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One year since attacks, a grimmer France commemorates its victims

As France commemorates its deadliest terror attack in recent history on Sunday, many remain traumatized. And there is widespread fear that more could be to come. Emmanuel Domenach thought he was on the road to recovery. But on the eve of the Paris attacks anniversary, painful memories are flooding back. "I feel the distress, the fatigue," says Domenach, a survivor of last November's rampage at the Bataclan concert hall that killed 90 people. "Psychologically, I'm reliving many things and it's not easy to deal with." On Sunday, when France commemorates its deadliest terror attack in recent history, old wounds will reopen, even as more tangible traces remain of the string of shootings and bombings that killed 130 people and wounded more than 400. Nearly two dozen victims are still hospitalized; hundreds are receiving psychological counselling. French tourism has plummeted and tens of thousands of soldiers, police and gendarmes are still deployed across the country. Rights groups warn of eroding civil liberties under the ongoing state of emergency and of an increasingly stigmatized Muslim community. Equally troubling is the sense that last year's "Islamic State" attacks were not a bookend to a bitter past, but opened a more fearful page in the nation's history. There have been several others since, including the July truck rampage in Nice that killed 86 people. With authorities saying they are foiling terror plots daily, many here expect more to come. "It's a national trauma because we've had a number of terrorist attacks in different situations," says Dominique Szepielak, a psychologist with the French Association of Terrorism Victims, who has treated a number of November 13 survivors. "When you get prepared for one sort of terrorism, it can then take another form. It's very, very complicated." Getting on with life On the surface, the city has returned to normal. On Saturday night the Bataclan reopened after a makeover and with a Sting concert that sold out in a matter of minutes. Other cafes and bars targeted by the jihadists are also back in business, blasted windows replaced and fresh coats of paint covering bullet-pocked walls. "The past is always with us, but we all need to get on with life," says Audrey Bily, manager of Cafe Bonne Biere, where gunmen shot dead five people. The first establishment to reopen last December, the cafe is again packed with diners and drinkers, its refurbished interior cheerful and welcoming on a chilly evening. None of the staff were killed, but many are still traumatized. "The team is really close and that's important," Bily says. "They help each other move forward and reconstruct their lives." Domenach stayed standing many minutes after the jihadists burst into the Bataclan, mistaking the gunfire ringing out for sound effects as the Eagles of Death Metal concert briefly continued. Then came the screams and shouts, and he saw gunmen pick off people standing next to the bar. When the attackers finally headed upstairs to the balcony, he escaped with dozens of others. Worries of rising intolerance Over the months, he has slowly pulled himself together, forcing himself to go out to concerts - although it is too early to return to the Bataclan. Now, the anniversary feels like a new blow. "Just when you have the impression things are getting better, you're back at the psychologist because the wounds are still there," says Domenach, vice president of a survivor's group called "November 13, Brotherhood and Truth." "It feels like a kind of defeat." He's worried, too, about the broader fallout of last year's attack: the rising intolerance and hate speech on the streets, and what he considers as the government's misguided, law-and-order response to terrorism. Far-right activists assailed him earlier this year, he says, after he dismissed rumors that the jihadists had tortured their Bataclan victims. "As an association we're fighting for solidarity and fraternity," Domenach says, "and today we have the impression these values are being swept aside, and replaced by hate.” He is not the only one worried. A new report by the International Federation for Human Rights slams France's state of emergency for rolling back civil liberties and cites police searches and other measures that unfairly single out the country's Muslim community. FIDH lawyer Clemence Bectarte points to other measures adopted into law a few months ago that strengthen the hand of police and prosecutors and weaken that of the courts. "It's an alarming landscape," Bectarte says. "These measures were inconceivable a few years ago." Trying to move on Many hope to set aside these divisions on Sunday, as commemorations for the November 13 victims take place around the capital. One of several plaques honouring the victims is already secured on a wall in northern Paris, waiting to be unwrapped. Stephane Dantier, who owns a restaurant nearby, doesn't like it. "It transforms this neighbourhood into a monument for the dead," he says. His bistro is still filled with diners on a recent afternoon, lingering over a late lunch. Across the way, a bar and restaurant where jihadists gunned down 15 people on a balmy November evening have reopened. Last year's attacks have tightened bonds in an already closely knit neighborhood, he says. But its hard for residents to move on. "With the Nice attacks, it's all come back," Dantier says. "We're all making a big effort, but we feel wounded."

As France commemorates its deadliest terror attack in recent history on Sunday, many remain traumatized. And there is widespread fear that more could be to come. Emmanuel Domenach thought he was on the road to recovery. But on the eve of the Paris attacks anniversary, painful memories are flooding back. “I feel the distress, the fatigue,” says Domenach, a survivor ... Read More »

Australia reaches deal to send refugees languishing on islands to US

Australia has reached a resettlement deal with the United States for refugees held on two Pacific island detention centers. Canberra has come under international and domestic pressure over the camps. Refugees being held at controversial detention facilities on two isolated Pacific islands will be resettled in the United States, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday. Asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are sent to detention facilities on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and the small island nation of Nauru. Under Australia's strict border policy, they are prevented from receiving asylum even if found to be refugees. "The arrangements with the United States will offer the opportunity for refugees, both on Nauru and Manus, to be resettled," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. "It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated ... Our priority is the resettlement of women, children and families." Australia has come under international and domestic pressure over the detention camps, where some refugees have been stuck in limbo for more than three years. Rights groups have criticized Australia, citing bad conditions and mental health problems associated with what amounts to keeping refugees in indefinite detention on the islands. US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed the resettlement deal, saying "we in the United States have agreed to consider referrals from [UN refugee body] UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea. "We know that these refugees are of special interest to UNHCR and we're very engaged with them on a humanitarian basis there and in other parts of the world," he told reporters in New Zealand on Sunday. Many refugees from Middle East, Asia It was unclear how the resettlement deal would proceed, with Donald Trump taking over the White House on January 20 after winning the US election this week. Trump campaigned on an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policy. Many of the refugees on the islands are Muslims from the Middle East and Asia. The Australian and US governments did not say how many refugees were part of the resettlement plan. But Turnbull said the agreement was reached much earlier. "There is a great deal of preparation and planning that has gone into it and, indeed, in leading up to this announcement." Out of more than 2000 applications, about 675 asylum seekers on Manus and another 941 on Nauru have received initial or final refugee status, according to Australia's immigration department. Asylum seekers whose applications are denied will be sent back to their countries. Refugees who refuse to go to the United States will be offered 20-year residency on Nauru, a poor and environmentally destroyed island. The Australian funded detention center is now the island's main source of income. Papua New Guinea has said it will close the detention center on Manus. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the deal was not an incentive for people smugglers to send boatloads of people to Australia. Future boat arrivals will not be eligible for the deal.

Australia has reached a resettlement deal with the United States for refugees held on two Pacific island detention centers. Canberra has come under international and domestic pressure over the camps. Refugees being held at controversial detention facilities on two isolated Pacific islands will be resettled in the United States, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday. Asylum seekers who try ... Read More »

Dutch police detain 100 Black Pete protesters

The tradition of dressing up in blackface makeup as the helper of St. Nicholas has been under fire in the Netherlands for years. Confrontation between the two sides of the debate got off to an early start this year. Police arrested more than 100 protesters in the town of Maassluis, near Rotterdam, on Saturday during a confrontation between supporters and opponents of Black Pete. For years, detractors have condemned the character, a helper of St. Nicholas in Dutch tradition, as a racist caricature. "We arrested about 100 people who were demonstrating in Rotterdam, where the protests were banned for the day," said local police spokeswoman Lillian van Duijvenbode to French news agency AFP. Current look dates back to 1850s According to folklore, Black Pete is a Moor who originates from Spain and helps St. Nicholas as he decides which children have been well-behaved enough to receive presents. His current appearance comes from an 1850s children's book and reflects what would now be recognized as a racist stereotype: Afro hair, large red lips and a clownish appearance. This is further compounded by the fact that in parades and reenactments for children, the character is almost always played by a white person in blackface. Heavy police presence Thousands of people came out to the Maassluis celebration to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. This included a heavy police presence to protect St. Nicholas' sidekick and a ban on protesting, which failed to deter demonstrators. "We asked them to stop their demonstration at three different places in town, but they refused," said van Duijvenbode. Around 20 far-right activists came out as counter-protesters. Activist John Morren told the Associated Press that "we are demonstrating for the preservation of a children's party," and to protect Dutch tradition. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has appealed for both sides to remain peaceful in their debate in light of the Christmas season.

The tradition of dressing up in blackface makeup as the helper of St. Nicholas has been under fire in the Netherlands for years. Confrontation between the two sides of the debate got off to an early start this year. Police arrested more than 100 protesters in the town of Maassluis, near Rotterdam, on Saturday during a confrontation between supporters and ... Read More »

Fighting intensifies in Mosul as Iraqi forces push forward

An Iraqi army official has described the fighting in Mosul as "one of the hardest battles we've faced." With the help of Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias, Iraqi forces have launched a campaign to liberate the city. The Iraqi campaign to uproot the so called "Islamic State" (IS) from its stronghold in Mosul slowed down on Sunday as liberation forces met fierce resistance from the militant group's fighters while entering more densely-populated areas of the city. "This is one of the hardest battles that we've faced till now," said Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad al-Timimi. Over the weekend, Iraqi forces moved into more densely populated areas of the city without air support from the US-led coalition due to the high-risk of civilian casualties. "There are a lot of civilians, and we are trying to protect them," al-Timimi noted. In a rare audio message circulated on Thursday, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group, ordered his followers to stand their ground and fight. The tone of his message marked a stark difference to previous speeches, signaling the group's reluctance to flee the city like they have in similar situations. Since Iraqi forces launched their campaign to liberate the country's third most populous city, the militant fighters have launched a wave of suicide car bombs, mortar attacks, roadside bombs, sniper fire and even reported mustard gas attacks. 'A long fight' The militant group has setup booby traps in neighborhoods, effectively slowing the Iraqi forces' advancement, said Masrour Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Regional Government's Security Council. "There are many different IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that they put in different places, come up with different tactics. Many that are used like networks," Barzani said. "So in one house, they are putting one IED and trying to hide it. And once it explodes, then the entire neighborhood explodes," he added. However, despite the growing challenges of fighting the group as Iraqi forces inch their way towards the city center, Barzani pointed to other obstacles. "The fight against ISIS is going to be a long fight … Not only militarily but also economically, ideologically," he added. In 2014, the "Islamic State" took over large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, culminating in the group's capture of Mosul after Iraqi forces fled the city.

An Iraqi army official has described the fighting in Mosul as “one of the hardest battles we’ve faced.” With the help of Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias, Iraqi forces have launched a campaign to liberate the city. The Iraqi campaign to uproot the so called “Islamic State” (IS) from its stronghold in Mosul slowed down on Sunday as liberation forces ... Read More »

Beijing ruling to bar Hong Kong pro-independence lawmakers

China's parliament has effectively barred pro-independence legislators from the territory's Legislative Council. The move by the Communist party was made through a controversial reading of Hong Kong's constitution. The interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law stipulates that lawmakers must swear allegiance to the city as part of China when they take office. At a swearing-in ceremony last month, two recently elected Hong Kong lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, altered their oaths to insert a disparaging Japanese term for China. The stunt last month upset Beijing, which considers talk of independence to be treason. In issuing its ruling on Monday, it said the actions of the two lawmakers "posed a grave threat to national sovereignty and security," the state Xinhua news agency reported. Li Fei, deputy secretary general of China's top legislative panel, said that the comments amounted to an intentional insult. "All traitors who sell out our country will never meet good ends," he said. Now the Beijing's National People's Congress says that by deliberately altering their oaths, their swearing-in "should be determined to be invalid, and cannot be retaken." Hong Kong's leader, Leung Chun-ying, told reporters that he and the city government would "implement the interpretation fully." It also says those who advocate for independence are not only disqualified from election and from assuming posts as lawmakers, but should also be investigated for their legal obligations. Deepening rift with mainland China Yau and Leung were among several Hong Kong lawmakers campaigning for self-determination who won seats in September polls. Having them disqualified from office would be a favorable outcome for China's Communist leaders, who have become increasingly uneasy with the city's growing independence movement. The decision to invoke a rarely used power to interpret the constitution marks Beijing's most direct intervention in the semi-autonomous city's political system since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Thousands of people took to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday to demand that China's central government stay out of the dispute. Fears about China's increasing encroachment on freedoms in the former British colony prompted mass protests in 2014. Britain transferred Hong Kong to Chinese control under a "one country, two systems" formula that gave the territory wide-ranging autonomy, including judicial freedom guided by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law.

China’s parliament has effectively barred pro-independence legislators from the territory’s Legislative Council. The move by the Communist party was made through a controversial reading of Hong Kong’s constitution. The interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law stipulates that lawmakers must swear allegiance to the city as part of China when they take office. At a swearing-in ceremony last month, two recently ... Read More »

Southeastern Turkey hit by blast after HDP crackdown

At least 20 people were wounded when in an explosion outside a police building in Turkey's southeastern city of Diyarbakir. The explosion came hours after authorities detained the leaders of pro-Kurdish opposition. A large explosion hit the largest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeastern region on Friday, multiple news outlets reported. Television footage showed people walking amid broken glass and other debris from a building used by police; windows were blown out from the apparent explosion that witnesses said could be heard several kilometers away. Diyarbakir's governor's office blamed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and said it was a car bomb placed near a police building. The attack comes just hours after police rounded up more than a dozen lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) on charges of aiding the outlawed PKK, which has fought a decades-long insurgency for political and cultural rights for Turkey's ethnic Kurds. 'Spreading PKK propaganda' Police detained HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag in separate early morning raids that targeted the lawmakers' residences while they slept. Turkey's private NTV television said the pair was accused of spreading PKK propaganda. The state-run Anadolu Agency said Demirtas was accused of provoking violence in deadly protests in October 2014. The lawmakers' detention appeared part of a large-scale operation against the HDP, which is the third largest party in the Turkish parliament with 59 seats and the main political representative of the Kurdish minority. Hundreds of charges were filed against HDP lawmakers following parliament's lifting of prosecutorial immunity, including "disseminating terrorist propaganda" to "membership in an armed terrorist organization." Turkey used extraordinary powers passed in the wake of the failed July coup to remove the elected mayor of Diyarbakir from office with a ruling party loyalist installed in her place. Tensions have surged in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast since a fragile ceasefire declared by the PKK collapsed in 2015 with deadly clashes between PKK militants and security forces an almost daily occurrence. In the wake down of the political crackdown, access to social media sites Twitter and Whatapp was blocked in Turkey on Friday, an internet monitoring group said. Access was being blocked by throttling, an expert from the monitoring group Turkey Blocks said, a method of slowing certain websites to the point where they are unusable.

At least 20 people were wounded when in an explosion outside a police building in Turkey’s southeastern city of Diyarbakir. The explosion came hours after authorities detained the leaders of pro-Kurdish opposition. A large explosion hit the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeastern region on Friday, multiple news outlets reported. Television footage showed people walking amid broken glass and ... Read More »

Why the strongest fighting force against the ‘Islamic State’ isn’t entering Mosul

The Kurdish peshmerga forces have stopped on the outskirts of Mosul under an agreement with Baghdad. DW speaks with Tomas Olivier of the security consultancy Lowlands Solutions to find out why. As Iraqi forces continue their campaign to uproot the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group from their stronghold in Mosul, questions have arisen concerning how the battle will play out, and who will be participating. The peshmerga, the Kurdish military forces of Iraq known for their successes against the militant group, have announced they will hold back instead of joining Iraqi Security Forces as they enter the heart of the city. DW spoke with Tomas Olivier, chief executive of the Netherlands-based security consultancy Lowlands Solutions and former senior officer at the Dutch defense ministry, to examine the ongoing campaign to uproot the militant group in Iraq. DW: Why have the Kurdish peshmerga forces stopped advancing into Mosul given they are lauded as one of the best forces fighting IS? Thomas Olivier: The leader of the peshmerga forces, Masoud Barzani, wisely stated about a week ago that peshmerga forces will not enter the city of Mosul and join the Iraqi army for the clearance operation aimed at liberating the city. Although close coordination between the peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army is in place, it has decided to focus on other pockets of resistance in northern Iraq and on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, in which IS initiated a desperate campaign of violence in response to the advances of the Iraqi army towards Mosul. In addition, the Kurdish peshmerga is far more focused on the Turkish army base in Bashiqa, on the outskirts of Mosul. In a statement, Barzani said he strongly opposes the participation of non-Iraqi elements in the liberation of Mosul. As such, Kurdish participation would not have been wise, to say the least. What do Iraqi forces anticipate as they enter the next stage of liberating Mosul? Will it likely be block-by-block containment? An urban, street-to-street combat scenario is most likely, especially due to the fact that IS elements have put up fierce resistance in some urban areas of Mosul. The US military estimates that the militant group has approximately 4,000 to 5,000 fighters inside the city. Therefore, the clearance operation will take several weeks, if not months. IS had months to prepare a network of defensive perimeters, tunnel systems and fortified positions in Mosul, and currently use a combination of small arms fire, anti-tank missiles and suicide bombers to block the advance of the Iraqi army. In this case, the Iraqi army has to be extremely cautious in their approach to liberating the city, and to minimize casualties. Due to the risk of civilian casualties, the US-led coalition can only make use of precision munitions in the direct vicinity of the advancing Iraqi army. The street-to-street scenario is therefore the only practical and effective military option to clear the city of all of IS pockets of resistance. How does this compare to previous operations? The US-led coalition and the Iraqi army can't rely on air support due to the considerable risk of civilian deaths. It's a classic example of traditional urban combat, in which the Iraqi army has to practice patience in order to be successful. Every neighborhood, every structure, every house, every building, every yard will have to be searched and cleared. Due to the fact that Mosul is a very large city, this will most likely, as I mentioned before, take months. Is IS expected to hold ground or flee? How might this impact the operation? Although there have been examples of IS deserters in the last couple of weeks, it is to be expected that the hardcore IS elements, still present in the city, will put up a fight and have no intention to "wave the white flag," so to speak. This is also due to the fact that many alleged deserters have been publicly executed by IS in the last couple of weeks. A screening operation by Shiite forces, Iran-backed troops known as the Popular Mobilization Units, and Kurdish allies will cut off possible IS escape routes to the western and northern parts of the city. So it is to be expected that the Iraqi Army will not be facing a walk in the park, and will have to anticipate a slow, textbook-style military urban clearing operation. What might the situation look like if and when Mosul is liberated? The question of what happens after the liberation of Mosul is, without a doubt, the most prominent question that the international community, the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government is facing. Sunni Arabs historically controlled the northern Nineveh province; however, the region has numerous ethnic and sectarian groups. So the risk to aggravate sectarian tensions is very present. This is the reason, for example, it was decided that the Iran-backed Shiite militias are not to enter Mosul. Another important factor will be the current developments between the Turkish and Iraqi government with regards to the presence of Turkish troops in the vicinity of Mosul, and the current build-up of armored Turkish columns at the Iraqi border. Many inhabitants of Mosul felt alienated by the Shiite Arab-led Iraqi government. It is therefore not to be expected that the transformation will lead to a smooth unification of all these ethnic and sectarian elements after the liberation of Mosul. The real battle will therefore start on the day Mosul will be declared liberated. This interview was conducted by Lewis Sanders IV.

The Kurdish peshmerga forces have stopped on the outskirts of Mosul under an agreement with Baghdad. DW speaks with Tomas Olivier of the security consultancy Lowlands Solutions to find out why. As Iraqi forces continue their campaign to uproot the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group from their stronghold in Mosul, questions have arisen concerning how the battle will play out, ... Read More »

Three ISS astronauts return to earth in Kazakhstan

Three astronauts have landed safely back on earth after a 115-day mission on the ISS. NASA's representative had become the first person to sequence DNA in space. Three astronauts, Kathleen Rubins of the US, Russia's Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of Japan, landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Sunday morning at 0358 UTC. "Landing has taken place!" Russian mission control confirmed as NASA TV noted that the Soyuz craft had landed in an upright position. They had spent more than four months aboard the International Space Station (ISS). NASA's Rubins, a molecular biologist, was the first person to sequence DNA in space. Rubins, Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency landed southeast of the Kazakh steppe town of Zhezkazgan in frosty conditions following a 115-day mission on board the ISS. As they were brought out of the capsule, live television images showed them happy and enjoying the fresh air. The ISS space laboratory has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,000 miles per hour) since 1998.

Three astronauts have landed safely back on earth after a 115-day mission on the ISS. NASA’s representative had become the first person to sequence DNA in space. Three astronauts, Kathleen Rubins of the US, Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of Japan, landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Sunday morning at 0358 UTC. “Landing has taken place!” Russian ... Read More »

NATO, EU trying to improve Libya’s legacy

Five years after a NATO-led intervention toppled then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the military alliance and the European Union are ramping up efforts to rebuild and reform the country. Attending a NATO defense ministers' meeting Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced as a "very important step" the launch of the bloc's training program for 78 heavily-vetted members of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy. It's part of the EU's broader naval mission Operation Sophia, aimed at disrupting the migrant influx in the Mediterranean Sea. Mogherini thanked NATO ministers for their Wednesday night approval of reconnaissance and logistical assistance for the operation. Human rights group calls for halt Some human rights groups, however, say the NATO and EU initiatives will compound, not correct, the problems in the tumultuous north African state. Ruben Neugebauer thinks such self-congratulation is completely unwarranted. His organization Sea Watch has asked the EU to call off the plans to train officers and upgrade equipment for Libyan forces. That's because of incidents, like last Friday, when a rescue ship from the privately-funded group answered a distress call in the Mediterranean just in time, Neugebauer explained, to see what appeared to be a Libyan Coast Guard vessel with armed men aboard purposely sink a dinghy struggling to stay afloat with roughly 125 people aboard. The Berlin-based organization is a privately-funded initiative that describes itself as "dedicated to putting an end to the dying on the Mediterranean Sea." Neugebauer said the Sea Watch crew did everything it could to pick up the desperate passengers as the European-made Libyan vessel shut off its lights and raced away. At least four people didn't make it. Mogherini's European External Action Service announcement describes the training program's objective as enhancing Libyans' "capability to disrupt smuggling and trafficking in Libya and to perform search and rescue activities which will save lives and improve security in the Libyan territorial waters." Neugebauer said the EU is much more interested in the first half of that "objective" than the latter. "It's not at all caring about the humanitarian situation, but rather shutting down the border by all means necessary," he said, "and this is simply unacceptable for us." Neugebauer said if the initiative launched Thursday proceeds -- as it obviously is, with 78 Libyan trainees already aboard two EU ships -- the bloc should "dump [its] Nobel Peace Prize right in the Mediterranean Sea." Trying times in Tripoli But EU and NATO officials insist they're not glossing over known problems in Libya's governance and institutions. Asked by DW Thursday whether there's deep enough vetting of Libyan partners,NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged the "situation in Libya is not easy" with different militias fighting each other, while the international community tries to shore up the UN-recognized government of national unity in Tripoli. "NATO's main focus is how we can build security institutions," he explained, in order to address these issues. "To be able to train the right people and to be able to build the right kind of forces," he said, "we need the security institutions which shall organize and lead them." EU officials use a similar logic to explain why they're choosing to forge ahead now with Libyan trainees, after a long process of narrowing down candidates. Officials underscore that a substantial part of the program involves becoming better versed in human rights and international law, trying to bring up the level to international standards. Mogherini mentioned recently in New York that many of these migrants and refugees coming through Libya have already been on the run for a long time. They "have been through a form of modern slavery," she acknowledged, and "often live in inhumane conditions in Libya" as well. "We are working to improve their situation," Mogherini pledged. Meanwhile, the UN's latest figures show that the crossing between Libya and Italy is becoming ever more deadly, with those who attempt it more likely to drown this year than in 2015.

Five years after a NATO-led intervention toppled then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the military alliance and the European Union are ramping up efforts to rebuild and reform the country. Attending a NATO defense ministers’ meeting Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced as a “very important step” the launch of the bloc’s training program for 78 heavily-vetted members of the ... Read More »

Children in Aleppo: ‘I’d rather die’

Aleppo has become "a slaughterhouse," says the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. The situation for children there is especially serious. Experts are warning of depression and suicidal thoughts among the young. The image burns itself into your brain: little Omran from the Syrian city of Aleppo sitting in an ambulance, staring into space, covered in blood, clothes torn, his hair full of dust. The photograph, taken by an activist a few weeks ago, provoked horror around the world. We can only surmise from this little child's stunned expression what the war in his homeland has done to him, and to many other children and youngsters like him. Aleppo has again been forced to endure weeks of bombing by the Syrian and Russian regimes. A ceasefire was in place over the weekend. Of all the cities caught up in the Syrian civil war, Aleppo is the most fiercely contested. According to the UN, more than 250,000 people are trapped under siege in the eastern part of town. The recent bombardments were the heaviest since the start of the war in 2011. In the last offensive alone, which began on September 22, more than 500 people were killed and 2,000 wounded. Around a quarter of the victims were children - and that number could rise dramatically, as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are around 100,000 children and young people in eastern Aleppo. 'Medieval conditions' In an October 21 speech via video link to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al Hussein, said the siege and bombardment of Aleppo "constitute crimes of historic proportions." This ancient Syrian city, "a place of millennial civility and beauty," was today, he said, "a slaughterhouse." Although Russia agreed to the ceasefire, the sick and injured could not be brought out of the city. The United Nations said it was unsafe to transport them, and secretary-general Ban Ki Moon pointed out that: "Under these medieval conditions, the vulnerable are suffering the most." Suicidal thoughts among children Katharina Ebel, the project advisor of SOS Children's Villages in Syria, confirmed that this is indeed the case. The children are under tremendous psychological strain, she said, warning of severe depression that could even lead to children having suicidal thoughts. "One boy who wanted to take his own life was only 12 years old," she told the "Passauer Neue Presse" newspaper. "So far we've always been able to prevent children from killing themselves," Ebel went on. But she reported that every day there are children who say, "I'd rather die than go on like this." Deep depression drives them to commit acts of aggression, against both themselves and others. "Many of them can't sleep any more, or have nightmares, and then they're completely exhausted during the day," she said. Children describe the rigors of their everyday lives on the website of UNICEF's #ChildrenofSyria campaign. Not only do they risk being killed on the way to school, the schools themselves are also often attacked - around 4,000 times since the war began. And even those who try to take shelter may be killed: The organization Save the Children has reported that so-called "bunker buster" bombs are being used. Some experiences are too extreme SOS Children's Villages have psychologists and social workers in every facility, "who talk to the children individually, try to alleviate their trauma, restore the children's sense of trust," Ebel said. "Sometimes it's just not possible, because what they've experienced is too extreme. Often, when a child has seen their parents die, seen them buried under rubble, seen their home destroyed, their sense of security is lost for a very long time." The Syrian winter will start to set in in just a few weeks' time. UNICEF warns that many children and their families have reached the end of their strength. Children are especially at risk from the freezing temperatures and snowstorms that have often occurred in recent years. The aid organization is also very worried about the children in the Iraqi city of Mosul, 600 kilometers (370 miles) further east. It warns that the current offensive to recapture the city means the more than 500,000 children and their families there are now in extreme danger.

Aleppo has become “a slaughterhouse,” says the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. The situation for children there is especially serious. Experts are warning of depression and suicidal thoughts among the young. The image burns itself into your brain: little Omran from the Syrian city of Aleppo sitting in an ambulance, staring into space, covered in blood, clothes torn, his hair ... Read More »

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