” of civilians in Eastern Ghouta where he said 400,000 people “live in hell on Earth.”
“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and I don’t think we can let things go on happening in this horrendous way,” he added.
Guterres said he supported efforts at the Security Council to agree on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.
Sweden and Kuwait presented the measure to the council on February 9 but negotiations have been tough-going, with Russia raising objections to the proposed truce, diplomats said.
“I fully support that effort, but I believe Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” Guterres told the council.
The negotiations have dragged on as Syrian forces backed by Russia have escalated a fierce offensive on Eastern Ghouta.
Close to 300 civilians have been killed since Sunday including 24 Syrians who died when government warplanes dropped barrel bombs on the town of Kfar Batna on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein attacked what he called a “monstrous campaign of annihilation” on Wednesday against the besieged civilian population of eastern Ghouta.
“International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfil political or military objectives,” he said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday also called for a truce in Eastern Ghouta to allow for the evacuation of civilians trapped by the barrage of airstrikes.
“France is asking for a truce in Eastern Ghouta in order to ensure the evacuation of civilians and facilitate humanitarian access as quickly as possible,” he told reporters, accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime of using the fight against terrorism as a “pretext” to attack civilians.
Macron said that France was “fully committed” to fighting terrorism in Syria as part of the US-led coalition.
“But France clearly, vigorously condemns what is happening today in Eastern Ghouta,” he said, calling for an “immediate” UN resolution on the situation.
Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters he hoped that a vote on the draft resolution demanding the cease-fire could take place “in the next few days,” possibly as early as Thursday.
Asked whether there was a consensus on the draft text, Skoog said: “That, I don’t know yet.”
Russia has resorted to its veto power at the council to block resolutions targeting its Syrian ally.
The latest draft text circulated last week calls for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.


Thousands protest in Algiers despite tight security

Updated 20 September 2019

Thousands protest in Algiers despite tight security

  • Salah on Wednesday ordered police to block protesters from outside Algiers entering the capital to boost numbers at the anti-regime rallies
  • Friday's protest marked Algeria's 31st consecutive week of rallies

ALGIERS: Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Algerian capital on Friday in defiance of a heavy security presence to demand the ouster of the country's army chief.
Demonstrators gathered near the capital's main post office square, the epicentre of Algeria's protest movement that forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down in April, this time calling for the ouster of General Ahmed Gaid Salah.
"The people want the fall of Gaid Salah," the strongman in post-Bouteflika Algeria, they chanted. "Take us all to prison, the people will not stop."
Friday's protest marked Algeria's 31st consecutive week of rallies, but protesters faced a heavy deployment of security forces in the city centre and along its main avenues.
Salah on Wednesday ordered police to block protesters from outside Algiers entering the capital to boost numbers at the anti-regime rallies.
The tougher line on protests came just days after interim president Abdelkader Bensalah announced a December 12 date for a presidential election to fill the vacuum left by Bouteflika's departure.
The army chief has led the push for polls by the end of 2019, despite mass protests demanding political reforms and the removal of the former president's loyalists -- including Gaid Salah himself -- before any vote.
In the runup to the latest rally, as on previous Fridays, police made several arrests near the square, AFP photographers said.
Police stopped vehicles on main streets in the capital and an AFP journalist saw officers in plainclothes ask for identity papers, before some were led off to nearby vans.
As a police helicopter scoured the skies, security forces also stopped cars headed towards the city centre from its southwest entrance, where a dozen anti-riot police vans were stationed.
Said Salhi, deputy head of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, condemned the heightened security measures as "illegal".
Demonstrations have officially been banned in Algiers since 2001 but the prohibition had been ignored since rallies started on February 22 against the ailing Bouteflika's bid for a fifth presidential term.