Sunday, December 27, 2015

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For those wounded in Yemen’s war, a feeling of abandonment in Saudi capital


As Yemen’s warring factions struggle to negotiate, a quieter desperation plays out in the Saudi capital, where wounded fighters beg for handouts and seek the attention of Yemen’s ousted leaders hosted in five-star exile.
In the context of Yemen’s meltdown, there are far greater hardships than those faced by the scores of former Yemeni soldiers and militiamen who have managed to reach Riyadh. But it offers a small window into a misery that will continue when the Yemen conflict eventually ebbs: the broken lives from the battlefield that are the legacy of all warfare.
“Somehow, there is money to pay for all of this,” said 36-year-old Mohammad Farhan, an injured Yemeni fighter, gesturing toward the marble lobby of the luxury Mövenpick Hotel in Riyadh — where the brain trust of Yemen’s ousted government hashes out plans and considers options amid the latest bid at peace talks.
“But there is none for us?” he asked. “We feel worse than betrayed. We feel abandoned without a voice.”
Moments earlier, Farhan and three other wounded veterans of Yemen’s war had shuffled into the lobby, passing under chandeliers as big as the ambulances that brought them to the Saudi border. Farhan leaned on a cane. Another man bobbed ahead on a walker.
They paused to take it all in. It was their first time in the Swiss-run hotel. In a far corner, Yemeni envoys huddled to discuss the attempts at U.N.-mediated efforts to end a conflict deeply complicated by regional rivalries.
Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf view their military campaign in Yemen as a critical stand against rebels they say are backed by Iran. Tehran denies providing direct aid to the rebels, known as Houthis, but has sharply criticized the Saudi-led airstrikes and ground deployments.
Yemen also is home to one of al-Qaeda’s most active branches and to pockets of militants linked to the Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the wounded men — and other fighters injured in Yemen’s war — live far across Riyadh in a no-frills apartment building as they try to find medical help, rely on free meals and sink deeper into anger because they feel cast aside.
More than 100 injured Yemeni soldiers and militiamen have managed to reach Riyadh for what can be lifesaving hospital care. Once they are discharged, however, help is hard to come by, they say.
A Saudi charity pays the rent for their apartments, but the kingdom’s aid goes only so far. The men look for castoff clothes from Saudi Arabia’s huge community of Yemeni workers and get free meals from Yemeni restaurants.
And the former fighters appeal to Yemen to put them back on the military payroll because of their injuries.
“No one is listening,” Farhan said.
Nonetheless, they keep trying to get the attention of the exiled associates of Yemen’s Saudi-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the country in March as rebel forces swept over Aden, his last refuge. He returned to Aden in September, but his precise whereabouts remain a secret.
Farhan’s stomach and legs were torn open by grenade shrapnel in May while he was fighting with pro-Hadi militias in the southern city of Taiz. Near death, he was taken to the Saudi border by ambulance in hopes that he would be able to receive better medical care. He ended up in surgery at a Riyadh hospital.
“After I was released, I was taken to the apartment building where the other wounded Yemenis live,” he said, fingering his cane. “Since then, I’ve been on my own. It’s the same for the others.”
And they told their stories.
Murad Sinan, 23, was felled by automatic-weapons fire at a Yemeni army checkpoint. One bullet clipped his spine, leaving him partially paralyzed on his right side and requiring him to use a walker.
“The bullets are still inside me,” he said. “I’m scared one day that something will happen and I won’t be able to walk at all.”
Ahmad al-Rashadi, 26, an architect who fought with the militias, was hit in the stomach by shrapnel and lives in constant pain.
Sayed Taher al-Hadar, 38, was left with nerve damage after being caught in what he believes was a mortar barrage.
The wounded men say they have been denied follow-up care in Saudi Arabia, such as surgeries to remove embedded fragments or physical therapy. They estimated that there are hundreds of similar cases — Yemeni fighters brought to Saudi Arabia for emergency care and then left with no follow-up.
“We fought with dignity,” Hadar said. “We just want to live with dignity now and get the help we deserve. I don’t think that is too much to ask.”
Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment. But a member of the Yemeni political entourage in Riyadh, Mervat Mojali, insisted that the Yemeni exiles in Riyadh don’t have the influence to demand extensive Saudi-funded care for Yemen’s fighters.
“This is a Saudi issue,” she said. “They are the ones to help. These men fought on the Saudi side. They should be treated just like Saudi soldiers.”
The United Nations estimates that more than 3,500 civilians have been killed in Yemen since Saudi-led airstrikes began in late March. Other sources put the toll higher.
There are no clear casualty totals for fighters on either side. Many of the other pro-Hadi forces have been taken to Jordan for treatment.
Peace talks mediated by a U.N. envoy in Switzerland ended Sunday without a breakthrough, but the warring parties agreed to meet again. A peace bid in June quickly collapsed, and ongoing fighting in Yemen also threatened the latest effort.

Any peace accord, however, must address the fate of Hadi and his government, whose restoration to power is a key demand of the Saudis. On the other side, however, the Houthis, who still hold critical sites such as the capital, Sanaa, are unlikely to make major concessions.
In Riyadh, the wounded Yemenis watch from the sidelines.
“Our fighting is over. The war for us is done on the battlefield,” Farhan said. “But it isn’t really finished for us, is it? We will deal with these injuries for the rest of our lives.”

China Moving to Russian Oil As Saudi Supply Leaves Bad Taste

While Saudi Arabia's oil exports to China have dropped in recent years, Russia is able to mitigate the effect of low oil prices by increasing Chinese exports.China's turn away from Saudi oil in favor of Russian supplies is a result of Chinese worries about Riyadh's malign political influence, wrote Austria's Junge Welt newspaper on Thursday.
Last week China's General Administration of Customs (GAC) announced that Russia overtook Saudi Arabia as China's largest crude oil supplier in November, the third time this year that Russian supplies have surpassed those from Saudi Arabia.According to GAC figures, in November Chinese buyers purchased on average 949,925 barrels per day (bpd) of Russian crude oil in November, more than the 886,950 bpd from Saudi Arabia.Junge Welt linked the development with a longer-term trend for Chinese importers to turn away from Saudi oil in favor of Russian crude, as they seek to diversify their sources of energy.
Saudi oil supply to China decreased from 55 million to 50 million tons in 2014, while the supply of Russian crude surged 36 percent, to reach 34 million tons, according to GAC. "This export success has helped Russia to soften the effect of sanctions. At the same time it is an expression of the developing partnership in trade, energy and other economic areas between Moscow and Beijing," wrote Junge Welt.
As well as economic partnership, the newspaper pointed to the countries' shared political interests in curbing western military expansion, using means such as coordinated voting at the UN Security Council to restrain some excesses."Part of the overall Russian-Chinese strategy are the joint efforts to 'de-dollarize' international trade," and increase economic stability and independence from the US Federal Reserve, the newspaper remarked.
Since 2014 the two countries have settled more trade in rubles and yuan, and increased the cooperation between their banks in order to reduce the use of a third currency.
"The growing loss of market share is not only a commercial pain for the Islamic feudal regime in Riyadh. Apart from oil, its main export is Islamic terrorism, and the Chinese are also concerned about increasing Salafist terrorist violence in its western province of Xinjiang."
"The stronger geopolitical cooperation of China and Russia in the Middle East, including combating terrorists sponsored by Saudi Arabia, again greatly worries the regime in Riyadh."
The newspaper lists Beijing's support of Russia's Syrian policy, its condemnation of the Turkish government's support for terrorism, and the good relations maintained with Tehran as some of the reasons for disquiet in the kingdom.
"From Riyadh's point of view this development is becoming stronger, as Beijing's dependence on Saudi oil is diminishing."

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Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of promoting terrorism

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused archrival Saudi Arabia Sunday of promoting poverty and terrorism by continuing to bomb Yemeni rebels and supporting armed rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria.
Addressing a conference in Tehran, Rouhani suggested that destroying Syria won't strengthen those governments in the region which support the anti-Assad rebels.
"Does the weakening of Syria benefit its Muslim neighbors? Does the destruction of Syria lead to the strengthening of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates or other countries? Who is pleased by Syria's destruction other than Israel," Rouhani said.
Iran is one of Assad's main allies and has provided his government with military and political backing for years.
Rouhani said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other armed groups are defaming Islam by resorting to barbaric acts and that has led to Muslim states forgetting their common enemy: Israel.
"How many bombs and missiles have you purchased from the U.S. in the past year," Rouhani asked in an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia. "If you had distributed the same money among poor Muslims, none of them would have gone to bed hungry."
Rouhani, a moderate politician, said a Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Yemen since March has prompted a humanitarian crisis and greater poverty in Yemen, saying these were among the main causes behind the spread of extremism in the region.
Rouhani's comments highlight the struggle for regional supremacy between Shiite powerhouse Iran and the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has played out in conflicts in Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab military intervention against Shiite rebels who are backed by Iran.
The Yemen conflict pits President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally, against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis - who control the capital, Sanaa - and military units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Can Oman help Saudis save face in Yemen?

Giorgio Cafiero

Nine months after launching Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudis find themselves entrenched in a humiliating quagmire while extremists such as the Islamic State (IS) are proving to be the only victors in Yemen’s civil war. The kingdom has received strong criticism from the international community and human rights groups, which accuse Saudi Arabia of carrying out war crimes against Yemeni civilians. Moral costs aside, the expensive military campaign has also exacerbated Riyadh’s financial crisis.
In light of the failed peace talks earlier this month in Switzerland and the resumed fighting in northern Yemen, the Saudis face a major strategic dilemma. If the next round of talks scheduled for early 2016 also falls apart, should the kingdom continue funneling resources into this bloody stalemate, or retreat without having achieved any of Riyadh’s objectives? Desperate for a dignified exit from Yemen, the kingdom has turned to its neighbor Oman for a political solution to the worsening crisis. Ultimately, this plan might be Riyadh’s most realistic means of saving face in Yemen.
The sultanate: a diplomatic bridge
Last month in Muscat, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, met his Omani counterpart, Yusuf bin Alawi, to discuss greater cooperation among the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members with regard to Yemen. Calling for “calm diplomacy,” Alawi said that Oman seeks “long-lasting political solutions” resulting from a “rapprochement among all parties.” Although the collapse of Yemen’s internationally recognized government in January elicited fundamentally different responses from Saudi Arabia and Oman, Alawi said that Riyadh and Muscat have “agreed to look forward and break from the past.”
Oman was the only GCC member that did not join Operation Decisive Storm. Oman’s mature and far-sighted response to the Houthi takeover of Sanaa underscored Muscat’s understanding of Yemeni history, where no fighting force has ever been able to seize control of the entire nation. Conflict resolution in Yemen will require a power-sharing agreement in which all sides have a voice at the table, rather than a military campaign aimed at crushing the Houthi rebel movement. To this end, Muscat has maintained its neutrality throughout the conflict and has been committed to advancing peace talks.
Since the launch of Operation Decisive Storm, Oman has hosted representatives from many factions in the civil war. In May, US State Department officials held secret talks in Muscat with a Houthi delegation, and Houthi representatives met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and with GCC officials. Omani officials have also secured the release of Western civilians detained in Yemen by militant groups.
Oman’s national interests
It is Oman’s own quest for long-term stability in neighboring Yemen, however, that motivates Muscat to further talks involving the relevant parties aimed at reaching a permanent cease-fire. From Oman’s vantage point, the Houthis and Saleh loyalists do not represent the same threat that Muscat’s fellow GCC members perceive from these actors. Instead, the Omani leadership is most unsettled by the threat that a prolonged conflict poses to the security of Oman’s Dhofar governorate, situated along the Gulf Arab nation’s 187-mile border with Yemen.
Before Sultan Qaboos took power in 1970, internal conflict fragmented Oman. From the 1850s to 1950s, two power centers — the Ibadi imamate in the interior and the sultanate along the coast — governed Oman. By 1959, with British support, Qaboos’ father managed to crush a revolt waged by the Ibadi imamate, consolidating the sultanate’s control over the entire country, including the newly discovered oil reserves of the interior. In 1962, a foreign-sponsored Marxist rebel group — the Dhofar Liberation Front, later named Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf — waged an insurgency, which the monarchy officially defeated in 1976 with support from the British, Iranians and Jordanians.
As Omanis face the challenges associated with the succession issue, Muscat officials are unsettled by the potential for groups in the historically neglected Dhofar governorate to reject the legitimacy of Qaboos’ successor. Within this context, promoting a peaceful resolution to the Yemeni crisis at the roundtable serves Oman’s national interests. The potential for extremist groups to infiltrate Oman and foment unrest by stoking such historic tensions during the nation’s political transition is a risk that authorities in Muscat take seriously. Memories of the conflict between the Ibadi imamate and the sultanate and of the Dhofar rebellion remain vivid for Omanis of a certain age. Today, however, there is no doubt that jihadi extremists in Yemen such as IS are cause for far greater concern than the Cold War-era fighters from the Dhofar Liberation Front/Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf.
Although Oman’s independent foreign policy, which has operated outside the framework of the GCC, has been an irritant for the Saudis on past occasions, officials in Riyadh may come to be grateful for the Omani wisdom that led Muscat to avoid joining Operation Decisive Storm. That Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest Arab country and the world’s top arms importer, cannot defeat an insurgency from the most underserved region of the poorest Arab country is a source of humiliation.
The Saudis would be wise to take advantage of the diplomatic avenue that Oman offers Riyadh at this difficult juncture. Surely, continuation of this conflict will not benefit the long-term interests of the Saudis, Yemenis or Omanis.

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Japan’s propaganda war on Diaoyu absurd

Japanese media have been hyping up a Chinese coast guard vessel armed with what appeared to be four gun turrets wandering into waters off the Diaoyu Islands and even entering "Japan's territorial waters" in recent days. The Japanese government claimed that it had filed a formal protest against the Chinese government. 

The Japanese government and media have rhetorically underlined that "it was the first time an armed Chinese vessel had been sighted in Japan's waters." 

Such statements defy reason. Regarding the Diaoyu Islands as their own territory, both China and Japan have regularly dispatched patrol vessels to sail around the islands. Japanese coast guard vessels in the area are equipped with guns and cannons. How can they expect Chinese ships sailing in the area to be unarmed? 

The Diaoyu Islands issue has been relatively stable in recent years, after an escalation of the conflict a few years ago. 

Japan announced the nationalization of the islands, followed by a quick response by China with routine patrols by Chinese vessels within the 12-nautical-mile waters of the islands. 

Although Japan has maintained a margin of superiority in terms of military presence thanks to its close proximity to the islands, it has been forced to accept the new situation and has to compete on new rules of conduct with China. 

Instead of taking aggressive actions around the Diaoyu Islands, it attempts to make an issue out of Chinese vessels sailing into the 12 nautical miles of the Diaoyu Islands.   

The Japanese media have been obsessed with hyping news about the Diaoyu Islands. Coordinated by Japanese officials, the Japanese media outlets have formed a supply chain of "Diaoyu news." 

By comparison, China has little interest in fighting a propaganda war with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. 

This time, Japan accused Chinese coast guard vessels of being armed with gun turrets. 

But the Japan Coast Guard has dispatched patrol vessels with a displacement ranging from 1,000 tons to 6,000 tons, which are also equipped with 20-millimeter to 40-millimeter cannons. Moreover, Japan's newly built patrol vessels include rapid-fire 35-millimeter gun turret. 

It's absurd that Japanese media is showing astonishment at patrols by armed Chinese ships. 

The Japanese government has deliberately launched a propaganda campaign against China over the Diaoyu Islands issue. 

China needs to respond in a more active and flexible manner. It should not only make strides in conducting patrols around the islands, but also think seriously of responding to the propaganda campaign of Japan.  

China adopts first counter-terrorism law in history

China's top legislature on Sunday adopted the country's first counter-terrorism law in the latest attempt to address terrorism at home and help maintain world security.
Lawmakers approved the legislation Sunday afternoon at the end of a week-long bimonthly session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.
At a press conference held on Sunday, An Weixing, an official with the public security ministry, at Sunday's press conference, said China is facing rising threats of terrorism.
"Terrorist attacks have caused heavy losses of people's lives and properties, posing a serious threat to our security, stability, economic development and ethnic unity," An said.
The new law, which will enter into force in January next year, will provide legal support to the country's counter-terrorism activities as well as collaboration with the international society, he said.
The much anticipated couter-terrorism law proposed a national leading organ for counter-terrorism work, which will be in charge of identifying terrorist activities and personnel, and coordinate nationwide anti-terrorist work.
The state will provide necessary financial support for key regions listed in the country's counter-terrorist plan, whereas professional anti-terrorist forces will be established by public security, national security authorities as well as armed forces.
A national intelligence center will be established to coordinate inter-departmental and trans-regional efforts on counter-terrorism intelligence and information.
The term "terrorism" is defined as any proposition or activity -- that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations -- with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.
A statement from NPC Standing Committee earlier this week said the new definition had been inspired by a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) counter-terrorism convention, and the UN's Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism.
A previous draft of the law, submitted in February, did not cover personal and property rights or political and ideological purposes.
"[China] opposes all extremism that seeks to instigate hatred, incite discrimination and advocate violence by distorting religious doctrines and other means, and acts to eradicate the ideological basis for terrorism," the approved bill read.
The new law comes at a delicate time for China and for the world at large - terror attacks in Paris, the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, and the brutal killings of hostages committed by Islamic State (IS) extremist group are alerting the world about an ever-growing threat of terrorism.
According to China's top legislator Zhang Dejiang, the new law is an important part for establishing systemic rules for national security.
The law establishes basic principles for counter-terrorism work and strengthens measures of prevention, handling, punishment as well as international cooperation, he said.
Under the new bill, telecom operators and internet service providers are required to provide technical support and assistance, including decryption, to police and national security authorities in prevention and investigation of terrorist activities.
They should also prevent dissemination of information on terrorism and extremism.
Li Shouwei of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee legislative affairs commission, said the rule accorded with the actual work needed to fight terrorism and was basically the same as other major countries.
"The clause reflects lessons China has learned from other countries and is a result of wide solicitation of public opinion," he added.
"(It) will not affect companies' normal business nor install backdoors to infringe intellectual property rights, or ... citizens freedom of speech on the internet and their religious freedom," Li said.
China's national security law adopted in July also requires Internet and information technology, infrastructure, information systems and data in key sectors to be "secure and controllable".
Before Sunday's new bill, China did not have an anti-terrorism legislation, though related provisions feature in various NPC Standing Committee decisions, as well as the Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law and Emergency Response Law.
The NPC's standing committee passed a decision to improve anti-terrorism work in October 2011, but it was never made into law.
The lack of a systematic law in this field had hampered China's fight against terrorism, with measures deemed not forceful enough, analysts say.
In one of most deadly cases, twenty-nine people were killed and scores more injured by knife-wielding assailants at a train station in Yunnan's capital city, Kunming, on March 1, 2014.
Terrorist attacks have brought greater urgency for a counter-terrorism law. The first draft of the law was submitted for review in October 2014 and the second draft in February.
In a separate clause, Sunday's new bill allows police forces, when facing violent attackers with guns or knives, use weapons directly in emergency circumstances.
In the rare reality of a terrorist attack, no institutions or individuals shall fabricate and disseminate information on forged terrorist incidents, report on or disseminate details of terrorist activities that might lead to imitation, nor publish scenes of cruelty and inhumanity in terrorist activities, the new law reads.
None, except news media with approval from counter-terrorism authorities in charge of information distribution, shall report on or disseminate the personal details of on-scene counter-terrorist workers, hostages or authorities' response activities.
The clause was specifically revised to restrict the distribution of terrorism-related information by individual users on social media, earlier reports said.

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Imax, 3-D Drive Hollywood Box Office in 2015

Lights! Camera! Action! And the results are all the more special and profit-worthy when big budget films are shot with IMAX cameras and presented on gigantic screens. 2015 was the year of the IMAX and 3D. And though tickets at $15 a piece can become quite pricey for a family of four, opening weekend's earnings showed movie-goers were willing to pay more for a special movie experience. VOA’s Penelope Poulou reports.

U.S. - New Minimum Wages in the New Year

In five states and nine cities — including California, New York, Oregon and Washington, D.C. — voters and lawmakers will consider proposals in 2016 to gradually raise minimum wages to $15 an hour.
The ballot initiatives and pending legislation will build on momentum from this year, in which 14 states and localities used laws, executive orders and other procedures to lift wages for all or part of their work forces to $15 an hour.
In New York City, for instance, the minimum wage for workers in fast food and state government will rise to $10.50 on New Year’s Eve, and to $15 by the end of 2018. In the rest of New York, the minimum for those workers will reach $15 an hour in mid-2021. In Los Angeles County, including the city of Los Angeles, the minimum wage for most workers will rise to $10.50 by mid-2016 and to $15 by mid-2020. Seattle and San Francisco are also phasing in citywide minimums of $15 an hour, while five other cities — Buffalo and Rochester in New York; Greensboro, N.C.; Missoula, Mont.; and Pittsburgh — are gradually raising their minimums to $15 for city workers.
Minimum-wage raises are examples of states and cities leading in the absence of leadership by Congress, which has kept the federal minimum at $7.25 an hour since 2009. State and local increases are also potent shapers of public perception. It was only three years ago that a walkout by 200 or so fast-food workers in New York City began the Fight for $15, now a nationwide effort to raise pay and support unions. Two years ago SeaTac, Wash., home to an international airport, voted in the nation’s first $15-an-hour minimum for some 6,500 workers in the city, on and off airport property. Since then, $15 an hour has gone from a slogan to a benchmark.
These state and local increases, though important, are no substitute for a robust federal minimum because they don’t affect places that will never act on their own to lift minimum wages. Currently, 21 states do not impose minimums higher than the federal rate, and that includes the poorest states, like Alabama and Mississippi, where it takes nearly $20 an hour to meet living expenses for one adult and one child. Even in states that have raised their minimum wages, the levels are still not high enough to meet living expenses for typical workers and families.
Sooner or later, Congress has to set an adequate wage floor for the nation as a whole. If it does so in the near future, the new minimum should be $15.

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From #PrayForParis and (anti-)Pegida to #BlackLivesMatter: The protests & rallies that shaped 2015

The street failed to bring down any governments in 2015, but it was still an impressive year of collective action. Protesters – be they in Japan, Turkey, Yemen, the US or EU – embraced their causes and harnessed the power of the internet and media to spread their message.

Refugees are welcome in the EU?

Without a doubt, the influx of more than 1 million migrants was the biggest story in Europe in 2015, and one of the most emotive. Public displays were plentiful, from Refugees are Welcome rallies, to Pegida anti-migrant marches. But perhaps the most charged demonstrations were in relatively small cities and towns, unprepared to accommodate a flood of asylum seekers. In August, about 1,000 protesters near the German city of Dresden clashed with police, as they tried to block a bus of newly-arrived refugees, causing dozens of injuries.
In December, 2,000 of the 27,000 inhabitants of Geldermalsen, a city in the Netherlands, took to the streets and besieged a refugee center that was intended as accommodation for 1,500 migrants, forcing police to fire warning shots. With measures to stop the inflow of migrants proving ineffective, and the rise of radical parties in the polls, public demonstrations could grow more numerous – and violent – in 2016, particularly if sparked by a race-related incident.

Je suis Charlie and #PrayforParis

People hold a banner reading "Nous sommes tous Charlie" (We are all Charlie) during a Unity rally “Marche Republicaine” on January 11, 2015 in Montpellier. © Sylvain Thomas
For Paris, 2015 was bookended by two Islamist terror attacks: the January assault on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and November’s night of terror that saw gunfire and explosions in several public places. While the message of the January attack was clear – punishment for the depictions of the Prophet Mohammed – the subsequent rallies were decorous and put forward slogans of solidarity, including the much-shared “Je suis Charlie” and calls for unity. Alongside 3.7 million Parisians, many of the world’s most influential politicians also came together for a symbolic photo opportunity. All this made little difference when another group of Islamists carried out an even more heartless and cynical attack in November. This time the reaction was more of muted shock than proud defiance, and France, still in a state of emergency, continues to process its reaction as the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front party surges in the polls.

Catalonia’s march of a million

Catalan pro-independence supporters take part in a demonstration, called "Via Lliure a la Republica Catalana" (free way to the Republic of Catalonia) at during the "Diada de Catalunya" (Catalunya's National day) in Barcelona, Spain, September 11, 2015. © Albert Gea
Catalonia’s National Day on September 11 has become an increasingly political event, but the region’s secessionist sentiments reached a new high in 2015, with police estimating 1.4 million people poured out onto the streets of Barcelona. A huge yellow arrow pushed through the throng, indicating the road to independence. This was more than just a show of identity, as it galvanized supporters in the subsequent elections, giving the secessionists a majority in the local assembly. Since then, the separatists have initiated legal proceedings to separate from Madrid, but like much else in this standoff, there has been more grandstanding, wrangling, electioneering and threatening language than actual progress out of a stalemate. With Catalan President Artur Mas struggling to get backing from fellow pro-independence politicians, and a new federal government following the December 20 polls, Madrid and Barcelona will reset their positions before a new round in the ongoing political battle. The Catalan government has already approved a declaration to start a formal secession process from Spain - a move immediately blocked by the country’s Constitutional Court.

#BlackLivesMatter hits US

What looked like one-off spontaneous protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014 became a constant feature of US political life in 2015. Dozens of black men who died at the hands of the police in 2015 have become the focus of national attention, thanks to lightning-fast social media campaigns and highly visible public protests. The direct and disruptive tactics used by the demonstrators have never failed to catch attention, but have divided opinion, often along existing party-political lines. The most textbook case was the uproar in Baltimore following the suspicious death of detainee Freddie Gray, while in custody in April.
The protests quickly spiraled out of control, with scores of properties and cars destroyed, and hundreds arrested, forcing the mayor to declare a state of emergency, and eliciting condemnation from Barack Obama. But the movement achieved its wishes, and charges were swiftly brought against the six officers who handled Gray. Critics say the nationally-televised stand-off has led to more hands-off policing, and provoked a spike in black deaths, with a demoralized police force reluctant to intervene in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Lebanon’s garbage uprising

Seemingly incidental yet deeply meaningful events can often serve as touch paper for political upheaval, but Lebanon’s You Stink protests, ostensibly begun over consumer waste disposal, seemed particularly lacking in revolutionary zeal. However, the issues it raised during the movement’s heyday in August and September cut to the core of the country’s problems – corruption and inefficiency, which led to the sight of piles of rotting garbage in the streets, and sectarianism in which the country’s three main religious minorities refused to accept each other’s rubbish, creating logistical bottlenecks.
There is a more general dysfunction: the country has failed to elect a new president after 34 rounds – due to a lack of quorum in parliament – and there are problems even with basic amenities such as water and electricity, as Lebanon becomes the home for more and more refugees fleeing regional conflicts. Unsurprisingly, soon protesters dusted off slogans from the Arab Spring. In the end, the demonstrations subsided, due to repression and loss of momentum, but the dissatisfaction that drove the You Stink campaign against politicians has not gone anywhere.

OXI vs NAI: Debt burden pushes Greeks to take street action

Rising to unprecedented popularity and winning parliamentary elections in early 2015, the left-wing Syriza party promised to renegotiate Greek debt and put an end to austerity in the country. The talks between Greece and the Troika (representing international creditors) stalled after the Eurogroup declined to prolong a financial aid program for Athens or delay payments on earlier debts. Greeks took to the streets in their thousands, unwilling to tolerate yet more austerity measures requested by the European creditors. In a surprising turn of events, the government announced it would hold a referendum on July 5 on the Eurogroup’s latest cash-for-reforms plan. Ahead of the vote, protesters slipped into two camps - the "NO" (ΟΧΙ in Greek) and the "YES" (ΝΑΙ) supporters - who both demonstrated across Greece, with the majority of rallies held in Athens’ central Syntagma Square.
Thousands of protesters in European cities also rallied in solidarity while some EU skeptics started hinting at a Grexit. After more than 61 percent of Greeks voted “NO,” Syriza sealed a new deal for a bailout package that would keep Greece in the Eurozone. However, the deal left the Greeks unsatisfied and the government divided.

Kurds’ outrage at Ankara crackdown

Kurds have long been campaigning for the right to self-determination and greater autonomy in Turkey, where they are the largest ethnic minority. Pro-Kurdish rallies have been held multiple times in Turkey’s largest cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, as well as in European capitals as the Turkish government pressed ahead with its crackdown on the group.
The pro-Kurdish protests were met with tear gas and water cannon, while one of the deadliest rallies in October left dozens of people killed and scores injured in two suicide blasts. Turkey's largest trade unions were planning to unite for a peace rally to protest the Turkish government’s bombing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the southeast, however the bomb attacks led to bloody scenes. In the past months Ankara has stepped up its military operation on the border with Syria and Iraq, the stronghold of the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to continue the operation until the area is cleansed of Kurdish militants.

Yemenis stand against Saudi intervention

Spearheading a military coalition of nine Arab states, in March 2015 Saudi Arabia started a bombing campaign aiming to influence the outcome of the civil war in Yemen, in support of the domestically-contested Yemeni government in the fight against a Houthi coup. The campaign was met with heavy international criticism, with the UN human rights chief saying in December the coalition’s actions had brought a disproportionate number of civilian deaths and the destruction of infrastructure. Frustration, fury and raw anger among Yemeni citizens repeatedly prompted thousands to flood the streets of the capital Sanaa in 2015. The UN believes the bombing has killed at least 2,700 people, while the humanitarian crisis in the country has been dubbed among the worst in the world.

‘Illegal Invasion’: Japanese against US base

The Japanese government’s decision to resume controversial construction work to relocate the US base within Okinawa Prefecture was met with mass sit-ins. The protesters were so determined to win the fight that in November the demonstration marked its 500th day. The US has maintained a heavy military presence in Okinawa after occupying the island for 27 years following World War II. Though it was handed back to Japan, Okinawa remains home to more than half of the 47,000 American military personnel in the country. Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga has renewed his pledge to prevent Tokyo from building the new base, after the central government recently sued the prefecture over local resistance to the military base, which is aimed at replacing the existing Futenma facility in Ginowan.

Anti-TTP petitions & protests as deal sealed after 7yrs of talks

Seven years of negotiations were wrapped up as a major trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was sealed in October. Various anti-TPP petitions and protests around the globe overshadowed the trade pact’s signing. In the US, people taking to the streets were led by protest group Popular Resistance and their project ‘Flush the TPP.’ New Zealand demonstrators have strongly criticized the pact as well. 
The agreement was promoted by the governments involved as a deal that would lead to unfettered free trade and the empowerment of big business in the region. However, the protracted negotiations, led by the US, have been criticized for a lack of transparency, with even top government officials complaining of being kept in the dark while huge corporations were consulted. The talks were hampered by disagreements in the spheres of agriculture, intellectual property, services and investments. US progressives, including Democrat presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, have bashed the deal, saying it will exacerbate income inequality and erode important regulations.
More controversy and discontent seems to have been sparked by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement – a free trade deal between Europe and the US – which is considered to be a companion agreement to the TPP. The EU faced mass protests against the deal, which critics say will be anti-democratic and will lower food safety, labor and environmental standards. The anti-TTIP protest in Berlin was dubbed by some rights activists as the biggest the country has seen in years. Talks on the deal will continue in 2016.

Pushto Song - A Tribute To Benazir Bhutto

The Legacy of Benazir Bhutto

By David Ignatius
Washington Post
Friday, December 28, 2007

Try to imagine a young Pakistani woman bounding into the newsroom of the Harvard Crimson in the early 1970s and banging out stories about college sports teams with the passion of a cub reporter. That was the first glimpse some of us had of Benazir Bhutto. We had no idea she was Pakistani political royalty. She was too busy jumping into her future to make a show of her past.I saw this effervescent woman many times over subsequent years, and I never lost the sense of her as an impetuous person embracing what was new -- for herself and for her nation. I remember encountering her once when she was a graduate student at Oxford, shaking up the august and occasionally somnolent Oxford Union debating society as its president. She was wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt, the one with the sassy tongue sticking out, and I recall thinking that Pakistani politics would never be the same once she returned home.
In later years, I would see her during her periodic visits to Washington after she assumed her family's mantle of political leadership and became prime minister in 1988, at age 35. She changed in her outward appearance, wearing a head scarf and traditional clothes as she matured, but not in her inner passion for change.
Bhutto was fearless, from her college years in America to her cruel assassination yesterday. She had an unshakable belief that Pakistan should embrace the modern world with the same confidence and courage that she had. She believed in democracy, freedom and openness -- not as slogans but as a way of life. She wasn't perfect; the corruption charges that enveloped her second term as prime minister were all too real. But she remained the most potent Pakistani voice for liberalism, tolerance and change.
A less determined person would have backed off when her conservative Muslim enemies tried to kill her after she returned home in October. But Bhutto had crossed that bridge a long time ago. She was a person who, for all her breeding and cultivation, ran headlong at life. Her father and two brothers had died for their vision of a country where Islam and the modern world made an accommodation. Her only real fear, I think, was that she might fail in her mission.
Her assassination was, as President Bush said yesterday, a "cowardly act." It was a defining act of the politics of murder -- a phenomenon that we see from Lebanon to Iraq to Pakistan. If we forget, with the passage of time, the face of the Muslim extremism responsible for Sept. 11, 2001, here is a reminder: Bhutto's killers targeted her because she was modern, liberal and unafraid.
In the immediate aftermath of Bhutto's killing, many people feel an instinctive anger at her political rival, President Pervez Musharraf. We will have to wait for the facts, but my first reaction is that blaming Musharraf is a mistake. He has battled the same Muslim extremists who appear to have taken Bhutto's life. He has faced nine assassination attempts himself, by CNN's count. He angered Bhutto and her liberal supporters in part because he argued that Pakistani politics was still so violent and volatile that the army should impose emergency controls.
Bhutto's death is a brutal demonstration of the difficulty for outsiders in understanding -- let alone tinkering with -- a country such as Pakistan. The Bush administration attempted a bit of political engineering when it tried to broker an alliance between Musharraf and Bhutto and sought to position her as the country's next prime minister. Yesterday's events were a reminder that global politics is not Prospero's island, where we can conjure up the outcomes we want. In places such as Pakistan, where we can't be sure where events are heading, the wisest course for the United States is the cautious one of trying to identify and protect American interests. Pakistanis will decide how and when their country makes its accommodation with the modern world.
I think Bhutto was right about the future -- that the path to a more stable Pakistan requires precisely the democratic reforms she advocated. Musharraf and the army have tried to govern from too narrow and unstable a base; that's their mistake and their weakness. But the assassination of this brave woman is a warning that the path to the modern Pakistan she dreamed of creating won't be easy.
The best memorial for Bhutto -- and the right transition for this nation in turmoil -- is to go ahead with the elections set for early January. Bhutto wasn't afraid of that tumultuous and sometimes deadly process of change, nor should anyone be.

#SalamBenazir - The legacy of Benazir Bhutto

By Naheed Khan

On December 27 every year, millions of followers, colleagues , party workers and friends who hold her very close to their hearts mourn the death of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto with feelings of deep pain and sadness. Her martyrdom is not only a national loss but it has created a leadership vacuum in Pakistani politics and after eight long years of her martyrdom she remains the leading, inspiring and charismatic leader in Pakistani politics. She had vision for the future and ability to move forward in the worst circumstances which made her great. Benazir Bhutto, twice elected first woman PM of an Islamic country would always be remembered as a brave woman with immense qualities of tolerance, far-sightedness, perseverance. She was a great fighter for democracy and a courageous voice for justice and equality around the world.

Benazir Bhutto, an icon of Pakistani politics was a leader far ahead of her times and a symbol of a progressive and liberal Pakistan.  She was a bridge between the true spirit of Islam and the Western world. Her political objective was  establishment of a democratic and a peaceful Pakistan in which people can live in harmony with equal opportunities to all. She believed that Pakistan can play an important role in bringing one billion Muslims around the world on one platform to play their effective role in bringing global peace.

She was a critical voice against extremism and was concerned about the growing teisations between different religions and communities in the world seems to be a reality with the likes of Donald Trump trumping up anti Muslim rhetoric in the western world. With Benazir Bhutto no more in the world to act as a bridge between Islam and the West!

She was convinced that democracy was never given a chance to flourish in Pakistan by the establishment, moderate forces were marginalised which gave space to extremism to emerge against the national interest. She beleived that there were madrasas which were institutes of Islamic teachings but on the other side there were thousands of madrasas nurturing young teenagers and brain washing them with hatred, intolerance ,violence and discrimination. She beleived that poverty and unemployment is a time bomb for Pakistan’s future and democracy .These are hard realities when poor parents are left with no choice except to send their children to these madrasas to feed and educate them. There is a need to reform these madrasas by providing roti, clothing, shelter and education by the state to make them proud Pakistanis. She was of the view that terrorism is not only a threat to Pakistan but its a threat to outside world too.  She was unhappy over the peace agreement between the government of Pakistan and Taliban. She felt that tribal region of Pakistan should not have been handed over to foreigners i.e Afghan Talibans ,Arab Al. Qaeda , Chechen, Tajik , Uzbek and Uighurus and  Pakistan should protect its own territory .Today  she stands vindicated because Pakistan armed forces are in full control of every inch of our territory. She would strongly believe that democracy in Pakistan will stabilise Afghanistan.

She wanted USA to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and was critical of the unauthorised military operations against Pakistan.

She was confident that Pakistan with its geographical location can emerge as an important strategic player in the world and particularly in the South Asian region since it is linked with oil producing Muslim countries through the Persian gulf. It provides routes to Central Asian countries to reach the Indian ocean. Lot of world trade takes place through Arabian Sea and Pakistan enjoys the privilege of being a central point in that trade route with hundreds of kilometres of coastal line and deep sea port of Gwadar. She wanted to make Pakistan an economic hub of Asia by having good relations with its neighbouring countries Afghanistan on its North West, China on its North, India on its East and Iran on its West.

She believed that economic development is a core issue for sustainable democracy because it reflects the role of state for the welfare of its people. Pakistan is a vibrant country and revolutionary efforts are required to identify its socio economic problems and its  solutions. She was confident that Pakistanis being a resilient nation with lots of talent and potential have the resolve to meet future challenges but it is necessary to keep a balance between resources generated and their use.

Major social issues like health care,education ,poor law and order situation, religious extremism , terrorism, social justice, civil rights , load shedding,clean drinking water, sexual abuse, equal rights for women, minorities, child labour, bonded labor and unemployment  and economic issues like minimum wages, low Income were her main concerns which our people are facing today.

She was a signatory to Charter of Democracy because she believed that military dictatorship has done fatal damage to Pakistan in the past. It has undermined the democratic institutions and put the unity of the federation under serious threat. PPP being a major political party of Pakistan having support in all the federating units including AJK and Northern areas holds responsibility to its countrymen to pull the country out of this crisis and bring it back to stability.

Her period of exile from 1999 to 2007 was a time of great change around the world and she had learnt a lot during that period. As we entered the new millennium and the uni-polar world saw its power centre attacked on 9.11.2001 the face of politics changed. Her leadership enabled her to understand the changing concepts of politics and she emerged with a more clear vision to lead Pakistan.

After escaping October 18 attempt on her life, which killed 178 party workers who were bravely guarding her truck, she visited the hospitals the very next morning without security and then went to Lyari to condole with those who had lost their dear ones. She was moved by their love and emotions the families had for her. After seeing all this, her resolve became stronger to save Pakistan from the forces of extremism and militancy.

Millions of her followers admire her conviction to the poor people of this country, her integrity and moreover, her deep love for Pakistan. Her identification with the poor and downtrodden masses of this country was a unique quality of her leadership. Her vision to promote youth in the party was a novel idea since she felt that they are future of Pakistan and now 65 per cent of the youth will have to give new dimensions to the future politics of a bright and prosperous Pakistan.

In her last speech on December 27 at Liaquat Bagh she said, “I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of the crisis.”

All her life she struggled against the forces of oppression and ultimately sacrificed her own life restoring political dynamics of this country. She always wished that her legacy should be remembered as a peace maker in the world.

I am not sure whether truth of her murder will ever come out but all those who want to hide this heinous crime will never be forgiven by history. Moreover, they must not forget that there is a God above all of us. She was killed but no one can kill her legacy which her followers will carry on with determination and perseverance to keep her mission alive.

In the end I would like to add that we all are proud of our armed forces for their sacrifices by confronting the terrorists but at the same time Pakistan needs stable democracy.

There is a need for good and balanced civil military relationship in country’s defence. This is the only way we can pay tributes to our martyrs and to all those who were made victims by the terrorists and sacrificed their lives to save Pakistan.

Bibi millions of your followers will always remember you because of your commitment with the poor people of this country, your integrity and moreover your deep love for Pakistan . Long live Bhutto Long live Pakistan.