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Report reveals gov’t pressure on media more intense than ever in Turkey

A report prepared by an İstanbul-based organization has revealed the problematic nature of the relations between the government and media outlets in Turkey, and highlights the fact that government pressure on the media over the past several years has become more intense than ever.
The report, which was prepared by the İstanbul Institute's Center of Media and Communication Studies by Associate Professor Ceren Sözeri, was made public at a news conference held at a Taksim hotel in İstanbul on Thursday.
It is titled “Türkiye'de Medya -- İktidar İlişkileri: Sorunlar ve Öneriler” (Media-Government Relations in Turkey: Problems and Proposals.” Another report by the same institution that was also made public on Thursday is titled “Basın Özgürlüğünün Hukuki Zemini” (Legal Foundation of Freedom of the Press).
The report said members of the media in Turkey have been functioning in a climate of self-censorship for years due to pressure from the government and the close relationship between media owners and government officials.
“For many years, the media have been functioning in the pincers of [problematic] relations between media bosses and the government and under government pressure. Although it is known that the media in Turkey have never enjoyed a free and competitive environment, the accumulation of power in a single party and even a single leader over the past years has increased the pressure on the press in an unprecedented way,” said the report.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have been receiving growing criticism for their attempts to silence critical media in the country. Not a day seems to pass in the country without journalists facing harsh forms of repression; a number of them are either in jail, losing their jobs or dealing with legal charges brought against them, either by the government or Erdoğan.
The report said the non-profitable nature of the media sector, market circumstances and the state having large economic power allow the government to use sanctions against media owners when they want to perform independent journalism, which includes criticism of government policies. In addition, the report said the fact that media owners do business in other sectors prompts them not to be critical of the government and even to be close to it, so they resort to self-censorship.
“While media owners that support the government are rewarded with public tenders, the opposing ones are punished. These punishments come in the form of taxes, lawsuits and sometimes as sanctions from the Radio and Television Supreme Council [RTÜK],” said the report.
In the report on government relations with the media, there is also information about how the AK Party government, which came to power in 2002, has redesigned the Turkish mainstream media and silenced some critical media outlets through tax fines and sales to pro-government businessmen.
It cited tax punishments given to the Doğan Media Group owned by Aydın Doğan, and sales of Doğan's Milliyet and Vatan dailies to the Demirören Group, which removed critical journalists from these dailies and adopted a pro-government policy because Demirören has investments in other sectors.
The İstanbul Institute's report also mentions an ongoing government crackdown on media outlets such as the Zaman and Bugün dailies, and Samanyolu TV, which are owned by people inspired by the ideas of Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. In a government-backed operation launched on Dec. 14 of last year, Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Samanyolu top executive Hidayet Karaca were detained. While Dumanlı was released pending trial, journalist Karaca is still imprisoned.
Erdoğan and the AK Party government launched a battle against the faith-based Gülen or Hizmet movement after a corruption probe went public on Dec. 17, 2013, implicating senior members of the government, sons of three now-former ministers and government-affiliated figures. They accuse Hizmet of establishing a “parallel state” and plotting to topple the government, while the movement strongly denies the charges.
The report also cited the halting of mining activities of businessman Akın İpek, who owns İpek Media Group's Bugün TV and newspaper, Kanaltürk and some other news outlets, by the government on the grounds that İpek is close to the Hizmet movement.
To maintain a free and independent environment for journalists to work in Turkey, the report makes some recommendations. It suggests that the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is used as grounds to prosecute journalists, should be annulled; the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) should be the basis to ensure that the detentions of journalists do not turn into indiscriminate convictions; the state should take the necessary measures to ensure that journalists may perform their jobs safely without being subjected to any physical attacks; public tenders should be held in a transparent and fair way; RTÜK's administrative and financial independence should be maintained and its members should represent a broader segment of the society; press cards should be given by independent press organs, not by the state; and solidarity among media members should be increased.

Oman criticises Saudi Arabia for keeping oil prices low

Oman's oil minister said that Saudi Arabia did not have a 'God-given right' to control oil prices.

Oman's oil minister, Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy, has sharply criticized the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, for not cutting its production amid a slump in oil prices and warned some OPEC countries may soon act unilaterally and cut output.
Speaking at a panel discussion at the Energy Security Conference in Berlin on Thursday, Al Rumhy said: "Saudis, they do not have a God-given right to decide what others are doing in OPEC."
"I think, one of these days, we are going to see OPEC countries like Angola, Nigeria, Gabon, Venezuela, Iran and maybe Iraq, going unilaterally without the Saudis."
The price of Brent crude oil fell from $115 per barrel in June 2014 to below $46 per barrel in Jan. 2015, its lowest level in almost six years due to oversupply and low global demand.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly refused to make production cuts to trim oversupply in the market.
Al Rumhy said the current situation was not sustainable for oil-export dependent economies.
Criticizing Saudi Arabia, he said: "You cannot just dump barrels in the market. Where will it go?
"Most of the strategic reserves of many countries, and we are following this, are almost full. So you cannot keep on producing and increasing production because you have capacity."
He said that countries which were worse hit by the oil price slump may act soon.
“We cannot just wait for good weather, for the sun to shine. We are going to do something about it. And my bet is that we will do something about it," he added.
Oman has been in discussion with Iran - who Saudi Arabia is percieved to be fighting a proxy war in neighbouring Yemen as well as in Syria - to plan the route for a natural gas pipeline to transport Iranian fuel to Oman.
Once a route is decided, the two countries will seek to determine a price for the gas and the construction process.
“We think this gas will see daylight,” said Al Rumhy, in April. “The issue of the pricing of the gas, we agreed that we will leave to the end of the project.”
Iran's economy has been hit by falling oil prices, leading some to speculate that Saudi Arabia has been punishing the Islamic Republic by keeping oil prices low.
However, this has led to the risk of diplomatic fallout with other OPEC producers, which the Kingdom overwhelmingly dominates as the largest producer.
"The question is why the Saudis would risk the goodwill of other Opec members, simultaneously emasculating the organisation and undercutting their ability to use it in the future to serve their interests," wrote Michael Stephens, of the Royal United Services Institute.
"It is a game of high-stakes poker and in the long run will cause the Saudis some harm, but that is not where their immediate thoughts lie."
According to the oil and gas ministry, Oman pumped 943,000 barrels a day of crude and condensate last year and is looking to reach 980,000 this year.
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Oman breaks from GCC on Yemen conflict

Giorgio Cafiero

Saudi Arabia marshaled a seemingly impressive coalition for its air war on Yemen. In addition to its Sunni allies in the Gulf, Riyadh roped in partners ranging from Sudan to Morocco, and even far-off Senegal. However, one ally of the kingdom is sitting out the war: Oman.

Indeed, Oman is the only Arab monarchy that declined to participate in the Saudi-led "Operation Decisive Storm" in Yemen. By not deploying its military to strike Houthi targets in its southern neighbor, Oman is further demonstrating that it is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member most independent from Riyadh’s sphere of geopolitical influence — and most committed to cooling regional sectarian tensions.
Since March 26, Saudi Arabia and its allies have been unsuccessfully attempting to defeat the Houthis and restore Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power in Sanaa. Yet, the Omani leadership views Riyadh’s strategy in Yemen as misguided and dangerous for the entire region.
Rather than dropping bombs, Muscat has opted for pressuring the international community to pursue a diplomatic solution to the rapidly deteriorating conflict. Oman has also emphasized that a negotiated settlement must come from the Yemeni people, not foreign governments. “Oman is a nation of peace," said Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi. "We cannot work on peace efforts at the same time we would be part of a military campaign.”
This strategy of relative neutrality is consistent with Sultan Qaboos’ traditional foreign policy of maintaining respectful relations with all relevant actors and offering Oman’s service as a third-party mediator. This same strategy brought American and Iranian diplomats to talk in Muscat in 2012, which led to the historic framework deal that world powers and Iran reached in Lausanne last month.
Avoiding sides in sectarian conflicts
Oman functions as a diplomatic bridge between Iran on the one hand and the Sunni Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf and their Western allies on the other.
As the one GCC state that shares the Strait of Hormuz with Iran, Oman has a vested interest in cooling the tensions between the Islamic Republic and the Persian Gulf’s Arab sheikdoms. Muscat is also heavily invested in finalizing a deal between the P5+1 and Tehran to decrease the risk of a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear enrichment program — a conflict that would inevitably threaten Oman’s vital economic and security interests. From Oman’s perspective, the escalation of violence in Yemen could ignite a wider regional conflict that threatens both of these prerogatives.
There is also a sectarian dimension to Oman's position. The majority of Omanis practice Ibadi Islam — a strand distinct from both Sunnis and Shiites — and many have a fair deal of sympathy for the Houthis in Yemen.
Like Ibadis, the Zaydi Shiite Houthis are viewed by Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi religious establishment as "apostates" or "infidels." The history of Riyadh’s sponsorship of Salafist groups in Yemen is not received well in Oman, a unique Arab state given its reputation for religious tolerance. "There are common passionate feelings among Yemenis and Omanis that prevent Oman from participating in the conflict,” was how Alawi put it.
The Omani Initiative for Yemen
Oman has actively attempted to negotiate an end to the fighting in Yemen.
Last month, rumors circulated that the Saudi coalition’s brief cease-fire — which lasted less than 24 hours — came from an Omani-brokered deal involving both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Reportedly Muscat has also put before Riyadh and Tehran a seven-point plan — the so-called Omani Initiative — for achieving a peaceful resolution to Yemen’s ongoing conflict.
The plan entails: 1) the withdrawal of the Houthis and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from Yemen’s cities and the return of arms and hardware seized from the military; 2) the restoration of Hadi as president and the government of Khalid Bahah (Yemen’s former prime minister, who was appointed vice president April 12); 3) the holding of early parliamentary and presidential elections; 4) a deal signed by all Yemeni factions; 5) the transformation of the Houthis into a legitimate political party; 6) a conference attended by donors in the international community; and 7) Yemen's admission to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
It is unclear if the initiative calls for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition to cease its bombing campaign. As Riyadh maintains that the coalition will continue until the Houthis have surrendered power, it is also remains to be seen if any future Omani-brokered cease-fires could last longer than 24 hours.
Nonetheless, as Alawi stated, Oman views Yemen’s crisis as one which can only be solved through dialogue, rather than continued violence.
The sensitive border with Yemen
Regardless of whether Muscat can succeed in pressuring Yemen’s numerous armed groups, which now include a Daesh (Islamic State) faction, Omani officials must contend with the immediate threat of violent unrest spilling across the 187-mile border into southern Oman. Salalah, Oman’s second-largest city and main tourism hub, is situated not far from the Yemeni border.
In fact, Muscat has eyed Yemen’s chaotic unrest warily for years.
In 2010, Omani and Yemeni officials confirmed that several al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants had illegally crossed into Oman from Yemen. One year earlier, Omani authorities sentenced Ali Abdul Aziz al-Hooti — an Omani national who aided Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based group, in efforts to wage a terrorist attack in Oman — to death.
In an effort to fortress the sultanate from growing unrest in Yemen, Oman’s government approached India’s Central Public Works Department to construct a border fence along the entire Yemeni border for $300 million. Oman has also deployed forces to its land and sea borders with Yemen to protect itself from AQAP’s destabilizing terrorism in Yemen. Nonetheless, Said Kouachi — one of the AQAP militants who carried out the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris — entered Yemen from Oman, where he reportedly conducted training.
“We are concerned for many reasons," Alawi told CNN in February. "This is an area of chaos, and chaos gives a chance for … extremists and terrorists.” When asked about Oman’s capacity to protect itself from turmoil in Yemen, he said, “We have enough vision and arrangements in that part of the border.” Yet Alawi acknowledged, “There is a risk, of course; there is no border with zero risk.”
Risks for Oman
In the meantime, Oman has stepped up its humanitarian role by accepting Yemeni refugees. It was reported that nearly 2,700 people of 48 nationalities entered Oman as refugees from Yemen during the first half April alone. The influx of a great number will add pressure on Oman’s government, which is already grappling with budgetary challenges at a time when low oil prices have created new realities for a country that relies on oil exports for 83% of national income.
Beyond financial burdens, experts warn that extremists could enter Oman while posing as refugees, which threatens to bring their operations into southern Oman. From there they could stage attacks against their enemies in Yemen or wage violence in Oman itself. The emergence of Daesh’s Yemeni division — which killed over 130 people in bomb blasts March 20 that targeted Houthi-controlled mosques in Sanaa before allegedly beheading four Yemeni soldiers and shooting 10 others April 30 — is only another troubling sign for Oman.
When Qaboos returned to Oman on March 23 — following an eight-month stay in Germany, where the leader who is said to be terminally ill underwent “medical “tests” — he came back to a country with a new dilemma on its southern border. Regardless of how Oman handles its succession question (itself a potential source of unrest), the next sultan will be compelled to address the dangerous threats that the Yemeni crisis poses to Oman’s security.
Unlike a handful of Arab states that have been beset by Islamist insurgencies and violence waged along ethnic, tribal and sectarian lines, Oman has stood out as a peaceful beacon of tolerance and harmony among its various religious and tribal groups. With Qaboos’ inevitable death already creating uncertainty about Oman’s future, the threat of Yemen’s escalating conflict and worsening humanitarian crisis has the potential to further complicate the Gulf Arab nation’s prospects for continued stability. 

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One year on, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi remains behind bars


raif-yellowToday marks a year since Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.
Raif Badawi received the sentence, along with a fine of 1 million riyals, from Jeddah’s criminal court on 7 May 2014 for setting up an online forum for public debate. He is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a global campaign has been initiated to call for his release, gathering the support of over a million people worldwide.
On 9 January 2015, Raif Badawi received 50 lashes after Friday prayers in a public square in Jeddah, prompting an international outcry. For two subsequent weeks his flogging was called off based on medical advice. He has not been flogged since, and the authorities have not disclosed the reasons why.
But despite the international protests, the liberal blogger remains imprisoned and still facing 950 lashes of his sentence.
For now, the Saudi Arabian tactic seems to be one of suspending the public floggings in a bid to escape international criticism and waiting for the spotlight to move on.
Amnesty is urging the international community and in particular Saudi Arabia’s western allies to press the authorities to release Raif Badawi and dozens of other prisoners of conscience who remain unjustly imprisoned in the Kingdom’s jails. (Sign the petition here.)
Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of her husband, has issued an impassioned plea to the Saudi Arabian authorities for his release:
On this day I am standing strong and filled with happiness by the world’s recognition today of my husband Raif Badawi, imprisoned for his opinion and mind.
Raif was never a criminal, a gangster or drug dealer, but the Saudi authorities dealt with him like a criminal deserving of punishment, floggings and imprisonment for a long unspecified period.
Raif was just a man of thought who conveyed that thought in writing. He was dreaming of and aspiring towards a beautiful world. He wanted us, in a country of one opinion, one way of thinking and one religion, to respect difference.
Voicing his thoughts loudly annoyed the Saudi authorities but they have made him into an icon of freedom – not only in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the world.
Amnesty International will hold a demonstration outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Dublin at 6pm today.
Amnesty will hold a public event on ‘freedom of expression at risk’ in Belfast on Thursday 4 June, 7pm at the Crescent Arts Centre – featuring speakers from the cancelled-then-reinstated Queen’s University #CharlieHebdo symposium, and others. The event will focus on the threat to freedom of expression around the world and the balance between the right and other rights.

Syria, Iraq girls shipped naked after being sold at ISIL slave bazaars: UN

The United Nations says the Takfiri ISIL terrorist group has been offering Syrian and Iraqi girls for sale by putting them on show “stripped naked” in “slave bazaars.”
Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura made the harrowing revelation on Thursday while briefing journalists on her “scoping mission” to Syria, Iraq and some other countries in the region in April.
“Girls are literally being stripped naked and examined in slave bazaars” of the ISIL, Bangura said, adding that the girls were “categorized and shipped naked off to Dohuk (Province) or Mosul or other locations to be distributed among ISIL leadership” and militants.
Bangura visited Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan from April 16 to 29 and interviewed girls and women who had escaped ISIL captivity and survived sexual violence.
“Women and girls are at risk and under assault at every point of their lives,” Bangura said, stressing that they are in danger at “every step of the way… in the midst of active conflict, in areas under control of armed actors, at check-points and border crossings, and in detention facilities.”
 The UN special representative went on to say that the Takfiri group utilizes sexual violence as a “tactic” to humiliate and demoralize those who are against the ISIL and to punish and displace dissenters.
“ISIL have institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives,” she said.
Elaborating on the motives of the Takfiri group for advancing sexual violence, the UN official further said that ISIL uses the tactic to extract information for intelligence purposes and to dismantle social, familial and community structures.
Giving an example of the brutalities of the ISIL group against the girls and women, she noted that a certain girl was forced to marry Takfiri terrorists 20 times and was forced to undergo surgery to regain her virginity after each marriage.
Bangura called on the UN Security Council to take measures to counter such crimes, expressing concerns about the children born of rape. She also said that such children create “a generation of stateless children” who could provide fertile ground for future extremism.
The ISIL militants have been accused of committing gross human rights violations and war crimes in Syria and Iraq, including rape, summary executions, mass kidnappings, and massacres.

Saudi Aggressions Won’t Go Unanswered: Tribal Fighters Seize Border Posts

New military achievements were accomplished on Thursday by the tribal fighters on the border with the Saudi Arabia.
The achievements are in retaliation for the US-backed Saudi aggression against the Arab impoverished country, which has been since March 26 under brutal attack.
Field sources from Yemen told al-Manar that the tribal forces managed to seize eight posts in Najran and Jizan which are located in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen.
The tribal fighters captured four Saudi soldiers, the sources said, adding that the attacks on the Saudi posts were preceded by rockets shelling on Najran airport and other targets in the area.
Following the attacks, the Yemeni area on the border with Saudi witnessed hysteric and random shelling, the sources added.
Meanwhile, al-Masirah TV reported that tribal fighters downed Saudi Apatchi which was staging raids in Saada.
Elsewhere in the southern province of Shabwa, the Yemeni army, backed by the Popular Committees expelled al-Qaeda terrorists out of al-Masnaa area, another sources said.
In response, the Saudi army shelled the Yemeni bordering areas and launched several air raids on Saada and other provinces.
Yemen has been since March 26 under brutal aggression by Saudi-US coalition. Riyadh launched the attack on Yemen in a bid to restore power to Yemen’s fugitive president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi who is a close ally to Saudi Arabia.
On April 21, Saudi Arabia declared the end of the aggression, dubbed “Decisive Strom,” and the start of another campaign called “Restoring Hope.” The Saudi-led warplanes are still conducting airstrikes on several areas across Yemen.
Thousands have been martyred and injured in the attack, with the vast majority of them are civilians.

President al-Assad attends ceremony honoring children of martyrs who joined military academies

President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday attended a ceremony organized by the Martyrs’ Sons and Daughters Schools Establishment to honor the children of martyrs who followed in their fathers’ footsteps and joined military academies.
President al-Assad addressed the children of martyrs and the schools’ staff members, saying that he feels great joy when he meets the sons and daughters of martyrs, and that he wanted to join them on this occasion, which takes place on Martyrs Day.
President al-Assad stressed that Martyrs Day has many values associated with it, some of them symbolic, and some very tangible linked to the history of Syria, as around 100 years ago, the Ottomans carried out a campaign of arrests and executions of Syrian patriots and nationalists which culminated in 1916 when a large group of nationalists were executed by the Ottomans for defending the Syrian people from oppression.
President Assad_Martyrs Day 2
His Excellency noted that the Ottomans’ crimes at that time weren’t restricted to nationalists; they also committed heinous crimes against millions of Armenians, Syriacs, and other groups under their rule at a time, and now these same massacres are being repeated in the same way but with different tools and names, as back then it was the Othman Jammal Basha “the Butcher” who had ordered the executions, and today history repeats itself as his ancestor Erdogan “the Butcher” is the one committing these crimes.
President al-Assad said that martyrdom is the most noble value to be championed by human beings anywhere in the world when they are defending their homeland, and the nobility of martyrdom isn’t restricted to the martyrs themselves; rather it extends to all those who continue to champion this value, and none can champion it better than the families of the martyrs.
“If communicating and meeting with any of the families of martyrs in Syria is an honor for us and for every patriot in Syria, then how would it be when we meet someone who is a child of a martyr and joined the armed forces to walk the same path? Certainly, the honor in that case would be doubled,” President al-Assad said, stressing that victory requires faith in the value of martyrdom, faith in God, faith in the necessity of victory, and faith by the society in those who are fighting for the homeland.
“When a fighter believes in his cause and his victory, he will give us morale when he achieved victory in any battle, even if it’s a small battle, and when we believe in this fighter, we give him morale as a society, as a people, and as an incubator when he loses a battle,” His Excellency said.
The President noted that Syria is currently waging a war, not just a battle, and wars are a series of many battles, and when one is talking about a war as vicious as the one taking place in Syria, then this involves thousands of battles, and it’s natural for this type of battles with the numbers and conditions involved in them to have them shift between attack and defense, wins and losses, and ups and downs, but the important thing is for faith in the inevitability of victory to remain unchanging.
He stressed that when there are setbacks, the society must do its duty and strengthen the army’s morale rather than always expect the army to raise the society’s morale, as this process should be reciprocal, not like what some do when they try to spread frustration and despair over one loss or another or because they are influenced by external propaganda.
President al-Assad noted that the external propaganda was recently intensified after its failure 2 years ago, pointing out that the previous propaganda campaign failed despite it being accompanied by more difficult circumstances and the fact that many Syrians didn’t see matters clearly back then.
“But the sponsors, promoters, politicians, and journalists who were involved in that campaign crawled back to their holes, and now they re-emerged because they sensed that there’s fertile soil in some people in this country,” he added.
His Excellency asserted that patriotism isn’t mere talk, as it must be associated with bravery, noting that there is difference between concern and fear, as everyone is concerned over their homeland, and not just in times of crises, and that there is also difference between wisdom and cowardice, as some try to pass of cowardice as wisdom.
President Assad_Martyrs Day 3
“We shouldn’t live in a state of contradiction. In wars, there are wins and losses, and there are people who are now killing and crushing many terrorists on the confrontation lines, and these people wouldn’t have done that if they had been afraid. They are fighting and advancing, and some of them are fighting and emerging victorious, and others are fighting and retreating when circumstances necessitate that,” the President said.
He called for being aware of frustration and those who spread it, because psychological defeat means final defeat, adding “but I’m not worried over this, because as the first propaganda campaign failed at the beginning of the crisis, this campaign will fail. There is no concern, but this doesn’t prevent us from warning people that the beginning of frustration leads to defeat.”
Addressing the children of martyrs who joined the armed forces, President al-Assad said “you are the answer to that propaganda campaign, and you are the medicine for those who are afraid,” stressing that honoring them means to honor all children and families of martyrs, all people who were injured while defending the homeland, and every soldier who stood fast in difficult battles.
He affirmed that heroic battles didn’t start with the battle for Aleppo Prison, nor will they end with the siege on Jisr al-Shughour Hospital, asserting that the army will soon reach the brave soldiers who are currently besieged in the hospital in Jisr al-Shughour.
“Through you, we salute and express love, respect, and admiration to all those like you, and we say that our faith in you is great. We say to all fighters and heroes that our love for you knows no bounds,” President al-Assad concluded.
The honoring ceremony began with observing a moment of silence in honor of Syria’s martyrs and playing the national anthems, followed by performing a number of patriotic songs by sons and daughters of martyrs and presenting medals and commemorative plates to the honored cadets.
In a speech delivered on behalf of the sons and daughters of martyrs, student Louay al-Kenj said that martyrs will remain beacons and heroic symbols of Syria’s glory, and that pursuing science and education compliments martyrdom in defending the homeland.
Al-Kenj said that May 6th, Martyrs Day, is the day of immortal heroes who sacrificed their lives for the sake of Syria’s sovereignty and dignity, and that martyrs are symbols of honor like medals and laurel wreaths that inspire pride.
In turn, Director General of the Martyrs’ Sons and Daughters Schools Establishment Shahira Fallouh said that the Establishment decided to mark Martyrs Day this year by honoring the cadets who graduated from its schools and who decided to follow their fathers’ example in defending the homeland, voicing faith in Syria’s inevitable victory of terrorism.

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Afghan Villagers Rise Up Against Militants

By Frud Bezhan and Alem Rahmanyar
Tired of waiting for government help, hundreds of villagers in a remote northern Afghan province have taken up arms against the militants who are terrorizing their villages.
Rahimullah is among the villagers in Sar-e-Pol taking the war to the Taliban and other militant groups who have taken control of large swaths of the province. 
"We are stationed in a village on the front line against the Taliban," says Rahimullah, who is from Sozma Qala district. "At the moment we don't have enough weapons but we keep fighting."
"The militants have been punishing us. They have beheaded people. They have harassed harmless people," says Rahimullah, who decided to join the civilian fighting force after militants killed his unarmed cousin inside his shop. 
"We rose up and took up arms against the Taliban," he says. "We will fight to the last drop of our blood."
Abdullah, from Kohistanat district, says all the male members of his family have joined the militia.
"The people have decided to rise up and fight for their rights," says Abdullah. "We have received no assistance from the government despite their pledges to send us weapons."
The villagers, fighting alongside Afghan soldiers and police, have participated in a weeks-long offensive against militants. Together they have retaken almost 40 militant-controlled villages, according to local officials.
Militants are active in half of the districts in Sar-e-Pol, fighting for groups like the Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), some of whose members have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.
"Antigovernment forces are getting stronger, the numbers in our forces are not enough to deal with them, and one of the only ways to restore security is for civilians to take up arms," says Asadullah Khurram, a military commander in Sar-e-Pol.
Khurram says that people throughout the province have answered the call to arms. But he stresses the need for more weapons as the civilian forces swell in numbers.
"All the people are ready to contribute. But the only thing holding us back is that the government has been slow in supporting us [with weapons]," he says.
Three civilian fighters were killed and several others injured in clashes with militants near the provincial capital, Sar-e-Pol, on May 5.
Sar-e-Pol, a multiethnic province, has witnessed sustained insurgent activity for years. Militants and armed gangs mostly operate at night and carry out attacks on Afghan security forces. Kidnapping and drug rings are also widespread in the province.
The IMU, active in the area for years, recently expanded its operations in northern Afghanistan and made headlines when it claimed to behead a former Afghan soldier that it said was kidnapped in the south. Local officials blamed the mass kidnapping on IS. 
Militants in Sar-e-Pol kidnapped seven people in April, and then reportedly released them after ransoms were paid. In October, extremists killed over 20 Afghan soldiers in an ambush. 
The Taliban has led a major spring offensive in the country’s north, which had been relatively stable compared with the explosive south and east of the country. Battles are raging in Kunduz Province, where militants have overrun several districts. In the northeast province of Badakhshan, insurgents have killed scores of Afghan soldiers and police in attacks in the past several weeks. Some Afghan police and soldiers have been beheaded. 
Hundreds of foreign militants are believed to have fled a months-long Pakistani military offensive in Pakistan's restive northwest and sought sanctuary in Afghanistan amid a drawdown of NATO forces.

China reaches out to Indian Ocean through Pakistan

Barrister Harun ur Rashid

CHINESE President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan for two days on April 21, the first visit of a Chinese president to Pakistan in nine years. Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao reportedly said that this was the President's first foreign trip this year, highlighting the importance Beijing placed on developing Pakistan-China relations in many strategic and economic areas.
The President reportedly committed $46 billion for infrastructure projects taking forward the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor plan which envisages improving road links and connectivity between China's western Xinjiang region, all the way up to the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea that China has helped finance and manage. (In response to China's moves in Gwadar, India plans to upgrade and operate a deepwater port in Chabahar, Iran, which is located just 50 miles to the west of Gwadar). For Pakistan, the corridor is a cheap way to develop its violence-plagued and poverty-stricken Balochistan province, home to Gwadar.
Furthermore China has been keen to implement the projects of expanding the Karakoram highway, exploring an alternate road link and a railway link from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar.  
The Pakistan-Chinese Economic Corridor project is a part of the Chinese “One Belt One Road” plan which focuses on bringing together China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe (the Baltic), linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and West Asia, and connecting China with Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean.
Both China and Pakistan have common interests in containing the growing Indian influence in the Indian Ocean region. Both are time-tested and all-weather friends and China has consistently supplied arms and equipment to Pakistan over the years. 
The Chinese president, while at a joint sitting of Pakistan's parliament, described Pakistan as China's "dependable" friend and firmly backed its territorial integrity. Given the state of bilateral relations, it is no wonder that he oversaw the signing of 51 agreements including energy, finance and science and technology and host of other areas. 
China has strategic interests in the Indian Ocean where the interests and influence of India prevail. China and the United States are beginning to overlap to protect sea lanes, a part of Chinese maritime-silk route. It is here that the 21st century's global power dynamics will be revealed, according to many analysts. 
It was reported earlier that China had plans to sell eight submarines (worth $5 billion) to Pakistan and it was not known whether the deal was concluded during the visit. If the deal was done, it would represent a fairly blunt Chinese statement about its willingness to cooperate with Pakistan to challenge Indian maritime power.
It is reported that both sides addressed the issue of a joint China-Pakistan role in Afghanistan following the United States' military withdrawal from that country.
On Beijing's side, authorities are deeply worried about unrest in Xinjiang, which is home to the country's Uighur Muslim minority group who has faced restrictions on religious and cultural practices. Beijing has linked violent attacks in Xinjiang to a group believed to have a stronghold in tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
It is reported that Pakistan has been providing China with intelligence and support in its fight against the organisation known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement which is linked to violent attacks in Xinjiang. There are a considerable number of members of the group in Pakistan.
Hoo Tiang Boon, an assistant professor with the China programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, reportedly said that China's motivation for promoting the Economic Corridor project was to boost economic development in Pakistan. If the Pakistan economy develops, then it would help reduce the problem of terrorism.
China is uncomfortable about the Indo-US alliance to dominate the region. Even though Pakistan received $31 billion from the US since 2002, most of which was allocated to improve security, the government of Pakistan was peeved at President Obama's overlook of the country while he visited India for three days as Guest of Honour for India's Republic Day on January 26.
With the emergence of China as an economic superpower in the region, the Chinese President's visit demonstrates that China and Pakistan enjoy the best of bilateral relations and interactions in strategic and economic matters. It is reported that China with its foreign exchange reserves close to $4 trillion has embarked on “cheque-book diplomacy” providing funds to developing countries to consolidate its relations with them.

The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

26 years later, Pakistan court accepts money laundering case against PM Nawaz

A Pakistan court on Wednesday decided to form a larger bench to investigate money laundering allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. 

A petition was filed against Sharif in Lahore High Court in 1991 accusing him of laundering money out of Pakistan. The petition further said that the money was looted from national kitty and was invested in foreign countries. 

After 26 years, the court decided to take up the case when Manzoor Ahmed Malik, the Lahore HC Chief Justice, formed a five-member larger bench to probe the case. The bench will be headed by Justice Farrukh Irfan Khan and will include Justice Muhammad Qasim, 

Justice Ayesha A Malik, Justice Faisal Zaman and Justice Mirza Waqas Rauf. 

Barrister Javed Iqbal Jafri, who had filed the petition against Sharif asked the court to bring back the money to Pakistan and take action against him. The bench would start proceedings into the case on May 8 (Friday). 

The Lahore HC, last year, had summoned at least 24 politicians and notables - including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his wife Kalsoom Nawaz and son Hussain Nawaz - asking them to submit their replies to a petition demanding return of their foreign assets back to Pakistan.

Pakistan - PPP delegation led by Co Chairman PPP meets Afghan leaders

Former President Zardari and former PM Yusuf Reza Gilani, accompanied by Sherry Rehman and Faisal Karim Kundi had a series of bilateral meetings in Kabul today.
The PPP delegation was hosted for dinner by President Ashraf Ghani, along with other dignitaries at the Dilkusha Palace where matters of mutual bilateral interest were discussed in an atmosphere of goodwill and cordiality. The delegation also met CEO Abdullah Abdullah at lunch, and former President Karzai at tea.
Yusuf Reza Gilani, Sherry Rehman and Faisal Karim Kundi also visited the renovated Pakistan Embassy in Kabul where they were hosted by the Ambassador for a reception and tree plantation ceremony.

The PPP delegation stressed the importance of improving and enhancing people to people, economic, trade and strategic ties with Afghanistan.Former President Zardari hailed the formation of the unity government in Kabul, and encouraged the support Pakistan could provide at multiple levels for the advance of peace in the region.
The delegation will meet members of civil society at breakfast before departing from the Kutibagchay Palace in Kabul for Islamabad.

Russia prepares for Victory Day parade

This Saturday, Russia is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. Victory Day parades will be held in 150 cities across Russia with the main one to take place in Moscow’s Red Square.
This week, Russia is finishing up final preparations for the grand Victory Day military parade. On Saturday, May 9th, Russians will celebrate the 70th anniversary of their victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. This date is one of the most important holidays for Russians. The scale of celebration could be compared to Independence Day in the U.S.

This year, Moscow’s Red Square will host the biggest military parade ever held in modern Russia. It will feature more than 15 thousand troops and nearly 200 pieces of weaponry. They will be joined by more than 100 helicopters and planes from the air.
During the parade, Russia plans to unveil some of its newly developed weapons systems. One of the highlights is the intercontinental ballistic missile system called Yars. Russia will also roll out a next generation Armata tank with a remote-controlled turret.
The Victory Parade will start at 10:00 a.m. Moscow time and it is expected to be live streamed by major Russian TV channels. May 9th Victory parades will be held in 150 other cities across Russia as well.