Iran’s Supreme ‘Fraud/Liar’ Will Never Allow Honest Elections Or Any Semblance Of Honesty Or Freedom!

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

Opinion

Iran Blocks Telegram

It is not strange that Iran is the only country in the Middle East that blocks services which are considered essential now like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp as part of its continuous blackout policy. Tehran even disturbs the signal of several broadcast channels blocking citizens from any external media access.

Of all international social media applications available, Iranians are only left with the messaging application Telegram.

Telegram was formed by two Russian brothers and is headquartered in Germany. Almost 40 million Iranians use its voice messages, while 20 million use the application for texting. Being the only application available, this precious service is in high demand among Iranians who amount up to a quarter of Telegram’s users across the world.

But then the government quelled Iranians’ sole source of joy by blocking most of Telegram’s services, precisely the voice messages under the pretext of protecting national security.

The truth is that the regime blocked the application fearing it would affect the course of the upcoming elections; a course that had already been engineered.

Thousands of local candidates are “filtered” according to the criteria of the “democratic Iranian religious clerics”. In the end, only those whom they are satisfied with are allowed to run for elections. It is not a secret system and, eventually, no one is allowed to win the elections or even run for it if the Supreme Leader doesn’t agree.

The 2009 elections caused a great embarrassment both domestically and internationally because those who diverted from the leadership were figures licensed by the leaders of the regime to run for the elections.

The supreme leadership decided that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would become president and forged the results accordingly. This angered the candidates who had the best chance in winning and led to the famous “Green Movement” revolution, during which many died or were injured and arrested. The memory of the uprising has been haunting the authorities that believe this massive antagonist movement wouldn’t have been possible, especially in Tehran, hadn’t it been for Twitter and Facebook.

Indeed, back then al-Arabiya Channel relied almost completely on the videos, photos and information it received from those two platforms to cover the Iranian events after the authorities shut down its office and expelled its correspondent. The results were astounding! The regime was in confusion after images of the protests, clashes, and injuries were broadcast on international media outlets.

After reading a report published about a month ago in the Los Angeles Times about the influence of Telegram inside of Iran, I sensed the regime’s fear and anticipated its next move. The report mentioned that the security authorities had already begun warning users of political messages and forced anyone who owned a channel with over 5,000 subscribers to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture. The government then began a series of arrests for active users on the application.

Iran has now shut most of Telegram’s services hoping to contain the atmosphere of the parliamentary and presidential elections, which are mostly an encore of the same charade. Results can be partially or completely forged, even after the filtration and suspension done during the early stages of candidacy.

The regime is really concerned with controlling the reactions of the Iranian street to avoid the repetition of the Green Revolution.

No surprises on the level of the presidential elections are expected because the approved candidates are just copies of each other.

Even former President Ahmadinejad, despite his importance and history, was banned by the Supreme Leader from running for this election. Ahmadinejad shocked everyone and announced himself a candidate with a series of clarifications and apologetic statements saying he didn’t disobey the directives of the Supreme Leader. He pledged to withdraw from the elections after the first round and said he only participated to support his friend, a presidential candidate, and give him the media and public attention.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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World leaders for Silk Road talks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

World leaders for Silk Road talks

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held from May 14 to 15 in Beijing and President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony and host the round table summit of the leaders, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday.

Xi has championed the “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark program to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects.

China has dedicated US$40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Among those attending will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo will also be attending the forum.

British finance minister Philip Hammond will come as Prime Minister Theresa May’s representative, while Germany and France will send high-level representatives.

Wang confirmed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as one of the leaders coming, along with the Spanish, Greek, Hungarian, Serb and Polish prime ministers and Swiss and Czech presidents.

“This is an economic cooperation forum, an international cooperation platform that everyone is paying attention to, supports and hopes to participate in,” Wang said.

“One Belt, One Road is to date the most important public good China has given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to enjoy,” said.

“The culture and historical genes of One Belt, One Road come from the old Silk Road, so it takes Eurasia as its main region,” he said, adding that representatives of 110 countries would attend the forum.

A section of the New Silk Road is in Pakistan, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.

Wang dismissed concerns, saying the Pakistan project had no direct connection to the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the New Silk Road.

“Indian friends have said to us that One Belt, One Road is a very good suggestion,” he said.

During the forum, China is expected to sign cooperative documents with nearly 20 countries and more than 20 international organizations, Wang told reporters.

China will work with countries along the route on action plans concerning infrastructure, energy and resources, production capacity, trade and investment, which will help to turn the grand blueprint into a clear roadmap, he said.

Another task of the forum will be to push forward delivery of cooperative projects, Wang said.

During the forum, parties will identify major cooperative projects, set up working groups and establish an investment cooperation center.

China will also work with all parties on a set of measures that will include improved financial cooperation, a cooperation platform for science, technology and environmental protection, and enhanced exchanges and training of talent.

Participants will sign financing agreements to support their cooperative projects, Wang said.

China will use the forum to build a more open and efficient international cooperation platform; a closer, stronger partnership network; and to push for a more just, reasonable and balanced international governance system, Wang said.

Tougher laws and enforcement needed to stamp out free-for-all on Shanghai roads

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

Tougher laws and enforcement needed to stamp out free-for-all on Shanghai roads

BEFORE the term “lao si ji,” literally old driver, became a popular pun for a hardened philanderer, it used to be an honorary title bestowed on skilled drivers.

Like me.

Although I only started to sit behind the steering wheel about two years ago, I believe that these two years of intensive practicing, training and adaptation on Shanghai’s highly risky roads have turned me into a “lao si ji.” Well, quite.

In order to earn that badge of honor, one simply has to be vastly resourceful and extremely responsive to every possible risk on the road. For example, since many Chinese drivers have the annoying habit of never bothering to signal when making a lane change, it is strongly advised to place one’s foot constantly on the brake, to be on alert for a potential rear-end collision.

During my days as a novice driver, I encountered several situations in which I had to hit the brake violently to avoid crashing into the cars that suddenly cut in ahead of mine. Fuming, I could not help letting loose a torrent of abuse.

Once during the evening rush hours, I was inching forward on an off-ramp from the Yan’an Elevated Highway. Without signaling or approaching the median line, a man driving a Toyota sedan on my right suddenly swerved left. I gasped, slammed on the brake and narrowly escaped hitting the sedan.

Road rage

In an outburst of road rage, I pulled up beside the Toyota, glared at the driver and honked once to protest. He didn’t even stare back. He couldn’t care less. Obviously he is an expert at this willful escapade.

Before long, I realized that there are plenty more of such douche bags on Shanghai’s roads, and since they cannot be made to see how rude they are, the choice left is either to tolerate their derring-do, or as the old adage goes, if you cannot beat them then join them.

On several occasions I did find myself joining this sorry bunch after reconciling myself with the fact that those who don’t signal actually have a good reason for not doing so. Only a handful of motorists, at least in my own experience, showed their civility by yielding to cars signaling for a lane change.

Over time, this led to bewilderment, followed by disillusionment. Despite having spent time to regurgitate the traffic rules to pass the written test for the driver’s license, many seem to give little thought to these rules in reality.

Instead, to be able to survive China’s roads, one of the cardinal principles appears to be to unlearn what is learnt at the driving school and make impromptu changes where necessary. For example, even the forbidden practice of overtaking a slow car from the right side is sometimes an option. Forget about road civility, this is a mere afterthought.

It is with mixed feelings that I salute the recently updated traffic regulation, said to be the strictest ever to be adopted in Shanghai.

On the one hand, I do believe that the laws must be made to have teeth to deal with public hazards like the Toyota driver; to crack down hard on illegal driving behavior that makes Shanghai’s roads a free-for-all where the only rule that applies is “who dares wins.”

On the other, I am less optimistic than some about the odds of the new regulation succeeding in drilling some much-needed sense of civility and road manners into the minds of daredevils.

And this paradoxical mentality became even more agonizing following my recent trip to Germany and Austria. During the eight-day trip, I drove some 2,000 kilometers. Despite the fatigue resulting from long hours of driving — I once drove non-stop for about 450 kilometers from Munich to Vienna — I remained mentally at ease throughout the journey.

Since sections of the German Autobahn, or expressways, are exempt from speed limits, it’s common to see cars hurtling at over 200 kilometers per hour. And I remember being told by a German friend, beaming, that the recklessness often seen in Chinese motorists is nowhere to be found on German roads.

Paradox

To put his assertion to the test, I once hit the gas pedal to take my diesel-powered Volkswagen Golf Variant to over 180kph, only to slow down when my ashen-faced wife begged me to in a trembling voice. Although my palms were sweaty from an adrenaline rush and from gripping the wheel a bit too tightly to avoid lane departure, my mind was fairly relaxed. I even had time to take in the pastoral beauty of the Bavarian countryside and breathe in the crisp March air adulterated with a thick smell of cow manure.

It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s safer to drive 200kph on German motorways than 60kph on Shanghai’s elevated highways. This appears to be born out by statistics. According to a 2015 WHO report, Germany has one of the world’s lowest road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants: 4.3 compared to China’s 18.8.

The key to understanding the paradox between general road safety and the (partial) absence of speed limits lies perhaps in the German conformity to order and rules.

Given my observation, almost every vehicle would spontaneously leave the fast lane on an Autobahn after overtaking a car in front; you can literally careen down the road at the sight of inverted yellow triangular signs that suggest you have the indisputable right of way; and whenever I slowed down on urban roads, trying to follow the GPS directions, no German driver ever honked at me or intimidated me with high beam headlights. They just followed patiently behind. When their patience did wear thin, they overtook me at a safe distance. By the way, they were more willing to yield to cars that signaled.

In my opinion, one of the most admirable aspects of German traffic is that the rigidity of the rules enforced is softened by a dose of flexibility for personal touch — civility shown to pedestrians is reciprocated with a nod, a smile or a thumbs-up. Respect begets respect.

Culture shock

I experienced a culture shock (or should it be reverse culture shock?) in the first days upon my return to Shanghai. During the morning madness I tried to play the German card in a lane change.

To my dismay, I signaled for 10 seconds, but no cars slowed down to let me pass. In a sign of cussedness, some even revved up the engine and zoomed past me.

Seeing that the German ways didn’t work, I switched back to the Chinese mode: I swerved to force my way into a column of vehicles.

It is reported that Shanghai’s updated traffic regulations include clauses that oblige motorists to yield to pedestrians when making a left/right turn.

For this clause to work, however, stricter law enforcement is critically needed in addition to a public awareness campaign. Until we have a police officer deployed at every intersection to ensure compliance, allow me to be mildly skeptical about the effects of the rule.

In a similar vein, until many drivers learn to treat other “lesser beings” on the road with a little more respect and dignity, they are unworthy of the “lao si ji” title, however skilled they might be.

Referendum Inflames Concerns Over Turkey’s Grip in Germany

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND REUTERS)

The Cologne Central Mosque in Germany is covered in windows that allow outsiders and Muslims to have a view of each other’s worlds. CreditThilo Schmülgen/Reuters

COLOGNE, Germany — The impressive Islamic complex here, Germany’s largest, boasts towering minarets and a soaring prayer hall. But what Turkish officials here seem most proud of are the hundreds of windows, which allow outsiders and Muslim worshipers to glimpse each other’s worlds. The idea, they say, is transparency.

Yet it is what lies beneath the surface these days that concerns both Germans and Turks as Turkey prepares to vote on Sunday in a referendum that could vastly expand the powers of its already authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose reach into Germany — both open and concealed — has become an increasing point of friction.

Since Turks arrived for work in the 1960s, Germany has maintained the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe, now some three million people. For many years, Germany was happy to let the Turkish state provide and pay for prayer leaders and other provisions for its emigrants. This now includes overseeing more than 900 Muslim associations and training and appointing many of Germany’s imams. The large mosque complex here is a part of that network.

But Turkey’s resulting grip in Germany is coming back to haunt both sides. German intelligence agencies and politicians now charge that Mr. Erdogan is using the decades-old arrangement to hunt down and punish opponents as he pursues a desperately wanted victory that would make his authority all but unchallengeable. Roughly half of the Turks who live in Germany hold Turkish citizenship and are eligible to vote.

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The Germans have accused some imams sent by Turkey of spying on Turks living in Germany and of denouncing individuals and institutions critical of the president — right down to kindergartens. Such spying, the Germans said, has allowed the Turkish government to track down, detain and harass their targets’ families and associates back home in Turkey as part of a sweeping purge of Erdogan opponents.

Already, Mr. Erdogan’s long shadow over Germany’s Turkish communities is palpable. On the heavily Turkish Keupstrasse, a street in Cologne, some Erdogan critics voiced apprehension about posting opinions on social media. They waited until they were alone with reporters to express their opinions, speaking freely but then declining to be identified by name.

“Do not underestimate the danger,” said Lale Akgun, a former Social Democratic member of the federal Parliament, an Erdogan opponent and a longtime observer of German-Turkish relations. “This is like a mini-Turkey. Everything they have there, we have here, too,” she added, alluding to Turkey’s many potentially explosive political rifts.

The tensions and the turn toward a more authoritarian Turkey carry worrying implications not only for Germany, but for all of Europe.

In neighboring Belgium, the Flemish authorities this month shut down a Turkish mosque — the second biggest in the country — over its alleged ties to Mr. Erdogan’s governing party. Since then, Belgium’s intelligence chief said, Turkey has halted intelligence cooperation.

In Germany, the spying accusations surfaced in February. Afterward, Turkey’s state religious authority, Diyanet, said it had quietly withdrawn an unspecified number of imams “in order not to damage 40 years of relations.”

Nonetheless, the matter is roiling relations across the board. Turkish-Germans who have lived here for decades said they had trouble recalling a tenser time between Turkey and Europe.

Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, recently held urgent meetings with Turkish community leaders, worrying aloud that 20 to 30 years of “successful work at living together can get broken.”

Mr. Erdogan and his associates hurled charges of Nazism at leaders in Germany and the Netherlands after those countries, sometimes citing sudden security concerns, banned rallies by Turkish ministers ahead of Sunday’s vote.

German leaders have denounced a retreat of democracy in Turkey, citing especially the detention — so far, without charges — of the German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel.

As it has for years with members or supporters of the outlawed P.K.K. movement for Kurdish independence, Turkey has handed German officials dossiers with the names of more than 300 people in Germany whom Ankara sees as working against Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey.

Allegedly, many of those who were named support the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally now accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. Mr. Gulen lives in Pennsylvania.

The dossiers included material obtained by illegal Turkish espionage on German soil, German officials said.

“It is certainly one of the most difficult phases in Turkish-German relations,” said Michelle Müntefering, who heads the Turkey committee in Parliament and was named in one of the dossiers.

“The Turkish government is increasingly following a course that leaves little room for discussion,” Ms. Müntefering said, referring to Turkey’s growing litany of complaints — from last year’s vote in Germany’s Parliament recognizing the Armenian genocide to a crude satire of Mr. Erdogan by the German comedian Jan Böhmermann.

The rise of a populist right wing in Germany does not help, she noted. “Integration requires moderation, not populist, illusory solutions,” she said.

Photo

Voters waited last week at the entrance to a polling station in the General Consulate of Turkey in Berlin. Almost 49 percent of Turks who live in Germany voted in a referendum that would greatly expand powers for Turkey’s president. CreditFelipe Trueba/European Pressphoto Agency

But it is Germany’s largest Muslim association, known as the Ditib, and its close association with Diyanet that is being singled out for special concern.

“Ditib must become independent of Turkey and its religious authority,” Ms. Müntefering said. And its imams, who also have a social function, should learn German and train at least in part in Germany, she added.

The chairman of Ditib, Nevzat Yasar Asikoglu, is counselor for religious and social affairs at the Turkish Embassy in Berlin. He was also directly appointed by Diyanet. Below him is a hierarchy of attaches who visit and advise Turkish-Muslim communities across Germany.

One way of avoiding the suspicion, said Zekeriya Altug, a Ditib spokesman, is to be more open and active. “We must make ourselves much more visible in this society,” he said in an interview at the Cologne mosque.

Others urge training of imams in Germany, “so that dispatching imams becomes superfluous,” said Haci Halil Uslucan, professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen and head of its respected Turkey institute.

But few universities in Germany offer Islamic studies. To a large extent, the root of the problem is a failure to acknowledge that the Turkish “guest workers” and their families who came here in the 1960s would stay. The result was delayed integration and an obstructed path to German citizenship.

In Turkish communities, therefore, Ditib is crucial, said Yildirim Petek, 59, manager of the Ankara Supermarket in Cologne. He cited the need for support and guidance if families raising children in German schools “get badly treated.”

“You see Turkish children here eating pork and wearing Christian crosses because it’s fashionable,” his wife, Eylul, said as she prepared a traditional breakfast at their three-bedroom home in a suburb of Cologne. “The situation is completely out of control.”

“We feel a part of the German community and make an effort to fit in,” she said. “But when we set foot inside this door, shoes come off and it’s a purely Turkish household.”

Between Germans and Turks, indignation often runs high, and social mixing tends to be low. Peter Pauls, a senior columnist for the local newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, recalled a Turkish wedding he recently attended. He was one of just a few native Germans among hundreds of guests, he said.

The ostracism Turks feel in Germany (whose bureaucracy can easily baffle and alienate natives) has helped fuel support for Mr. Erdogan. In past elections, Mr. Erdogan’s A.K.P. party, which has governed Turkey since 2002, has prevailed among Turks in Germany.

Fully aware of that support, Mr. Erdogan’s government sought to campaign vigorously here and elsewhere in Europe before the referendum. It wanted to make sure diaspora Turks voted, which they were entitled to do in the two weeks up to last Sunday.

Almost 49 percent of the Turks living in Germany and eligible to vote did so, an increase from about 41 percent in parliamentary elections in 2015.

Free buses ferried voters from Turkish neighborhoods to the Cologne Consulate, where several voters explained why they favored Mr. Erdogan.

“We have been treated well by the Germans, but now I must think of my daughter and son,” said Erdem Tasdelen, 47, a textile company manager. He said he had lived here more than 20 years and only recently became a supporter of the president.

“There is discrimination against Muslim communities here,” Mr. Tasdelen added, “and the only person sticking up for us is Erdogan.”

In earlier years, Mr. Erdogan wanted to guide Turkey into Europe, but Germans and other Europeans ignored him, said Aysegul Parlak, 38, a fashion designer from Adana, in southeast Turkey, who came to Cologne six years ago to work with her sister.

“They feel threatened by his potential and power, and they cannot handle the idea of a Muslim country progressing to their level,” she said of Germany and other European governments.

Echoing sentiments widely expressed among Germany’s Turks of late, Ms. Parlak said she did not feel as welcome as she once had felt.

“When I tell people I’m from Turkey, all they do is vent about Erdogan and talk about his authoritarian ways,” she said. “They should look in the mirror. If they faced as many internal and external threats as he does, they would also be firm.”

“There is a lot of hypocrisy,” Ms. Parlak concluded, “and the Turkish community here is becoming very resentful.”

Iraqi Christians Return To Ransacked Town With Fear And Hope

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Iraqi Christians return to ransacked town with fear and hope

A damaged statue of Jesus Christ is seen inside a church in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH
By Ulf Laessing | QARAQOSH, IRAQ

With Islamic State expelled, Iraqi Christians are trickling back to the ransacked town of Qaraqosh, beset by anxiety for their security and yet hopeful they can live in friendship with Muslims of all persuasions.

The town, about 20 km (12 miles) from the battlefront with Islamic State in the northern city of Mosul, shows why Christians have mixed feelings about the future of their ancient community.

In the desecrated churches of Qaraqosh, Christians are busy removing graffiti daubed by the Sunni Muslim militants during two and a half years of control – only for new slogans to have appeared, scrawled by Shi’ite members of the Iraqi forces fighting street to street with the jihadists in Mosul.

But nearby a shopkeeper is doing a brisk trade selling Dutch beer, Greek ouzo and several whisky brands to Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds alike, with this kind of commerce perhaps offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s fractured communities could again live together peacefully.

Encouraged by security checkpoints and patrols by a volunteer force, up to 10 Christian families have returned to what used to be the minority’s biggest community in Iraq until Islamic State seized it in 2014.

Iraqi forces pushed the group out of Qaraqosh in October, part of a six-month offensive to retake Mosul. But residents are worried that the Shi’ite slogans signal a new kind of sectarian division.

“Oh Hussein” is daubed in red on the wall of a church torched earlier by Islamic State, praising the hero of Shi’ite Muslims who was martyred 1,300 years ago.

“We are afraid of this, of tensions,” said Girgis Youssif, a church worker. “We want to live in peace and demand security,” said Youssif, who returned after fleeing to Erbil, about 60 km away in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Shi’ites in the Iraqi government forces and paramilitary groups, mostly from further south in the country, have scribbled such slogans on buildings all over Mosul too.

Soldiers have also hoisted the flag of Ali in the city and on their on military vehicles. Shi’ites regard Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and the prophet’s grandson Hussein as his true successors.

Two Shi’ite flags also fly over Qaraqosh.

Most Sunnis, who are the dominant community in Mosul, have shrugged off the Shi’ite slogans as the work of a handful of religious zealots but Christians take them as a signal that their future remains uncertain.

“Of course we are afraid of such signs,” said Matti Yashou Hatti, a photographer who still lives in Erbil with his family. “We need international protection.”

Those families who have returned to Qaraqosh – once home to 50,000 people – are trying to revive Christian life dating back two millennia. However, most stay only two or three days at a time to refurbish their looted and burnt homes.

“We want to come back but there is no water and power,” said Mazam Nesin, a Christian who works for a volunteer force based in Qaraqosh but has left his family behind in Erbil.

By contrast, displaced Muslims have been flocking back to markets in eastern Mosul since Islamic State’s ejection from that part of the city, despite the battle raging in the Old City across the Tigris river which is the militants’ last stronghold.

ALCOHOL SHOP

Numbers of Christians in Iraq have fallen from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand since the violence which followed the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Many Baghdad residents who could not afford to go abroad went to Qaraqosh and other northern towns where security used to be better than in the capital, rocked by sectarian warfare after the U.S.-led invasion.

But with the arrival of Islamic State, residents abandoned their homes with some applying for asylum in Europe. Germany alone took in 130,000 Iraqis, among them many Christians, in 2015 and 2016. But most ended up in Erbil with relatives or in homes paid for by aid agencies.

Supermarkets and restaurants remain closed in Qaraqosh, with windows smashed and burnt furniture strewn across floors.

One of the few businesses to have reopened is Steve Ibrahim’s alcohol shop in the town center; in the absence of cafes it has become a meeting point for local people. “Business has been good so far. Everybody comes here to stock up,” said Ibrahim, who has just reopened the store with his father.

They lost everything when Islamic State, known by its enemies as Daesh, wrecked their business. Now they have invested about $400 to refurbish the shop – new tiles shine on the walls – and customers are coming from beyond the town and from across the communities.

“I sell drinks to Christians and Muslims alike,” he said. “Many people come from Mosul or other towns.”

Many of Ibrahim’s customers ignore Islam’s forbidding of alcohol consumption. While he was talking, a Sunni Muslim from eastern Mosul drove up to buy a bottle of whisky and four cans of beer, packed in a black plastic bag to hide his purchase from the eyes of more religiously observant Muslims.

“You couldn’t drink during Daesh. I am glad this shop is open again,” said the man who gave his name only as Mohammed, shaking hands with Christians enjoying an afternoon beer. “I still only drink at home.”

Later a Shi’ite from a village south of Mosul arrived to pick up drinks. “I come here twice a week. It’s the only shop in the area,” he said, asking not to be named, before driving off.

Even Ibrahim comes every day from Erbil, bringing by car supplies and fuel for the generator to power the fridges filled with cold beer. Then he drives back at night.

Whether more Christians can live permanently in Qaraqosh depends on whether the security forces win their trust.

Army and police have tried to ease fears by stationing soldiers in front of churches, and even helping Christian volunteers to set up a massive cross at the town’s entrance.

On Palm Sunday last weekend, soldiers escorted a procession in preparation for Easter, Christianity’s most important festival, and provided chairs for worshippers during Mass.

Some Christian policemen joined in, singing “Hallelujah” with civilians. But walking along rows of burnt out homes and supermarkets, others were still afraid.

“The security measures are not sufficient,” said Hatti, the photographer. “We want security to surround the town.”

(Click here, reut.rs/2ordbfj for a Photo essay on this story)

(Editing by David Stamp)

Erdogan says Turks in Europe should defy ‘grandchildren of Nazism’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF YAHOO NEWS AND REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Erdogan says Turks in Europe should defy ‘grandchildren of Nazism’

Reuters April 3, 2017

Turkish President Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in the Black Sea city of Rize

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in the Black Sea city of Rize, Turkey, April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
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ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called on Turkish voters in Europe to defy the “grandchildren of Nazism” and back a referendum this month on changing the constitution, comments likely to cause further ire in Europe.

Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, in campaigning for the referendum, accusing them of “Nazi-like” tactics for banning his ministers from speaking to rallies of Turkish voters abroad.

Both the Germans and Dutch have been incensed by the comparisons to Nazism and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the references must stop.

“With this determination, we will never allow three or four European fascists … from harming this country’s honor and pride,” Erdogan told a packed crowd of flag-waving supporters in the Black Sea city of Rize, where his family comes from.

“I call on my brothers and sisters voting in Europe…give the appropriate answer to those imposing this fascist oppression and the grandchildren of Nazism.”

Erdogan is counting on the support of expatriates in Europe, including the 1.4 million Turks eligible to vote in Germany, to pass constitutional changes that would give him sweeping presidential powers.

But ties with Europe have deteriorated in the run-up to the campaign. Erdogan last month said Turkey would reevaluate its relationship with the bloc, and may even hold a second referendum on whether to continue accession talks.

On Monday, he said he could take the issue of whether Turkey should restore the death penalty to referendum if necessary.

“The European Union will not like this. But I don’t care what Hans, George or Helga say, I care what Hasan, Ahmet, Mehmet, Ayse and Fatma say. I care what God says… If necessary, we will take this issue to another referendum as well,” he told the rally.

Turkey abandoned capital punishment more than a decade ago as part of its bid to join the European Union, but Erdogan has repeatedly told crowds calling for it following the July 15 failed coup that he would approve its restoration if parliament passed it.

Restoring capital punishment would all but end Turkey’s bid to join the EU, officials from the bloc have said.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk)

Freedom Of Religion: But What If A Religion Orderers It’s Followers To Kill All Politicians?

 

 

I used and extreme for the purpose of getting your attention, if you are reading this, it must have worked. No, I do not condone any violence except in the necessary need of self-defence.  But I am not most people, I’m just a broken down, old used to be Truck Driver. I can only comment on that which I know, or think that I know. For several decades I drove our Nation’s Interstates, Highways and back roads of the U.S. and Canada. You see people from all over Our Country as well as some visitors from other Countries. You see and you hear people in their own comfort zones. If you listen, you might get a pretty good idea on what people are thinking from all over our Country. Age, time, are they not supposed to give those of gray hair, wisdom, knowledge?

 

I got the idea for this article this evening from reading several news articles from around the World, some of those would be the BBC, CNN and Reuters. These articles were speaking of Free Speech and Freedom of Religion at the same time. Folks, is it possible for any country to have both at the same time? Somewhere there will become a boundary, a line that the human race must decide for itself that they will not allow to be crossed, in the name of Religion, or anything else. If a new Religion moved into your town, your State, your Country and they believed in eating small animals alive while they were being roasted on the fire, would that bother you? Would you join all of the local Animal Rights Groups? People would be outraged but would it continue to be allowed because it is being done in the name of a Religion?

 

O, wait, there is a compromise offer, the Religious Group agrees to quit eating all critters while they are still alive, if they will be allowed to have an open season on all Politicians, would you accept their offer? Are all things truly only able to be seen through the eyes of a true ‘Believer’? If in a Doctrine of a Religion, it’s very base fundamentals, teach, in fact they order, their followers to commit mass murder and to take the plunder. If you were a conscious observer would you not consider this ‘Group’ with its Charter, to be a ‘Terrorist Organization’? O, but wait, if this Organization says that they are protected, because they call it a Religion, when is it okay to arrest them if they are breaking lots of your other longstanding laws in the name of their religion?  There are a lot of  ‘Religions’ that are really nothing but Cults, some have only 20-30 members some have 5,000 members, some have a billion. Folks, countries like Germany and the Netherlands are fighting for their Nation’s Cultural Soul. When you load your house down with Rattlesnakes don’t act all shocked when you get yourself bit.

Germany dismisses ‘Islam law’ as integration debate resurfaces

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Germany dismisses ‘Islam law’ as integration debate resurfaces

By Paul Carrel | BERLIN

Germany has no plans to introduce an ‘Islam law’ codifying the rights and obligations of Muslims, a government spokesman said on Monday, dismissing an idea floated by allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of federal elections in September.

Merkel, who will seek a fourth term in what is expected to be a close-fought ballot, has come under fire for opening Germany’s doors to refugees, more than one million of whom – mostly Muslims – have entered the country over the past two years.

Seeking to boost support for the chancellor’s conservatives, senior Merkel ally Julia Kloeckner stoked the integration debate at the weekend by calling for stricter rules for Islamic preachers and a ban on foreign funding of mosques.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert dismissed the idea, which Kloeckner – who is deputy leader of the chancellor’s Christian Democrats (CDU) – and other senior party members want to enshrine in an Islam law.

“Such a law is now not an issue for government business,” Seibert told a news conference, stressing the high regard Merkel’s ruling coalition has for religious freedom in Germany.

While stopping short of calling for an Islam law, Merkel said in her weekly podcast on Saturday that refugees in Germany must respect tolerance, openness and freedom of religion.

The message backed up a less compromising tone on integrating migrants that Merkel set at a CDU party conference in December, when she called for a ban on full-face Muslim veils “wherever legally possible”.

By talking tougher on integration, Merkel is also seeking to reclaim support her party lost last year over her refugee policy to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which punished the CDU in regional elections in 2016.

The AfD has lost voter support this year, hurt by infighting that has sent its ratings down to around 8 percent from a high of 15.5 percent at the end of 2016.

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte used a similar tactic to win re-election this year, seizing back the initiative from anti-Islam populist rivals by matching some of their tough rhetoric on immigration.

He told the country’s half-million ethnic Turks that they should integrate and accept Dutch views on freedom of speech or “get lost” after some had been filmed behaving aggressively toward a reporter during a demonstration.

“Our norms and values are all or nothing: you can’t pick and choose,” he said in response to the footage in an interview last September.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; editing by John Stonestreet)

Mr. Putin Seeks a Meeting With Mr. Trump In Helsinki Finland In May

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

(Are the people of Russia and the people of the U.S. really enemies of each other, no I do not believe so personally. It is the ego’s and the distrust of Nation’s Leaders toward each other, both the Civilian and the Military/Intelligence Leaderships. This is something the Media doesn’t need to be trying to become the ‘news maker’. The world is better off if the U.S. along with all of Europe, Israel and Russia are honestly friendly with each other.)–this opinion by trs.

Putin seeks Trump meeting in Helsinki in May
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 'Arctic: Territory of Dialogue' International Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia, 30 March 2017Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Putin said he would be “glad” to meet Mr Trump at a summit of the Arctic Council in Helsinki

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would like to meet US President Donald Trump at an Arctic nations summit in Finland in May.

He again rejected allegations that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

And he said sanctions against Russia were also hurting the US and Europe.

Mr Trump had voiced hopes for improved relations with Moscow, but he has been dogged by claims of links between his election campaign and Russia.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and both houses of the US Congress are investigating alleged Russian interference in the election.

Russia ‘tried to hijack US election’, Senate hearing told

Mr Putin, speaking at an Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia, said he would be “glad” to meet Mr Trump at a summit of the Arctic Council in Helsinki in May.

“Both side should prepare such events,” he said. “If not, then such a meeting could take place within the framework of the usual meetings, at the G20.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, whose country is due to take the rotating leadership of the Arctic Council, said he would be honoured to host such a meeting.

The G20 summit of world powers is set to convene in the northern German city of Hamburg in early July.

Donald Trump (file pic)Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Mr Trump says claims of collusion between his campaign and Russia are “fake news”

Mr Putin criticised “endless and groundless” allegations that Russia interfered in the US election, and what he termed the use of the “Russian card” in US politics.

“Do we want to completely cut relations?” he asked. “Do we want to bring the situation to what it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s?

“I very much hope that sometime – the sooner the better – the situation will return to normal. I very much hope that we’ll… improve Russian-American relations, for the good of our people’s, and for the whole world.”

Mr Putin said he would support President Trump in fighting terrorism, and co-operate with the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency.

He added that he was ready to work with the new US presidential administration on fighting Islamic State in Syria.

Earlier this year, Slovenia offered to host a meeting between Mr Putin and Mr Trump. Mr Putin offered thanks, but said it would depend on Washington.

Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Crimea and its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

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

World

Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

Trump

Washington –President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to NATO and the US, and that Berlin “should pay.”

Trump’s statements come following his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Trump took it to twitter where he said: “Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

The two leaders did not show any signs of agreement on several pending issues, including NATO and defense expenditures.

During a joint press conference with Merkel, Trump complained that other NATO members have not paid their dues for years. He insisted they pay for “their fair share of the defense they receive.”

NATO countries are asked to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to the alliance’s defense spending.

Merkel said that Germany agreed on the need for “increasing expenditure” to meet the 2 percent goal.

Trump then criticized the way the media had dealt with the meeting saying on Twitter also: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Expenditure was not the only point of disagreement between the two. A German journalist brought up the case of wiretapping and Trump’s accusations that British Intelligence was working with Obama to spy on him.

Despite constant negations and absence of evidence, the US President continued with his allegations and even joked that Merkel had also been a victim of wiretapping.

Since his arrival at the White House, the Republican billionaire had written several controversial tweets, none of which had damaged his credibility as much as the one he wrote on March 4.

He tweeted: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.”

Media reports reveal each day new findings on Trump’s or his close personnel’s contacts with Russia.

Trump had repeatedly denied any affiliations to the Kremlin, but he could not control the flow of information and therefore decided to attack his predecessor.

Since then, Obama, former intelligence director James Clapper and many democratic and republican officials have denied those allegations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to apologize to the UK for press secretary Sean Spicer’s allegation that the GCHQ had spied on Trump Tower for Obama. Spicer almost caused a diplomatic crisis by defending the president.

On Thursday, Spicer quoted a series of articles that discussed surveillance. He referenced comments made earlier this week on Fox News TV by Andrew Napolitano in relation to Trump’s controversial claim that wiretaps had been installed at his New York residence.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ,” Spicer said in the press conference.

British officials were quick to comment on Napolitano’s claims, saying they were “rubbish”.

A government source reportedly said the claim was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd”.

It told Reuters that under British law, GCHQ “can only gather intelligence for national security purposes” and noted that a US election “clearly doesn’t meet that criteria”.

“As for as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said during his press conference with Chancellor Merkel, referring to reports that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel in 2010.

Such incidents do not reassure US Congressmen, including those in Trump’s camp. Trump promised to reveal next week new evidences that prove his allegations.

Chairman of the House intelligence committee, Devin Nunes confirmed Friday that the Justice Department had “fully complied” with the committee’s request.

He did not provide any further details.

FBI Director James Comey is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

The public hearing is the first of several that the intelligence committees are expected to hold on alleged Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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