Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown

A woman casts a ballot at the last day of a three-day long parliamentary elections in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 19, 2021. (REUTERS/Tatiana Meel)
A woman casts a ballot at the last day of a three-day long parliamentary elections in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 19, 2021. (REUTERS/Tatiana Meel)
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Updated 19 September 2021

Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown

Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown
  • Russia holds last day of parliamentary election
  • Crackdown crushed Kremlin critics ahead of vote

MOSCOW: Russians vote on Sunday in the final stretch of a three-day parliamentary election that the ruling party is expected to win after a sweeping crackdown that crushed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s movement and barred opponents from the ballot.
The expected win by the ruling United Russia party will be used by the Kremlin as proof of support for President Vladimir Putin despite malaise over years of faltering living standards.
The party that backs Russia’s 68-year-old leader faces a ratings slump, state pollsters say, but remains more popular than its closest rivals on the ballot, the Communist Party and nationalist LDPR party, which often back the Kremlin.
United Russia holds nearly three quarters of the State Duma’s 450 seats. That dominance last year helped the Kremlin pass constitutional reforms that allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, potentially staying in power until 2036.
“If United Russia manages (to win), our country can expect another five years of poverty, five years of repressions, five lost years,” ran a message to supporters on Navalny’s blog this week.
Navalny’s allies were barred from running after his movement was banned in June as extremist. Other opposition figures allege they were targeted with dirty tricks campaigns or not allowed to compete.
A Communist strawberry tycoon says he was unfairly barred, while a liberal opposition politician in St. Petersburg says two identically-named “spoiler” candidates are running against him to confuse his voters.

Tactical voting
The Kremlin denies a politically-driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Both it and United Russia deny any role in the registration process for candidates.
Navalny’s camp is promoting a tactical voting ploy against United Russia that authorities want blocked online. Since voting began on Friday, Google, Apple and Telegram messenger have limited some access to the campaign on their platforms. Activists accuse them of caving to pressure.
The election runs until 1800 GMT on Sunday when polling stations close in the European exclave of Kaliningrad. It is the last national vote before the 2024 presidential election. Putin, who turns 69 next month, has not said if he will run.
In Moscow, Navalny’s tactical voting campaign has recommended their supporters vote for politicians like the Communist Party’s Mikhail Lobanov. He said he welcomed the Navalny campaign and criticized United Russia.
“People see the glaring inequalities, they feel the effects of economic policy and the swell of repression and respond with dissatisfaction accordingly,” Lobanov said.
At a polling station in Lobanov’s district, three people told Reuters they had voted for United Russia and three said they had voted Communist, two of them at the behest of Navalny’s team.
One Moscow pensioner who gave his name only as Anatoly said he voted United Russia because he was proud of Russia’s muscular foreign policy and Putin’s efforts to restore what he sees as Russia’s rightful great power status.
“Countries like the United States and Britain more or less respect us now like they respected the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s… The Anglo-Saxons only understand the language of force,” he said.
Other voters voiced anger at United Russia at a polling station in the capital of more than 12.5 million where United Russia has fared worse in recent years than in some regions.
“I’m always against United Russia. They haven’t done anything good,” said Roman Malakhov who voted Communist.
The vote is being held alongside elections for regional governors and local legislative assemblies. It is stretched over three days as a COVID-19 precaution. 


German Daesh bride sentenced to 10 years over Yazidi girl murder

German Daesh bride sentenced to 10 years over Yazidi girl murder
Updated 26 October 2021

German Daesh bride sentenced to 10 years over Yazidi girl murder

German Daesh bride sentenced to 10 years over Yazidi girl murder
  • The tribunal handed down the verdict to Jennifer Wenisch, 30, in one of the first convictions anywhere in the world related to the militant group’s persecution of the Yazidi community

MUNICH: A Munich court on Monday sentenced a German woman who joined the Daesh group to 10 years in prison over the war crime of letting a five-year-old Yazidi “slave” girl die of thirst in the sun.

The tribunal handed down the verdict to Jennifer Wenisch, 30, in one of the first convictions anywhere in the world related to the militant group’s persecution of the Yazidi community.

Wenisch was found guilty of “two crimes against humanity in the form of enslavement,” said presiding judge Reinhold Baier of the superior regional court in Munich.

She was also guilty of aiding and abetting the girl’s killing by failing to offer help as well as membership of a terrorist organization.

She and her Daesh husband “purchased” a Yazidi woman and child as household “slaves,” whom they held captive while living in then Daesh-occupied Mosul, Iraq, in 2015, the court found.

“After the girl fell ill and wet her mattress, the husband of the accused chained her up outside as punishment and let the child die an agonizing death of thirst in the scorching heat,” prosecutors told the court.

“The accused allowed her husband to do so and did nothing to save the girl.” Baier said the defendant had often complained about the girl and accepted the deadly consequences of her “punishment.”

“You must have known from the start that a child shackled in the blazing sun would be in mortal danger,” he told Wenisch.

The proceedings lasted two and a half years due to delays linked to the pandemic and other factors.

Wenisch’s husband, Taha Al-Jumailly, is also facing trial in separate proceedings in Frankfurt, where a verdict is due in late November.

According to media reports, Wenisch converted to Islam in 2013 and traveled the following year via Turkey and Syria to Iraq where she joined the militant group.

Recruited in mid-2015 to the group’s self-styled hisbah morality police, she patrolled city parks in Daesh-occupied Fallujah and Mosul.

Armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol and an explosives vest, her task was to ensure strict Daesh rules on dress code, public behavior and bans on alcohol and tobacco.

In January 2016, she visited the German embassy in Ankara to apply for new identity papers. When she left the mission, she was arrested and extradited days later to Germany.

Federal prosecutors had called for a life sentence for Wenisch.

Identified only by her first name Nora, the child’s mother has repeatedly testified in both Munich and Frankfurt about the torment visited on her child.

The defense had claimed the mother’s testimony was untrustworthy and said there was no proof that the girl, who was taken to hospital after the incident, actually died.

Wenisch’s lawyers had called for her to receive a two-year suspended sentence for supporting a terrorist organization.

When asked during the trial about her failure to save the girl, Wenisch said she was “afraid” that her husband would “push her or lock her up.”

At the close of the trial, according to the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, she claimed she was being “made an example of for everything that has happened under Daesh.”

A Kurdish-speaking group hailing from northern Iraq, the Yazidis were specifically targeted and oppressed by the IS beginning in 2015.

London-based human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who has been involved in a campaign for Daesh crimes against the group to be recognized as a “genocide,” was part of the team representing the Yazidi girl’s mother.

Germany has charged several German and foreign nationals with war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out abroad, using the legal principle of universal jurisdiction which allows crimes to be prosecuted even if they were committed in a foreign country.

A handful of female suspects are among those who have appeared in the dock.

In November 2020, a German woman identified as as Nurten J. was charged with crimes against humanity allegedly committed while she was living in Syria as a member of Islamic State.

In October 2020, another German court sentenced the German-Tunisian wife of a rapper-turned-jihadist to three-and-a-half years in prison for having taken part in the enslavement of a Yazidi girl in Syria.


Taliban to form new armed forces including former regime troops

Taliban to form new armed forces including former regime troops
Updated 26 October 2021

Taliban to form new armed forces including former regime troops

Taliban to form new armed forces including former regime troops
  • So far unclear if military set up would win support from international community

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government on Monday announced it is to form new armed forces for the country including soldiers from the previous regime’s military.

The former Afghan military and Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15 when President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan as the Taliban took control in a lightning offensive while the US and its allies were withdrawing troops after 20 years on the ground.

In September, the Taliban appointed an interim government in Afghanistan, declaring the country an Islamic emirate.

Defense Minister Mullah Mohammed Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, announced the formation of new armed forces on Sunday, in an audio message released by the defense ministry.

He said the ministry intended
to create a national and independent army, with ground and airspace capabilities to “defend the country with high values,” and would try to equip it with modern weapons.

Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News: “Army is a priority and urgent need of the country. The Islamic emirate would work on forming an empowered army that would be responsible for protecting Afghans and would have the ability to defend the peace of Afghanistan at any cost.”

He said that the new army would be comprised of Taliban fighters and soldiers of the former regime.

“This army would be formed from new forces and also those forces who served the Afghanistan National Army. We would work together to form a powerful army from both forces that are serving and have served Afghanistan,” Mujahid added.

However, there was no comment on whether the formation of the new armed forces would be supported by other countries.

Kabul-based economist, Hamayoon Frotan, said: “Forming a new army needs money and human resources, as billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s central bank assets held abroad have been frozen following the Taliban takeover.

“I believe that the Taliban have human resources, also part of the equipment that the army needs the Taliban have got from the Americans.”

He pointed out that support might come from China and Russia, as Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS last week quoted President Vladimir Putin as saying the removal of the Taliban movement — outlawed in Russia — from the list of terrorist organizations was possible.

But during a plenary meeting of the international Valdai Discussion Club on Thursday, Putin said such a move would have to take place at the UN level.


After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19

After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19
Updated 26 October 2021

After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19

After delta surge, Philippines reports low-risk for COVID-19
  • New daily cases decreased by 48% in the last two weeks, with healthcare capacity at ‘moderate risk’

MANILA: The Philippines is now “low-risk” for COVID-19, the Department of Health announced on Monday, over a month after the country experienced its peak infection rates fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The country’s daily case count has decreased by 48 percent over the last two weeks, while its healthcare capacity was at “moderate risk,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.

In mid-September, the Philippines was recording over 26,000 new infections daily, as the Delta variant swept the country. On Monday, authorities reported 4,405 new infections, bringing the total number of cases to 2.76 million, with nearly 42,000 deaths.

“Nationally we are at low-risk case classification with a negative two-week growth rate at negative 48 percent and a moderate-risk average daily attack rate of 5.89 cases for every 100,000 individuals,” Vergeire said.

“Along with the decline of our cases, we see that the weekly deaths are also in a downtrend since the start of October.”

As increased mobility will be expected in the coming months ahead of Christmas, Vergeire urged the 110 million-strong public to remain vigilant and continue to observe health protocols. In accordance with tradition, Filipinos flock cemeteries to honor their departed on All Saints’ Day, with authorities on Monday announcing the closure of graveyards and memorial parks from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2.

“We are not saying that we are out of the woods,” Vergeire said. “The fight is not over yet. We cannot be complacent at this time. We can go out but we have to be careful.”


Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society

Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society
Updated 25 October 2021

Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society

Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society
  • Israel listed and banned six Palestinian NGOs, including the Defense for Children Palestine and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees
  • CAABU: The UK government should pledge and demonstrate concrete support for Palestinian civil society in a vicious scenario of shrinking space in which they operate

LONDON: The Council of Arab-British Understanding has condemned Israel’s “vicious” crackdown on Palestinian NGOs and urged the UK government to act in support of Palestinian civil society.

Last week Israel listed and banned six Palestinian NGOs, including the Defense for Children Palestine and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, accusing them of links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“Israel has yet to provide any evidence to substantiate its claims,” said CAABU. “The Israeli listing and banning of these organisations is based on confidential reports. If there was evidence against any specific Palestinians working in these groups, Israeli forces would have no doubt arrested them.

“The UK government should pledge and demonstrate concrete support for Palestinian civil society in a vicious scenario of shrinking space in which they operate. They suffer from sustained and systemic attacks from Israeli authorities. Such a move is designed to silence those who speak out against illegal Israeli policies. ”

CAABU has worked closely with many of the banned organizations, including introducing some to British parliamentarians. 

They “remain an essential and important resource to our political advocacy work as they are to governments and parliamentarians from across Europe,” the group said.

CAABU director Chris Doyle told Arab News that these actions were resonant of “tyrannical regimes using counter-terrorism legislation as a cover to stop criticisms of their actions. It’s the sort of thing one would expect from the likes of the Syrian regime, for example.”

He said the onus was on the Israeli government to demonstrate “immediately and in full that there is substantive evidence (to support the crackdown).”

Civil society, he added, viewed the latest attack on NGOs as “another part of a continuing Israeli attempt to crackdown on civil society, to shrink the space for holding them to account — all of which we’ve seen before.”

Raiding offices, freezing accounts and “using satellite organizations to smear their reputations” was something that had been happening for decades.

“One can go back to the first intifada when Palestinian universities were closed down, where Palestinian schools were closed down, to actions against specific individual NGOs that also weren’t substantiated. Most recently there was a case of so-called pro-Israel groups that had been spreading unsubstantiated accusations about Palestinian textbooks. We have seen this time and time again.”

Many international NGOs and charities, as well as human rights organizations, have also strongly condemned Israel’s attacks on Palestinian charities and NGOs.

In a rare joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — two of the most prominent human rights advocacy organizations in the world — condemned the bans.

“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement,” they said. “For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression.

“This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”

Echoing calls by CAABU for greater British involvement in the defense of Palestinian rights, they called on the international community to challenge Israel over its actions.

“The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”

Doyle said: “The extremely strong unified reaction from civil society, and 22 Israeli civil society organizations, demonstrates that they simply attach no credibility to the Israeli claims about these organizations."


How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy
Updated 25 October 2021

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy
  • Administration’s agenda in danger because of Congress infighting within ruling Democratic party
  • If Biden arrives empty-handed in Glasgow, there will be little hope for a breakthrough at the summit

DUBAI: Just days before he heads to the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, US President Joe Biden’s climate agenda is in danger because of infighting between progressives and moderates within his own Democratic Party in Congress.

The fight is over his domestic agenda presented in two bills: A social spending bill, referred to as Building Back Better; and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill which cleared the US Senate earlier this year. Both are considered legacy-leaving actions by the president, but one of them contains the most significant climate action ever taken by a US leader.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded an optimistic over a deal between Democrats over the weekend, when the president met with Congressional leaders over his agenda, but nothing is in the bag yet. Pelosi said that Democrats are very close to a deal on the two bills. “I think we’re pretty much there now,” she told CNN on Sunday.

The original social spending bill of Biden, which includes the climate provisions section, began as a $3.5 trillion package, but the bill that is being negotiated now is much lower because of fierce opposition from moderate Democrats.

Two senators hold the key to reaching a deal over the bills and to a strong US position at COP26. The US can either lead with very ambitious position — or temper the high expectations of the summit if the two Democrats succeed in scaling down the president’s agenda in the spending bills.

The US is believed to have “contributed more to global warming than any other nation,” as The New York Times said, and if the US arrives at COP26 with a modest domestic plan to cut emissions it will make it harder to convince other polluters to cut their own emissions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told The Guardian newspaper that the US “will look ridiculous if they show up with nothing.”

This is also a make-it-or-break-it moment for the president and the Democrats, for they might never have another opportunity to pass their agenda, including their climate policy.

They now control both houses of Congress, and although it is a razor-thin majority in the Senate, they might not have this opportunity again if they do not win big in the 2022 Congressional elections.

(L-R): US Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) take a break from a meeting on infrastructure for going to a vote at the US Capitol. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Senate is equally split now, giving each senator veto power over the budget and any policy decision, with the situation effectively making every senator “a president,” as Biden has put it.

Biden’s domestic agenda, including climate, is dependent on an agreement being reached within his own party this week, not only to preserve his legacy, but also to guarantee Democrats a chance to keep power for another term in the next elections.

The majority of the Democrats agree with Pelosi that the bill that Congress is discussing is transformational and historic, and they liken it to the New Deal, the programs enacted by Roosevelt after the Great Depression. However, they have not been able to convince the two senators to toe the party line and end their opposition to the bills.

Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema are not only opposing Biden’s bills, but also threatening his domestic policy plan. They have been so dogged in their opposition as to prompt a prominent Democratic senator like Bernie Sanders to claim that it is “simply not fair, not right that one or two senators say: My way or the highway.”

Although they are both holding off on any breakthrough on reaching a deal, the objectives of Manchin and Sinema are not identical.

Manchin, from a coal-dependent state, West Virginia, has expressed concern over rising inflation because of the size of the package and its cost, but in practical terms, it is politics that is mainly on his mind.

His state and constituents depend on coal for economic survival; entire towns might cease to exist if West Virginia’s coal mines are shut down. The state also depends on coal-fired plants for 91 percent of its electricity production.

Manchin wants the $3.5 trillion price tag of the president’s bill to be cut in half to $1.5 trillion.

He is not in favor of one aspect of Biden’s climate change agenda — the part that seeks to encourage transition to clean energy. He said that energy companies are” already making the transition” to greener technologies and thus do not need tax credits and incentives.

Sinema, by contrast, is rather vague on what she wants in the package and what she opposes. US news media has reported that she supports new programs to promote clean energy and penalize businesses, but also wants to tax the rich.

A beachgoer watches as cleanup workers search for contaminated sand and seaweed along the mostly empty Huntington Beach about one week after an oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 9, 2021 in California. (AFP/File Photo)

Biden has spent hours meeting with congressional members of his party, especially Manchin and Sinema, in an attempt to convince them to back him before he travels to Europe for COP26 the end of the month.

Climate change is a high-priority issue for Biden and his administration. He made this clear when he signed an executive order for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement the day he took office.

He considers climate change “everybody’s crisis,” and has called on the US to be serious about the “code red” danger of global warming. He has put his fight against climate change in the context of saving the planet, while his administration has framed it as a national security threat and an integral part of its foreign policy agenda.

This concern about climate change is shared by the US public — but along partisan lines.

Polls show that the climate provisions are very important to Democrat voters. One poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 83 percent of Democrats are very concerned about climate change. Such sentiments are not shared by the Republicans, of whom only 21 percent said that they are concerned.

When the president put his full weight behind his two bills, it amounted to a whole-of-government approach to the climate part of his agenda. Lobbying for climate action got a boost when the White House, Pentagon and the intelligence community put out two reports linking climate change and global security risks.

The Washington Post said: “Together, the reports show a deepening concern within the US security establishment that the shifts unleashed by climate change can reshape US strategic interests, offer new opportunities to rivals such as China, and increase instability in nuclear states such as North Korea and Pakistan.”

The Pentagon is reportedly incorporating “climate issues into its security strategy,” and is worried “that climate change could lead to state failure,” according to the newspaper.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement: “Climate change is altering the strategic landscape and shaping the security environment, posing complex threats to the US and nations around the world.”

Austin considers it important for the Department of Defense to understand the way that climate change affects missions and capabilities if the US wants to protect itself and deter war.

Another report, The Financial Stability Oversight, cited by Axios, referred to climate change as an “emerging threat” to US economic stability, adding that the administration is “factoring climate risk into planning at the Department of the Treasury.”

A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The FSOC, headed by Janet Yellen, “views climate related financial risks as an emerging threat to the financial stability of the US.” All these efforts by the administration and its departments were seen by the media as “warning measures” before the UN conference.

The Democrats are negotiating over a smaller package now and Biden has reportedly told party members that a package of up to $1.9 trillion is now the goal of the negotiations.

Other reports put the number at $2 trillion. Although this is a much smaller package than the originally proposed $3.5 trillion, it is closer to what Manchin wants and has a better chance of being accepted.

Despite the reductions, Biden has said that the Democrats are keeping the climate provisions in the infrastructure bill regardless of the opposition from Manchin.

There are also reports that a key component of Biden’s climate agenda, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, might not make it in the final version of the budget bill. The $150 billion program, which is designed to replace coal-and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy, is opposed by Manchin.

If it is cut from the bill, it would represent a huge setback to President Biden’s climate policy and ambitions for the Glasgow conference. The program could “account for 42 percent of emissions reduction targets when tax credits are included,” according to news reports.

Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that any “Glasgow setback would carry reputational risk matching that of former president Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement again.”

Biden met with Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last Sunday in Delaware to try to reach a compromise. The negotiations are about what to cut and what to keep in the reconciliation bill, and how to pay for it. They are hoping to clinch a deal this coming Wednesday.

The numbers are getting closer to what Manchin wants. But while progress has been made as the White House said, the deal is not a sure bet yet. Until that happens and Congress votes on the bills, the US position in COP26 will remain tenuous.

COP26 in Glasgow was supposed to be the “America is back” moment on climate. It is important for the world to have the US back, especially on climate action, but if Biden arrives empty-handed there will be little hope for a breakthrough.

The summit might not deliver on a global emergency that has the slogan “our house is on fire.” The international fire brigade will be coming to put out the fire without the fire extinguishers. No one at the Glasgow conference will take their fire-fighting efforts seriously.

This is why the Democrats have to get their act together and unite on this. It is their only chance to “save the planet” — something Biden says he wants to do.