SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Sectarian tensions have escalated in Iraq, where the death toll from a four-day wave of violence has passed 190, officials have said.
Thousands of protesters gathered in cities across the country this week to voice their anger at the government of Nouri al-Maliki, calling on the prime minister to step down and an end to the discrimination against Sunnis.
Martin Kobler, a UN envoy, warned on Friday that Iraq was at "crossroads" and called for restraint as violence continues.
The comments came as bombings at four Sunni mosques in and around Baghdad killed four people and wounded 50 on Friday, according to an interior ministry official and medics.
The violence was the latest in a wave of violence that erupted on Tuesday when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the Sunni northern town of Hawijah. The ensuing clashes left 53 people dead.
Sunni gunmen were also battling government forces on Friday after they took over Suleiman Beg, a town in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad, in response to a deadly raid in the town of Hawija on Wednesday.
Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Baghdad, said on Friday there were conflicting reports as to whether the armed groups or government were in control of the town.
Ahmed Aziz, the town's municipal council deputy chief, said the armed men had pulled out of Suleiman Beg under a deal worked out by tribal leaders and government officials.
The men had swarmed into the predominantly Sunni Turkmen town on Wednesday after deadly clashes with security forces, who pulled back as residents fled.
Abdul Baban, a local official, said helicopter fire wounded six people on the roof of a house in Suleiman Beg early on Friday.
The seizure of the town by the armed men came amid a surge of violence which began on Tuesday when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near Hawijah.
"The situation is really escalating," our correspondent said.
He said that community leaders had called on Sunni soldiers in the Iraq army to leave their posts if the government ordered them to attack Sunni areas.
"I've been covering this story for more than four months; this is the first time I've seen armed men protecting the protests," our correspondent said.
"I saw people with rocket-propelled grenades.I saw people carrying sniper rifles and, very interestingly, the speaker who was addressing the crowd asked them if they were willing to die, and everybody rose in anger and they were shouting 'Allah Akbar [God is great]'."
'Willing to die'
The protest-related violence is the deadliest so far linked to demonstrations that broke out in Sunni areas of the Shia-majority country more than four months ago.
Thousands of protesters have called for the resignation of Maliki, a Shia, and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community.
Abdulghafur al-Samarraie and Saleh al-Haidari, leading clerics who respectively head the Sunni and Shia religious endowments, held a joint news conference on Wednesday in which they warned against sectarian strife and called for top politicians to meet at a Baghdad mosque on Friday.
Maliki himself warned of a return to "sectarian civil war" in remarks broadcast on state television on Thursday.
The meeting at the Umm al-Qura mosque was scheduled for 5pm (14:00 GMT) on Friday, but it was unclear who would attend.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera
SHAFAQNA-- Fresh violence in Iraq has killed at least 50 people, including 12 security force personnel and gunmen who died in attacks apparently launched in revenge for deadly clashes at a protest, officials have said.
Wednesday's fighting came a day after security forces stormed a Sunni protest camp in the town of Hawija, sparking deadly clashes and a spate of other attacks, mostly targeting Sunni mosques, that killed at least 56 people.
The revenge attacks continued on Wednesday, leaving nine security forces members and three gunmen dead.
Also on Wednesday a car bomb exploded in a market in the al-Husseiniya neighbourhood, northeast of the capital. Police said at least seven people were killed in the blast and another 17 wounded.
In the deadliest fighting, gunmen killed five soldiers and wounded five more in the Suleiman Bek, north of Baghdad, a high-ranking army officer and an administrative official said.
Gunmen also attacked a Sahwa militia checkpoint in Khales, northeast of Baghdad, killing four of the militiamen and wounding a fifth, a police lieutenant colonel and a doctor said.
Al Jazeera correspondent Jane Arraf, reporting near the disputed city of Kirkuk, said the Iraqi government said earlier on Wednesday that it is setting up a commission to investigate the string of attacks that erupted the day before.
Also on Wednesday, a-government protesters released two Iraqi soldiers they had seized near Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a protest organiser said.
Abdulrazzaq al-Shammari, one of the organisers of the protests near Ramadi, said on Wednesday the two soldiers were turned over to a hospital in the city on Tuesday.
The soldiers were taken after deadly clashes between security forces and demonstrators in north Iraq left dozens dead and sparked a wave of revenge attacks.
He also said the demonstrators were demanding that Iraqi soldiers withdraw from all cities in Anbar province, where Ramadi is located, and remain in their main bases.
Dr Ahmed al-Ani, the director of the emergency department at the Ramadi hospital, said the facility had received two soldiers. One was wounded and still in hospital, while the second was released.
Police first lieutenant Ibrahim Faraj said on Tuesday that armed protesters killed six Iraqi soldiers near Ramadi and burned two armoured personnel carriers, but put the number of kidnapped soldiers at one instead of two.
Protesters have taken to the streets in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq for more than four months, calling for the resignation of Maliki and decrying the alleged targeting of their minority community by the Shiite-led authorities.
Clashes and attacks involving security forces, protesters and their supporters left 54 people dead across the country in the worst day of violence since the demonstrations began.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A group of US activists plan to launch a series of protests in April to generate a public uprising across the country against the government’s deadly drone policy.
The planned protests, dubbed April Days of Action, will begin on April 3 with a rally in New York and will spread nationwide, the website of the British newspaper Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Anti-drones activists plan to stage protest rallies near military bases, universities, and companies involved in President Barack Obama's policy of targeted killings.
"There is a tremendous amount of skepticism with the public about drone attacks in other countries. There is concern that innocent people are killed and enemies of the United States are being made," said Nick Mottern, founder of Know Drones, an educational organization that is helping co-ordinate the protests.
The cities targeted by the campaign will include Washington DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Honolulu, San Francisco, Sacramento, Minneapolis, Des Moines, and others.
“There is no question that the April Days of Action will exhibit a level of anti-war and civil liberties activism that is unprecedented in recent years," said Medea Benjamin, founder of veteran anti-war group Code Pink, a women-initiated group for peace and social justice, working to end US funded wars and occupations around the world.
US officials refuse to publicly discuss any details of the covert program and the death toll from drone strikes remains a mystery.
According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in Pakistan alone 366 strikes have killed up to 3,581 people, with 884 being innocent civilians.
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries, claiming that they target “terrorists.” According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to massive civilian casualties. -www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A Pro-Palestine rights group in the United States has launched an advertising campaign to protest against Washington’s support for the Israeli regime.
The American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) started its campaign on Tuesday by unveiling some of the ads that will appear for four weeks at 25 stations on the Metro North train line near New York City.
The advertisements call for an end to the Israeli apartheid and the financial aid that the US provides to the Israeli regime every year in a show of public anger.
“Today, we’re actually funding apartheid in Israel and it’s time for us to stop funding apartheid and to stand for universal justice,” the group’s chairman, Hatem Bazian said.
Israel receives more than USD 3 billion from the United States in direct foreign assistance every year. It also gets USD 70 million more in military aid for its missile systems.
Bazian added in a statement that the group timed the release of the ads with US President Barak Obama’s visit to the Middle East to underline “his administration’s failure to address the true cause of conflict: Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and its racist apartheid policies, which subject Palestinians on a daily basis to humiliation, deprivation and a loss of their basic rights, including the freedom of movement.”
The US president began his three-day trip to the region on March 20 and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, where he reiterated his all-out support for the regime.
He also paid a visit to the occupied West Bank and met with acting Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on March 21, a move which triggered widespread protests among Palestinians.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Thousands of Greeks have staged a demonstration to protest against the education budget cuts imposed by the government.
According to AFP, on Saturday, Greek teachers and students took to the streets of Athens to make their voices heard.
One of the protesters said “Education in Greece is in a tragic condition. Schools are cold and without basic resources, and our wages are constantly reduced.”
Meanwhile, in Portugal on Saturday, tens of thousands of people staged a demonstration against government spending cuts and tax hikes, ostensibly imposed to lift the country out of recession.
On January 12, Greek lawmakers approved new tax legislation intended to increase government revenues by 2.3 billion euros in a few months.
Greece has been at the epicenter of the eurozone debt crisis and is experiencing its sixth year of recession, while harsh austerity measures have left tens of thousands of people without jobs.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The outlawed Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s massacre in Quetta.
A bomb attack targeting Shia Muslims in the main bazaar of the city in southwestern Pakistan killed at least 79 people, including women and children, and injured nearly 200 others, officials said early on Sunday morning.
According to the police, most of the victims were Hazara Shias. Burnt school bags and books of schoolchildren were scattered everywhere, witnesses said.
A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombing. The group was founded in 1996 by Riaz Basra after he broke away from Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan over differences with his superiors.
"The explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device fitted to a motorcycle," said Wazir Khan Nasir, the deputy inspector general of police in Quetta. "This is a continuation of terrorism against Shias."
"I saw many bodies of women and children," said an eyewitness at a local hospital. "At least a dozen people were burned to death by the blast."
On January 10, a twin bomb attack at a crowded billiard hall killed more than 90 people, mostly Shia Muslims, in Quetta, which is the capital of Balochistan province. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi said it carried out the bombing.
Following the incident, massive demonstrations were held across the country to denounce the violence against Shia Muslims.
The demonstrators shouted slogans against the government and criticized Pakistan’s security forces for failing to provide security to the country’s Shia Muslims.
They also denounced the Saudi Arabian policy of funding extremist groups that commit acts of violence against Muslims in Pakistan.
In addition, the protesters called on the government to take immediate action against the forces involved in the sectarian killings.
Commenting on the January 10 bombing in Quetta, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch said, “2012 was the bloodiest year for Pakistan’s Shia community in living memory and if this latest attack is any indication, 2013 has started on an even more dismal note.”
“As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military, and security agencies,” Ali Dayan Hasan added.
“Pakistan’s tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board,” he stated.-www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – US President Barack Obama has taken his anti-gun campaign to Minneapolis, Minnesota, saying people’s actions are “the only way” to stop the rising gun violence in the country.
“The only way we can reduce gun violence in this county is if the American people decide it's important, if you decide it's important - parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sportsmen, Americans of every background stand up and say, 'This time, it's got to be different," Obama said on Monday.
Obama gave a brief speech to build support for a ban on assault weapons and a limit of 10-bullets per magazine that Democratic lawmakers in the White House say has little chance of passing in Congress.
"We should restore the ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines," Obama said.
Lawmakers and gun lobbyists say the most likely proposal to pass in Congress is to increase background checks and prohibitions against gun trafficking.
Lobbyists say a potential measure to succeed in Congress is to improve record keeping on gun sales that would make access to guns harder for mentally-ill people.
Obama said he understands that lawmakers may not “agree on everything” on the proposed measures, but wants to “do something” to change gun control laws.
Since December 14, when a man used an assault weapon to kill 20 children and six school staff in Connecticut, Obama has discussed the renewal of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which had banned the domestic manufacture for civilian use of 19 types of semi-automatic firearms until it expired in 2004.
Obama’s stance against gun crime took a step back on Saturday, after White House officials released a photo of him firing a shotgun he owned.
A new report in February says every month since 2009 there has been a mass shooting taking place in the US.-www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – German dissidents are taking gamification and applying it to vandalism in order to protest the rise of surveillance technology in the country. Camover 2013 is a competition unfolding across the country, in which teams attempt to destroy as many CCTV cameras as possible. The Guardian reports that bonus scores are given to the teams that display the most creativity in destruction. In the video invitation below you can see ski-masked "players" (self-described shoplifters, grafiti sprayers, homeless, and squatters) tearing the cameras down with ropes, smashing them out with hammers, and blacking them out with billowing clouds of spray paint. Teams are encouraged to upload their conquests to the Camover website.
As The Guardian points out, the German debate about the use of surveillance in public spaces has come to the fore in recent years. While CCTV cameras have been in use in the country since the mid–1960s, last year’s Bonn bomb scare and a public midday murder in bustling Alexanderplatz lead the country’s Interior Minister to call for bringing the cameras out of the train stations and onto the street. The Ministry claims they have been shown to reduce crime by as much as 20 percent, although not all reports on the cameras’ effectiveness as a deterrent have been favorable.
The moral and legal concerns associated with the willful destruction of property in the real-world make this much more than a "game," and the creators admit that it's a serious matter. Camover’s anonymous founder tells The Guardian, "although we call it a game, we are quite serious about it: our aim is to destroy as many cameras as possible and to have an influence on video surveillance in our cities." Camover ends on February 16th, three days before the start of the European Police Congress.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Britain’s most senior Muslim minister will warn that “underlying, unfounded mistrust” of Muslims is stocking extremism, urging the government to shoulder its responsibilities towards fighting the rise in hate crimes against Muslims.
“My fear is that seeing one community as the ‘other’ is a slippery slope that will enable extremists to advance their twisted interests unchecked,” Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the minister for faith and communities and senior Foreign Office minister, will say in a speech tonight, The Independent reported on Thursday, January 24.
“I don’t have to remind anyone what happens when an unfounded suspicion of one people can escalate into unspeakable horror.”
Giving a speech tonight to a support service for those who have suffered anti-Muslim attacks, Baroness Warsi will highlight unpublished research showing that a majority of the country now believes that Islam is a threat to Western civilization.
The research by academics shows that just 23 per cent of a representative sample questioned said that Islam was not a threat to Western civilization.
Just 24 per cent thought Muslims were compatible with the British way of life – with nearly half of people disagreeing that Muslims were compatible.
This compares with research among Muslims that showed 83 per were proud to be British, compared to 79 per cent of Britons overall.
“When I said that Islamophobia had ‘passed the dinner table test’ I got a fair amount of stick,” she will say.
“There were those who denied the problem existed. There were those who said talking about it was dangerous. But let me tell you what’s really dangerous: It’s when a country turns a blind eye towards that discrimination.”
She will also cite new figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers showing that 50 to 60 per cent of all religious hate crimes reported to police in Britain are now perpetrated against Muslims.
“My fear is that seeing one community as the ‘other’ is a slippery slope that will enable extremists to advance their twisted interests unchecked,” she will say.
“I don’t have to remind anyone what happens when an unfounded suspicion of one people can escalate into unspeakable horror.”
The Muslim minister urged the government to take key steps towards tackling Islamaphobia and misconceptions about Islam in the UK.
“Anti-Muslim hatred is a form of prejudice and there should be no place in Britain for this prejudice,” she will say.
“It would be a more powerful message from a non-Muslim, someone for whom this is not personally painful.
”The fact is that everyone should have an interest in this issue.
“It’s not just a matter for Muslims or a matter for people of faith. It’s a matter for everyone who cares about Britain being the modern, equal, fair society that we want it to be.”
Baroness Warsi will pledge further Government support for combating all types of Muslim discrimination and restore Britain's reputation for tolerance.
”Let’s prove that we once again can rise to the challenge and stamp out this new and rising form of prejudice. There should be no place in Britain for this prejudice.“
Another major role was put on the shoulders of the Muslim community to highlight Muslim role models in the United Kingdom such as Mo Farah.
“To those who say that there is a conflict of being loyal to Britain and a Muslim, you have to look no further than Mohamed Farah,” she will say.
“Our national hero is a practicing Muslim. The double gold medalist saw no conflict between crossing the finish line in the Union Flag and dropping to the ground in prayer.
“In fact, he showed how seamlessly religion and patriotism can go together.”
She will also cite Muslim like her own family; who fought alongside British soldiers in both world wars.
“Thousands of Muslims from the Commonwealth fought alongside the Allies in both the world wars. These patriots fought and died for the freedoms we all enjoy today.
“People like my two grandfathers who fought for this country long before my parents came to its shores.
“And you will therefore understand why I will not take lessons on loyalty from those on the extreme right who demonstrate the ideology of intolerance – the very fascism that my grandparents fought all those years ago.”
“It’s a matter for everyone who cares about Britain being the modern, equal, fair society that we want it to be.” -www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: On Islam
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- There has been a sudden uptick in the number of violent hate crimes where the victims are thought to be Muslim or "Middle Eastern". Sunando Sen, a Hindu man originally from India, was shoved in front of an oncoming subway train in New York City, where he died. Cameron Mohammed, a Catholic American man whose parents are from Trinidad, was shot in the face next to a Walmart near Tampa, Florida. The suspect in Florida was apparently offended by seeing Mohammed walking with a white woman. He asked his victim whether he was "from the Middle East", and then fired a pellet gun. He later told police that he didn't care that his victim wasn't Muslim, saying, "They are all the same".
The New York and Florida attacks took place just days apart. They follow a shocking string of similar attacks in recent months: several Middle Eastern shopkeepers were murdered in New York City; a Muslim man was stabbed in the back in Queens; another man in Queens was brutally beaten after his assailants asked if he was "Hindu or Muslim"; there was a shooting at a mosque in Chicago and an acid bomb attack at a different Chicago-area mosque; two arson attacks destroyed a mosque in Joplin, Missouri; and there was the tragic mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin that killed six worshippers.
Most of these attacks have been dismissed as the work of mentally ill individuals, rather than symptoms of larger social problems. The lack of equal access to health care in the United States, especially mental health care, could very well be part of the explanation for the increase in hate attacks. But there is all-too-clear evidence that people who "look Muslim" are under deliberate attack in the US. Hate speech and racial/ethnic profiling must be understood as contributing factors in explaining the persistence of violent hate attacks.
It's too easy to dismiss any one hate crime as the work of a "crazy" individual. Racism is often disregarded as the work of a "few bad apples", even though sociological research has shown time and again that racism exists within the structures of American society. While it's true that some of the perpetrators in hate attacks suffer from mental illness, by itself that cannot explain the pattern of hate attacks.
Official FBI statistics on hate crimes published last month found that the number of hate attacks on Muslimsremained high after a spike in 2010 that correlated with nationally prominent fear-mongering over the construction of a mosque in Manhattan. Many of the recent attacks have taken place shortly after well-publicised anti-Muslim hate speeches, sometimes coming directly from public officials.
Congresswoman Michelle Bachman (R-MN) evendemanded a McCarthy-esque investigation of Muslim "infiltration" in the federal government, and she doubled-down on her comments after Republican leaders like Arizona Senator John McCain repudiated her.
Former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) whipped up Islamophobic fear when he said that "Muslims are here trying to kill Americans every day" and warned without evidence of an impending attack in Chicago that would "make 9/11 look like child's play". Shortly after these statements, two mosques in the Chicago area experienced violent hate attacks.
Hate speech and discriminatory policies targeting Muslim Americans remain common in the US. A well-funded hate campaign is currently placing anti-Muslim billboard advertisements in prominent locations around the country, including in the New York City and Washington, DC, subway systems. Another sophisticated operation has promoted anti-Sharia hysteria all around the US, resulting in nearly half of the state legislatures taking up unnecessary "bans" on Sharia law.
The New York Police Department engaged in clandestine profiling of Muslim Americans in restaurants, mosques and college campuses all across the northeastern US. The Transportation Security Administration was accused by one of its own agents of engaging in "rampant" racial profiling at Boston's Logan Airport, and despite promising to investigate there have been no changes.
The connection between this hateful rhetoric, discriminatory policies and the increasing number of violent hate crimes is easy to see. It is perhaps less easy to see the impact of long-term cutbacks in the mental health infrastructure. In 2011, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found massive budget cutbacks for public mental health services: over $1.6bn since 2009 alone. This is on top of continuous budget cuts over the past 10 years in most states. NAMI predicted that these cuts put "tens of thousands of citizens at great risk".
Mental health infrastructure
The Kaiser Family Foundation found a huge shift away from inpatient care and a massive shift toward prescription drugs from 1985 to 2005. The roots of this shift actually begin with a 1963 law that sought to move treatment away from state-run facilities and toward private settings, but instead the "sickest patients have begun turning up in jails and homeless shelters with a frequency that mirrors that of the late 1800s" according to a recent analysis in the New York Times.
The good news is that the Obamacare programme places additional mental health requirements on health insurance providers, but much more work is needed to reverse the damage done to America's mental health infrastructure. In looking for ways to prevent hate attacks, expanding access to mental health would be a tremendous step forward.
In addition, more work is urgently needed to shore up civil rights protection in the US. It's difficult to even know the extent of hate crimes targeting Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian Americans, in large part due to inconsistent and outdated practices by the FBI. The law governing the FBI's collection of hate crimes data has not been updated since 1990.
One of the symptoms of the inadequate data is a lack of a category for hate crimes targeting Sikhs - so attacks like the shooting in Wisconsin are classified as "anti-other group" or perhaps even "anti-Muslim". Federal hate crime statutes have been updated only twice since 1968, and the increased penalties for hate crimes apply only to federal cases. Additional protections and improved funding for educational and outreach efforts to prevent hate crimes should be urgently approved.
Finally, perhaps the most promising avenue for change comes through holding elected officials and other public figures accountable for their hate speech and support of discriminatory policies. Several prominent anti-Muslim members of Congress lost their seats in the 2012 election, although Congresswoman Bachmann managed to win re-election by a slim margin.
Efforts by civil rights advocates to "name and shame" hatemongers have stepped up in recent months, and the Council on American Islamic Relations in Chicago has begun a campaign to reclaim the word "jihad". Muslim American political activists in Chicago have successfully run for public office in recent years. Building on successes like these should help to curtail hate speech, discriminatory policies and hate crimes.