ANKARA: US consulates in Turkey indefinitely halted all non-immigrant visa services on Sunday, the American embassy said, after one of the mission’s Turkish staffers was arrested in the latest dispute between the Nato allies.
The embassy said “recent events” had forced the US government to reassess Turkey’s “commitment” to the security of US mission services and personnel in the country.
In order to minimise the number of visitors while the assessment is carried out, “effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey,” it said.
Non-immigrant visas are issued to all those travelling to the United States for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study. Visa services are only those seeking to live in the US permanently.
Beyond mentioning “recent events”, the statement made no explicit mention of the the arrest by Turkish authorities of a local Turkish staffer working at the US consulate in Istanbul.
The employee was remanded in custody by an Istanbul court late Wednesday on accusations of links to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The man has been formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government.
The embassy on Thursday said it was “deeply disturbed” over the arrest and rejected the allegations as “wholly without merit”.
The statement also condemned leaks in the local press which it said came from Turkish government sources that were “seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.”
Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2017
KUWAIT CITY, Oct 7, (KUNA): Living up to its UN-bestowed status as an International Humanitarian Center, the State of Kuwait continued to provide aid to people in Lebanon and Syria throughout the week. In Lebanon, the International Center for Quality Education (ICQE), better known as the “Kuwait Charity Schools,” on Friday offered education to about 70,000 Syrian refugees, the center’s deputy chairman Khalil Al-Hamadi said.
The number of Syrian children in the schools have been gradually on the rise since the humanitarian project was launched five years ago. They hit 13,000 last year in 27 schools in Northern Lebanon, Al- Hamadi told KUNA on the sidelines of the start of the academic year in some of the facilities under supervision of the ICQE. This year, the center aims to provide education to 20,000 pupils, he said, voicing gratitude to the charity and relief organizations and other benefactors in Kuwait and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for their support to the project over the years. Al-Hamadi also thanked members of the Insani (Humanitarian) Team which comprises volunteers from Kuwait and the GCC. They have managed to secure fi- nancing and support to schools in five areas in Northern Lebanon this year, he said.
For his part, administrative director of the ICQE in Lebanon, Mahmoud Sweyed, said the Kuwaiti charity schools provide education services through specialized educators. In addition, the center offers psychological and social support to the pupils, after the horrible conditions they witnessed due to the war at home, he added. In Tripoli, northern Lebanon, several schools being run by Kuwaiti charities began their semester, according to a Kuwaiti diplomat.
Speaking to KUNA on Thursday, the diplomat in charge of humanitarian affairs at Kuwait’s embassy in Beirut Mohammad Al- Khaldi said that his country was keen on aiding the needy in Lebanon. He affirmed that Kuwaiti charities were willing to seek all venues of relief aid including the education of the less fortunate. The diplomat thanked charitable Kuwaiti entities for their relentless efforts to help those seeking education, stressing that this was reflective of Kuwait’s strong desire to aid people in Lebanon and worldwide. On his part, head of the Kuwaiti team for humanitarian initiatives Anan Al-Subihi emphasized that most of those seeking education at Kuwaiti operated schools were of the Syrian refugee populace.
He indicated that the Kuwaiti team’s main focus was to provide educational and mental support to child refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen, and also within some regions in Syria. Meanwhile, member of the Kuwaiti International Islamic Charitable Organization’s (IICO) quality education center Mustafa Alloush said that several schools in the Tripoli area were able to begin the school year due to the efforts of Kuwaiti charitable organizations.
Hundreds of refugees are now able to pursue education thanks to the generous Kuwaiti efforts, he affirmed. Furthermore, the Kuwaiti Al- Najat Charity held on Thursday tests for Syrian children to assess their intellectual and educational levels prior to registration in private schools.
These quizzes aim to help Syrian children, who failed to get education over the past years, enroll in private schools, said Dr Abdulmohsen Al-Hwailah, the assistant undersecretary for private education at the Ministry of Education. Dr Al-Hwailah was speaking during a tour at the exam venues, schools of Al-Najat Charity, involving 1,250 Syrian boys and girls. Such help for the Syrian children is in line with guidelines of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, “the top example for us as individuals and institutions particularly after His Highness has been designated as Humanitarian Leader,” said Dr Al-Hwailah.
This program, launched two years ago, aims at aiding the Syrian students, who have no residency papers, or whose parents are in financial difficulty or who lack any papers proving that they have gotten education in their homeland, Syria. These pupils receive official certifications with qualification classes, enabling them to register in private schools. Al-Najat Charity, a Kuwaiti public welfare association, builds schools, gives assistance to students, citizens and foreigners, who cannot afford school fees.
WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Tuesday Washington would try “one more time” to work with Islamabad on the Afghanistan front before President Donald Trump turned to options to address Pakistan’s alleged support for militant groups.
“We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the President is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary,” the defence secretary said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
According to sources in Washington, the likely Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding US drone strikes and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-Nato ally.
In a separate Senate hearing on Tuesday, the top US military officer said he believed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had ties to militant groups.
“It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups,” General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2017
Google on Monday announced new steps to help struggling news organisations, including an end to a longstanding “first click free” policy to generate fresh revenues for publishers hurt by the shift from print to digital.
The moves come amid mounting criticism that online platforms are siphoning off the majority of revenues as more readers turn to digital platforms for news.
“I truly believe that Google and news publishers actually share a common cause,” said Google vice president Philipp Schindler. “Our users truly value high-quality journalism.”
Google announced a series of measures, the most significant of which would be to replace the decade-old policy of requiring news organisations to provide one article discovered in a news search without subscribing, a standard known as “first click free.”
This will be replaced by a “flexible sampling” model that will allow publishers to require a subscription at any time they choose.
“We realise that one size does not fit all,” said Richard Gingras, Google's vice president for news.
This will allow news organisations to decide whether to show articles at no cost or to implement a “paywall” for some or all content.
Gingras said the new policy, effective on Monday, will be in place worldwide.
He said it was not clear how many publishers would start implementing an immediate paywall as a result.
“The reaction to our efforts has been positive,” he told a conference call announcing the new policy.
“This is not a silver bullet to the subscription market. It is a very competitive market for information. And people buy subscriptions when they have a perception of value.”
Google said it is recommending a “metering” system allowing 10 free articles per month as the best way to encourage subscriptions.
News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson, whose company operates the Wall Street Journal and newspapers in Britain and Australia, welcomed Google's announcement.
“If the change is properly introduced, the impact will be profoundly positive for journalists everywhere and for the cause of informed societies,” said a statement from Thomson, a fierce critic of the prior Google policy.
Thomson and others had complained that “first click free” penalised news organisations that declined to participate by demoting their articles in Google searches.
“The felicitous demise of First Click Free (Second Click Fatal) is an important first step in recognising the value of legitimate journalism and provenance on the Internet,” he said.
The California tech giant also said it would work with publishers to make subscriptions easier, including allowing readers to pay with their Google or Android account to avoid a cumbersome registration process.
“We think we can get it down to one click, that would be superb,” Gingras said.
He explained people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, but that a “sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off. That's not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue.”
Google would share data with the news organisations to enable them to keep up the customer relationship, he added.
“We're not looking to own the customer,” he said. “We will provide the name of the user, the email and if necessary, the address.”
Gingras said Google is also exploring ways “to use machine learning to help publishers recognise potential subscribers,” employing the internet giant's technology to help news organisations.
He added that Google was not implementing the changes to generate revenues for itself, but that some financial details had not been worked out.
Google does not intend to take a slice of subscription revenues, he noted.
“Our intent is to be as generous as possible,” he said.
Research firm eMarketer estimates that Google and Facebook will take in 63 per cent of digital advertising revenues in 2017, making it harder for news organisations to compete online.
Facebook is widely believed to be working on a similar effort to help news organisations drive more subscriptions.
In 2015 Google created a “Digital News Initiative” in Europe which provides funding for innovative journalism projects.
MARSEILLE, Oct 1, (AFP): A suspected Islamist knifeman killed two women at the main train station in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille on Sunday before being shot dead by soldiers on patrol, local officials and police said. One of the victims had her throat slit by the assailant, a man with a criminal record believed to be in his 30s who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) at the start of his rampage.
Soldiers serving in a special force known as Sentinelle set up to guard vulnerable areas in terror-hit France responded to the stabbings and shot dead the attacker, whose identity remains unknown. “I was on the esplanade just in front of the station,” Melanie Petit, an 18-year-old student, told AFP. “I heard someone shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ and I saw a man who seemed to be dressed all in black.” Heavily armed police sealed off and evacuated the ornate rail terminus in the bustling heart of France’s second-biggest city, stopping all train traffic on some of the country’s busiest lines.
The latest deaths came with France still on high alert and under a state of emergency following a string of attacks in recent years by extremists linked to the Islamic State group or al-Qaeda. Since 2015, a total of 239 people have been killed in France by jihadists, according to an AFP count before Sunday’s incident.
After the lunchtime attack, anti-terror prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into “killings linked to a terrorist organisation” and the “attempted killing of a public official”. Travellers around the station described “controlled panic” as security forces evacuated passengers and looked for possible accomplices, while another witness said white sheets were placed over the bodies of the victims.
“There were police everywhere,” said Francois Jacquel, a retired traveller who was in a waiting room. The incident came only days after the Islamic State group released a recording of what it said was its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urging his followers to strike their enemies in the West. France has deployed troops and its air force to the Middle East and is a leading partner in the US-led international coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, where the jihadists are being driven back.
The country has suffered several major terror attacks since 2015, including on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January of that year followed by an assault on Paris bars and the Bataclan concert hall by gunmen 10 months later. In Nice in July 2016, 86 people were killed when an extremist drove a truck into crowds after a fireworks display on Bastille Day. But there have also been numerous smaller attacks on police officers, soldiers or members of the public since then, sometimes carried out by people with severe psychological problems.
Since November 2015, the country has been in a state of emergency which gives the government and security forces greater powers to combat extremists and launch anti-terror raids. New centrist President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to end the state of emergency with a new and controversial security law that will make many of the provisions of the emergency regime permanent.
Despite criticism from rights groups that the law reduces judicial oversight over the actions of the police, the lower house of parliament is set to vote on a first draft of the legislation on Tuesday. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb posted on Twitter that he would travel to Marseille on Sunday, while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe sent his condolences and said “we will not lower our guard.” In August, a man driving a van killed one person and seriously injured another after ploughing into a bus stop in Marseille, raising fears of another terror incident. But doctors said later that the man had severe mental problems and discounted any terror link.
The soldiers who shot the knifeman on Sunday were part of the Operation Sentinelle force composed of 7,000 troops who guard high-risk areas such as transport hubs, tourist sites and religious buildings
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Sunday that the rule of law had prevailed in Catalonia because an independence referendum in the region prohibited by the courts had been blocked.
“Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength,” he said in a televised address.
Earlier, Spanish riot police smashed their way into polling stations in Catalonia and fired rubber bullets at protesters outside one Barcelona polling station to try to halt a disputed independence referendum.
Nearly 350 people, including some police, were injured in the melee, officials said.
The officers fired the rubber bullets while trying to clear protesters who were attempting to prevent National Police cars from leaving after police had confiscated ballot boxes from the voting center. The Spanish government has ordered police to stop the voting process in Catalonia, saying it's illegal.
The chaotic confrontations led to a war of words as each side blamed the other for the deteriorating situation.
“Police brutality will shame forever the Spanish state,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said as crowds cheered.
Top Spanish officials defended the police actions.
Police acted with “firmness and proportionality,” declared Spanish deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, adding that authorities weren't going after voters but referendum material.
She accused the Catalan government of gross irresponsibility in staging the vote.
“There hasn't been a referendum or the semblance of one,” she said.
Jon Marauri, who is from the Basque Country and witnessed the scenes outside the polling stations, showed an AFP reporter one of the rubber bullets he picked up after police charged hundreds of protesters who were preventing the officers from leaving a polling station.
“I am not the only one who has this, lots of other people picked them up,” the 22-year-old engineering student said as he held the rubber bullet.
Another demonstrator, David Pujol, 37, showed an injury to his leg that he said was caused by a rubber bullet. Several other demonstrators reported hearing rubber bullets being fired.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont lashed out Sunday at the violence used by Spain's national police in dispersing people in Barcelona who wanted to vote.
“The unjustified use of violence, which is both irrational and irresponsible, by the Spanish state will not stop the will of the Catalan people,” he told reporters, accusing police of using “batons, rubber bullets and indiscriminate force” against people demonstrating “peacefully”.
Tensions have been on the rise since the vote was called in early September, crystalizing years of defiance by separatists in the affluent region, which contributes mightily to Spain's economy.
As one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions, Catalonia enjoys ample rights but key areas such as infrastructure and taxes are in the hands of Madrid. Separatist Catalans have long complained the region is contributing too much to the state while not getting enough in return.
Catalonia's government spokesman said 337 people have been injured, some seriously, during the police crackdown on Sunday and Spain's Interior Ministry said 11 police officers were injured.
The regional government's spokesman, Jordi Turull, blamed the violence directly on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
He said actions by Spanish National Police and Civil Guard forces on Sunday were politically motivated and showed “a clear motivation to harm citizens.”
Catalan international affairs director, Raul Romeva, said regional authorities would appeal to European authorities to examine the violations of human rights by Rajoy's government.
Manuel Condeminas, a 48-year-old IT manager who tried to block police from driving away with the ballot boxes, said agents had kicked them before using their batons and firing the projectiles, which were ball-shaped.
Elsewhere, Civil Guard officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields, used a hammer to break the front door glass and a lock cutter to break into the Sant Julia de Ramis sports center near the city of Girona.
At least one woman was injured outside the building and wheeled away on a stretcher by paramedics.
Clashes broke out less than an hour after polls opened, and not long before Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont was expected to turn up to vote at the sports center.
Polling station workers inside the building reacted peacefully, breaking into songs and chants challenging the officers' presence.
Puigdemont was forced to vote in Cornella de Terri, near the northern city of Girona, his spokesman told The Associated Press.
The Spanish government and its security forces are trying to prevent voting in the independence referendum, which is backed by Catalan regional authorities. Spanish officials had earlier said that force wouldn't be used, but that voting wouldn't be allowed.
Spain's Constitutional Court has suspended the vote. Regional separatist leaders pledged to hold it anyway, promising to declare independence if the “yes” side wins, and have called on the region's 5.3 million eligible voters to cast ballots.
Police had sealed off hundreds of voting centers in the hours before the vote to prevent their use. Others were filled with activists determined to hold their ground.
At one school in Barcelona, Spanish riot police forcefully removed a few hundred would-be voters from a polling station. Daniel Riano was inside the building when the police pushed aside a large group gathered outside and busted in the Estela school's front door.
“We were waiting inside to vote when the National Police used force to enter, they used a mace to break in the glass door and they took everything,” the 54-year-old Riano said.
“One policeman put me in a headlock to drag me out, while I was holding my wife's hand! It was incredible. They didn't give any warning.” National Police and Civil Guard officers also showed up in other polling centers where Catalan officials were expected.
Catalans braved rain to vote and defied police orders to abandon designated voting stations.
Joaquim Bosch, a 73-year-old retiree at Princep de Viana high school, where a crowd was growing Sunday morning, said he was uneasy about a possible police response.
“I have come to vote to defend the rights of my country, which is Catalonia,” Bosch said. “I vote because of the mistreatment of Catalonia by Spain for many years.”
AP reporters saw ballot boxes wrapped in plastic bags being carried into some of the polling stations in Barcelona that were occupied overnight by parents and activists.
The plastic ballot boxes, bearing the seal of the Catalan regional government, were placed on tables, prompting cheers from hopeful voters who had gathered in the schools before dawn.
An amateur video filmed by a voter in Barcelona shows Spanish police kicking, beating and pulling people by the hair in clashes that took place as they tried to stop a referendum on independence in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
The video, acquired by the Associated Press, show National Police officers pulling and pushing people down a stairway at the Pau Claris School in the Sant Marti neighborhood Sunday. At one point, it shows an officer jumping down the steps and apparently stomping on a person on the floor.
One person can be seen being pulled by the hair and others kicked on the ground. People can be heard screaming wildly and shouting “Out!” at the officers.
The person that filmed the video said voters were simply sitting and trying to slow the police operation down. She said she saw no provocations. She asked for her name not to be published.
In an effort to overcome the determined Spanish police efforts, Catalan officials announced that voters would be allowed to cast ballots in any location and could use ballots printed at home.
Regional government spokesman Jordi Turull also said a group of “academics and professionals” had been invited to serve as election observers. The official electoral board appointed by the regional parliament was disbanded last week to avoid hefty fines by Spain's Constitutional Court.
“We are under conditions to be able to celebrate a self-determination referendum with guarantees,” Turull said in a press conference. “Our goal is that all Catalans can vote.”
Courts and police have been cracking down for days to halt the vote, confiscating 10 million paper ballots and arresting key officials involved in the preparations.
On Saturday, Civil Guard agents dismantled the technology to connect voting stations, count the votes and vote online, leading the Spanish government to declare that holding the referendum would be “impossible.”
On the streets of Madrid there are mixed reactions to the Spanish government's crackdown on the independence referendum in Catalonia, where police were seen beating and kicking voters as they confiscated ballots.
Francisco Lopez, 53, said the authorities' use of force to stop the voting was justified. He says “when there is an unlawful act, the security forces are there to prevent this unlawful act.”
Jose Daniel Rodrguez, a 67-year-old university teacher, disagreed, saying the Spanish government should have let the vote go ahead. He says “in a democratic society, everyone has the right to express themselves.”
Others called for both sides to resolve the situation through negotiations, not police operations.
Ignacio Osorio, 51, says “I believe that from today we have to sit and talk, without conditions.”
Nasim Amiri quit his job selling vegetables to take up arms to defend his local mosque in Kabul, one of the hundreds of civilians recruited to protect Shia religious sites ahead of a key Islamic holy day.
Shia across war-weary Afghanistan are bracing themselves for potential sectarian attacks as they prepare to commemorate Ashura which falls this weekend.
Taliban and Islamic State militants have repeatedly targeted the minority community in recent years and there are fears they will strike again.
Criticised for failing to protect Shia, who number around three million in Afghanistan, the government has taken the unprecedented step of training and arming over 400 civilians to help defend mosques in Kabul.
The move, criticised by some Muslim leaders as inadequate, highlights the impotence of Afghan security forces struggling to get the upper hand in the fight against the Taliban and other Islamist groups.
The plan may be expanded to more cities.
Amiri has spent decades living near Baqir ul Ulom mosque, which was attacked last year, and knows “almost every” worshipper who comes to pray in its cavernous halls.
“I will stand against any threats, I don't mind dying for my people,” said 43-year-old Amiri, wearing a traditional salwar kameez.
“We are not true Muslims if we don't go to the mosque during Muharram and for that we need security.” -
Ashura — the most important Shia observance — falls on the 10th day of Muharram, which is the mourning period for the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
In recent years the sacred day has been marred by deadly violence.
In 2011 a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the middle of a crowd of worshippers at the main Shia shrine in Kabul on Ashura, killing 80 people, including women and children.
Almost a year to the day later Kabul police said they had arrested two Taliban insurgents with suicide vests who planned to attack Shia worshippers.
Last October gunmen entered the Karte Sakhi shrine near Kabul University and killed 18 people gathering to mark Ashura, an attack claimed by the Islamic State.
The following day at least 14 Shias were killed in a bombing at a mosque in northern Afghanistan. A few weeks later Baqui ul Ulom mosque was targeted when a massive suicide blast claimed by IS killed dozens of worshippers and badly damaged the building.
It took about eight months to repair the Shia mosque, one of the biggest in the Afghan capital, but the trauma suffered by the congregation has proved harder to heal.
“There are fewer worshippers nowadays compared to the time before the attack,” Mohammad Ali Arefi, the imam at the mosque, told AFP.
“Around a third of the people are afraid and don't show up at prayer time anymore.”
Sayed Sadiq Hussaini, 80, who survived the massacre at Baqir ul Ulom, has continued to worship at the mosque in defiance of the threats.
“No one can stop me from coming to the mosque. I will be a martyr if I am killed in a mosque and while praying,” Hussaini told AFP.
The mosque has introduced tighter security this year including body searches and the deployment of five civilian guards along with the same number of police officers.
“We had no other choice but to arm our own people to protect our mosques because the security forces are too busy fighting,” said Siraj Danish, a member of the Baqir ul Ulom mosque council.
Arefi said he planned to restrict Ashura activities to the mosque and its grounds to reduce the possibility of attacks, instead of commemorating the event on the streets like previous years.
But the 67-year-old imam said he hoped the government would come up with a better plan to protect mosques than just giving weapons to civilians.
“I don't think arming five locals will bring a lot of changes to the security of the mosques,” Arefi said.