What The World Needs To Do After Venezuela’s Vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR AND THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

What The World Needs To Do After Venezuela’s Vote

Marcos Carbono (center) joins a protest against the weekend’s election in Venezuela in front of that country’s consulate in Miami. President Nicolás Maduro may have won the vote count but in the process lost the legitimacy to govern, one expert writes.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ted Piccone (@piccone_ted) is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

Venezuela’s latest electoral affair only worsened the country’s continued slide from a relatively stable middle-income democracy to a socialist authoritarian system stricken with hyperinflation, rising poverty, declining oil production and record levels of violent crime. Rather than boost President Nicolás Maduro’s standing after five years in power, the low voter turnout — down from 80 percent in 2013 to 46 percent on Sunday — coupled with a clear rejection of the results by the United States, Canada and a group of 13 Latin American nations, leaves the protégé of former President Hugo Chávez with a crisis of governability. Maduro may have won the vote count but in the process lost the legitimacy to govern.

Venezuela’s deterioration toward despotism and despair comes as little surprise. For years, experts have warned that increasing executive control of the country’s democratic institutions alongside gross mismanagement of its oil-dominated economy would lead to worsening conditions for its 30 million citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have left the country in the past two years, many of them desperate to escape the confluence of food and medicine shortages, lack of decent jobs, terrible crime and political repression.

The situation today is a tragic reversal of the heady days when Chávez first launched his Bolivarian revolution in 1998, promising to spread Venezuela’s vast petroleum wealth more fairly among the majority poor. For years, the charismatic revolutionary rode the wave of high oil prices to deliver social benefits to his constituents, helping him not only to overcome general strikes, mass protests and a coup attempt, but also to win relatively free and fair elections multiple times. He abused that electoral popularity and government largesse to rewrite the constitution in his favor, create paramilitary “Bolivarian circles,” stack the courts and electoral council with his loyalists, control the state-owned oil firm, and stifle free media.

Chávez also effectively used the country’s oil reserves, the world’s largest, to insulate his regime from U.S. pressure, securing favorable loans from China and new military equipment and energy deals from Russia.

By the time Chávez died in March 2013, the winning formula for an elected authoritarian was well-entrenched. His hand-picked successor, Maduro, narrowly won elections a month later and quickly consolidated control by digging even deeper into the trough of state resources to buy off the military, nationalize industries and woo enough voters to stave off electoral defeat.

This strategy, however, has probably run its course. With mounting foreign debt, falling oil production, increased sanctions, diplomatic isolation and a spreading humanitarian crisis on his hands, Maduro can survive only by taking painful steps to reform a system that fuels his regime’s authority. Since this is unlikely, we should expect to see an increasingly desperate hardening of his administration’s tactics against his opponents, domestic and foreign, and an intensified reliance on China and Russia for support.

For the United States and the international community, Venezuela presents a particularly tricky case. The goals are relatively clear — weaken Maduro enough to force him to negotiate a peaceful exit while preventing a worsening humanitarian crisis that is already destabilizing neighboring Colombia and fragile Caribbean states and could bring thousands of desperate Venezuelans to U.S. borders.

Washington, however, is not well-positioned politically to lead the charge. Threats of military intervention, already uttered by President Trump, are a non-starter. Support for a military coup likewise would seriously set back U.S. standing in the region. For the past three decades, the U.S. has mostly stood firm in support of democratic and negotiated solutions to the Latin America’s internal political crises. That leaves expanding the list of targeted economic sanctions, coordinated with partners in the region and Europe, to pressure Maduro and his allies to come to the negotiating table in a serious way.

Up until now, Maduro has managed to avoid such a negotiated pact with the opposition, which remains divided and demoralized. They are not, however, defeated. They will likely return to the streets to protest the government’s abuses and economic malfeasance. As the country becomes more ungovernable, moderates in the ruling socialist party may realize that the benefits of the current system can only be preserved through compromise.

A new mediation process should be launched as soon as possible, facilitated by the United Nations under the secretary-general’s banner of conflict prevention, and supported by a coalition of states that includes not only key South American countries like Peru, Chile and Argentina, but also the United States, France, Germany, China and the Vatican. An early agreement should be reached to allow international agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance to malnourished and sick Venezuelans before they attempt to leave the country. And a package of economic incentives should be assembled to prepare for a post-Maduro scenario.

In sum, while Maduro may claim a historic victory that solidifies his hold on power, the reality is just the opposite. If the domestic opposition can rally, it will signal to the international community that a coordinated plan of increased sanctions and facilitated talks is feasible.

Kentucky: Veteran Amy McGrath continues a Democratic winning streak for women and veterans

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF VOX NEWS)

 

Veteran Amy McGrath continues a Democratic winning streak for women and veterans

McGrath, a first time candidate, beat Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in a Kentucky House primary race.

Courtesy of McGrath campaign

Insurgent candidate Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, pulled off an upset victory in a Democratic primary House race in Kentucky on Tuesday night, defeating the party establishment candidate.

McGrath emerged from a three-person race in Kentucky’s Sixth District, beating her main challenger Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. The race was called around 8 pm, with McGrath winning with 46 percent of the vote, compared to Gray’s 42.3 percent. Gray, a millionaire who ran for US Senate against Rand Paul in 2016, had the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

McGrath was born in Kentucky but only recently returned to the state; she spent the past couple decades serving in the Marine Corps as a fighter pilot. With help from a viral campaign announcement video highlighting her years of military service, McGrath went from an outsider and first-time candidate with no name recognition to the Democratic nominee.

Throughout the campaign, McGrath positioned herself as a change agent, part of a new generation of young candidates and Congress members, and touted her lack of political experience — the very thing her opponents attacked her for.

“Recruiting the same types of big-city, older millionaires is not the future,” McGrath said in a January interview with Vox. “Especially in the Democratic Party, we cannot keep relying on a staple of rich white people, old men, to save the Democratic Party.”

But McGrath’s opponents attacked her outsider status as evidence that she didn’t know the district she was running in. Having recently moved to Kentucky from the DC area, McGrath struggled to name the counties of three rural communities when asked about them at a debate.

In the run-up to Tuesday night, Gray’s campaign released its first negative ad about McGrath, hitting her for moving back to the state to run.

Ally Mutnick

@allymutnick

SIREN: @JimGrayCongress is airing 1st negative ad of the race, hitting @AmyMcGrathKY as a carpetbagger ahead of Tuesday’s primary

“Now she’s running for Congress to represent the one place she’s never lived: here,” a narrator says on the ad. “In fact, she moved here from Maryland just last year to run for Congress. We honor Amy McGrath’s service, but shouldn’t she live here for a while before she tries to represent us?”

The ad immediately received pushback from veterans groups like VoteVets and some sitting members of Congress who are veterans, such as Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

“You can elevate yourself, but don’t attack another Dem,” Lieu tweeted. “One reason @AmyMcGrathKY lived in a different place is because she was serving our nation in Afghanistan & Iraq flying F-18 combat missions. Stop attacking her military service. Take your ad down.”

Ted Lieu

@tedlieu

Dear @JimGrayCongress: You can elevate yourself, but don’t attack another Dem.

One reason @AmyMcGrathKY lived in a different place is because she was serving our nation in Afghanistan & Iraq flying F-18 combat missions.

Stop attacking her military service. Take your ad down. https://twitter.com/votevets/status/997660601886429191 

Gray’s ad demonstrated another thing: In the last few weeks of a race that was supposed to be an easy win for him, the Lexington mayor saw McGrath as a serious competitor.

McGrath now faces Republican Andy Barr, and she’ll likely have help from national Democrats

Even though things started out tense between McGrath and national Democrats, this likely won’t be another Laura Moser oppo memo situation in Texas. McGrath wasn’t happy with the DCCC for backing Gray early on; her campaign had also been in talks with the organization before they added Gray to their Red to Blue list.

“It’s disappointing to me that they would do that, especially after the talk of them wanting more veterans and more women, and more first-time candidates,” she told me in January. “To have done that, it kind of shows you the real disconnect between the national Democratic Party and places like Kentucky. And the key is, we have forgotten, as a party, how to win the Midwest and the South.”

Even after the McGrath campaign’s initial furor at the DCCC backing Gray, National Journal’s Ally Mutnick reported the campaign has kept in regular contact with the DCCC to show them internal polling numbers that had McGrath ahead of Gray.

McGrath has also shown herself to be a very capable fundraiser; she’s raised about $2 million as of May, as opposed to the $1.3 million Gray raised (although Gray still had more cash on hand).

In other words, even as McGrath positioned herself as the outsider candidate, she was making sure to keep up a good relationship with national Democrats, whose support she’ll need in order to triumph over Barr in the fall.

The ultimate test in November comes down to whether McGrath can convince Trump voters to cast their ballots for her instead of Barr. The district leans Republican, and many of its rural counties voted for the current president in 2016. But it contains 100,000 more registered Democratic voters. In other words, it’s prime Trump country.

Barr will face a tough election no matter what. Democrats have already mounted credible challenges to him in past years but fell short on fundraising. That’s different this year. McGrath and Gray fundraised millions between the two of them in the primary; they have real fundraising chops. Barr will also have to defend his votes for Obamacare repeal and GOP tax cuts.

Now she’s made it through the primary, McGrath is betting that her anti-establishment brand will carry her to Washington in an election year that’s shaping up to be a Democratic wave.

So, Trump Is Mad At The FBI For Them Doing Their Job, Are You Mad At Them Too?

So, Trump Is Mad At The FBI For Them Doing Their Job, Are You Mad At Them Too?

 

I am not a fan of Donald Trump nor am I a fan of Hillary Clinton, personally I believe that these two should have gotten married, they are just alike. In November of 2016 we the people of the U.S. knew going in to election day that we were all going to end up with an habitual liar as our next President, the only question was, male of female. I have no doubts at all that both of these people as well as several of the people who are close to them are nothing but liars and crooks. It is my personal belief that Hillary, Bill, Donald, Donald Jr, Erick, Jarred Kushner and Ivanka should all be forced to live out the rest of their lives in one 4×8 jail cell in the basement of Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. In that last election I voted for the third-party candidate Gary Johnson, not because I thought that he could win, I never even knew what he said he stands for, I just couldn’t drag myself to have to say that I voted for Donald or for Hillary.

 

Now to the main part of this article. As most everyone who lives here in the States probably knows President Trump is very mad at the FBI because he strongly feels that they should never ever have been investigating reported crimes being committed during the election cycle by himself and his indentured whores. Yet he does feel that they should have been investigating crimes he says that the Hillary Campaign were/are guilty of. I have no doubt that Hillary and her campaign committed many federal, state and local crimes, yet Trump feels that his campaign should get a free pass from the FBI for their crimes. It appears to me that Donald and his henchmen committed about every election crime that is possible to be committed including treason with several foreign and even hostile governments. Personally I would be very upset if the FBI and several of the other ‘Policing Agency’s’ weren’t still investigating Hillary and Donald’s crimes, after all, that is their job! How do you feel about this issue? Should the FBI just give political campaigns a free hand to do any thing with anyone no matter how many laws they are breaking?I still strongly believe that the Special Council should be working hard on ‘the money trail’ and this would include the filed taxes of these fore mentioned players. Remember, Donald still has not made his taxes public, there is a reason for his lies on this matter. On just one issue, one business, his golf club in Ma-largo Florida shows how crooked his is and how willing he is to commit tax fraud. He tells his visitors and golfing buddies that this business is worth over a 100 million dollars yet when he filed his property taxes on it he reported that it was only worth 1 million dollars so that he would only have to pay 1% of the taxes due. Folks, almost all of the houses around this club are valued at more than one million dollars. Donald, just like Hillary, is nothing but a fraud a thief and a liar and he should be in prison, not the Oval Office!

Israeli questioned, FBI traveled to Tel Aviv, in Trump election probe — report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israeli questioned, FBI traveled to Tel Aviv, in Trump election probe — report

New York Times says ‘Israeli specialist in social media manipulation,’ emissary for Saudi, and Emirati princes met with Trump Jr. and others 3 months before election

Then-Republican nominee Donald Trump (R) standing with his son  Donald Trump Jr. after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, September 26, 2016 (AFP Photo/Jewel SAMAD)

Then-Republican nominee Donald Trump (R) standing with his son Donald Trump Jr. after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, September 26, 2016 (AFP Photo/Jewel SAMAD)

Three months before the November 2016 elections, senior members of the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump, including his son Donald Trump Jr., met with a small group of people from the Mideast who offered to help the controversial businessman win the race against Hillary Clinton. The group included “an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation,” an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes, and Erik Prince, a Republican donor and the former head of the private security firm Blackwater whose sister Betsy Devos is now secretary of education, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The August 3, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, according to the report, “was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.”

According to the report, the Israeli specialist, Joel Zamel, “extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign,” and his firm “had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.”

The company, PSY-Group, according to the NY Times report, “employed several Israeli former intelligence officers” and “specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.” Zamel is also founding director and CEO of geopolitical analysis and business consultancy group Wikistrataccording to Bloomberg.

This 1998 frame from video provided by C-SPAN shows George Nader, president and editor of Middle East Insight. (C-SPAN via AP)

The plan, according to the report which cited three people involved and a fourth briefed on the effort,” involved using thousands of fake social media accounts to promote Mr. Trump’s candidacy on platforms like Facebook.”

Meanwhile, the Gulf emissary was George Nader, a longtime close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, who conveyed to Trump Jr. “that the crown princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president.”

Nader allegedly said that the two crown princes “saw the elder Mr. Trump as a strong leader who would fill the power vacuum that they believed Mr. Obama had left in the Middle East, and Mr. Nader went on to say that he and his friends would be glad to support Mr. Trump as much as they could, according to the person with knowledge of the conversation.”

Trump Jr. “responded approvingly,” the New York Times said, citing “a person with knowledge of the meeting,” and following the initial offers for help, Nader “was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser.”

Nader was also reportedly “promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.”

After Trump won the election, Nader paid Zamel “a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million.” and while the NY Times said there were conflicting accounts for the payment, “a company linked to Mr. Zamel provided Mr. Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Mr. Trump’s victory.”

In this June 21, 2017, photo, special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The August 3 meeting is a focus of the ongoing investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who was tasked last year with examining possible cooperation and coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the lead-up to the election.

The revelation of the meeting is the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign.

Nader also reportedly visited Moscow twice during the campaign and Zamel’s businesses have ties to Russia, which are “of interest” to the special counsel’s investigation, according to the report.

Zamel was already questioned by investigators for the special counsel, the report said, “and at least two FBI agents working on the inquiry have traveled to Israel to interview employees of the company who worked on the proposal.”

The Israeli police worked with US investigators to seize the computers of one of Mr. Zamel’s companies, which is currently in liquidation, according to the report.

Nader too has been cooperating with the inquiry, the report said, “and investigators have questioned numerous witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere about what foreign help may have been pledged or accepted, and about whether any such assistance was coordinated with Russia, according to witnesses and others with knowledge of the interviews.”

Blackwater founder Erik Prince arrives for a closed meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A lawyer for Trump Jr., Alan Futerfas, told the NY Times in a statement that “prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader, and another individual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it.”

A lawyer for Zamel, Marc L. Mukasey, told the NY Times, that “neither Joel Zamel, nor any of his related entities, had any involvement whatsoever in the US election campaign.”

“The DOJ [Department of Justice] clarified from Day 1 that Joel and his companies have never been a target of the investigation. My client provided full cooperation to the government to assist with their investigation,” he said.

“There was a brief meeting, nothing concrete was offered or pitched to anyone and nothing came of it,” he added.

The New York Times reported that though it is still unclear if any direct assistance was forthcoming from Saudi Arabia, or the UAE, “two people familiar with the meetings said that Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners.”

The August 3, 2016 meeting came two months after Trump Jr., Kushner, and others met with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information on Clinton.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released about 2,500 pages of interview transcripts and other documents tied to the New York meeting on June 9, 2016.

In a closed-door interview last year with the committee, Trump Jr., said he did not give much thought to the idea that the meeting was part of a Russian government effort to help his father in the presidential race.

AP contributed to this report

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CNT / MDA: EVEN ARRESTED, LULA LEADS WITH 32.4%

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BRAZIL 247)

 

Preliminary Results Show Sadr ahead of Abadi in Iraq Elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Preliminary Results Show Sadr ahead of Prime Minister Abadi in Iraq Elections

Monday, 14 May, 2018 – 11:00
Supporters of Marching Towards Reform list celebrate with portraits of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, after preliminary results of Iraq’s parliamentary election were announced in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iraqis sprung a political surprise by voting for two electoral lists opposed to the current political class during Sunday’s parliamentary elections, showed preliminary results on Monday.

Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and a rival bloc of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) appeared to surge in surprise preliminary results from the country’s first poll since the defeat of the ISIS terrorist group.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, who is the internationally favored incumbent, lagged behind after a vote hit by record abstentions.

The ballots of some 700,000 security personnel who voted and some one million Iraqis abroad were yet to be tallied up, meaning Abadi could get a boost five months after he announced victory over ISIS.

According to partial results seen by AFP, the Marching Towards Reform alliance of Sadr and his communist allies was ahead in six of Iraq’s 18 provinces and second in four others.

Next in the running is the Conquest Alliance, made up of ex-fighters from the mainly Iran-backed PMF, with results putting them ahead in four provinces and second in eight others. The head of the list is Hadi al-Ameri, a long-time ally of Tehran.

Both Sadr and Ameri are long-time political veterans well-known to Iraqis, but they pitched themselves as seeking to sweep clean the country’s elite.

Sadr’s apparent victory does not mean his bloc could necessarily form the next government as whoever wins the most seats must negotiate a coalition government, expected to be formed within 90 days of the official results.

Turnout was 44.52 percent with 92 percent of votes counted, the Independent High Electoral Commission said – that was significantly lower than in previous elections. Full results are due to be officially announced later on Monday.

The commission did not announce how many seats each bloc had gained and said it would do so after announcing the results from the remaining provinces.

During the election campaign, frustrated Iraqis of all shades complained about their political elite’s systematic patronage, bad governance and corruption, saying they did not receive any benefits of their country’s oil wealth.

Iraq has been ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries, with high unemployment, rife poverty, weak public institutions and bad services despite high oil revenues for many years. Endemic corruption has eaten at the government’s financial resources.

Celebrations erupted on the streets of Baghdad after the commission’s announcement, with thousands of Sadr’s supporters singing, chanting, dancing and setting off fireworks while carrying his picture and waving Iraqi flags.

Many of his supporters chanted “Iran out”.

Whoever wins the election will have to contend with the fallout from US President Donald Trump’s decision to quit Iran’s nuclear deal, a move Iraqis fear could turn their country into a theater of conflict between Washington and Tehran.

He will also face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country left shattered by the battle against ISIS — with donors already pledging $30 billion (25 billion euros).

The results unexpectedly showed former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who was touted as a serious challenger to Abadi, lagging behind.

Western Sahara—Morocco

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Western Sahara

Introduction Morocco virtually annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania’s withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Rabat’s sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire; a UN-organized referendum on the territory’s final status has been repeatedly postponed. In April 2007, Morocco presented an autonomy plan for the territory to the UN, which the U.S. considers serious and credible. The Polisario also presented a plan to the UN in 2007 that called for independence. Representatives from the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front have met four times since June 2007 to negotiate the status of Western Sahara, but talks have stalled since the UN envoy to the territory stated in April 2008 that independence is unrealistic.
History Early history

The earliest recorded inhabitants of the Western Sahara in historical times were agriculturalists called Bafour.[citation needed] The Bafour were later replaced or absorbed by Berber-speaking populations which eventually merged in turn with migrating Arab tribes, although the Arabic speaking majority in the Western Sahara clearly by the historical record descend from Berber tribes that adopted Arabic over time. There may also have been some Phoenician contacts in antiquity, but such contacts left few if any long-term traces.

The arrival of Islam in the 8th century played a major role in the development of relationships between the Saharan regions that later became the modern territories of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Algeria, and neighboring regions. Trade developed further and the region became a passage of caravans especially between Marrakech and Tombouctou in Mali. In the Middle Ages, the Almohads and Almoravids movements and dynasties both originated from the Saharan regions and were able to control the area.

Towards the late Middle Ages, the Beni Hassan Arab bedouin tribes invaded the Maghreb, reaching the northern border-area of the Sahara in the 14th and 15th century. Over roughly five centuries, through a complex process of acculturation and mixing seen elsewhere in the Maghreb and North Africa, the indigenous Berber tribes adopted Hassaniya Arabic and a mixed Arab-Berber nomadic culture.

Spanish province

After an agreement among the European colonial powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884 on the division of spheres of influence in Africa, Spain seized control of the Western Sahara and established it as a Spanish protectorate after a series of wars against the local tribes reminiscent of similar European colonial adventures of the period, in the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere. Spanish colonial rule began to unravel with the general wave of decolonization after World War II, which saw Europeans lose control of North African and sub-Saharan African possessions and protectorates. Spanish decolonization in particular began rather late, but internal political and social pressures for it in mainland Spain built up towards the end of Francisco Franco’s rule, in the context of the global trend towards complete decolonization. Spain began rapidly and even chaotically divesting itself of most of its remaining colonial possessions. After initially being violently opposed to decolonization, Spain began to give in and by 1974-75 issued promises of a referendum on independence. The nascent Polisario Front, a nationalist organization that had begun fighting the Spanish in 1973, had been demanding such a move.

At the same time, Morocco and Mauritania, which had historical claims of sovereignty over the territory based on competing traditional claims, argued that the territory was artificially separated from their territories by the European colonial powers. The third neighbour of Spanish Sahara, Algeria, viewed these demands with suspicion, influenced also by its long-running rivalry with Morocco. After arguing for a process of decolonization guided by the United Nations, the government of Houari Boumédiènne committed itself in 1975 to assisting the Polisario Front, which opposed both Moroccan and Mauritanian claims and demanded full independence.

The UN attempted to settle these disputes through a visiting mission in late 1975, as well as a verdict from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which declared that Western Sahara possessed the right of self-determination. On November 6, 1975 the Green March into Western Sahara began when 350,000 unarmed Moroccans converged on the city of Tarfaya in southern Morocco and waited for a signal from King Hassan II of Morocco to cross into Western Sahara.

Demands for independence

In the waning days of General Franco’s rule, the Spanish government secretly signed a tripartite agreement with Morocco and Mauritania as it moved to abandon the Territory on 14 November 1975, mere days before Franco’s death. Although the accords foresaw a tripartite administration, Morocco and Mauritania each moved to annex the territory, with Morocco taking control of the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces and Mauritania taking control of the southern third as Tiris al-Gharbiyya. Spain terminated its presence in Spanish Sahara within three months, even repatriating Spanish corpses from its cemeteries. The Moroccan and Mauritanian moves, however, met staunch opposition from the Polisario, which had by now gained backing from Algeria. In 1979, following Mauritania’s withdrawal due to pressure from Polisario, Morocco extended its control to the rest of the territory, and gradually contained the guerrillas through setting up the extensive sand-berm in the desert to exclude guerilla fighters. Hostilities ceased in a 1991 cease-fire, overseen by the peacekeeping mission MINURSO, under the terms of a UN Settlement Plan.

Stalling of the referendum and Settlement Plan

The referendum, originally scheduled for 1992, foresaw giving the local population the option between independence or affirming integration with Morocco, but it quickly stalled. In 1997, the Houston Agreement attempted to revive the proposal for a referendum, but likewise has hitherto not had success. As of 2007, however, negotiations over terms have not resulted in any substantive action. At the heart of the dispute lies the question of who qualifies to be registered to participate in the referendum, and, since about 2000, Morocco’s renewed refusal to accept independence as an option on the referendum ballot combined with Polisario’s insistence that independence be a clear option in the referendum.

Both sides blame each other for the stalling of the referendum. The Polisario has insisted on only allowing those found on the 1974 Spanish Census lists (see below) to vote, while Morocco has insisted that the census was flawed by evasion and sought the inclusion of members of Sahrawi tribes with recent historical presence in the Spanish Sahara.

Efforts by the UN special envoys to find a common ground for both parties did not succeed. By 1999 the UN had identified about 85,000 voters, with nearly half of them in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara or Southern Morocco, and the others scattered between the Tindouf refugee camps, Mauritania and other places of exile. Polisario accepted this voter list, as it had done with the previous list presented by the UN (both of them originally based on the Spanish census of 1974), but Morocco refused and, as rejected voter candidates began a mass-appeals procedure, insisted that each application be scrutinized individually. This again brought the process to a halt.

According to a NATO delegation, MINURSO election observers stated in 1999, as the deadlock continued, that “if the number of voters does not rise significantly the odds were slightly on the RASD side”. By 2001, the process had effectively stalemated and the UN Secretary-General asked the parties for the first time to explore other, third-way solutions. Indeed, shortly after the Houston Agreement (1997), Morocco officially declared that it was “no longer necessary” to include an option of independence on the ballot, offering instead autonomy. Erik Jensen, who played an administrative role in MINURSO, wrote that neither side would agree to a voter registration in which they were destined to lose

Baker Plan

As personal envoy of the Secretary-General, James Baker (who also had John R. Bolton in his delegation) visited all sides and produced the document known as the “Baker Plan”. This was discussed by the United Nations Security Council in 2000, and envisioned an autonomous Western Sahara Authority (WSA), which would be followed after five years by the referendum. Every person present in the territory would be allowed to vote, regardless of birthplace and with no regard to the Spanish census. It was rejected by both sides, although it was initially derived from a Moroccan proposal. According to Baker’s draft, tens of thousands of post-annexation immigrants from Morocco proper (viewed by Polisario as settlers, but by Morocco as legitimate inhabitants of the area) would be granted the vote in the Sahrawi independence referendum, and the ballot would be split three-ways by the inclusion of an unspecified “autonomy”, further undermining the independence camp. Also, Morocco was allowed to keep its army in the area and to retain the control over all security issues during both the autonomy years and the election. In 2002, the Moroccan king stated that the referendum idea was “out of date” since it “can not be implemented”; Polisario retorted that that was only because of the King’s refusal to allow it to take place.

In 2003, a new version of the plan was made official, with some additions spelling out the powers of the WSA, making it less reliant on Moroccan devolution. It also provided further detail on the referendum process in order to make it harder to stall or subvert. This second draft, commonly known as Baker II, was accepted by the Polisario as a “basis of negotiations” to the surprise of many. This appeared to abandon Polisario’s previous position of only negotiating based on the standards of voter identification from 1991 (i.e. the Spanish census). After that, the draft quickly garnered widespread international support, culminating in the UN Security Council’s unanimous endorsement of the plan in the summer of 2003.

Western Sahara today

Currently, the Baker II document appears to be a dead letter, with Baker having resigned his post at the UN in 2004. His resignation followed several months of failed attempts to get Morocco to enter into formal negotiations on the plan, but he met with rejection. The new king, Mohammed VI of Morocco, opposes any referendum on independence, and has said Morocco will never agree to one: “We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand”.

Instead, he proposes, through an appointed advisory body Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), a self-governing Western Sahara as an autonomous community within Morocco. His father, Hassan II of Morocco, initially supported the referendum idea in principle in 1982, and in signed contracts with Polisario and the United Nations in 1991 and 1997; thus engaging to a referendum. However, no major powers have expressed interest in forcing the issue, and Morocco has historically showed little real interest in an actual referendum.

The UN has put forth no replacement strategy after the breakdown of Baker II, and renewed fighting has been raised as a possibility. In 2005, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported increased military activity on both sides of the front and breaches of several cease-fire provisions against strengthening military fortifications.

Morocco has repeatedly tried to get Algeria into bilateral negotiations, based on its view of Polisario as the cat’s paw of the Algerian military. It has received vocal support from France and occasionally (and currently) from the United States. These negotiations would define the exact limits of a Western Sahara autonomy under Moroccan rule, but only after Morocco’s “inalienable right” to the territory was recognized as a precondition to the talks. The Algerian government has consistently refused, claiming it has neither the will nor the right to negotiate on the behalf of the Polisario Front.

Demonstrations and riots by supporters of independence and/or a referendum broke out in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara in May 2005, and in parts of southern Morocco (notably the town of Assa). They were met by police. Several international human rights organizations have expressed concern at what they termed abuse by Moroccan security forces, and a number of Sahrawi activists have been jailed. Pro-independence Sahrawi sources, including the Polisario, have given these demonstrations the name “Independence Intifada”, while most sources have tended to see the events as being of limited importance. International press and other media coverage has been sparse, and reporting is complicated by the Moroccan government’s policy of strictly controlling independent media coverage within the territory.

Demonstrations and protests are still occurring, after Morocco declared in February 2006 that it was contemplating a plan for devolving a limited variant of autonomy to the territory, but still explicitly refused any referendum on independence. As of January 2007, the plan has not been made public, even if the Moroccan government claims that it has been more or less completed.

The Polisario Front has intermittently threatened to resume fighting, referring to the Moroccan refusal of a referendum as a breach of the cease-fire terms, but most observers seem to consider armed conflict unlikely without the green light from Algeria, which houses the Sahrawis’ refugee camps and has been the main military sponsor of the movement.

In April 2007 the government of Morocco suggested that a self-governing entity, through the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), should govern the territory with some degree of autonomy for Western Sahara. The project was presented to the United Nations Security Council in mid-April 2007. The stalemating of the Moroccan proposal options has led the UN in the recent “Report of the UN Secretary-General” to ask the parties to enter into direct and unconditional negotiations to reach a mutually accepted political solution.

Geography Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco
Geographic coordinates: 24 30 N, 13 00 W
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 266,000 sq km
land: 266,000 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: about the size of Colorado
Land boundaries: total: 2,046 km
border countries: Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km
Coastline: 1,110 km
Maritime claims: contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue
Climate: hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew
Terrain: mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m
highest point: unnamed elevation 805 m
Natural resources: phosphates, iron ore
Land use: arable land: 0.02%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 99.98% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility
Environment – current issues: sparse water and lack of arable land
Environment – international agreements: party to: none of the selected agreements
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas
Politics The legal status of the territory and the question of its sovereignty remains unresolved; the territory is contested between Morocco and Polisario Front. It is considered a non self-governed territory by the United Nations.

The government of Morocco is a formally constitutional monarchy under Mohammed VI with a bicameral parliament. The last elections to the lower house were deemed reasonably free and fair by international observers. Certain powers such as the capacity to appoint the government and to dissolve parliament remain in the hands of the monarch. The Morocco-controlled parts of Western Sahara are divided into several provinces treated as integral parts of the kingdom. The Moroccan government heavily subsidizes the Saharan provinces under its control with cut-rate fuel and related subsidies, to appease nationalist dissent and attract immigrants – or settlers – from loyalist Sahrawi and other communities in Morocco proper.

The exiled government of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a form of single-party parliamentary and presidential system, but according to its constitution, this will be changed into a multi-party system at the achievement of independence. It is presently based at the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, which it controls. It also claims to control the part of Western Sahara to the east of the Moroccan Wall, known as the Free Zone. This area has a very small population, estimated to be approximately 30,000 nomads. The Moroccan government views it as a no-man’s land patrolled by UN troops. The SADR government whose troops also patrol the area regard it as the liberated territories and have proclaimed a village in the area, Bir Lehlou as SADR’s provisional capital.

People Population: 405,210
note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries (July 2009 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 44.9% (male 92,428/female 89,570)
15-64 years: 52.8% (male 105,191/female 108,803)
65 years and over: 2.3% (male 3,881/female 5,337) (2009 est.)
Median age: total: 17.3 years
male: 16.8 years
female: 17.8 years
Population growth rate: 2.829% NA (2009 est.)
Birth rate: 39.95 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 11.74 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 69.66 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 69.84 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 69.47 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 54.32 years
male: 52 years
female: 56.73 years (2009 est.)
Total fertility rate: NA 5.61 children born/woman (2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: NA
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS – deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawi, Sahrawian, Sahraouian
Ethnic groups: Arab, Berber
Religions: Muslim
Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Literacy: NA
Government Country name: conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara
former: Spanish Sahara
Government type: legal status of territory and issue of sovereignty unresolved; territory contested by Morocco and Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government-in-exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ; territory partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976 when Spain withdrew, with Morocco acquiring northern two-thirds; Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims to its portion in August 1979; Morocco moved to occupy that sector shortly thereafter and has since asserted administrative control; the Polisario’s government-in-exile was seated as an Organization of African Unity (OAU) member in 1984; guerrilla activities continued sporadically until a UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented on 6 September 1991 (Security Council Resolution 690) by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara or MINURSO
Capital: none
time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: none (under de facto control of Morocco)
Suffrage: none; a UN-sponsored voter identification campaign not yet completed
Executive branch: none
Political pressure groups and leaders: none
International organization participation: WFTU
Diplomatic representation in the US: none
Diplomatic representation from the US: none
Culture The major ethnic group of the Western Sahara are the Sahrawis, a nomadic or Bedouin tribal or ethnic group speaking the Hassānīya dialect of Arabic, also spoken in much of Mauritania. They are of mixed Arab-Berber descent, but claim descent from the Beni Hassan, a Yemeni tribe supposed to have migrated across the desert in the 11th century.

Physically indistinguishable from the Hassaniya speaking Moors of Mauritania, the Sahrawi people differ from their neighbors partly due to different tribal affiliations (as tribal confederations cut across present modern boundaries) and partly as a consequence of their exposure to Spanish colonial domination. Surrounding territories were generally under French colonial rule.

Like other neighboring Saharan Bedouin and Hassaniya groups, the Sahrawis are Muslims of the Sunni sect and the Maliki fiqh. Local religious custom (‘urf) is, like other Saharan groups, heavily influenced by pre-Islamic Berber and African practices, and differs substantially from urban practices. For example, Sahrawi Islam has traditionally functioned without mosques in the normal sense of the word, in an adaptation to nomadic life.

The originally clan- and tribe-based society underwent a massive social upheaval in 1975, when a part of the population was forced into exile and settled in the refugee camps of Tindouf, Algeria. Families were broken up by the fight. For developments among this population, see Sahrawi and Tindouf Province.

The Moroccan government considerably invested in the social and economic development of the Moroccan controlled Western Sahara with special emphasis on education, modernisation and infrastructure. El-Aaiun in particular has been the target of heavy government investment, and has grown rapidly. Several thousand Sahrawis study in Moroccan universities. Literacy rates are appreciated at some 50% of the population.

To date, there have been few thorough studies of the culture due in part to the political situation. Some language and culture studies, mainly by French researchers, have been performed on Sahrawi communities in northern Mauritania.

Economy Economy – overview: Western Sahara depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable agricultural production, and most of the food for the urban population must be imported. Incomes in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level. The Moroccan Government controls all trade and other economic activities in Western Sahara. Morocco and the EU signed a four-year agreement in July 2006 allowing European vessels to fish off the coast of Morocco, including the disputed waters off the coast of Western Sahara. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara, which has angered the Polisario. However, in 2006 the Polisario awarded similar exploration licenses in the disputed territory, which would come into force if Morocco and the Polisario resolve their dispute over Western Sahara.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $NA
GDP (official exchange rate): $NA
GDP – real growth rate: NA%
GDP – per capita (PPP): $NA
GDP – composition by sector: agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: 40%
Labor force: 12,000 (2005 est.)
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 50%
industry and services: 50% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate: NA%
Population below poverty line: NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Budget: revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA
Fiscal year: calendar year
Inflation rate (consumer prices): NA%
Agriculture – products: fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads); fish
Industries: phosphate mining, handicrafts
Industrial production growth rate: NA%
Electricity – production: 90 million kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity – consumption: 83.7 million kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity – exports: 0 kWh (2007)
Electricity – imports: 0 kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity – production by source: fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Oil – production: 0 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil – consumption: 1,760 bbl/day (2006 est.)
Oil – exports: 0 bbl/day (2005)
Oil – imports: 1,925 bbl/day (2005)
Oil – proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas – production: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – consumption: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – exports: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – imports: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Exports: $NA
Exports – commodities: phosphates 62%
Imports: $NA
Imports – commodities: fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
Economic aid – recipient: $NA
Debt – external: $NA
Currency (code): Moroccan dirham (MAD)
Currency code: MAD
Exchange rates: Moroccan dirhams (MAD) per US dollar – 7.526 (2008 est.), 8.3563 (2007), 8.7722 (2006), 8.865 (2005), 8.868 (2004)
Communications Telephones – main lines in use: about 2,000 (1999 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular: 0 (1999)
Telephone system: general assessment: sparse and limited system
domestic: NA
international: country code – 212; tied into Morocco’s system by microwave radio relay, tropospheric scatter, and satellite; satellite earth stations – 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) linked to Rabat, Morocco
Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 0, shortwave 0 (1998)
Radios: 56,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: NA
Televisions: 6,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .eh
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: NA
Transportation Airports: 9 (2007)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2007)
Airports – with unpaved runways: total: 6
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 3
under 914 m: 2 (2007)
Ports and terminals: Ad Dakhla, Cabo Bojador, Laayoune (El Aaiun)
Military Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 52,267
females age 16-49: 59,221 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 4,796
female: 4,679 (2009 est.)
Transnational Issues Disputes – international: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, whose sovereignty remains unresolved; UN-administered cease-fire has remained in effect since September 1991, administered by the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), but attempts to hold a referendum have failed and parties thus far have rejected all brokered proposals; several states have extended diplomatic relations to the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” represented by the Polisario Front in exile in Algeria, while others recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara; most of the approximately 102,000 Sahrawi refugees are sheltered in camps in Tindouf, Algeria

Hezbollah set to tighten grip in Lebanon vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hezbollah set to tighten grip in Lebanon vote

Almost no mention is made in election campaign of the Shiite terror group’s ties to Iran, role in the Syrian war or tensions with Israel

In this Friday, April 13, 2018 file photo, supporters of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hold a banner with his portrait and Arabic words that reads: 'All the loyalty to the man of nobility,' during an election campaign speech, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

In this Friday, April 13, 2018 file photo, supporters of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hold a banner with his portrait and Arabic words that reads: ‘All the loyalty to the man of nobility,’ during an election campaign speech, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT  — Few countries are as vulnerable to the Middle East’s mayhem as Lebanon, which has taken in a million refugees from the catastrophic war in neighboring Syria, seen the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah terror group embroiled in that war and watched Saudi Arabia try to oust its prime minister.

Yet campaigning for Sunday’s parliamentary election, the first in nine years, has timidly sidestepped the big issues, leaving many Lebanese expecting more of the same. It’s especially galling for Lebanese concerned a still-dominant Hezbollah could drag the country into a looming Iran-Israel regional confrontation.

The vote is expected to be a test for the country’s Western-backed Sunni prime minister, Saad Hariri, and his Iran-backed Shiite opponent, Hezbollah, which is looking to tighten its grip and expand its presence in the 128-seat parliament — likely at Hariri’s expense.

Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouk, a member of Hariri’s inner circle, said the election is not “a Sunni-Shiite conflict but rather a conflict between a group that believes in a state and a nation, and another that has regional and Iranian leanings.”

The sides, however, can hardly govern effectively without each other and are expected to recreate the unity government that currently exists, which incorporates members of the militant group.

In this picture taken on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri who is a candidate for the parliamentary elections which will be held on May 6, addresses a speech during an elections campaign, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Most of the campaigning by more than 500 candidates has revolved around platforms of stability and economic growth, with many of Lebanon’s civil war-era political titans set to return, including Lebanon’s aging Shiite parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally who has held the post for more than 25 years and who is virtually uncontested. Some warlords are passing on their seats to their sons, including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

“Divisive issues such as Hezbollah’s weapons and the controversy over its participation in regional conflicts are almost entirely absent from the electoral campaigns, indicating implicit acceptance of the party’s domestic hegemony,” wrote analyst Joseph Bahout in an article for the Carnegie Middle East Center.

A new election law agreed on last year has opened cracks through which rivals within the Shiite community could potentially challenge Hezbollah, and political newcomers and independents could try to break through the monopoly long enjoyed by the political dynasties.

It also promises to shake things up by reorganizing Lebanon’s electoral map, consolidating 23 districts into 15, and awarding seats by share of the vote received, rather than winner-takes-all. The law also allows Lebanese expatriates to vote abroad for the first time, adding a new level of unpredictability to the mix.

The last time elections were held in Lebanon was in 2009. Since then, members of parliament have extended their terms twice, citing security threats linked to the war in neighboring Syria.

In this Friday, April 13, 2018 file photo, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen during an election campaign in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Lebanon is technically a parliamentary democracy but is shackled by a decades-old sectarian-based power-sharing system, and its politics are dominated by former warlords that have long exploited the system to perpetuate corruption and nepotism. All senior government positions are allocated according to sect, including the head of state, who should be a Christian, the prime minister, a Sunni Muslim, and the parliament speaker, a Shiite. Parliament is divided equally between Christians and Muslims, with seats allotted according to religious sect.

The formula, based on outdated demographic data that does not account for nearly 200,000 Palestinians who are denied citizenship and a vote, allows people to vote according to their religious affiliations, not a political program.

A record number of first-time hopefuls are campaigning for change, urging voters to shun politicians who have drowned the country in corruption and debt. Many rose to prominence as organizers of protests over a 2015 trash collection crisis that left garbage in the streets for months and laid bare the extent of the public sector mismanagement plaguing Lebanon.

“It reflects a new mindset emerging among significant sectors of the Lebanese electorate, pointing in the direction of making a small dent in the religious sect-based political system,” said Randa Slim, an analyst with the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

In this Sunday, April 29, 2018 file photo, a luna park wheel decorated by posters that show portraits of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and his son the current Prime Minister Saad Hariri who is a candidate for the parliamentary elections which will be held on May 6, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Still, the biggest winner appears to be Hezbollah and its allies, who look set to scoop up at least some of the seats lost by Hariri’s coalition, largely because of the expected fragmentation of the Sunni vote.

Hariri now has the largest block in parliament, but is likely to lose seats to rival politicians. Some of Hariri’s supporters shifted their allegiance after the billionaire businessman, who also holds Saudi citizenship, laid off scores of employees in his development company, Saudi Oger, as well as in Hariri-owned charities and media outlets in Lebanon, largely because of Saudi spending cuts.

That loss of support has been compounded by what some see as a weak stance vis-a-vis Hezbollah, accusing him of catering to and giving political cover to the militant group, which a U.N.-backed tribunal has accused in the 2015 assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah offered its support to Hariri after he was detained in Saudi Arabia late last year during a visit to Riyadh in which he announced his resignation as prime minister, citing Iran and Hezbollah’s meddling in the region. The move was widely seen as Saudi coercion, although Hariri denies stepping down against his will and has since reversed his resignation.

Hezbollah now seeks, along with its allies, to win at least 43 seats in the 128-member legislature, which would enable the militant group to veto any laws it opposes.

Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad, and has cleared the vast region along the countries’ shared border of Islamic militants, leaving hundreds of its fighters killed and wounded. It is now campaigning heavily on those achievements.

Its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, called for a heavy voter turnout, particularly in the Baalbek-Hermel region in eastern Lebanon, traditionally a Hezbollah stronghold which now faces a challenge from rivals.

“You should protect with your votes your victories and achievements, for which you’ve paid a very high price,” Nasrallah said in an appeal to supporters at an election rally in the area on Monday.

Despite limited pushback from the Shiite community, Hezbollah has largely delivered on its promises in Syria as far as the Shiite community is concerned and will now be expected to deliver on the economic front, Slim said.

She expects a governing coalition between Hariri and Hezbollah to re-emerge from Sunday’s vote and says if the elections produce a weaker Hariri, it will be all the more reason for Hezbollah to push for him to be the next prime minister.

“In light of the talk of a looming Iranian-Israeli confrontation in Syria, Hezbollah will be more incentivized in not rocking the boat in Lebanon,” she said.

READ MORE:

‘Teflon don, Trump’ About To Go Down In The Flames Of Impeachment?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

(Is The ‘Teflon don, Trump’ About To Go Down In The Flames Of Impeachment?)

Right Turn

Trump melts down after Cohen raid — and only hurts himself

  
 April 10 at 9:00 AM 
 2:01
Trump fumes ‘attorney-client privilege is dead’ after FBI raid

President Trump tweeted his outrage at an FBI raid of his personal attorney Michael Cohen’s home and offices, calling it a “witch hunt.”

In an extraordinary series of events, the FBI executed a no-knock raid on President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen’s office, home and hotel. The president, seated alongside his top military and civilian national security advisers to discuss a response to the Syrians’ use of chemical weapons, launched into a rant in which he did not rule out firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, accused law enforcement of bias, whined that Hillary Clinton was not being prosecuted, suggested Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein had behaved improperly in signing off on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, railed again at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself (and thereby allowing the investigation proceed) and deemed execution of a warrant signed off on by a federal judge and approved by a U.S. attorney and deputy attorney general, both of whom he appointed, to be an “attack” on the country.
Let’s start with the raid. The Post reports:

Michael Cohen, the longtime attorney of President Trump, is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, according to three people with knowledge of the case.
FBI agents on Monday raided Cohen’s Manhattan office, home and hotel room as part of the investigation, seizing records about Cohen’s clients and personal finances. Among the records taken were those related to a 2016 payment Cohen made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump, according to another person familiar with the investigation.
Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records, including tax returns, as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, the second person said.
In a dramatic and broad seizure, federal prosecutors collected communications between Cohen and his clients — including those between the lawyer and Trump, according to both people.

Let us not understate how extraordinary a development this is. The standard of proof required to raid any attorney’s office is exceptionally high. To authorize a raid on the president’s lawyer’s office, a federal judge or magistrate must have seen highly credible evidence of serious crimes and/or evidence Cohen was hiding or destroying evidence, according to legal experts. “The FBI raid was the result of an ongoing criminal investigation *not* by Mueller but by the interim US Attorney personally interviewed and selected by Trump himself, pursuant to a warrant issued under strict standards by a federal judge, subject to approval by the head of the Criminal Division,” said constitutional scholar Larry Tribe. He warns that “firing Sessions or Rosenstein (or reining in Mueller) would trigger a crisis for the Constitution and our national security but wouldn’t even extricate Trump from criminal investigation of his innermost circle.” In short, Tribe concludes, “This is every bit as shattering as many have surmised.”

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What we don’t know is whether the suspected wrongdoing extends to Trump or is solely attributable to Cohen. (By referring the matter to the New York prosecutor, Mueller may have signaled this is not germane to the Russia investigation; however, any possible crimes concerning Stormy Daniels, for example, may or may not implicate Trump.) Whatever the FBI sweeps up may very well further enmesh Trump in an investigation in which what seemed like a series of separate topics — Trump’s personal finances, potential obstruction of justice, possible Russian collusion and hush money paid to a porn star — have begun to bleed into one another. Trump is as vulnerable as he has always been, in part because he plainly does not know what federal prosecutors now have in their possession and because intense pressure may be brought to bear on Cohen to “flip” on Trump.
Trump cannot take much comfort in the attorney-client privilege. For one thing, it applies to legal communications; if Cohen is acting as a businessman/”fixer,” no privilege may attach. Moreover, the attorney-client privilege cannot apply to communications that are part of a crime (e.g., a conspiracy to obstruct justice). Trump once said investigating his finances were a “red line” for Mueller; the latest move in raiding Cohen transgresses any limitation Trump could possibly have dreamed up. His reaction reflects his fury in not being able to fend off Mueller.
Trump’s response was disturbing on multiple levels.
First, Trump in essence declared war on the rule of law. “It’s, frankly, a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for,” said the president, who now equates the operation of the criminal-justice system under the rule of law to be an attack on the country. He is the country in his eyes. Those who challenge him are enemies of the country. There is no better formulation of his authoritarian, anti-democratic mindset than this.

 3:03
Opinion | Trump can fire Mueller, but that won’t get rid of the Russia investigation

Opinion | If President Trump fires the bane of his legal troubles, he could spark a legal and constitutional crisis.

Second, his tirade against Sessions should rekindle concerns that he is contemplating firing him and putting in a flunky to protect himself. “The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this, and when he recused himself,” Trump said. “Or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a — put a different attorney general in. So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country.” That, too, is a picture-perfect distillation of his warped view of the presidency. He hands Mueller another admission that he thinks the DOJ should protect him from, instead of conducting investigations into criminal and counterintelligence matters.
Third, Trump’s attempts to discredit Mueller’s team and the FBI should highlight the necessity of Congress protecting the special counsel. (“This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I’ve ever seen.”) When he says the investigation is a “witch hunt,” he may be plowing the way to fire Mueller and/or Rosenstein or refuse to cooperate with an interview. In either event, we would face a constitutional crisis.
Fourth, Trump’s insistence that his campaign has been exonerated from “collusion” (“So they find no collusion, and then they go from there and they say, ‘Well, let’s keep going.’”) is baseless. More than 70 different contacts between Trump team and Russian-related figures have been found. Multiple indictments and plea deals have been struck. The investigation continues. His false certainty that there is no evidence of collusion can now be seen as the motive for his attempts to discredit and derail the investigation, to obstruct justice, in other words.
Finally, Trump’s rambling, unhinged reaction — after his attorneys no doubt counseled him to keep quiet — should shake his supporters. The pressure of the investigation and vulnerability to prosecution and/or impeachment are not going to vanish. His family and his fix-it lawyer won’t stop Mueller. His TV friends cannot keep the FBI at bay. He lashes out like a cornered animal. The angrier and more panicked Trump becomes, the greater chance he will behave in extreme and destructive ways.
“The president cannot help himself,” former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen told me. “Instead of doing his job as our chief federal law enforcement official and allowing the rule of law to operate unimpeded, he lashes out when he feels personally threatened.” He adds, “The president’s words were more befitting a mob don when the feds are closing in. Given Michael Cohen’s role in Trump’s past, perhaps they are. The American people will not stand for any Trump attempt to match his hostile words with aggressive action against Mueller, Sessions, Rosenstein or other DOJ officials. If he does, it will be the beginning of the end for his presidency.”
Now would be a good time for Republicans to find their spines, remember their oaths and act to insulate Mueller and Rosenstein from Trump. A simple declaration that firing either would be an impeachable offense would, frankly, be a help to Trump. He could use some outside restraint.

FBI Raids The Office Of Trumps Personal Lawyer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

The FBI raided the office of Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer and confidant of President Donald Trump, Cohen’s attorney confirmed to CNN Monday.

One source familiar with the matter told CNN that included in the documents authorities seized was information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006 that the White House has denied.
Stephen Ryan, a lawyer for Cohen, said in a statement that the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York had executed “a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications” between Cohen and his clients.
A White House official said Trump had been watching TV reports of the FBI raiding Cohen’s office, and that Trump knew about the raid before the news broke.
Ryan’s statement called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary,” and said federal prosecutors had told him it stemmed partially from a referral by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller.
“I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller,” Ryan said in the statement. “… It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients. These government tactics are also wrong because Mr. Cohen has cooperated completely with all government entities, including providing thousands of non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath.”
The New York Times first reported on news of Monday’s raid.
The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the searches Monday.
A person briefed on the search told the Times that the FBI also seized emails, tax documents and business records, including communications between Trump and Cohen.
The White House official said it is unclear if Trump has spoken to Cohen.
Cohen is a longtime ally of the President, and admitted earlier this year to setting up a limited liability company in 2016 to pay Daniels. She has alleged she had an affair with Trump a decade earlier, and that the payment was hush money. The White House has denied Daniels’ allegations of an affair with Trump.
Asked about the Daniels controversy last week, Trump said he did not know about the payment and declined to comment further, instead referring questions to Cohen.
“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” Trump said. “Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”
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