World News II

Turkish parliament approves constitutional reform, expanded powers for Erdogan

Turkey’s parliament has approved a controversial constitutional reform package, which aims to empower the office of the presidency. The parliamentary approval paves the way for a referendum on the measures.

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Turkish lawmakers early on Saturday voted in favor of a set of constitutional amendments designed to substantially increase the power of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The measure required at least 330 votes to be approved and be put forward to a referendum, which is planned for as early as April.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest in parliament, boycotted the vote. Nearly a dozen lawmakers from the party, including its leadership, are imprisoned on terrorism charges  for their alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The vote received the support of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and some lawmakers of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The main opposition center-left Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) voted against the measure, warning that it would lead to dictatorship.

Prison Stocks Plummet Following Justice Department Announcement

The widely-criticized, for-profit companies weren’t saving the government money.

BOCA RATON, FL - MAY 04: Protesters gather in front of the GEO Group headquarters to speak out against the company that manages private prisons across the United States on May 4, 2015 in Boca Raton, Florida. The protesters are condemning what they say are the companies active lobbying efforts to criminalize and imprison immigrants and people of color and then to make a profit off their imprisonment. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

BOCA RATON, FL – MAY 04: Protesters gather in front of the GEO Group headquarters to speak out against the company that manages private prisons across the United States on May 4, 2015 in Boca Raton, Florida. The protesters are condemning what they say are the companies active lobbying efforts to criminalize and imprison immigrants and people of color and then to make a profit off their imprisonment. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The U.S. Justice Department announced plans on Thursday to phase out its use of privately-operated prisons, calling them less safe and less effective than government-run facilities.

Hammering corrections company share prices, the department said it planned to gradually reduce the use of private prisons by letting contracts expire or by scaling them back to a level consistent with the declining prison population, a move that would reverse a practice begun almost 20 years ago.

The decision, announced by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a memo, followed a report last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general that criticized private prisons for failing to maintain the same level of safety and security as facilities run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Yates said private prisons, long seen as a growth industry in a country where the prison population has quadrupled since 1980, had also failed to provide any substantial cost savings.

“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities,” she said.

Palestine: ‘Hundreds detained’ since start of Ramadan

Monitoring group says 330 Palestinians, including 60 children, have been detained as raids in West Bank are stepped up.

Raids have been taking place across the West Bank since the attack in Tel Aviv early June that killed four Israelis [File: AP]Raids have been taking place across the West Bank since the attack in Tel Aviv early June that killed four Israelis [File: AP]

Raids have been taking place across the West Bank since the attack in Tel Aviv early June that killed four Israelis [File: AP]

About 330 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been detained by Israel since the start of Ramadan, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies has said.

During the 20 days since June 6, when the Muslim holy month of fasting began, Israel has stepped up its raids on Palestinian towns, the centre’s director, Osama Shaheen, told Al Jazeera.

“We noticed that the campaign of arrests against leaders and activists in Hebron has increased, especially due to the recent attack in Tel Aviv,” Shaheen said, referring to the June 9 shooting of four Israelis by Palestinians.

According to the centre’s records, of the 330 detained, at least 60 are children, with the youngest being 10-year-old Marwan Sharabati from Hebron. The figure also includes 21 women ranging from 18 to 45 years old.

About 15 Palestinians, 13 of whom are fishermen from Gaza, were also detained at Israel’s Ashdod port, including Mohammad al-Halabi, the head of the Gaza programme at the Christian humanitarian organisation World Vision.

The raids have been taking place across occupied East Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and Gaza.

Mexican President Peña Nieto Proposes Legalizing Gay Marriage

Denmark Mexico

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. (Jens Dresling/Polfoto via AP

Saudi Arabia judgment on Ali Mohammed al-Nimr crucifixion ‘unfounded’ with ‘shocking flaws’

Activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr remains in solitary confinement, awaiting execution in Saudi ArabiaFacebook

Activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr remains in solitary confinement, awaiting execution in Saudi ArabiaFacebook

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr’s crucifixion judgment has been deemed “unfounded” by an independent legal expert on counterterrorism and human rights. Zafar Gondal, a former judge and magistrate, conducted an analysis into the case, which revealed “shocking flaws” with the ruling.

Gondal’s research was conducted on behalf of the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) and took into consideration the Kingdom’s legal obligations with respect to international and regional treaties that the country is bound to. The analysis also placed heavy emphasis on the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states prohibits capital punishment for those under the age of 18.

The convention states that those under 18 who are arrested or detained must have full access to guardians and legal assistance. Saudi Arabia is acceded the convention in 1996 and Gondal’s legal analysis concludes al-Nimr’s ruling is in violation of Article 37 and 40.

A spokesperson for ESOHR said: “The independent expert analysis has proven major gaps in the prosecution and conviction of Ali al-Nimr, which violate multiple international treaties, and calls on the judges involved to be the subject of serious disciplinary action.”

The Resignation of John Boehner

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John Boehner will resign as speaker of the House at the end of October and leave Congress, choosing to end his tumultuous tenure rather than fight a conservative revolt against his leadership.

Boehner had battled conservatives aligned with the Tea Party for most of his nearly five years as speaker, and in recent weeks they had threatened to try to oust him from power if did not pursue a strategy of defunding Planned Parenthood that would have likely led to a government shutdown. Conservatives said that if Boehner failed to fight on the government spending bill, they would call up a procedural motion to “vacate the chair” and demand the election of a new speaker. Facing the likelihood that he would need Democrats to save him, Boehner instead chose to step down. In one of his last acts as speaker, Boehner is now expected to defy conservatives by bringing up a funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown beginning next week but that would not cut money from Planned Parenthood.

More Senate Democrats, including Boxer, line up behind Iran nuclear deal

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said the Iran nuclear deal is

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said the Iran nuclear deal is “far preferable to any other alternative, including war.” (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)

The proposed Iran nuclear deal earned the support of three more Senate Democrats on Tuesday, locking in key support for President Obama’s top foreign policy priority.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer joined Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida in expressing support Tuesday while on the other side of the Capitol, a resolution aimed at blocking the multinational agreement was formally introduced in the House. The moves come as Obama prepares to deliver a major address Wednesday to build support for the agreement, which was finalized last month in Vienna between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States.

Boxer announced her position after a meeting between Democrats and ambassadors representing the countries that signed the agreement. Under it, Iran agreed to new restrictions on its nuclear program in return for easing crippling economic sanctions.

“It was very important to hear from them that they believed if we walked away, it would play right into the hands of the hard-liners in Iran, Iran would build a nuclear weapon, they’d have lots of money from everybody else but America, and it’d be a very dangerous situation,” she said.

UN Security Council endorses Iran deal

Getty

Getty

The United Nations Security Council on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration, Iran and other world powers.

The 15-0 vote came despite opposition on Capitol Hill, where key lawmakers have criticized the administration for pushing for U.N. action before Congress has a to chance to weigh in.

But the move sends a strong signal of international support for the agreement, which offers Iran economic relief in exchange for concessions on its nuclear work.

“While this deal does not address many of our profound concerns, if implemented it would make the world safer and more secure,” U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said during Monday morning’s meeting.

“If Iran seizes that opportunity, if it abides by the commitments that it agreed to in this deal … then it will find the international community and the United States willing to provide a path out of isolation and toward greater engagement,” she added. “We hope Iran’s government will choose that path.”

Southeast Asia Scrambles to Deal With Migrant Crisis

Up to 10,000 refugees may be adrift off the coast of Southeast Asian states without food or water.

Displaced Rohingya unload provisions from a boat. Image Credit: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO

Displaced Rohingya unload provisions from a boat. Image Credit: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO

By Shannon Tiezzi

Up to 10,000 would-be refugees, many from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group, are believed to be adrift off the coast of Southeast Asia with little to no food or water, sparking talk of a humanitarian crisis.

Up to 10,000 would-be refugees, many from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group, are believed to be adrift off the coast of Southeast Asia with little to no food or water, sparking talk of a humanitarian crisis.

Up to 10,000 would-be refugees, many from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group, are believed to be adrift off the coast of Southeast Asia with little to no food or water, sparking talk of a humanitarian crisis.

Regional governments have said that they are not able to take in any more refugees. According to Associated Press, Malaysia turned away two boats full of roughly 800 migrants while Thailand refused to accept a third boat. Indonesia also sent away a boat carrying “thousands of passengers,” according to the New York Times. Human rights advocates have accused regional governments of playing “ping pong” with the refugees and warned of a looming humanitarian disaster should the refugees remain on the boats.

Netanyahu’s Nuclear Deceptions

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UNITED NATIONS — In the address on Tuesday to the United States Congress by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, we witnessed a new peak in the long-running hype over Iran’s nuclear energy program. Yet all his predictions about how close Iran was to acquiring a nuclear bomb have proved baseless.

Despite that, alarmist rhetoric on the theme has been a staple of Mr. Netanyahu’s career. In an interview with the BBC in 1997, he accused Iran of secretly “building a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles,” predicting that eventually Manhattan would be within range. In 1996, he stood before Congress and urged other nations to join him to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability, stressing that “time is running out.” Earlier, as a member of Parliament, in 1992, he predicted that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within three to five years.

In front of world leaders at the United Nations in September 2012, Mr. Netanyahu escalated his warnings by declaring that Iran could acquire the bomb within a year. It is ironic that in doing so, he apparently disregarded the assessment of his own secret service: A recently revealed document showed that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, had advised that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The United States intelligence community had reached the same conclusion in its National Intelligence Estimate.

Yet, in his speech this week, Mr. Netanyahu claimed the agency had determined that Iran had “a military nuclear program.” This is a gross distortion of the agency’s position. The “possible military dimensions,” which Mr. Netanyahu amplifies on every available occasion, are based not on the agency’s findings but on referrals by other member states with their own political agendas. In one case, in 2012, a former agency director dismissed such a report “because there was no chain of custody for the paper, no clear source, document markings, date of issue or anything else that could establish its authenticity.”

GOP Bombs On Homeland Security

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

It used to be that Congress was broken, and was forced to repeatedly kick the can down the road. Now it seems that Congress can’t even properly kick the can down the road.

At a time of alarming national security threats, the House of Representatives brought the nation to the brink of a government shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.

On Friday evening, dozens of conservative Republicans revolted against a plan push the deadline back three weeks, joining with Democrats to vote down a simple funding bill to continue the agency’s funding.

Conservative Republicans objected because they wanted Congress to rebuke President Obama over his immigration executive action, which they view as an illegal “amnesty.” Democrats protested because they wanted a “clean,” long-term spending bill that would provide certainty for the Department of Homeland Security. In the end, neither got what they wanted.

With less than two hours to go before the DHS funding expired, Congress managed the most modest of feats: punting the issue for seven days. Which means that a week from now, the agency responsible the nation’s security will once again be on the brink of losing its funding and forced to furlough thousands of employees.

Instead of rebuking Obama, it was Speaker John Boehner who was embarrassed as conservatives in his caucus once again showed how little control he has over the far-right Tea Party faction in the House.

Obama, Merkel Opt for Diplomacy in Ukraine Crisis

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 9, 2015.

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 9, 2015.

President Barack Obama said on Monday the United States and its European allies remain committed to finding a diplomatic solution to tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

“Even as we continue to work for a diplomatic solution we are making it clear again today that if Russia continues on its current course, which is ruining the Russia economy and hurting the Russian people, as well as having such a terrible effect on Ukraine, Russia’s isolation will only worsen both politically and economically,” Obama said.

He warned that the West cannot allow Russia to redraw Europe’s borders “at the barrel of a gun,” adding that Moscow is continuing its “aggression” against Ukraine, sending in tanks and artillery to support separatists in violation of last September’s cease-fire agreement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a joint news conference with the U.S. leader, said that while there have been setbacks in reaching a diplomatic solution with Russia over Ukraine, she does not see a military solution to the conflict.

After Charlie Hebdo attack in France, backlash against Muslims feared

People gather at the Place Royale in Nantes, France, on Jan. 7 to show solidarity with the victims of the attack on the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Georges Gobet / AFP/Getty Images

People gather at the Place Royale in Nantes, France, on Jan. 7 to show solidarity with the victims of the attack on the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Georges Gobet / AFP/Getty Images

Gun and grenade attacks outside at least two French mosques heightened fear Thursday of an anti-Muslim backlash after a military-style assault on a newspaper that satirizes Islam.

The attack on the newsweekly came as far-right parties have been gaining in popularity not only in France but also in Germany, Britain, Greece and elsewhere, feeding the anti-immigrant sentiments on which they thrive.

With tension building, Muslim community leaders advised veiled women to avoid going out alone and urged their members to join in a national minute of silence for the victims of Wednesday’s attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

“Anyone who associates this criminal act with Islam is mistaken. It is an act of terrorism. The perpetrators of this act should be arrested, condemned and eradicated,” Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, told reporters at the Grand Mosque of Paris.

Radio Station Backed by U.S. Is Raided in Azerbaijan

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MOSCOW — A dozen employees of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Azerbaijan were arrested and detained for up to 12 hours of questioning over the weekend, as state prosecutors intensified a crackdown on journalists and nongovernmental organizations that has drawn sharp criticism in the West.

On Friday, prosecutors and the police raided the station’s office in Baku, the nation’s capital. Employees were detained as officials seized computers, flash drives, documents and other materials, and then sealed the premises.

The station, locally called Radio Azadliq, which means “liberty” in Azerbaijani, has been a target of the authorities for years. Its FM broadcast was shut down along with the BBC radio service and the Voice of America in 2009 (the broadcasts can still be heard on satellite and over the Internet).

This month, the government jailed a well-known investigative reporter, Khadija Ismayilova, who had worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as well as other news organizations.

Ms. Ismayilova, who remains in custody, had angered high-level officials by reporting on the business dealings of the family of President Ilham Aliyev.

Islamist Militants in Nigeria Kidnap 185 in a Deadly Attack on a Village

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Islamist militants on Sunday killed 35 people and kidnapped about 185 others, primarily women and young girls, in a small village in northeastern Nigeria, survivors of the attack and local officials said Thursday.

The attack took place in the remote farming village of Gumsuri, and it took days for word to reach government officials here in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Boko Haram, the extremist group that operates widely in the volatile northeastern part of the country, is suspected of being responsible.

Gumsuri is less than 15 miles from the village of Chibok, where Boko Haram fighters kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in April and fled with them into the bush. More than 200 of the girls are still missing.

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