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Erdogan’s move means dark days for Kurds in Turkey

Turkey's President Erdogan has shaken up the domestic political sphere with his decision to end the peace process with the Kurds. As Dalia Mortada reports from Istanbul the repercussions could be powerful. Following a week of violence between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), including airstrikes over the weekend on PKK outposts in northern Iraq, Erdogan's statement was not too surprising. But what he said next was: the president recommended immunity be lifted on Kurdish parliamentarians so they can be investigated for "links to terrorism." "If [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] says people from the HDP [the mostly Kurdish People's Democratic Party] are terrorists, the AKP [Justice and Development Party, which Erdogan once led], which has supported IS all this time are terrorists just as much," 23-year-old Burak declares through a mouthful of watermelon and cheese. The young Kurdish man is having breakfast with his friends at the café where they work before customers start streaming in. The coffeehouse is a popular stop for many in this lively Istanbul neighborhood. The bright red and orange table cloths are adorned with geometric patterns popular in Turkey's Kurdish southeast, and people often come for a taste of something different: creamy, nutty Kurdish coffee. "Last week, we lost 30 young people to a bombing that this government allowed," says Mert, Burak's quieter, more subdued friend. The 22-year-old sets down his fork as he recalls last Monday's suicide attack in Suruc, southern Turkey, against a group of youth activists en route to the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani on a humanitarian mission. "It was the police that carried out the attack," Mert says before Burak interrupts him, "No, it's the AKP, it's the government." One and the same To the young men, the "Islamic State" (IS) group and the government are one and the same. They're not the only ones who believe that: the PKK, which long led an armed resistance for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey but had agreed to a ceasefire since 2013, killed two police officers in retaliation for the Suruc bombing. "By doing that, the PKK gave the government the excuse it needed to unleash the military campaign against them," explains political scientist Mehmet Ali Tugtan. "It's not like they're responding to a catastrophe, they're capitalizing on it," he adds. Turkey also launched airstrikes against IS last week, for the first time since the group made headlines as it gained ground in Syria and Iraq. "The government is consistent in saying, 'We were attacked by the Islamic State, so we hit back; we were attacked by the PKK, so we hit back.'" Ayub Nuri, the English-language editor of the Kurdish news website Rudaw.net, agrees. The problem, he says, is that the Turkish government doesn't differentiate between the PKK and Kurdish civil society: politicians, intellectuals or journalists. "This has long been the case - even before the peace negotiations - Kurdish politicians, intellectuals and journalists, are prosecuted [for links to terrorism] and end up in jail," he explains. "On the other hand the Kurdish MPs say, 'PKK is an armed group based in the mountains, we are elected by the people,' trying to distance themselves from the organization." Regaining the initiative Many view Erdogan's statements against Kurdish parliamentarians as a way to regain the AKP's majority in Parliament. Rudaw, the news site Nuri edits, receives comments from Kurds all over the world. "I would say 60 percent to 70 percent of our readers…think the airstrikes [and Erdogan's comments] are his way of making up for the June elections," Nuri says, when the AKP lost its majority for the first time since they entered the government in 2002, and the Kurdish-focused HDP passed into parliament with 13 percent of the vote. Following Erdogan's statements, the HDP's co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said, "We have committed no unforgiveable crimes. Our only crime was winning 13 percent of the vote." The June 7 parliamentary elections were historic: no Kurdish-oriented party had ever surpassed Turkey's 10 percent threshold - the highest in the world - to enter parliament. "The HDP played a major role in the AKP losing its majority," Tugtan explains. Since no party came out on top, politicians have been forced to negotiate a coalition government. The deadline is fast approaching for them to reach an agreement; if they don't, Erdogan could call a new election. Amid allegations of being linked to terrorism, the new elections could yield very different results. "In that scenario, the HDP could be marginalized enough that they can't enter parliament," the political scientist says. The fear, Tugtan says, is that this could trigger even more violence, similar to what Turkey saw in the 1990s when the PKK was fighting for Kurdish independence. "Once again we have a crisis at an intersection of power transition and it seems like no matter how you feel about the maturity of Turkish democracy this power transfer will remain a problem." Nuri says regressing to those days is unlikely. "A very small minority are calling for a direct revolt against Turkey and armed conflict," he says, "I think the majority wants peace," including local politicians and leadership in the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. But Mert is not as optimistic. "If the HDP doesn't make it into parliament [in the case of an early election], there really could be a civil war," he says, sucking on an olive pit. Hassan, sitting across from him, pipes in, "It could even be worse than the 90s - there's a lot more going on here," referring to the spillover from Syria's own violent crisis just across Turkey's southern border. Burak's, Mert's and Hassan's families all migrated from Turkey's Kurdish southeast to Istanbul more than a decade ago to escape instability and violence. "If a civil war begins, where else will we go?" Hassan wonders.

Turkey’s President Erdogan has shaken up the domestic political sphere with his decision to end the peace process with the Kurds. As Dalia Mortada reports from Istanbul the repercussions could be powerful. Following a week of violence between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), including airstrikes over the weekend on PKK outposts in northern Iraq, Erdogan’s statement was not ... Read More »

Authorities in Egypt ‘killing independent journalism’

A Cairo court is set to issue a verdict on three Al-Jazeera journalists accused of being part of a terrorist group and broadcasting false information. The ruling comes as authorities crack down on independent reporting. A seasoned foreign correspondent shrugged: Like several others, he was mulling the prospects of leaving Egypt for good and moving to another country in the Middle East, maybe Lebanon. He hadn't quite made up his mind, he said. Egypt, he explained, was "getting just a bit too difficult right now." Egyptian authorities are cracking down on the media - and this increasingly includes foreign journalists. In recent months, many correspondents have had to wait months for even a temporary press card and work permits and in recent weeks those reporting on recent militants' attacks on the Egyptian army in Sinai have received emails from a unit within the Information Ministry, asking them to correct "false" casualty figures. At least 18 journalists are behind bars because of their reporting, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That's the most reporters the group has recorded being in prison since it started keeping records for Egypt in 1990, but human rights activists put the number far higher. According to the human rights lawyer Gamal Eid, who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egyptian authorities are holding more than 60 journalists and bloggers, many of whom have been imprisoned since 2013 without a trial on charges of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false information - accusations rejected by the families of several of those detained. Other reporters have decided to leave the country rather than face arrest. Egypt's crackdown has even extended to Germany, after authorities in Berlin detained Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour at Egypt's request. He was later released and not extradited as Cairo had demanded. Only official sources get it right? A raft of counterterrorism measures is set to be enacted as soon as former head of the Egyptian military turned President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi signs them into law. Journalists and human rights activists have said they fear the new laws will muzzle their work. One section of the proposed law stipulates hefty fines for reporting "false information on terrorist attacks that contradicts official statements." Egypt's Justice Minister Ahmed el-Zind admitted after the draft law was announced in early July that the article was adopted because media coverage of heavy clashes in Sinai included what he called exaggerated troop causalities. The government, he explained, had the "duty to defend citizens from wrong information." Such a move, however, would also "kill any independent words in Egypt," said Mohamed Lofty, the director of the non-profit Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF). No tolerance for independent voices He said the current situation for domestic and foreign journalists in Egypt "was at its worst," following the attacks in Sinai and the assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, who was killed by a car bomb in late June in an attack for which an Egyptian Islamic State affiliate operating in Sinai claimed responsibility. Since Barakat's death, Lofty said, the government was no longer willing to tolerate "any independent voice that provides information to the public, expect what is coming from official sources." And that, he added, "is basically killing what journalism is." Still, international attention on freedom of the press in Egypt has focused on the trial and retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists accused of supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false information in their coverage of the massive protests and violent crackdown by security forces following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. Australian Peter Greste, Canadian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison last year, but an appeals court later ordered a retrial, saying the lower court's verdict was not supported by evidence. Greste has since been deported to Australia, while Fahmy and Mohamed have been released on bail. Verdict will send a message to world The outcome of the retrial verdict, expected Thursday, "is impossible to predict," Lofty said. The relationship between Egypt and Qatar, which supported Morsi and owns the Al-Jazeera broadcaster, was at its most strained when the trial started. Talks mediated by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states has, however, slightly eased tensions. The verdict, Lofty said, could give the Egyptian government an opportunity to send a message to the world. "The message could be: look, we're not that bad," Lofty said, grinning. Then he became serious again, "But, then again, it could also be a guilty verdict."

A Cairo court is set to issue a verdict on three Al-Jazeera journalists accused of being part of a terrorist group and broadcasting false information. The ruling comes as authorities crack down on independent reporting. A seasoned foreign correspondent shrugged: Like several others, he was mulling the prospects of leaving Egypt for good and moving to another country in the ... Read More »

Germany shuts out refugees with ‘safe’ states list

With refugee numbers on the rise, German political parties have been wrangling once again over which Balkan states to add to its list of "safe countries of origin." But whether there is any point to it is another matter. As conflicts abroad become refugee panics at home, Angela Merkel's government is reaching for time-worn methods of coping. Germany's list of "safe" countries of origin was controversially extended last year to include three Balkan states - Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia - (already on the list were all European Union states plus Ghana and Senegal). Now the conservative Christian Social Union - the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union - would also like to see the other Balkan states - Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro - added to the list. While the Merkel administration tussles with the smaller partner in its coalition, the Social Democratic Party, over whether to extend the list, the Bavarian cabinet last week went ahead and signed off on plans to build special centers close to its borders to fast-track deportations of Balkan refugees. Deserving refugees, undeserving migrants The CSU's argument - picked up by most of the country's right-wing press - is that if Germany doesn't turn away Balkan nationals more quickly, the asylum system will not be able to cope with refugees from war zones in Syria and Iraq. "We have to be able to distinguish between immigrants with a real need of protection and immigrants with no prospect of residence," said CSU leader and Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer in a speech last week. "And that's the point where we say 'that's total garbage'," said Stephan Dünnwald of the Bavarian refugee council. "They're opening up a new category by saying some people are refugees from poverty or something - they're only coming here to scrounge benefits - and the 'real' refugees who are being hunted, or are victims of civil war." The problem of this easy distinction, though, is that it ignores the plight of marginalized groups, most obviously the Roma and Sinti. "It bypasses the asylum process altogether," Dünnwald explained. "And if that happens with Roma, for example, it's a disaster, because in many countries Roma are persecuted." Dünnwald has spent many months researching the situations of refugees across the Balkans, especially in Kosovo, and has seen what happens to Roma there. "If they get abused or attacked and they go to the police, the best case scenario is that the police laugh at them and tell them to go home, and in the worst cases they get charged," he told DW. Not even Europe is safe Herbert Heuss, senior advisor at the German Central Council for Sinti and Roma, admits that this isn't the same kind of political persecution that people experience in Syria or Iraq. But he points out, "If you take into account the cumulative discrimination - being shut out from the health system, the education system, no access to housing, the job market - those are reasons for fleeing that ought to lead to an asylum status in Germany." The truth is that there are few places anywhere in Europe where refugees are treated well - whether they're fleeing President Bashar al-Assad's bombs, or the "Islamic State," or social discrimination. Earlier this year, Amnesty International reported evacuations of camps in and around Belgrade. "We have seen similar evacuation policies being implemented in Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic - people being sent out of city centers," said Heuss. "In Romania, in Kluj, people were sent to a camp right next to a garbage dump. This idea of a safe country of origin doesn't exist. It doesn't even exist in the EU." Meanwhile in Germany, there has been an increase in attacks on asylum seekers' homes. What does "safe" even mean? The concept of "safe" countries first took a legal foothold in Germany in the early 1990s - at the end of the Cold War, when borders opened across Eastern Europe, and war erupted in the Balkans. The net result was circumstances very similar to those today. "There was a high number of migrants to Germany - in those days it was refugees and ethnic German immigrants from the former Soviet Union, today it is Syria, Kosovo and Albania," said Rainer Ohliger, board member at Network Migration in Europe, a Berlin-based network of migration academics and workers. Anyone reading the German news in the past months would also recognize the debates of the early 90s - from the rise in anti-refugee violence to the government's reaction. "Under the pressure of these large numbers, the debate about housing, the burden on local councils, the same debate as we're having today, the basic right to asylum was capped," said Ohliger. "And one of these limitations was the definition of safe countries of origin." The list of "safe" countries was created with the help of an article in Germany's constitution that allowed parliament to introduce a law specifying states "in which, on the basis of their laws, enforcement practices and general political conditions, it can be safely concluded that neither political persecution nor inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment exists." At first, the list included almost every country in Eastern Europe, and they became "safe states" by default when they joined the EU. Now, with Germany steeped in a new refugee panic, the list has been extended once again to include the Balkans. But whether or not it will make any difference to the number of Balkan asylum seekers being accepted in the EU is another matter. As the government itself admitted on the website of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, last year's extension of the list was barely more than a symbolic political point: "The Act does not influence the number of positive decisions. This number is however already very low, regardless of the Act. Only 0.3 percent of applicants from Serbia, the FYR of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina received any other than a negative decision in their asylum proceedings in 2014 (January-October)."

With refugee numbers on the rise, German political parties have been wrangling once again over which Balkan states to add to its list of “safe countries of origin.” But whether there is any point to it is another matter. As conflicts abroad become refugee panics at home, Angela Merkel’s government is reaching for time-worn methods of coping. Germany’s list of ... Read More »

Burundians vote in controversial presidential election

At least 70 people died during protests against Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to be re-elected president for a third term. As the poll goes ahead this Tuesday, the country is deeply divided. The choice of Ndora, in the north of Burundi, for the final phase of the election campaign, was no accident. A week earlier, it was the site of battles between the army and a new rebel group. President Pierre Nkurunziza went to Ndora with a clear message: "Whoever wants peace will vote for us." But the president's candidacy has plunged the country into its deepest crisis since the civil war. Nkurunziza stood on a truck to address the crowd, surrounded by heavily armed police and soldiers. The event was staged with precision. "Be courageous," Nkurunziza told his followers with his fist in the air. "We are courageous," supporters responded. Music and drums charged the atmosphere. The visitors raised balloons painted with the national colors. Others carried placards showing Nkurunziza holding a dove symbolizing peace. A leader of the youth party Imbonerakure confidently declared that they would "also win the elections in 2020, 2025 and 2030." Burundi has repeatedly experienced violence since its independence in the sixties. The first prime minister Prince Louis Rwagasore fell victim to an assassination. In the decades that followed, the country experienced a dozen coups. They were often accompanied by violence and massacres between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. In 1993 the country plunged into a civil war lasting twelve years. It is estimated that some 200,000 people died. It was only in 2005 that the reconciliation process brought both groups closer together and ushered in a democratic process. This process is now at risk. Fear in opposition strongholds At nighttime, gun shots are heard in the capital, Bujumbura. They come from neighborhoods whose residents back the opposition and who report revenge attacks by the government. Since May, when a group of senior generals tried to remove Nkurunziza from office through a coup, the government has tightened its control. Independent radio stations that voiced criticism were closed. In the meantime, the protests have died down. Fear has replaced anger in the opposition districts. In Musaga, where the protests were particularly strong, streets are still charred as a result of burnt tires. Using stones and sandbags, residents have built roadblocks to keep out vehicles used to carry out raids at night. "We are afraid of the police," said a resident, "but we are even more afraid that the Imbonerakure will come here." The Imbonerakure is the ruling party's youth league. The opposition considers them to be thugs. For months, there have been warnings that they were being armed as a militia group. Recently, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni indirectly confirmed the allegations. Shortly before the elections he undertook a moderately successful attempt to bring together the two sides. He said that the government had promised to disarm the Imbonerakure. The government has always denied that the Imbonerakure have weapons. Surprising alliances Given these circumstances, the main opposition candidates decided to boycott the elections. "We are heading for disaster," warned Agathon Rwasa, leader of the main opposition party Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL). The government's actions could make the country ungovernable, says Rwasa, himself a former Hutu rebel leader. His FNL had been a a rival to Nkurunziza's CNDD-FDD but was just as radical. Rwasa only consented to peace talks fairly late. But Nkurunziza's clinging to power has brought about some unexpected alliances among his opponents. For example between Rwasa and Charles Nditije, the head of the former ruling party UPRONA, who stood for the domination of the Tutsi minority for many years. None of this interests the close circle of power around Nkurunziza. Since the attempted coup, which came from within his own ranks, the circle has become smaller, but no less determined. International donors, mediators and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have on several occasions unsuccessfully tried to persuade the government to drop its plans. "I freed my country," said a senior military officer. "Ban Ki-Moon has no right to tell me what I should or should not do in this country."

At least 70 people died during protests against Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to be re-elected president for a third term. As the poll goes ahead this Tuesday, the country is deeply divided. The choice of Ndora, in the north of Burundi, for the final phase of the election campaign, was no accident. A week earlier, it was the site ... Read More »

New law aims to boost French competitiveness

The French government has passed a new economic law that aims to make the country more competitive and business-friendly. However critics say the impact will be minimal, as Elizabeth Bryant reports from Paris. Lori Thicke still remembers the first time she fired an employee. The tipping point came after the young woman took yet another holiday without asking her boss. "When I challenged her, she told me, 'why should I ask you, when you don't ask me about your holidays?'" recalls Thicke, who owns a translation company located just off the capital's iconic Place de La Bastille. Then came the hard part. The formal letter laying out the reasons for the layoff. Months of negotiations. A final meeting with the staffer who was accompanied by a union representative. And then the expensive settlement package. "I had to pay that person five months' of salary to fire her," Thicke says ruefully. "And it's made me nervous to hire again, because French labor laws are so strict. Which doesn't really help France's unemployment rate." Stifling law Today Thicke, a Canadian who has been working in Paris for nearly three decades, is taking few chances. And she's not the only one. The country's stifling labor code makes it difficult for bosses to hire and fire workers and to grow their companies without steep costs. Now, newly passed legislation promises to ease some of those restrictions. Known as the "loi Macron" after the country's young Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, the law - which does not enter into force until August - tackles a hodgepodge of sectors. The overall goal; to make France a friendlier place to do business. "The country needs reform, the country needs to move forward," said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose government has vowed more reforms in the coming months. Among other measures, the legislation will extend the number of Sundays and evening hours that shops can open, deregulate France's inter-city bus industry and make it easier to become a notary public, advertise alcohol and get a driver's license. It would also reduce penalties for bosses like Thicke to lay off workers, under certain conditions. In June, the Socialist government also introduced measures making it easier for small- and medium-sized companies to hire employees, in a larger bid to reduce the country's 10-percent-plus unemployment rate. Thicke does not yet know the details of the legislation, and what it would mean for her 13-member company. Among other things, it sets caps on how much payout labor tribunals can award laid-off workers. But she is guardedly optimistic. "It's actually hard to hire someone, and its even harder to fire them," she says. "Just to loosen up the paperwork would actually help employers focus on growing their companies and performing better, rather than dealing with a lot of really restrictive laws." Minimal impact France's employer union, MEDEF, has also welcomed the legislation, calling it "a real step in the right direction." A number of economists agree it's a good start. Still, analysts like Tomasz Michalski, assistant economics professor at the HEC business school in Paris, suggest the overall impact of the measures will be minimal. "The intention is to basically increase competition in the French economy, modernize it, and also deliver some pro-investment stimulus," Michalski says. "But this is at a very micro level. Very small sectors are going to be affected." Areas like bus deregulation and Sunday shop openings may indeed create jobs, he said, but not in the big numbers that France needs. The government is taking baby steps, he argues, when it needs to make a giant leap. "What is lacking is a grand bargain, in which you would reform the whole structure of the French economy," Michalski says. "There should be lower government spending, tax reform, labor market reform and cuts on subsidies. The government is making small reforms, they're not rethinking the system." Despite the official rhetoric, Michalski also does not see much appetite by the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande to enact more ambitious measures ahead of the 2017 presidential elections. Even the reforms proposed in the current legislation have been sharply criticized by both the Left and Right. Twice this year, the government has been forced to use a special constitutional tool to ram it through parliament. Open door for abuses Following the bill's final passage last week, the main conservative The Republicans party appealed to the Constitutional Council, France's highest judicial authority. Members say it does not go far enough. On the other side of the spectrum, the far-left Front de Gauche party argues it threatens workers' rights. "It's an open door for all kinds of abuses," Florian Borg, president of the Lawyers Union told Le Monde newspaper, suggesting the bill would allow bosses to fire employees for fabricated reasons. Thicke disagrees. "I think French labor laws are created with the idea that employers are just waiting to fire people," she said. "Nothing could be further from the truth." She draws comparisons with her native Canada, where unemployment is just 6.8 percent - nearly four percentage points less than in France. "There's so much more dynamism in the labor market," she said. "It's easier to fire workers, but it's also so much easier to get a job - and there are so many more jobs available."

The French government has passed a new economic law that aims to make the country more competitive and business-friendly. However critics say the impact will be minimal, as Elizabeth Bryant reports from Paris. Lori Thicke still remembers the first time she fired an employee. The tipping point came after the young woman took yet another holiday without asking her boss. ... Read More »

Japan’s controversial security bills clear first hurdle

Legal pundits, in particular, have a negative view on the matter: "98 percent of experts regard the laws as unconstitutional," said Yasuo Hasabe, constitutional expert at Tokyo-based Wasena University. Tokyo University's Kenji Ishikawa spoke of a "coup d'état," and Sota Kimura of Tokyo City University referred to the move as "endangering the rule of law." And famed director and pacifist Hayao Miyazaki recently expressed what is probably in the minds of a silent majority in the country: "I think it's impossible to stop China's expansion with military force, and Japan has a pacifist constitution in order to think of other solutions." Miyazaki's statements strike a nerve of the conservative government, as Abe's new defense policy is actually about counterbalancing - alongside the United States - China's growing power and assertiveness in Asia. At the same time, Tokyo hopes that Washington is increasingly willing to fight alongside Japan in the case of a military conflict over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Nonetheless, Abe avoided directly naming China as an adversary in order to keep ties with Beijing from deteriorating further. So far the premier has only mentioned one scenario in which Japan's armed forces could be deployed abroad: a blockade of Japan's oil supply in the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. However, this scenario seems rather unrealistic given that Japan no longer depends as much on Arabian oil as it used to. Moreover, the PM's party comrades recently blocked the release of this year's defense white paper, arguing that the document should give more prominence to China's hegemonic ambitions in the region and Beijing's island-building in the South China Sea.

Despite opposition, a lower house panel has approved bills that would usher a change in Japan’s defense policy allowing troops to participate in collective self-defense. DW correspondent Martin Fritz reports from Tokyo. After more than 117 hours of deliberations stretching over several months, a special committee of the Japanese parliament’s lower house adopted a package of controversial security laws on ... Read More »

Opinion: Time to intervene in Burundi

سیاسی افراتفری کے شکار افریقی ملک برونڈی میں گزشتہ روز منعقدہ پارلیمانی انتخابات میں صدر پیرے نکورونیزیزا کی جماعت نے برتری حاصل کر لی ہے۔ ان انتخابات کا متعدد سیاسی جماعتوں نے بائیکاٹ کیا تھا۔ الیکٹورل کمیشن کی جانب سے جاری کردہ اعلان میں کہا گیا ہے کہ حکمران جماعت نے پارلیمان کی سو نشستوں میں سے 77 پر کامیابی حاصل کی۔ برونڈی میں صدارتی انتخابات 15 جولائی کو منعقد ہونا ہیں اور حکومت ان انتخابات کے التوا کے خلاف ہے۔

The ruling party has been declared the winner of the parliamentary elections in Burundi. The polls were a farce which has heightened the risk of civil war ahead of the presidential poll, writes Andrea Schmidt. The results of the parliamentary elections in Burundi will have surprised no one. The poll was neither free nor fair; there was neither an independent ... Read More »

Can the high-level talks lead to peace in Afghanistan?

پاکستانی وزارت خارجہ کی جانب سے جاری کردہ ایک بیان میں کہا گیا ہے کہ افغان حکام اور طالبان کے درمیان ایک روزہ بات چیت پاکستانی سیاحتی علاقے مری میں ہوئی۔ اس ملاقات میں فریقین نے ماہ رمضان کے بعد دوبارہ ملنے پر اتفاق کیا ہے۔ وزارت خارجہ کے مطابق یہ ملاقات منگل کے روز ہوئی، جس میں چین اور امریکا کے وفود نے بھی شرکت کی۔ بیان میں کہا گیا ہے کہ اس اجلاس میں فریقین کی جانب سے افغانستان میں قیام امن اور مفاہمتی عمل پر اتفاق ظاہر کیا گیا ہے۔

Afghan officials and Taliban representatives have met in Islamabad for talks. But experts say such negotiations can only lead to peace if those involved are recognized by the Taliban leadership. An Afghan government delegation met with Taliban representatives on Tuesday, July 8, in Pakistan following a series of informal talks between the two warring sides in various countries. The meeting, ... Read More »

In Ukraine, a political power struggle comes to a head

Kyiv originally invited Alexander Kvitashvili of Georgia to come fix Ukraine's corrupt healthcare system. Now the government has unceremoniously thrown him out of office. The ecology minister has been forced out as well. Seven months after forming a coalition government in Ukraine, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk lost two ministers in the space of a day. The first to go was Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Ihor Shevchenko. According to the government, a flight from Nice to Kyiv in a private jet with a controversial businessman was what tripped up the 44-year-old politician. Shevchenko himself vehemently denies any allegations of corruption. He was fired on July 2. Observers in Kyiv suspect that behind it all is a fight for political influence and access to natural resources, above all to natural gas. The Ukrainian media has described Shevchenko as having close ties to former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She says that, although it participates in the ruling coalition in parliament, her party has no ministerial appointments. On Thursday, the influential Kyiv online news outlet "Ukrainska Pravda" wrote that, "the split in the coalition has become visible." Departure of the great Georgian hope The second departure created even more of a sensation: Alexander Kvitashvili of Georgia (pictured), one of three foreign-born ministers in Ukraine, was forced to step down from his post. On Tuesday, June 30, Ihor Kononenko, the acting parliamentary leader of Poroshenko's BPP alliance announced, "We don't have anything against the minister, but he can no longer lead this ministry." He went on to say that the situation in the health ministry was "uncontrollable." On Wednesday, Kvitashvili's compatriot and Georgia's former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, tossed more wood on the fire. Now governor of the southern Ukrainian region of Odessa, Saakashvili said, "I told him that it was time for him to go." Indeed, Ukraine needs an "aggressive man" to fight corruption. On Thursday, the president's party tweeted that the health minister had turned in his resignation. But the ministry denied the claim. General confusion ensued in the media. It wasn't until later that afternoon that Kvitashvili explained that he had in fact vacated his post. "When the alliance that invited me here mulls my resignation without consulting me, then the right thing to do is to go," he told the press corps in Kyiv. Parliament agreed. Health care reform on paper This resignation had enormous symbolic power. Just six months ago, Kvitashvili had been celebrated as a figure of great hope. He was invited to Kyiv to radically reform the health care system. The man who had successfully introduced a health insurance program with western standards in Georgia was asked to do the same in Ukraine. At the beginning of the year, Kvitashvili estimated that bribes were costing the Ukrainian health care system between 8 and 10 billion US dollars annually (7-9 billion euros) - three times the ministry's annual budget. "Doctors are simply stuffing this money in their pockets," railed the minister. Kvitashvili did not manage to get much done during his brief tenure. He replaced all of the department heads in his ministry, did away with the opaque system of supplying medical drugs to state-run clinics and developed a plan for a fundamental overhaul of the health care system. He presented his plan to the government at the end of June. If and how it will be implemented is an open question after his de facto expulsion. Power play before bankruptcy? The dismissal of those two ministers is not the only sign of a rift within the governing coalition. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak have come under fire as well. At the end of June, caucus leader Yuriy Lutsenko said that the president's party had asked the government to look into allegations of corruption against both of the ministers. Lutsenko himself surprised everyone by also announcing his own resignation on Thursday. Long seen as a close advisor to the president, he is also his party's chairman. There is currently much speculation as to the reasons behind his resignation. More than anything else, some observers see these recent developments as a power struggle against the backdrop of an increasingly dramatic financial situation. Ukraine's gross domestic product shrank 17.9 percent in the first quarter of this year alone, and similar numbers are expected for the second and third quarters. The National Bank of Ukraine estimates that annual inflation will be around 48 percent this year. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are not rushing to give Ukraine billions of euros in new aid. And the government in Kyiv is preparing itself for a possible national bankruptcy at the end of July. These developments are all having a negative impact on the parties' polling numbers. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk's People's Front is being most affected. The party, which garnered the most votes in last October's elections, with 22 percent, now has approval ratings below five percent. If elections were held today they would likely not even make it into parliament. In contrast, the Poroshenko alliance, which came in second in October, would receive about 16 percent of the vote, giving it the most votes overall. Local elections are scheduled for this fall. The governing coalition in Kyiv should hold till then.

Kyiv originally invited Alexander Kvitashvili of Georgia to come fix Ukraine’s corrupt healthcare system. Now the government has unceremoniously thrown him out of office. The ecology minister has been forced out as well. Seven months after forming a coalition government in Ukraine, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk lost two ministers in the space of a day. The first to go was ... Read More »

How a journalist is navigating the dangers of reporting in Egypt

As press freedom wanes in Egypt, how do journalists operate? DW spoke to Emir Nader, a political journalist at an English-language newspaper in Cairo, about the nuances of reporting amid arrests, gag orders and violence. DW: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report on Thursday stating that 18 journalists are being detained, the highest number the organization has recorded in Egypt. But the country is notorious for media outlets with ties to the regime. What kinds of journalists are being targeted? Emir Nader: First of all, many people on the ground put the number higher than 18. That is something that Khaled al-Balshy - head of the freedoms committee for Egypt's press syndicate - told Reuters news agency today. He put the figure at more than 30. There are also journalists that aren't being picked up by international organizations. For example, between 14 to 18 journalists were charged for allegedly spreading false information about the state during the forced dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Rabaa Square in 2013. So they're all Islamists. Walid Abdel Raouf Shalaby, who wrote for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party newspaper, was handed a death sentence in April. Many of the others, some mentioned by the CPJ report, were given life sentences. A lot of the time, if you're found to have some link to Islamist politics, even if you're a journalist, you're treated as a terrorist. DW: Reporters without Borders has consistently ranked Egypt as one of the worst countries for press freedom, especially following the 2011 uprising. What is it like operating in a country where press freedom is nearly non-existent? I used to worry, but I feel a bit more insulated now since I write for an English-language newspaper, though we're all Egyptians in the office. I feel like we're a bit off the radar because our demographic isn't as big in Egypt and so we have a bit more independence. That said, we have received a few comments from the Ministry of Interior. There are certain topics that you can and can't do. You can't just go to North Sinai, where the military is fighting an insurgency among the local population, and start asking questions. You would be picked up straight away. Even when taking photographs of public buildings in the streets, someone is going to come over and ask you questions about what you are doing. Equally so, you can't just write about the army in Arabic and not expect someone to question you over it. I recently published a story on financial corruption, including an interview with people exposing use of billions of unaccounted finances in the budget by officials. I published it then thought, "Shit, this is pretty provocative." Then you worry. Then I'm asking my colleagues, "Shit, was this a stupid thing to do?" Everything is gray. It's not black and white regarding what you can and can't write about. Another example of what it's like operating here is my former flatmate, a foreign journalist working here in Egypt. A bomb went off outside Cairo University and he went down to report on it. He took a few photos, but stood out. He was picked up, interrogated, threatened, and beaten. He eventually left the country because he felt so unsafe after what happened. Regardless of whether you're an Egyptian or a foreign journalist, the threats are real, even though day-to-day you can keep your head down. Media censorship has been a growing subject of concern in Egypt following the 2011 uprising. Is censorship an issue? How does it work for news outlets in Egypt? It's not always a case of censorship but, instead, self-censorship. It's not like the government goes in and rips up a newspaper's entire print, though that has happened. It's more that they, the newspapers, try not to publish it. So when a newspaper does publish a big report on police abusing innocent people, overcrowded prisons, or massive human rights violations, that's a big deal. For instance, in April, Al-Masry Al-Youm (AYAM), the biggest newspaper in Egypt, did a seven page report on police violations, which shocked many since typically Arabic-language Egyptian media is tame and shares affinities with the regime. After that particular report was published, the editor-in-chief of AYAM and four of its journalists were pulled in by national security, which normally deals with cases of terrorism. These were journalists being investigated before the highest counter-terrorism body in the country. However, following a statement from the Ministry of Interior, they were eventually acquitted. Another interesting thing about Egyptian media, when it does publish something critical about the regime, especially because of their close relationship with the regime, is that you don't really know what is really happening behind the scenes. Some have raised questions of a power-play between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, which both have their own men inside many newspapers. Especially when a story is published that is critical of one branch of the government. The issue is that there's no transparency. Do journalists face other challenges in Egypt? There are general difficulties. For example, earlier this year, I reported on a protest in downtown Cairo. Now that protests are illegal, when one does occur, it is shutdown immediately, which can turn violent very quickly. At the protest, there were these guys firing fireworks and chucking rocks and Molotov cocktails. Then security forces came using life ammunition to disperse the protest. That is something I have never been trained for. I didn't realize they were using live ammunition until afterwards when I saw the rifle shells strewn across the street. Cairo is generally safe but when something like that erupts, it's dangerous. I also think there's a culture of silencing information that threatens state institutions. You can see this in the way the media self-censors itself or is censored or how journalists are generally treated. But this occurs through other mediums, such as the judiciary. For instance, the judiciary places gag orders on cases which are sensitive to the government so that journalists can't report on them. This is illustrated in the case of Shaima al-Sabbagh, who was killed by police in January. The court case dealing with the police officer charged with her murder was silenced under a gag order. It's not always the security forces threatening you or breaking into your office. There are other ways the government can block or shutdown the work of journalists. This interview was conducted by Lewis Sanders IV.

As press freedom wanes in Egypt, how do journalists operate? DW spoke to Emir Nader, a political journalist at an English-language newspaper in Cairo, about the nuances of reporting amid arrests, gag orders and violence. DW: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report on Thursday stating that 18 journalists are being detained, the highest number the organization has ... Read More »

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