Kurds Outraged as Turkey Closes Border

Kurdish activists expressed outrage as the Turkish military began preventing any young person from crossing the border to fight Islamic militants in Syria, where Kurdish forces have been fighting to save the city of Kobane.

Turkish troops were out in force in Mursitpinar, on the Turkish-Syrian border that abuts Kobane.

“Kobane’s fall means Kurdistan’s fall,” said Ferhat Encu, a 29-year-old Turkish-Kurd from Sirnak.

”We can’t sit here and just watch. I’m trying to get into Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), but the Turks have blocked the border,” said Encu, who was a frontier guard before leaving to fight for Kobane earlier this month. He returned for a break, and now cannot go back.

The Turkish government fears young Kurds returning with military and weapons skills, after fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG), the main protection force in Rojava. That is because of the group’s links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a 30-year war in Turkey for greater rights.

Selahattin Demirtas, a leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) crossed the border into Kobane on Tuesday in a visit of solidarity. He later called on the Turkish government to support the fight of Syrian Kurds against the IS. He said this was an opportunity to strengthen Turkey’s peace process with its own Kurdish population.

“I want to go to Kobane and fight the IS, which is right now butchering my people, but I can’t,” complained Hamo Sen, a 30-year-old Turkish-Kurd from Urfa.

Media reports say that hundreds of young Kurdish men and women from Turkey are believed to have crossed the border to fight. “Many young people want to go to Rojava to join YPG against IS,” Encu claimed.

Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, a fortnight ago urged Kurds to “mass mobilize” against IS.

“Not only the people of Rojava, but also everyone in the North (Turkey) and other parts of Kurdistan should act accordingly,” he said in a message sent through his lawyers.

The Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet recently reported that 30-year-old Serdar Macit, a former Turkish archery champion, is among those who have taken to Rojava to fight with the YPG against the militants.

“It is an honor to be a part of YPG, who are fighting against injustice,” Macit told Turkish media.

Many locals are convinced that Turkey – which has for years turned a blind eye to Islamic militants using its territory for ”jihad” in Syria — is actively supporting IS with heavy weaponry, medical care and money.

Sen accused the Turkish authorities of double standards.

“They turn a blind eye to jihadists crossing into Rojava, while we can’t go there to fight for our people,” Sen complained.

In New York last week for the UN General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied backing the jihadis. Any support for “any terrorist group is out of the question, as Turkey is a country which has suffered heavily from terrorism in the past,” he was quoted as saying.

The US-led anti-IS coalition launched airstrikes targeting militant strongholds on the outskirts of Kobane for the first time early Saturday.

Tens of thousands have fled the IS assaults on Kobane that began about 10 days ago, many washing across the Turkish border.

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

ISIL closes in on border town with Turkey

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have closed in on a key Kurdish town in Syria, right next to the border with Turkey, prompting the government in Ankara to deploy tanks to protect its territory.

The news comes as activists reported early on Tuesday that US warplanes attacked ISIL in Syria overnight, killing at least two civilians as well as an unknown number of rebel fighters.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by ISIL.

Strikes on a building on a road leading out of the town also killed a number of ISIL fighters, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the observatory, which gathers information from sources in Syria.

Earlier on Monday, activists told Al Jazeera that ISIL fighters were within five kilometres of Kobane, another town on the border with Turkey.

Intensified shelling in and around Kobane has angered Kurds on the Turkish side of the border, who said the government of President Recep Tayip Erdogan was not doing enough to stop the assault.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the Turkish border, said mortar shells have landed in Turkey, but the Turkish military has so far refrained from responding, even as more tanks have been deployed.  

Our correspondent also reported that in some areas, ISIL positions were visible from the Turkish side of the border.

Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking Kobane, while a US-led coalition intensified its bombing of ISIL in northern and eastern Syria.

At least 15 tanks were positioned, some with their guns pointing towards Syrian territory. 

Dekker added that shells hit at least three homes and a school in Ain al-Arab, a largely-Kurdish town known to its residents as Kobane. “There were no reports of injuries, as the targets were vacant,” she said.

More than 150,000 Syrian Kurds have streamed into Turkey since last week, as ISIL fighters pressed towards Kobane.

Airstrikes

Meanwhile, US-led coalition air raids targeted towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria controlled by ISIL. 

The observatory reported that 10 air raids targeted various parts of the province of Idlib, killing at least one child and six others, including five members of the same family.

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the reports.

The purported civilian casualties would add to the 19 civilians that the Observatory says have already been killed in raids against the group.

According to Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, Zeina Khodr, anti-West sentiments are increasing as more civilians are killed.

An activist in an ISIL-held town, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera: “These air strikes are causing an economic crisis. Winter is around the corner and people need heating oil. Most of the oil facilities are not operational – even those which haven’t been hit because people are scared.”

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said that it had confirmed the deaths of at least seven civilians – two women and five children – from apparent US missile strikes on September 23 in the village of Kafr Derian in Idlib province. 

It based its conclusions on conversations with three local residents.

The US military said on Monday that an American air strike targeted ISIL vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility near Manbij, but it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Ukraine army closes in on Donetsk

Ukraine’s army has said it has retaken a town on the outskirts of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk, and intercepted another convoy of vehicles crossing over from Russia.

Government forces said in a statement on Wednesday that they had seized control of Avdiyivka, a town of about 40,000 about a dozen kilometres north of Donetsk, as Ukraine tightened its grip around the key rebel bastion.

The Ukrainian government said on its website that 19 people had died in the fighting in the past 24 hours, with 31 people injured.

Elsewhere, clashes continued around the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, with government forces saying they were conducting a “mopping up” operation in the town of Ilovaysk, about 40km west of the site.

International observers announced they had turned back from another attempt to reach crash site after discussions with rebels, the AP news agency reported.

Safety concerns and hindrance from the separatists who control the area have kept the OSCE investigation team away from the scene, causing foreign governments whose citizens died in the July 17 crash to complain the site is not secured and some human remains have not been recovered.

Government security spokesman Andriy Lysenko added to those concerns on Wednesday by saying separatists “have mined the approaches to this area,” AP reported.

ANALYSIS: OSCE in Russia

The latest advances in Donetsk come as government troops attempt to push on with an offensive that has seen them reclaim several key towns in the past few weeks, and could see them cut alleged supply routes from Russia to rebels camped out in Donetsk.

The military said that they had repulsed tank fire to destroy a convoy of vehicles that crossed the Russian border early on Wednesday morning and that troops at the key Dovzhansky frontier post had been fired at from Russia.

Fighting also raged in the second rebel stronghold of Luhansk with local authorities saying that one civilian was killed and ten injured in clashes over the past 24 hours.

‘Unjust’ sanctions

A defiant Russia dismissed on Wednesday the unprecedented Western sanctions over Ukraine after Brussels and Washington unveiled the toughest punitive measures against the Kremlin since the Cold War.

The third round of US and EU sanctions aims to force Russia to change tack and halt its support of separatists in Ukraine by targeting its vital financial, arms and energy sectors.

But Russia’s first deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, made light of the restrictions, also designed to hit the oligarchs in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

“And what about the sanctions? In for a penny, in for a pound,” he quipped to journalists.

Meanwhile, Russia’s second-largest bank, VTB, calling the sanctions “unjust” and “politically motivated.”

The US put sanctions on VTB, Bank of Moscow and Russian Agriculture Bank on Tuesday over Russia’s support for rebels in Ukraine, expanding the list of Russian banks subject to US sanctions to almost all its largest with more than 50 percent of state ownership, except for Sberbank.

Russia denies supporting the rebels fighting Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.

“We consider the decision to be politically motivated, unjust, legally dubious and likely to cause economic harm to all sides,” VTB said in a statement.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Kurdish Region Closes Crossings to Iraqis Fleeing Mosul Conflict

By Arwa Damon, Chelsea J. Carter and Laura Smith-Spark

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region closed off the border crossings used by Iraqis fleeing from extremist militants and airstrikes in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis as desperate families are left with nowhere to go.

The Kurdish regional government’s decision came on the same day Iraq’s security forces went on the offensive, carrying out airstrikes in Mosul and fighting to take back Tikrit from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters, known as ISIS.

The offensive appeared to mark a turn for Iraqi security forces, who were routed by ISIS fighters this month during a lighting advance that saw the al Qaeda offshoot seize large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

State media and a local tribal leader reported that Iraqi forces had retaken the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

Sheikh Khamis al-Joubouri, a key tribal leader in Tikrit, told CNN that the Iraqi security forces entered the city supported by special forces and fighters from among the local tribes, and had gained control.

He said ISIS fighters retreated in the direction of Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces.

However, amid claim and counter-claim, a combatant told a CNN freelance reporter that ISIS fighters remained in control of Tikrit, but that there are fierce clashes in an area about 20 kilometers from the city center, toward Samarra.

State-run Iraqiya TV reported that the Iraqi army and volunteer militia groups had cleared ISIS fighters from the city, having advanced on the city from four directions.

Sabah Numan, a Counter Terrorism Unit spokesman, told the station that 120 militants had been killed and 20 vehicles destroyed in a large-scale operation that began Saturday morning.

He did not provide any evidence of the claim, and CNN cannot independently confirm the reports.

Sunni tribes wade into fight

Al-Joubouri said that the tribes were not aligned with the government or with ISIS and had stayed out of the fight until now.

But, he said, when ISIS fighters who arrived in Tikrit robbed banks and carried out executions, as well as bringing the local economy to a standstill, the tribal leaders offered their help to the Iraqi security forces poised outside the city. The tribal leaders shared their knowledge of the city, including routes and known ISIS positions, he said.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch reported that two mass graves believed to contain the bodies of Iraqi soldiers, police and civilians killed by ISIS and their militant allies had been discovered in Tikrit.

Iraq’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, told a news briefing Saturday that Iraq’s forces had regained the upper hand against ISIS and were now being supported by the tribes.

“We are advancing in all our fights,” he said.

Atta said that a total of 125 ISIS fighters had been killed across Iraq in multiple operations, with 57 vehicles destroyed and 96 attack sorties flown by the air force. CNN cannot independently confirm his claim.

Families flee

Iraq’s air force carried out a series of airstrikes on Mosul, according to a senior Iraqi military official.

The airstrikes targeted four locations inside Iraq’s second-largest city, including ISIS headquarters, Mazen al-Safaar, a traffic director in Mosul, said.

But a doctor says the airstrikes also hit Mosul’s administration building and the Old City’s shopping district.

At least seven civilians were killed and two were wounded in the airstrikes, to Dr. Salaheldin al-Naimi, the director of the health administration.

Hundreds of thousands fled when Iraq’s second city fell to militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) two and a half weeks ago. Many headed for Kurdish-controlled areas.

Renewed conflict in the city, located about 420 kilometers (260 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad, forced many more to flee — but it is unclear what options they have left.

They were barred Saturday by the Kurdish fighting force — known as the Peshmerga — from entering the region through checkpoints.

Gen. Hilgord Hikmet, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighting force known as the Peshmerga, told CNN, “The entrances from Mosul to Irbil and Duhuk have been closed. No one from Mosul can now enter” the Kurdish region

Refugees already in the Kurdish region are allowed to leave the area but are not allowed to come back, according to Hikmet.

This measure — taken to preserve security and the region’s stability, Hikmet said — comes two days after a suicide car bomb struck a checkpoint manned by Kurdish forces in Kolchali, northeast of Mosul, according to Kurdish security forces in Irbil.

At least one Kurdish security officer was killed and 15 other people were wounded in that incident, security forces said.

Mass graves, executions

In addition to the alleged executions in Tikrit, reports continue to emerge of atrocities committed by both sides.

Human Rights Watch, citing displaced residents and local activists and journalists, said Saturday that ISIS fighters kidnapped at least 40 Shia Turkmen, dynamited four Shia places of worship, and ransacked homes and farms in two Shia villages just outside Mosul.

The few Sunni villagers who remained in Guba and Shireekhan told those who fled that at least some of the kidnapped Turkmen had been killed, the rights group said. However, they had not seen bodies and could not give more information.

ISIS destroyed seven Shia places of worship in the predominantly Shia Turkmen city of Tal Afar, about 30 miles west of Mosul, earlier in the week, Human Rights Watch added, citing local sources.

“The ISIS rampage is part of a long pattern of attack by armed Sunni extremists on Turkmen and other minorities,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The killing, bombing, and pillaging threatens to displace entire communities, possibly forever.”

On Friday, Amnesty International said it had gathered evidence pointing to a pattern of “extrajudicial executions” of Sunni detainees by government forces and Shiite militias in Tal Afar, Mosul and Baquba.

“Reports of multiple incidents where Sunni detainees have been killed in cold blood while in the custody of Iraqi forces are deeply alarming,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, who is in northern Iraq.

“The killings suggest a worrying pattern of reprisal attacks against Sunnis in retaliation for ISIS.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Sadr boycotts political activities & closes all social, religious offices

Baghdad (AIN) –The head of Sadr Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, announced boycotting all the political activities and closing all his offices.

A statement by Sadr received by AIN “I will not involves myself in all the political affairs and there will be no political bloc to represent us.”

“This is to preserve the fame of Al-Sadr and to dismiss all the corruption committed in their names,” he concluded. /End/

LINK

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

No change in rate: Iraq closes out the New Year (business as usual)

IQD Stacks

The latest daily currency auction was held in the Central Bank of Iraq on the 31-Dec-2013 results were as follows:

Exchange rates

Dollar’s exchange rates / in Baghdad markets   LINK

DETAILS NOTES
Number of banks 18
Auction price selling dinar / US$ 1166
Auction price buying dinar / US$ —–
Amount sold at auction price (US$ ) 198,773,000
Amount purchased at Auction price (US$ ) —–
Total offers for buying (US$ ) 198,773,000
Total offers for selling (US$ ) —–

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Putin closes down Russia’s state news agency

Russia’s president has abolished the country’s state-owned Ria Novosti news agency with no explanation issued to its staff. 

Vladimir Putin announced the surprise move on Monday through a decree published on his website, saying the organisation would be replaced by a news agency called “Rossiya Segodnya” (Russia Today).

The new company will focus on “coverage abroad of Russian state policy and public life” with multilingual services as a way of “raising efficiency of state media resources,” the document published on the Kremlin website said.

Putin named Dmitry Kiselyov, a controversial figure often accused of being a propaganda mouthpiece and known for openly anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-opposition views, as the head of Russia Today.

“Restoring a fair attitude towards Russia as an important country in the world and one with good intentions – that is the mission of the new structure that I will head,” Kiselyov told the state TV broadcaster Rossiya 24. 

“When this news first appeared, everyone thought it was a joke,” Russian protest leader and widely-followed blogger Alexei Navalny wrote on his Live Journal page. “But no.”

The dissolved agency

The news reportedly came as a shock to the staff of RIA Novosti with one employee, who asked not to be named, saying they found out from the Kremlin’s website.

No explanation was given, with an internal email merely warning that a “liquidation committee” would be formed and asked that everyone remained calm.

“The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily-regulated media sector,” RIA said in an English-language article about Putin’s step.

The agency was one of the biggest in the world and was also an official sponsor of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next February.

It also recently became known for its detailed live reporting from Russia’s most high-profile trials.

RIA Novosti traced its roots to 1941 when the Soviet Information Bureau was established by communist rulers.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Moscow Court Closes Internet News Agency Rosbalt

A Moscow court has ordered the closure of the news website Rosbalt.ru closed for posting videos that it said contained profane language.

The court said Rosbalt’s website posed two videos with foul language, one of them from the performance-art group Pussy Riot.

Rosbalt representatives argued in court that the offending words were bleeped out and that other Russian and foreign websites, including YouTube, contain material with profanities and are allowed to operate.

A law that came into effect in April introduces fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($ 6,000) for media outlets that use obscene language.

The general director of the Rosbalt news agency Natalya Afonina called the court decision an “encroachment on freedom of the media” and said she will appeal the court ruling.

Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS, Interfax, and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Egyptian Court Closes Islamist TV Channel

Cairo (AFP) — A Cairo court on Monday ordered that an Islamist television channel be closed permanently, accusing it of attempting to disrupt the unity of Egypt.

The broadcaster, Al-Hafez, was ordered shut after accusations that it was “inciting hatred” against Coptic Christians and “undermining national unity”.

Al-Hafez and some of its presenters have often been accused by Copts and liberals of using harsh language about them in its reports.

The channel was among several other Islamist networks to be taken temporarily off the air soon after the 3 July ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi by the military.

Several human rights organisations in Egypt have said that “holding the inciter accountable is mandatory, but the closure of channels is a form of collective punishment, which constitutes a violation of media freedom”.

The court’s decision comes a day after Egypt expelled three foreign journalists working as freelancers for Al-Jazeera television’s English-language channel.

Al-Jazeera has charged that there is a campaign against it in Egypt as its offices have also been raided several times.

Assyrian International News Agency

Egypt Closes Muslim Brotherhood Party’s Cairo HQ Over Weapons Find

CAIRO — Egypt’s prosecution ordered the closure of the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party after police found weapons inside it on Monday, a security official said.

Police found “flammable liquid, knives and arms to be used against the June 30 protests,” the official said, in reference to demonstrations that saw millions take to the streets to demand the resignation of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Forty-two loyalists of Egypt’s ousted president were killed on Monday while demonstrating against last week’s military coup, triggering an Islamist uprising call and dashing the army’s hopes for an interim civilian administration.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has led demonstrations against the overthrow of Morsi last Wednesday, said its supporters were “massacred” when police and troops fired on them during dawn prayers outside an elite army headquarters in Cairo.

The military blamed “terrorists” while witnesses, including Brotherhood supporters at the scene, said that the armed forces fired only tear gas and warning shots and that “thugs” in civilian clothes had carried out the deadly shooting.

Prominent liberal leader Mohamed ElBaradei called for an independent inquiry into the bloodshed. Turkey strongly condemned the killings.

The conservative Islamist Al-Nur party, which won almost a quarter of votes in a 2011 parliamentary election and had given its support to the army’s overthrow of Morsi, said it was pulling out of talks on a new government in response to the “massacre”.

The bloodshed happened outside the headquarters of the elite Republican Guard, whom the Brotherhood accuses of betraying Morsi.

Brotherhood supporters hurled stones at the security forces who responded with tear gas, as firefighters battled to extinguish a blaze that raged in an apartment block, a correspondent reported.

“Morsi supporters were praying while the police and army fired live rounds and tear gas at them,” the Brotherhood said.

A senior medical official said at least 42 people were killed and 322 wounded.

The army said “armed terrorists” tried to storm the base, leaving one security officer dead and six critically wounded.

The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, called for “an uprising by the great people of Egypt against those trying to steal their revolution with tanks”.

It urged “the international community and international groups and all the free people of the world to intervene to stop further massacres… and prevent a new Syria in the Arab world”.

ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, called for an independent investigation.

“Violence begets violence and should be strongly condemned. Independent Investigation a must. Peaceful transition is only way,” the former UN nuclear watchdog chief said on his official Twitter account.

The bloodshed came just hours before the caretaker president installed by the army, chief justice Adly Mansour, had been due to announce his choice of interim prime minister.

The violence followed another day of dueling demonstrations across the Arab world’s most populous nation by supporters and opponents of Morsi, in an escalating crisis that analysts fear could spark an all-out civil war.

The military has come under mounting international pressure to swiftly install a civilian administration to oversee a rapid return to elected government.

But Al-Nur said it would no longer take part in talks on an interim administration.

“We have decided to withdraw immediately from all negotiations in response to the massacre outside the Republican Guard,” its spokesman Nadder Bakkar said on Twitter.

The party had already voiced strong opposition to the appointment of ElBaradei, an outspoken liberal opponent of the Brotherhood, delaying efforts to form an interim government.

Mansour aides had said before the deadly violence that he was leaning towards appointing centre-left lawyer Ziad Bahaa Eldin as prime minister with ElBaradei as vice president and that an announcement would be made later on Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of Morsi opponents took to the streets of Cairo on Sunday to demonstrate their support for his overthrow.

“We are on the street to show the world that it was a popular revolution and not a coup that overthrew” Morsi, said a beaming teacher who gave her name as Magda.

Many banners expressed anger with the United States for what they perceive as its support for Morsi, as well as American media coverage depicting his ouster as a coup.

“America shame on you! This is a revolution, not a coup!” read one.

President Barack Obama insisted the United States was “not aligned” with any political party or group in Egypt following Morsi’s ouster.

“The future path of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people,” the White House quoted him as saying.

Morsi’s single year of turbulent rule was marked by accusations he failed the 2011 revolution that ousted autocratic president Hosni Mubarak by concentrating power in Islamist hands and letting the economy nosedive.

http://www.middle-east-online.com

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq Closes Anbar Border Crossing

An official from the Anbar province, which is located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the Iraqi capital, said that the central government in Baghdad is trying to punish the province over the protests that have been taking place for months against government policies by depriving it of the proceeds from one of the most important border crossings in the country.

The head of Anbar’s Provincial Council, Jassim al-Halbusi, told Al-Monitor that the central government, which oversees the management of Iraq’s border crossings, asked the administration of the Traibil [Turaybeel, Tirbil, Tarbiel, Trebil] border post (pictured) — linking Iraq and Jordan — at the beginning of this month “to tighten procedures for inspecting cars and trucks that use this crossing. This led to a decline in traffic at this crossing, as well as a decline in its revenues, of which the province receives five percent.”

“Things have escalated since the morning of Tuesday, June 11, to the point that the crossing was totally closed to all traffic,” Halbusi added. He said he believes that “this measure is aimed at punishing Anbar residents who have rejected the government’s persistent failure to manage the country’s affairs.”

The Jordanian Ministry of Interior said in a statement on Sunday, June 9, that Iraq reported that it would close the Trebil border crossing that connects the two countries as of next Tuesday for a period of 48 hours, for reasons related to “internal Iraqi affairs.”

The statement, reported by the Jordan News Agency, said that the closure would affect all passenger and cargo movement “and will not include air traffic, which will operate normally during the closure period. There will be no changes to any scheduled flights.”

Anbar, the most prominent Sunni Arab stronghold in Iraq, has seen protests and sit-ins that have entered their sixth month against the policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraq had closed the crossing at the end of April, amid reports that the Iraqi army intended to storm a square where protesters were marching against Maliki near the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.
According to a statement reported by local media outlets on June 11, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq said, “The continuation of the closure will have an adverse effect on the Iraqi economy and will hinder the flow of goods. It will also increase the hardships faced by transport truck drivers, as they will not be able to continue along their way.” The statement added, “A lot of goods have been damaged due to the fact that they are not allowed to enter the country.”

Mutlaq’s statement noted, “The closure of the border crossing at Trebil contributed to a rise in food and commodity prices.”

Halbusi said, “The losses endured by the province are not limited to the fact that it will lose its share of the border crossing proceeds; another problem is the salaries of the workers who are paid on a daily basis.”

“Dozens of families survive based on the daily wages their sons who work in Trebil receive. If these workers are to stop their work, then this means that they will not be getting paid,” he added.

Kareem Khudair, who owns a truck and works in the transport of goods to and from Jordan through the Trebil crossing, said that “the transport fares doubled when the crossing authorities tightened the procedures for checking our trucks, prior to completely closing the border crossing.”

He told Al-Monitor, “About two months ago, the transportation fares for my truck ranged between $ 1,500 to $ 1,700 per shift, while they had increased to $ 3,000 prior to the crossing’s closure.”

“We had to wait at the crossing for weeks, while it used to take us only two days to cross,” he added.

Economist Jawad al-Shammari said, “The prices of most of the goods received through Jordan to Iraq increased by about 10% due to the tightened inspection procedures in Trebil.” He added, “The decision to completely close the crossing will lead to a further increase in prices.”

“The prices of vegetables, fruits, printing materials and several types of canned foods have increased because of the Trebil problem,” Shammari told Al-Monitor. “A lot of these items are consumed on a daily basis, which means that Iraqi citizens will be the ones to directly feel this price increase.”

Omar al-Shaher is a contributor to Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. His writing has appeared in publications including France’s LeMonde, Iraq’s Alesbuyia, Egypt’s Al-Ahaly and the Elaph website. He previously covered political and security affairs for Iraq’s Al-Mada newspaper.

LINK

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Iraq Closes Anbar Crossing As Sunni Protests Continue

An official from the Anbar province, which is located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the Iraqi capital, said that the central government in Baghdad is trying to punish the province over the protests that have been taking place for months against government policies by depriving it of the proceeds from one of the most important border crossings in the country.

The head of Anbar’s Provincial Council, Jassim al-Halbusi, told Al-Monitor that the central government, which oversees the management of Iraq’s border crossings, asked the administration of the Trebil border crossing — linking Iraq and Jordan — at the beginning of this month “to tighten procedures for inspecting cars and trucks that use this crossing. This led to a decline in traffic at this crossing, as well as a decline in its revenues, of which the province receives five percent.”

“Things have escalated since the morning of Tuesday, June 11, to the point that the crossing was totally closed to all traffic,” Halbusi added. He said he believes that “this measure is aimed at punishing Anbar residents who have rejected the government’s persistent failure to manage the country’s affairs.”

The Jordanian Ministry of Interior said in a statement on Sunday, June 9, that Iraq reported that it would close the Trebil border crossing that connects the two countries as of next Tuesday for a period of 48 hours, for reasons related to “internal Iraqi affairs.”

The statement, reported by the Jordan News Agency, said that the closure would affect all passenger and cargo movement “and will not include air traffic, which will operate normally during the closure period. There will be no changes to any scheduled flights.”

Anbar, the most prominent Sunni Arab stronghold in Iraq, has seen protests and sit-ins that have entered their sixth month against the policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraq had closed the crossing at the end of April, amid reports that the Iraqi army intended to storm a square where protesters were marching against Maliki near the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

According to a statement reported by local media outlets on June 11, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq said, “The continuation of the closure will have an adverse effect on the Iraqi economy and will hinder the flow of goods. It will also increase the hardships faced by transport truck drivers, as they will not be able to continue along their way.” The statement added, “A lot of goods have been damaged due to the fact that they are not allowed to enter the country.”

Mutlaq’s statement noted, “The closure of the border crossing at Trebil contributed to a rise in food and commodity prices.”

Halbusi said, “The losses endured by the province are not limited to the fact that it will lose its share of the border crossing proceeds; another problem is the salaries of the workers who are paid on a daily basis.”

“Dozens of families survive based on the daily wages their sons who work in Trebil receive. If these workers are to stop their work, then this means that they will not be getting paid,” he added.

Kareem Khudair, who owns a truck and works in the transport of goods to and from Jordan through the Trebil crossing, said that “the transport fares doubled when the crossing authorities tightened the procedures for checking our trucks, prior to completely closing the border crossing.”

He told Al-Monitor, “About two months ago, the transportation fares for my truck ranged between $ 1,500 to $ 1,700 per shift, while they had increased to $ 3,000 prior to the crossing’s closure.”

“We had to wait at the crossing for weeks, while it used to take us only two days to cross,” he added.

Economist Jawad al-Shammari said, “The prices of most of the goods received through Jordan to Iraq increased by about 10% due to the tightened inspection procedures in Trebil.” He added, “The decision to completely close the crossing will lead to a further increase in prices.”

“The prices of vegetables, fruits, printing materials and several types of canned foods have increased because of the Trebil problem,” Shammari told Al-Monitor. “A lot of these items are consumed on a daily basis, which means that Iraqi citizens will be the ones to directly feel this price increase.”

By Omar al-Shaher
AL Monitor

Assyrian International News Agency

Georgia Closes Two Afghan Bases After Deadly Attacks

Georgia’s defense minister says two bases for Georgian troops in Afghanistan have been closed after 10 Georgian soldiers were killed there in recent attacks.

Irakli Alasania announced the closures on June 12, five days after traveling to Afghanistan to meet with Georgian troops in the NATO-led coalition.

Alasania said the number of Georgian troops in Afghanistan, currently 1,545, would not be reduced in the immediate future.

He said he discussed the base closures with NATO commanders as part of plans to boost security measures against militant attacks.

The most recent attack on a Georgian base, on June 6 in Helmand Province, killed seven Georgian soldiers and wounded nine others.

Alasania said the Helmand base was one of the two that was closed.

Based on reporting by AP, Trend.az, and Rustavi-2

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Window Closes For Pakistani Peace Talks With Taliban

Pakistani politicians vying for a seat in parliament lured war-weary voters with promises of peace negotiations with one of the country’s most violent militant groups. But now that the elections are over, it appears the window of opportunity for talks has already closed.

A string of events essentially buried hopes of a negotiated peace between the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the government. And this, observers say, could compel the incoming government to abandon the promises they made to their constituents and settle instead for minimizing future TTP attacks.

The first blow to negotiation efforts came with the recent death of TTP deputy leader Wali-ur Rehman. His killing in a U.S. drone attack on May 29 prompted the militant group to withdraw its offer to hold talks with the government through interlocutors.

Days later, they suffered another setback through the assassination of newly elected provincial lawmaker Farid Khan, an independent candidate who recently joined ranks with the Pakistan Movement for Justice party (Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf, or PTI) of retired cricket star Imran Khan. The PTI heads a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where Farid Khan was killed, and had campaigned in the run-up to the May 11 general elections for talks with the Taliban and had vowed to end U.S. drone strikes.

The final nail in the coffin appears to have come with the public retreat of Jamiat Ulam-e Islam leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who had actively pursued talks.

Jan Achakzai, a spokesman for Rehman, said the powerful Islamist leader backed away from his position after sensing that Pakistan’s powerful military was against talking to the TTP because of its violent campaign against security forces and civilians.

“The federal government of Pakistan, major political parties, and the military all need to agree on creating conducive atmosphere for talks. Maulana Fazlur Rehman and our party Jamiat Ulama-e Islam see no role for themselves in the absence of a favorable environment for negotiations,” Achakzai said.

Shattered Hopes

Islamabad-based security analyst General Talat Masood says the Islamist leader’s retreat shows there is not a strong will for negotiations with a group that has vowed to enforce its world view by force.

He says that many Pakistani politicians have mixed views on the TTP, with some seeing it as an existential threat that needs to be confronted and others downplaying it as an isolated, local problem.

The U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have spurred protests, and many parties promised an end to them.

The killing this week of PTI politician Farid Khan raised questions about how much the party’s leaders truly understand the threat posed by the TTP. Shattering the idea that the PTI would be spared of any violence from the TTP, a local Taliban commander was arrested in connection with the killing.

Masood says that given that the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League –Nawaz (PML-N), whose head Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as prime minister on June 5 and will rule without a coalition, opposed military operations against the TTP during the election campaign, their new administrations in Islamabad and the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province are unlikely to back new offensives against the group’s strongholds.

The two parties are also between a rock and a hard place because they risk alienating their supporters if they fail to live up to promises of reaching a negotiated settlement with the TTP.

“Pakistan’s new government will have to think very hard [to figure out] exactly how they want to move forward with Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. Even, in the future, if there is any possibility of negotiations, they must lay down a framework in which they should be able to talk,” Masood says.

‘Agreements A Stalling Tactic’

Past efforts of negotiating with the Taliban have failed. Since 2004, Pakistani military and the civilian administrations in Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have talked to the Taliban. They signed agreements with the insurgents in the hopes that they would accept government authority, end their violence, and distance themselves from Al-Qaeda.

But most agreements resulted in the insurgents being strengthened. The TTP, in particular, used the agreements to extend its control and establish its own political system. Its violation of the agreements spurred military operations. After being pushed out of its strongholds in northwestern Swat Valley and the South Waziristan tribal district in 2009, the group vowed to carry on armed struggle in order to replace representative rule with an Islamic empire.

Former Brigadier General Mehmood Shah says that both the PML-N and the PTI have little experience of dealing with the Taliban. He says their leaders are mainly based in the eastern Punjab Province, away from the harsh realities of northwestern Pashtun regions where the Taliban still control pockets of territory.

Shah, a former security official, negotiated with the Taliban after their insurgency began in 2003. He says that the TTP never really accepted any of the agreements signed with them.

“In Swat for example, the government accepted all their demands and only insisted that the Taliban fighters lay down their arms to return to a normal civilian life,” Shah says. “The Taliban did not abide by this one condition, which ultimately led to the failure of the agreement.”

Masood, the former military officer, says that new administrations cannot afford to appear weak by pursuing negotiations even after the Taliban renounced negotiations. He says that the new civilian rulers will need to wholeheartedly support military operations against the Taliban to be able to deliver on their promises to voters.

“All their plans for economic revival of the country — promoting education, health, and energy — will all be in jeopardy,” Masood points out.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iraq Closes Trebil Border Crossing

Iraq has closed its Traibil [Turaybeel, Tirbil, Tarbiel, Trebil] border crossing with Jordan “until further notice”, due to the ongoing anti-government protests and the deterioration in security in Anbar province, a provincial police source told Xinhua.

The closure is expected to negatively affect commercial traffic between Iraq and Jordan which has been active lately, mainly due to what the report describes as the paralysis of commercial movement between Iraq and Syria.

The crossing is important for Anbar province and its closure would have a significant impact on business and markets in the area.

LINK

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Wall Street closes down on earnings fears,global slowdown; Dow off 0.95%

Forexpros –
Forexpros – U.S. stocks open Tuesday, as global growth concerns continued to weigh on sentiment, while investors eyed quarterly earnings reports to be published this week.

At the close of U.S. trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.95%, the SP 500 index gave back 0.62%, while the Nasdaq Composite index dropped 0.43%.

Market sentiment remained under pressure amid ongoing uncertainty over Spain’s position on requesting external financial aid and what form a bailout would take.

Earlier in the day, the International Monetary Fund said the crisis in the euro zone remains the greatest threat to the global economy and warned that policymakers need to urgently strengthen fiscal and financial ties within the euro area.

Meanwhile, concerns over whether international creditors will extend loans to Greece continued, as the country struggles to meet deficit reduction targets.

After kicking off earnings season late on Tuesday, Alcoa plunged 3.40%, as it posted a quarterly profit before exceptional items that beat analyst expectations, but warned about a “slight slowdown” in some regions and end markets.

Also on the downside, oil and gas major Chevron tumbled 2.60% after the company said that third-quarter profits would be “substantially lower” than the previous quarter’s, as a hurricane and maintenance curbed its oil and gas output and a fire hit its refining arm.

Elsewhere, Costco Wholesale surged 3.38%, after posting a 27% jump in fourth quarter profit, as sales continued to rise and it got a lift from higher membership fees.

Yum Brands also added to gains, with shares soaring 7.34% after the company raised its full-year outlook late on Tuesday, with sales in China holding up despite a cooling of economic growth in that market, the company’s largest.

Meanwhile, FedEx saw shares rally 3.44%, boosted by plans to sharply cut costs at its underperforming express air freight and services divisions, as the company seeks to improve profits at those operations by USD1.7 billion over the next four years.

Separately, the Financial Times reported earlier that the European Union said it would object to UPS’s EUR5.2 billion bid for Dutch rival TNT.

True Religion Apparel also posted sharp gains, as shares skyrocketed 23.42% after the jeans maker said it has formed a special committee of its board of directors to explore and evaluate potential strategic alternatives including a possible sale.

At the close of European trade, the EURO STOXX 50 dropped 0.63%, France’s CAC 40 fell 0.50%, while Germany’s DAX 30 gave back 0.41%.

Traders are awaiting the Federal budget balance and trade balance from the U.S. on Thursday.

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Canada closes its embassy in Iran

Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and will expel all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada within five days, shutting down Iran’s only North American diplomatic outpost.

Foreign Minister John Baird said in a statement on Friday that the Iranian government was  “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today”.

He cited the country’s nuclear programme and its “increasing military assistance to the Assad regime” in the list of Canadian grievances with Iran.

Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported that Canada’s decision was “in co-operation with America’s hostile policies against Iran”.

The first shot across the bow in this recent row might have come when Hamid Mohammadi, Iran’s cultural affairs counsellor, encouraged Iranian-Canadians to seek “high-level” positions and to maintain their Iranian identities.

In response, Canada’s Foreign Affairs department told a Canadian newspaper in July that, “The Iranian Embassy should not interfere in their choices. Canadian security organizations will act to prevent threats and intimidation of Canadians.”

Al Jazeera called Baird’s office to ask about the timing of this emabssy’s closure and the weight of Mohammadi’s comments. We did not receive a response.

Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, told the Iran’s ISNA news agency that “the current Canadian government is extremist and severely under the influence of the Zionist regime”.

He also said the successes of the recent NAM summit proved the West’s diplomatic failures and showed that Iranian people have continued to thrive despite the sanctions levelled against the country. 

Fallout

Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, spokesperson for Amnesty International in Toronto said that the move to cut diplomatic ties on this level will make appealing to the Canadian government to take action on cases in Iran “difficult to do now”.

“It is a great concern – there’s no doubt about it,” said Berton-Hunter, who pointed to the the right’s group’s recent report on the quickening pace of Iran’s executions as a reason why families of those facing punishment in Iran would be worried.

Unknown is the impact of severed diplomatic ties on the cases of Iranian-Canadians in trouble in Iran, such as blogger Hossein Derakhshan (currently serving a 19-and-a-half year prison sentence on spying charges), Hamid Ghassemi-Shall (who has been sentenced to death on charges of espionage and is awaiting execution) and Saeed Malekpour, a software developer accused of spreading indecent material online, who is also on death row.

Ghassemi-Shall’s wife, Antonella Mega, said she was “disappointed” to hear of the decision on behalf of the Canadian government.

“When I received the news this morning I was trying to digest what that meant, and all I can think of is that this means that a potential dialogue has been closed,” said Mega, who has not seen her husband since he left for Iran in May of 2008.

“This closing of the relationship between Canada and Iran leaves me doubtful – I just don’t know how they’re going to help Hamid, of what his plans are.”

Mega said that when she has the opportunity to speak to her husband on the phone, she tries to reassure him that Iranian authorities will free him.

“The Iranian government is in charge of Hamid’s case, so I do depend on their kindness…but obviously I count on the Canadian government to advocate for him,” said Mega.

While many Iranians decried the decision on social media sites, some support it, and, in fact, have been calling for such a move by the Canadian government.

Rights activist Shabnam Assadollahi, who had co-translated the entire text of Mohammadi’s interview and posted it on Facebook along with a plea to the Canadian government to shut down the embassy, said that “for 33 years they have had an embassy here and for 33 years we’ve been trying to have an open dialogue with the Islamic Republic of Iran – it has gone nowhere”.

“In these 33 years, what have we been able to do for our poor people there? Even during the recent earthquake, what could we do?” Assadollahi told Al Jazeera from Ottawa.

“The UK and the US have already shut their embassy. Israel has not had an embassy there since the Islamic Revolution,” said Assadollahi, who feels Iran’s influence in Canada – especially its education system – is a threat to Canada’s national security.

“If three of Canada’s allies don’t have embassies in Iran, why should Canada?”

A Conservative stance

Al Jazeera’s Daniel Lak, reporting from Toronto said that the two countries have not had “anything resembling cordial relations” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

He said that most recently, the chilled relations between the two countries “has to do with (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s Conservative government just taking a very firm, explicit line on Iran,” said Lak.

In January, Harper described Iran as “fanatically religious” and “dangerous” to Canadian broadcaster CBC.

“In my judgement, these are people who have a particular, you know, a fanatically religious world view, and their statements imply to me no hesitation about using nuclear weapons if they see them achieving their religious or political purposes. And … I think that’s what makes this regime in Iran particularly dangerous.” he said.

Canada’s relations with Iran have been particularly rocky since Iranian-Candian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died while being detained in Evin prison in 2003, and again, in 2009, when Maziar Bahari, also a dual citizen and a journalist, was detained for over 100 days.

Follow D Parvaz on Twitter: @Dparvaz

945

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Poland Closes Embassy in Syria As Crisis Worsens

Posted GMT 7-28-2012 3:39:11

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland has closed its embassy in Syria and evacuated its diplomats because of the deteriorating security situation in Damascus. The embassy had also representing U.S. interests in the country in recent months.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said he took the decision out of concern for the security of the embassy’s staff, who have already left Syria.

“The decision was taken due to the dramatically worsening crisis in Syria, which has led to the deterioration of security and has made it impossible for Polish diplomats to carry out their duties,” Sikorski told a news conference in Warsaw.

U.S. Ambassador to Poland Lee Feinstein expressed thanks to the “government and the people of Poland for their act of friendship and solidarity” in having represented Washington in Damascus since Feb. 6.

“The brave Polish diplomats who served in the U.S. Interests Section helped keep U.S. citizens safe during a dangerous and difficult time,” Feinstein said in a statement. “For this we owe Poland a debt of gratitude.”

Sikorski said the embassy will reopen as soon as security conditions allow it.

Many countries closed their embassies in Damascus months ago, protesting the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on protests and citing security concerns. The United States was among the first, pulling out its ambassador in February. Canada and several European nations followed in March, as did Turkey, once a key ally of Syria. Among Arab nations, Qatar was the first, closing its embassy in July 2011, followed by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain this year.

Assyrian International News Agency

Turkey closes trade route into Syria

Turkey is closing its border with Syria to commercial traffic but will keep it open for refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict, a UNHCR spokeswoman has said.

“We’ve received assurances that it is staying open. The border is closed for all commercial traffic in both directions, that is what we heard from the Turkish government,” Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Reuters news agency.

About 300 Syrians had crossed overnight into Turkey, she added, some of them are using informal crossing points.

“The Turkish government is still actively welcoming refugees and offering them protection,” Wilkes said.

Earlier, Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said the border posts would be sealed off due to the deteriorating security situation along the border.

“We have serious concerns over the safety of Turkish trucks regarding their entry and return from Syria,” Caglayan said, noting that there had already been a 87 per cent drop in trucks travelling to Syria this year.

Turkey had close trade ties to neighbouring Syria before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago.

But it has turned into a harsh critic and its territory along the of the 911-km border is used as a staging ground for the rebel army as well as a haven for thousands of refugees fleeing violence that activists say has killed 19,000 people so far.

Smuggler routes

Northern Syria, especially the province of Idlib, has been a steady scene of heavy fighting between Syrian forces and the rebels and large swathes of the countryside are under rebel control.

Al Jazeera meets one man who lives as a refugee in Turkey and also fights with the Free Syrian Army

Rebels, for their part, generally move their weapons and material over the border through clandestine smuggler routes.

Caglayan told reporters Turkish trucks would not be allowed into Syria, though no restrictions were being imposed on trucks going the other way, contrary to what the UNHCR heard from the Turkish government.

The sealing will deprive Syria of a common route for imports. Dozens of Turkish trucks were either looted or torched when the rebels captured the border crossing of Bab al-Hawa last week.

In all about 120,000 Syrian refugees have registered with UNHCR in four neighbouring countries – Iraq (7,490), Jordan (36,323), Lebanon (31,004) and Turkey (43,387) – since the uprising began.

In the past few weeks, the rate of Syrians arriving in Jordan has doubled to 1,200-1,300 per day, stretching a transfer facility overflowing with 6,500 people staying in desert conditions, Wilkes said.

The agency is urgently building a camp with tents at Za’atri in Mafraq.

“We are quite literally working overnight to get it ready. We may need to move in thousands of people,” she said.

519

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Iraq Closes Border With Syria

Posted GMT 7-20-2012 23:42:14

(Reuters) — The Iraqi army sealed the main border crossing to Syria with concrete blast walls today, a day after officials said Syrian rebels took control of a border post on the other side.

A Reuters photographer overlooking the desert frontier from the Iraqi side said civilians had burned the main border post building at Abu Kamal in Syria and stripped it of electronic equipment and cables.

The Abu Kamal-Qaim border checkpoint, some 300km west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River highway, is one of the major trade routes across the Middle East.

A group of about 15 Syrians, including youths and women, moved in and around the blackened building.

A large picture of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad hanging on the building was scorched while one of his father Hafez was untouched.

There was no sign of Syrian border guards, Syrian Free Army fighters or any civilians trying to cross into Iraq. There was no fighting and a nearby Syrian mosque could be heard holding Friday prayers.

Around 40 Iraqi soldiers and a provincial commander arrived at the border crossing early today to reinforce security.

A senior Iraqi interior ministry official, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Al-Khafaji, said Iraq had reinforced key points along its 680km desert border with Syria with troops, increased patrols and was preparing to receive people coming into Iraq.

On Tuesday Iraq called on tens of thousands of its citizens living in Syria to return home as violence in Damascus escalated.

The Iraqi Red Crescent said 2,285 Iraqis who had fled Syria had registered for repatriation in the past two days after passing through the northern al-Waleed border crossing, according to Iraqi media.

The security situation in Iraq is still perilous despite an easing in sectarian violence which killed tens of thousands in 2006-2007.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis left the country for Syria during the post-war violence, but many have returned since the start of the Syrian uprising.

Iraqi officials say the al-Waleed gate, close to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, is still open and the Syrian side is controlled by Syrian government border officials.

Syrian rebels seized control of sections of Syria’s international borders yesterday after the assassination of some of Dr Assad’s closest lieutenants in Damascus.

The rebels said yesterday they had seized control of at least two border crossings into Turkey at Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus, in what appeared to have been a coordinated campaign to seize Syria’s frontiers.

Assyrian International News Agency

French election campaigning closes

Paris, France - Campaigning has ended in France, ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote which could see Nicolas Sarkozy fall from power.
 
While Sarkozy and his rival, socialist Francois Hollande, appeared at low-key gatherings elsewhere in the country, the left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon rallied his voters against the incumbent in the capital on Friday.
 
“Get lost, Sarkozy”, thousands of people chanted in a the Stalingrad Square in Paris.

“It doesn’t pay to behave like a big fascist,” Melenchon told the flag-waving crowds, referring to Sarkozy’s pledges to halve immigration if he is re-elected.
 
Melenchon fell out of the presidential race after scoring 11 per cent of the votes in the first round of voting last month, and has since endorsed Hollande.

Tight race

Hollande garnered 29 per cent of the votes over Sarkozy’s 27 per cent, and recent polls have put the socialist as the frontrunner in the final round.   

“If we put our ballots in the box we’ll get rid of two in one, Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen,” he said, also lashing out at the right-wing candidate who came third in the first round. 

Raquel Garrido, a spokesperson for Melenchon’s Left Party, said Friday’s rally was crucial to mobilise his supporters to vote for Hollande.

“We cannot take for granted that Hollande will win,” she said. “A large part of those here tonight will vote for him because they like Melenchon and they follow his lead, but the remaining part has to be convinced.”
 
Melenchon voter Sylvain Renard said Hollande would get his vote on Sunday.
 
“I will vote for Hollande to get rid of Sarkozy,” he said. “Hollande may not implement the policies that I would like, but he can bring the conditions that we need for political change, in particular to redistribute wealth between rich and poor.”
 
Elsewhere in the capital, there were not many signs that an election battle was ongoing, except some scattered campaign posters.

Around the railway station of Montparnasse, someone has used a black marker to write “fini” [finished], over Sarkozy’s face.
 
Jean-Marie Billon did not hesitate for a moment to say who he would be voting for.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for five years,” he said, referring to when Sarkozy was first elected in 2007. “We’ve had four years of crisis, but the crisis is not responsible for the terrible outcomes of Sarkozy’s presidency.

“If we raised their taxes just a little bit, the very rich would still be able to live well. In France there are people who work but have to live on the street because they can’t get by.”

Meanwhile, Sarkozy made a last-minute push to boost his voter base in the seaside town of Sables d’Olonne. 

“On Sunday, the outcome will be on a razor’s edge,” he said, lashing out at critics of his drift to the right.
 
“The French people has never been so injured, hounded and manipulated as in recent weeks … The silent majority should not have to put up with insults, intolerance and lack of respect.” 

But some voters were still undecided.
 
“I voted for [centrist Francois] Bayrou in the second round, and now I’m really don’t know,” Sabine, who did not want to give her second name, said.

“I think Sarkozy is more competent. He’d be able to get France out of the crisis. But I’ll decide when I stand in front of the ballot box.”


AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Saudi Arabia Closes Its Embassy in Egypt; Pulls Ambassador

Posted GMT 4-28-2012 18:4:46

Cairo (CNN) — Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Cairo and closed its embassy in Egypt, as well as its consulates in the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Suez, state media reported Saturday .

The move followed protests in front of the embassy and “attempts to storm and threaten the security and safety of its employees of both Saudi and Egyptian nationality,” according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Throngs of Egyptians gathered in front of the Saudi Embassy this week, calling for the release of Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi, who was detained earlier this month for allegedly insulting King Abdullah. Saudi officials say el-Gezawi was arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle thousands of pills into the country.

But the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights say el-Gezawi had been traveling on a pilgrimage to Mecca when he was detained.

The Cairo-based group credited the activist for demanding better treatment of Saudi-held Egyptian detainees and criticizing the kingdom over alleged human rights abuses.

El-Gezawi has since been sentenced to be flogged and faces one year behind bars, the group reported.

Video of the demonstrations in Cairo was posted online earlier this week and showed sign-wielding crowds chanting slogans in front of the Saudi embassy.

“Say it, don’t be afraid, The Egyptian will be lashed,” the crowd chanted. “We will lash the ambassador! Lash us imprison us! Tomorrow the revolution will be in Medina.”

Protests in Egypt and Saturday’s decision by Saudi authorities to remove its diplomatic personnel from the country appear to have again ratcheted up longstanding tensions between the two Middle Eastern nations.

“It’s a relationship that’s been flawed,” said Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Especially since the uprising, many Egyptian’s regard Saudis as a counterrevolutionary force in the region.”

Egypt, considered the most populous Arab country in the region, has often engaged in “a subtle competition” with their Saudi counterparts “over this question of regional leadership,” Cook said.

The country erupted in protest last year during 18 days of demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square following after similar uprisings in neighboring Tunisia, ultimately ousting Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak after nearly three decades in power.

“The Saudis were not enthusiastic about their uprising,” Cook said of Egypt, pointing to apparent concerns among elites in the oil rich kingdom over their own grip on power. “And they were angry at the United States for its role in supporting the movement.”

In February 2011, President Barack Obama called for orderly transition in Egypt to a fully representative democracy, saying the transition “must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now.”

By David Ariosto

CNN’s Caroline Faraj and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

ASEAN Summit Closes With Call To Scrap Myanmar Sanctions

Southeast Asian leaders have called on Western countries to immediately lift punitive sanctions on Myanmar in the wake of the elections in the country that was ruled for decades by a military regime.

The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — of which Myanmar is a member — made the call at the close of a summit on April 4 in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said ASEAN leaders “feel very satisfied and pleased” with Myanmar’s “free, fair and transparent” by-election on Sunday.

The opposition National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, won 44 of the 45 seats that were being contested in the vote.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Warhorse transfers COS Garry Owen to IA, closes historic chapter

CONTINGENCY OPERATING STATION GARRY OWEN, Iraq –
The 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, closed out a historic chapter in the 1st Cavalry Division’s proud history when they transferred ownership of Contingency Operating Station Garry Owen to the 10th Iraqi Army Division and the government of Iraq Oct. 15.

By transferring the COS to Iraqi Security Forces, the United States is fulfilling its commitment to have all troops out of Iraq by the Dec. 31, deadline.

The Warhorse Soldiers have called COS Garry Owen home for the entirety of their nine month deployment in support of Operation New Dawn. They have maintained security in Maysan since relieving the 1st Bn, 8th Infantry Regt., 4th Inf. Div. from Fort Carson, Colo. and assuming responsibility on March 5.

View full post on Headlines | United States Forces – Iraq