Russia Releases Japanese Whaling Ship

A Japanese whaling vessel held by Russia in the Far East for four days for violating the border has been released.

The Russian border guard service said the “Shonan Maru-2″ was detained in the Sea of Okhotsk on August 15 after sailing in Russian waters near the Kamchatka peninsula.

Japan’s state fishery agency said the vessel crossed the Russian maritime border by mistake.

The ship, which does not catch whales, was said to have been conducting a “visual check” of whales in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Ties between Russia and Japan have soured as Tokyo has joined Western allies in imposing sanctions on Russia after its annexation of Crimea.

Tokyo and Moscow also remain embroiled in a dispute over four small islands Soviet forces seized from Japan at the end of World War II.

Based on reporting by Interfax and dpa
    

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

EU Releases New Sanctions List

The European Union has released the list of the individuals and entities targeted in the EU’s latest round of sanctions against Russia for Moscow’s actions in destabilizing Ukraine.

The list includes three longtime acquaintances of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Arkady Rothenberg is Putin’s judo sparring partner and a major shareholder in the Russian state-owned company conducting a feasibility study to build a bridge connecting Russia to the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Yury Kovalchuk is the chairman and largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya, “which is considered the personal bank of senior officials of the Russian Federation,” and has opened branches across Crimea and Sevastopol, “thereby consolidating their integration into the Russian Federation.”

Nikolai Shamalov, the second-largest shareholder in Bank Rossiya, is also on the list.

The first deputy chief of staff of the Russian presidential administration, Aleksei Gromov, is on the list, targeted for “instructing Russian media outlets to take a line favorable with the separatists in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.”

New EU sanctions were also placed on officials from territories in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.

The chairman of the so-called Supreme Council of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Boris Litvinov is on the list as is Oksana Tchigrina, the spokeswoman for the so-called government of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic.”

Sergei Abisov, the so-called interior minister of the “Republic of Crimea,” had sanctions placed on him for actions that undermined the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and unity of Ukraine.

Konstantin Malofeyev was also hit with sanctions. The EU said Malofeyev was “closely linked to Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine and Crimea” and was a former employee of separatist leader Aleksandr Borodai.

Three business entities were also on the sanctions list — the joint stock concern Almaz-Antey Defense Corporation; Dobrolet, a subsidiary of a Russian state-owned airline; and the Russian National Commercial Bank.

The Russian National Commercial Bank was the first Russian bank into Crimea after the region’s annexation earlier this year.

As the EU released its new list of sanctions the leaders of the G7 group of leading developed countries also released a statement saying they were prepared to place even tougher sanctions on Russia if Moscow did not stop taking actions that destabilize the situation in Ukraine.

A G7 statement released by the White House said, “Russia still has the opportunity to choose the path of de-escalation, which would lead to the removal of these sanctions,” but warned, “If it does not do so, however, we remain ready to further intensify the costs of its adverse actions.”

With reporting by Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghan Election Frontrunner Releases Recordings To ‘Prove’ Fraud Claims

by RFE/RL

The campaign team of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has released audio recordings  purportedly containing evidence of fraud against a top member of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC).

Abdullah has accused electoral officials and others of trying to rig the result of the June 14 runoff between him and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister.

Abdullah, a former leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and an ex-foreign minister, last week recalled his observers monitoring the ongoing count and said the outcome of the run-off with former finance minister Ashraf Ghani on June 14 would be illegal.

Abdullah’s team at a press conference on June 22 released the recordings, which purport to be conversations between IEC secretary Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, other IEC officials and “a member of Ghani’s team.”

They include Amarkhail allegedly reassuring the member of Ghani’s team that staff would be “used” to favor his election.

In what Abdullah’s team has interpreted as apparent code for ballot box stuffing, Amarkhail is also urging a fellow IEC member to “bring the sheep stuffed and not empty.”

Amarkhail has denied the accusations and the Independent Election Complaints Commission has launched an investigation.

Tahir Zahir, a spokesman for Ghani, called for a proper investigation, saying voice duplication “is very easy.”

The United Nations has warned of an escalation of ethnic tension and called on Abdullah to re-engage with the election.

Abdullah is of mixed heritage but his support base is with the Afghanistan’s Tajik community, while Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun.

Abdullah’s supporters have been holding street protests in his favor, with several hundred people demonstrating outside the presidential palace on June 22, while others blocked traffic for a second day on the main road leading to the international airport.

In the western province of Herat, Abdullah supporters gathered and chanted “death to IEC” and “Fraudsters must be tried.”
 
In northern Kunduz province, armed men from Abdullah’s campaign reportedly shut down the election office.

The purported recordings could stoke further nationwide protests supporting Abdullah’s decision to withdraw from the vote.
 

With reporting by AFP, BBC and theguardian.com

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Court Releases Former Azerbaijani Lawmaker Jailed For Extortion

A court of appeals in Baku has released former Azerbaijani lawmaker Gular Ahmadova, who was sentenced to three years in jail for extortion via fraud and obstruction of justice.

The court replaced Ahmadova’s three-year incarceration sentence with a suspended sentence on May 5. She left the courtroom a free woman. 

Ahmadova was arrested in February 2013 after a video circulated on the Internet in September 2012 showing her demanding a $ 1.3 million bribe from an academician to secure a seat in parliament for him.

The video caused a public uproar.

Ahmadova said the video was edited to frame her. She was later sentenced to three years in prison.

Ahmadova refused to comment to journalists about her release on May 5.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Malaysia releases preliminary MH370 report

Malaysian authorities took four hours to start a search and rescue operation for a missing Boeing 777, with 17 minutes elapsing before they realised it had gone off the radar, a report has revealed.

The five-page report, published on Thursday night by the Malaysian government, did not detail what Malaysian authorities did during that four-hour period, except that they contacted Singapore, Hong Kong and Cambodia regarding MH370.

The report was dated April 9. Flight MH370 went missing on March 8. Most of the 229 passengers, who were travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, were Chinese.

Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, chief executive officer at Malaysia Airlines, issued a statement on Thursday.

He called the ensuing search operation “probably the largest one in human history” and said the fate of the aircraft, its crew and passengers remained unknown.

“Malaysia Airlines is acutely conscious of, and deeply sympathetic to the continuing unimaginable anguish, distress and hardship suffered by those with loved ones on board the flight. 

“While Malaysia Airlines is committed to continuing its support to the families during the whole process, we are adjusting the mode of services and support.

“Instead of staying in hotels, the families of MH370 are advised to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes, with the support and care of their families and friends.”

The airline would close its global family assistance centres by May 7 and that advanced compensation payments would be made as soon as possible to nominated next of kin.

Such payments would not affect the rights of relatives to pursue compensation through the courts, he added.

280

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Georgia Says Russia Releases Three Spies

Georgia says Russia has freed three Georgians who were arrested on espionage charges after the 2008 war between the neighboring states.

Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani was quoted as saying April 22 that “three people convicted in Russia as Georgian intelligence agents were freed recently.”

Russian and Georgian news reports said the third Georgian to be released by Russia was a foreign intelligence agency officer, Zaza Kherkeladze, who had been sentenced to 11 years in prison in Russia in 2010.

Two other Georgians were released earlier.

The releases were announced after Russia said it had held “constructive” talks with Georgian officials in Prague earlier this month aimed at normalizing relations.

Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia after Moscow recognized the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the short 2008 war.

The Georgian government that took over after former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration left power has said it wants to improve relations with Russia while also pursuing full membership in the European Union and NATO.
 

Based on reporting by AFP, civil.ge and kommersant.ru

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Turkey Releases Men Accused of Torturing, Slitting Throats of 3 Christians

A law passed earlier this month seeking to reform Turkey’s criminal justice system has allowed five men accused of killing three Christians to be placed under house arrest.

Emre Günayd?n, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker, Salih Gürler and Abuzer Yildirim are suspected of torturing and slitting the throats of Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske in Malatya, a city in the eastern part of the country, in 2007. The men were previously placed in prison as they awaited trial, for what are believed to be religiously motivated attacks, as court records have indicated that suspects claimed they were “defending their country and religion, Islam.”

In the seven years since the death of the two Turks and one German, the trial has been delayed several times; once when a witness testified that the defendants were also involved in a plot against the government, and several other instances, when prosecution witnesses failed to appear in court.

According to Morning Star News, “Some of those witnesses were under the custody of other government agencies when they were supposed to report to court, arousing suspicions that they were deliberately prevented from testifying.”

Umut Sahin, general secretary for the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey, accused the defendant’s lawyers of deliberately delaying the case.

“There are three main reasons this trial has taken so long. The committee of judges overseeing the case has been changed two to three times. Each time it is changed, the new set of judges have to familiarize themselves with the case. Suspects and witnesses who were in the military could not be questioned until years into the case … The defending lawyers have used all kinds of legal tactics to draw out the trial, but we are not aware of any intentional efforts by other bodies to delay the trial,” said Sahin.

Currently, some are worried that the defendants will attempt to escape Turkey before the next hearing in April. If convicted, the men could potentially face life sentences in prison. Four out of the five men have attempted to escape previously, though all were caught and returned to prison.

Under house arrest, the men must wear electronic monitoring devices.

Of the victims, Aydin and Yuksel both converted to Christianity from Islam. Tilmann was a German national. Both Tilmann and Aydin were married with children, while Yuksel was engaged.

Under a criminal justice reform, signed into law at the beginning of March by President Abdullah Gul, defendants may only serve a maximum of five years of pre-trial detention, a 50 percent decrease.

Turkey’s government is officially secular, although the country is overwhelmingly Muslim. Only .02 percent of the 81 million population are Christian or Jew.

Assyrian International News Agency

Former Anbar Governor releases initiative to settle Anbar crisis

Anbar – The Former Governor of Anbar, Qasim al-Fahdawi, released an initiative to settle the crisis in Anbar.

AN informed source stated to AIN “Fahdawi released an initiative to settle the crisis in Anbar and Fallujah where the local and central governments accepted it and its main point is to deploy the Iraqi Army out of the city.”

LINK

Did you like this? Share it:

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Kabul Releases 65 Militants Despite U.S. Protests

Afghan officials say 65 accused militants at a former U.S. prison have been freed despite U.S. protests.

Prison spokesman Major Nimatullah Khaki told AP that all 65 were freed early on February 13.

The United States has called the men “dangerous” fighters who will likely return to the battlefield to kill coalition and Afghan forces.

President Hamid Karzai ordered their release several weeks ago from the Parwan Detention Facility, triggering an angry reaction from the United States and NATO.

Karzai’s decision has further strained relations between Washington and Kabul as international troops get set to leave the country by the end of the year.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan say the militants have been involved in bloody attacks on international and Afghan soldiers.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

France Releases Georgian Ex-Defense Minister On Bail

A French court has released former Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili on bail.

On February 3, the Aix-en-Provence court released Kezerashvili until February 27, the day when a decision on his extradition is due.

Kezerashvili was arrested in France in October on a weapons-trafficking charge.

Investigators in Georgia say Kezerashvili is suspected of money laundering, illegal property sales in Tbilisi, and taking a $ 12 million bribe to facilitate alcohol smuggling in Georgia.

Kezerashvili is a close associate of former Georgian President Mihkeil Saakashvili.

A number of investigations were launched against officials representing Saakashvili’s United National Movement party after it lost parliamentary elections in October 2012 to the Georgian Dream political alliance.

Saakashvili left office in November after serving two terms.

Based on reporting by Interfax and apsny.ge

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

U.S. Releases Details Of Iranian Deal

The White House on January 16 sent the text of the agreement to implement the interim nuclear deal reached with Iran in November, to the U.S. Congress.

A summary of the agreement, reached on January 12, was released to the media. The move comes following criticism in Washington that the Obama administration was keeping the agreement secret.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said it is the preference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to keep technical details of the agreement confidential. 

The IAEA has been tasked to ensure and verify that Iran is fulfilling its commitments. In addition, a Joint Commission, that includes experts from major powers and Iran, will be established to work with the IAEA to monitor implementation of the Joint Plan of Action.

According to the summary, Iran has committed itself to “increased and unprecedented transparency” into its nuclear program starting on January 20 in return for limited sanctions relief between $ 6 and $ 7 billion.

The summary says the relief is such that the majority of the sanctions regime, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions, remains in place. “Sanctions will continue to be vigorously implemented throughout the six-month period,” it said.

On the first day of the implementation of the agreement, Iran is required to halt the production of near-20-percent enriched uranium and the disabling of the centrifuges is has been using to produce them.  

In the course of the implementation of the deal, Iran is required to take a number of other steps including not commissioning or fueling the Arak Heavy Water Reactor. 

In exchange, Iran will be given gradual access to to $ 4.2 billion in restricted Iranian funds throughout the six months that the interim agreement is due to last.  The access to the funds is contingent on the IAEA confirmation that Iran is fulfilling its commitments.  The first installment of $ 550 million will be released on February 1. 

“Iran will not have access to the final installment of the $ 4.2 billion until the last day of the six-month period,” the summary says. 

The document was released a day after U.S, President Barack Obama urged Senate’s Democrats not to pass new sanctions against Iran, which administration officials believe could derail the diplomatic process.

Obama made the call in a January 15 meeting with Democratic senators, Carney said.

“What the President said, as I think a story reflected today, is exactly what we’ve been saying publicly, which is that we appreciate the enormously beneficial partnership we’ve had with Congress in building the most effective sanctions regime in history. But that now is not the time to pass a new sanctions measure because it might have the inadvertent consequence of weakening the sanctions regime and reducing the President’s flexibility when it comes to pursuing a potential peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program,” Carney explained.

Undersecretary Wendy Sherman was reportedly also due to meet with Senators on January 17 as part of the efforts to stop a push to pass a new Iran sanctions legislation.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Israel Releases 26 Palestinian Prisoners

Palestinians have been celebrating after Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners that had been serving long terms in Israeli prisons for crimes including murder and terrorism.

Israel released the prisoners early December 31 as part of moves to give momentum to U.S.-backed peace talks.

It was the third of four planned Israeli releases of 104 Palestinian prisoners, following releases in August and October.

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmud Abbas greeted some of the newly released prisoners in the West Bank and vowed he would not sign a peace agreement with Israel until all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are released.

Relatives of some Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks have opposed the release.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled visit the region this week for another round of talks with the two sides. Kerry is pressuring the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on an interim framework peace deal by the end of April.

Based on reports from AP and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Israel releases 26 Palestinian prisoners

Twenty-six Palestinian prisoners have been released from Israeli jails, as part of a US-brokered deal to restart Middle East negotiations.

Tuesday’s release comes a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to return to the region in a bid to boost the faltering negotiations.

It is the third of four stages to free 104 inmates that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to let go when the talks were renewed in July. They have been convicted of killing Israeli civilians or soldiers and have spent between 19 and 28 years in prison.

Relatives of Israelis killed in attacks had attempted to prevent the release by petitioning Israel’s Supreme Court, while the inmates’ families in the occupied West Bank and Gaza made preparations to receive their loved ones.

The 26 inmates were jailed before the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, which formally launched the Middle East peace process.

They include 18 men from the West Bank, three Gazans, and in a concession by Israel, five men from East Jerusalem.

Israel considers East Jerusalem to be part of its capital and has previously balked at allowing the Palestinians to negotiate on behalf of prisoners living under what it considers to be Israeli territory.

‘Positive step’

The US welcomed the release, with Kerry expressing “his appreciation for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s
decision to release the third tranche of prisoners,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

“The Israeli government’s commitment to release Palestinian prisoners helped enable the start … and the continuation of the final status negotiations, and we believe this is a positive step forward in the overall process,” she added.

The release was expected to be followed by announcements of new construction plans for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Israeli supporters of the peace talks said the expected construction would destroy any goodwill created by the prisoner release, while hardline allies criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for linking the Jewish settlement cause with the release of prisoners convicted in connection with killings, mostly of Israelis.

321

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

U.S. Releases Aid Ahead Of Sharif Visit

The U.S. has released more than $ 1.6 billion in aid to Pakistan as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif begins a visit to Washington on October 20.

Pakistan’s military and economic aid was suspended after relations with Washington deteriorated following the May 2011 raid that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

Sharif is expected to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, ahead of talks on October 23 at the White House with President Barack Obama. Those talks are expected to focus on Pakistani assistance in efforts for a settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are due to withdraw by the end of next year.

Sharif is also expected to raise concerns about U.S. drone missile strikes against Islamist militants in Pakistani territory.

Based on reports by AFP and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Official App Releases Azerbaijani Vote Results — A Day Early

As Azerbaijanis head to the polls to choose a new president, officials in Baku had hoped to project a tech-savvy image by launching a new mobile-phone application that allows voters to keep track of the election process.

But the initiative seems to have backlashed, with the application releasing what appears to be the final results — which gave incumbent President Ilham Aliyev a landslide victory — one day before the October 9 election. The application also provided turnout figures for different districts.

Although the suspicious tally was quickly removed, an eagle-eyed opposition television channel was able to capture a screenshot and post it online.

Emin Milli, the director of Meydan TV and a leading opposition figure, told RFE/RL: “Our social-media manager checked this application on his phone and discovered one section, which should have been closed but was open, showing the election results. He did a screenshot and posted it on our Meydan.tv. It went viral, we got 2,000 ‘likes’ within a couple of minutes.”

Milli believes the incident shines a light on the rampant election rigging that he and other opposition leaders say have enabled the iron-fisted Aliyev to remain in power since 2003.

ALSO READ: In Azerbaijan’s Routine Election, It’s The Differences That Matter

The opposition said the October 9 vote was no exception and accused the authorities of “mass falsifications,” citing instances of so-called “carousel voting” (shuttling the same voters from one polling station to another) and ballot-box stuffing.

Not Happy In Baku

Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission has dismissed the mishap with its mobile application, which gave Aliyev almost 73 percent of the vote and 7.4 percent to united opposition candidate Camil Hasanli, as a mere technical glitch.

“The company that produced the application was running tests. The new app became available on the Central Election Commission’s server at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. We consider such reports a provocation and believe that Meydan TV is seeking to cast a shadow over our democratic elections,” Central Election Commission spokesman Azer Sariyev told RFE/RL.

Later in the day, the commission nonetheless issued an apology, saying it “deeply regrets” what it described as a “misunderstanding.”

The company that developed the application, a digital marketing agency named Happy Baku, insists that it accidentally made a test version available for download ahead of the poll.

Happy Baku manager Vusal Isayev told Meydan TV that the mock results in fact contained data from the last presidential election — a claim that has raised eyebrows, considering the fact that Hasanli did not run in the 2008 election.

According to Milli, Isayev unsuccessfully sought to persuade Meydan TV to remove its report. Milli said Isayev had since shut down all his social-media accounts.

“Shortly after this, he closed his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. If he is so confident that this was just a testing mistake, then why is he deleting all his accounts?” Milli said. “He also shut down his account on Twitter and on Odnoklassniki. He closed all his accounts on social networks.”

Whatever went wrong with the application, Happy Baku’s electoral projections may actually prove close to the mark.

Just like his father, Heydar Aliyev, in his time, Ilham Aliyev has managed to sail through the polls for the past decade, and this year’s vote is unlikely to be any different. According to various exit polls, Aliyev has won this year’s election with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Pakistan Releases Top Taliban Prisoner In Peace-Talks Bid

Pakistan has released its most senior Taliban detainee, Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The release was expected and came in response to a request from Afghanistan to free Baradar “in order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process,” according to a statement released by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry on September 20.

ALSO READ: The Key To Afghan Peace Unlocked?

Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman Omar Hamid then confirmed on September 21 that “Baradar has been released.”

Baradar is one of the co-founders of the Taliban movement and was reported to be a close aide and one of the most trusted commanders of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban.

After the release was announced, a spokesman for the Afghan Peace Council, Shahzada Shahad, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, “We hope Mullah Baradar will help with the peace [process].”

Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the past year in a bid to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul.

Based on reporting by AFP, Radio Free Afghanistan, and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran releases prominent political dissidents

Eleven of Iran’s most prominent political prisoners, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, have been unexpectantly freed by authorities in Iran days before President Hassan Rouhani’s first speech to the United Nations.

Sotoudeh was released on Wednesday evening along with 10 others detained after unrest that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of 2009 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Sotoudeh, who was serving six years for “acting against national security”, told the New York Times: “I don’t know why they released me. I don’t know under what legal basis they released me. But I am free.”

Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, told the Reuters news agency that his wife was dropped off at their home by prison authorities “It’s not temporary, it’s freedom,” Khandan said. “We are all so happy from the depths of our hearts.”

Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 and convicted of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm the state.

She staged a 50-day hunger strike last year to protest against the authorities’ treatment of her daughter, who was subjected to a travel ban.

“Psychologically, my condition is very good but my experience – with all the psychological pressure, the tense security atmosphere, and not having access to make phone calls – was very tough,” she told the AFP news agency after her release.

The release of the dissidents come less than a week before President Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly for the first time and is expected to present a less confrontational image than Ahmadinejad, under whose eight years in power Iran came under ever-tougher Western trade sanctions.

Rouhani pledged during his election campaign to ease some political and social restrictions, and his supporters have called for the release of political prisoners.

Prior to her arrest, Sotoudeh had defended journalists and rights activists including Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

She also represented Zahra Bahrami, a woman with dual Iranian and Dutch nationality who was hanged in January 2011 on drug-trafficking charges.

312

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Israel Releases 26 Palestinian Convicts

Israel has released 26 Palestinian prisoners, in a goodwill gesture ahead of the resumption of U.S.-backed peace negotiations.

The men were released from Israeli prisons late August 13, in advance of talks due August 14 in Jerusalem.

Many of the released prisoners had been convicted of killings, including of Israeli civilians and suspected Palestinian collaborators.

Israel has pledged to release 104 Palestinian convicts in four batches, contingent on progress in peace talks.

The prisoner release is part of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to return the Israelis and Palestinians to talks. An initial round of talks was held in Washington last month.

Kerry said August 13 he was confident the talks would move forward, despite Israeli announcements about further settlement building in Palestinian-claimed East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Based on reports from AP, Reuters and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Asian stocks mostly higher after data releases; Nikkei up 3.29%

Investing.com – Asian stocks are poised for a third straight day of gains as most of the region’s bourses traded higher Friday on the back of some strong economic news.

In Asian trading Friday, Japan’s Nikkei 225 surged 3.29% after the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said Japan’s unemployment rate was unchanged last month at 4.1%. Analysts expected a reading of 4%.

A separate report showed Japanese retail sales increased 1.5% last month, easily topping the expected increase of 0.7% and the revised April reading of an increase of 0.6%. In another report, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said Japan’s national rate of inflation was -0.3% last month, beating expectations for a -0.4% reading.

The may inflation reading was also better than the April number of -0.7%. Core CPI in Tokyo rose to 0.2% in June from 0.1% in May. The core number excludes volatile food costs.

Another report by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said that industrial production in Japan increased 2% in May following a 0.9% increase in April. The 2% increase is well above the 0.2% rise forecast by economists.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 1.22% while the Shanghai Composite climbed 1.8% as some investors view Chinese stocks as close to a bottom.

Australia’s SP/ASX 200 Index was steady while New Zealand’s NZSE 50 rose 0.44%. New Zealand stocks got a bump after Statistics New Zealand said new building permits increased 1.3% to a seasonally adjusted 1,818 last month. Excluding apartments, seasonally adjusted permits fell 0.3% to 1,591.

New residential permits jumped 22% to 18,521 on an annual basis, and excluding apartments, consents jumped 23% to 16,754, according to the data. The value of non-residential construction permits surged 24% to NZD434 million from a year earlier, and was up 9.2% to NZD4.04 billion on an annual basis.

South Korea’s Kospi advanced 1.65% while Singapore’s Straits Times Index added 0.96%. SP 500 futures rose 0.16% a day after the benchmark U.S. index tacked on 0.62%.

Investing.com
Investing.com – Investing.com offers an extensive set of professional tools for the Forex, Commodities, Futures and the Stock Market including real-time data streaming, a comprehensive economic calendar, as well as financial news and technical & fundamental analysis by in-house experts.
Read more News on Investing.com or Follow us on Twitter at @Newsinvesting

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Taliban Releases Four Remaining Turkish Engineers

The Taliban says it has released the four remaining Turks held hostage since their helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan last month.

In an emailed statement issued on May 14, the Taliban said the remaining four Turkish nationals were released “as a sign of goodwill and as an Islamic and humanitarian gesture of respect.”

Four other Turkish engineers aboard the helicopter were freed on May 12.

The eight Turkish engineers were seized when bad weather forced their helicopter to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan’s Logar Province on April 21.

An Afghan translator and two pilots — one from Russia and one from Kyrgyzstan — were seized along with the Turks.

The Taliban’s statement did not make any reference to the Afghan translator and the two pilots.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

FBI releases photos of Boston blast suspects

The FBI has released images and videos of two men wanted as key suspects in connection to the Boston marathon blasts and is asking the public for help in identifying the two men.

Richard Deslauriers, an FBI special agent, said in a press conference on Thursday that the FBI regards the suspects as “armed and extremely dangerous”, adding that the agency does not believe there is any imminent danger of another attack.

The bombings that killed three people and wounded 176 began a week of security scares that rattled the United States and evoked memories of the September 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks.

“Today we are enlisting the public’s help to identify the two suspects,” DesLauriers said at the news conference.

Somebody out there knows these individuals as friends, neighbours, co-workers or family members of the suspects.

Richard Deslauriers, FBI agent

Both men carried backpacks that were believed to contain the bombs.

The man identified as suspect No. 1 wore a dark baseball cap. Suspect No. 2 wore a white cap backwards and was seen setting down his backpack on the ground, DesLauriers said.

“Somebody out there knows these individuals as friends, neighbours, co-workers or family members of the suspects. Though it may be difficult, the nation is counting on those with information to come forward and provide it to us,” he said.

Massive manhunt

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Boston, said that with the release of the images the FBI set off one of America’s biggest ever manhunts.

“These two men are now the most wanted men in America and it is understood that investigators have in the last hour or so already been passed a number of names, some of which are recurring. So those leads will obviously be checked out.”

Investigators hoped the men would be identifiable within hours of the release of the pictures and video, a national security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Investigators were looking at the men for some period of time before deciding to make the videos public, and they had extensive video and still pictures to justify the FBI decision to label the two men as suspects, the official said.

At least one other person of interest who featured in crime scene pictures had been ruled out as a suspect.

Also ruled out earlier in the week was a Saudi student who was injured in the attacks, the official said. 

426

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Romney releases long-awaited tax return

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney paid $ 1.9m in taxes on more than $ 13m in income in 2011, an effective tax rate of 14.1 per cent, his campaign has said.

The announcement was made on Friday ahead of the release of the full return and Romney’s 20-year summary, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and made available for public view online.

Fighting back against Democratic party claims that he paid little or no taxes in earlier years, the Romney campaign also released a letter certifying he owed an average effective federal tax rate of 20.2 per cent over the 20-year period ending in 2009.

Democrats led by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid have suggested Romney paid scant taxes in those earlier years. Despite heavy political pressure, his campaign has refused to release earlier returns.

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have used Romney’s refusal to release more returns as evidence that he is an out-of-touch millionaire.

Romney, who faces Obama in the November 6 election, earns the majority of his income from investment profits, dividends and interest, which is taxed at a lower rate than income.

Romney’s campaign said the lowest annual federal personal tax rate he owed over the 20 years was 13.66 per cent.

Romney paid about $ 3m in federal income taxes in 2010 – or 13.9 per cent.

“He’s cleaning house, as he’s had a bad week – in fact he’s had a bad month,” said Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington. ”By getting it out now, it’s one less problem he has to worry about. Also, very few people read newspapers on a Saturday.”

“But the question is, why doesn’t he release tax returns going back before [2010 and 2011]?”

Investment income

In addition, Brad Malt, the trustee of the Romney’s blind trust, said in a blog post that “the Romneys donated $ 4,020,772 to charity in 2011, amounting to nearly 30 per cent of their income”.

“The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the Governor’s statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13 per cent in income taxes in each of the last 10 years,” Malt added.

Critics, including President Barack Obama, have urged Romney to follow his father’s model. When George Romney ran for president, he released 12 years of tax returns.

Mitt Romney is refusing. He has said he is following the example of Republican Sen John McCain, who released two years’ worth of returns in his race against Obama in 2008.

The vast majority of Romney’s income came from investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than wages. His total wealth has been estimated as high as $ 250m.

Obama’s tax return shows he earned nearly $ 790,000 last year and paid an effective tax rate of almost 21 per cent.

On average, the wealthy in the US pay higher income tax rates than those who make less.

Explaining rates

People making $ 1 million or more annually paid an average effective rate of 25 per cent last year in federal income and payroll taxes, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

The White House has argued that even so, some millionaires end up paying lower rates than many of those earning less. That is largely because many wealthy people earn income from dividends that are taxed at just 15 per cent, instead of the top 35 per cent rate on salaries.

A report in October by the Congressional Research Service, an agency that conducts research for lawmakers, said about a quarter of those earning $ 1m or more per year – 94,500 taxpayers – had a lower tax rate than 10.4 million moderate-income people.

Romney proposes dropping all income tax rates by 20 per cent, reducing the top tax rate from 35 per cent to 28 per cent.

The bottom rate would go from 10 per cent to 8 per cent.

Romney says he would pay for the rate cuts by eliminating or reducing tax credits, deductions and exemptions, but will not say which ones would go.

692

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Bulgaria Releases Photo Of Second Bomber Suspect

Bulgarian authorities have released a computer-generated image of a suspected accomplice of a man who killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian driver in a bus bombing a month ago.

The image of a man with short dark hair is accompanied by a photo from a fake driver’s license, in which the man appears to be wearing a wig.

The Interior Ministry said that “there is data that the man [in the image] is related to the terrorist attack at the airport.”

The ministry didn’t provide any further details, but the photo appears to confirm suspicions the bomber wasn’t working alone.

Two weeks ago, a computer-generated image of the suicide bomber’s face was released by Bulgarian experts.

Based on reporting by AP and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Bulgaria Releases Image Of Suicide Bomber’s Face

Bulgarian experts have constructed an image of the face of a suicide bomber who killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver on the Black Sea coast two weeks ago.

The bomber’s head was found at the scene.

The interior minister said on August 1 that the computer-generated image shows a man aged around 30, with swept-back black hair and dark eyes.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the badly damaged face of the bomber was reconstructed “thanks to modern technology, supplied to Bulgaria by partner services.”

In a video of the run-up to the July 18 attack, released by police, the purported bomber wore checked Bermuda shorts and a blue T-shirt and carried a small rucksack.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Myanmar releases detained student leaders

Authorities in Myanmar have released 20 student leaders detained during the fiftieth anniversary of an army crackdown, a political activist has said.

Saturday’s release comes a day after several people were picked up in Yangon, Mandalay, Lashio and Shwebo on Friday night. They were then sent off to undisclosed locations.

Phyo Phyo Aung, a former political prisoner who was among those held, said they were freed late on Saturday.

Phyo Aung, a member of the All Burma Students Union, said she and three other members of the group were questioned at a building in Yangon that was once a Home Ministry office, because their organisation had been deemed illegal.

“Police officials told us that they just wanted to question us in connection with our plans to commemorate the anniversary,” she told the Reuters news agency, referring to the army’s suppression of protests in 1962 when dozens of students were killed and a university building blown up.

‘Act of oppression’

The arrests could prove detrimental to the improvements the government has seen in its image at home and abroad since enacting a series of reforms last year.

“This act of oppression has given us the impression that the old ways of practice are still in effect, despite all the
positivity for change that we have been hearing,” Cambodian politician Son Chhay, vice president of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, said in a statement.

“If they are even going to arrest people before any crime has taken place, this shows that they continue to use fear and
intimidation to repress”, said the group of southeast Asian politicians providing support to Myanmar’s democratic transition.

Friday’s arrests were the largest crackdown on dissent since the end of military rule last year.

The military seized power in 1962 and ruled the country under various guises until March last year.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged the government to release all political prisoners during a high-profile trip to Europe which ended last week.

The US and European Union have suspended some sanctions in recent months in response to reforms by the new quasi-civilian government, which include moves to liberalise the economy, the release of more than 600 political prisoners and the introduction of laws allowing demonstrations.

However, despite government claims that the reforms are “irreversible”, the arrest and detention of dissidents still goes on, albeit not as often, which rights groups say proves the retired generals still in power are not fully committed to
promises they have made.

404

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Pakistan Releases Indian Prisoner After 31 Years

An Indian man has been released after spending more than three decades in a Pakistani jail on allegations of spying for Pakistan’s rival India.

Surjeet Singh, 69, was arrested in 1981 and held in a jail in the eastern city of Lahore.

Recently, Pakistani legal system officials said Singh had completed a life term and should be sent back to India.

Authorities in Pakistan and India often arrest each other’s nationals, accusing them of being spies after they cross land or maritime borders.

Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India have fought three wars since the division of the subcontinent in 1947.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and dawn.com

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

US releases bleak unemployment figures

Job growth in the US fell sharply in May, with the unemployment rate rising for the first time in 11 months, putting pressure on the Federal reserve to ease its monetary policy.

Friday’s figures released by the Department of Labour are troubling news for US President Barack Obama, whose prospects of winning re-election in November could hinge largely on the health of the economy.

The department said that employers added a paltry 69,000 jobs to their payrolls last month, the least since May of last year,

In addition, 49,000 fewer jobs were created in the prior two months than had been thought, with the unemployment rate rising to 8.2 per cent from 8.1 per cent in April
 
Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican presidential challenger, wasted no time in jumping on the data to criticize the president’s economic policies.

“Today’s weak jobs report is devastating news for American workers and American families,” Romney said in a statement, calling the report “a harsh indictment of the president’s handling of the economy”.

‘Large hole’ 

The White House expressed disappointment in the data.

“We’d like to see faster job growth,” Alan Krueger, the chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told the Reuters Insider website.

“We have a large hole in jobs right now because of job losses than happened during the recession.”

There were a couple spots of relative brightness in the report.

An influx of workers into the labour market largely explained the rise in the jobless rate, and the department’s survey of households – a more volatile measure – showed robust jobs growth.

A separate report on US factory activity in May showed some slowing but suggested the economy was not falling off a
cliff.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected non-farm payrolls to increase 150,000 and the jobless rate to hold steady at 8.1 per cent.

Unseasonably warm weather had brought forward hiring into the winter months, and was widely blamed for the step back in March and April.

Worldwide slowdown

However, the report hinted at a fundamental weakness. 

“Some had believed that we had decoupled from China slowing and all the problems in Europe, but that seems to be
short-sighted,” said Malcolm Polley, president and chief investment officer of Stewart Capital Advisors in Indiana,
Pennsylvania.

“We’re slowing alongside the rest of the world.”

Data from overseas on Friday was similarly troubling.

Chinese factory output barely rose in May and manufacturing activity in Britain shrank at its fastest pace in three years.

Earlier data had shown manufacturing activity also declined in Germany and France.

Unlike Europe, where many economies are falling into recession, US manufacturing activity is still growing.

The Institute for Supply Management said its factory gauge slipped to 53.5 last month from 54.9 in April, staying
comfortably above the 50 line that separates expansion from contraction.

New orders hit their highest point in more than a year.

‘Missing ingredient’

The weak payrolls report could cause the Fed to move closer to launching a third round of bond purchases.

The US central bank, which holds a policy meeting on June 19-20, was already nervous over the course of the eurozone debt crisis.

“This puts the Fed firmly in play and they will likely feel compelled to respond,” said Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

“The missing ingredient preventing the Fed from action had been the equity market, but now we are seeing it softening.” 

The Fed cut overnight interest rates to near zero in late 2008 and bought $ 2.3 trillion in bonds to try to spur a stronger
recovery.

It has also said it expects to keep rates “exceptionally low” through at least late 2014.

Until recently, financial markets had thought officials would likely push up borrowing costs sooner.

However, interest rate futures on Friday showed traders now see no chance that rates will rise before the second quarter of 2015.

Weak consumer spending

The level of employment is about five million jobs below where it was in December 2007, when the economy fell into recession. 

Analysts say the economy needs to create roughly 125,000 jobs a month just to keep the unemployment rate steady. 

The labour force participation rate – the share of working-age Americans who either have a job or are looking for one – rose to 63.8 per cent, after dropping to a 30-year low in April.

Job gains were weak across the board last month, with the private sector adding only 82,000 positions. Government payrolls dropped by 13,000, dragged down by ongoing belt-tightening by local governments.

Construction employment fell 28,000 in May, the fourth straight decline. Manufacturing, the recovery’s star performer,
added 12,000 jobs.

Given the high unemployment rate, average hourly earnings rose only two cents and the average work week fell to 34.4 hours. Slower income growth is holding back any large increase in consumer spending.

A report from the Commerce Department showed consumer spending rose 0.3 per cent in April after gaining 0.2 per cent in March.

884

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

U.S. Releases Documents From Bin Laden Compound

A selection of documents seized in last year’s raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout has been posted online by the U.S. Army’s Combating Terrorism Center.

In the 17 declassified documents, bin Laden, who was killed in the May 2, 2011, raid, complained about dysfunction in Al-Qaeda as well as dwindling trust from Muslims he wished to incite.

The documents show bin Laden remained focused on attacking Americans and coming up with plots to kill U.S. leaders.

Bin Laden planned to release a statement about “starting a new phase to correct [the mistakes].”

He even wished to target a plane carrying U.S. President Barack Obama.

Bin Laden described “trusted Pakistani brothers” but did not identify any Pakistani official who might have been aware or complicit in his hiding in Abbottabad.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Guinea-Bissau army releases former leaders

Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau have released the country’s interim president and leading presidential candidate after seizing the two men in an April 12 coup, local media and a minister in Ivory Coast have revealed.

Ex-premier and presidential election front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior and interim President Raimundo Pereira arrived in Abidjan in Ivory Coast on Friday evening, according to Adama Bictogo, the Ivorian minister for African integration. 

The pair were released a day after the West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), announced the deployment of a military force to the country.

The organisation also threatened sanctions against soldiers who resisted ECOWAS demands for the return to civilian rule.

The military also announced on Friday that it would follow ECOWAS’ recommendations of a 12-month transition period after the army had initially proposed a two-year transition.

Firm response 

A team of the country’s former rulers arrived late on Friday in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s main city, the Ivorian presidency said.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, current head of ECOWAS, has pledged a firm response to the instability “to prevent our sub-region from giving into terrorism and transnational criminality”.

The announcements came shortly after a team of West African leaders left Guinea-Bissau after several hours of closed-door talks with their counterpart Antonio Indjai, who is widely thought to have masterminded the coup.

Daba Na Walna, Guinea Bissau’s military spokesperson, downplayed regional concerns, saying the “return
to civilian rule is on track”, and adding: “The right place for soldiers are the barracks.”

The future transition government “will be a government of technocrats and neutral personalities who will have to oversee a transition period of 12 months”, he added.


AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Egypt releases presidential candidates list

Egypt’s election commission has released a final list of 13 candidates eligible to run in next month’s presidential election, the first since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the former president, last year.

Thursday’s list includes Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, who was disqualified and then reinstated over a 24-hour period this week.

“After listening to Shafiq’s appeal, the committee decided to halt the decision to exclude him from the presidential race,” Farouk Soltan, the head of the election committee, said while announcing the list in Cairo.

Shafiq was disqualified on Tuesday, after the military council approved a new law denying political rights to anyone who served as president, vice-president or prime minister in the decade prior to Mubarak’s fall.

The electoral committee also decided to refer the new law to the Supreme Constitutional Court to determine whether it was constitutional or not.

“This could be a challenge to the legitimacy of the presidential election and the whole transition process,” Omar Ashour of the Doha Brookings Centre told Al Jazeera.

Candidates able to stand include Amr Moussa, former foreign minister; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent moderate; and Mohammed Mursi, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

Abol Fotouh may now receive backing from supporters of the Salafist al-Nour party.

The eligible candidates were among a total of 23 hopefuls before the commission disqualified 10 of them earlier this month.

Among those barred from running are Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s former vice-president and spy chief, along with Khairat al-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail.

Soltan told a news conference on Thursday that he intended to refer to criminal investigators some of the 10 disqualified hopefuls because their applications contained material that broke the law.

He did not elaborate, but it is widely suspected that the 30,000 signatures collected and submitted by some independent applicants included forged ones.

Independent candidates are obliged under the election law to collect 30,000 endorsements from Egyptians in at least 15 of Egypt’s 18 provinces as part of the requirements to run.

The generals who took power in Egypt when Mubarak stepped down 14 months ago in the face of a popular uprising have promised to hand over power to a civilian administration by July 1, ending a transition period marred by the use of deadly force by troops and police against pro-democracy protesters, a sharp rise in violent crime and a worsening economic crisis.

Presidential elections are set for May 23 and 24 with a runoff scheduled in June.


AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

* Kuwait releases 199 Iraqi prisoners; 27 in 2012

Babinaoz (Reuters) – revealed the Kuwaiti embassy in Baghdad for the release of 199 prisoners Iraqis over the past years, including 27 prisoners this year.

The embassy said in a statement that “the Embassy of the State of Kuwait progressing thanks and gratitude to all of the Iraqi leadership sought and helped to release the Kuwaiti citizen to war.”

The statement continued: We find it pertinent to note that Kuwait has released many of the Iraqi prisoners amnesty Amiri, as it freed 111 prisoners since 2000 to the year 2005, and released two prisoners during the year 2006, and in 2007 released the 19, as were fired release of 15 another prisoner in 2008, and 8 prisoners in 2009, and four prisoners in the year 2010, and in 2011, released 13 prisoners during the visit of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of the State of Kuwait, confirmed the release of 27 prisoners during the year 2012. “

LINK


Comments

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Europeans Welcome Belarusian Political Prisoner Releases, Demand More

European leaders have welcomed this weekend’s release in Belarus of two high-profile political prisoners but tempered their statements with demands that Minsk release other dissenters and respect their rights.

Prison authorities freed a former opposition presidential candidate and his aide without warning after they were reportedly pardoned by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

After his release, late on April 14, onetime candidate Andrey Sannikau accused Belarusian officials of playing “a game” and predicted that other political prisoners would soon be freed.

Sannikau and his former campaign aide, Dzmitry Bandarenka, were among a handful of prominent opposition activists and politicians still jailed over the December 2010 presidential election that handed Lukashenka a fourth term.

The European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have applauded the releases but warned that there is more work to be done by Minsk.

“I welcome the news that former presidential candidate [Andrey Sannikau] as well as his main campaign aide Dzmitry Bandarenka are now free and will be able to rejoin their families and friends,” Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, said in a statement on April 15.

She said the two men “stand out as prominent symbols for the tireless work and commitment of many for a democratic and European Belarus” and repeated the EU and other governments’ accusation that their jailings were “on political grounds.”

Lukashenka’s regime has sporadically bowed to Western pressure over the routine jailing of political opponents and others who dare to criticize the government, and European and other sanctions were recently tightened against influential Belarusian officials.

“I call on the authorities of Belarus to release unconditionally now also all other remaining political prisoners and to remove all restrictions on the enjoyment of their civil and political rights,” Ashton’s statement added. “This would certainly contribute to possibilities for moving towards improved relations between the EU and Belarus.”

Dzmitry Bandarenka is welcomed from jail by wife Volha in Minsk on April 15.

​​
There are thought to be around 10 remaining political prisoners high on Western demands for release by Lukashenka’s regime, including another presidential candidate in 2010, Mikola Statkevich.

The OSCE’s chairperson-in-office, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, mentioned Statkevich by name in his comments.

“This is excellent news for [Sannikau], his family and his friends, but I remain concerned over the fate of other jailed political opponents, notably former presidential candidate [Mikola] Statkevich,” Gilmore said in an OSCE statement. “I call upon President [Lukashenka] to build upon this positive development and release all remaining jailed opposition leaders.”

Belarus stayed away from talks in March on the EU’s Eastern Partnership, which is aimed at improving political and economic relations between the EU and six former Soviet republics: Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele called Sannikau’s and Bandarenka’s releases “a fundamental first step one would naturally expect — especially in a situation when the head of state promised to pardon those who asked for it. Although personally I think it is against the principles of modern Europe and against human dignity to force people to admit what they never did, when their only ‘crime’ was expressing their own opinion.”

He added: “The EU has repeatedly stressed that all political prisoners must be released and rehabilitated, only then we can consider normalization of the relations with Minsk.”

A founder of the Charter 97 group and leading proponent of the European Belarus civil initiative, Sannikau was beaten and jailed over street protests that broke out within hours of voting on December 19, 2010. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and had spent recent months at a labor camp that he described as “torture.”

“I think we are witnessing a game,” Sannikau said on April 15. “Now they [the authorities] will watch the reaction to see what will happen.”

He speculated that “almost all” the remaining political prisoners might be released “in the very near future.”

But he urged critics at home and abroad to keep the pressure on Lukashenka’s administration. “[W]e have to stress that until they release all political prisoners, there shouldn’t be any steps on the part of those who are calling for this — Europe [or] our public opinion.”

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service and RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Syria Releases 8 Assyrians Who Were Arrested

Posted GMT 4-13-2012 0:41:25

(AINA) — Syrian authorities have released eight of the nine Assyrians arrested on April 4 (AINA 4-6-2012) in the city of Qamishli, according to the European Syriac Union. The released Assyrians are in good health and have joined their families. No information was given on the one remaining Assyrian still under arrest.

Assyrian International News Agency

Russia Releases Incomes For Top Officials

Russia’s government has released income declarations for top officials ranging from President-elect Vladimir Putin to outgoing head of state Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin and Medvedev reported 3.7 million rubles ($ 124,000) and 3.3 million rubles ($ 114,000), respectively, in 2011 income.

Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov has reported $ 12.6 million in joint family income, amid allegations that he had made large profits through shady deals.

Shuvalov, a close Putin ally, is a top candidate for a high position in Russia’s new government.

He has admitted to making multimillion-dollar investments in state companies via an offshore trust.

Shuvalov made 9.6 million rubles ($ 325,000) in 2011 income, while his wife, Olga Shuvalova, declared 365 million rubles ($ 12.3 million) in income as well as several properties abroad.

Based on reporting by AFP and ITAR-TASS

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Current Chief of IAEA Releases Its Brakes on Rush to War With Iran

Yukio Amano“Amano’s director-generalship began under a bad star.”

That’s Julian Borger at the Guardian quoting Mark Hibbs, the journalist who helped take down the AQ Khan nuclear-weapons black market and is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Yukio Amano, the “head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog at the heart of the growing Iranian crisis,” Borger explains, “has been accused by several former senior officials of pro-western bias, over-reliance on unverified intelligence and of sidelining sceptics.”

Some of the controversy around Amano’s management dates to his election in 2009, when he narrowly beat Abdul Minty, a South African diplomat. [Hibbs said] “The election was extremely polarised and bitter. Minty clearly appealed to states who see themselves as underdogs and have-nots. Amano was supported by the US and others who saw him as rolling back the IAEA’s political aspirations under ElBaradei to a more technical agency.”

Previous director Mohamed ElBaradei was noted for his objections to IAEA findings being used as a pretext for ultimatums and/or war with Iran. Borger also reminds us of those WikiLeaks cables that confirmed suspicions about Amano almost too perfectly.

[They] revealed Amano’s assiduous courting of American support. In an October 2009 cable, the US charge d’affaires, Geoffrey Pyatt, wrote: “Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”

Not sure of the exact motivations for Amano’s bootlicking, but there it is for the world to see. Confirming Amano’s toadyism toward the United States

… the IAEA’s reports on Iranian behaviour have become steadily more critical. In November, it published an unprecedented volume of intelligence pointing towards past Iranian work on developing a nuclear weapon, deeming it credible.

However, some former IAEA officials are saying that the agency has gone too far. Robert Kelley, a former US weapons scientists who ran the IAEA action team on Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, said. … “Amano is falling into the Cheney trap. What we learned back in 2002 and 2003, when we were in the runup to the war, was that peer review was very important, and that the analysis should not be left to a small group of people,” Kelley said. “… Just like [former US vice-president] Dick Cheney, Amano is relying on a very small group of people and those opinions are not being checked.”

Meanwhile …

Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund [said]: “On Iran, the difference is like night and day. ElBaradei constantly sought a diplomatic solution, while Amano wields a big stick and has hit Iran hard and repeatedly.”

And …

Jim Walsh, an expert on the Iranian nuclear programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said. … “Amano has been way out in front of the US on [holding Iran's feet to the fire]. … I think if the agency is going to be a neutral player in this — and we need a neutral player to make the sort of judgements that have to be made — it will have to be more conservative [than] the national governments on this.”

And …

Laban Coblentz, ElBaradei’s former speechwriter and a collaborator on [his book] The Age of Deception, said that huge stakes could rest on the nuances with which the IAEA director-general interprets the evidence. … “Amano and ElBaradei were looking at the same allegations. … The other thing that is the same is that so far the most substantial allegations have not been verified. What has changed is the willingness to publish those allegations that have not been verified as a tool to pressure the Iranians to come to the table.”

Compared to Dick Cheney, shamed by WikiLeaks, Yukio Amano is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time. ElBaradei won the Nobel Prize; Amano is angling for the Ignoble Prize.

FPIF Latest Content

Assyrian Rights Group Releases 2011 Report on Assyrians of Iraq

Posted GMT 3-15-2012 22:0:25

Editor’s note: The Assyria Council of Europe (ACE), based in Brussels, is an independent organization that monitors and reports on the plight of Iraq’s Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans or Syriacs). The following is the introduction from their 2011 report titled Human Rights Report on Assyrians in Iraq: The Exodus from Iraq.


The rich and colourful diversity that used to signify Iraqi culture and its historical roots are severely threatened at the dawn of the 21st century. Iraq’s road to stability is blocked by a flaring conflict between a resurgent Shi’ite majority and a humiliated Sunni minority as well as from the expansionist aspirations of an over-confident Kurdish administration in North Iraq. Given the huge exodus of minorities and continuing threats and violence in 2011, there is a genuine worry that Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) in Iraq may not survive the current conflict and that their unique culture and heritage will slowly disappear from Iraq.

Despite a general decrease of violence in 2011, Assyrians and other minorities are constantly experiencing targeted violence, threats and intimidation. They do not have their own militias to defend them and do not receive effective protection or justice. In addition, minorities are also subjected to a pattern of official discrimination, marginalisation and neglect, and suffer from the effects of corruption and a policy based on sectarian interests. Assyrians perceive that they do not belong to the current Iraq and that they are being excluded from civil society. Because of the continuing displacement processes, many Assyrians are not able to sustain themselves, lacking a regular source of income, opportunities and education, and neither the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) nor the central Iraqi government provides sufficient assistance. In addition to the lack of life opportunities, especially in the KRG region and in the Nineveh Plains, Assyrians and other minorities experienced a significant rise in hostile acts and riots inside the KRG boundaries in 2011 compared to 2010. Feeling desperation, Assyrians have become restless people moving from one place to the other, and often express the desire to emigrate.

The huge exodus that has taken place since 2003 marks the biggest threat to the survival of minorities in Iraq. More than half of the Assyrian community has left Iraq since 2003: From more than 1.5 million Assyrians, the Assyrians population is estimated at approximately 500,000 today. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), minorities make up more than 30 per cent of the 2 million Iraqi refugees seeking sanctuary in Jordan, Syria and across the world; the majority of these are Assyrian Christians. Moreover, they represent an enormously disproportionate number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of refugees who moved to neighbouring countries remain trapped in poverty and chronic uncertainty. Unable to return home or to resettle elsewhere, many face growing desperation with each passing year in exile.

This report highlights the situation of the Iraqi Assyrian population in the year 2011, and tries to find an answer to the question why Assyrians have been emigrating from Iraq, shedding light on the conditions under which minority people were living in Iraq of 2011.

ACE documented dozens of attacks, and revealed patterns of structural discrimination against Assyrians and their organizations during 2011. As a result of the continuing violence at least 9 people were killed. Every week seven people were wounded in attacks targeting Assyrians. Six Assyrians were abducted; eight attempts were made to bomb churches and kill as many parishioners as possible. This kind of violence is aimed at causing fear and exodus, destroying minorities’ social infrastructure and depriving them of their means of subsistence.

Assyria Council of Europe

Assyrian International News Agency

Turkey Releases Two High Profile Journalists From Jail

Posted GMT 3-13-2012 23:57:27

Istanbul (VOA) — Turkey’s release on bail of two high-profile journalists, after a more than a year in jail, is being heralded as an important victory for press freedom.

The jailing of Neden Sener and Ahmet Sik on anti-terror charges had drawn condemnation both nationally and internationally. But with the journalists still facing trial and with more than 100 other journalists still in prison, pressure remains on the government for reform.

Neden Sener and Ahmet Sik were among four Turkish journalists released on Monday to cheering supporters, many of whom were fellow journalists. The two reporters had been in jail pending trial for more than a year. But in a surprise move, a court released them on bail on legal technicalities, along with two other colleagues. Ahmet Sik angrily attacked his detention.

He called the justice inadequate, and said it will not bring law and democracy to Turkey. Sik said around 100 other journalists are still in prison.

Sik and Sener were detained under the country’s anti-terror laws. They were accused of involvement in an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government, known as Ergenekon. Both are well-known journalists who are critical of the ruling AK party. Their cases have become the focal point of growing national and international concern about the growing numbers of imprisoned journalists in Turkey.

Emma Sinclair Webb, the Turkish representative of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, cautiously welcomed their release.

“The very fact getting out of prison is itself such a relief and lightens the climate somewhat, when you have two people who are so well-known released from prison. Of course, there are reasons to be very glad. But there are [those] still on trial, for aiding and abetting an illegal armed gang,” said Webb.

The two journalists whose trials are in June face up to 15 years in jail if convicted. According to the Council of Europe, more than 90 journalists are currently in jail, while Turkish human rights groups claim the figure is more than 100. That is among the highest in the world. But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan disputes the numbers.

Mr. Erdogan said only six people are officially accredited journalists. He says 69 others are associated with terrorist organizations and have nothing to do with journalism.

The vast majority of the detained journalists are held under Turkey’s anti-terror laws. Most of the cases involve prosecutions in connection with the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK. But critics claim the language in the anti-terror laws has allowed them to be used against government critics.

Criticism has been growing in particular from the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join. Richard Howitt is a member of the European Parliament’s committee on Turkey.

“There is no doubt that some of them are being prosecuted for criminal activities alleged, and maybe some of them are guilty,” said Howitt. “But there is also no, absolutely no, doubt I have to say that some of them are in jail because they have written or broadcast things which are unpalatable to the government and to the authorities in this country, and that is not just unpalatable to those of us in Brussels and European Union. It is unacceptable.”

The cases of Sik and Sener were raised at last month’s biannual meeting of European and Turkish parliamentarians in Istanbul. The decision to release two high-profile cases could be an indication of a change in government policy, according to political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Bachesehir University.

“In Turkey, the power, the ruling power, is so personalized that such an important move can come only from the prime minister, and indicates his will to, the optimistic scenario would be, he may shift his position on the public freedoms,” said Aktar..

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc welcomed the release of Sener and Sik. But Sinclair Webb of Human Rights Watch, worries their release may only be a symbolic gesture. She said fundamental reforms are still needed.

By Dorian Jones

Assyrian International News Agency