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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 »

Italian coastguard rescues thousands of refugees

Officers have rescued 5,700 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in the last two days, the Italian coastguard said. They also recovered 14 bodies of refugees who drowned while crossing over from Libya. The coastguard coordinated 20 rescue operations over the weekend, intercepting about 2,400 people. Around 3,300 more migrants disembarked in five different ports in Sicily over the two days, the ANSA news agency reported. Rescue workers also saved over 460 migrants who arrived in Naples on Sunday, but it was not clear if those rescued had been accounted for in prior counts, local interior minister Gerarda Pantalone told reporters. "I've never had a SAR [Search and Rescue] like it. We were in the process of transferring 1,000 migrants from the Okyroe [tanker] to the Siem Pilot when suddenly, in the dark, rubber boats appeared. It looked hopeless," Pal Erik Teigen, the police officer in charge of the rescue operation, told reporters on Sunday. The Italian coastguard said it recovered seven dead bodies on Friday and another seven the next day. Around 25 people were still missing and were feared drowned after the Libyan coastguard attacked a migrant dinghy during a rescue operation. Rescue workers of the German navy also saved 844 people in the weekend's operation together with the Italians. The refugees were being brought to an Italian harbor aboard the support ship Werra. The German military has been participating in the action, called Operation Sophia, since 2015. Italy is the main landing point for migrants who travel from North Africa and undertake a perilous voyage in flimsy vessels over the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. These boats are often overcrowded, and passengers are exposed to exhaust fumes or suffer from hypothermia or dehydration. According to the International Institute of Migration (IOM), 146,381 migrants have landed in Italy so far this year. Around 3,645 refugees have died on the journey. Meanwhile, Rome has been engaged in a row with the European Commission on funding for the refugees. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi complained about the lack of solidarity from EU partners. "We cannot go on like this, we need a radical solution," he said on a visit to Sicily over the weekend. He also insisted on a fine to penalize Eastern European nations that refused to take in migrants.

Officers have rescued 5,700 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in the last two days, the Italian coastguard said. They also recovered 14 bodies of refugees who drowned while crossing over from Libya. The coastguard coordinated 20 rescue operations over the weekend, intercepting about 2,400 people. Around 3,300 more migrants disembarked in five different ports in Sicily over the two ... Read More »

Cameroon rescuers continue to search for bodies after train crash

Rescue teams are struggling to pull bodies from a derailed train wreck in southwest Cameroon, two days after the crash killed more than 70 people. Several carriages fell into a ravine, crushing passengers to death. Rescuers were focused on the ravine where four of the wagons plunged when the overcrowded train, traveling from Yaounde to the port city of Douala, derailed on Friday near the southwestern town of Eseka. Recovery teams were struggling to extract bodies intact, as many were trapped under the carriages, some of which fell on top of each other, Radio France International (RFI) reported on Sunday. Nationwide grief Cameroon's President Paul Biya put the death toll at more than 70, describing how another 600 passengers had been injured in the crash, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital, Yaounde. "I instructed the government to provide full assistance to the survivors, while investigations will be made to determine the cause of the derailment," he said. Biya declared a national day of mourning for the victims on Monday. The Associated Press news agency described how several bodies remained strewn along the tracks two days after the crash. Train overloaded The 20-carriage train, which was carrying 1,300 passengers - more than double its load capacity - derailed as, one by one, wagons detached themselves from the convoy. A larger number of passengers were traveling on the train due to the collapse of a section of the main highway between Yaounde and Douala earlier in the day. Witnesses, including a reporter for the Reuters news agency travelling on the train, said rail workers had added additional carriages to accommodate extra passengers before its departure, though it is not clear if that decision contributed to the accident. The rail company, Camrail, rejected complaints from victims' families that they had been abandoned, stressing that crisis centers had been set up in the two cities. Psychological support was being provided to families, RFI cited a Camrail representative as saying. Engineers were at the scene on Sunday to evaluate the damage and the rail tracks were expected to resume operations soon, according to a rail transportation official.

Rescue teams are struggling to pull bodies from a derailed train wreck in southwest Cameroon, two days after the crash killed more than 70 people. Several carriages fell into a ravine, crushing passengers to death. Rescuers were focused on the ravine where four of the wagons plunged when the overcrowded train, traveling from Yaounde to the port city of Douala, ... Read More »

Over 1 million Russians could be surveillance targets by year’s end

Russian activists claim Moscow is drastically expanding its electronic eavesdropping at home. A new report alleges the country's wiretapping efforts on its own citizens have doubled in recent years. Over a million Russians could soon have their phone conversations monitored by the government, according to data released by Russian political activists. In the first Russian-language edition of "The Red Web: The Struggle between Russia's Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries" published Friday in Moscow, investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan allege the number of wiretap requests granted by Russian courts has doubled in the last eight years. The journalists say records published by the Russian court system show that between 2007 and 2015, the number of court-sanctioned eavesdropping operations climbed from 265,937 to 539,964. Other activists claim the number could be much higher. Figures published by journalist Oleg Solmanov earlier this month indicate that almost 1 million Russian citizens were wiretapped so far this year. The activists say many Russian citizens targeted by government wiretapping programs are the subjects of legitimate criminal investigations. However, they say opposition politicians, political activists and even businessmen increasingly find themselves targeted by government surveillance operations. Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov tried to investigate to what extent he was targeted by Kremlin-sanctioned spying efforts, but he made little headway before his murder last year. Speaking to DW, "The Red Web" co-author Irina Borogan says the lack of legal checks on wiretapping powers are encouraging abuse among government investigators. She says a member of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet Union's KGB, only needs to file a report requesting eavesdropping operations in order to secure permission. "Russia is an authoritarian state, which is starting to resemble a police state with the government constantly pushing for more surveillance of everyday people," Borogan said. The 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia kicked off a renaissance of sorts for Moscow's intelligence services, according to Borogan, increasing both the number of intelligence operations carried out by the government and raising concerns among the country's elite. "Average Russians don't pay attention to [government] wiretapping," she said. "Authoritarian states give people space. If you're not a politician or a business man but a school teacher or an office worker, you can get used to the system. But opposition politicians, businessmen and journalists are worried." Private email accounts also at risk Electronic surveillance is increasingly a concern among politically engaged Russians. Last week, dozens of journalists and activists claimed they received warnings from Google that an unknown third party had attempted to access their email accounts without permission. Ilja Klishin, an editor at Russia's independent TV Rain website, posted a screenshot he claims he was sent indicating intelligence agencies had attempted to break his password. "It's possible members of the intelligence service are trying to steal your password," it reads. He is just one of dozens of journalist who have taken to social media to complain about the attempt to break their passwords. DW reached out to Google Russia, who declined to comment on the specifics of the case, saying only that "the emergency warning system does not necessarily mean a breach attempt was made, but indicates that the company believes one took place." The company added the system "warns users when a third party attempts to violate their account" but it cannot be "100 percent certain the accounts were targeted." Expats also under pressure But email warnings like the ones sent to Google Russia users last week are all too familiar to one former English teacher from the United States who spoke to DW. "I got a couple of warnings that someone was trying to change my passwords and then my students told me that FSB agents were hanging around after class," he said, adding the authorities were interested in what he was teaching the students, particularly on political and economic topics. Eventually, the teacher said he was picked up by three agents who wanted to know what he was doing in Russia. "They didn't threaten me but I was scared all the same," he said. "I mean, I was just teaching. I don't know why spies would be interested in me. They kept trying to find out if I had any connections to the military back home and said I should meet with them regularly to talk about other Americans in Russia." He says he declined the request but said the agents had some parting advice: "They told me I shouldn't contact [the American] embassy. He said they could tell if I tried."

Russian activists claim Moscow is drastically expanding its electronic eavesdropping at home. A new report alleges the country’s wiretapping efforts on its own citizens have doubled in recent years. Over a million Russians could soon have their phone conversations monitored by the government, according to data released by Russian political activists. In the first Russian-language edition of “The Red Web: ... Read More »

Ecuador cuts internet for Assange, says WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks has activated "contingency plans" after its founder lost internet access. The alleged move by the Ecuadorian Embassy comes as the anti-secrecy organization ramps up its campaign on Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks on Monday said the Ecuadorian Embassy in London had cut internet access for Julian Assange, the whistleblowing organization's founder and editor-in-chief. "We can confirm Ecuador cut off Assange's internet access Saturday, 5 p.m. GMT, shortly after publication of [Hillary] Clinton's Goldman Sachs speeches," the organization noted on social platform Twitter. "We have activated the appropriate contingency plans," WikiLeaks said in an earlier tweet. A spokesperson for the organization, speaking with the AFP news agency, claimed the cutoff was directly linked to WikiLeaks' ongoing publications concerning US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Days before the Democratic National Convention in July, WikiLeaks published damning internal emails that revealed a concerted effort to undermine the presidential campaign of Clinton's competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders. Democratic Party officials and the Clinton campaign have accused Russia of involvement in a series of hacks on the American political party's servers, including "senior-most officials." However, the anti-secrecy organization has refused to disclose the sources of the hacked material. The Ecuadorian Embassy in London has declined to comment on the development, according to news agencies. Assange has lived at the embassy since 2012. He received asylum at Ecuador's diplomatic presence in the UK after a British court ordered him extradited to Sweden for questioning over sex crimes allegations. WikiLeaks' latest publications concern Clinton's paid speeches to financial giant Goldman Sachs.

WikiLeaks has activated “contingency plans” after its founder lost internet access. The alleged move by the Ecuadorian Embassy comes as the anti-secrecy organization ramps up its campaign on Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks on Monday said the Ecuadorian Embassy in London had cut internet access for Julian Assange, the whistleblowing organization’s founder and editor-in-chief. “We can confirm Ecuador cut off Assange’s internet ... Read More »

Constitutional court allows postponement of Congo election to 2018

Congo's constitutional court has approved a request by the electoral commission to postpone the November election to update voter lists. The controversial move means President Kabila could stay in office until 2018. Congo's ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and other participants in a national dialogue agreed on Monday that presidential, legislative and provincial elections will be held in April 2018. The national dialogue - which began on September 1 between the PPRD, representatives of civil society and some of the opposition to try to find a way forward - has been attacked by the opposition and foreign bodies as enabling President Joseph Kabila to stay in office beyond his constitutionally prescribed two terms. Since winning independence from Belgium in 1960, Congo has never had a peaceful, democratic transition of power. Presidential, legislative and local elections will be held six months after they are convened on October 30, 2017, the former Togolese prime minister and talks facilitator Edem Kodjo said in a statement. The leader of the parliamentary group representing Kabila's PPRD confirmed the announcement. "The election will be held in 2018," Ramazani Shadari said, adding that "all the details" of the deal would be disclosed on Tuesday. The court said there were technical problems with the upcoming vote and authorized what its president, Benoit Lwamba Bindu said was a "reasonable delay." The commission must now publish a new electoral calendar for the presidential election, originally scheduled for November 27. Opposition coalition boycotts talks The commission originally filed a delay petition to the court in September amid clashes that left dozens dead in the capital after security forces clashed with thousands of anti-government demonstrators. It has since said elections cannot be organized until the end of 2018. A high court has said that Kabila can stay in office until a new leader is elected. The country's main opposition coalition - "Rassemblement" (Gathering) - boycotted the talks and has called for the international community and the United Nations to take an active role with the African Union in bringing about dialogue for holding elections. It has also called for a general strike on Wednesday across the vast central African nation, to give Kabila a "yellow card." EU foreign ministers on Monday said the bloc was "deeply concerned by the political situation [and] ... strongly condemns the acts of extreme violence."

Congo’s constitutional court has approved a request by the electoral commission to postpone the November election to update voter lists. The controversial move means President Kabila could stay in office until 2018. Congo’s ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and other participants in a national dialogue agreed on Monday that presidential, legislative and provincial elections will be held ... Read More »

EU governments unite behind urgent call to ‘save Aleppo’

The EU's foreign policy chief has said it is the bloc's top priority to save the besieged city of Aleppo. European leaders called out Russia for aiding the Syrian regime, but stopped short of proposing punitive action. United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he'd conveyed to European Union foreign ministers just how stark the scenario is right now at ground zero in Syria, the rebel-held city of Aleppo: "Between now and December," he said, "if we are not finding a solution for Aleppo, Aleppo will not be there anymore." De Mistura, who'd been invited to the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said the rebel-held city had been bombed "for more than a month [with] no access to it" for humanitarian aid. Of the 275,000 inhabitants who have remained in the city despite the incessant air attacks, de Mistura said 100,000 were children. He urged the EU to unify and find a way to save these people. His words seemed to have an impact, as foreign ministers ended up approving a final statement more forceful than the language most had used on their ways into the meeting, perhaps stronger than many had thought could be mustered with unanimity: "Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate and the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure, as well as the use of barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and chemical weapons, constitute a catastrophic escalation of the conflict and have caused further widespread civilian casualties, including amongst women and children and may amount to war crimes," the statement read. EU 'appalled' by actions of regime 'and its allies' "Priority number one now is to save Aleppo, to save the people of Aleppo," Mogherini said. "Our strong call is on Russia and on the Syrian regime to stop the bombing on Aleppo and to continue talks with the US and other key players on the ground to avoid a …humanitarian catastrophe in the city." The document also calls on Russia to make all efforts to "halt indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian regime" - though without going so far as to mention Russia is doing much of the bombing itself - and demands "immediate and expanded humanitarian access" to besieged civilians. Will Russia respond? While ministers debated, the head of Russia's military general staff announced there would be a "humanitarian pause" on Thursday so that sick and wounded civilians could be evacuated. While Mogherini welcomed "anything that could alleviate the humanitarian suffering, the catastrophe that we're seeing in Aleppo," she also noted that UN humanitarian experts had said they'd need 12 hours to perform the needed rescues. As for whether being "appalled" by Russia's actions means EU governments are willing to consider punitive measures against Moscow, analysts aren't betting on it. So far only German Chancellor Angela Merkel - and only to one newspaper, "Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" - has called for increased European Union sanctions against Russia for its actions in Syria. But it's unclear whether Merkel herself will be making that recommendation later this week at the leaders' summit in Brussels. Sanctions an option, but not one anyone wants Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at London's Institute for Statecraft, isn't surprised the meeting resulted in mere condemnation rather than a proposal for more punitive measures. "The EU always finds it difficult to agree whether to be tough or encouraging on Russia," he said. "Some EU states look at Russia and see a problem, others look at it and see an opportunity, so they pull in opposite directions." Nimmo notes even the already complicated path to getting sanctions passed by the EU 28 is much harder now because of the raft of penalties currently in place on Russia. "The easy targets have already been sanctioned," Nimmo pointed out. Even if there were willingness among governments, he told DW, "agreeing on further measures would require a lot of debate as to what and who, exactly, should be sanctioned." Marc Pierini, who served as the EU ambassador to Syria, doesn't think battling over sanctions would be a productive use of EU might anyway, because the two men who could change the fate of Aleppo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have no impetus to do so, regardless of EU ire. Now a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, Pierini says the situation is basically stuck. "The regime cannot afford to lose Aleppo," Pierini said, and Russia will continue helping them do that, unless Putin sees that it's hurting him politically. But instead, Pierini explained, "domestically Putin is gaining from this kind of brutal image, so I don't have much hope."

The EU’s foreign policy chief has said it is the bloc’s top priority to save the besieged city of Aleppo. European leaders called out Russia for aiding the Syrian regime, but stopped short of proposing punitive action. United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he’d conveyed to European Union foreign ministers just how stark the scenario is right now ... Read More »

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