Iran resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow plant south of Tehran on Thursday in a new step back from its commitments under a landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into the plant s mothballed enrichment centrifuges in "the first minutes of Thursday", the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation said. The suspension of uranium enrichment at the long secret plant was one of the restrictions Iran had agreed to on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of UN sanctions. Iran s announcement that it would resume enrichment at the Fordow plant from midnight (2030 GMT Wednesday) had drawn a chorus of concern from the remaining parties to the troubled agreement. Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have been trying to salvage the hard-won deal since Washington abandoned it in May last year and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions. They say Iran s phased suspension of its obligations under the deal since May makes that more difficult. The resumption of enrichment at Fordow is Iran s fourth move away from the deal. Uranium enrichment is the sensitive process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead. Iran has always denied any military dimension to its nuclear programme. It has been at pains to emphasise that all of the steps it has taken are transparent and swiftly reversible if the remaining parties to the agreement find a way to get round US sanctions. "All these activities have been carried out under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency," the Iranian nuclear organisation said. A source close to the UN watchdog told AFP that it has inspectors on the ground in Fordow and would report "very rapidly" on the steps taken by Iran. Iran s latest move comes after the passing of a deadline it set for the remaining parties to the nuclear agreement to come up with a mechanism that would allow foreign firms to continue doing business with Iran without incurring US penalties. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about Tehran s announcements but said European powers should do their part. "They are demanding that Iran fulfil all (obligations) without exception but are not giving anything in return," he told reporters in Moscow. The Kremlin has previously called sanctions against Iran "unprecedented and illegal". - European concern - French President Emmanuel Macron said Iran had made "grave" decisions and its resumption of uranium enrichment was a "profound change" from Tehran s previous position. "I will have discussions in the coming days, including with the Iranians, and we must collectively draw the consequences," Macron said during a trip to Beijing. The next few weeks will be dedicated to increasing pressure on Iran to return within the framework of the pact, the French president said, adding that this must be "accompanied by an easing of some sanctions". "A return to normal can only take place if the United States and Iran agree to reopen a sort of trust agenda" and dialogue, Macron said, adding that he would discuss the issue with Trump. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain remained committed to a negotiated way forward but demanded that Iran abide by its obligations. "We want to find a way forward through constructive international dialogue but Iran needs to stand by the commitments it made and urgently return to full compliance," he said. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Iran must roll back its decision to resume uranium enrichment, calling Tehran s action "unacceptable". "We call on Iran to reverse all steps taken since July and return to full compliance with its commitments," Maas told reporters in Berlin. "Our aim is to maintain the nuclear agreement," he said. "We have always fully implemented our commitments and Iran must now urgently relent in order to ease tensions."
Two more Iraqi protesters have been killed in renewed clashes in the Shia holy city of Karbala, a flashpoint in weeks of anti-government demonstrations, a protester and a medic said Wednesday. They said the two were killed in overnight clashes near the provincial headquarters in the city. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks in the capital, Baghdad, and across the Shia south, demanding sweeping political change. The protesters complain of widespread corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, with regular power cuts despite the country s vast oil reserves. The protesters have focused their anger on Shia political parties and militias, many of which have close ties to Iran . Across the south, they have attacked party and militia headquarters, setting some of them ablaze. In Karbala, protesters attacked the Iranian Consulate earlier this week, hurling firebombs over its walls. Security forces killed at least three people and wounded several others as they dispersed the protest. Days earlier, masked men suspected of links to the security forces opened fire on a demonstration in Karbala, killing at least 18 people. In the capital, Baghdad, protesters clashed with security forces on a fourth bridge across the Tigris River, after previous clashes forced the closure of three other bridges, paralyzing traffic. The protests have been centered in Tahrir Square, on the eastern bank of the Tigris, and the demonstrators have been trying to reach the Green Zone that is located on the other side, which houses government offices and foreign embassies. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement calling on the government to ``engage seriously and urgently with Iraqi citizens who are demanding reform. ``We deplore the killing and kidnapping of unarmed protesters, threats to freedom of expression, and the cycle of violence taking place, it said. ``Iraqis must be free to make their own choices about the future of their nation. Iraqi security forces have killed at least 269 protesters in two major waves of demonstrations since early October. Iraq s leaders have promised reforms and early elections, but the process they have laid out could take months, and the protests have only grown in recent days.
Ali says he has seen more than 50 people killed in front of him since anti-government protests began in Iraq last month. "The first one was shocking - he was someone I knew, and they shot him in the chest," said Ali, in his early 20s and from Baghdad s low-income Sadr City district. "But you quickly get used to death ... I ve seen people, some of them friends, choke, drown, have their skulls split open by tear gas and stun grenades," Ali, who declined to give his last name, said as he played a mobile phone video of the shooting victim in his final moments in the capital s Tahrir Square last month. "We can t even cry over their bodies any more." Since the start of October, more than 250 Iraqis have been killed protesting against a government they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests, according to eyewitnesses and medical and security sources. There was no immediate comment from the interior ministry, which oversees many of the security forces, but a government report said nearly 150 people were killed in the first week of the unrest, 70% from bullets to the head or chest. Recounting stories of his fallen comrades, Ali leaned against a mound of dirty blankets on the Tigris river bank under the Jumhuriya – or Republic – Bridge. For the past 10 days, hundreds of young men and boys – some as young as 12 – have been camped out on the bridge, and under it. Wearing construction hats, gas masks, and chanting for the downfall of the government, they call themselves "the front line of the revolution". The bridge, which leads from the square to Baghdad s fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are located, has seen fierce clashes between protesters and security forces. Protesters, armed with slingshots, have erected barricades of iron sheets and concrete blocks. Security forces have used rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas against them, killing scores on the adjacent Jumhuriya and Sinak bridges. Both sides have settled into an uneasy stalemate. "We throw rocks at them, and they respond by killing us," said Ali, as several tear gas canisters were lobbed by security forces. Boys under the bridge A group of medical volunteers have set up camp to help the wounded. They say the expired tear gas – Reuters saw used canisters with an expiry date of 2014 – is making people choke. One young man, barefoot and wearing a dirty tank top and trousers, passed out after choking on the gas. A Reuters correspondent saw medics lower him off the bridge and put him in a tuk-tuk headed for a nearby hospital. Ali is surrounded by a tight-knit group of 10, who have been camped under the Jumhuriya bridge since Oct. 24. Reminiscent of Peter Pan s Lost Boys, the group radiated an intensity forged by bloodshed. Many come from Baghdad s poorest neighbourhoods, where they work as tuk-tuk drivers or day labourers. Despite Iraq s oil wealth, many live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education. Protesters blame corruption. "For 16 years we ve been told that our lives would be better," said Abbas, who declined to give his last name. "But I m 19 and I ve worked most days since I was 10 and still I don t have more than 5,000 dinars ($4) in my pocket." Dangerous nights Abbas was arrested in the first wave of protests, along with Ali and others in the group. They said their phones were scanned to identify fellow protesters. Released on bail, they were told to stay away from the demonstrations. "But the very next day I went back to the protests," said Ali. "We have to stay here to keep the revolution going." Nearly all those Reuters spoke to had bandages on their arms, torsos and legs. They said many of their injuries came from security forces who fire tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, sometimes from boats on the river. It is most dangerous at night, they said. A few nights ago at 3 a.m., security forces threw gasoline at their camp, followed by burning rags, Ali said. The rags landed near a group of sleeping boys, according to a video seen by Reuters. The boys now stand guard in shifts. "The second we leave this bridge, the government will storm Tahrir Square and finish off the protests," Ali said. "They can throw whatever they want at us. But we re not going anywhere."
Reviving decades-old cries of ``Death to America, Iran on Monday marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the 444-day hostage crisis that followed as tensions remain high over the country s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers. Demonstrators gathered in front of the former U.S. Embassy in downtown Tehran as state television aired footage from other cities across the country. ``Thanks to God, today the revolution s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree that its shadow has covered the entire Middle East, said Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of the Iranian army. However, this year s commemoration of the embassy seizure comes as Iran s regional allies in Iraq and Lebanon face widespread protests. The Iranian Consulate in Karbala, Iraq, a holy city for Shiites, saw a mob attack it overnight. Three protesters were killed during the attack and 19 were wounded, along with seven policemen, Iraqi officials said. Associated Press video showed a fire burned the consulate s gate as demonstrators threw gasoline bombs and climbed its walls, some waving an Iraqi flag. Iranian media only reported a ``protest outside of the diplomatic post, adding that things had returned to normal. President Donald Trump retweeted posts by Saudi-linked media showing the chaos outside the consulate. The violence comes after the hard-line Keyhan newspaper in Iran reiterated a call for demonstrators to seize U.S. and Saudi diplomatic posts in Iraq in response to the unrest. Demonstrators at other rallies on Monday cried: ``Death to America! and ``Death to Israel! Lawmakers in parliament echoed those cries after approving the outline of a bill that would include anti-American teachings in school textbooks. Others at protests burned U.S. flag replicas and waved signs mocking Trump and America. A billboard at Tehran s Vali-e-Asr Square, used by hard-liners to highlight their political views, showed people waving flags from around the world and cheering as an American flag burned. A caption on it read: ``We are the superpower. Speaking in front of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Mousavi referred to America as a ``scorpion and said the ``era of imposing pressure with zero expense is over. The U.S. is pushing for the ``surrender of Iran in a gift wrap of words like negotiation and engagement, the general said. Typically, members of Iran s regular armed forces don t speak at the embassy on the anniversary, rather civilians and those in its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard hold speeches. Mousavi s appearance likely represented an effort by Iran s theocratic government to show a united front against the pressure it faces from the U.S. under Trump. On Sunday, Iran s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his opposition to negotiation with the U.S., saying Tehran had outmaneuvered America in the four decades since its Islamic Revolution. What exactly led to the 1979 takeover of the embassy was obscure at the time to Americans who for months could only watch in horror as TV newscasts showed Iranian protests at the embassy. Popular anger against the U.S. was rooted in the 1953 CIA-engineered coup that toppled Iran s elected prime minister and cemented the power of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah, dying from cancer, fled Iran in January 1979, paving the way for the country s Islamic Revolution. But for months, Iran faced widespread unrest, ranging from separatist attacks, worker revolts and internal power struggles. Police reported for work but not for duty, allowing chaos to unfold, including for Marxist students to briefly seize the U.S. Embassy. In this power vacuum, then-President Jimmy Carter allowed the shah to seek medical treatment in New York. That lit the fuse for the Nov. 4, 1979, takeover by Islamist students, who initially planned a sit-in at the embassy. But the situation quickly spun out of their control. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the long-exiled Shiite cleric whose return to Iran sparked the Islamic Revolution, gave his support to the takeover. He would use that popular angle to expand the Islamists power. Some hostages would be released as the crisis unfolded, while several others who escaped the embassy and found safety with Canada s ambassador, left Iran via a CIA-planned escape _ dramatic moments that were recounted in the 2012 film ``Argo. Another 52 American hostages would be held for 444 days until the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, when they were freed. The anniversary comes as Iran appears poised to announce it was breaking another limit imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Already, Iran has gone beyond its enrichment and stockpile limitations, and has begun using arrays of advanced centrifuges prohibited under the accord. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, reportedly traveled to the country s Natanz enrichment facility on Monday ahead of the announcement. The collapse of the nuclear deal coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a U.S. military surveillance drone. The U.S. has increased its military presence across the Mideast, including basing troops in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Both Saudi Arabia and the neighboring United Arab Emirates are believed to be talking to Tehran through back channels to ease tensions.
China s state-owned Xinhua News Agency denounced the attack on its office in Hong Kong by pro-democracy protesters as "barbaric during a melee that marked nearly five months of unrest in the Chinese territory. More protests are being planned in seven districts Sunday in a sustained push for political reform and genuine autonomy, after the ruling Communist Party vowed to tighten the grip on one of the world s freest financial hubs. Xinhua in a brief statement late Saturday strongly condemned the "barbaric acts of mobs that had vandalized and set fire to the lobby of its Asia-Pacific office building in the city s Wan Chai neighborhood. The Hong Kong Journalists Association also deplored "any act of sabotage against the media and called for an end to violence against the press. It was the first strike against the official Chinese news agency in a show of anger against Beijing, which many in the city fear is infringing on the freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997. On Friday, the Communist Party in Beijing vowed to "establish and strengthen a legal system and enforcement mechanism to prevent foreign powers from sowing acts of "separatism, subversion, infiltration and sabotage in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system from mainland China, has tried to enact anti-subversion legislation before but failed amid public opposition. Beijing may be indicating it is preparing to take matters into its own hands by having the National People s Congress - a ceremonial legislature - issue a legal interpretation to enact such legislation. Hong Kong s government said Sunday its Chief Executive Carrie Lam, currently in Shanghai, will head to Beijing on Tuesday. She is due to hold talks with Vice Premier Han Zheng and join a meeting on the development of the Greater Bay Area that aims to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine other cities in southern China. Protesters have frequently targeted Chinese banks and businesses. In July, demonstrators threw eggs at China s liaison office in Hong Kong and defaced the Chinese national emblem in a move slammed by Beijing as a direct challenge to its authority. Police said that more than 200 people were detained during Saturday s protests in multiple areas on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon district. This included five youths found with 188 gasoline bombs, pepper sprays and protest gear such as helmets and goggles. Senior police official Yeung Yiu-Chung said the four men and one woman, aged between 19 and 24, were detained in a residential building in Wan Chai. Police are investigating if there was an organization or mastermind behind them, he added. A bomb disposal robot was used to detonate two suspicious parcels on different roads late Saturday, said a police spokesman, who declined to be named as he wasn t authorized to speak to the media. After police stymied an unauthorized rally with tear gas and water cannons, groups of hardcore protesters regrouped with gasoline bombs and attacked shops and subway exits. Police responded in street battles late into the night in familiar scenes that had besieged the financial hub since June. The protests were sparked by a now-shelved plan to allow extraditions to mainland China but have since swelled into a movement seeking other demands, including direct elections for the city s leaders and an independent inquiry into police conduct. Lam last month invoked emergency powers to impose a face mask ban that further enraged protesters for crimping their right to assemble. More than 3,000 people have been detained and the city has slipped into recession for the first time in a decade as it grapples with the turmoil and the impact from the U.S.-China trade war.
Apparently spontaneous anti-government protests that started in Iraq on October 1 have escalated into deadly clashes around the country and demands for the government to resign. With 257 people dead since the movement began and demonstrators camping out in Baghdad s iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square for days, here is a recap: - Spontaneous gatherings - On October 1, more than 1,000 people take to the streets in Baghdad and cities in southern Iraq to protest corruption, unemployment and poor public services. Heeding calls on social media, they gather in Tahrir Square in what seems to be a spontaneous movement. Riot police disperse crowds with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. They fire live ammunition when protesters regroup. The first deaths are reported. - Unrest spreads - On October 2, protests multiply across southern Iraq and riot police fire live rounds in the capital and the cities of Najaf and Nasiriyah. Influential firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose bloc is the biggest in parliament, announces support for "peaceful protests". On October 3, thousands defy a curfew in Baghdad and other cities, blocking streets and burning tyres. Riot police and soldiers again fire live rounds. Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi defends his year-old government on television, asking for more time to implement reforms. - Sadr calls for polls - On October 4, clashes intensify in Baghdad as security forces try to block access to Tahrir Square. Several protesters are struck by bullets. Security forces blame "unidentified snipers". In the evening, Sadr calls on the government to resign and for early elections under UN supervision. - Death toll exceeds 150 - On October 6, the cabinet announces reforms, including land distribution, boosted social welfare and the ousting of corrupt officials. On October 7, the powerful Hashed al-Shaabi, a network of mostly majority-Shiite paramilitary units, says it will back the government to prevent "a coup". Calm returns and Baghdad lifts security restrictions on October 8. On October 22, an official inquiry announces that the death toll from the week of protests totalled 157, most killed in Baghdad. - Second wave - Protests resume on October 24, after calls on social media for rallies on October 25, the anniversary of Abdel Mahdi s government taking office. Protesters begin camping out at Tahrir Square. On October 25, demonstrators are out in their thousands, massing near the capital s high-security Green Zone and in other cities. Deadly violence erupts as protesters set fire to dozens of government buildings and offices belonging to the pro-government Hashed paramilitary forces across southern cities. By the evening, more than 40 protesters have been killed. Security forces impose a curfew across several southern provinces. - Sadr sit-in - On October 26, protesters dig in around Tahrir Square, while three people are shot dead in Nasiriyah city as they torch a local official s home. In the evening, lawmakers in Sadr s influential bloc, Saeroon, begin a sit-in at parliament. They align themselves with the political opposition, having been a main sponsor of the government. On October 27, students join protests in Baghdad, while four parliamentarians resign. - Students, unions join - On October 28, the protest movement swells as students, schoolchildren and professors take part in protests in Baghdad and cities in the south. Trade unions representing teachers, lawyers and dentists declare strikes. Parliament votes to summon Abdel Mahdi for questioning. On October 29, the strikes and student rallies intensify after thousands defy an overnight curfew and stayed on the streets, including around Tahrir. The next day, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission says at least 100 people have died and more than 5,000 been injured since the demonstrations resumed on October 24, taking the total dead since the start of the month to 257.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi s two main backers have agreed to work to remove him from office as protests against his government gained momentum in Baghdad and much of the Shi ite south only to be met with violence. Populist Shi ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads parliament s largest bloc, had asked Abdul Mahdi to call an early election. When the premier refused, he called on his main political rival Hadi al-Amiri to help oust him. Amiri - who leads a parliamentary alliance of Iran-backed Shi ite militia that holds the second-largest amount of seats in parliament behind Sadr s alliance - issued a statement late on Tuesday agreeing to help oust the prime minister. "We will work together to secure the interests of the Iraqi people and save the nation in accordance with the public good," Amiri said in a statement. Abdul Mahdi took office just a year ago after weeks of political deadlock in which Sadr and Amiri both failed to secure enough votes to form a government. They appointed Abdul Mahdi as a compromise candidate to lead a fragile coalition government. Mass protests driven by discontent over economic hardship and corruption have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq. At least 250 people have been killed since the unrest started on Oct. 1.
Iraqi security forces wearing masks and black plainclothes opened fire at protesters in the Shia holy city of Karbala on Tuesday, killing 18 people and wounding hundreds, security officials said, in one of the deadliest single attacks since the country was engulfed by protests this month. The attack, which happened overnight, came as Iraqis took to the streets for a fifth consecutive day, protesting their government s corruption, lack of services and other grievances. The protests, leaderless and largely spontaneous, have been met with bullets and tear gas from the first day. At least 72 protesters _ not including the latest fatalities in Karbala _ have been killed since anti-government protests resumed across Iraq on Friday, after 149 were killed during an earlier wave of protests this month. Also, in the Karbala attack alone, more than 800 people were wounded, according to one official. Security officials said Tuesday s attack happened in Karbala s Education Square, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Imam Hussein Shrine, where protesters had set up tents for their sit-in. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. An eyewitness said hundreds of protesters were in the encampment when live bullets were fired toward them from a passing car. Then, masked gunmen in black plainclothes arrived and started shooting at the protesters, the witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety. Tents caught fire, igniting a blaze, he added. Karbala, as Baghdad and other cities in Iraq s southern region, has been gripped by a wave of deadly anti-government protests which have often turned violence, with security forces shooting at the protesters and protesters setting fire to government buildings and headquarters of Iran-backed militias. The demonstrations are fueled by anger at corruption, economic stagnation and poor public services. Despite its vast oil wealth, Iraq suffers from high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure, with frequent power outages that force many to rely on private generators. The protests have grown and demonstrators are now calling for sweeping changes, not just the government s resignation. Iraq s Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi has promised a government reshuffle and a reform package, which the demonstrators have already rejected. Authorities on Monday announced a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m. in the capital, as renewed protests there and across the south raged. A senior security official estimated that 25,000 protesters took part in the demonstration in the capital. Thousands of students joined Iraq s anti-government protests on Monday, as clashes with security forces firing tear gas canisters killed at least three demonstrators and wounded more than 100. Students skipped classes at several universities and secondary schools in Baghdad and across Iraq s majority-Shia south on Monday to take part in the protests, despite the government ordering schools and universities to operate normally. One of those killed was a 22-year-old female medical student, the first woman to be killed since the protests began earlier this month. Seventeen students were among the wounded.
Students and schoolchildren hit the streets of Baghdad and southern Iraq on Monday to join escalating calls for the government to quit, defying the education minister, legal threats and even their parents. "No school, no classes, until the regime collapses!" protestors shouted in Diwaniyah, 180 kilometres (120 miles) south of the capital. The capital and the country s south have been rocked by a second wave of rallies over perceived government corruption, unemployment and poor services. The resulting clashes have often turned deadly, with more than 70 killed since Thursday.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed in a U.S. military operation in Syria, sources in Syria, Iraq and Iran said on Sunday, as U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to make a "major statement" at the White House. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Baghdadi was targeted in the overnight raid but was unable to say whether the operation was successful. A commander of one of the militant factions in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib said Baghdadi was believed to have been killed in a raid after midnight on Saturday involving helicopters, warplanes and a ground clash in the village of Brisha near the Turkish border. Two Iraqi security sources and two Iranian officials said they had received confirmation from inside Syria that Baghdadi had been killed. "Our sources from inside Syria have confirmed to the Iraqi intelligence team tasked with pursuing Baghdadi that he has been killed alongside his personal bodyguard in Idlib after his hiding place was discovered when he tried to get his family out of Idlib towards the Turkish border," one of the Iraqi officials said. U.S. magazine Newsweek, which first reported the news, said it had been told by a U.S. Army official briefed on the raid that Baghdadi was dead. It said the operation was carried out by special operations forces after receiving actionable intelligence. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley announced late on Saturday that Trump would make a "major statement" at 9 a.m. EST (1300 GMT) on Sunday. Gidley gave no further details. The president gave an indication that something was afoot earlier on Saturday night when he tweeted without explanation, "Something very big has just happened!" Trump has faced withering criticism from both Republicans and Democrats alike for his U.S. troop withdrawal from northeastern Syria, which permitted Turkey to attack America s Kurdish allies. Many critics of Trump s Syria pullout have expressed worries that it would lead the Islamic State militancy to regain strength and pose a threat to U.S. interests. An announcement about Baghdadi s death could help blunt those concerns. For days, U.S. officials had feared that Islamic State would seek to capitalize on the upheaval in Syria. But they also saw a potential opportunity, in which Islamic State leaders might break from more secretive routines to communicate with operatives, potentially creating a chance for the United States and its allies to detect them. Baghdadi was long thought to be hiding somewhere along the Iraq-Syria border. He has led the group since 2010, when it was still an underground offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq. On Sept. 16, Islamic State s media network issued a 30-minute audio message purporting to come from Baghdadi, in which he said operations were taking place daily and called on supporters to free women jailed in camps in Iraq and Syria over their alleged links to his group. In the audio message, Baghdadi also said the United States and its proxies had been defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the United States had been "dragged" into Mali and Niger. At the height of its power Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. But the fall in 2017 of Mosul and Raqqa, its strongholds in Iraq and Syria respectively, stripped Baghdadi, an Iraqi, of the trappings of a caliph and turned him into a fugitive thought to be moving along the desert border between Iraq and Syria. U.S. air strikes killed most of his top lieutenants, and before Islamic State published a video message of Baghdadi in April there had been conflicting reports over whether he was alive. Despite losing its last significant territory, Islamic State is believed to have sleeper cells around the world, and some fighters operate from the shadows in Syria s desert and Iraq s cities.
Protests in Lebanon entered a second week on Thursday with demonstrators blocking main roads in Beirut and other parts of the country, AFP correspondents and Lebanese media reported. Sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps, the protests have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilisation against a political system seen as corrupt and broken. On Thursday morning, demonstrators set up roadblocks around the capital. One major east-west artery was blocked by a dozen young protesters, who pitched tents in the middle of the road. Sitting on the pavement with a red and white keffiyeh on his shoulders, a 30-year-old who had trained as a chef, said he had been protesting since the first day. "We re here closing the main road to stop some movement in this country," he said, asking not to be identified. "People think we re playing but we re actually asking for our most basic rights: water, food, electricity, healthcare, pensions, medicine, schooling," he told AFP. Embattled Prime Minister Saad Hariri has presented a package of reforms, including cutting ministerial salaries, but the rallies have continued, crippling Beirut and other major cities. President Michel Aoun was expected to speak later in the day. On Wednesday, Hariri held meetings with security and military leaders, stressing the need to maintain security and open roads, the state-run National News Agency reported. Washington on Wednesday called on Lebanon s leaders to meet the "legitimate" grievances of citizens. More than a quarter of Lebanon s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. Almost three decades after the end of Lebanon s civil war, political deadlock has stymied efforts to tackle mounting economic woes which have been compounded by the eight-year civil war in neighbouring Syria.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the United States had betrayed and abandoned the Syrian Kurds and advised the Kurds to withdraw from the Syrian border as per a deal between Moscow and Ankara or be mauled by the Turkish army. The comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to Russian news agencies followed a deal agreed on Tuesday between Russia and Turkey that will see Syrian and Russian forces deploy to northeast Syria to remove Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey. Peskov, who was reported to be reacting to comments by U.S. President Donald Trump s special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, complained that it appeared that the United States was encouraging the Kurds to stay close to the Syrian border and fight the Turkish army. "The United States has been the Kurds closest ally in recent years. (But) in the end, it abandoned the Kurds and, in essence, betrayed them," Peskov was cited as saying. "Now they (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border (with Turkey) and almost force them to fight the Turks." If the Kurds did not withdraw as per the deal between Moscow and Ankara, Peskov said that Syrian borders guards and Russian military police would have to withdraw, leaving the Kurds to be dealt with by the Turkish army.
European Council President Donald Tusk is condemning Turkey s invasion of northern Syria and is calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pull his troops out of the region. Tusk told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday that "no one is fooled by the so-called cease-fire agreement made last week by the U.S. and Turkey. Turkey expects the Syrian Kurdish fighters to pull back from a border area. Tusk says that Turkey, which is a candidate for EU membership, "needs to end its military action permanently, withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law. He says that "any other course means unacceptable suffering, a victory for Daesh, and a serious threat to European security.
Lebanon s cabinet is expected to approve reforms including halving ministers wages on Monday in a bid to ease an economic crisis and defuse protests that have been the biggest show of dissent against the ruling elite in decades. Protesters blocked roads for a fifth day of demonstrations fuelled by the crippling economic conditions and anger at perceived corruption of the political elite that has led Lebanon into the crisis. Officials told Reuters on Sunday that Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri had agreed a package of reforms with his government partners to tackle the crisis that has driven hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets. The government is due to meet at 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) at the presidential palace in the Beirut suburb of Baabda. In central Beirut, scene of the largest protest, people prepared for another day of demonstrations. "If we get reforms, for a start it’s good, to calm down the storms, people are angry ... but on the long term, I don’t know if it will make a change," said Rida Jammoul, football coach, who was helping to clean-up in Beirut. Another protester, Ziad Abou Chakra, said he would continue to protest until the government was toppled. "We will stay here and we won t open the roads whatever happens," he said, manning a road block in the Zouk Mikhael area north of Beriut. The reform plan includes a 50% cut in salaries of current and former presidents, ministers and lawmakers, as well as reductions in benefits for state institutions and officials. It also includes the central bank and private banks contributing $3.3 billion to achieve a "near zero deficit" for the 2020 budget. The government also aims to privatise the telecommunications sector and overhaul the costly and crumbling electricity sector, one of the biggest strains on Lebanon s depleted finances. Hariri, who leads a coalition cabinet mired in sectarian and political rivalries, gave his feuding government a 72-hour deadline on Friday to agree reforms to ward off crisis, hinting he might otherwise resign. The deadline expires on Monday. A chorus of voices, from union leaders to politicians, has joined calls for Hariri s government to resign. The protests have spread across the country since Thursday. Banks were closed on Monday and the main labour union went on strike, threatening further paralysis. "The message to the politicians is don t ever underestimate the power of the people because once they unite they will explode - peacefully," said Hiba Dandachli, 36, a social entrepreneur who was helping to organise the clean-up. "There are children, families, all from different religions and backgrounds," she said. "If the politicians learn from this they will learn how to lead the country much better."
US forces withdrew from a key base in northern Syria Sunday, a monitor said, two days before the end of a US-brokered truce to stem a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces in the region. An AFP correspondent saw more than 70 US armoured vehicles escorted by helicopters drive past the town of Tal Tamr carrying military equipment. Some flew the American stars-and-stripes flag as they made their way eastwards along a highway crossing the town, he said. The Syrian Observatory for the Human Rights said the convoy was evacuating the military base of Sarrin. It appeared to be heading to the town of Hassakeh, further east, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside war-torn Syria for its information. Sarrin "is the largest American military base in the north of the country," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. It is situated on the edges of a planned "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the border that Turkey wants to keep Kurdish forces away from its frontier, he explained. Sunday s pullout was the fourth such withdrawal of American forces in a week and left Syria s northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqa devoid of US troops, Abdel Rahman said. The Kurds have been a key ally to Washington in the US-backed fight against Islamic State group jihadists in Syria, but Ankara views them as "terrorists" linked to Kurdish militants on its own soil. A week ago, the Pentagon said US President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of up to 1,000 troops from northern Syria as Turkish troops advanced into Syrian territory. Turkey launched a cross-border incursion into Syria on October 9, after Trump said he would pull back US special forces in the Kurdish-held north. After the violence killed scores from both sides and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes, a US-brokered ceasefire was announced late Thursday. Turkey has given the Syrian Democratic Forces, the de facto army of the Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria, until Tuesday evening to withdraw from a 30-kilometre strip of Syrian land along its southern border. Both sides accuse each other of violating the truce.
The embattled Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria on Thursday accused Turkey of resorting to banned weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus munitions. The use of such weapons since the start of the cross-border assault by Turkey and its Syrian proxies could not immediately be confirmed independently. In a statement issued eight days into the deadly offensive, the Kurdish administration said Turkey had resorted to their use because of unexpectedly stiff resistance by Kurdish fighters in the key border town of Ras al-Ain. "The Turkish aggression is using all available weapons against Ras al-Ain," the Kurdish statement said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has so far ignored international pressure to halt the offensive, which has killed dozens of civilians and displaced more than 300,000 people. "Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned such as phosphorus and napalm," the statement added. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group with a wide network of sources on the ground, could not confirm the use of napalm or white phosphorus. But Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said there had been a spike in burn wounds over the past two days, mostly casualties brought in from the Ras al-Ain area. Kurdish officials posted a video on social media showing children with burns one doctor in Hasakeh province argues are consistent with the use of banned weapons. Made notorious by their widespread use by US forces in the Vietnam War, napalm and related chemicals are mixtures of a gelling agent and a volatile petrochemical used in incendiary bombs. White phosphorus can be used to create a smoke screen or as a battlefield marker, but it can also be deployed as a deadly incendiary weapon, a use prohibited under international law. A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces -- the autonomous Kurdish region s de facto army -- called on international organisations to send in experts. "We urge international organisations to send their teams to investigate some wounds sustained in attacks," Mustefa Bali said on social media. "The medical facilities in NE Syria lack expert teams," he added.
Turkey remained defiant against mounting international pressure to curb its military offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria, raising tensions with Washington as Vice President Mike Pence headed for Ankara on Wednesday to demand a ceasefire. Battles raged in the key Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain as dawn broke on Wednesday, with Kurdish fighters trying to hold off the onslaught by Turkish-backed forces, now in its second week. The fighting has triggered a flurry of diplomacy among major powers, with US President Donald Trump dispatching Pence along with his top diplomat Mike Pompeo to Turkey amid the greatest crisis in relations for decades between the NATO allies. The Kremlin said it would host President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming days, to ensure the operation does not turn into an all-out war between Turkey and Syria. Russia has stepped into the void caused by Trump s withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, deploying patrols to prevent clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces. Trump -- facing mounting criticism in Washington over his decision to pull 1,000 troops out of the conflict zone, as well as an unrelated impeachment inquiry -- has hit back at Erdogan, slapping sanctions on three cabinet officials and raising tariffs on Turkish steel. Pence said he would meet with Erdogan on Thursday and "voice the United States commitment to reach an immediate ceasefire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement", his office said in a statement. He reiterated that Trump will pursue "punishing economic sanctions" until a resolution is reached. But Erdogan remained unfazed by the pressure, telling reporters: "They tell us to declare a ceasefire . We can never declare a ceasefire." The operation has widespread support in Turkey, where decades of bloody insurgency by Kurdish militants has killed tens of thousands of people. But Western powers are spooked that the operation is endangering the battle against the Islamic State group, which was led on the ground by Kurdish forces. Thousands of IS prisoners are held in Kurdish-run camps in the region. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that the camps were not "currently" under threat from the operation, but Europe has taken an increasingly tough line with Turkey. Britain and Spain became the latest powers to suspend military exports to Turkey on Tuesday. Canada made a similar move. - Kurds try to defend border - The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have mounted a desperate defence to the east of Ras al-Ain, using tunnels, berms and trenches. An AFP correspondent said clashes around the town were ongoing on Wednesday despite Ankara s repeated claims it had captured the area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Kurdish fighters had launched "a large counterattack against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies near Ras al-Ain" on Tuesday and reported "fierce combat" in the west of the town as well as in Tal Abyad. Since launching their assault on October 9, Turkish-backed forces have secured more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of border, but Ras al-Ain -- Siri Kani in Kurdish -- has held out. Erdogan, who like Trump faces political difficulties at home, wants to create a buffer zone stretching 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the border into Syrian territory. He wants to destroy Kurdish hopes of an autonomous enclave that could serve as a launching pad for attacks in Turkey, as well as resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it is hosting. "God willing, we will quickly secure the region stretching from Manbij to our border with Iraq," Erdogan said. The offensive has killed dozens of civilians, mostly on the Kurdish side, and displaced at least 160,000 people. - Russia fills void - Syrian forces have returned to the region for the first time in years, raising their flag in Manbij as part of a deal with the Kurds. Russia said its military police were patrolling a zone separating regime and Turkish troops, in cooperation with Ankara. With Trump s critics saying that he handed over US allies and stretches of Syria to Russia, the United States tried to play down Moscow s role. "The number of Russians is very, very limited. But it only takes a few Russians with a big Russian flag to get everybody to pay attention," a senior administration official told reporters in Washington. Meanwhile, at least three French women escapees were "retrieved" by IS, according to messages they sent to their lawyer seen by AFP. An SDF official on Twitter Tuesday said more IS relatives had tried and failed to escape the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol in eastern Syria.
Russian Vladimir Putin has arrived in the United Arab Emirates on his first visit to the small but wealthy country in over a decade. Putin landed Tuesday in Abu Dhabi after earlier visiting Saudi Arabia. He was met at the airport by Abu Dhabi s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. While in Saudi Arabia, one topic of discussion was oil production. Russia is now working with OPEC, as are other nations not part of the cartel, to control production to help raise energy prices. Meanwhile, tensions remain high in the region, amid a standoff between the U.S. and Iran over President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrawing America from Tehran s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago. Putin last visited the UAE in 2007.
European Union leaders are looking to broaden an arms embargo against NATO ally Turkey to protest its offensive against Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said Monday ``it is against international law to invade a neighboring country and Turkey should as every other country abide by international law. Blok was speaking at the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg. Germany, France and the Netherlands have already suspended arms sales to Turkey. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that he also wanted a ``a strong position on the export of arms to Turkey. But Le Drian also called on the United States ``above all to call for a meeting of the international coalition against the Islamic State group, over alarm that the chaos caused by the Turkish offensive was reviving the threat of IS. Syria s Kurds were key allies in a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group. Syria s state news agency says government forces have entered the northern town of Tal Tamr that is close to Turkey s border. SANA said Monday morning that the Syrian army moved into the area to ``confront the Turkish aggression, without giving further details. The report says residents of Tal Tamr that is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Turkish border welcomed the troops. It did not say from which area the Syrian army marched toward the town. The move toward Tal Tamr came a day after Syria s Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed to help them fend off Turkey s invasion _ a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos.
Tunisians cast votes three times in the past two months in presidential and parliamentary elections. On Sunday, they will be voting in the presidential run-off elections. The public mood, eight years after the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime, is obviously leaning towards those with little history in political life. From the 26 candidates who competed during the first round of the presidential elections in September, a law professor, Kais Saied, 61, and a media mogul, Nabil Karoui, 56 made it to the run-offs. The presidential winner will succeed Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in July at the age of 92. In the first round, Saied took 18.4 percent of the votes, while Karoui received 15.6 percent. The presidential candidate of the Islamist Ennahda Party, Abdelfattah Mourou, came in third with 12.9 percent of the votes. Meanwhile, in the parliamentary elections, Karoui’s Heart of Tunisia Party came second (38 seats) after Ennahda Party 52 seats out of a total of 217 seats. Ennahda, which won 17 less seats than those it earned during the 2014 parliamentary race, backs Saied. This provides further evidence of the growing interest in backing new political forces, especially amid rising divisions and tensions among the secular forces that built Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes. Both Saied and Karoui speak about themselves as political outsiders, though there are obvious differences between them. Karoui was detained in August ahead of the first round of presidential elections on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. on Wednesday, an appeals court freed the business tycoon, pending investigations. Tunisia’s electoral commission had warned that Karoui s imprisonment could negatively affected his chances in getting in touch with voters, which could annul the results. Tunisia’s interim president Mohammed Ennaceur also cautioned last week that the credibility of the elections was damaged by Karoui s detention. The election-observing institutions shared similar standpoints. The way the judicial process will be run is yet unclear, especially in case he was elected president. If he Karoui loses in the runoff, according to his lawyers, he will challenge the result in court on the basis of being denied an equal opportunity to campaign for himself. Some critics of Karoui accuse him of being corrupt. However, for his supporters, Karoui represents the forces of secularism and liberalism and is also a staunch backer of the poor. Karoui’s Nessma TV and charity activities have significantly helped him win support among the poorer sects of Tunisia. Nessma TV had played a key role in mobilizing voters’ support for the secular parties during Tunisia’s parliamentary elections in 2014. Unlike Saied, Karoui vowed to increase the powers of the president in Tunisia, holding the parliamentary system accountable for "paralyzing the country." On the other hand, the independent candidate Saied — who stopped campaigning last week in respect of the notion of equal opportunities — had a weak campaign with very limited funding and media exposure. The legal scholar presents himself as someone who defends the principles of the 2011 revolution of Tunisia, slamming party politics and stressing the need to decentralise power. Described by his backers as the “professor”, Saied is a politically conservative figure. He became popular through his regular TV comments on the constitution-drafting process in 2014. He is pro-death penalty, an opponent of homosexuality, and calls for a law that punishes unmarried couples for the public display of affection. Moreover, though many see that Saied is not a supporter of political Islam, and having vowed to defend women s rights, he still rejects recent changes in Tunisia’s inheritance law which establishes equal rights between men and women in inheritance matters. Meanwhile, Karoui portrays himself as a “modernist liberal” and has promised to implement neoliberal economic policies. “My programme is the total opening of the economy with the reforms necessary to attract foreign investment,” he said. The race for presidency in Tunisia comes amid social and economic challenges facing the country, including high unemployment, especially among the youth, deteriorating public services, hiking prices and harsh austerity measures passed under a programme signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Moreover, Tunisia s tourism sector, a major source of income for the North African country, has not been able to recover from a string of attacks on tourist destinations in recent years. On Friday, many Tunisians closely watched a televised debate between Saied and Karoui. However, many found the encounter did not properly tackle major concerns of the Tunisians, mainly those about the security, economy and inheritance law.
The reactions to the family of Majdi McCain, who was killed by the police officer Karim Magdy because of torture inside the police department varied. Magdi s family had to change their testimony, and torturiang them is a kind of continuing injustice. They decided to be realistic knowing they are poor and weak. They are not trying to be ideal like those on Facebook and human rights activists. They lost a poor father