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Algerians rally against ailing president as opposition activist arrested in Switzerland

Masses of Algerians have protested demanding hospitalized President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drop his bid for a fifth term. One opposition member went to great lengths to obtain details on the president's current condition. Tens of thousands of Algerians marched through the streets of Algiers and other cities across the country on Friday, protesting 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term as the country's president. Read more: As Algeria protests grow, France keeps a silent, watchful eye Bouteflika, who has not been seen since he checked into a Swiss hospital for "routine medical tests" on February 24, issued a warning to protestors, calling on them to be vigilant and cautious, "in case this peaceful expression is infiltrated by some insidious party … which could cause chaos." Warnings of civil war and terrorism Bouteflika, who is rarely seen in public, has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a stroke in 2013. In his message to protesters, he warned of a return to civil war — which gripped the country in the 1990s — as well as the "crises and tragedies caused by terrorism" across North Africa. Despite being officially banned since 2001, demonstrations have been growing in size across the country for the past two weeks. Still, organizers have been extremely clear about the fact that their protests are peaceful, going so far as to organize first-aid stations and clean streets after protests end. Friday's protests were the biggest the country has seen since citizens began taking to the streets in large numbers on February 22. State news agency APS reported that protesters were demanding "regime change" as demonstrations grew Friday afternoon. As darkness fell Friday, the celebratory mood of the day's demonstrations shifted, as smaller groups of young men faced off with police, who fired tear gas to disperse them. Meanwhile in Geneva Away from the mass protests in Algeria, Swiss police confirmed they had arrested businessman and opposition activist Rachid Nekkaz for trespassing at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) where Bouteflika is being treated. Nekkaz, who sought to run against Bouteflika but has been barred due to the fact that he once possessed French citizenship, told onlookers outside the HUG, "40 million Algerians want to know where the president is." Bouteflika, who has been Algeria's president since April 27, 1999, announced his intention to run for a fifth term on February 10. The country's Constitutional Council now has until March 13 to approve candidates for the April 18 election.

Masses of Algerians have protested demanding hospitalized President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drop his bid for a fifth term. One opposition member went to great lengths to obtain details on the president’s current condition. Tens of thousands of Algerians marched through the streets of Algiers and other cities across the country on Friday, protesting 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term ... Read More »

UN Rohingya conference: EU pledges millions in aid for refugees

سوئس شہر جنیوا میں آج دنیا میں پیدا ہونے والے مہاجرین سب سے بڑے بحران کے موضوع پر ایک ڈونر کانفرنس کا انعقاد کیا جا رہا ہے۔ اس دوران روہنگیا پناہ گزینوں کے لیے رقم جمع کی جائے گی۔ اقوام متحدہ نے مختلف ممالک سے درخواست کی ہے کہ جنیوا اجلاس کے دوران روہنگیا برادری کے لیے کم از کم 434 ملین ڈالر اکھٹے کیے جائیں۔ روہنگیا کی ہجرت کا معاملہ بنگلہ دیش اور میانمار کے مابین تیزی سے ایک بحران کی صورت اختیار کرتا جا رہا ہے۔ اقوام متحدہ کے ادارے برائے مہاجرین کے سربراہ فیلیپو گرانڈی کے بقول، ’’یہ بہت ہی نازک صورتحال ہے اور اس سلسلے میں امداد کی شدید ضرورت ہے۔‘‘ یہ رقم اقوام متحدہ کے ان مختلف منصوبوں پر خرچ کی جائے گی، جو بنگلہ دیش میں رہائش پذیر روہنگیا کے لیے جاری ہیں۔ بتايا گيا ہے کہ اس امدادی رقم سے آئندہ برس فروری تک کے ليے روہنگيا مسلمانوں کو بنيادی سہوليات فراہم کی جائيں گی۔ تشدد کی وجہ سے میانمار سے فرار ہو کر بنگلہ دیش پہنچنے والے روہنگیا کی تعداد تقریباً چھ لاکھ ہو چکی ہے۔ بنگلہ دیش کا شمار ایشیا کی غریب ترین ریاستوں میں ہوتا ہے، تاہم اس کے باوجود اس ملک نے اپنی سرحدیں روہنگیا مسلمانوں کے لیے کھولی ہوئی ہیں۔ اقوام متحدہ کے ہنگامی امداد کے ادارے کے سربراہ مارک لوکوک نے کہا ہے کہ سالوں سے روہنگیا برادری کے خلاف جاری ظلم و ستم، زیادتی اور نقل مکانی کی وجہ سے اسے کوئی علیحدہ یا الگ تھلگ بحران قرار نہیں دیا جا سکتا ہے۔ رپورٹس کے مطابق ہر دس روہنگیا مہاجر میں سے چھ بچے ہیں اور ان میں سے اکثریت کو کم خوراکی کا سامنا ہے۔ بنگلہ دیش میں شہر کوکس بازار میں اور اس کے ارد گرد قائم مہاجرین کے مراکز میں مقیم روہنگیا کو پانی کی کمی اور نکاسی آب کا نظام نہ ہونے کی وجہ سے ان کیمپوں میں بیماریوں کے پھوٹ پڑنے کے خطرات بڑھتے جا رہے ہیں۔

The EU has pledged €30 million as the UN holds a fundraising conference to aid Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar. More than 600,000 Rohingya have escaped to Bangladesh amid persecution at home. The European Commission on Monday promised to give €30 million ($35 million) as the United Nations opened a fundraising conference in Geneva that aims to secure some ... Read More »

Chief Syrian opposition peace negotiator quits over failed talks

The Syrian opposition's lead negotiator has resigned in protest at stalled peace talks in Geneva. It appears the UN-brokered peace talks are unlikely to be reconvened in the near future. "The three rounds of talks were unsuccessful because of the stubbornness of the regime and its continued bombardments and aggressions towards the Syrian people," Mohammad Aloush, a member of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group, said via Twitter. "I therefore announce my withdrawal from the delegation and my resignation." The Syrian opposition had suspended formal participation in the peace talks on April 27, saying they would only return if Syrian army offensives were scaled back. Geneva talks stalled for now A new round of talks had been expected for the end of the month, but no new date has been announced and the UN's Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, said this week there were no plans for new rounds in the next three weeks. A joint initiative by Russia and the United States produced a shaky ceasefire agreed to in February between Damascus and non-jihadist rebels. But the negotiated "cessation of hostilities" has been repeatedly violated by all sides. This comes as the head of the main Syrian opposition delegation Asaad al-Zoubi also told the Saudi al Hadath TV channel that he too wanted to be relieved of his post, but did not confirm he had taken a similar step. The Syrian conflict has since spiraled into a full blown civil war drawing in Russia, Turkey, Iran and other regional players. The fighting has left some 280,000 dead and driven millions from their homes, many of them trying to reach the relative safety of Europe.

The Syrian opposition’s lead negotiator has resigned in protest at stalled peace talks in Geneva. It appears the UN-brokered peace talks are unlikely to be reconvened in the near future. “The three rounds of talks were unsuccessful because of the stubbornness of the regime and its continued bombardments and aggressions towards the Syrian people,” Mohammad Aloush, a member of the ... Read More »

Kerry urges cooperation over Syria truce

US Secretary of State John Kerry has launched a desperate push to salvage a ceasefire in Syria. The two-month old truce brokered by the US and Russia is under severe threat. Speaking in Geneva, Kerry insisted late Monday that there has been progress on a plan to restore Syria's fraying ceasefire with final details still being hammered out between world powers. "We are hopeful, but we are not yet there yet," Kerry told reporters after meeting Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura. The truce brokered by Washington and Moscow remains precarious and Kerry warned it was premature to promise success. The top US diplomat held the Syrian military responsible for a recent attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo as violence continues to escalate in fighting over Syria's second city. Russia and Iran - which support Syria's armed forces - must now make sure that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad honors the truce, Kerry said. The US and its allies continue to back so-called "moderate rebels" and must do the same on the other side, Kerry said. "We're trying to press this as fast as is possible," he said. Efforts continue to restart talks Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor says at least 253 civilians - including around 50 children - have been killed on both sides of divided Aleppo since April 22. This comes despite pleas from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who appealed for the ceasefire to be extended to include Aleppo as a matter of urgency. Syrian state television reported a Syrian army announcement on Monday that exclusion zones of fighting have been extended until 1:00 am Wednesday (2200 UTC Tuesday). Russia and Assad's troops and allies have used the presence of al-Nusra, which was not party to a February 27 ceasefire, as an excuse to press their offensive on Aleppo. Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 as a violent crackdown on anti-government protests. It has since escalated into a complex, multi-faceted war, with foreign fighters and a sectarian dimension; more than 270,000 people have been killed and millions displaced. Peace talks in Geneva failed to make headway last month though UN diplomats have voiced hope they will resume next month.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has launched a desperate push to salvage a ceasefire in Syria. The two-month old truce brokered by the US and Russia is under severe threat. Speaking in Geneva, Kerry insisted late Monday that there has been progress on a plan to restore Syria’s fraying ceasefire with final details still being hammered out between world ... Read More »

‘Critical hours’ for Syria’s Aleppo, says Kerry

Russia says it is pressing for "silence" in Aleppo after being urged by the US to help end the carnage in Syria's northern hub. Top diplomats are in Geneva, trying to salvage a February ceasefire. A senior Russian official in Syria has urged "all sides" to support a fresh peace initiative as US Secretary of State John Kerry consults Arab ministers and UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva. The head of Russia's coordination center in Syria, Lieutenant General Sergei Kuralenko told Russian news agencies Sunday that talks were underway to establish a "regime of silence" in Aleppo. Rebel-held areas were hit by air strikes after rebels reportedly shelled government-held western areas of the city, according to monitors. Syrian Observatory monitors on Sunday claimed that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had dropped barrel bombs from aircraft on Castello Road, the only escape route for civilians from Aleppo. At least 253 civilians, including 49 children, have been killed in divided Aleppo sine April 22, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Assad's military said a "regime of calm" or lull applied - with the exception of Aleppo - in Damascus and some of its outskirts, as well as parts of the northwestern coastal province of Latakia. 'War crimes,' says Saudi Arabia Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, while en route to meet Kerry in Geneva on Monday, accused the regime of Assad of committing "war crimes" in Aleppo. Also in Geneva, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said the situation in Aleppo - once Syria's thriving northern hub - was "quite alarming." "It's an entire package - the cessation of hostilities, the resumption of negotiations, and the humanitarian access," Judeh said. "All three" had to be acted on simultaneously, he said. Russia's cooperation required Arriving in Geneva, Kerry said the UN Security Council resolutions called for a "countrywide" cessation and access for humanitarian aid convoys. "Obviously that hasn't happened and isn't happening," Kerry said, adding that "these are critical hours" requiring Russian cooperation. "It's a test for the Russians and for the regime, as well as the Syrian opposition," Toner said, referring to talks Kerry had held in recent days. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who with Kerry forged the February ceasefire, was not expected this time in Geneva. Opposition groups want truce as 'bloc' Numerous rebel groups rejected the regime's rhetoric, saying any truce must include all areas of fighting stipulated under the February deal as "one bloc." Excluded from the February deal were jihadist groups such as "Islamic State" and the al-Nusra Front, which remain targeted. Social media tag On social media, a hashtag #AleppoIsBurning has emerged, with protests planned this week. In Lebanon, which hosts more than a million Syrian refugees, a weekend demonstration saw protestors wearing white helmets marked "Civil Defence" to remind the world of rescue workers in devastated Aleppo. Last week, even medical centers were struck.

Russia says it is pressing for “silence” in Aleppo after being urged by the US to help end the carnage in Syria’s northern hub. Top diplomats are in Geneva, trying to salvage a February ceasefire. A senior Russian official in Syria has urged “all sides” to support a fresh peace initiative as US Secretary of State John Kerry consults Arab ... Read More »

More civilians flee Aleppo, as Kerry embarks on fresh ceasefire bid

Syrian airstrikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo have killed ten more civilians, lifting the city's nine-day death toll to nearly 250. US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to Geneva in a fresh ceasefire bid. Russia has rejected calls to rein its ally Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his forces, as more residents fled Syria's divided and battered northern city. The fight for Aleppo was part of Assad's campaign against "the terrorist threat," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, in reply to a Washington appeal to keep Assad in check. The past week's resurgence of air strikes and shelling in Aleppo has severely tested an internationally mediated truce reached on February 27 and further peace talks between the regime and non-jihadist rebels. Elsewhere in Syria, truce efforts seemed to be working. The Red Cross says aid deliveries to two northern and two southern towns of Syria have proceeded. Claim and counter-claim The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said its monitors had observed 28 air strikes on rebel-held eastern neighborhoods on Saturday in Aleppo, where an estimated 250,000 people remain. Only one escape route Families tried to flee by using eastern Aleppo's only route along the dangerous Castello Road, as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) deplored attacks on four Aleppo medical facilities on Friday. ICRC Syria spokesperson Marianne Gasser said attacks on hospitals and clinics were "strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law." "For the sake of people in Aleppo, we call for all to stop this indiscriminate violence." 'Top priority,' says US Amid reports that Kerry would travel back to Geneva on Sunday, the US State Department said the top US diplomat was giving "top priority" to ending the violence in Aleppo. Kerry had had phone calls with the United Nation's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura and Riyah Hijab, a negotiator for Syrian opposition groups, said State Department spokesman John Kirby. The head of the main Syrian opposition coalition, Anas al-Abdeh, said the chances of a solution were fading unless the international community acted fast - before the formal start of UN-backed peace talks on May 10. Speaking after a coalition meeting in Istanbul, Abdeh claimed that Assad's regime "is not really interested in a political solution." Abdeh said it was up to Washington, which in recent months had engaged in intense diplomacy with Moscow - to salvage the Geneva peace process. "I hope the Americans are doing that, otherwise all the good efforts of the past four months would go in vain," he said. Aid convoys bring relief In Damascus, another ICRC spokesman said humanitarian convoys run jointly with the UN and Syrian Red Crescent had begun delivering food and medicines to two outlying rebel-held towns besieged by government forces - Madaya and Zabadani. At the same time, other convoys had entered the two government-held towns besieged by insurgents near Aleppo - Fuaa and Kafraya. Madaya, in mountains northwest of Damascus, is the town where dozens of residents died of starvation late last year.

Syrian airstrikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo have killed ten more civilians, lifting the city’s nine-day death toll to nearly 250. US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to Geneva in a fresh ceasefire bid. Russia has rejected calls to rein its ally Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his forces, as more residents fled Syria’s divided and ... Read More »

Syrian opposition in formal talks with UN, then backtracks

An official from Syria's main opposition group has told Saudi TV that it wants the Syrian regime to implement humanitarian measures on the ground immediately. The group held discussions with the UN peace envoy on Monday. After traveling to Geneva to hold talks with United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, a Syrian opposition official accused de Mistura of overstepping the mark by declaring the formal start of the peace talks. De Mistura held the first talks with the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee, on Monday after a similar discussion with Syrian government officials on Friday . Following the talks, HNC official Monzer Makhous appeared to backtrack from his group's commitment, telling Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must implement humanitarian measures, such as the lifting of sieges, before peace talks can proceed. "The Syrian regime must state directly, frankly and without ambiguity that it is ready to implement (United Nations) Articles 12 and 13 immediately, and it must not take more than a few days." "If not, the High Negotiations Committee will not take part in any other process," Monzer said. "We told (U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura) clearly that he must not interpret any interaction with him as being the start of the negotiations process," he said. Later, Monzer told Reuters Television: "We are here for a few days. Just to be clear, only a few days. If there (is) no progress on the ground, we are leaving ... We are not here for negotiations, we are here to test the regime's intentions." Goodwill measures promised On Monday, the UN said Damascus had approved "in principle" aid deliveries to the besieged towns in Madaya, al-Foua and Kefraya. "Based on this, the UN will submit a detailed list of supplies and other details, and will include and reiterate the request for nutrition supplies and entry of nutrition/health assessment teams," Jens Laerke of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told journalists. Monday's formal meeting with the HNC followed preliminary discussions on Sunday , which were a prelude to the so-called "proximity" talks which will see de Mistura meet separately with the opposition and government representatives in Geneva. Others missing from talks Meanwhile, another opposition coalition comprised of Syrian Kurds and Arabs, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), announced they would not participate in the peace talks. "We decided on Sunday night to suspend our participation in negotiations so long as the five Kurdish and one Turkman delegates from our list do not receive invitations from UN mediator Staffan de Mistura," the group's leader Haytham Manna told the AFP news agency. The SDC was formed as the political branch of the Kurdish-Arab fighting force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. Manna said his organization and leaders, including former Syrian Minister Qadri Jamil and secular activist Randa Kassis, had submitted a list of 35 representatives they wanted in the talks. However, only 29 were invited, following which the SDC decided to quit the meeting. The discussions are part of a November roadmap outlined by the international community that sets an 18-month-long time table to enable political transition in Syria and draft a new constitution. Syria has been embroiled in a five-year conflict that has killed over 250,000 people and displaced millions.

An official from Syria’s main opposition group has told Saudi TV that it wants the Syrian regime to implement humanitarian measures on the ground immediately. The group held discussions with the UN peace envoy on Monday. After traveling to Geneva to hold talks with United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, a Syrian opposition official accused de Mistura of ... Read More »

Racism in Germany ‘in all parts of society,’ UN review shows

Germany has come under fire from a United Nations panel reviewing efforts to eliminate racism in the country. Recent events, including PEGIDA rallies and the alleged arson attack on a refugee home, have raised concerns. "Racism in Germany is not only found in extreme right-wing circles, but in all parts of society," the German government admitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva on Tuesday. "Many politicians and parties fail to consistently disassociate themselves from racist resentments, stereotypes and prejudices," added Selmin Çaliskan, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany. She says this contributes to support for the "stigmatization of minorities," promoted by the anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement among others. The weekly right-wing PEGIDA rallies saw a huge surge in popularity between October and February, with numbers reaching as high as 25,000 in the eastern German city of Dresden. 'Active civil society' But Almut Wittling-Vogel, a Justice Ministry official representing the German government pointed out that the protest movement has since been outnumbered by counter-protesters at demonstrations. "We are happy that we can also cite examples of an active civil society," she said before the panel. Wittling-Vogel also promised that Germany would step up the prosecution of racist crimes. The pledge to increase convictions came in light of concerns raised by the UN convention over alleged investigation blunders into the suspected murders of migrants by the National Socialist Underground (NSU). The trial of the group's last known member, Beate Zschäpe, is currently ongoing in Munich. 'Racial profiling' On Wednesday, the second day of the two-day hearing, German human rights groups are expected to criticize the government for failures in the fight against racism. Among other issues put before the panel will be persistent claims of "racial profiling" by German police in routine checks on trains. "Such actions would undermine the confidence of ethnic minorities in the German police," Amnesty International warned. The German government's report denied the claims. Human rights groups also say that refugees often struggle to find housing and legal help. 'Major policy field' In around two weeks the panel of 18 independent experts will publish proposals to improve anti-racism efforts in Germany and further implement the UN convention against racism, which came into effect in 1969. Petra Follmar-Otto, head of the German Institute for Human Rights, said she hoped the hearing would "finally make the fight against racism in Germany a major policy field."

Germany has come under fire from a United Nations panel reviewing efforts to eliminate racism in the country. Recent events, including PEGIDA rallies and the alleged arson attack on a refugee home, have raised concerns. “Racism in Germany is not only found in extreme right-wing circles, but in all parts of society,” the German government admitted to the UN Committee ... Read More »

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