Friday, January 18, 2019

Major Road, Rail Project for Zimbabwe… Belarus Deal to Make Zimbabwe Transport Logistics Hub
18 JAN, 2019 - 00:01
Major road, rail project for Zim… Belarus deal to make Zim transport logistics hub
President Mnangagwa and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko pose for a photograph at the Presidential Palace in Minsk yesterday, before they entered private discussions aimed at deepening economic cooperation between their two countries. — (Picture by Presidential Photographer Joseph Nyadzayo)

Mabasa Sasa in Minsk, Belarus

President Mnangagwa and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko yesterday sealed eight agreements, and also advanced a grand infrastructure scheme that could make Zimbabwe a regional transport and logistics hub. The eight agreements cover various aspects of education and training, science and technology, agriculture and legal issues such as extradition.

Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri — who is the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade — signed for Zimbabwe while representatives from Belarus put pen to paper on their country’s behalf.

Presidents Mnangagwa and Lukashenko oversaw the signing ceremony at the Presidential Palace here.

Beyond those agreements, which further enhance the burgeoning ties between Harare and Minsk, the two Presidents made significant headway in major infrastructure, industrial manufacturing, and agricultural projects that will change the face of Zimbabwe.

The grandest of the plans is a road and rail network — being formulated under a tripartite arrangement involving Zimbabwe, Belarus and China — to link the Indian and Atlantic oceans, across Southern Africa and through Zimbabwe.

The scheme, according to the Chief of Presidential Affairs of Belarus Mr Victor Sheiman, involves several Southern African countries and indications are that a number of regional leaders have already expressed support for it.

A joint venture company will in the coming weeks be registered to advance the ambitious project; as will about five other firms that will enter the agriculture, logistics and heavy machinery markets in a big way.

In addition, Belarus will also invest in irrigation systems, residential housing, roads (possibly with China), and a 100MW solar power plant, a control system and distribution network in Zimbabwe.

After meeting President Lukashenko, President Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe would walk the talk on the agreements, adding he had invited the Belarussian leader to visit Harare at his earliest convenience to further consolidate the relationship.

“This is how it should be between friendly countries,” President Mnangagwa said.

“Zimbabwe shall benefit immensely from the experience that Belarus has had. They have gone through similar challenges as we are presently going through.

“It is the desire of my administration to widen and deepen our economic cooperation. There is no doubt in my mind that we shall walk the talk on the thing we are talking about here.”

President Lukashenko said Belarus considered Zimbabwe an important and strategic partner in Africa, and he was ready, willing and able to support the country’s economic development agenda.

He added: “We are loyal and sincere friends and partners of Zimbabwe.”

After Zimbabwe’s Head of State and Government addressed Belarussian business leaders in a meeting that followed the Presidential Palace Summit, Mr Sheiman said President Mnangagwa had managed to strengthen Harare-Minsk relationships.

He lauded the ease of doing business reforms in Zimbabwe, and rallied his countrymen to invest in the country.

Mr Sheiman said, “We have unique opportunities to establish a very wide-ranging economic cooperation with Zimbabwe. Our economies are complementary. Zimbabwe is interested in Belarusian vehicles, such as trucks, tractors, utility vehicles, etc.

“Zimbabwe is actively updating legislation to attract investment, to give a green light to joint ventures.”

He said Zimbabwe under President Mnangagwa had strictly honoured agreements reached with Belarus, and he was confident the major infrastructure, agriculture, industrial, transport and logistics projects that were being rolled out on a commercial basis would succeed.

Mr Sheiman said more machinery would soon make its way to the Hwange coal and Marange diamond fields, while service and training centres to get the best out of the equipment would be established.

A Belarussian firm, he added, was conducting geo-survey work on 270 000 square kilometres and had already made preliminary findings of prime gold, chrome and lithium deposits in Zimbabwe.

Further, in February a transport company with an initial 1 000 trucks would be registered so as to facilitate commerce via ports; while a logistics firm would establish a hub that would service the region at a scale allowing companies and countries to plan for orders and movements even years in advance.

Mr Sheiman indicated that over the coming days, Zimbabwe and Belarus would conclude major agreements on joint production and processing of beef, poultry, pork, dairy, horticulture, fruits, wheat and maize.

President Mnangagwa concludes his State visit to Belarus today, heading for Kazakhstan where he and President Nursultan Nazarbayev will discuss areas of co-operation.

Thereafter, he makes his way to Azerbaijan for talks with President President Ilham Aliyev, before rounding off the trip with a second appearance at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
Nine Facts, Myths About Zimbabwe Mayhem
17 JAN, 2019 - 21:01 
Zimbabwe Herald

Pupils walk past burning tyres that were used to barricade roads in Machipisa, Harare, on Monday

Tichaona Zindoga Deputy Editor

On  Monday and Tuesday, the opposition in Zimbabwe staged what they called a national “shutdown” which was supposed to be a popular mass protest against the Government over the rising cost of living.

This thrust Zimbabwe into the global limelight again.

On Monday morning, residents of Harare (and the dormitory town of Chitungwiza) and Bulawayo woke up to blockaded roads as youth brigands prevented people from going into the city centre, to work, school or other destinations.

The youths, armed with rocks, sticks, bottles, fire implements and other rudimentary weapons mounted checkpoints to control traffic.

The checkpoints were also used to extort motorists.

Private cars and public transport vehicles were ordered to drop off passengers at the checkpoints.

Vehicles whose owners resisted were stoned, or overturned or burnt.

The youths also beat up people who did not comply with their orders to shut down businesses at shopping centres in high-density suburbs.

In the central business district of Harare, the situation was calm with some sizeable number of businesses and shops operating in the morning before they closed around midday.

Except for Harare and Bulawayo, the two biggest cities, little agitation was recorded elsewhere in the country.

The situation continued yesterday.

Here are five key facts and four myths the world should know about the Zimbabwe situation:

Fact #1: Political ploy

Contrary to the narrative that this week’s “shutdown” is a civic movement and consumer protest against the rising cost of living, including the recent hike in fuel prices, the shutdown was a political expression carried out by the opposition MDC-Alliance and its partners in Western-funded civic organisations fronted by the Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, an umbrella body of anti-government NGOs.

There was prior planning to cause unrest with the objects of forcing at least a “Government of National Unity” agreement between the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition.

Fact #2: Triumph of terror

Most affected people in Harare and Bulawayo kept away from business and school and other activities for fear of their lives and safety of their property.

Apart from violence and intimidation, recorded incidents included arson, beatings and murder. Shop owners and traders have previously lost wares worth thousands of dollars to looters.

Fact #3: Familiar faces, places

There is a reason why the disturbances seen in the media have been a Harare and Bulawayo thing. These are traditional opposition MDC strongholds where structures of violence are organic and have been activated from time-to-time.

In Harare, for example, Epworth, Mabvuku, Chitungwiza, Mufakose and Kuwadzana are known opposition hotbeds that have a long history of rioting anti-government sentiment.

There were no major incidents in the other cities in Zimbabwe in Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare as well as towns elsewhere.

The conduct and behaviour of those involved in skirmishes in the identified hotspots. Some well-known individuals were seen to be participating in the mayhem or encouraging it on social media. Equally, on the Sunday, it is understood that the old structure in the opposition were activated for violence and disruption.

Fact #4: Freedom fare — freedom to destroy

Contrary to the perception that the State is repressive and heavy-handed in Zimbabwe, events on Monday and Tuesday indicates that violent thugs and ragtag warriors have actually been allowed to terrorise residents, blockade roads and cause lawlessness in the suburbs.

While a case may be made about the tactics of authorities, especially the police, it is rather vexatious freedoms appeared to be extended to brigands to become some lords of violence in the suburbs and disturb the peace of people.

A legitimate interest now concerns an inquiry as to whether some authorities — especially junior police officers — are complicit in this week’s and other skirmishes where opposition thugs have allowed to roam free without the sanction of the law and interest of the national security interest.

Fact #5: Political social media

There is little doubt in Zimbabwe and elsewhere that social media platforms such as WhatsApp Messenger, Twitter and Facebook are playing an increasingly important role in the organisation of anti-Government protests. Similarly, on Monday, especially, social media was used not only for organisational purposes, including by public figures and personalities that either encouraged the violence or discouraged it. By spreading pictures and information on skirmishes, social media was also used to create a sense of bandwagonism to encourage participation with a view to making the country ungovernable.

Myth #1: Spontaneous skirmishes

While it is convenient for supporters of this week’s mayhem, including foreign media, to frame the disturbances as a spontaneous response to the fuel price hike announced by Government on Saturday night, it is known that these protests had long been planned and part of a grand political scheme to withhold legitimacy from President Mnangagwa who won elections held mid-year last year.

The objects of the actions are to render the country ungovernable and to disturb peace and tranquillity that would enable investment and growth.

Myth #2: MDC-Alliance not involved

On Monday, MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa distanced himself from the skirmishes, with his party earlier having placed responsibility on the civil society and labour body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

We have been down that road before. The signs and actions of protestors and foot soldiers are a story on themselves. They chanted MDC Alliance slogans, Chamisa’s name and raised the open palm symbol associated with the party. Just like on August 1 last year when a similar action ended in grave disaster. Only then, as now, Chamisa tried to dissociate himself from people who sang his name as the soundtrack of mayhem and destruction. More qualitatively, MDC-Alliance personalities such as Charlton Hwende and Patson Dzamara thanked the anarchists on social media for a good job, at the end of the day.

Myth #3: Workers of Zimbabwe

The majority of the illegal acts committed on Monday and Tuesday were done clearly by people who are unemployed and in some cases homeless sponsored to champion destruction with little accountability. Workers would be happy staying away but had no business barricading roads and extorting motorists. They also had no business looting their shops or destroying wares and factories. And true to form, the thugs doing duty were heavily intoxicated.

Myth #4 Nationwide

Protestors and hooligans involved in this week’s agitation came from pockets in Harare and Bulawayo which is neither nationwide nor representative. Even where the opposition — the architects of the terror — enjoy majority or considerable support the acts of lawlessness were not recorded.

At this point, even the narrative that hardship — including the rise in the cost of fuel — caused protests falls away.

It cannot be discounted that Zimbabweans are feeling the knock of the economic situation which is to be located in a historical and political context. However, the resort to violence has never been an option for the majority civilian population.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

We Had No Prior Knowledge of the Dusit Attack, US Says
Kenya Daily Nation

A man reacts in the arms of a relative in Nairobi, on January 16, 2019, while identifying the bodies of the victims after the terrorist attack at the DusitD2 complex. The US has dismissed reports circulating on social media that they had advance information of the attack. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP

In Summary
In his statement, Mr Godec said his country is working closely with the Kenyan authorities to provide assistance in the aftermath of the attack.


The United States Thursday dismissed claims that they had prior knowledge of the DusitD2 hotel attack, hat left 21 people dead.

US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec issued a statement responding to reports circulated on social media that a US delegation that had been booked at the hotel had changed the venue just a day before the attack.

This fuelled speculation that Washington may have been privy to the threat before it happened.

“Contrary to some false reports on social media, the United States had no advance notice of the attack, nor did we ever advise American citizens or our staff to avoid the DusitD2 prior to the incident,” Mr Godec said, a day after the 20-hour siege was declared over.

In his statement, Mr Godec said his country is working closely with the Kenyan authorities to provide assistance in the aftermath of the attack.

“We deplore the spread of false information in the wake of this tragedy, which only serves to hamper ongoing efforts to defeat terrorism,” Mr Godec said.

He added: “We reiterate our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those who were killed in this craven attack and wish a quick recovery to those who were injured.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with Kenya.”
Kenya Media Council Calls Out NYT Over Dusit Attack Image
Kenya Daily Nation

A woman hides behind a car at the scene of an explosion at a hotel complex in Nairobi's Westlands suburb on January 15, 2019, in Kenya. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP


The Media Council of Kenya on Thursday wrote to the New York Times over its decision to publish graphic photo of the DusitD2 terror attack in a story about the assault.

The council gave the publisher until Friday to remove the image, that shows two dead men slumped over a table at a restaurant or risk revocation of work permits of its journalists working in Kenya.

In a statement, the media regulatory body said that by publishing the sensitive images, the publisher had violated clauses 10 (2), 15 (1) and 21 (3) of Section 45 of the Media Council Act of 2013 that stipulates ethical reporting of grief and sensitive matters.


“It is unfortunate that your publication, without due respect to the victims, families of the victims and Kenyans in general, chose to publish images that show victims of the terror attack,” the statement read.

MCK noted that despite covering other such attacks elsewhere in the world, the publisher has never used bullet-ridden photos of victims.

The statement further said: “This truly brings into question why the Dusit attack publication was handled so recklessly without due regard to professionalism in reporting.”

In a response, NYT’s Associate Managing Editor for Standards Mr Phil Corbett said that the decision to publish the images was not made “by our main reporter in Nairobi Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura or by any New York Times journalists on the scene in Nairobi.”

Kenyans on Twitter had on Wednesday called for the resignation and deportation of Miss Tamura, who is the incoming East Africa bureau chief, for authorising the publication of the said images.

Mr Corbett added that in recent years, NYT “editors have made hard choices and published similar painful photos” in different situations including shootings in New York, terror attacks in London and wars in Syria and Yemen.

Corbett said: “…we are very sympathetic to the pain of those affected in Nairobi, and we understand that many reasonable people disagree with our decision to publish these photos. But I hope to assure you that we take this responsibility seriously, and are guided by our mission to help readers see and understand the world.

The image in dispute showed bloodied victims of the terror attack writhing in agony. Another image had dead victims of the attack at a restaurant in the hotel complex.

These image published Tuesday evening sparked off an online backlash immediately after being published on Tuesday evening, with some readers asking the publisher to pull them down.

New York Times, however, stood its ground.

“We want to be respectful to the victims and to others affected by the attack. But we also believe it is important to give our readers a clear picture of the horror of an attack like this — this includes showing pictures that are not sensationalised but that give a real sense of the situation,” the publisher said in a statement published on Twitter on Wednesday morning.

Even after sustained calls to pull down the images, the publisher defended its action, insisting that “this is the same approach we take worldwide whenever such events occur”. The publisher also said that it balances the need for sensitivity for respect with its mission of showing the reality of the happenings.

MCK disagrees, saying that the images amounted to “glorifying” and “parading” the ‘success’ of the terrorists, terming them as “distasteful” and “disrespectful” to those affected by the tragedy.

The council has ordered NYT to delete the images and to offer an unconditional apology to the victims and Kenyans, failure to which they risk suspension or revocation of the accreditation of their journalists in Kenya.

NYT has until Monday next week to inform the council of their action regarding the order.
Death Toll Rises to 21 in Attack on Luxury Hotel Complex in Nairobi, Kenya
"It's so sad that such a bright young person is taken away by terrorism," the mother of an American victim told NBC News.

Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya — The death toll from a militant attack on a popular Kenyan hotel complex rose to 21 on Wednesday. It includes at least one American, a former Peace Corps member, authorities said.

Six bodies were retrieved from the attack site and a police officer died from his injuries, police chief Joseph Boinnet said.

Dozens of people remained missing a day after armed men invaded the DusitD2 hotel complex in Nairobi, which includes bars, restaurants, offices and banks, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society said in a statement Wednesday.

Tuesday's attack started with car bombs. An earlier estimate had put the death toll at 15.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed authorities would "pursue relentlessly" those involved in the funding, planning and execution of the attack.

In a televised address, Kenyatta said that "multiple security efforts are underway to detect, deter, disrupt and defeat any terrorist operative or group." He added that all militants who stormed the site had been killed by security forces.

"We're grieving as a country and my heart and that of every Kenyan goes out to the innocent victims," Kenyatta said. "We are also a nation that never forgets those who hurt our children."

Sporadic gunfire could be heard from the scene in the morning after scores of people were rescued at daybreak as police continued what they called a mopping-up exercise.

The Red Cross reported that at least 30 people were treated for injuries in hospitals and other health facilities.

Al-Shabab — the Somalia-based Islamic extremist group that is allied to al Qaeda — claimed responsibility for the carnage in a statement. However, that claim had not been verified by authorities.

The State Department confirmed to NBC News that a U.S. citizen was among the dead.

Officials did not release his identity, but his mother, Sarah Spindler, confirmed to NBC News that American victim was her son, Jason Spindler. She said the 40-year-old had been "trying to make positive change in the Third World in emerging markets."

"We all miss him so much. And it's so sad that such a bright young person is taken away by terrorism," Sarah Spindler added.

Spindler joined the Peace Corps after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and was a graduate of NYU Law and the University of Texas at Austin, and he was the recipient of grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation, his mother said.

The U.K.'s Foreign Office confirmed Wednesday that a British-South African national was also among the dead.

A 2013 attack carried out by Al-Shabab at the nearby Westgate Mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people.

Like the attack at the Westgate Mall, this one appeared aimed at wealthy Kenyans and foreigners.

Al-Shabab has vowed retribution against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight it since 2011.

The group has killed hundreds of people in Kenya. In the deadliest attack, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an assault on Kenya's Garissa University in 2015 that killed 147 people, mostly students.

Associated Press
Brooke Glatz, Caroline Radnofsky, Linda Givetash and Reuters contributed.
African Bloc Urges World to Respect DRC Election Process
2019-01-17 21:34

A grouping of African states is urging the international community to respect Democratic Republic of Congo's sovereignty and legal processes as its constitutional court is set to rule on a challenge to the presidential election results.

The statement also urges calm and comes after leaders in the Southern African Development Community met on Thursday on the disputed vote.

The declared runner-up, Martin Fayulu, filed a court challenge asking for a recount and accuses outgoing President Joseph Kabila of making a backroom deal with the declared winner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi.

The court could rule as early as Friday and is full of Kabila appointees.

Pressure from African nations is seen as having more of an impact on DRC's government, which was annoyed by Western pressure during more than two years of turbulent election delays.
African Union Calls on DRC to Delay Election Announcement
Bloc has ‘serious doubts’ over vote, for which declared runner up has called a recount

Associated Press in Kinshasa
Thu 17 Jan 2019 18.20 EST

The African Union has issued a surprise last-minute demand for the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s government to suspend the announcement of final results of the deeply disputed presidential election.

DRC’s constitutional court is poised to rule as early as Friday on a challenge filed by the election’s declared runner-up. Martin Fayulu has requested a recount, alleging fraud.

In a statement released late on Thursday, the AU said there were “serious doubts” over the outcome, and said heads of state and government agreed to “urgently dispatch” a high-level delegation to DRC with “the view to reaching a consensus on a way out of the post-electoral crisis”.

“The heads of state and government attending the meeting concluded that there were serious doubts on the conformity of the provisional results as proclaimed by the National Independent Electoral Commission, with the verdict of the ballot boxes,” the statement said.

Some fear the election dispute could lead to violence in the country.

Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University, called the move “truly incredible” on Twitter.

DRC faces the extraordinary situation of an election allegedly rigged in favour of the opposition.

Fayulu accuses the government of outgoing president Joseph Kabila of falsifying the results to declare opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi the winner after the ruling party candidate did poorly. Fayulu has cited figures compiled by the influential Catholic church’s 40,000 election observers that found he won 61% of the vote.

Two sets of leaked data show that Fayulu won the election by a landslide, according to an investigation published this week by Radio France International and other media working with the Congo Research Group.

In the first set of data, attributed to DRC’s electoral commission and representing 86% of the votes, Fayulu won 59.4% while Tshisekedi received 19%. The second set of data, from the Catholic church’s mission, represents 43% of the votes. In it, Tshisekedi and ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary each received less than 20%.

Fayulu, a lawmaker and businessman who is outspoken about cleaning up DRC’s sprawling corruption, is widely seen as posing more of a threat to Kabila, his allies and the vast wealth they have amassed. Tshisekedi, the son of charismatic opposition leader Étienne who died in 2017, is relatively untested and has said little since the 30 December election.

Pressure from African nations is seen as having more of an impact on DRC’s government, which was annoyed by western pressure during more than two years of turbulent election delays.

The AU statement reflects serious concern by states about the threat of more unrest in DRC that could spill across borders and destabilise its many neighbours.

The election had been meant to take place in late 2016, and many Congolese were worried that Kabila, in power since 2001, was seeking a way to stay in office. Barred from serving three consecutive terms, Kabila already has hinted he might run again in 2023.
African Union Urges DR Congo to Delay Final Election Results
BBC World Service

The African Union (AU) has called on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) to postpone the release of its presidential election results.

The pan-African organisation, which aims to promote unity and democracy, says it has "serious doubts" about provisional results released last week.

Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner but another opponent of the current administration, Martin Fayulu, insists he won.

Final results are due on Friday.

A number of AU heads of state and government met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday and released a statement about the disputed 30 December election.

"There were serious doubts on the conformity of the provisional results, as proclaimed by the National Independent Electoral Commission, with the votes cast," it read.

"Accordingly, the [AU] called for the suspension of the proclamation of the final results of the elections," it added.

Felix Tshisekedi leads DR Congo's largest opposition party, founded by his late father in 1982
Mr Fayulu alleges that provisional winner Mr Tshisekedi made a deal with the outgoing President Joseph Kabila.

Mr Kabila has been in office for 18 years and the result, if confirmed, would create the first orderly transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

The electoral commission said Mr Tshisekedi had received 38.5% of the vote, compared to 34.7% for Mr Fayulu. Ruling coalition candidate Emmanuel Shadary took 23.8%.

Mr Fayulu filed an appeal in the Constitutional Court on Saturday demanding a manual recount of votes.

But the court has never overturned results before, and some think most of its judges are close to the ruling party.

The declaration of Mr Tshisekedi as winner has also been disputed by the influential Catholic Church which says it deployed 40,000 election monitors across the country.

International experts based in the US, and the French and German governments, have also raised doubts.
ICC Halts Release of Ivory Coast's Gbagbo After Prosecutor's Appeal
2019-01-17 07:58

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday halted the release of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo following a fresh appeal by prosecutors, a day after he was acquitted of crimes against humanity.

Judges had earlier ordered Gbagbo and his right-hand man Charles Ble Goude to be freed after clearing them of any role in a wave of post-electoral violence in 2010-2011 that killed 3 000 people.

The trial judges on Wednesday rejected a bid by the prosecution to keep the former strongman, 73, and his ex-youth chief in detention pending an overall appeal against the decision to acquit them.

But in a fresh legal twist, an appeals chamber late on Wednesday separately said that the order for their release must be put on hold while they deal with a separate appeal by prosecutors against the two men being freed.

"Pending the decision of the appeals chamber on this prosecutor's request... Mr Gbagbo and Mr Ble Goude shall remain in ICC custody," an ICC spokesperson said.

The Ivorian pair can themselves appeal by a deadline of 11: 00 GMT on Thursday.

Gbagbo has been behind bars since 2011, when he was captured by Ouattara's troops, aided by UN and French forces, and sent to The Hague.

Gbagbo went on trial in 2016 but on Tuesday judges threw out the case midway, saying the prosecution case was "exceptionally weak" and that there was no need even to hear from the defence.

His daughter has said he plans to return to Ivory Coast if and when he is released.
Ex-Ivory Coast Leader Gbagbo Intends to Return Home: Daughter
Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo's daughter Marie Laurence is seen during an interview in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo intends to return to his homeland after his release by the International Criminal Court, his daughter told Reuters on Wednesday.

She declined to comment on his possible political ambitions.

“My father will not live in any other country than Ivory Coast. He would go back and we expect him to go back,” Marie Laurence Gbagbo said in an interview.

Gbagbo was acquitted of all charges at the war crimes court on Tuesday but judges have yet to rule on whether to attach any conditions to his release. Prosecutors have asked he not be allowed to travel to Ivory Coast due to fears he would not return to The Hague for appeals.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Catherine Evans

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Iranian PressTV Journalist Held by FBI, Denied Halal Food, Hijab Removed Against Her Will – Network
16 Jan, 2019 15:43

A PressTV journalist has been mysteriously detained for over 48 hours by the FBI after she was apprehended at St. Louis Lambert International Airport while traveling to visit family, the network has learned.

The state-run, English-language Iranian network says its journalist and anchor Marzieh Hashemi was detained at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Missouri and sent to Washington DC, where she is currently being held in an FBI detention facility. No charges have been filed against her, and no reason was given for her detention, according to a network spokesman who spoke to RT.

The journalist claimed that her hijab “had been removed against her will” during custody, and that US officials denied her access to halal or vegan food for several days, leaving her with only pretzels and bread.

Hashimi was born as Melanie Franklin in New Orleans, Louisiana. The journalist moved to Iran in 2008 but has made several trips back to the US over the years, she would at times be questioned upon arrival but had never been detained before. This time, she was on a trip to visit her ill brother and other relatives when she was detained, PressTV said. Hashimi’s relatives reportedly lost contact with her for 48 hours and only recently learned that she was being held by the US authorities.
Press TV Anchor Marzieh Hashemi Jailed in US on Unspecified Charges
Wed Jan 16, 2019 03:32PM

Marzieh Hashemi, a journalist and anchor working for Iran’s English-language Press TV television news network, has been detained and imprisoned in the United States for unspecified reasons.

American-born Hashemi, most famous for anchoring news programs and presenting shows for Press TV, was detained upon arrival at St. Louis Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, her family and friends said.

Press TV has learned that she was transferred by the FBI to a detention facility in Washington, DC. The US officials have so far refused to provide any reasons for her apprehension either to her or her family.

The Associated Press (AP) said a call to the FBI rang unanswered early on Wednesday morning. The bureau did not immediately respond to a written request for comment, it added.

Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin, had arrived in the US to visit her ill brother and other family members.

Her relatives were unable to contact her, and she was allowed to contact her daughter only two days after her arrest.

Mistreatment in US jail

Hashemi, who has been living in Iran for years and is a Muslim convert, has told her daughter that she was handcuffed and shackled and was being treated like a criminal.

The journalist also said that she had her hijab forcibly removed, and was photographed without her headscarf upon arrival at the prison.

Hashemi has only been allowed to wear a T-shirt, and is currently using another one to cover her head.

Furthermore, she has been offered only pork as meal - which is forbidden under Islamic law - and even denied bread and any other halal food after refusing to consume the meat.

Hashemi told her daughter that the only food she has had over the past two days has been a packet of crackers.

Hashemi’s family members and media activists have launched a social media campaign with the hashtags #FreeMarziehHashemi and #Pray4MarziehHashemi in support of the detained journalist.
Press TV Chief Says Will Pursue Case of Jailed Presenter Legally
Wed Jan 16, 2019 12:09PM

Press TV anchor and journalist Marzieh Hashemi

Press TV’s chief says the Iranian English-language news network will take any necessary legal action to secure the release of its anchorwoman, Marzieh Hashemi, who has been imprisoned in Washington on unspecified charges, holding the US responsible for her health.

Speaking to Press TV on Wednesday, Peyman Jebelli, who heads the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB)’s World Service, complained that Hashemi was being held in “inhumane,” “unethical” and “illegal psychological conditions” under US custody.

“We have been informed that she is being kept in prison under very tough conditions and without any charges,” he said, exclaiming that Hashemi had been forced to remove her hijab – compulsory for Muslim women under Islamic dress code -- not only when she was being photographed  but also during her detention.

“Despite the fact that she has declared to prison authorities that she cannot eat pork as a Muslim, they have told her that it’s the only food available. As far as we know, she’s been eating only biscuits,” he noted.

Press TV and IRIB, Jebelli stressed, “hold the US government responsible for anything that may happen” to Hashemi.

Asked about the possibility of taking legal action regarding the case, he explained, “Her health and her freedom are of paramount importance to us and any legal action that may be necessary to support her, we will definitely go for it.”

“For the time being, we are trying to obtain precise information about her. What is of paramount importance to us is that she has to be freed immediately because she has not committed any crime and has not been so far facing any charges,” he added.

In an earlier interview with the Iranian TV, Jebelli criticized the press TV anchor’s ill-treatment in US custody, saying she had been given nothing more than a T-shirt to wear despite the cold conditions inside the detention facility.

He also noted that the journalist had only been allowed to contact her family the night before and had told her children about “the very violent treatment” she had received in prison.

Jebelli said Hashemi was apparently going to be interrogated later in the day. "We are waiting to see what charges would be leveled against her,” he added.

The IRIB's World Service chief further emphasized that Hashemi's family had been pursuing her case through a lawyer, adding, “We are prepared to provide whatever assistance that could take her out of this situation.”

Hashemi arrived in the US to visit her brother, a cancer patient and was supposed to return to Iran next week, according to Jebelli.

Hashemi’s case ‘exposed true face of US’

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Association of Iranian Journalists slammed the United States, which calls itself an advocate of human rights, for forcing the Muslim journalist into taking off her headscarf and keeping her in manacles.

“This is not the first time that we witness such medieval and repressive treatment of journalists and independent media by the US administration,” read the statement.

“We have repeatedly witnessed such violent and hateful attacks accompanied by the arrest and assault of media workers by the self-proclaimed advocates of democracy and freedom of information,” it added.
Press TV Issues Statement on Anchor’s Detention in US
Wed Jan 16, 2019 11:38AM

Iranian television news network Press TV’s anchorwoman Marzieh Hashemi

Iranian English-language television news network Press TV has released a statement with regard to the detention and imprisonment of its anchorwoman Marzieh Hashemi in the United States.The statement is as follows:

PressTV would like to hereby express its strong protest at the recent apprehension and violent treatment of Ms. Marzieh Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin in the United States, who is currently serving as an anchor for the English-language television news network.

A female African-American international journalist, a mother and a grandmother, Ms. Hashemi has traveled to the United States to visit her family members, including her brother, who is suffering from cancer. She was, however, arrested at St. Louis Lambert International Airport in St. Louise, Missouri on January 13, 2019 by US police, and transferred by FBI agents to a detention center in Washington, DC.

Ms. Hashemi has told her family in a phone conversation last night that she has been subjected to violent and abusive treatment from the very onset as described below:

- Ms. Hashemi is yet to be arraigned or given a reason for her detention and imprisonment. She, herself, is at a loss to know why she should ever face apprehension.

- Her family members were kept completely in the dark about her situation for two straight days following the arrest.

- Immediately after arrest, she was forced to remove her hijab (the head covering for Muslim women) even though the authorities knew about her being a Muslim. They allowed her only a T-shirt to wear, with her forearms being exposed against Islamic law. She was even photographed in that state.

- The authorities running the detention facility have paid no heed to her religious preferences, despite her repeated protests.

- She has been forced to use another T-shirt to cover her head so as to remain observant of Islamic values.

- She has been denied halal food (food permissible under Islamic law), being offered only pork as meal and not even bread, which she has requested to avoid the meat. Ms. Hashemi has had nothing to eat other than a packet of crackers since her apprehension. The resulting malnutrition, compounded by cold weather conditions, has made her weak and infirm.

- Her current feeble health condition necessitates urgent medical attention.

- The United States government is accountable for any potential harm or hazard that would affect Ms. Hashemi’s mental or physical condition.

Accordingly, as part of the media community, we expect that all international media outlets set about relaying this affair without delay.

We, further, call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ms. Hashemi, and for the US government to apologize to both the journalist and the international media community for her treatment.


‘PR Nightmare for US:’ Views on Press TV Anchor’s Arrest
Wed Jan 16, 2019 04:20PM

Marzieh Hashemi, an anchor for Iran’s Press TV and an American national

Press TV anchor Marzieh Hashemi, who is an American national based in Iran, has been detained and jailed by US federal agents for unspecified reasons while on a visit to the country.

Hashemi’s family members and media activists have launched a social media campaign with the hashtags #FreeMarziehHashemi and #Pray4MarziehHashemi in support of the detained journalist.

While pursuing her case, the Iranian news network has been interviewing a range of her fellow-journalists, commentators, and others to obtain their viewpoints on Hashemi’s arrest and ill treatment at a detention facility in Washington.

What follows is the transcript of remarks by interviewees Sam Mehdi Torabi, Shabbir Hassanally, and Massoud Shadjareh. The text has been condensed and edited for clarity.

E. Michael Jones, editor of Culture Wars Online Magazine from Indiana

“It takes a while, but eventually the appointment of people like [National Security Advisor] John Bolton and [US Secretary of State] Michael Pompeo [has] an effect on policy as Israeli standards of justice and freedom of the press gets imposed on America. The new era was inaugurated by the murder of [Saudi journalist Jamal] Khashoggi of the Washington Post in Turkey. After Pompeo assured [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman that no consequences would follow from that cowardly act, the FBI was given permission to follow suit with the arrest on Marzieh Hashemi, who is now being detained in St. Louis after returning to the United States to visit a sick relative. We pray for her speedy release but add to that a warning to Pompeo and Bolton, who seemed determined to take America down a road no American wants to travel. One of the few freedoms left in the US is freedom of speech. Take that away and bad things will follow,” Jones said.

Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer

"The truly most disgusting aspect of the detention of Marzieh Hashemi is the fact that she has been arrested without any charges being made regarding what illegal act she was allegedly engaged in. That type of arrest is something that takes place in a police state, not in a country that claims to operate under rule of law.”

“It is reminiscent of the case of Russian Maria Butina who was similarly arrested and eventually charged with collusion and failing to register as a foreign agent. I would expect there will be similar charges against Marzieh, vague and difficult to demonstrate.”

“The real purpose of arrests of Iranians and Russians is to make those two countries appear to be threatening, which they are not, and in some cases to use the victims as bargaining chips. And the hostile atmosphere created enables the likes of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to push an aggressive agenda that could easily lead to war. Marzieh is a victim of the kind of paranoid country the United States has become since 2001."

James Petras, American writer and academic from New York

“The FBI arbitrary and unlawful arrest of one of Iran's leading journalists, Marzieh Hashemi, is a violation of the US bill of rights protecting free speech. I call for her immediate release and freedom.”

Don DeBar, journalist and radio host from New York

“It is unclear whether the arrest of this world-class journalist is an expression of policy from the White House or from the FBI. In either case, it is an attack on journalists in particular and on human rights in general. Marzieh Hashemi is both an Iranian journalist of international stature and a native-born American with the full set rights specified in the US Constitution. She must be released immediately.”

Marwa Osman, journalist and political commentator

“This (detention of Marzieh Hashemi) stands against everything that the US allegedly advocates considering freedom of speech and democracy and respecting people’s rights and this is against everything that the US has ever spoken.”

“In their territories, they incarcerate, they abduct people from international airports, they don’t even issue statement, they don’t issue any charges, they don’t inform the family of the person that they have abducted.”

“This speaks volume about what the US really is in comparison to what it presents itself to the world.”

Riaz Karim, director of the Veritas Center for Strategic Studies

“Marzieh being a journalist that puts a target right on her head and this is how they (American authorities) operate and it is very sad.”

“I don’t think she has anything to fear and if the justice system, the way that I know it, would work in America, they are going to have to release her, but having said that being a Muslim and the word Iran attached to you puts you into a separate category altogether around the world not only America but especially in America, because the [anti-] Iranian rhetoric has been ratcheted up so much right now by [US President] Donald Trump that America states that Iranians are first-rate criminals altogether.”

Press TV’s chief says the Iranian English-language news network will take any necessary legal action to secure the release of its anchor, Marzieh Hashemi, who has been imprisoned in Washington for unspecified reasons.

Eric Walberg, author and journalist

The US “is very good at shooting itself in the foot. Why would you choose a black journalist, eloquent, wonderful woman like Marzieh and put her in jail?”

“It really is insane. It is not going to help the US at all. In fact, it will rebound only positively on Iran that has support from such good people … that want to work with Iran in the face of US threats.”

Kevin Barrett, author and political commentator in Madison, Wisconsin

“I know and admire Marzieh Hashemi, one of the world’s great international news anchors, and I am outraged that she has apparently been kidnapped under cover of law for unknown reasons by US federal authorities. Detaining journalists without charges is what police states do. This is not supposed to happen in the United States, where journalists are protected under the First Amendment. Since 9/11, we have seen a huge increase in blatantly unconstitutional behavior by people who are sworn to defend the Constitution. This is unacceptable. A red line needs to be drawn, right here, right now. Free Marzieh Hashemi!” Barrett said.

Scott Bennett, political commentator

“This is part of a broader movement, whether it’s been done by the [US President Donald] Trump administration or it’s been done against President Trump by members in the Department of Justice and the FBI and the deep state."

“It is not simply about a black female journalist. This is a broader psychological operation designed against Iran and Iranian people and the Iranian government."

“This is probably an operation to of course generate false charges, probably tied into another spying operation that the US Department of Justice has been involved in.”

Mostafa Khoshcheshm, political analyst and journalist

“Marzieh’s case is not a single case. Her detention is not something because she has been working in Iran. She is a host of Press TV. She is a journalist.”

“This is not a single case, this has been repeated every now and then. We have seen similar things. We have seen female Iranians that have been under much torture, they have been extradited, they have been caught in Europe and extradited to the United States.”

“This is a flagrant violation of human rights, of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and this is showing us once again that the United States is using double standards when it comes to such notions.”

Keith Preston, director of the

“The arrest of Marzieh Hashemi is clearly an effort to silence voices that speak in opposition to the policies of the American government, and to intimidate others to prevent them from speaking. Marzieh Hashemi is being used as a hostage for the purpose of threatening the nation of Iran, and opponents of America's international policies everywhere. This action is also an attack on independent journalism and the freedom of the press. The arbitrary arrest and detention without trial of Marzieh Hashemi is an affront to civilized legal procedure, and the denial of her rights as a Muslim while in custody is an attack on religious liberty and a violation of human rights,” Preston said.

Denis Rancourt, international Canadian lawyer

“There can be no valid reason that the FBI has arrested Iran's renowned TV anchor Marzieh Hashemi on arrival in the USA to visit her sick brother. There is also no valid reason that her personal dignity was violated by her detention conditions. This is an egregious violation of international journalistic freedom. I have viewed many of Ms. Hashemi's investigative reports and I have found them to always be of the highest standards. The incident appears as illegal intimidation that is geopolitically-motivated. The USA is acting like a lawless bully in this matter,” Rancourt said.

Lauren Booth, Muslim convert and sister-in-law of ex-UK premier Tony Blair

“Marzieh is a personal friend and fellow journalist. I expect all agencies involved in the protection of journalists to call US authorities to account for holding our colleague without charge and without reason,” Booth said.

Myles Hoenig, American social activist

“The World Press Freedom index has put the US in 2018 in 45th place. Ever since, the National Defense Authorization Act journalism and its professionals have been under attack in the US. This most recent abduction of a Press TV journalist by the FBI is unacceptable and Ms. Hashemi ought to be released immediately, and with a public explanation,” Hoenig told Press TV.

Walt Peretto, American writer and researcher in Washington

“Globalist aggression has taken a leap forward with the arbitrary arrest of Press TV journalist Marzieh Hashemi by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For years, Syria and Iran have been targets for absorption into a one world control system by pathological elites and their recent lack of success in Syria has now prompted this provocation of detaining an Iranian journalist. So far, the Western mainstream media has largely ignored this story, so it is up to journalists in the independent media to shine a bright light onto this unjust action and place it into its proper context,” Peretto said.

Dennis Etler, American political commentator based in California

“The FBI, up to its old tricks, has arrested without charge US born, Iranian Press TV journalist Marzieh Hashemi upon her arrival in the US to see a sick relative. This outrageous abduction is in keeping with the behavior of the rogue regime that has long been entrenched in Washington DC. The war criminals in Washington are quick to condemn others but feel that their own actions, from invading nations and slaughtering millions to kidnapping and torturing whomever they choose, is beyond reproach. US hypocrisy and double standards are exposed once again!” Dennis said.

Nader Talebzadeh, Iranian writer and filmmaker

“They (the American officials) sit down and they think and they come up with plans and they look at the table who is coming, who is going, what they could do and it could be possible that [it] is part of the plan to provoke and intimidate and try to get reaction."

“It is possible that they are intimidating [the Iranian nation] right at the … coming of the … fortieth year of the Islamic Republic."

“Marzieh Hashemi, the main thing known about her is she is very bold about announcing her views and opinions about where her stand [is] and because she has access to a wide range of speakers around the world, famous people, [the US authorities] try to silence Press TV; therefore, anything could be possible in the planning room of the neo-cons." 

Sam Mehdi Torabi, the director of Resalat Strategic Studies Institute, Qom, Iran

“The American government unfortunately oftentimes works in a bubble. They don’t understand that their actions have a certain reaction in the other parts of the world. They sit together, they make certain decisions, and they want to do what they want to do; but they don’t realize that when the American government arrests a 60-year-old grandmother and doesn’t report about it for 48 hours, this is a public relations nightmare for the US.”

“I think they don’t realize what a backlash this is going to cause. There is no rule of law in the US. There is a legal concept... which is an ancient legal concept: habeas corpus. It means that you have to present in written form, when you arrest somebody, the reason you have arrested them within a reasonable bound of time.”

“If there is anybody who still doubts or thinks that there is something good in the US about that... ‘Oh! They protect human rights! They have freedom of speech!’ Well, you know, on paper, all this is true, but in practice none of this is true.”

“If the government in the US has a reason for doing this, they need to say it. This is not because we ask them to; this is the law in the US, this is the law in any country that claims to be civilized and to have rule of law. You have to mention the reason when you arrest somebody.”

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has condemned the “illegal” arrest and “inhumane” treatment of an anchor for Iran’s Press TV by federal agents in the United States.
Shabbir Hassanally, activist and political commentator

“Without any doubt the arrest of sister Hashemi is very politically motivated. She’s been specifically targeted for a number of reasons that fit the Trump and the current United States’ fascist agenda, which is the fact that she is African-American, she is a Muslim, and she is based in Iran, she works for an Iranian broadcaster, Press TV.”

“And so far as the Americans are concerned, she is fair game because this current administration, while in reality it is no different to previous administrations in its barbarism, in its brutality against people, what we have to understand about the Trump regime is it doesn’t have any of the veneer of respectability or the veneer of diplomacy that for example the Obama administration had.”

Massoud Shadjareh, Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, the UK

“What we’re seeing from the United States is an exposure of the brutality of this sort of regime (in America), and the beast is showing its characteristics. We have seen this exposed especially during the term of this current president.”

“Now we see the United States is openly, publicly, and arrogantly behaving beastly internally. It’s the way it is treating its black community, and the way it’s been treating even its white community. And now we see that they are openly and publicly willing to show their beastly position.”

“What we’re seeing happening to Marzieh is actually a declaration of this policy that the United States doesn’t give a damn about how it is being seen behaving badly, unlawfully, and abusively.”

“There’s really no justification whatsoever to behave that way towards someone like Marzieh, who does nothing more than speak out the truth, speak out against injustice, and has never brought harm to anyone, hasn’t done anything illegal and has never been violent toward anyone and has never been abusive towards anyone.”

“I think really the international community now has to judge the United States not according to what it says, or its constitution, but it needs to judge it according to the way it behaves, and needs to stand up against this beastly structure, which is being not only abusive outside but indeed abusive against its own citizens.”
Four US servicemen, 14 Others Killed in Bomb Attack in Syria’s Northern City of Manbij
Wed Jan 16, 2019 04:44PM

An image grab taken from a video published by Hawar News Agency (ANHA) on January 16, 2019, shows an unidentified member of security forces at the scene of a bomb attack in the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

An image grab taken from a video published by Hawar News Agency (ANHA) on January 16, 2019, shows an unidentified member of security forces at the scene of a bomb attack in the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

At least four US servicemen and 14 other people have been reported dead after a massive bomb explosion struck near a patrol of the US-led coalition purportedly fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in Syria’s flashpoint northern city of Manbij.

Reuters quoted an unnamed US official as saying that three other American troops were also wounded in the Wednesday afternoon blast.

"US service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today," the military headquarters responsible for operations in Iraq and Syria had earlier said in a statement. "We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time."

 U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) identified nine of the fatalities as civilians, adding that the rest were members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

The Britain-based monitor added that the blast targeted the al-Ummara restaurant in the center of Manbij on Wednesday afternoon.

The Observatory noted that the death toll is expected to rise as some of the wounded victims are in critical condition.

US President Donald Trump "has been fully briefed and we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Syria," the White House said in a statement, in an apparent reference to the attack.

A helicopter is reportedly hovering in the sky following the bombing.

Daesh later claimed responsibility for the bomb attack, saying the attacker detonated his explosive-laden vest as US-led coalition forces were passing by.

Manbij has been a major bone of contention between Turkey and the United States.

Ankara has complained over the slow implementation of a deal reached with Washington in June 2018, which would see the YPG ousted from the town and moved back to the eastern bank of the river..

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

Over the past few weeks, the Turkish military has been sending reinforcements to frontline areas with YPG militants in northern Syria.

New Turkish military reinforcements have arrived in the southern province of Hatay on the border with Syria’s northern province of Idlib.

Trump said last month that he was bringing home the American troops deployed in Syria - some 2,000 - alleging they had succeeded in their mission to defeat the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.

His abrupt move sparked concern among officials in Washington, prompting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to step down in protest.

On January 10, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country would launch an offensive against YPG forces, in case the US delayed the planned withdrawal of its troops from Syria.

"If the (pullout) is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Cavusoglu told Turkish-language NTV television news network in an exclusive interview.

The top Turkish diplomat then underlined that the Ankara government would go ahead with its incursion plan.

Turkey’s defense minister pledges to wage a campaign against US-backed Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria when time is right.

Cavusoglu said Ankara would fight the YPG whether or not US soldiers pulled out of Syria.

The Turkish military, with support from allied militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army, has launched two cross-border operations in northern Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”, against the YPG and Daesh Takfiri terrorists.
US-backed Soldiers Among 15 Killed in Suicide Attack in Syria

Nine civilians and five US-backed fighters are among the dead.

A SUICIDE ATTACK claimed by the Islamic State group has killed at least 15 people, including US soldiers, today.

Nine civilians and five US-backed fighters are among the dead.

The attack happened at a restaurant in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.

Rubble littered the outside of the eatery in the city centre, footage from a Kurdish news agency showed, and its facade was blackened by the blast.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources in Syria, said it was the first such suicide attack in the city against the US-led coalition fighting IS in 10 months.

The bombing came as Kurds who control a large swathe of northern Syria rejected a Turkish plan to set up a “security zone” on the Syrian side of the border.

Almost eight years into Syria’s civil war, Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Syrian Kurdish fighters it views as “terrorists” on its southern flank.

Washington, which has relied heavily on the Kurds in its campaign against IS in Syria, has sought guarantees for their safety after US President Donald Trump suddenly announced a US troop pullout last month.

Yesterday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would set up a “security zone” in northern Syria following a suggestion by Trump.

The planned buffer would embrace a large swathe of the autonomous region the Kurds have established in northern and northeastern Syria.

‘Safe zone’

Senior Kurdish political leader Aldar Khalil said any Turkish deployment in Kurdish-held areas was “unacceptable”.

He said the Kurds would accept the deployment of United Nations forces along a separation line between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops to ward off the threatened offensive.

But “other choices are unacceptable as they infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region”, Khalil told AFP.

Ankara has welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops from Syria but the future of US-backed Kurdish fighters has poisoned relations between the Nato allies.

On Monday, Erdogan had a telephone conversation with Trump to ease tensions after the US leader threatened to “devastate” the Turkish economy if Ankara attacks Kurdish forces in Syria, and called for a “safe zone”.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been a key US ally in the fight against IS.

They have taken heavy losses in a campaign now nearing its conclusion, with the jihadists confined to an ever-shrinking enclave of just 15 sq km.

The shock announcement of a US withdrawal has sent the Kurds scrambling to seek a new ally in Damascus, which has long rejected Kurdish self-rule.

With military backing from Russia since 2015, President Bashar al-Assad’s government has made huge gains against the jihadists and rebels, and now controls almost two-thirds of the country.

A northwestern enclave held by jihadists and pockets held by Turkish troops and their allies remain beyond its reach, along with the much larger Kurdish region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian government must take control of the north.

“The best and only solution is the transfer of these territories under the control of the Syrian government, and of Syrian security forces and administrative structures,” Lavrov said.

‘US clarification’

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, another key ally of the Damascus regime, said it would not withdraw any forces from Syria, dismissing Israeli threats.

Erdogan said he had a “quite positive” telephone conversation with Trump late on Monday in which he reaffirmed that “a 20-mile (30 kilometre) security zone along the Syrian border … will be set up by us”.

The Syrian Kurdish leader said Turkey was the wrong choice to oversee the mooted “security zone”.

“Trump wants to implement these safe regions through cooperation with Turkey. But any role for Turkey will upset the balance and the region will not be safe,” Khalil said.

The Turkish army has launched two major operations in Syria — in 2016 against IS jihadists and Syrian Kurdish fighters, and in 2018 targeting the Kurds.

The last offensive saw Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest, one of several the Kurds had governed since 2012.

Critics have accused Turkish troops and their proxies of military occupation of Syrian sovereign territory.

Ankara has spoken of a YPG-free “security zone” under its control, but it is not clear if Washington has the same details in mind.

Analyst Mutlu Civiroglu said it was not immediately clear what Trump meant by a “safe zone”, or who he thought would patrol it.

Analysts were “waiting for a clarification from Washington to see what the president really meant”, he told AFP.
U.S. Service Members Killed by Explosion in Manbij, Syria
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just weeks after President Trump said "we have beaten them and we have beaten them badly."

Jan. 16, 2019, 10:09 AM EST
By Richard Engel, Caroline Radnofsky and Saphora Smith
NBC News

U.S. service members were among those killed by an explosion in Syria on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the coalition fighting the Islamic State group said.

The official said the Americans were killed while "conducting a routine patrol," but did not say how many.

Earlier, a senior Kurdish security official told NBC News that members of the U.S.-led coalition were caught up in a blast at a market in the northern city of Manbij. The official said that Americans were among the casualties but could not confirm the number of injured or dead.

Forces were on foot in the city when they were approached at around 1 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) by a man wearing civilian clothing with explosives hidden underneath, the Kurdish official added.

The blast happened in a market area of small alleys that is crowded with shops and street vendors.

Saif al-Din Tayyar, a journalist who said he was nearby when the explosion occurred, said he saw around 25 people either dead or wounded. NBC News could not immediately verify his report.

Witnesses told NBC News that military helicopters were sent to the scene to help deal with the casualties.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack through recognized social media accounts, claiming a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest attacked coalition forces. ISIS did not immediately produce evidence to support the claim.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that President Donald Trump had been "fully briefed and we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Syria."

Manbij is near the border with Turkey.

The attack comes weeks after Trump announced that he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria immediately.

On Dec. 19, he tweeted that the U.S. had “defeated ISIS in Syria,” adding that was the “only reason” to have troops on the ground there.

"We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we have beaten them badly," he said in a video posted on his Twitter account.

Administration officials later said the drawdown will happen more slowly.

National security adviser John Bolton said on Jan. 6 that American troops will not leave northeastern Syria until ISIS is defeated and American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected.

Turkey has threatened to attack the Kurds, who have been America's partners on the ground in the war against ISIS in Syria. Turkey views the Syrian Kurds, or YPG Kurdish militia, as a terrorist organization and part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

However, a U.S. military official on Friday confirmed that the U.S.-led military coalition had begun the process of withdrawing troops from Syria.

Richard Engel has been NBC News' chief foreign correspondent since 2008. 
US Troops Killed in ISIS-claimed Attack in Syria
01/16/19 09:36 AM EST
The Hill

U.S. service members were among those killed in a suicide blast Wednesday in the northern Syria town of Manbij, according to the spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition Operation Inherent Resolve.

The spokesman said they were still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time.

The explosion occurred while a patrol of the U.S.-led international coalition fighting ISIS was caught in a suicide blast, according to local reports.

“The president has been fully briefed and we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Syria,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

She referred further questions to the Pentagon.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released statements claiming to be behind the attack, according to multiple reports. They did not offer evidence in support of the claim.

Manbij is a Kurdish-controlled town that U.S. and U.S.-backed forces retook from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2016.

A spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, which runs the town now, said on Twitter that the blast hit a busy market area.

“Terror hits the safe city of Manbij. An explosion in Manbij's busy market [street], initial reports of casualties,” spokesman Shervan Derwish tweeted.

Local reports gave different ranges for the number of coalition troops killed in the blast. Prominent war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 16 people were killed, including two coalition troops.

The blast comes as the United States begins a withdrawal ordered by President Trump last month. On Friday, U.S. forces began removing some equipment for Syria, but no troops have withdrawn yet.

Trump first ordered an immediate withdrawal, but officials have since said the withdrawal will happen more slowly.
Four US Soldiers Killed by Isis in Syria, Just Weeks After Trump Said 'We Have Defeated' Terror Group in Country
Attack targeted US coalition forces at restaurant in flashpoint city

Richard Hall Beirut  @_richardhall
The Independent

Four American soldiers have been killed in a suicide attack claimed by Isis in northern Syria, according to a US officials.

The blast hit a busy restaurant in the centre of Manbij, a strategically important city which is regularly patrolled by the US-led coalition. More than a dozen civilians were among the dead, according to a war monitor, and three US soldiers were also wounded.

Isis claimed responsibility for the attack within an hour, saying the perpetrator had used an explosive vest. A spokesperson for the US-led coalition said in a statement US service members "were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today," without giving further details.

The attack represents the worst single loss of life for the US military in Syria since it first sent forces to fight Isis in 2015. It comes just weeks after US president Donald Trump declared that the terror group was defeated in Syria, and that the 2,000 US troops stationed in the country would be leaving.   
“We have defeated Isis in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the president wrote on Twitter on December 19.

Footage of the explosion shared on social media appears to show that it was detonated in a crowd, on a busy street. Another video showed a US helicopter evacuating wounded from the site of the attack.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the president had been "fully briefed" and was following developments.

Mr Trump's abrupt withdrawal announcement last month caught officials within his own administration off-guard, and led to the resignation of defence secretary Jim Mattis.

Critics of the pull out argued that leaving so quickly could damage the fight against Isis, which was not yet over, and leave Washington’s Kurdish allies vulnerable to attack from Turkey. 

Manbij, where Wednesday’s attack took place, has been at the centre of a power struggle between those Kurdish allies and Turkey. The city is controlled by fighters linked to the Syrian Democratic Forces — a Kurdish-led militia that has fought alongside the US against Isis.

But Turkey views the group as terrorists, and had called for Kurdish fighters to leave the city.

Following Mr Trump’s announcement that US forces would withdraw from Syria, the town has been bracing for a long-threatened Turkish incursion. 

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Insitute and author of a book on Isis, said the attack showed that Mr Trump's withdrawal was "extremely premature".

"There have also been clear signs for many months that Isis maintains the ability to conduct a low-level guerilla-style insurgency in Syria, as typified by today’s attack. This is precisely how this jihadist organisation has adapted and gone back on the attack in years past," he said.

"To suggest Isis is 'defeated' because it no longer controls territory is to fundamentally misunderstand how Isis and similar organizations seek to operate."

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

ICC Judges Order for Immediate Release of Ex-Ivorian President Gbagbo
Africa News

Judges at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday ordered for the immediate release of ex-Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo and his co-defendant Charles Ble Goude.

Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser said that prosecutors failed to prove their case and Gbagbo and his co-defendant, Charles Blé Goudé, a close ally and former political youth leader, should be set free.

Laurent Gbagbo, who was president of Ivory Coast from 2000 until 2011, is still able to mobilise a crowd of supporters who flock the premises of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, every time he appears.

Today, these supporters are excited and expectant, hoping for the release of their ‘heroes’, Gbagbo and his co-accused, Charles Ble Goude.

The International Criminal Court judges will today rule on yet another application for the freedom of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo as his trial for crimes against humanity drags on.

Gbagbo, 73, has spent seven years in detention in The Hague accused of fomenting bloodshed after refusing to accept defeat in elections in the West African nation in 2010.

The court said in a statement that it would “deliver decisions on requests for provisional release and no case to answer motions on 15 January 2019” at 1000 GMT for Gbagbo and his co-defendant Charles Ble Goude.

Gbagbo’s freedom arguments

Gbagbo has asked the ICC — set up in 2002 to try to the world’s worst crimes — to completely acquit him on the grounds that there is not enough evidence to proceed with the trial.

He has lodged a separate application asking for bail should the trial continue.

ICC judges rejected another application for bail by Gbagbo as recently as April.

Gbagbo’s lawyers said in November that his trial had descended into “fake reality” and that prosecutors had distorted history about the violence in the Ivory Coast.

At a bail hearing in December, they argued that the “elderly and fragile” suspect would pose no flight risk if freed on bail and that he was ageing faster because of the length of time he had spent behind bars.

Why Gbagbo is in jail?

About 3,000 people died in clashes during what prosecutors say was an attempt by Gbagbo and Ble Goude to ignore the internationally recognised victory of Gbagbo’s bitter rival Alassane Outtara.

The pair are accused of four counts of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and persecution during post-electoral violence.

Gbagbo was arrested after a months-long standoff with Ouattara’s troops, aided by UN and French forces. He was turned over to the ICC in 2011.

Charges against Gbagbo

Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, a close ally and former political youth leader, have been on trial since 2016 for war crimes allegedly committed under Gbagbo’s leadership.

Legal experts say that during the trial, which is roughly half over, prosecutors presented a lot of evidence crimes occurred, but few witnesses could link the ex-Ivory Coast leader directly.

“The prosecutor had a lot of insider witnesses, but if you look at their actual testimony it seems like many were afraid to implicate themselves,” said Thijs Bouwknegt, an Amsterdam University researcher on genocide.

“A real link between the former president and the alleged crimes is hard to make.”

Prosecutors argue the evidence shows Gbagbo and his inner circle hatched a plan to cling to power by whatever means necessary and that the trial should continue.

But the panel of three judges has been split over his ongoing custody, with one repeatedly insisting Gbagbo should be released provisionally while awaiting the outcome.

“There is a lot of pressure on the ICC to make this case a success,” said Bouwknegt.

ICC’s acquittal record

An acquittal would be a major setback for the prosecution, stung by defeats in cases against Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese ex-vice president released in June after his war crimes conviction was overturned, and former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who saw charges against him dropped in 2015.

A collapse of the case against Gbagbo, the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC who has been in custody since November 2011, could bolster opponents questioning its effectiveness after just three war crimes convictions in 15 years.

Securing release

If the court supports assertions by Gbagbo’s defence team that prosecutors have failed to present evidence supporting the charges, judges could order his release.

Provisional release can be granted if the judges are satisfied the suspect will return for trial and not obstruct or endanger the court’s work. They will start reading their decision at 1000GMT in The Hague.