“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."

African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Saudi Arabia pledges Lebanese army $3 billion in aid

Deutsche Welle, 29 December 2013

Saudi Arabia has pledged to give the Lebanese army $3 billion (2.2 billion euros) in aid, Lebanon's President Michel Sleiman has announced. It is the largest grant ever offered to the nation's armed forces.

In televised address to the nation on Sunday, Lebanon's president said Saudi Arabia's multi-billion-dollar aid offer was designed to support and strengthen the nation's armed forces.

The kingdom "decided to provide generous assistance to Lebanon in the form of $3 billion for the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities," President Michel Sleiman said, adding that the funds would be used to purchase military equipment from France.

He described the grant as the largest ever given to the Lebanese army.

ccp/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)

Thousands of African migrants march through Tel Aviv to demand refugee status

Deutsche Welle, 29 December 2013

Thousands of African migrants who entered Israel illegally have marched through Tel Aviv to demand that the government grant them refugee status. They were joined in the protest by local human rights activists.

Several thousand migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, marched from a neighbourhood in the south of Tel Aviv to Rabin Square in the center of the city.

Some carried candles and chanted things like "freedom yes" or simply "freedom." Others carried signs with slogans such as "we are refugees."

Human rights activists and other Israeli supporters of the migrants held up signs that read things like "their freedom, our democracy!"

The march was held to demand that Israel recognize them as refugees, but also to protest against their being held in a detention facility near Israel's border with Egypt, which opened just last month.

'Open' detention

The facility is described by Israeli officials as "open" because those being held there are allowed to leave during the day, but are not allowed to seek employment. They are also required to report to the authorities several times daily and to return voluntarily within 48 hours or face arrest.

Several hundred are being held at the facility in the southern Israeli desert, where they wait to find out if they will be granted asylum or be deported. Israeli officials have also said they offer grants of several hundred dollars to migrants who agree to return home voluntarily.

Many of the more than 60,000 people believed to be living in Israel illegally argue that going home is not an option, as their lives would be in jeopardy if they returned to their countries of origin.

New legislation

The migrants are being held under a new law passed on December 10, which allows the government to detain illegal immigrants for up to a year without trial. This replaced earlier legislation, which had allowed the authorities to detain migrants for up to three years. That law was struck down by Israel's top court back in September.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel is among the organizations that have already filed a legal challenge to the new legislation.

pfd/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Thousands protest in Niger against President Mahamadou Issoufou

Deutsche Welle, 28 December 2013

Tens of thousands of people have protested in Niger at what they allege is government's failure to improve living conditions. It was the first major rally against President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in 2011.

Police said some 2,000 opposition supporters took part in the protest in Niger's capital Niamey on Saturday, calling for an end to perceived government corruption, media censorship and worsening food security in one of the world's poorest nations.

The alliance of opposition parties who organized the protest put attendance closer to 30,000, according to news agency Reuters.

Demonstrators gathered outside parliament chanted "Down with the regime!" and "No to dictatorship" in the largest show of unrest since pro-democracy demonstrations triggered the military coup which ousted former president President Mamadou Tandja, in February 2010.

Saturday's rally was also first major street demonstration since

"Mahamadou Issoufou promised an end to food insecurity but the population continues to be decimated by hunger and thirst," said opposition leader Amadou Hama.

Meanwhile Leader of opposition party, the National Movement for the Development of Society (MNSD), and former premier Seini Oumarou condemned "the bad governance and corruption" under the president.

He also criticized the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism's control of the media and its oil deals with foreign firms.

"We are witnessing the organized looting of our national resources," he said at an opposition meeting after the rally.

The organizing coalition - the Alliance for the Republic, Democracy and Reconciliation in Niger (ARDR) - was formed from 15 opposition parties in October in response Issoufou's creation of a national unity government.

Hama and Oumarou are considered the main challengers to the president, who is widely expected to run for a second term in 2016.

ccp/jr (AFP, Reuters)

Friday, December 27, 2013

South Sudan's Kiir government offers ceasefire to Machar rebels

Deutsche Welle, 27 December 2013

East African leaders have welcomed a pledge by South Sudan's government to agree to an immediate ceasefire following weeks of fighting with rebels. They've called on the opposing sides to meet face-to-face.

The government of South Sudan said on its Twitter feed on Friday that it "agreed in principle to a ceasefire to begin immediately, but our forces are prepared to defend themselves if attacked."

It came after a meeting of East African leaders in Nairobi on Friday, who urged South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar to meet face-to-face and try to resolve their differences.

It follows the deaths of at least 1,000 people in December, during a wave of violence between the rival forces loyal to Kiir and his deposed former deputy, Machar. Kiir had accused Machar of attempting a coup against his government. There have also been concerns the conflict has moved away from being primarily political and has taken on ethnic dimensions, with the two men hailing from rival tribes.

The UN has sent peacekeepers and agreed earlier in the week to roughly double the number of troops present as the fighting continued. Similarly, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sent special representative Alex Rondos to South Sudan this week, to seek a political solution to the conflict.

The regional African leaders on Friday said they "welcomed the commitment by the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to an immediate cessation of hostilities," and told Machar to "make similar commitments."

In attendance were the heads of state of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, who met with South Sudan's vice president and the foreign minister. Neither Kiir nor Machar, who is in hiding, took part in the talks.

The leaders urged the pair to meet before the end of 2013, just days away, and added they would not accept the toppling of South Sudan's government by military force.

"If hostilities do not cease within four days, the summit will consider further measures," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom [seen above, speaking] told reporters. The talks came a day after three-way negotiations between Kiir, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

The fighting in South Sudan erupted in the capital Juba on December 15 and spread to a number of states. On Thursday, the UN mission in South Sudan said 50,000 civilians were seeking protection at its bases across the country, amid the many thousands more who had been forced to flee their homes.

Both sides remain locked in fierce battles for control of several strategic oil-rich areas in South Sudan's north. There have been heavy clashes in Malakal, the capital of the state of Upper Nile, where both government forces allied to Kiir and Machar's rebels have insisted they were in control.

South Sudan, the world's youngest country, gained independence from Sudan two-and-a-half years ago as part of a UN-sponsored peace deal, seeking to end a 22-year Sudanese civil war that claimed an estimated 2 million lives.

Release of coup-linked politicians

The push for talks may have received a glimmer of hope, with the reported release of two politicians out of a group of 11 arrested by the government, accused of plotting the alleged coup against Kiir. The release of the 11 prominent politicians is a key rebel condition for peace talks.

The news agency Reuters reported on Friday that presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said two of these politicians had been freed, and that another six would soon be released, but said three of the group would remain in custody over corruption allegations. Those politicians are former Finance Minister Kosti Manibe, ex-Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor, and Pagan Amun, the former secretary general of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

"We are following the legal avenue," Ateny told the news agency Reuters.

Earlier on Friday, the US envoy to South Sudan described the releases as a promising sign.

"We were very encouraged to hear the president reiterate that with the exception of three of the senior Sudan People's Liberation Movement [party] officials who have been detained...the others will be released very shortly," US Envoy Donald Booth told South Sudan state television.

Desperate humanitarian situation

The UN has estimated aid agencies need at least $166 million (121 million euros) for relief effrts in South Sudan. It says extra troops and "critical assets" such as helicopters would be on the ground by Saturday.

"We have heard reports of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions of civilians, ill-treatment, abuse and also mass graves," Hilde Johnson, head of the UN mission in South Sudan told the news agency AP. "Our human rights officers have been working around the clock, throughout this crisis, and they are investigating these reports and allegations."

Johnson said UN troops were "overstretched" and needed extra manpower to be deployed with "unprecedented speed."

jr/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

Zimbabwe's envoy to Australia asks for asylum: media

Google – AFP, 27 December 2013

A Zimbabwean woman, wearing a T-shirt bearing a portrait of Robert Mugabe, 
waves a national flag as she greets President Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in
 ceremony on August 22, 2013 at the 60,000-seater sports stadium in Harare (AFP/
File, Alexander Joe)

Sydney — Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia is asking Canberra for asylum, lashing out at her country's "illegitimate" government and voicing fears for her safety if she returns home at the end of her posting next week, reports said Saturday.

Jacqueline Zwambila condemned President Robert Mugabe's government, and said she has moved out of her official residence but has no intention of using her business class ticket to return home, the Canberra Times reported.

"I don't feel safe about returning to Zimbabwe at all," said Zwambila, who is aligned with Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

"Once the elections of 31 July were stolen by the current government -- which is illegitimate -- I knew that this was the end of the line," Zwambila, whose tenure as ambassador ends on Tuesday, said in a video posted on the Canberra Times website.

"End of the line for the people of Zimbabwe... and for people like me, who were appointed by the ex-prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai."

Zwambila said she was seeking a protection visa from Australia so she can stay on in the country along with her family once her diplomatic status expires. But it was not immediately clear whether Canberra would approve her request.

Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader who has been in power for 33 years, began a new five-year term after winning a landslide victory in disputed elections end of July.

His rival, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, described the vote as "fraudulent", citing an unusual number of voters had been turned away in urban constituencies that are considered opposition strongholds.

Australia, which had offered reduced sanctions as an incentive for free and fair elections, joined the United States and Britain in questioning the credibility of the polls and called for a re-run.

But the 89-year-old veteran leader dismissed the view, brusquely telling his opponents to accept defeat.

Zwambila said that when she learned about Mugabe's victory, she saw "doom, a black cloud".

"I knew then it was the end of my term," the report quoted her as saying.

She voiced fears of indefinite detention if she returned home, saying she had been threatened with arrest in Zimbabwe after a court found that she owed several hundred dollars to a tradesman. She denied the charge.

"So many things have been done to me since I've been here in Australia, the smear campaigns and threats... There is no way I feel safe being in Zimbabwe or going back to Zimbabwe," she said.

Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, is serving under a new constitution and has not ruled out running again when he will be 94.

Tsvangirai had shared power with Mugabe until the July elections, with his MDC party controlling the finance ministry after they forged a unity government in 2009 following violent disputed polls.

But the shaky power-sharing deal ended when the veteran president won the July 31 polls with 61 percent against his rival's 34 percent.

Monday, December 23, 2013

In 2013, Iran Got A New President And Maybe A New Direction

Radio Free Europe, Charles Recknagel, December 23, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rohani takes questions from journalists at a news
conference in New York in September.

For years, it seemed Iran was going deeper into isolation in its standoff with world powers over its controversial nuclear program.

In 2013, that suddenly changed.

In June, Iran elected a new president who campaigned on promises to take a more moderate approach, including in foreign policy.

And in November, his new government cut a six-month deal with world powers to halt some nuclear activities in exchange for some sanctions relief, a first step toward seeking a comprehensive solution to the nuclear crisis.

But if the two events suggest President Hassan Rohani -- a cleric and establishment insider -- is taking Iran in a new direction after decades of confrontation with the West, the question still remains how far things can go.

Michael Adler, a regional scholar at the Washington-based Wilson Center, says that for now, at least, Rohani's team is off to a strong start.

"There definitely is a new mood, there is a new style, and we already see with the deal that they struck in Geneva that that is something the Iranians can work with," Adler said. "Of course, the big question is how much they are willing to rein in their nuclear program in a comprehensive settlement and we will see that, but there definitely is a new eagerness to negotiate, to work at reaching a solution."

But Adler notes that while Rohani -- a former Iranian nuclear negotiator -- has clearly made the nuclear talks his administration's priority, he still lacks the authority to reach a deal without the backing of Iran's supreme leader.

And that means Rohani's momentum depends entirely upon Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has given him a green light to bargain but is holding his own final judgment  of the effort in abeyance.

"The supreme leader has pretty much said 'go ahead' and this is what he said in 2003 when they did the suspension (of uranium enrichment)," Adler said.

"He has pretty much said 'go ahead, try to make a deal, try to work out something with the United States and its allies, but I am telling you that in the end they will just try to cheat us and it won't be a good deal and you will see.' But within that framework, they are free to go ahead and get a deal and the supreme leader reserves for himself the right to say, 'Hey, this isn't a good deal, they actually are trying to cheat us again, we are going to do something else.'"

In 2003, then nuclear negotiator Rohani reached a deal with the three key EU powers in which Iran suspended uranium enrichment in exchange for promises of technical aid for its nuclear-energy program. However, the deal broke down in 2005 amid insistence from Britain, France, and Germany that Tehran also commit to abandoning uranium enrichment, a step the supreme leader refused to take.

Now, nearly a decade later, it remains to be seen whether Iran and the six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, and Germany -- will be able to find a lasting compromise. And the fact that any deal still depends on Khamenei's final approval makes the effort ahead only more uncertain.

Weight Of Sanctions

Still, there are reasons to believe the effort set in motion by Iran's new president has staying power.

Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, says the negotiations offer Khamenei a solution to what has become his most pressing concern. That is, how to assure the regime is not threatened by popular frustration over the growing weight of U.S. and EU sanctions.

"What we have here is Ayatollah Khamenei realizing that Iran could not stay on this path for too much longer. When you lose $5 to $6 billion a month in oil revenue, which represents half of your oil-export income, there is so much less money that goes around in this country of 77 million people," Vatanka  said.

Sanctions have stung ordinary Iranians.

"Remember, Ayatollah Khamenei will never forget that this regime is in place because of something that happened in 1979, which was not just a political revolution against the monarchy, it was also an economic revolution. A lot of those people who stood up against the shah were disenfranchised economically."

So long as Rohani, along with his U.S.-educated Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif, represent a way out of Iran's economic predicament, they will continue to have Khamanei's mandate to try.

But it is a mandate that cannot be taken for granted because it remains under constant challenge by regime hard-liners, who prefer the highly confrontational approach Iran took toward the West under former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, much of that time also with the supreme leader's backing.

All that makes for a delicate balance in Tehran as Rohani proceeds. The new president campaigned for more moderation both in Iran's foreign and domestic policies but so far has had to limit his new initiatives almost exclusively to foreign affairs -- a measure of how carefully he still must tread.

Since taking office in August, Rohani has yet to deliver on his promises for more social freedoms for ordinary Iranians. Some political prisoners have been released. But the key leaders of the Green Movement that rocked Iran with pro-democracy protests in 2009 and 2010 are still confined and political opposition to the regime remains forbidden.

As Vatanka said: "I don't think it is a coincidence that Rohani's first 100 days or so have been heavy on foreign-policy change but very little change in terms of domestic politics. In practical, tangible policies at home, we haven't seen Rohani make any major leaps and I think he hasn't because he doesn't want to see what happened to [former President] Mohammed Khatami between 1997 and 2005 happen to him. So, they are taking a step-by-step approach. Take the first, most imminent issue, which is foreign policy, break the isolation, and then at some point down the path, try to start reforming within."

Reformist former President Khatami saw his efforts to create more freedom of the press and expression rolled back by hard-liners who feared they could compromise the Islamic republic's theocratic system. The theocracy is based upon the presumed infallibility of its supreme leader, whose interpretation of religious law prevails over the country's parliamentary democracy.

Related Article:

Ugandan Gay Activists Vow to Fight ‘Ignorant’ Bill

Jakarta Globe – AFP, December 23, 2013

Gay rights activist Clair Byarugaba talks to journalists in Kampala on
December 20, 2013.  (AFP Photo)

Kampala. Gay rights activists in Uganda vowed Monday a “fight to the end” to stop a draconian anti-homosexuality bill passed by parliament from becoming law in the African nation.

The bill passed last week stipulates that repeat offenders should be jailed for anywhere between two years and life. The text sailed through Uganda’s parliament after a death penalty clause was dropped.

“We shall fight this bill up to the end. We are going to challenge the act in front of the court of law and we are also calling up to the president not to sign the law,” prominent gay rights activist Frank Mugisha told reporters.

“Members of parliament have shamed and embarrassed Uganda because they have shown their ignorance in passing this bill. They showed how ignorant Uganda is,” he said.

However Mugisha said he feared Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a devout evangelical Christian, was likely to sign off on the bill despite an international outcry — saying the legislation did have widespread support in the fiercely homophobic nation.

“There is a lot of pressure coming from the churches and the community, so Museveni is most likely to sign the bill,” he said, but added the gay and lesbian community would be lobbying hard for support over the coming weeks.

“We are going to do a lot of campaigning in the media, in the press, with our allies, human rights organizations. When coming back from Christmas, we shall have a lot of support. We are also working with our legal team,” he said.

“We are expecting support from the United States, the UK and from most of the EU countries.”

Anti-gay moves by Ugandan lawmakers have been widely condemned, with US President Barack Obama describing the bill before it was passed as “odious” and Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu comparing it to apartheid.

‘Christmas gift’

Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise. Gay men and women in the country face frequent harassment and threats of violence, and rights activists have also reported cases of lesbians being subjected to “corrective” rapes.

In 2011, prominent Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on its front page along with a yellow banner reading “Hang Them”.

The lawmaker behind the bill, David Bahati, has described the legislation as “a victory for Uganda” and a “vote against evil” — with some supporters of the text calling it a “Christmas gift” for the country.

“I was really shocked,” Mugisha said. “I am not afraid because I have been fighting this battle for many years but I am worried for my colleagues.”

AIDS activists say the law will prevent gays from having access to essential public health information, such as how to protect themselves from HIV and how to access life saving treatment and support services.

A statement from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community group in Uganda said it viewed the bill as unconstitutional and a major setback in the fight against HIV and AIDS, which effects 7.2 percent of Ugandans.

“The grounds on which we have always contested this bill are that it is blatantly unconstitutional, is against international human rights standards, is redundant for the most part, and would wreak havoc on the fight against HIV/AIDS and other public health priorities in Uganda,” it said in a statement.

“Freedom of knowledge, speech, association, assembly, expression will be all curtailed as result,” it added. “The law will be misused for blackmail, extortion, political malice, career ruining, and general rivalry.”

Agence France-Presse

Thursday, December 19, 2013

South Sudan Rebels Seize Key Town of Bor: Army

Jakarta Globe – AFP, December 19, 2013

Civilians arrive for shelter at the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South
Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Bor, South Sudan in this December 18, 2013 picture
provided by the UNMISS. South Sudan’s army said it had lost control of the flashpoint
town of Bor on Wednesday, its first acknowledged reversal in three days of clashes
between rival groups of soldiers that have triggered warnings of a slide into civil war.
Picture taken on December 18. (Reuters Photo)

Juba. South Sudan rebels loyal to fugitive former vice president Riek Machar have seized the key town of Bor, the army said Thursday, as fighting continued following an alleged failed coup bid.

“Our soldiers have lost control of Bor to the force of Riek Machar late on Wednesday,” said army spokesman Philip Aguer.

“There was shooting last night… we don’t have information on casualties or the displaced in the town, as operations are ongoing.”

Bor, which lies some 200 kilometers north of Juba, is the capital of the eastern state of Jonglei, one of the most volatile regions in the young nation.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir has blamed Machar for organizing a coup bid, with fighting breaking out late Sunday in Juba between army units.

But Machar, who was sacked by the president in July and is now on the run, has denied any coup attempt, and in turn accuses Kiir of using it as an excuse to purge his political rivals.

Machar, who fought on both sides during Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war, has been accused of leading a brutal massacre in Bor in 1991.

As fighting spreads outside the capital Juba — now reported to be calm — fears are growing in the international community of a return to civil war in the world’s youngest country.

Powerful military commander Peter Gadet — who rebelled in 2011 but then rejoined the army — has also mutinied again, with his troops fighting pro-Kiir soldiers outside Bor.

“They are fighting in the bush,” said Aguer.

However, security had been restored in Juba, he said.

“The situation in Juba is now back to normal, the streets are busy and shops are open,” added Aguer.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more terrified civilians have fled their homes to seek protection at UN bases since the fighting broke out on Sunday.

“Casualties in Juba are around 450 dead,” said Aguer, adding that around a hundred of those were soldiers and the rest civilians.

Agence France-Presse

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bahrain ready for Gulf union, says king

Google – AFP, 16 Decmber 2013

The King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa attends a summit at the Bayan
Royal Palace in Kuwait City on December 10, 2013 (AFP/File, Yasser Al-Zayyat)

Manama — Bahrain's king said Monday he is strongly in favour of a Saudi proposal to upgrade the Gulf Cooperation Council into a union.

"Bahrain is ready from this day for the declaration of the union, to assert our firm will and our solid determination," King Hamad said in an address on the occasion of the kingdom's national day.

"We look forward to the call for a special Summit in Riyadh to announce the establishment of this union," he added.

The six conservative Arab members of the GCC -- which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman -- sit on 40 percent of the world's oil and a quarter of its natural gas.

The proposal to upgrade the bloc from a coordination council to a union was put forward by Saudi King Abdullah in 2011.

Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, which at the time was grappling with Arab Spring-inspired protests by its Shiite majority, strongly supported the proposal.

But other Gulf states have shown less enthusiasm, with Oman threatening last week to quit the loose alliance if the union proposal is pursued.

Divisions have surfaced within the bloc -- established in 1981 to put up a united front against Iran -- just as Tehran has managed to break its isolation, reaching a preliminary deal with world powers on its controversial nuclear programme.

Related Article:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

South Africans look to Qunu as Mandela is buried

Deutsche Welle, 15 December 2013

Mandela was given a traditional Xhosa burial on Sunday (15.12.2013) in his home village of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape. The funeral capped off 10 days of mourning after the freedom icon died at the age of 95.

An atmosphere of calmness and solemnity descended on the village of Qunu, where the final funeral service of South Africa's freedom icon and first democratic president - Nelson Mandela - was held early on Sunday.

In Qunu, thousands of neat little cottages lie alongside elegant brick houses. The locals, dressed in the green, gold and black colors of South Africa and wearing Nelson Mandela t-shirts, were busy trekking along the roads to several viewing points.

About 2,000 journalists from around
 the world were in Qunu covering Mandela's
In Mandela's Eastern Cape province alone, 18 viewing centers were set up for the local people. VIPs and motorcades transported dignitaries from nearby Umtata to the service in a constant flow. Security was very tight.

Journalists were directed to the Nelson Mandela Museum complex, where they were catered to at a massive media center. All the leading television networks - including ARD, CNN, BBC, Skynews and Al Jazeera - and major radio and print outlets were present. The South African Government accredited more than 2,000 television, radio and print journalists to cover Mandela's burial.

Man of the people

Some locals also walked toward the huge marquee where the ceremony was held, before the burial of Mandela took place a short distance away from the main Mandela homestead.

"We are very very, sad today because Madiba has done a lot for us in this village and the country as a whole," said 51-year-old schoolteacher Tahle Mabiyaka. He was one of the hundreds who were walking to a viewing site near the Mandela homestead.

"He built us schools, roads, electricity and a hospital," Mabiyaka said. He said they loved Mandela because he was the country's first Black president. "As youngsters we are so sad because we have lost a father, grandfather that we loved. He fought for our freedom, united people," he added.

Mandela was also remembered by
local children as a caring provider
One of the young people who helped with the catering at the official funeral service was Yonele Samsika, a 22-year-old university student. She's studying accounting and wants to become successful, as Mandela advised.

"He was more than a parent to the children in this area," Samsika said. "He did a lot of things for the people in this rural areas like Qunu … during Christmas when we were still young we would go to his place and he would give us presents and he shake our hands."

Moving words

The official ceremony was a dignified affair, officiated by two high-ranking officials of the ruling ANC: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Baleka Mbeta, the national chairperson.

They introduced some of the dignitaries who were among the 5,000 family members, government ministers, and international political leaders invited as guests.

Dignitaries included prominent US civil rights activist Reverend Jessie Jackson, Malawi President Joyce Banda - who represented the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalgen and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

One of the veterans who paid a glowing tribute to Mandela was a former political comrade, Ahmed Kathrada, who spent 26 years on Robben Island as a fellow political prisoner. The 86-year-old Kathrada became emotional when he described the frail condition Mandela was when he last saw him a few months ago.

Kathrada said Mandela's legacy of bringing all people together must live on. "What do we say to you Madala in these days - the last final moments together before you exit the public stage," he said.

Numerous dignitaries also attended the Qunu funeral

"Your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality, justice - continually served as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and around the world."

President Jacob Zuma, who represented the Government at the ceremony, also thanked Mandela for leading the way in promoting peace, democracy and justice in South Africa. He said South Africans were now committed to continuing the Mandela legacy.

"Whilst the long walk to freedom has ended, we have to continue building the type of society you worked tirelessly to construct," Zuma said. "We will always remember you as a man of integrity who embodied the values and principles that your organization the ANC promotes."

Impact on Africa

Ethiopean Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalgen, who represented the African Union, praised Mandela's commitment. He said Mandela had infused a sense of determination into the continent as a whole.

"In the face of atrocities," he said, "Mandela told us that if we remain committed to the ideals of justice, liberation, and above all the sanctity of human dignity, we can ultimately prevail over the
evil no matter how the roads are stepped against us."

Phiri, left, traveled with family members
from afar to pay her last respects
Neo Phiri, a 31-year-old brand manager, traveled more than 800 kilometers to pay her last respects. Phiri told DW in an interview that she would now try to promote Mandela's values in her community, and in South Africa.

"For me as a young person," she said, "as I look to the future of South Africa to be reminded of the sacrifices of this great icon, it makes me really refocus my life," she said. She's been thinking about what impact she wants to make to South Africa and in her community, she added.

Emotional send-off

After the official ceremony at Mandela's homestead, the casket containing his body was driven in great dignity and humility to the gravesite. Soldiers and the air force gave a final salute.

It was an emotional send-off that brought tears to thousands - including to some of the journalists at the media center.

His legacy - it seems - will live on forever. The Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu is one project that will insure that the life of Mandela remains a constant reminder to the world.

Yemen parliament bans drone attacks

Google – AFP, 15 December 2013

Yemeni men walk past a mural depicting a US drone and reading "Why did you kill 
my family" on December 13, 2013 in the capital Sanaa (AFP/File, Mohammed Huwais)

Sanaa — Yemen's parliament passed on Sunday a law banning drone strikes, Saba news agency said, days after one such attack reportedly hit a wedding motorcade and killed civilians.

"Lawmakers have voted to ban drone strikes in Yemen," Saba reported after a parliamentary meeting.

The US military operates all unmanned aircraft flying over Yemen in support of Sana?s campaign against Al-Qaeda, and has killed dozens of militants in an intensified campaign this year.

Saba said lawmakers Sunday stressed "the importance of protecting all citizens from any aggression" and "the importance of preserving the sovereignty of Yemeni air space."

On Thursday a drone attack in Rada, in the central province of Bayda, killed 17 people, mostly civilians, in a wedding motorcade, triggering protests in the impoverished Arabian peninsula country.

The Supreme Security Committee, headed by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, issued a statement Friday insisting that the strike had targeted a car belonging to a leader of Al-Qaeda.
In the car "were top leaders who plotted several terrorist attacks against the armed forces, police, civilians and vital government installations," it said.

The statement did not give a death toll for the strike, nor refer to any civilian casualties or acknowledge that the attack was launched by a US drone.

Security sources and witnesses said two missiles were fired, and that mostly civilians had died.
Amnesty International said confusion over who was behind the raid "exposes a serious lack of accountability for scores of civilian deaths in the country."

"Even if it turns out that this was a case of killing based on mistaken identity or dodgy intelligence, whoever was responsible needs to own up to the error and come clean about what happened in this incident," said Philip Luther, Amnesty?s Middle East and North Africa director.

Relatives of the dead staged protests to denounce the killings and demanded an official apology as well as compensation.

Hundreds of people also blocked the road between Rada and Sanaa at Friday's funeral of 13 people but reopened a day later after reaching agreement on compensation with local military authorities.

"If the government fails to stop American planes from... bombing the people of Yemen, then it has no rule over us," tribal chief Ahmad al-Salmani told AFP on Saturday.

Two of the dead whose names were released -- Saleh al-Tays and Abdullah al-Tays -- had figured in the past on Yemeni government lists of wanted Al-Qaeda suspects.

But most of those killed were civilians of the Al-Tays and Al-Ameri - which are part of the large and heavily armed Qayfah tribe.

Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and the home base of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the United States views as the global jihadist network's most dangerous franchise.

Saudi activist sentenced to 300 lashes, 4 yrs in jail after calling for constitutional monarchy

RT.com, December 15, 2013

Saudi's King Abdullah (AFP Photo / HO / SPA)

A Saudi Arabian political activist was sentenced to four years in prison, 300 lashes, and a travel ban after calling for a constitutional monarchy. He is the fourth member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) to be jailed this year.

ACPRA’s Omar al-Saed, 24, was jailed after the organization called for democracy and made statements criticizing the country’s ruling family over its human rights record.

Al-Saed berated the motivations behind his imprisonment via the ACPRA website in a statement released by the group on Friday: “I am the proud prisoner Omar Mohammed al-Saed. I read out to you the motives and causes of my imprisonment: my hatred of injustice, the fabrication of pain and misery, taking advantage of passive attitudes, treating them as if they were fools, and denying them their livelihoods for brutal personal ambition,” he said.

Al-Saed was not allowed legal representation at the secret hearing in which he received his sentence, according to an ACPRA statement. The judge denied that the session had been kept secret, but al-Saed rebutted that for a session to be public, it must be announced prior to its taking place so that proper representatives are able to attend and people can bear witness to its proceedings.

“This unjust sentence is an honor and pride to Omar al-Saed and a disgrace and shame to Judge Issa al-Matrudi,” the activist’s brother, Abdullah al-Saed, tweeted after learning of the sentence late on Thursday.

“It's just another troubling instance of Saudi authorities' absolute refusal to countenance any activism or criticism of Saudi policies or human rights abuses,” Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch told Reuters on Sunday.

A spokesman for the country’s Justice Ministry would not confirm the accuracy of the report to the agency.

Media in the country is strictly self-censored. Political dissent or criticism of the dominant Wahhabi (Sunni) royal family is not tolerated, and protests are outlawed.

At the end of November, two Saudi men were arrested for offering ‘free hugs’ to passersby, on the grounds that they were “indulging in exotic practices” and offending public order.

Amnesty International has spoken out against the regime’s oppressive practices, releasing a report titled “Saudi Arabia: Unfulfilled Promises” in October.

The report slammed the country for failing to implement any of the main recommendations they accepted under a previous review by the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which took place in 2009.

Saudi Arabia remains one of the top five executioners in the world. The death penalty is still applied to a wide range of non-lethal crimes such as adultery, armed robbery, apostasy, drug smuggling, kidnapping, rape, “witchcraft,” and “sorcery.” Since 2009, appeals by the growing human rights movement in the country have been met with harsh measures such as arbitrary arrests, detention without charge or trial, unfair trials, and travel bans, Amnesty stated.