DR Congo Senate delays vote on contested bill

DR Congo Senate delays vote on contested bill

22/Jan/2015  //  192 Viewers

The Democratic Republic of Congo's Senate has decided to delay until Friday a vote in plenary session over hotly-contested legislation to extend President Joseph Kabila's rule, officials said Thursday.

"The plenary session has been postponed until tomorrow at 9 am (0800 GMT)," Senate official Miche Ngalamulume told AFP.

The delay comes after three days of deadly protests against legislation that would enable Kabila, who has been in power in the troubled central African country for 14 years, to extend his term beyond 2016 when his second mandate ends.

Senators in the parliament, which remained sealed off by soldiers, had been due to meet at 1300 GMT, then at 1500 GMT, to debate and vote on the bill.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

The Rebels Holding Yemen Hostage

The Rebels Holding Yemen Hostage

22/Jan/2015  //  209 Viewers

 SANAA — Yemen’s post-“Arab spring” transition took a sharp new turn on Monday, when the Houthis—a once marginalized Zaidi Shia insurgency group from northern Yemen that prefers to be called Ansar Allah—staged an apparently successful coup after months of careful groundwork. Its fighters surrounded the presidential palace without major bloodshed and, after forging alliances to ensure that the military would not come to his aid, forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to leave the compound.

On Tuesday, the group’s leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, gave a speech on TV that made it very clear that Ansar Allah is now wielding power. The military wing of Ansar Allah planned its latest move carefully, beginning with its advance on the capital, Sanaa, on September 17. Its victory forced Hadi’s government to accept a peace agreement, key elements of which Ansar Allah then ignored, maintaining military checkpoints across the capital, posting fighters outside government offices, and sometimes directly intervening in government administration.

After Ansar Allah forces stormed the presidential palace, some political players tried to convince Hadi to announce an official transfer of power to the parliamentary speaker, who is close to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh—but Hadi refused. Saleh, whom Hadi replaced in February 2012 after nearly a year of anti-government demonstrations, was by all accounts instrumental in ensuring that the Yemeni military did not resist the Ansar Allah coup.

On Thursday President Hadi issued a statement showing that he is still the face of the government, but has given into all the demands of Ansar Allah. By all accounts the movement is happy to keep him at the helm as stamp of legitimacy. There is little evidence of support for Hadi either within the country or internationally besides a Tuesday statement issued by the United Nations Security Council. Many Yemenis view him as having practically handed the keys of the city to Ansar Allah when their forces advanced on Sanaa last September, while many foreign diplomats have become frustrated at his handling of affairs in recent months and failure to take decisive action when needed. The Islamists with ties to the Yemeni-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who strongly oppose Ansar Allah’s power gains, have been significantly weakened since September and could do little to resist the Houthi advance.

The question on everyone’s mind is, “What next?” Does Ansar Allah have sufficient and capable resources to govern Yemen? Add to that another question: Does Ansar Allah understand fully the human-rights obligations it has taken on by taking control?

In its recent military operations, Ansar Allah appears to have tried to avoid civilian casualties, both in September and on Monday, when, according to the Health Ministry, three civilians died and 29 were injured. Yet Ansar Allah has failed to respect other important obligations, such as the prohibition on child soldiers. On Tuesday, I saw four boys who appeared to be between 12 and 15 carrying AK-47s with Houthi stickers—helping to man two Ansar Allah checkpoints.

Since September, reports have suggested that Ansar Allah has been using various unofficial locations to hold people it has taken into custody. One journalist told me that Ansar Allah forces abducted him in December and held him for three days in a cell, where he was blindfolded, kicked and only allowed to eat and use the bathroom once a day, apparently because of work he had done documenting AQAP territorial gains.

I also interviewed a human-rights lawyer who said that armed men from Ansar Allah forced him into a vehicle in December after he became embroiled in a dispute between religious leaders in a mosque. He said his abductors held him for six days, the first four in a dark room furnished only with a mattress and two blankets that was so small that he could not stand.. Another man in the same room said he had been held there for 23 days for selling guns, the lawyer said.

These are merely two of many cases of alleged rights abuses by Ansar Allah that Human Rights Watch has received since September. But they highlight concerns that even members of Ansar Allah’s political wing have acknowledged in closed meetings with the leadership of Yemen’s other parties— that they are simply not sufficiently prepared for the responsibilities that their military wing has forced them to take on.

But with Ansar Allah sitting squarely at the center of power in Sanaa, its leaders need to understand that the world will now be holding them accountable for any failures to protect and respect human rights, just as with any other authorities. They should embrace these obligations and demonstrate that they are committed to respecting the rights of all Yemenis.

Belkis Wille is a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch who does extensive work in Yemen.

Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/
Russia, Ukraine agree on pullback line for heavy weapons

Russia, Ukraine agree on pullback line for heavy weapons

22/Jan/2015  //  260 Viewers

Diplomats from Russia and Ukraine agreed Wednesday on a dividing line from where both sides should pull back their heavy weapons, just hours after separatist forces deployed more arms and manpower to an emerging flashpoint in eastern Ukraine.

Germany's Foreign Minister, who hosted a meeting of his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and France, said the four parties had agreed that the demarcation line defined in the Minsk agreement of last year should form the basis for the withdrawal. Under the plan, Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists would pull back their heavy arms 15 kilometers (9 miles) on either side of the line, though there was no agreement on a withdrawal of all troops.

"Today we have finally agreed that the demarcation line mentioned in the Minsk agreement is the line from where the withdrawal of heavy weapons needs to take place now," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after the meeting in Berlin.

Steinmeier said the agreement had been "difficult work" and the talks, which follow a fruitless round of negotiations last week, were "testing the patience of all involved." The parties also agreed that the contact group of Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE should meet as soon as possible with the aim of laying further groundwork for a high-level meeting in Kazakhstan's capital Astana aimed at reaching a long-lasting settlement.

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the "strong support" for the pullback was the meeting's most important result. He said the foreign ministers did not discuss the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, saying: "The sanctions are not our problem, it is the problem of those who introduced them and now do not know how to extricate themselves ..."

Earlier Wednesday, Lavrov had urged measures to contain the unfolding unrest, but said nothing about the rebels surrendering territory they acquired in violation of a peace deal concluded in September in Minsk, Belarus. Ukraine says separatist forces that are backed by Russia have overstepped agreed-upon front-line boundaries between the warring sides by 190 square miles.

A fresh separatist advance is under way in an area northwest of Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. The fighting is centered on two checkpoints along a strategic highway.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said one of those positions, Checkpoint 31, had been abandoned but that operations were underway to retake it.

The separatist forces appear well-poised to take the upper hand, however.

An Associated Press reporter saw nine Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers and six anti-tank cannons moving near the town of Perevalsk around midday. A rebel militiaman with the convoy who declined to give his name said the armament was heading in the direction of Checkpoint 31.

Along the same road, the AP saw four Grad multiple rocket launchers accompanied by four trucks carrying ammunition and 15 pristine-looking tanks, also heading toward the checkpoint.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of providing material support to the separatists, which Moscow denies. The sheer amount of sophisticated heavy weaponry in the hands of the insurgents, however, is widely seen as overwhelming evidence of direct involvement by Russia.

Speaking during a visit to Kiev, U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said the quantity of Russian equipment being provided to separatists had doubled between the September cease-fire deal and December.

"It is very clear from the capabilities that the proxies (rebels) have used against Ukrainian security forces, the type of artillery, modern equipment, the amount of ammunition that has been used," Hodges said. "It is irrefutable that they are getting direct support from Russia."

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held up a piece of a bullet-riddled bus as evidence of shelling last week by Russian heavy artillery in his country. He says 9,000 Russian troops are occupying 7 percent of Ukrainian territory.

He said the metal came from a bus in the town of Volnovakha, where 13 people were killed by what he described as Russian shelling.

"For me this is a symbol, a symbol of the terroristic attack against my country," he said, comparing it to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine last summer. He called it a "global problem," extending far beyond just Ukraine's borders, cutting short his visit to Davos to deal with the crisis in his country.

The fighting in the Luhansk region follows intense clashes over the weekend for control of the airport on the fringes of the main rebel city, Donetsk. The terminal — once the pride of the city but now reduced to a burned-out shell — is of limited strategic value. Now, however, it has acquired symbolic value because of the Ukrainian forces' stand against waves of separatist attacks.

The fierce airport battle shattered the relative tranquility that had been in place since a new truce was reached in early December.

Shelling in and around Donetsk has abated since the weekend, although artillery strikes have continued to claim civilian casualties. A shell that fell in Donetsk's Kirov district Wednesday left two dead.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there has been an increase in separatist violence, including rocket attacks on the Donetsk airport in recent days, and separatist seizures of more territory.

"We've also seen reports that Russia has moved two tactical battalions into Ukraine," she said in Washington. "We can confirm that Russia continues to move tanks, armored vehicles, trucks artillery pieces and other military equipment to deployment sites near the Russia-Ukraine border, which serve as staging points before transporting military equipment to pro-Russia separatists. That is something we're seeing."

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was concerned that the separatists were attacking the town of Debaltseve, about 45 miles east of Donetsk.

"This is a very blatant land grab and it is in direct contravention to the Minsk Agreement that they signed up to," Kerry said.

Lavrov said the continuing truce violations were rooted in the failure to abide by the line of contact between the two sides. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin had written to Poroshenko with a proposal to use the original boundary for the withdrawal of heavy weapons.

Under the September agreement, Ukrainian and separatist forces agreed to pull back their artillery by 19 miles.

Poroshenko said a political dialogue must follow to help stabilize the situation and called for holding local elections in eastern Ukraine. Lavrov said Russia would welcome municipal elections there.

Ukraine is trying to cope with a resource-draining conflict while simultaneously fending off the prospect of total economic collapse.

International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde said Poroshenko asked the organization to replace Ukraine's current $17 billion bailout package with a new one.

"We will consult with the IMF executive board on the (Ukrainian) authorities' request," Lagarde said.

Source: http://www.foxnews.com/