News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Sharia trial for Somalia hostages

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Sharia trial for Somalia hostages

An al-Shabab fighter in Mogadishu, file image

Somalia’s Islamists are accused of links to al-Qaeda

Two French security advisers seized in Somalia will be tried under Sharia law, an official from their captors, the Islamic al-Shabab militia, says.

The unnamed spokesman said they would be tried for spying and “conspiracy against Islam”.

The two, who were training government troops, were kidnapped by gunmen in a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday and later handed over to al-Shabab insurgents.

Al-Shabab and its allies control much of southern Somalia.

The al-Shabab official said no date had been set for the trial of the two men.

map showing areas under Islamist control

They were on an official mission to train the forces of the interim government, which has recently appealed for foreign help to tackle Islamist insurgents.

Moderate Islamist President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was sworn in in January after UN-brokered peace talks.

He promised to introduce Sharia law but the hardliners accuse him of being a western stooge.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government since 1991.

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June 20, 2009

Iran police disperse protests

Iran police disperse protests

Police at Enghelab Square, Tehran, 20 June, 2009, from Persian TV

Witnesses sent pictures of police near Enghelab Square

Iranian police have used water cannon, batons and tear gas to disperse protests over the presidential election, witnesses in Tehran say.

Police had earlier warned protesters not to gather, but many people made their way to the central rally site.

Our correspondent at Enghelab Square said there was a huge security operation, including military police, anti-riot police and Basij militia.

There were also reports of a bombing at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Two Iranian news agencies reported that the suicide bomber died and two people were injured in the bombing near the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution.

There was no evidence to support the report, the BBC’s Jon Leyne says from Tehran.

The country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei had warned protesters a day earlier not to continue their rallies, but correspondents say the warning appears to have made some protesters more determined.

1320GMT TEHRAN
Silhouette
BBC CORRESPONDENT

I’m in the centre of Tehran close to Enghelab Square where the demonstration was supposed to have been held. But there’s a huge security presence here, thousands of men from every possible service: police, revolutionary guard, military police, the riot police in full riot gear, and the much-feared Basij – religious paramilitaries who see themselves as the shock troops of the Islamic revolution.

It’s impossible for any groups of people to get through these to Enghelab Square and hold their demonstration.

If this continues and the opposition can’t find some way around fierce security then the protests against the results of the presidential election will have been defeated.

It was unclear if political leaders had backed their supporters gathering.

People contacting the BBC from Tehran spoke of a heavy security presence in the area around Enghelab Square.

One witness told AFP news agency that he saw police beating people trying to reach the rally site.

There were also between 1,000-2,000 protesters in front of Tehran University, near Enghelab Square, AFP quoted witnesses as saying.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, and foreign news organisations – including the BBC – have been subjected to strict controls which prevent reporters from leaving their offices.

Confusing signals

Early on Saturday, the wife of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and an aide to another rival candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, said the rally would go ahead.

But later reports said first that Mr Mousavi would be making a statement – which still has not been delievered – and then an aide to Mr Karroubi said his party had cancelled the protest.

Speaking on state TV, deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan warned police would “certainly fight against any form of illegal gathering and protest”. He also said protest organisers would be arrested.

It seems this may be the big moment of confrontation, our correspondent says.

Tensions have mounted over the previous week, with scores of people arrested and tough restrictions imposed on foreign media, including the BBC.

Recount offer

Official results of the 12 June presidential poll gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a resounding 63% of votes, compared to 34% for his nearest rival, Mr Mousavi.

Iranian pro-government supporters burn a US flag in Tehran

The result triggered almost daily street protests – a challenge to ruling authorities unprecedented since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Mr Mousavi had been expected, along with fellow challengers Mr Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, to discuss more than 600 objections they had filed complaining about the poll at a meeting of the Guardian Council, which certifies elections, on Saturday.

But neither Mr Mousavi nor Mr Karroubi attended the meeting – which suggests, our correspondent says, they have abandoned their legal challenge to the election results.

State TV quoted the Guardian Council as saying it was “ready” to recount a randomly selected 10% of ballot boxes.

It had previously offered a partial recount of disputed ballots from the election, rather than the full re-run of the election demanded by protesters.

The human-rights group Amnesty International says it believed about 10 people had been killed in the protests.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama warned Iran that the “world is watching” events there. He expressed concern at “some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made”.

Ayatollah’s address

A new rally on Saturday would directly challenge an order from Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader and highest authority.

‘The Islamic Republic would not cheat’

“Straight challenge is not acceptable after the election,” Ayatollah Khamenei told thousands of Iranians who massed to hear him on Friday.

“This is challenging democracy and election itself. I want every side to put an end to this method. If they don’t then the responsibility of its consequences, the riots should be shouldered by those who do not put an end to it.”

The ayatollah insisted the Islamic Republic would not “cheat voters” – and blamed foreign powers, in particular the UK, for fomenting the unrest.

He said “bloodshed” would result if the protests went ahead.

The rally was attended by President Ahmadinejad. But former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – a close associate of Mr Mousavi, and open critic of President Ahmadinejad – did not attend.

But correspondents say the ayatollah’s warning only appeared to incite protesters, and the nightly chants of “God is great” – which have echoed from rooftops around Tehran in a call to protest – became louder on Friday night.

Although the Supreme Leader controls many levers of power, Mr Rafsanjani heads the Assembly of Experts, which has the power to elect the leader, supervise him, and theoretically even to dismiss him, our correspondent says.

Behind the scenes, he says, there appears to be both a political battle between two veterans of the Islamic Revolution, but also a titanic dispute about the whole future of Iran, whose outcome no-one can predict.

Map

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August 23, 2008

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Wounded man in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s main market was also bombed on Tuesday

Islamist insurgents in Somalia say they have taken control of the southern port of Kismayo amid fighting that has left dozens of people dead.

A spokesman for al-Shabab, Mukhtar Robow, told the BBC his militia had wrested the city from a local clan militia during a third day of clashes.

A UN official said about 100 people had been killed and up to 25,000 displaced.

There has also been fierce fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and hijackings by pirates off the north Somali coast.

Al-Shabab is a radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts, which ruled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted and launching a rebellion.

Humanitarian crisis

Kismayo, Somalia’s third city, is strategically important because it serves as a port for the south of the country.

On Friday at least 15 people were reported to have died in the Kismayo fighting and 18 injured, with dozens killed over three days of clashes.

I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people
Kismayo resident

Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that about 100 people had been killed in Kismayo and as many as 25,000 displaced.

“After four hours [the fighting] ended up in the northern corner of the town, now the town seems to be under the control of al-Shabab,” a human rights worker in the port told on Friday.

Residents said Islamist fighters were patrolling the streets, and that sporadic shooting was continuing in parts of the city.

The fighting is said to have caused an acute humanitarian crisis.

Many people have no access to food and all business activity is reported to have stopped.

“The last three days of fighting has severely affected the town, where people remained in doors,” one resident said.

“Now I am out, to my surprise, I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people.”

Market hit

In Mogadishu on Thursday, some mortars landed near the compound of President Abdullahi Yusuf, who was out of the country.

Another landed near a mosque in the busy Bakara market, killing at least six people, a witness told the BBC.

Map of Somalia

Witnesses said government troops and their Ethiopian allies responded by opening fire, killing several civilians.

At least 20 people were reported to have been killed in fighting in the capital, though the city was calm on Friday.

Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in December 2006, to oust Islamist forces from Mogadishu.

The police chief in the capital said people who wanted to sabotage talks in neighboring Djibouti between Somalia’s provisional government and its Islamist rivals were behind the most recent violence, our correspondent reports.

Piracy

Somalia has been without a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered ongoing civil strife.

The UN’s World Food Programme is expanding its programme to feed 2.4 million people in Somalia by the end of the year.

Aid efforts have been hampered by the violence, and the delivery of aid has been threatened by piracy near Somalia’s coast.

On Friday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said pirates had seized a German cargo ship off the Somali coast a day earlier.

Earlier, a Japanese tanker and an Iranian bulk carrier had been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden, a busy international shipping route to the north of Somalia.

An IMB spokesman said a warship from an international force was tracking the hijacked ships.

Another ship, a Malaysian oil tanker with 39 crew was captured in the same area on Tuesday.

August 7, 2008

Mehdi Army ‘stops carrying arms’

Mehdi Army ‘stops carrying arms’

Mehdi Army members in Basra, August 2004

The militia is weakened after many battles with US and Iraqi forces

A spokesman for Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr says his militia  will no longer carry weapons, but he stopped short of declaring an end to violence.

In a BBC interview, Salah al-Obeidi said future decisions about the Mehdi Army’s strategy would depend on the long-term status of US troops in Iraq.

“Resistance” would go on if a timetable for US withdrawal was not set, he said.

Iraq and the US are negotiating a status of forces agreement to decide the future role of US troops.

An announcement is expected to be read out at prayers in many Shia mosques in Baghdad on Friday.

The BBC’s Crispin Thorold in Baghdad says the Mehdi Army was once arguably the most powerful Shia military and political movement in Iraq, but it has been seriously weakened after military operations against it.

Local ceasefires were declared in Basra and Baghdad earlier year year after intense fighting, but the militia still retains its weapons.

In June, the militia announced a reorganisation along the lines of Hezbollah in Lebanon – turning it into a large social movement with small secretive fighting units.

Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has given militants in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, a week to lay down their arms.

He said those that did so would receive an amnesty.

So far, almost 500 suspected militants have been captured in an offensive there over the past eight days.

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