SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – France’s defense minister has reaffirmed that the country will keep 1,000 troops in Mali to fight armed groups even after the arrival of more than 12,000 UN peacekeepers later this year.
A day after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the peacekeeping force, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the city of Gao in northeastern Mali.
“From now on we are in the post-war phase. The UN resolution adopted yesterday will allow for the arrival of a force to stabilize the country,” Le Drian told reporters on Friday. “But France will keep about 1,000 soldiers to carry on with military operations.”
During his visit to Mali, Le Drian met Acting President Dioncounda Traoré and General Ibrahim Dahrou Dembele to discuss efforts underway to train the Malian military.
The new UN force will also incorporate 6,000 African Union troops already deployed in Mali -- a force recently called "completely incapable" by a US Defense Department official.
The UN force is tasked with helping to restore peace in the aftermath of a French-led military operation launched in January to dislodge local fighters who had seized control of the country’s vast north.
However, the UN peacekeepers will not be authorized to launch offensive military operations or chase fighters in the desert. Therefore, the French forces will continue to do that job, although France is planning to downscale its presence in its former colony by the end of the year.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA-- President Vladimir Putin signalled on Friday that Moscow would seek changes in an agreement regulating adoptions of Russian children by French parents, saying a French law allowing same-sex marriage went against traditional Russian values.
Russia has already halted adoptions by Americans in a dispute with Washington over human rights. Any move to scrap the year-old agreement with France, or impose new restrictions, would deepen a divide between Putin and European nations over homosexuality and gay rights.
Putin, who has often championed socially conservative values since he began a third term last May, was greeted in the Netherlands this month by demonstrators protesting against Russian legislation that critics say would discriminate against gays.
At a meeting on children’s issues, Putin expressed support for a regional lawmaker, Marina Orgeyeva, who proposed reviewing the adoption agreement with France because of its decision to allow same-sex marriage, Russian news agencies reported. The French parliament approved the new law on Tuesday.
“She is right. We need to react to what is going on around us,” Interfax quoted Putin as saying. “We respect our partners, but we ask that they respect our cultural traditions and the ethical, legislative and moral norms of Russia.”
“I think we have the right to make changes.”
Putin made no recommendations about how the agreement might be altered, but a senior pro-Kremlin lawmaker, Yelena Mizulina, said among the options were withdrawing from the agreement or seeking to change it, state-run RIA reported.
The agreement with France is one of several Russia has reached with Western nations in an effort to clarify rules for the adoption of Russian children and enable Russia to better monitor their progress abroad to ensure they are treated well.
Russia withdrew from a similar agreement with the United States and banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans as of Jan. 1 as part of its response to a U.S. law designed to punish Russia for alleged human rights abuses.
Putin, in power as president or prime minister since 2000, has spoken repeatedly in his new Kremlin term about the importance of what he has called traditional values and has drawn closer to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Russia’s parliament, in which the pro-Putin United Russia has a majority, has given preliminary approval to a ban on “homosexual propaganda” targeting minors, which critics say would effectively ban gay rights demonstrations.
The United States has said the legislation severely restricts freedom of expression and assembly.
The European Union and United States have also criticised Russia over what critics say is a clampdown on dissent in Putin’s new term, but he has rejected their concerns.
In the Netherlands in early April, Putin said Russia did not discriminate against gays, but criticised same-sex couples for not helping reverse Russia’s population decline.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) France's embassy in Libya was hit by what appeared to be a car bomb on Tuesday, injuring two guards in the first such attack in the Libyan capital since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
"There was an attack on the embassy. We think it was a booby trapped car," a French official told Reuters. "There was a lot of damage and there are two guards wounded."
In Paris, foreign minister Laurent Fabius condemned what he called a heinous attack and said everything would be done to find the perpetrators.
"I send my solidarity and deepest sympathy to the two injured French guards and my wishes for their recovery," he said in a statement.
One resident living less than 100 metres from the embassy said his windows shook when the first blast occurred.
A witness who lives near the embassy, Asad Naeeli, told Al Jazeera that the bomb went off around 7am [0500 GMT].
“This is a big concern as a Libyan. You hear about things happening in different cities and now it is close to home," he said. "It is a big concern for the security of Libya, it will delay many things."
Diplomatic missions have been targeted in Libya, most notably an attack on the US mission in the eastern city of Benghazi last September that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.
However Tuesday's attack is the first such serious assault on an embassy or foreign mission in the capital, Tripoli.
Libya's new rulers are still struggling to impose their authority on a country awash with weapons and a myriad of armed militias who often do as they please.
Plans by French President Francois Hollande to impose further restrictions on the wearing of hijab in public are sparking deep fears among Muslims about their future in the southern European country.
“I can't work in public institutions, and now I can't work in private institutions,” Algerian graduate student Souad told Al-Arabiya website on Wednesday, April 10.
“In my opinion, this is a disastrous law.”
Worries have gripped French Muslims after Hollande reiterated support to a cross-party move to extend the ban on the wearing of hijab to the private sector.
The move followed a ruling by France’s top court that the dismissal of a Muslim woman from a private nursery school for refusing to remove her hijab amounted to "religious discrimination".
The French government criticized the verdict, with Interior Minister Manuel Valls describing the ruling as putting “secularism into question”.
“The Muslims here are French too, and we are proud of their presence,” Socialist Party MP Olivier Four told Al-Arabiya.
“But I agree with the president on the importance of issuing a law that will block the right wing from promoting a complete ban on headscarves.”
France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places in 2004.
Several European countries followed the French example.
France also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public in 2011.
A poll by the French marketing and opinion center BVA last month found that the majority of French support imposing tougher laws on the wearing of hijab in France.
In October, a poll by Ifop's opinion department found that almost half of French see Muslims as a threat to their national identity.
The poll also found that most French see Islam is playing too influential role in their society.
Muslim leaders have warned of repercussions of imposing further restrictions on hijab wearing in France.
“The balance is living our religious life in freedom and dignity and at the same time avoiding anything that may provoke the other,” Mohammed Moussaoui, President of the umbrella French Council of Muslim Faith, said.
France is home to a Muslim minority of six millions, Europe’s largest.
Muslims and their customs and traditions have been under the spotlight in recent years in France.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy had adopted a series of measures to restrict Muslim freedoms in an effort to win support of far-right voters.
Under Sarkozy, the French government had held a national debate on the role of Islam in French society.
The French government has also outlawed Muslim street prayers, a sight far-right leader Marine Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.
Muslims have also complained of restrictions on building mosques to perform their daily prayers.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: On Islam
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) France has begun to withdraw troops from Mali where they have battling Islamist militants, the French defence ministry has said.
Around 100 of the 4,000 sent to the West African nation in January have been withdrawn to Cyprus, it said.
France intervened after saying the al-Qaeda-linked militants who had taken over northern Mali threatened to march on the capital, Bamako
A regional African force is in Mali to help its army provide security.
The French-led operation drove Islamist groups out of northern cities and towns, but some fighters have retreated to desert hideouts in the vast northern region.
The troops who have been withdrawn belong to parachute units of the army, AFP news agency cited Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman for the chief of staff, as saying.
He said they had been deployed in the area around Tessalit, a town in the far north-east Mali near the Tegharghar mountains which saw heavy fighting against Islamists.
Nationwide elections are due in July, by which time France wants its troop presence to have been halved.
France hopes to have only 1,000 soldiers in Mali by the end of the year, handing over duties to the African force which currently numbers around 6,300 soldiers.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has suggested that an 11,000-strong UN peace force, made up of African troops, be deployed in Mali, once France reduces its presence.
Mr Ban also called for the creation of a second force to fight militants.
Remaining French troops could be part of this force, correspondents say.
Islamist groups took advantage of a coup in March 2012 to take control of the north of Mali, including major cities including Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They imposed a strict form of Islamic law in the area.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - A Bahraini protester has sustained head injuries in an attack by Saudi-backed security forces on an anti-regime demonstration in the kingdom.
The incident occurred on Saturday when Hussein Kazem al-Halal came under direct fire from regime forces in the village of Wadian, in the eastern town of Sitra.
The Bahraini youth was taken to a health center for treatment, as police surrounded the area.
Protesters in the island nation have been staging rallies in solidarity with political prisoners and against the upcoming Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
The Bahraini revolution began in mid-February 2011, when the people, inspired by the popular revolutions that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, started holding massive demonstrations.
The Bahraini government promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring Persian Gulf states.
Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses accused of treating injured revolutionaries.
The protesters say they will continue holding anti-regime demonstrations until their demand for the establishment of a democratically elected government is met.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: ON Islam
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –France's highest appeals court has struck down a decision to release Georges Abdallah, 62, jailed in French prisons for 29 years, calling the Lebanese prisoner's request for parole "irreceivable" on legal grounds.
He was granted parole on 21 November 2012, but the prosecution appealed the decision, and France has come under mounting pressure from the US and Israel to block his release.
"We don't think he should be released and we are continuing our consultations with the French government about it," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in January. "We have serious concerns that he could return to the battlefield."
France’s interior minister Manuel Valls refused to sign Abdallah’s extradition order on the morning of his anticipated release in January, prompting protests and sit-ins at French centers across Lebanon.
Abdallah was sentenced to twenty years to life over his alleged involvement in the murder of two diplomats, an assistant to an American military and an Israeli in 1982. The court was not able to present concrete evidence against him, and he was imprisoned for passport fraud.
France's court of cassation, its highest court of appeals, ruled against his release on grounds that Abdallah's extradition would not allow for a one-year, electronically monitored parole period, compulsory for life-sentence convicts appealing for parole. His deportation from the country was ruled a necessary condition for his release.
The document detailing the court's deliberations and ruling made no reference to the crime in question as justification for his continued imprisonment.
But Lebanese activists say there is still hope, and are holding out for an April 11 hearing at the Sentence Enforcement Tribunal (TAP), where they hope to challenge the appeal. It is unclear whether Thursday's ruling can be contested, however.
"A case like this cannot be appealed based on the courts and France's legal sources," the prisoner's brother, Joseph Abdallah, told Al-Akhbar.
Dozens of activists have gathered outside the French embassy to protest Thursday's ruling, continuing months of regular demonstrations and sit-ins demanding Abdallah's release.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Malian soldiers backed by French fighter jets are battling fighters in Timbuktu after they used a car bomb as cover to infiltrate the northern desert city, sources say.
A Malian soldier and three rebel fighters were believed to have been killed in Sunday's fighting in the ancient Saharan trading hub 1,000km north of the capital Bamako.
A Mali government communique issued on Sunday evening said at least one Malian soldier was killed and four others had been injured.
It said that 21 rebels were killed in the fighting.
"It started after a suicide car bombing around 2200 (2200 GMT on Saturday), that served to distract the military and allow a group of jihadists to infiltrate the city by night," Captain Modibo Naman Traore of the Malian army said.
Exclusive pictures obtained by Al Jazeera from Kidal, another northern city, indicate that at least two Tuareg fighters were wounded during clashes with the rebels.
France launched its intervention in Mali in January to halt an advance by northern al-Qaeda-linked fighters towards Bamako.
The ongoing attack reflects the challenge of securing Mali as France prepares to reduce its troop presence and hand over to the ill-equipped Malian army and a more than 7,000-strong regional African force.
The French-led offensive has pushed the rebels out of their northern strongholds and remote mountain bases but they have hit back with several suicide attacks and guerrilla-style raids.
"People are really scared, but it is mostly due to the lack of information about what is happening in the city," Ousmane Halle, Timbuktu mayor, said.
This is the first major attack on the city since it was liberated by French forces on January 28.
Earlier this month a suicide bomber detonated himself at a checkpoint. That attack did not lead to an infiltration by the rebels into Timbuktu, as happened on Sunday.
Bilal Toure, a member of Timbuktu's crisis committee, said he saw a French plane firing on the rebel positions.
He said fighting had died down since nightfall.
"The situation settled down after around 1900 but everyone is still staying indoors," Toure said.
Rebels still present
Outside the heavily fortified cities like Timbuktu, the rebels are still present, leading an insurgency marked by suicide bombings, land mines and attacks on cities.
For 10 months until this January, Timbuktu as well as much of the rest of northern Mali had been ruled by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and two other groups.
Separately, Mali's defence ministry said on Saturday that two Nigerian soldiers in the regional African force were killed when their convoy struck a mine outside Ansongo, near the Niger border.
President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France will reduce its troop numbers in Mali to 2,000 by July and to 1,000 by the end of the year, down from 4,000 at present.
The West African former colony is to hold presidential and legislative elections in July - vital steps to stabilising the gold- and cotton-producer after a military coup a year ago paved the way for the northern rebel takeover. -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – France has sent soldiers to Central African Republic to secure the airport of the capital Bangui, a diplomatic source said, after rebel forces entered the north of the city.
"A company of troops has been sent to secure the airport. The airport is now secure," said the source on Saturday. "We have asked our citizens to remain at home. For the time being, there is nothing to be worried about. There is no direct threat to our citizens at the moment."
A second diplomatic source said that Paris had requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss a
solution to the crisis in the landlocked former French colony at the heart of Africa.
Nelson Ndjadder, a spokesman for the Seleka rebel coalition, said earlier on Saturday that his fighters entered the capital and were heading to the presidential palace in the centre of town.
He also said they had shot down a government military helicopter which had been attacking their forces since Friday.
The Seleka rebels resumed hostilities this week in the mineral-rich former French colony, vowing to topple
President Francois Bozize whom it accuses of breaking a January peace agreement to integrate its fighters into the army.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Bangui, Central African Republic's Deputy Prime Minister Parfait Mbaye, said the rebel advance "should be condemned by the African union".
"The coup d’etat attempt by Seleka rebels is still ongoing. Fighting is now taking place on the outskirts of Bangui. We can only condemn this attempt to take power by force... We are very sorry to see what is happening in our country."
The rebels are said to have driven back government forces and taken control of the neighbourhood around Bozize's private residence. Officials said Bozize was in the presidential palace in the town centre.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Bangui, Sylvain Groulx of Doctors without Borders, said the fighting has not yet reached to centre of the capital.
"We are about two-to-three kilometres from the centre of Bangui and we cannot hear any shooting but we have heard the same information that a group of rebels has entered the capital," Groulx said.
"There has been some fighting in different places in and around Bangui throughout the day," Groulx added.
"It seems that the rebels have taken control of a town called bouali where there is a hydro-electric dam, the main power source for Bangui. All the power in the capital was cut. The hospitals we are supporting have been provided with fuel for generators.
South African troops
The violence is the latest in a series of rebel incursions, clashes and coups that have plagued the landlocked nation in the heart of Africa since its independence from France in 1960.
Pretoria has sent some 400 soldiers to train Bozize's army, joining hundreds of peacekeepers from the Central African regional bloc.
Regional peacekeeping sources said the South Africans had fought alongside the Central African Republic's army.
"I don't understand why we are making such a big deal about the presence of South African troops," Mbaye told Al Jazeera.
"We have an agreement with South Africa, a member of the African union and they are currently helping Central African forces. We salute South African forces and the South African people."
State radio announced late on Friday that South Africa would boost its troop presence after Bozize met his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma in Pretoria.
Captain Zamo Sithole, senior operations communications officer at South Africa's National Defence Force said: "We are there in the CAR to protect our properties there, and our troops there."
A South African Defence Ministry spokesman declined to comment.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A French hostage has been executed in Mali, a man claiming to be a spokesman for al-Qaeda in North Africa told
Mauritania's ANI news agency.
A French foreign office spokesman said late on Tuesday that they were trying to verify the report of the killing of Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in November 2011, adding that "we don't know at the moment" whether it is reliable.
In what ANI reported was a telephone call to the agency, which has close links to rebels, the commander said Philippe Verdon had been beheaded on March 10 "in response to the French military intervention in the north of Mali", ANI reported.
Verdon was one of two French hostages kidnapped in the northern Mali town of Hombori in November 2011. The French
foreign ministry declined to comment.
Another 14 French hostages are detained in Western African, including seven believed to be held in the Sahel by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliates.
One of AQIM's leaders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, had pledged revenge after France launched a campaign in January to dislodge the group and other fighters who had hijacked a Tuareg rebellion in the Sahel nation and seized the northern half of the country.
After driving them from the main cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in a swift, nine-week assault, some 1,600 French and Chadian troops began searching for rebels in their pocket hideouts in the mountainous region of northern Mali.
The AQIM commander described Verdon as a French spy. He said that French President Francois Hollande "bore the responsibility for the remaining hostages".
When asked by the agency whether Belmokhtar had been killed, he neither denied nor confirmed it. There have been
conflicting reports on whether Belmokhtar was killed in the French military campaign against the rebels.-www.shafaqna.com/English