Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr’s bloc declared biggest election winner

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr’s bloc declared biggest election winner
Moqtada Al-Sadr, Iraqi militia leader and Shiite cleric, gives a news conference in the central shrine city of Najaf. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 November 2021

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr’s bloc declared biggest election winner

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr’s bloc declared biggest election winner
  • Sadr’s movement won 73 out of the assembly’s 329 seats, the election commission said
  • Second with 17 seats was the Fatah Alliance, political arm of the pro-Iran Hashed Al-Shaabi former paramilitary force

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr was Tuesday confirmed the biggest winner of last month’s parliamentary election that had sparked charges of voter fraud from pro-Iranian factions.
Sadr’s movement won 73 out of the assembly’s 329 seats, the election commission said, after a lengthy manual recount of hundreds of ballot boxes.
A distant second with 17 seats was the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, the political arm of the pro-Iran Hashed Al-Shaabi former paramilitary force, which is now integrated into Iraq’s state security apparatus.
Hashed leaders had rejected the preliminary result, which was sharply down from their 48 seats in the outgoing assembly, as a “scam,” and their supporters have held street protests chanting “No to fraud.”
Their activists have staged sit-in protests outside Baghdad’s ultra-secure Green Zone district, where the government, the assembly and many foreign embassies are located.
Analysts have warned that — in a country still recovering from decades of war and chaos, and where most parties have armed wings — political disputes could spark a dangerous escalation.
On November 7, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi — leader of the outgoing government — escaped unhurt when an explosive-packed drone hit his Baghdad residence. The attack was not claimed by any group.
The final results must now be sent to the federal court for ratification.
The formation of Iraqi governments has involved complex negotiations in the multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country ever since a US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Posts and ministries have typically been handed out according to compromises reached by the main blocs in backroom talks, rather than to reflect the numbers of seats parties have won.
Sadr, a former leader of an anti-US militia who has often surprised observers with his political maneuvers, has called for a “majority” government which, analysts say, could include Sunni and Kurdish parties.
Iraq, an oil-rich country of 40 million, is still recovering from years of conflict and turmoil.
Major fighting has stopped since a military alliance including the Hashed defeated Daesh in 2017, but sporadic violence continues.
Military bases housing US troops have been targeted with dozens of missile and drone strikes which Washington blames on pro-Iran factions.
Tensions culminated weeks after the election with the unclaimed drone attack against Kadhemi.


Turkish court rules to keep philanthropist Kavala in prison

Turkish court rules to keep philanthropist Kavala in prison
Updated 7 sec ago

Turkish court rules to keep philanthropist Kavala in prison

Turkish court rules to keep philanthropist Kavala in prison
  • The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2019 that Kavala’s rights had been violated and ordered his release — but Turkey has repeatedly refused to do so
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly disdains Kavala, accusing him of being the ‘Turkish leg’ of billionaire US philanthropist George Soros
ISTANBUL: A Turkish court ruled Monday that prominent Turkish civil rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala should stay in prison, despite his more than four years in pre-trial detention.
The hearing took place as a Council of Europe deadline that could trigger infringement procedures looms. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2019 that Kavala’s rights had been violated and ordered his release. But Turkey has repeatedly refused to do so.
Kavala, who is in Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul, did not participate in the hearing in line with an October statement that he would no longer attend trials via video conference because he didn’t have faith the court would deliver a fair trial.

Kavala, 64, is accused of financing nationwide anti-government protests in 2013, attempting to overthrow the government by helping orchestrate a coup attempt three years later and espionage. He denies the charges, which carry a life sentence without parole.
He was acquitted in February 2020 of charges in connection with the 2013 Gezi Park protests. As supporters awaited his release, Kavala was rearrested on new charges. The acquittal was later overturned and linked to charges relating to the 2016 coup attempt, which the Turkish government blames on the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies any ties to the coup.
That trial is now part of a merged case involving 51 other defendants, including fans of the Besiktas soccer club who were acquitted six years ago of charges related to the Gezi protests before that decision also was overturned. Kavala is the only jailed defendant.
Kavala’s lawyer, Koksal Bayraktar, had demanded his release.
“His continued imprisonment for 1,539 days is the continuation of lawlessness identified by the European Court of Human Rights,” Bayraktar said. “End this lawlessness today so our client gets his freedom.”
Taksim Solidarity, a group defending the small Gezi Park in central Istanbul, said before the third hearing that the peaceful 2013 protests, which were based on constitutional rights allowing citizens to demand democracy, couldn’t be tarnished through the judiciary.
In October, Kavala’s case also caused a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the United States, France and Germany, after they called for his release on the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly disdains Kavala, accusing him of being the “Turkish leg” of billionaire US philanthropist George Soros, whom Erdogan alleges has been behind insurrections in many countries. He threatened to expel Western envoys for meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs.
The European Court of Human Rights’ 2019 decision said Kavala’s imprisonment aimed to silence him and other human rights defenders and wasn’t supported by evidence of an offense.
The Council of Europe, a 47-member bloc that upholds human rights, notified Turkey in December that it intended to refer the case to the court to determine whether Turkey refused to abide by final judgments, which are binding. It called on Turkey to release Kavala immediately and conclude the criminal procedures without delay. It asked Turkey to submit its views by Jan. 19 before a Feb. 2 session of the council.
Kavala is the founder of a nonprofit organization, Anadolu Kultur, which focuses on cultural and artistic projects promoting peace and dialogue.
The next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 21.

Egypt, Algeria discuss foreign interference in Libyan affairs

Egypt, Algeria discuss foreign interference in Libyan affairs
Updated 17 January 2022

Egypt, Algeria discuss foreign interference in Libyan affairs

Egypt, Algeria discuss foreign interference in Libyan affairs
  • FMs call for exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libyan territory during talks held in Cairo
  • Meeting touched on several issues of mutual interest, including developments in Sudan, Mali, and the Sahel and Sahara region

CAIRO: Egypt and Algeria agreed on the necessity of stopping any foreign interference in the affairs of Libya and the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libyan territory during talks held in Cairo between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra.

Lamamra’s visit to Cairo, which began on Sunday, is the second in his capacity as a special envoy of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

Egypt is the third Arab stop in the Algerian foreign minister’s Arab tour, which he began in Saudi Arabia with the delivery of a written message from Tebboune to King Salman. Abu Dhabi was the second Arab capital Lamamra visited.

During the meeting, Ambassador Ahmed Hafez, the official spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, stated that the two ministers expressed pride in the relations between Egypt and Algeria and a desire to continue strengthening cooperation across various fields, including in economic and investment opportunities.

He added that the meeting touched on several issues of mutual interest, including developments in Sudan, Mali, and the Sahel and Sahara region. The two ministers stressed the need to coordinate within a framework of joint African action in a way that enhances efforts to achieve peace, security and prosperity on the continent, especially in light of the various security challenges.

They also stressed the importance of advancing Arab efforts in a similar way within the framework of the Arab League.


Iran hostage crisis victim to hunger strike for release of others detained by Tehran

Iran hostage crisis victim to hunger strike for release of others detained by Tehran
Updated 17 January 2022

Iran hostage crisis victim to hunger strike for release of others detained by Tehran

Iran hostage crisis victim to hunger strike for release of others detained by Tehran
  • Barry Rosen was one of 52 Americans seized by extremists at US embassy in 1979
  • Iran has long used hostage-taking of dual nationals as a tool of its foreign affairs

LONDON: A man held as a hostage for over a year by Iranian extremists in the turmoil following Iran’s Islamic Revolution has pledged to initiate a hunger strike to demand the release of all existing hostages in Iran. 

Barry Rosen was one of 52 Americans held as hostages for 444 days by Iranian extremists who stormed the US Embassy in Tehran after a coalition of Islamists and other protestors deposed the Shah of Iran in 1979.

He announced Monday on Twitter that he will travel to Vienna and initiate a hunger strike aimed at pressuring the US into prioritizing the release of foreign hostages during ongoing talks with Tehran.

The Vienna talks are currently aimed primarily at curbing Iran’s nuclear arms program, but many, such as Rosen, have urged the US to broaden the scope of talks to curtailing Iran’s other belligerent behavior, such as its taking of foreign hostages.

In a video statement, Rosen said: “This week marks the 41st anniversary of my release from captivity. But the hostage crisis hasn’t ended for many others, Americans and Westerners, who are currently being held as bargaining chips in Iran.

“There are at least two dozen of them. It is clear to me that the release of hostages can only take place if the United States, and countries like the United States, put pressure on Iran,” said Rosen, who worked in the US press attaché during the 1979 hostage crisis.

He pledged to stage a hunger strike in Vienna.

“My message is simple: no deal with Iran unless the hostages are free,” said Rosen, adding that he will deliver the message to both the American and Iranian delegations in Vienna.

He said his hunger strike will take place despite concerns over his health due to his age because it is “the right thing for the hostages and their family.”

Iran has long been accused of detaining foreigners, particularly those with dual Iranian nationality, in order to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations later.

High-profile individuals currently detained include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian national who has been held in Iran for nearly six years.

Her family believes she is being held as a hostage to use as a negotiation tool in a separate issue between London and Tehran that has been simmering for decades.

Rights group Amnesty International said that Nazanin continues to be used as a “bargaining chip” at the hands of an authority who has “played cruel political games with her life.”

In a separate statement, Amnesty also decried Tehran’s entire hostage-taking strategy.

“In recent years, the Iranian authorities have arrested and detained dozens of dual nationals, including prisoners of conscience such as journalists, academics and human rights defenders,” said the group.

But the approach has, in the past, paid off for Iran. During the Obama administration, the US transferred $1.7 billion in cash to Iran in exchange for the release of several Iranian-American citizens.

Many believe that Tehran is again hoping to use hostages as bargaining chips, this time to pressure the US and its Western partners into a more favorable deal in Vienna.


Tear gas in Sudan as thousands protest coup: AFP

Tear gas in Sudan as thousands protest coup: AFP
Updated 17 January 2022

Tear gas in Sudan as thousands protest coup: AFP

Tear gas in Sudan as thousands protest coup: AFP
  • Sudanese security forces fire tear gas at thousands in Khartoum

KHARTOUM Thousands in Sudan took to the streets Monday to protest a military coup nearly three months ago, and were quickly met by tear gas fired by security forces, according to an AFP correspondent.
Security officers had deployed in large numbers as the demonstrators carrying the Sudanese flag gathered in the capital, Khartoum, as well as other cities.


Three killed, six wounded after fuel tanker explosion in Abu Dhabi

Three people have been killed and six injured in a fuel tanker explosion in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters/ File)
Three people have been killed and six injured in a fuel tanker explosion in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters/ File)
Updated 17 January 2022

Three killed, six wounded after fuel tanker explosion in Abu Dhabi

Three people have been killed and six injured in a fuel tanker explosion in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters/ File)
  • A fire also broke out at the construction site of the UAE capital’s new airport extension
  • Investigations indicate that fragments, possibly belonging to drones, may have caused explosion and fire

DUBAI: Three people – one Pakistani and two Indian - were killed and six others injured after three fuel tankers exploded in the industrial area of Musaffah ICAD 3 near an ADNOC storage unit in Abu Dhabi, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

A fire also broke out at the construction site of the UAE capital’s new airport extension, which was potentially caused by drones, Abu Dhabi police said in a statement carried by WAM.

Ongoing investigations indicate that fragments, possibly belonging to drones, that fell in both locations may have caused the explosion and the fire.

“Initial investigations found parts of a small plane that could possibly be a drone at both sites that could have caused the explosion and the fire,” Abu Dhabi police said, adding there was no significant structural damage.

A spokesperson for Etihad Airways said a small number of flights were briefly disrupted at Abu Dhabi airport due to “precautionary measures,” but normal operations quickly resumed.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement later said it had carried out an attack on the UAE, Reuters reported.

Saudi Arabia has led international condemnation of the incident, with the Kingdom calling it a “cowardly terrorist attack.”

The Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi later confirmed in a tweet that it was aware of the incident and was awaiting further details.

Earlier this month, a UAE-flagged cargo ship, “Rwabee,” was hijacked by the Houthis, in a plan the coalition has said was backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

The ship was on its way from Socotra Island in Yemen to the port of Jazan in Saudi Arabia, carrying medical equipment used in a field hospital on the island, the coalition added.