Daily Archives: March 13, 2016

Egypt prepares to share Giulio Regeni murder investigation files with Italian side

The body of Regeni was found with signs of torture on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo early in February, nine days after he disappeared

 

giulio-regeni

Egypt’s prosecution has sent the results of its investigations into slain Italian student Giulio Regeni to the office of the Ministry of International Cooperation, ahead of presenting these findings to the Italian side, a judicial source said Friday.

The body of Regeni, a PhD student who was conducting research on independent trade union movements in Egypt, was found with signs of torture on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo early in February, nine days after he disappeared on 25 January.

The culprit is yet to be identified.

The documents include statements made by his friends in Egypt as well as statements from the last person Giulio spoke with before his disappearance on 25 January.

It also includes a call log, acquired from the telecommunications company, a list of places he used to frequent, and people who used to visit his house or meet him outside.

The source added that the prosecution is willing to share all the case information with the Italian investigation team.

 

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Intra-Syrian Talks in Geneva Likely to Continue Until March 19 – Source

An informed source at the talks told Sputnik that the current round of Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva will most likely last until Friday.

The current round of Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva will most likely last until Friday, March 19, an informed source at the talks told Sputnik on Sunday.

“Most likely, this round of Intra-Syrian talks won’t go beyond Friday, March 19, ” the source said.

A new round of talks between the Syrian opposition and the country’s government is scheduled to start on Monday, and is expected to be over by March 24.

 

Combat Missiles Heading to US Found in Passenger Aircraft in Serbia

Serbian authorities have started an investigation into reports that two air-to-surface missiles, presumably destined for the US, were found in a passenger aircraft.

According to Serbian news agency Tanjug, Air Serbia, the largest air Serbian carrier, has confirmed that an undisclosed “package” was discovered by a sniffer dog aboard a passenger aircraft, “thanks to the strict measures of security control”.

“We confirm that a package that headed towards a remote destination was found earlier this day in Belgrade airport, thanks to the strict measures of security control… The air carried assists investigation, security and reliability — are Air Serbia’s top priorities,” Tanjug cites.

Earlier in the day, Serbian media reported two combat missiles, each 1.5m long were discovered aboard the aircraft in Belgrade Nikola Tesla airport. The missiles were reportedly packaged in a wooden case and provided with documents that listed Portland, Oregon as its destination.

The missiles are presumably AGM-114 Hellfire, a universal precision missile that can be fired from ground, maritime or air platform, including predator strike drones. Each missile costs $110,000 and is capable of covering up to 8 kilometers at a speed of 1.3 Mach.

 

 

Turkey blocks Facebook, Twitter following deadly Ankara blast – reports

Turkish authorities banned Twitter and Facebook after images spread on social media depicting the suicide car bombing that killed and injured dozens in the Turkish capital of Ankara, local broadcasters reported.

Turkey’s telecommunications authority, TIB, blocked access to social media after a court-ordered ban was imposed, Turkish NTV and CNN Turk reported.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, and a number of other sites has been blocked because images showing victims of the tragedy were being shared on those platforms, according to the court.

Difficulty in accessing the sites has been reported by users.Broadcast media has also allegedly been banned from covering certain aspects of the attack. A journalist from Today’s Zaman, a sister publication of the newspaper Zaman that was recently taken over by the government, said “a ban on networks for coverage of explosion in Ankara” had been issued.The blast rocked the crowded center of the Turkish capital on Sunday evening, killing at least 34 people and injuring 125. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

 

Car bombing rocks Turkish capital Ankara, 34 dead, 125 injured

A blast caused by a suicide car bombing hit the center of Ankara on Sunday evening. The explosion resulted in over a hundred casualties.

At least 34 people were killed and 125 injured in the explosion, according to the Turkish health ministry, as cited by Sputnik news agency.

The blast occurred near Guven Park in the city center.

The suicide car bomb went off at 6:43 pm local time (16:43 GMT), Turkish broadcaster TRT said.

The site of the blast is close to a courthouse and buildings housing the country’s justice and interior ministries.What appears to be CCTV cam footage was posted on YouTube that allegedly shows the moment of the explosion. A couple of buses can be seen in the video, before a passing by car slows down near them and a huge blast is seen.

Turkish authorities have announced that they will release the name of the group responsible for the deadly blast and the results of the probe into the bombing on Monday. “I believe the investigation will be concluded tomorrow and the findings will be announced,” Efkan Ala said in comments broadcast live on local TV, as quoted by Reuters.

The blast was caused by “explosive-laden vehicle,” according to Reuters citing Ankara governor’s office.

The blast appears to have been triggered by a car exploding near a bus stop, TRT said. Guven Park adjoins a major transportation hub.

It’s a car bomb, [it happened] in the heart of Ankara… and today is Sunday, many people may be outside,” Turkish journalist Onur Burcak Belli told RT by phone, adding that the scene of the blast is “very close to a shopping mall” and that “many cars are on fire and apparently a public bus is also on fire.”

I was nearby when I heard the explosion, and there were casualties all around… the numbers of dead are increasing,” an eyewitness told RT by phone, adding that “the explosion was actually bigger than the last one in Ankara.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

A security official said that initial findings suggest the attack was carried out by Kurdish PKK fighters or a group affiliated with them, Reuters reported.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has issued a statement condemning the attack, saying it shares “the huge pain felt along with our citizens,” AP reported. The party has been previously accused of not speaking out against PKK violence.

Images allegedly showing the aftermath of the explosion emerged on social media. A huge fire could be seen in some of them.

A large cloud of smoke rising into the dark could also be seen from the distance.

Numerous loud sirens could be heard in a Periscope transmission from the scene, in which people can be seen running by, with some screaming.

In February, 28 people were killed and 61 injured in a blast in Ankara, when a car bomb, reportedly targeting military personnel, went off close to the parliament building. Forces linked to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia were accused of committing that terrorist attack by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

A splinter group of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), later claimed responsibility, saying the bombing had been in retaliation for Turkey’s military operation in the country’s southeast and vowing to continue its attacks.

 

‘Super Sunday’ Regional Elections in Germany to Test Merkel’s Coalition

Three German regions will vote on Sunday in parliamentary elections that are widely seen as a test for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ruling coalition ahead of the next year’s general election.

A total of 13 million voters will cast their ballots in the western states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as in Saxony-Anhalt in the east. The “Super Sunday” will take place in an atmosphere of concern over Merkel’s open-arms policy on refugees.

The arrival of over a million of migrants at the German border last year looks likely to make it a single-issue election and cost the Conservatives and their coalition partners in the Social Democratic camp votes, the recent opinion polls have shown.

The upcoming vote will be the first opportunity for Germans to deliver their verdict on how the government has been handling the migrant crisis since the chancellor threw the doors open to war refugees coming to Europe from Syria last summer.

The fiercely anti-EU, anti-migrant Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party has meanwhile been making gains all across the country. The populist party has seats in five of the 16 regional legislatures and looks set to grab more in the three regions, where it can win between 10-18 percent of votes.

Unexpected? ‘The Best Cure for Low Oil Prices are Low Oil Prices’

There is clear evidence that oil prices are stabilizing and might even begin to recover. That’s according to the latest report by the International Energy Agency.

It said that lower oil output in the United States and other countries helped to curb the glut in the oil supply on the markets. In particular, OPEC’s output fell by 90,000 barrels per day in February due to production outages in Nigeria, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

Jim Krane, expert on Mideast/OPEC and Saudi market strategy, Wallace Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, joined Radio

Sputnik to discuss the current state of the global oil market and its prospects.

“The best cure for low oil prices are low oil prices. As people start to take advantage of discarded oil and buying a little more of it some of the inventory disappears so that seems to be a part of what is happening. At the same time the producers are no longer willing to produce oil at such low prices, they start laying people off and then production starts to drop so we see a little bit of market balancing.”

“People don’t really know what’s going to happen. There is a big question mark over production especially over shale production because the supply is so elastic. When prices recover somewhat these people who have been laid off and left the oil patch, all those guys will go back to work and shale price will increase.”

He further spoke about the Goldman report and the new source of supply in the US that doesn’t take the same kind of planning and huge investments and multiple year projects. “It is just about sending a few guys back into the field and they start producing oil again.”

The analyst spoke about the oil prices at the end of this year and what he personally thinks will happen.

“I feel that there will be some modest recovery as far as the oil prices are concerned. The longer they are low the more that stimulates demand and removes supply. If everything else remains roughly constant prices should start edging back up,” Krane said.

‘Iran, Russia the Most Stable and Independent Players in the Middle East’

With Syria plunged into civil war and the terrorist threat in neighboring Iraq high, Sputnik discussed the situation in the region with Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, a senior adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“The current instability in the Middle East is reflecting very negatively on the situation in the rest of the world. The region is infested with terrorists from Finland, France, Britain, Russia and Central Asia and this is the new challenge and the new geopolitical reality Iran is facing today,” Mr. Sajjadpour said.He mentioned what he described as “trans-regional players” impacting the situation in the region, above all the US, Britain, France and Germany.

There is also a second group of players, namely Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. The Saudi policy is shortsighted and erratic. Turkey is in political turmoil over its meddling with the crisis in neighboring Syria.

“And last, but not least, it is Daesh, which is both a transnational and internal player,” Seyed Sajjadpour noted.
He described Iran as a strong and influential player, with a high degree of political and social security.

“Millions of Iranians took part in the recent parliamentary elections ensuring a peaceful handover of political power fully in line with the constitution and without violence and conflicts like is often the case with our neighboring countries,” the diplomat said.

He heaped praise on Russia for its role in the settlement of regional conflicts, especially in tandem with Iran.

“We are opening a new chapter in relations between our two countries, which are based on respect for each other’s national identity and independence. Our concerted effort has helped to change the course of the civil war in Syria. Many countries now believe that Russia and Iran can stabilize the situation in the Middle East,” the diplomat emphasized.

When asked whether Moscow and Tehran had different views on who is a terrorist and who is not, Seyed Sajjadpour said: “For us anyone engaged in an armed struggle with the legitimate Syrian government is a terrorist and we see eye to eye with Russia on the need to fight terrorists in Syria… It is our firm belief that it is up to the Syrian people to decide their country’s future.”

Erdogan’s Conundrum: What Could Trigger Military Coup in Turkey

The current state of affairs in Turkey is triggering concern. Ankara is facing the dangerous combination of deepening political polarization in the society, a slump in economic growth, and escalating tensions both at home and abroad.

Unlike the political and economic turmoil in the 1970s and 1990s, the current crisis is largely a result of the conflict between Turkey’s pragmatic domestic and foreign policy and its actual push for leadership, Pavel Shlykov, an associate professor at the Asian and African Studies Institute of the Moscow State University, said in his report.

The current Turkish crisis can be described with several specific features.

First, all spheres of the country’s political and social life as well as all its state institutions are engulfed in the crisis.

Second, public incertitude is growing about the future. People realize that the existing model of social and political development is jaded.

Third, the Turkish military is gradually building up its political influence, thus laying grounds for a military coup.

Fourth, recently the Kurdish problem has entered the new stage, and the situation in south-eastern Turkey can be described as a lukewarm civil war between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces.Furthermore, the conflict in Syria is influencing Ankara’s foreign and domestic policy.

Finally, the political prospects of the ruling Justice and Development Party (founded by Recep Tayyip Erdogan) are vague in the current environment.

Erdogan and the Turkish military

In his report presented at the Carnegie Moscow Center, Shlykov analyzed the question: is a military coup possible in Turkey?

Active involvement of the military in political processes has been part of Turkish history. In the 2000s, Erdogan announced the reforming of relations between the military and civic institutions. Under his political course, the military would not dictate its policy to the government.

A military coup in Turkey would be possible if three criteria are met simultaneously: further deepening of the political crisis, a rising external threat, and the spike escalation of the Kurdish issue. And currently, all of the above is evident, according to the analyst.

After Ankara suspended the peace process with Turkish Kurds Erdogan had to form some kind of a tactical alliance with the military elite who he oppressed in 2007-2008.

The cooperation between Erdogan and the military became obvious in autumn 2015, during a military operation in south-eastern regions mostly inhabited by Kurds. At the time, Ankara gave a blank cheque to the army command. In order to take advantage of the situation, Erdogan admitted that his previous policy toward the military was wrong. Moreover, he found a scapegoat for his “mistakes” – exiled Turkish preacher Fethulah Gulen currently residing in Pennsylvania.

Of course, at the present time the Turkish army is one the most powerful political forces in Turkey. But it is unlikely to stage a coup (like it happened in 1960, 1971 and 1980), Shlykov pointed out. The military doubts they would enjoy broad public support.

In the modern Turkey, the army also plays another important role – to counterbalance Erdogan’s risky foreign policy ambitions. A year ago, the military barely prevented him from invading Syria, and the situation repeated last month.

The Kurdish problem

Turkey has been facing the Kurdish issue in its current state for over 30 years. According to estimates, there are 15-20 million Kurds in Turkey, which accounts for 15 percent of the population. At the same time, the Kurdish minority has historically been highly atomized.

From a political perspective, Turkish Kurds can be divided into three groups: nationalist supporters of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Alawite Kurds supporting leftist and social-democratic ideas, and the religious conservative majority (50 percent of the population) who in the 2000s were loyal to Erdogan’s party.

The support of the Kurdish majority for the Justice and Development Party played in to the hands of Ankara. Thus, the conservative majority was excluded from the Kurdish problem and was integrated into the country’s social and political system. But everything changed after the Syrian war began and when Daesh (also known as Islamic State/ISIL) appeared. In this situation, the Kurds proved their readiness for national and political consolidation.

After Ankara refused to help the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani at the Syrian-Turkish border, the conservative majority abandoned their loyalty to Erdogan and his party. They were even more disappointed after dialogue between the Turkish government and Kurds stopped.

Another important factor destabilizing Turkey is the porous 822-km-long border with war-ravaged Syria. Extremists are coming to Turkey from Syria not only to recover from wounds in Turkish hospitals (Erdogan has repeatedly been criticized for this) but also to stage terrorist attacks, undermining country’s national security.

However, according to the report, the rising threats to national security will not consolidate Turkish society, but instead will only deepen its political rifts. Unlike before, the military standoff with the Kurds is not broadly supported by Turks.

The Syrian trap

In 2015, the developments in Syria were not favorable for Ankara. After the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian jet last November Turkey lost the chance to influence the situation in Syria.

Over the past weeks, Turkey’s pro-government media has reported that now is the perfect time to intervene into the Syrian conflict. However, those reports were aimed only to consolidate public opinion.

here are several reasons that Turkey is unlikely to launch an operation in Syria.

First, in technical terms, any ground operation would require aerial support. Currently, the Syrian airspace is controlled by the Russian Aerospace Forces, and Turkish jets will not be allowed there.

Second, an intervention in Syria would have serious diplomatic problems for Ankara. The operation would be supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies. However, it will spark a conflict with the US and Russia. What is more, during such an operation the Turkish military would have to fight on several fronts at the same time; against the Syrian Army, Daesh, opposition groups, and Kurdish militia. It is obvious that Erdogan is not ready to take the risk.

Finally, if Turkey becomes involved in the Syrian war, they would also end up fighting the Kurds in the south-eastern parts of the country. Consequently, the conflict may spread across the entire of Turkey.

Turkey at a crossroads

Since the era of Kemal Ataturk who tried to create a controllable opposition force in Turkey, all experiments with democracy have turned pear shaped.

In his first years in power, Erdogan launched a number of political and economic reforms aimed at integrating with the European Union. Until 2007, his course was viewed as modernization. But then, especially following the 2010 constitutional reform, the setbacks began.

Currently, Turkey is at a crossroads. The choice is between a super-presidential republic ruled by Erdogan and further development as a liberal-democratic European-like state but with some specific characteristics.

The future of Turkey depends on its leader. According to the constitution, the head of state is Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. But in fact, power is concentrated in the hands of President Erdogan.

Davutoglu is Erdogan’s protégé and is much weaker as a politician than Erdogan. But if he could find courage to restrict Erdogan’s power chances for a liberal Turkey would significantly improve, the analyst noted.

Rift with Russia

After Turkey shot down a Russian bomber in Syria in late November tensions between Moscow and Ankara turned into hostility. Any improvement is unlikely in the coming future.

Shlykov outlined three possible scenarios for Russian-Turkish relations.

First, Russian and Turkey may reconcile.

Second, in order to normalize ties with Russia, Turkey may sacrifice one of its high-profile politicians, by shifting responsibility for the incident.

Third, a road to reconciliation may be very long. In this case, neither Russia nor Turkey would be ready to compromise, and the conflict would dry out in the long-term perspective.

As for now, the situation is developing according to the third variant. The world is now witnessing a deep conflict between Moscow and Ankara, which could ease with its main participants leaving the stage, the analyst concluded.

Al-Moallem: De Mistura Can’t Talk about Syria Presidential Elections

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid al-Moallem said Saturday UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has no right to talk about Syrian presidential elections, noting that the Syrian Arab Republic delegation will not wait in Geneva forever for other parties to decide to show up.

During a press conference, al-Moallem said the Syrian Arab Republic delegation received a letter from de Mistura  scheduling Monday as a date for meeting at the UN HQ in Geneva within the Syrian-Syrian dialogue.

“Meeting with our delegation at first is a good thing,” he said, adding however that the Republic’s delegation “will not repeat the same mistake that happened in the previous round. They are going to wait for 24 hours only.”

“We are looking forward to having dialogue with the broadest spectrum of opposition groups in implementation of de Mistura’s mandate by the UN Security Council and the Vienna and Munich communiqués, particularly the national opposition…that is not linked to any foreign agendas,” al-Moallem added.

He commented on the UN Envoy’s recent statements setting up a schedule for Geneva talks which he said will discuss the regime, the constitution and the parliamentary and presidential elections, saying de Mistura doesn’t have the right to set a schedule, which is something up to the dialogue parties.

He went on saying that de Mistura must be aware, when he talks about the constitution, that it is the national unity government, the subject of discussion in the future, that will appoint a committee to draft a new constitution or amend the standing one, stressing that any outcome will be subject to referendum for approval.

Regarding the presidential elections, al-Moallem stressed that neither de Mistura nor anyone else whomsoever can discuss this issue as it is “an exclusive right of the Syrian people,” dismissing what the envoy said as “a deviation from all the UN documents.”

“We will no longer accept that [de Mistura] gives up objectivity to please this or that party, and our delegation will reject any attempt to put this issue on the schedule,” he added.

As for the upcoming parliamentary elections, al-Moallem said fulfilling the elections is part of the constitution, stressing that this issue should be respected where no reservations can be accepted by anyone, calling for a high turnout of Syrian voters.

Al-Moallem stressed that Syria is committed to the cessation of hostilities agreement, noting that there have been breaches of the agreement by the armed groups that were responded to by the army sometimes and overlooked in other times.

“We affirm out armed forces’ right to respond to breaches,” he added.

He used this opportunity to urge those who have taken up weapons to utilize the agreement of the cessation of hostilities and engage in reconciliations.

The crisis, he affirmed, is coming to an end, and we hereby welcome all those who want to join our armed forces in the fight against ISIL, al-Nusra Front and the terrorist organizations linked to them,” added al-Moallem.

In his comments on the talk about foreign ground intervention in Syria that came up in the past period, al-Moallem reaffirmed that “No one dares to intervene in Syria in a ground war, and that this talk has receded, noting that US President Barack Obama’s recent speech proved that he is not going to such a war.

“I say with confidence that our people will reject any attempts at dividing [the country],” he said.

Al-Moallem referred to the recent statements about a federal model in Syria made by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as circulated by the media, clarifying that the statements were not quoted objectively because Ryabkov made it contingent on the Syrians’ approval.

“I say as a Syrian citizen, and I’m sure you are with me, that we reject the talk about federalism and we are with the unity of Syria,” he added.

The Foreign Minister reiterated in comments on statements by the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that the latter is always repeating his talk at all occasions and what he said “was worthless”. “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” al-Moallem said.

He asserted that the Syrian people are optimistic about the talks in Geneva, adding however that while the Syrian Arab Republic’s delegation is going to Geneva with the intention to made the dialogue a success, this issue depends also on the other parties as well.

“If those have illusions of taking over power through Geneva after they failed in the battlefield, they will fail once again,” he added.

He made it clear that nowhere in the UN documents there is something that talks about a transition period of presidency, “which is why there should be agreement on the definition of transition period.”

“As far as we understand it, transition is to move from a standing constitution to a new one and from a standing government to another that involves the other party,” he said.

Al-Moallem went on saying that the standing constitution will remain in place until holding a referendum by the Syrian people on a new or an amended one, reiterating again that there is no link between the legislative elections and what is going on in Geneva.

“We are going to Geneva and we do not know with whom we will have dialogue,” he said, reiterating that the Republic’s delegation will wait only 24 hours for the other parties to show up and if the other parties don’t show up by that time, the delegation will leave Geneva and the other party will be held responsible for the failure of the talks.

Al-Moallem affirmed that the Republic’s delegation does not put preconditions for the dialogue in Geneva, adding that those who know Syria and the Syrian leadership well realize that “we do not bow to anyone, whether states or groups.”

“We will not have dialogue with any side that discusses the position of the president. This is a red line and it is up to the Syrians alone,” he reiterated.

Asked about the Kurds in Syria, al-Moallem affirmed that “Our brothers, the Kurds, are Syrian citizens, and they are with us in the same trench against ISIL.”