French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes

French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes
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Portraits of Patrick Dabbagh, bottom right, and his father Mazen Dabbagh, top left, are seen during a demonstration on May 21, 2024 at a courtroom in Paris. (AP)
French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes
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Activists hold Syrian flags next to portraits of alleged victims of the Syrian regime, during a demonstration on May 21, 2024 at a courtroom in Paris. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes

French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes
  • The trial focused on the officials’ role in the alleged 2013 arrest in Damascus of Mazen Dabbagh, a Franco-Syrian father, and his son Patrick, and their subsequent torture and killing
  • Former intelligence officials Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud are the most senior Syrian officials to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country’s civil war

PARIS: A Paris court sentenced three high-ranking Syrian officials in absentia to life in prison Friday for complicity in war crimes in a landmark case against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the first such case in Europe.

The trial focused on the officials’ role in the alleged 2013 arrest in Damascus of Mazen Dabbagh, a Franco-Syrian father, and his son Patrick, and their subsequent torture and killing. The four-day trial featured harrowing testimonies from survivors and searing accounts from Mazen’s brother.
Though the verdict was cathartic for plaintiffs, France and Syria do not have an extradition treaty, making the outcome largely symbolic. International arrest warrants for the three former Syrian intelligence officials — Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud — have been issued since 2018 to no avail.
They are the most senior Syrian officials to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country’s civil war.
The court proceedings came as Assad has started to shed his longtime status as a pariah that stemmed from the violence unleashed on his opponents. Human rights groups involved in the case hoped it would refocus attention on alleged atrocities.
Clémence Bectarte, the Dabbagh family lawyer from the International Federation for Human Rights, said the verdict was the “first recognition in France of the crimes against humanity of the Syrian regime.”
“It is a message of hope for all Syrian victims who are waiting for justice. It is a message that must be addressed to states so that they do not normalize their relations with the regime of Bashar Assad,” she said.
The trial began Tuesday over the alleged torture and killing of the French-Syrian father and son who were arrested at the height of Arab Spring-inspired anti-government protests. The two were arrested in Damascus following a crackdown on demonstrations that later turned into a brutal civil war, now in its 14th year.
The probe into their disappearance started in 2015 when Obeida Dabbagh, Mazen’s brother, testified to investigators already examining war crimes in Syria.
Obeida Dabbagh and his wife, Hanane, are parties to the trial along with non-governmental organizations. They testified in court on Thursday, the third day of the trial.
Obeida Dabbagh said he hoped the trial would set a precedent for holding Assad accountable. “Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died. Even today, some live in fear and terror,” he said.
Despite the defendants’ absence, the trial’s significance was underscored by Brigitte Herremans, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Center of Ghent University. “It’s very important that perpetrators from the regime side are held accountable, even if it’s mainly symbolic. It means a lot for the fight against impunity,” she said.
 


Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack

Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack
Updated 24 min 37 sec ago
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Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack

Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack
  • Tutor’s captain Christian Domarique: ‘We first need to rest because of the trauma’
  • Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile strike on the Liberia flagged, Greek-owned coal carrier Tutor

MANILA: The Philippine crew of a vessel attacked by Yemen’s Houthi militants was repatriated to the Philippines from Bahrain on Monday, with the ship’s captain vowing to return to the seas after the crew had recovered from the experience.
Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile strike on the Liberia flagged, Greek-owned, coal carrier Tutor near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on June 12. The ship was carrying 22 crew from the Philippines and one is still missing in the flooded engine room.
“We first need to rest because of the trauma,” the Tutor’s Captain Christian Domarique told a press conference at Manila airport. “We will recover for a few months before returning.”
Houthi attacks have struck three vessels crewed by Filipino seafarers since last year, killing two sailors, with 17 still being held captive by militants, government data showed.
A tearful Domarique thanked God, his company, and government agencies for assisting him and his fellow seafarers to get back to the Philippines.
The government has pledged financial and psychological assistance for the 21 crew members.
“The captain has good working years ahead of him so with the crew that is relatively young, they will still have more seafaring years ahead of them,” Hans Leo Cacdac, the Philippines’ migrant workers minister, told a press conference.
The vessel’s owner pledged to continue the search for the missing sailor alongside a salvaging operation to tow the stranded ship, Cacdac said, which on Friday was adrift in the Red Sea.
The Houthis, who have said their attacks are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, have disrupted global shipping, causing delays and costs to cascade through supply chains.
At least 65 countries and major energy and shipping companies — including Shell, BP, Maersk and Cosco — have been affected, according to a report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency.


Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate

Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate
Updated 17 June 2024
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Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate

Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate
  • The costly advertising push comes with Election Day still more than four and a half months away
  • The new ad campaign includes more than $1 million geared toward media reaching Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign said Monday it will spend $50 million through the end of June on a new ad campaign that includes efforts to spotlight Republican Donald Trump’s felony conviction.
The costly advertising push comes with Election Day still more than four and a half months away. But Biden’s campaign says it wants to more clearly define the choice between the two candidates ahead of the first debate between them in Atlanta on June 27.
A central part of Biden’s campaign strategy is highlighting Trump’s far-reaching policy proposals for a second term and firing up disaffected Democrats and independent voters. The campaign producing an ad that leans heavily into Trump’s conviction, and including it in such a large advertising buy, indicates a renewed effort to make Trump’s legal problems an election issue in ways Biden’s team previously resisted.
The new ad campaign includes more than $1 million geared toward media reaching Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters, and an ad highlighting Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts in a New York hush money case. That spot will air on general market television and connected TV on streaming devices and cell phones in battleground states, as well as on national cable.
In addition to Trump’s criminal conviction, the ad, titled “Character Matters,” notes the former president also was found liable for sexual assault and financial fraud in separate proceedings. Trump also faces felony charges in three separate criminal cases, none of which may go to trial before the November election.
“This election is between a convicted criminal who’s only out for himself and a president who’s fighting for your family,” intones the ad’s narrator over images of a Trump mug shot and Biden high-fiving supporters.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment Sunday night. But Trump has denied any wrongdoing and argued without evidence that Biden or Justice Department officials orchestrated the New York case against him for political reasons. He and his allies also have raised the prospect of prosecuting political opponents in revenge if he returns to the White House.


China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’
Updated 17 June 2024
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China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’
  • Summit statement said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine
  • China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had ‘slandered and attacked China’

BEIJING: China hit back on Monday after G7 leaders warned Beijing to stop sending weapons components to Russia, saying their end-of-summit statement was “full of arrogance, prejudice and lies.”
When Group of Seven leaders met last week in Italy, souring trade relations with Beijing as well as tensions over Ukraine and the South China Sea were a focus of their discussions.
The statement released at the end of the summit said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Using stronger language than at last year’s summit, the G7 statement also criticized China’s “militarization, and coercive and intimidation activities” in the South China Sea.
On Monday China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had “slandered and attacked China.”
It had “rehashed cliches that have no factual basis, no legal basis, and no moral justification, and are full of arrogance, prejudice and lies,” he said at a regular press briefing.


EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs
Updated 17 June 2024
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EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs
  • The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right
  • Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election

BRUSSELS: The 27 leaders of the European Union gather in Brussels on Monday evening to take stock of recent European election results and begin the fraught process of dividing up the bloc’s top jobs, but they will be playing their usual political game with a deck of reshuffled cards.
The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right and dealt major blows to pro-European governing parties in Paris and Berlin. The Franco-German motor that usually propels EU politics along was weakened, and new dynamics could be on show at the informal dinner.
Under the EU’s complicated division of powers, the presidents and prime ministers get to nominate the next head of the bloc’s powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which is responsible for drawing up EU policy on everything from climate to the colossal shared budget.
Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election.
German conservative Ursula von der Leyen looks likely to stay on as president for another five years after a strong showing for her center-right European People’s Party parliamentary group.
In an interview with Germany’s Welt TV on Saturday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “it is clear after the results of the elections that everything indicates that there can be a second term in office for Ursula von der Leyen.” He said he believes the top job nominations could be agreed “quickly.”
Von der Leyen, at the helm of the EU since 2019, led a huge drive during the pandemic to secure billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, set up a historic post-pandemic economic recovery fund and, from 2022, drummed up support for Ukraine in its war with Russia and extended a hand to Kyiv to join the bloc.
But nothing is guaranteed. Von der Leyen’s presidential style has at times riled her commission colleagues, and she is deeply unpopular in some corners of the EU Parliament, where she will need the support of 361 of the 720 lawmakers to hold on to her job.
The other big posts up for grabs are that of European Council president, held by Belgian centrist Charles Michel, and EU foreign policy chief, occupied by Josep Borrell of Spain from the center-left. The council president’s job is to broker deals between the 27 member states, while the top diplomat represents the EU on the world stage.
In Brussels, names for the big posts have circulated for months. Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister António Costa is frequently mentioned to become council president. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, well known for her tough line on Russia, has been floated as the bloc’s potential top diplomat.
French President Emmanual Macron said the aim Monday is “to try to have a quick consensus. But perhaps we need to wait until June 27-28,” when the leaders meet again in Brussels for a formal EU summit.
“I don’t want to preempt things,” Macron said on Saturday. “These discussions are happening with 27 of us, so we have advanced, several of us have called each other, and I think it’s possible. I think it’s possible in the days to come, or in the week to come.’’
Von der Leyen’s own path to power in 2019 shows that the tussle over EU top jobs can be unpredictable. Then a German defense minister somewhat tainted by scandal in her ministry, von der Leyen was a relative unknown in Brussels when her name was raised by leaders in closed-door discussions.
Back then, the support of her close ally, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Macron helped her clinch the nomination. Given the current balance of power in Europe, it’s hard to imagine Macron and Scholz pulling a major surprise this time.
Scholz is licking his wounds after his Social Democrats took a drubbing, while Macron is tied up with the snap elections he called last week in a risky bid to see off the far right.
In a secret ballot in 2019, von der Leyen made it over the line with 383 votes, nail bitingly close to the threshold of 374. She was an unpopular nominee because she had not campaigned in elections as a lead candidate and was seen as being imposed on Parliament by the leaders.


Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers
Updated 17 June 2024
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Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers
  • Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits

COPENHAGEN: Denmark is considering ways to limit the passage of old tankers carrying Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, the Nordic country’s foreign minister said in a statement on Monday, in a move that could trigger confrontation with Moscow.
Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits that sit as a gateway to the Baltic Sea, so any attempt to halt supplies would send oil prices higher and hit the Kremlin’s finances.
Denmark has brought together a group of allied countries evaluating measures targeting the so-called shadow fleet of aging ships transporting the Russian oil, Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said.