Ankara may boycott the upcoming Syria talks in Switzerland if Syrian Kurds are invited, media reports said, citing UN sources. Earlier, Turkey said their support for the peace process can only be ensured if there is no “representation of terrorist groups around the table.”
Turkey has privately warned that it might pull out from the Geneva talks now scheduled for January 25 if Saudi-backed Kurds and related parties are present, Foreign Policy reported Saturday citing UN-based officials.
Ankara is unwilling to cooperate with Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG) since these leftist movements are allegedly linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey.
The conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish insurgent groups demanding greater autonomy for the large ethnic group has been going on for decades. With several failed ceasefires between the sides, Ankara has been blamed for putting civilians lives in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast at risk by a number of international human rights groups.
Earlier this week, President Erdogan reaffirmed his unwillingness to search for a peaceful solution to the conflict, saying that “those with guns in their hands and those who support them will pay the price of treason,” meaning the Kurdish militants who are considered terrorists by the government.
Apart from Turkey, the historical Kurdistan region also includes territories in Iran, Iraq and northern Syria, where Kurdish fighters have proved to be some of the most effective forces in helping to combat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Still Ankara believes that struggling against IS “does not grant them legitimacy,” according to the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Turkey has carried out several attacks on Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Moreover, Davutoglu accused Russia of as much as compromising Geneva talks by inviting the representatives of YPG – Syrian Kurdish forces – to join the peace process.
“Some circles, including Russia, want to spoil the opposition side, putting some other elements in the opposition side like the YPG, which has been collaborating with the regime and attacking the moderate opposition,” the PM said earlier this week.
“There should not be any representation of terrorist groups around the table,” he insisted.
Geneva talks on the Syrian crisis have recently become a bone of contention between international negotiators: the key issue is who would attend.
A resolution providing for the beginning of talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups was adopted by the UN Security Council in December. Scheduled to take place in Switzerland in January, the talks became known as Geneva III (Geneva II happened in January 2014), and are aimed at finding a solution to end the Syrian civil war, which has been ongoing in the country since 2011, with IS gaining strength in the region. While a number of countries, including Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey are backing the peace talks, there is no apparent agreement on who should represent the Syrian opposition, and which fighting groups should be excluded for being proclaimed “terrorists.”
Turkey wouldn’t welcome a Kurdish presence at the talks. However, the US government still believes there is hope of changing Ankara’s opinion on the subject, according to Foreign Policy. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Istanbul to discuss national security questions with the Turkish leaders on Saturday.
At the same time, US State Secretary John Kerry traveled to Riyadh in order to press Saudi officials to reconsider on a similar matter. Saudi Arabia previously threatened to boycott Geneva talks if certain pro-regime Syrian groups allegedly backed by Russia and Egypt were invited. In their turn, the opposition representatives urged UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura in a letter to disqualify Riyadh from peace talks as it was picking delegates for its own delegation talks “under obscure conditions,” Russia’s Sputnik agency reported.
As a result, de Mistura, responsible for issuing the invitations to the talks, accused a few states of jeopardizing the peace process by insisting that their opposing faction is more important than others.
“I would expect all sides to recognize my mandated responsibility to finalize a list of invitees to the process, to include all those I deem appropriate,” de Mistura reportedly said at a private UN briefing on January 18.
Russia and the US still hope that the talks will eventually take place on January 25. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and State Secretary John Kerry had a phone talk on Saturday to discuss arrangements for the Geneva meeting, Russian foreign authority said. Both officials agreed that the International Syria Support Group format might be useful for holding further peace talks on Syria.
The US and Britain, the former colonizing power in the region, have always seen Iraq as a threat because it has the potential to be a great regional independent power in its own right, says political analyst Dan Glazebrook.
The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region Massoud Barzani has said the time has come to redraw the Middle East’s boundaries.
RT: The President of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north urged world leaders to help pave the way for a Kurdish state. Will they receive that support?
Dan Glazebrook: It all depends on how the so-called great powers react. And I suspect that the US will respond with kind of diplomatic niceties, diplomatic platitudes. They don’t commit themselves to anything, but kind of have the effect of egging and spurring on the demands for the breakup of Iraq. There is this idea for the breakup of Iraq that has been flirting around in US military for some time now. The thing about Iraq from the point of view of the US and Britain, the former colonizing power in the region, is that they have always seen Iraq as a threat because it has the great potential to be a great regional independent power in its own right. It is the only Arab country that really has all four prerequisites for being a strong independent power: it has got a large sizable population, so it can have a large army, unlike, say, Saudi Arabia; it has got oil resources obviously, unlike, say, Egypt – another big populist Arab country; and it has got plenty of arable land and plenty of water. They’ve always seen it as a threat and for decades they’ve used every means available in the book to get it to fight against its neighbors, arming it in the battle against Iran in the 1980’s, invading it twice now… This is just the next step in trying to dismember the country and prevent it of ever being a unified, powerful, independent player…
Turkey, which is very close to the Iraqi-Kurdish government, has been doing a lot of illegal oil trading with the Iraqi-Kurdish government there. Obviously it has its own worries about demand for independence from its own Kurds and from the Syrian Kurds. I suspect there will be no independent state actually recognized internationally. But Turkey, US, Britain will kind of make these noises to egg them on and spur them on to continue with a divide and ruin strategy that they are employing against Iraq and other countries in the region.
Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and ‘austerity’. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.
Good evening. I have purchased this television time tonight on every available media outlet here in Iowa, just days in advance of the 2016 caucuses. I address you, because the choice you make in a few days time could well determine whether we live in peace or go to war, possibly nuclear war. The very survival of humanity could hang in the balance. And it hinges on whether you vote for me or for my principal opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Let us be blunt, she has never seen a war she did not like. And looking at the wars of the last 25 years, she has been an ardent supporter in every case and a principal architect of most of them.
This campaign in Iowa has a bit of déjà vu to it. In 2008, Iowans gave a victory to Barack Obama in the caucuses, the first step in derailing the Clinton presidential candidacy back then. You did so because Obama presented himself as the peace candidate whereas Hillary Clinton was already known as an implacable hawk. You voted for peace. Unfortunately, Obama let you down and pursued a more warlike course, in no small part due to pressure from then Secretary of State Clinton and her allies in and out of government. I do not intend to let you down. I want to make that crystal clear tonight.
My new view of America’s place in the world in the 21st Century, which I wish to enunciate this evening, is a further development of my vote against the Iraq War. In short I now commit myself to a principled anti-interventionist stand. Let us have no more wars. That is within our power. My present view results from an intense discussion with activists in my campaign and more importantly from progressives who refused to join the campaign because of my earlier weak stance on interventionism. I thank them. I owe far more to them than those who simply went along to get along. I hope that those who refused to sign on to the campaign will do so now. I welcome them in advance and congratulate them on their integrity.
Perhaps the shortcomings of my earlier views had to do with my devotion to Israel. But we must face facts: Israel is an apartheid state, as former President Jimmy Carter so forcefully and eloquently demonstrated in his book, “Palestine. Peace Not Apartheid.” We can no more claim to be just in supporting Israel than we could when we supported apartheid South Africa. I now repudiate my earlier defense of Israel’s barbaric bombing of defenseless Gazans. I was wrong to defend that criminal action. And I commit myself to ending apartheid in historic Palestine in a decisive way.
Perhaps I have also been too committed to the idea of a campaign that is polite. But that too has been wrong. By any reasonable standard Mrs. Clinton is a war criminal and mass murderer. And no war criminal deserves to be treated with kid gloves. To do so is to disrespect the thousands of American lives unnecessarily lost because of her policies. And it is to disrespect the millions of Muslims and others in the Middle East and North Africa who have lost lives, families, loved ones, home and hearth. She criticizes Donald Trump for his statements about some Muslims. But her charge rings hollow when there is so much Muslim blood on her hands. Killing is worse than slandering by far.
But let me be more specific. The Clinton administration of the 1990’s enjoyed the benefit of the end of the Cold War. It could have opened an era of peace. Instead of treating Russia with respect and taking a stance of peace, the Clintons repeated the error of the Treaty of Versailles, lording it over Russia and beginning the expansion of NATO to the East. That expansion has culminated in the coup and crisis in Ukraine engineered by a protégé of both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Cheney, the arch neoconservative Victoria Nuland. And that action has pushed us deep into a new Cold War with Russia, which according to former Secretary of Defense in the Clintons’ administration, William Perry, makes nuclear war a greater threat today than in the first Cold War! That is the precipice to which Mrs. Clinton and other neoconservatives and “humanitarian” warriors have driven us.
Ms. Clinton has not been satisfied with the development of a Cold War in Europe alone. She has also, along with President Obama, set us on a course of conflict with China, with her so-called “pivot to Asia,” using Japan as the cat’s paw for new anti-China confrontations.
The Chinese idea of a win-win interaction among nations, indeed the plea for it by China, has fallen on deaf ears in our media and has been firmly rejected by Ms. Clinton and her cabal in the Obama administration.
With regard to China I must ask: What is she thinking? For over a year now, China now has been the number one economy in the world in Purchasing Power Parity terms according to the IMF. It is now building up its arms at a more rapid pace in response to our threats. The antagonism of our government to China in an attempt to weaken it and bring it down is a futile course and a dangerous one. It needs to be reversed at once, as does our bellicosity to Russia.
I also note in fairness to Barack Obama, that his administration, since the departure of Secretary Clinton, has moved, however gingerly, into more peaceful waters where she did not wish to sail. The opening to Cuba and then to Iran and some signs of a developing détente in the meetings of Secretary Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov are testimony to that. They did not occur while the belligerent Hillary Clinton was at the helm of State.
Let me finally say something about the emails on Benghazi that Ms. Clinton decided to hide in her secret server, illegally I might say. I have tried to be gallant on this issue, not least because some in Congress have used it in a trivial and partisan way. That was wrong of me, because Ms. Clinton like the rest of us should not be above the law. But focusing on the crime of hiding the emails may distract from greater crimes in the actual content of the emails.
Seymour Hersh has laid out the case that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was the site for a gun running operation to jihadists in Syria. This is what the CIA calls a “rat line,” a term we should all be familiar with and consign forever to the past. The late U.S. Ambassador who served under Mrs. Clinton was most likely involved in implementing that “rat line.” Of course that gun running and destabilization of both Libya and Syria on Mrs. Clinton’s watch has resulted not only in hundreds of thousands of dead but has also precipitated the massive immigration crisis engulfing Europe. We need a full investigation of the intervention in Libya, the illegal gun running, including Mrs. Clinton’s role in it. Her illegally hidden emails may well contain crucial information on this matter. We need to see them, all of them, before the Democratic Party makes its choice of a candidate for President.
Thank you for listening to this message. I hope you will vote for me in the caucuses coming up in just a few days. The avoidance of nuclear catastrophe and perhaps the very survival of the human race may well depend upon the rejection of those, like Mrs. Clinton, who would lead us down a road to more wars and conflict.
John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com
The visit of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be considered by some to be unexpected, but it is hardly surprising.
Although the two countries maintain considerable trade ties to the tune of half a billion dollars a year, they have for more than a decade been erstwhile adversaries.
As two of the greatest gas exporters, they rarely agree on production quotas, vying for control of this essential market. In the past 20 months, Russia has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia and Qatar for refusing to curb oil production output as global prices plummeted.
A major oil exporter, Russia – already reeling from EU and US sanctions – has suffered considerably as prices drop to the $30 mark.
The rhetoric between both countries peaked after Russian fighter bombers and naval vessels began pounding Islamist extremist groups fighting to remove Moscow’s Syrian ally President Bashar Al Assad.
As the Sunni-funded campaign to remove Assad appeared to reach a stalemate, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have since May 2015 significantly increased their support (financially, logistically and with materiel) to Wahabist Islamist factions in Syria.
The increase in support came as both countries realized that Washington was unable – or unwilling – to provide such groups as Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army with the upper hand to turn the tide against Assad.
When Russia moved to reinforce its bases in Syria and presence in the Mediterranean, the Qataris in late October 2015 announced they could militarily intervene in the civil war there to aid their Islamist allies.
“If a military intervention will protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime, we will do it,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah said at the time.
If such bravado was meant to nudge Washington to up the ante against Assad, it failed.
Russian diplomacy moves forward
A week later, the US appeared to cave in to Russian pressure to bring together senior representatives from Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, as well as the UN’s special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to meet in Vienna to resolve the Syrian civil war.
It marked the first time rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran joined discussions on Syria. The two countries have backed opposing sides in the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts.
The armed Syrian opposition – classified as moderates by the US – did not participate in the talks.
By expanding the number of countries meeting on the crisis – and bringing Assad’s critical backer Iran to the table – Russia effectively minimized Qatar’s and Saudi Arabia’s influence in the conflict.
In late November, on the sidelines of the third summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in Tehran, Putin thanked Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei for his help in Vienna.
Moscow and Tehran have supported Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad and insisted that he be part of an interim political process and future elections.
“All this is done, of course, in agreement with the Iranian partners … I think that without them it would be impossible,” Putin said in comments carried by Russian news agencies.
Russia also played a critical role in ensuring that Iran and the other permanent Security Council members (and Germany) sign a deal which would curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of debilitating sanctions.
If it wasn’t clear yet, a rising Russia was increasingly flexing both its military and diplomatic muscles in the Middle East.
Even Egypt, which has been financially sustained by Saudi Arabia, defied its Riyadh benefactors and backed Russia’s approach to resolving the conflict.
On December 18, Russia and the US agreed to a UN Security Council resolution “to convene representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, with a target of early January 2016 for the initiation of talks, pursuant to the Geneva Communiqué, consistent with the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement, with a view to a lasting political settlement of the crisis”.
A week later, the previously chest-pumping Qatar Foreign Minister al-Attiyah was in Moscow where he praised his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for Russia’s efforts to stabilize the Middle East.
The two diplomats agreed on the need to move the UNSC resolution forward.
“We discussed in detail what’s necessary to be done to implement the agreements on the Syrian settlement,” Lavrov said at the time.
In early January, Russia’s BRICS ally China, which is also increasingly playing a political role in the Middle East, separately hosted members of both the Syrian government and the opposition. It encouraged the latter to drop its preconditions to meeting with Syrian government representatives.
In less than six months, the momentum to bring Assad down has shifted toward ensuring that a political peace process get off the ground.
So, what changed?
Qatar’s ambitions to become a regional and global player have in recent months been tamed.
Its ‘soft power’ approach to controlling the Middle East has backfired as it rushed head on against countries that have for centuries been well-versed in the art of Machiavellian empire-building and proxy manipulation.
At the same time, Russia’s aggressive immersion in the Middle East muddle has altered not only the narrative in the region but physical realities on the ground.
Anti-Assad forces have been losing significant territory to the Syrian military and its Hezbollah allies.
As Russia pounds and destroys the weapons bought by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the US appears to have retreated despite Arab Sunni protestations.
As Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani himself likes to point out, Qatar is a peace-loving member of nations that will work with the US and Western allies to bring the Middle East back from the brink of chaos and collapse.
He has blamed the international community for not supporting Arab youth in their drive for democracy, justice and economic security. That is really a scolding of the US and the West for not doing more to bring the Assad regime down.
Iran rising, Russia to stay
New realities have been forming in the Middle East.
The Iran nuclear deal, which has alarmed Washington’s Sunni allies, will not only be a moral and propaganda boost for Tehran but also allow tens of billions of dollars to flow into its cash-strapped coffers.
Iran is soon expected to flood already saturated oil markets with an additional one million barrels – a day.
Iran has successfully ‘managed’ its new ally Iraq, kept Assad in power, and maintained its proxy Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon.
With Iran and the US appearing to be at the very least cordial now, Tehran’s influence is only set to grow.
For Iran to grow as a geopolitical power, other players must first retreat.
Backing the wrong horse
By continuing to back Islamist factions in Libya, Syria and Egypt, Qatar misread and miscalculated the response of erstwhile allies in its own front yard.
Nowhere has that been more evident than in Qatar’s commitment to Egypt following the 2011 uprising which resulted in President Hosni Mubarak stepping down and the Muslim Brotherhood eventually winning power through the ballot box.
Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist factions in Egypt.
Egyptian hardline cleric Yussuf Al Qaradawi, who was a vociferous critic of the Mubarak government, returned to Cairo from his home in Doha just a week after the president stepped down.
Qaradawi, who is close to Qatar’s ruling family, is also a strong advocate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
When the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Morsi was forced from power, many in Egypt felt that Qatar’s Al Jazeera was biased in favor of the Islamist group and openly belligerent against the new government.
According to prominent Middle East commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Al Jazeera was used by the Qatari leadership to the service of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Even after Morsi was imprisoned and put on trial, Al Jazeera continued to support the Muslim Brotherhood despite the advice to the contrary and objections of many of its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the latter having been directly threatened by Brotherhood officials in 2012 and 2013, urged Qatar to back away from supporting the group.
After failing to persuade Qatar to terminate its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and in the wake of Saudi Arabia classifying the group as a terrorist organization, key GCC states turned on Qatar.
They accused Doha of failing to live up to a 2013 GCC security agreement to end support for the Muslim Brotherhood and stop providing sanctuary to its leaders and members.
GCC, oil and Al Jazeera America
In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha.
This was unprecedented among the usually unified and resolute GCC.
The diplomatic rift indicated that there were significant fissures within the GCC and marked a shift in Qatar’s fortunes. How could it influence the region like it once did if it was becoming a pariah among its closest friends and allies?
As Europe, the US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE declared support for the new Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi, Qatar was growing increasingly isolated.
The drastic fall of global oil prices has also delivered a debilitating blow to GCC countries, Qatar included.
Brent Crude was at nearly $110 in 2013; on January 15, 2015 it closed below $30 a barrel – more than a 75 per cent drop.
Funding a civil war that is not paying dividends is not the best of financial decisions given the current oil glut.
Some media analysts have speculated that the drop in oil prices played a role in Qatar deciding to shut down its media operations in the US – Al Jazeera America.
Having lost leverage, Qatar is adopting a more pragmatic approach to carefully chart a way back to international cooperation.
Ahead of his trip to the US last year, Sheikh Tamim said in a New York Times editorial that Qatar sees itself as a force of good. It aggressively seeks to resolve conflict and enjoys playing the role of mediator and arbiter.
Russia has in recent months made significant overtures to several Arab countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar cannot afford to be left out. When Sheikh Tamim arrives in Moscow this weekend he will likely discuss current gas and oil crises with his Russian counterpart as both seek ways to raise global prices.
Qatar could also offer to mediate between Russia and Turkey, one of its strongest allies in the region, following the diplomatic spat between Moscow and Ankara in the wake of the downing of a Russian fighter jet over Syrian air space.
Middle East commentator Camille Otrakji, however, cautions that “one can expect Qatar’s ruler to talk to Russia, without necessarily being ready to stop financing and arming the Jihadists”.
“[The] Qataris show interest in any promising investment, and Russia is today looking very attractive,” he added.
In 2006, then Secretary of State Condi Rice said that the Middle East map was being redrawn.
She likely could have never predicted the Qatar-Russia detente we see today.
A committee of North Korean lawyers classified Washington’s unwillingness to sign a peace deal with Pyongyang as “an international crime,” local media reported Thursday.
The committee added that the peace deal was essential to peace and security both in North Korea and in the whole world. However, it warned that if Washington did not change its approach to Pyongyang, North Korea would ensure its safety by producing nuclear weapons.
“US policy aimed at persistent refusal to sign [North] Korean-US peace treaty and at military suppression of us is extremely dangerous international crime and wrongful act, which contradicts the establishment of peace,” Yonhap news agency reported, citing the North Korean committee.
The Korean War of 1950-1953 ended with an armistice agreement, signed by the United States and North Korea. The agreement was meant to ensure a cessation of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula until a final peace deal had been reached.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court had declared the leadership of the right-wing dominated National Assembly in contempt over their defiance.
Three right-wing Venezuelan politicians have finally decided to follow the rule of law and accept the Supreme Court ruling that suspended their election victories until an investigation into allegations of vote buying is concluded.
During National Assembly’s session Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruling was read aloud inside the chamber.
National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup then affirmed that the leadership of the assembly would “abide by the ruling of the Supreme Court.”
Socialist lawmakers, who had been demanding the Supreme Court’s ruling be respected, responded with vehement applause.
The three suspended lawmakers wrote to the leadership of the National Assembly Tuesday seeking that their swearing-in be reversed. The majority MUD coalition swore in the lawmakers despite the court order in a defiant provocation last week.
Ramos Allup told CNN that he had received a letter from the three suspended politicians Tuesday evening.
Julio Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana, representing the right-wing MUD coalition, were elected in the state of Amazonas during parliamentary elections held last month. But the electoral chamber of the Supreme Court accepted a challenge to the results over allegations of vote-buying and electoral irregularities.
The court ordered that all candidates elected in the state of Amazonas be temporarily suspended while an investigation is conducted.
However, the MUD coalition defied the Supreme Court and had the three suspended candidates sworn in. In response, socialist PSUV lawmakers went before the Supreme Court to protest the MUD’s violation of the constitution.
The Supreme Court agreed and ruled Monday that the leadership of the National Assembly were in contempt and any decisions made by the National Assembly would be void after the right-wing MUD alliance swore in the three legislators.
A fourth candidate from the state of Amazonas, a socialist from the PSUV, was also suspended, but he did not attempt to take his seat in the assembly.
The MUD won a two-thirds supermajority in the Dec. 6 elections, granting it powers to make sweeping changes, including overhauling the constitution and calling a recall referendum on the presidency of President Nicolas Maduro.
All 112 members of the Venezuelan right-wing coalition MUD elected to the National Assembly were sworn in as legislators Wednesday, despite three being suspended pending an inquiry into electoral fraud.
Three members of MUD and one of the socialist alliance PSUV from the state of Amazonas were suspended after a decision by the Supreme Court of Justice to investigate allegations of vote-buying.
But on the second day of the new parliament the MUD ignored the ruling and swore the three deputies in regardless.
According to PSUV lawmakers, this represents a violation of the constitution, and that decisions made by the National Assembly while the suspended deputies are seated will be void.
PSUV deputy Tania Diaz said, “At this moment, the new leadership of the National Assembly violates the constitution and ignores the powers. Forever coup-mongers.”
“On swearing in three deputies whose declaration was suspended by a decision by the Supreme Court of Justice, all the decisions that the National Assembly takes are nullified,” she added.
Former National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, said that what the opposition had done was “extremely serious.”
“The act today is very serious, extremely serious. It violated the national constitution. The act violated correspondence between the powers, and the respect between the powers, for the Supreme Court,” he said.
“This assembly now has no legitimacy, it cannot decide anything,” he told reporters.
WASHINGTON — On January 2, Riyadh executed top Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, inciting a response in Tehran, where the Saudi embassy was stormed by protestors. On Monday, Saudi Arabia formerly severed diplomatic ties with Iran.
“After the execution of Nimr al-Nimr one would have expected Iran to suspend diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia,” New York-based foreign affairs analyst Joe Lauria told Sputnik. “The fact that it was the other way around indicates this was a well-thought-out provocation by Riyadh.”
US author and Middle East historian Gareth Porter agreed that Riyadh appeared to be following one provocation to Tehran after another.
“I would simply underline the fact that the Saudis are deliberately precipitating a crisis in the hope that it will force the United States to be more anti-Iran. I doubt that it will work,” Porter told Sputnik.
Lauria argued that Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and his son, 30-year-old Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, had led the country into a series of stinging foreign policy humiliations and failures and were seeking to distract public attention by provoking a crisis with Iran.
“It appears that the failure of the Saudis to win in Yemen, the reversal of the fortunes of the extremists it backs in Syria after the Russian intervention, and above all the Iranian nuclear deal have put the Saudi leadership, particularly the young defense minister, under extreme pressure.”
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also second in line to the throne as deputy crown prince, threw his own prestige into the war in Yemen and is now gambling with even higher stakes in taking acts calculated to enrage the Iranians, Lauria noted.
“He cannot afford to lose ‘his’ war in Yemen. So Sunnis are being riled up against Iran and Iranian-back Shia in what looks like a reckless gambit to maintain its regional influence,” the analyst said.
Saudi Arabia’s growing economic crisis caused by the global slump in oil prices was also a factor in motivating the policy of confrontation, Lauria suggested.
“Some analysts are saying that this is about a faltering economy and a need to distract the population from a reduction of pay outs that have kept them in line over the decades.”
The entire Middle East was likely to suffer from Riyadh’s rejection of efforts to build diplomatic bridges to Tehran, Lauria warned.
“This is all the more disturbing because last month high-level talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia were announced-now no doubt canceled. Without a Saudi-Iranian accommodation crises across the region from Lebanon to Yemen will remain on the boil.”
Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan joined Saudi Arabia in cutting all their diplomatic ties with Iran on Monday.
“Commercial ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran are nowhere near what they are between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). If you see the Emirates suspend [its ties] to Iran, then we know this is a major provocation by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),” Lauria added.
Porter predicted that because of Washington’s inability to rein in the Saudis, the crisis was likely to get steadily worse.
“After these Saudi provocations, [relations] will become no doubt worse. How much worse is anyone’s guess… but I also have little hope that [US President Barack] Obama is capable of forcing the issue of irresponsible and destructive Saudi behavior with Riyadh.”
In December, Riyadh and Tehran announced they would hold high-level talks to try and improve relations, but those negotiations would probably become a casualty of the new escalating tensions, Porter advised.
On Dec. 30, 2015, the electoral chamber of the Venezuelan Supreme Court accepted a request to challenge the results of the Dec. 6 parliamentary elections in the states of Amazonas, Yaracuy, and Aragua, as well as one of the seats reserved for Indigenous peoples.
The Supreme Court also accepted a request for an emergency precautionary measure in the state of Amazonas, which temporarily suspended the swearing in of four candidates, three from the opposition and one from the ruling socialist party.
In the decisions posted online, the court did not specify the reasons for upholding the challenge, however the candidates who submitted the challenge cite a number of electoral irregularities, including possible fraud, a high number of blank votes, and, most importantly, vote buying.
The allegation that candidates and politicians were engaged in vote buying in the state of Amazonas emerged shortly after the elections and well before the court ruled to suspend the four candidates.
On Dec. 16, Jorge Rodriguez, a leading figure inside Venezuela’s socialist party and the head of that party’s campaign, released a recording that allegedly provides evidence of vote buying and implicates Victoria Franchi, an associate of the opposition governor of Amazonas.
In the recording Franchi can be heard speaking to an unidentified person, described as an undercover agent, concerning a plot to pay people to accompany seniors and people with low literacy on voting day in order to ensure that these people vote for candidates from the opposition coalition.
Franchi is also heard offering to pay for people to pose and vote on behalf of the deceased.
“We want to win by any means necessary,” says Franchi toward the end of the recording.
Should the allegations of vote buying be proven to be true, it would constitute a crime under Venezuela’s electoral law. Authorities would then need to determine if the crime was severe or significant enough to warrant new elections in the affected state.
Rodriguez called on authorities to investigate the allegations.
“We insist that results should be recognized, but attacks against the constitution … attacks against electoral laws, attacks against the electoral system, and finally attacks against a voter’s intention, should be investigated,” said Rodriguez.
Venezuela’s intelligence service, known as Sebin, subsequently detained Franchi, who was later released.
Past Incidents of Fraud in Amazonas State
The governor of Amazonas, Liborio Guarulla, denies Franchi is a person of significance inside his government, but nonetheless came to her defense, first by posting a message of support on his Twitter account and then offering to have her legal expenses covered by his government.
“This is how the national government acts: Sebin detains Victoria Franchi and they are torturing her with the aim of finding justification for their defeat in Amazonas.”
The involvement of Governor Guarulla brings up an intriguing and relevant piece of history.
He sits as governor of Amazonas thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court and electoral authorities after regional elections were held in 2000.
In the 2000 election, Bernabe Gutierrez, of the opposition Democratic Action party, had initially been declared the winner, besting Guarulla by only 221 votes. Guarulla challenged the results, as he was entitled to do under electoral law.
The Supreme Court ultimately agreed there was basis to believe fraud had occurred and annulled the results from seven voting stations. The National Electoral Council held a re-vote in the affected voting areas.
Guarulla subsequently won the election and was sworn in as governor Feb. 13, 2001, due in thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court and electoral authorities.
The MUD coalition, which Guarulla supports, says it will not recognize the court’s ruling and will attempt to have their suspended candidates forcibly take office.
Such has been the pattern of the Venezuelan opposition, only respecting electoral authorities when it suits them.
Ahead of the Dec. 6 election the opposition had refused to commit to recognizing the result, they warned that should they fail to win they would cry fraud. It was only when results emerged indicating their victory that they recognized the results.
In other electoral contests where the opposition has lost, they have leveled unsubstantiated claims of fraud.
That they now refuse to recognize the perfectly legal decision by the Supreme Court should surprise no one.
A key U.S. lawmaker accused the Venezuelan government on Monday of interfering in the National Assembly, which will convene for the first time on Tuesday.
“I write to urge you and your administration to take immediate steps to ensure that Mr. Maduro’s regime is denied the space to obstruct Venezuela’s path to democratic order,” U.S. Senator Robert Menendez wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama. “I believe you can accomplish this with a combination of close monitoring of key international organizations and meaningful, internationally imposed penalties.”
Mendendez suggests petitioning the Organization of American States to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which would apply pressure on member states accused of anti-democratic activity.
Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges last year, accused of trading political favors for money and gifts.
Since the December 6 elections that saw Venezuela’s opposition win a majority in the National Assembly, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his PSUV party have organized numerous meetings to defend the Bolivarian Revolution. On Monday, Maduro announced the creation of a new block of PSUV deputies tasked with revealing what he claims is the opposition’s true agenda of rolling back gains for the poor and working class.
Maduro’s most controversial move since the election has been his announcement of an Emergency Economic Plan that grants more autonomy to the central bank, insulating it from opposition pressure. That plan drew fire for bypassing the now opposition-dominated National Assembly, which would like to overhaul the body.
U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby also expressed concern Monday that the Venezuelan Supreme Court could prevent 13 legislators from taking office due to election irregularities.
President Maduro has defended the court’s investigation, accusing the opposition of cheating to win. “(The right) had electoral success because they deepened their line of action outside the rules of the game: the economic, criminal and electrical warfare, among others, and then they hid behind a buddy,” said Maduro. He also reproached the United States for interfering in Venezuelan politics, saying the country would “not accept imperialism.”
The electoral chamber of the Venezuelan Supreme Court accepted Wednesday a request to challenge and analyze the results of the Dec. 6 parliamentary elections in the states of Amazonas, Yaracuy, and Aragua, as well as one of the seats reserved for indigenous peoples.
The decision by electoral chamber, which was published on the website of the Supreme Court, also accepted a request for an emergency precautionary measure in one state. In six of the seven challenges brought forward, the court rejected the request for a precautionary measure, effectively an injunction.
However in the case of the election results for the state of Amazonas, the court ordered the “temporary and immediate suspension” of proclamations by the National Electoral Council, Venezuela’s electoral body.
The precautionary measure affects all results in the state of Amazonas, including those elected by party list and by electoral district, as well as the seat reserved for indigenous peoples for the “southern region” of the country, for a total of four seats.
The challenge in the state of Amazonas was brought forward by Nicia Marina Maldonado, a candidate in the state for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The case will be followed up by Justice Indira Maira Alfonzo Izaguirre.
The results in the state of Amazonas saw two members of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable and one member of the socialist party elected to the National Assembly. The candidate for indigenous peoples in the “southern region” is also affiliated with the opposition.
In all seven challenges, a justice will review the voting process and the tabulation of votes to determine if the result was legitimate. The electoral chamber of the Supreme Court has called on the National Electoral Council to provide the necessary documentation.
Though the court decision did not specify the reasons for upholding the challenge, some Venezuelan leaders have made allegations about vote buying in certain districts.
Wednesday’s decision does not immediately annul the results in the aforementioned states, however the court could ultimately annul the results of it deems the process illegitimate and could call for fresh elections in those states.
In the case of the results for the state of Amazonas, the precautionary measure will temporarily prevent the four candidates from being sworn in on January 5, 2016 when the new National Assembly takes office.
PSC Director Sarah Colborne went out of her way to kosherize the UK PSC (Palestinian Solidarity Campaign) but now no longer holds her position in what is left of the diluted solidarity institution. The rumour is that Colborne had to go because evidence of her collaboration with the police against leading Palestinian activists was too embarrassing.
Back on 17 October two men were arrested at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in London after they refused to take down a Hezbollah flag they had hoisted on a pole.
Abbas Ali and Antonio Maniscalco, both prominent pro-Palestinian activists had been warned by the PSC that only Palestinian national flags would be welcome at the protest. Shortly after, Ali and Maniscalco were arrested by the police, their homes were raided, their PCs, laptops and memory cards were confiscated. They were questioned by counter-terrorism officers for 15 hours before being released with no charges.
Once free, Abbas Ali told 5Pillars “we were initially told to take down the flag by people on the podium and by someone at the demonstration (so) we moved across the road. We also told the police that we were in a public place so we saw no reason to take down the flag – we had as much right to protest as anyone else but the police kept hounding us.”
After the event Sarah Colborne admitted that the organisers of the event had made a clear request before the demonstration that only Palestinian flags should be raised. However, Colborne did not confirm or deny that any of the organisers had alerted the police of Mr Ali and Mr Maniscalco’s actions.
In her interview with 5pillars a few days after the arrest, Colborne produced the standard sound-bite outburst of diarrhea: “we welcome all who stand with us in our opposition to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Supporters of Palestinian rights encompass all faiths and none. Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, religious and non-religious people all stand together on this protest… We stand with Palestinians in their struggle for a future free of racism, colonialism and apartheid. There is no place for racism in a progressive movement fighting for justice and human rights.”
No secret that PSC under the rule of the ‘progressive’ Sarah Colborne was mainly concerned with anti-Semitism, racism and other Jewish sensitivities. The question remains whether the PSC can resurrect itself, de-kosherize its act and support Palestine for real. I hope it can but I do not hold my breath.
Letter drafted by IHRC* to the PSC following the 17 October arrest
We the undersigned are deeply concerned about events at last Saturday’s demonstration called by yourselves (17 October 2015).
It is reported that two long-time activists were harassed by other protestors, and ultimately arrested after being told by the police that the organisers and others had complained to them about the flag they were carrying. This came after:
• organisers had called from the stage for all flags other than Palestinian flags to be lowered;
• various persons were sent on behalf of the organisers to ask the activists to remove the flag;
• and some protestors it would seem, emboldened by the organisers’ call, harassed both activists in a manner bordering on violence (one protestor was seen shouting abuse and breaking the flagpole used by one of the men eventually arrested).
The flag in question was the Hizbullah flag. At the time of writing we know that both of the protestors have been bailed pending a decision by the CPS on whether to charge them with supporting a proscribed organisation and encouraging others to support a proscribed organisation. When arrested they were questioned upon arrest by SO15 (the Counter Terrorism Command).
It has also been reported that police were asked by PSC to ask one of the men to remove banners in support of Palestinian prisoners from a previous demonstration.
As you are aware the anti-terrorism laws and regime are not only unjust, they have been used to target Muslims, and demonise some liberation movements, including some associated with the Palestinian struggle. This vicious curtailment of civil liberties, the removal of Muslims from equality before the law and the demonisation of political causes that run counter to UK foreign policy, are all surely things that PSC should at the very least eschew and at most actively oppose.
If these arrests have come as a result of the organisers’ request to the police, it is a matter of great shame for PSC. Those involved in making those calls from the platform and contacting the police should resign their positions forthwith.
As a note, it is worth recognising that the two men arrested have spent every other week over the last three years holding vigils for Palestinan prisoners. The conditions of their bail – of extraordinary disproportionality – prevent them from contacting each other, forbid them from going to demonstrations and require them to sign at a police station three times a week. It is truly disgusting that such committed pro-Palestinian activists and their activities have been stopped in their tracks. Whilst there is no legal case to charge and convict them under anti-terorrism laws, the threat that hangs over them is a form of harassment that has already had the effect of closing down regular pro-Palestinian protests organised by one of these men. As you are doubtless aware one of these men was one of the pioneers of BDS some fifteen years ago, and has suffered many threats and abuse from pro-Israel groups and indviduals.
Both these men should have been supported in their work by the organisers, not targeted. This sorry state of affairs has come through some level of instigtaion by the organisers. At the very least PSC must campaign for these two men. Please advise as to how you will be proceeding.
With deep regret,
• Massoud Shadjareh, Chair of Islamic Human Rights Commission
• Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
• Francesca Viceconti, visual artist and member of Artisit Against Apartheid (USA)
• Fateh Party UK
• Brighton and Hove PSC
• John Tymon, Football Against Apartheid (Coordinator)
• Badee Dwaik, Human Rights Defenders – Palestine (Coordinator)
*IHRC- Isalmic Human Right Commission