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 (Shia International News Association) – Venezuela has arrested a 35-year-old American filmmaker accused of fomenting post-election violence in the South American country on behalf of the US government.
“I have personally ordered Timothy Tracy's arrest on suspicion of creating violence in the cities of this country," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday.
Tracy is accused of paying right-wing youth groups to hold violent demonstrations after Maduro's election win last week. The Venezuelan Interior Ministry says the he works for US intelligence.
Tracy's friends and family claim that he has been in Venezuela since last year making a documentary about the confrontation between the country's opposition and its socialist government.
The US citizen had been detained twice before by Venezuela’s SEBIN intelligence police. The last time was five days before the April 14 presidential election.
Prosecutors say Tracy was detained Wednesday evening as he tried to fly out of Simon Bolivar International Airport in the capital Caracas. He will reportedly be formally charged under Venezuela’s anti-terrorism laws.
Socialist Nicolas Maduro was declared the winner of Venezuela’s presidential election on April 14. He won 50.8 percent of the vote against 49.0 percent for the opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
The defeated candidate refused to recognize Maduro's victory and called for a march to reach the Electoral National Council headquarters in Caracas and for a general strike the following day.
The Venezuelan president accused the US Embassy in Caracas of promoting the incidents.
He added that the US intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs in recent months, and particularly during the election campaign, had been “brutal and vulgar.” -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Fighting between Nigeria's military and the armed group Boko Haram has left at least 185 people dead in a fishing community in the nation's far northeast, officials said on Sunday.
The fighting in Baga began on Friday and lasted for hours, sending people fleeing into the arid scrublands surrounding the community on Lake Chad, according to the AP news agency.
By Sunday, when government officials finally felt safe enough to see the destruction, homes, businesses and vehicles were burned throughout the area.
The assault marks a significant escalation in a long-running insurgency in the predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram has mounted a coordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, has said it wants its imprisoned members freed and Nigeria to adopt strict Islamic law.
Authorities had found and buried at least 185 bodies as of Sunday afternoon, said Lawan Kole, a local government official in Baga. Officials could not offer a breakdown of civilian casualties versus those of soldiers and fighters.
Many of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition in fires that razed whole sections of the town, residents said.
Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye said the Boko Haram fighters used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault, which began after soldiers surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the group.
Edokpaye said they used civilians as human shields during the fighting, implying that soldiers opened fire in neighbourhoods where they knew civilians lived.
"When we reinforced and returned to the scene the terrorists came out with heavy firepower, including [rocket-propelled grenades], which usually has a conflagration effect," the general said.
However, local residents who spoke to a journalist who accompanied the state officials said soldiers purposefully set the fires during the attack.
Violence by security forces in the northeast targeting civilians has been widely documented by journalists and human rights activists.
A similar raid in Maiduguri, Borno state's capital, in October saw soldiers kill at least 30 civilians and set fires across a neighborhood.
On Sunday afternoon, the burned bodies of cattle and goats still filled the streets in Baga. Bullet holes marred burned buildings. Fearful residents of the town had begun packing to leave with their remaining family members before nightfall.
"Everyone has been in the bush since Friday night; we started returning back to town because the governor came to town today," grocer Bashir Isa said.
"To get food to eat in the town now is a problem because even the markets are burnt. We are still picking corpses of women and children in the bush and creeks."
The insurgency in Nigeria grew out of a 2009 riot led by Boko Haram members in Maiduguri, which ended in a military and police crackdown that killed around 700 people. The group's leader died in police custody in an apparent execution.
Shootings, suicide bombings and other attacks carried out by the group have killed at least 1,548 people before Friday's attack, according to an AP tally.
Fighters suspected to belong to Boko Haram also have been seen in northern Mali, where heavily armed rebels took power last year in the weeks following a military coup.
Analysts say Boko Haram may get its hands on weapons smuggled out of Libya following its recent civil war.
Despite the deployment of more soldiers and police to northern Nigeria, the nation's weak central government has been unable to stop the killings. -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Violent clashes erupted in Santiago as tens of thousands marched through the streets demanding education reforms in Chile. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.
Over 100 demonstrators were reportedly detained and eight officers injured as massive street protests once again rocked the city. One of the injured officers is said to be in critical condition after being hit by acid.
Some 80,000 protesters took part in the demonstration, authorities said, while organizers – the Student Federation of the University of Chile – put the figure as high as 150,000.
The bulk of the protests did not see any major violent incidents, though small pockets of vandalism caused property damage and some protesters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at riot police. The organizers complained of excessive use of force by police, who have employed riot control tactics such as water cannons and tear gas.
One AP photographer documenting the protest captured two students clad in leopard print clothing and bright makeup, holding up signs that read, "The state does not regulate the business of prostitution because it is a 'private business.' If education is a private business, what can we expect?"
The protests, which have been ongoing in Chile since the 2006-2010 term of former President Michelle Bachelet, have proved to be an even larger political liability for her successor Sebastian Pinera.
Students taking part in the protests are demanding that the Chilean government provide free education, and have complained of inadequate public schools and unaffordable private universities. Though Pinera’s administration vowed to allocate a portion of the country’s 2013 budget to finance school loans at lower rates, student alliances seem dissatisfied with the government’s lack of progress in the two-plus years of his term.
Chile is considered to have one of the best – and most expensive – education systems in Latin America. The country also has one of the world’s lowest levels of public funding for higher education, which protesters believe has resulted in poor teaching quality and overall inequality in Chilean society.
The massive protests are mainly organized by the Confederation of Chilean Student Federations (CONFECH), which has presented a 'Social Agreement for Chilean Education' that proposes increased state support for public higher education leading to free education, the elimination of for-profit universities and the repeal of laws that prohibit student participation in university governance.
The unrest has badly damaged President Pinera’s approval ratings, which sank below 30 percent in 2011 and have not made a significant rebound. Though Chile is considered one of the most stable countries in the region, student protests have accounted for the largest civil unrest since the country’s return to democracy in 1990, making education reform one of the top issues in the upcoming 2013 presidential elections.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president, has condemned deadly clashes at the Cairo headquarters of the Coptic Christian pope as "an attack against myself", ordering a quick probe into the violence, a statement said.
"I consider any attack on the cathedral an attack against myself," Morsi said on Sunday in a statement published by the official MENA news agency.
The probe follows clashes after a funeral for Copts slain in sectarian violence.
At least one person was reported killed and MENA said 17 people had been injured in fighting in Sunday's violence.
Public television showed riot police firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
In some of the worst sectarian violence for months on Friday, four Christians and one Muslim were killed in El Khusus,
north of Cairo, when members of both communities started shooting at each other.
New clashes erupted on Sunday when hundreds of angry Copts who had attended a funeral service at St Mark's Cathedral spilled out into the streets of Cairo, chanting "With our blood and soul we will sacrifice ourselves for the cross."
After an emotional church service, where relatives of the dead wept, young Christians started hurling rocks at police officers, a witness said.
The protesters smashed six private cars and set two on fire, prompting an angry reaction from Muslims living in the neighbourhood, who threw stones at them, a witness said.
Christian-Muslim confrontations have increased in Muslim-majority Egypt since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 gave freer rein to hardline Islamists repressed under his rule.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said that the situation "remained tense" outside the cathedral, with gunshots still being heard in the area as of late Sunday afternoon.
"From the beginning, the mood during the funeral marches was one of clear anger. The Christian community have been complaining for two years now, since the revolution, of increased physical attacks against them," said Rageh.
"Their concern is now that Islamic groups have been empowered and have been acting more freely after the revolution, that little is being done to address the long-standing roots of sectarian tension."
President Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader elected in June, has promised to protect the rights of Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 84 million people.
Egypt's Coptic Church issued a statement on Sunday night calling for calm and expressing sorrow for the clashes.
Christians have complained of attacks on churches by radical Islamists, incidents that have sharpened long-standing Christian grievances about being sidelined in the workplace and in law.
The president's office and top Muslim leaders were quick to condemn Friday's clashes, which happened after Christian children scrawled on the wall of a Muslim religious institute, according to witnesses.
Still, many Christians at the funeral called for Morsi and his Islamist allies to go, some of them chanting "The blood of
Christians is not cheap, Morsi, you villain."-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Thousands of Shia Muslims have staged a demonstration in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi to condemn the Shia killings in the South Asian country.
On Friday, 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 and said more demonstrations would be staged if justice is not served.
The protest march was organized by the All Pakistan Shia Action Committee.
Violence against the Pakistani Shia Muslims has been on the rise in recent months.
On March 3, a car bomb attack killed at least 48 people and wounded 150 others in a Shia neighborhood in Karachi.
Following the incident, former Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the anti-Shia terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi carried out the Karachi bombing.
On February 16, a bomb attack targeting Shia Muslims in the main bazaar of the southwestern city of Quetta killed at least 90 people, including women and children, and injured 200 others. According to the police, most of the victims were Hazara Shias.
On January 10, a twin bomb attack at a crowded billiard hall killed more than 90 people, mostly Shia Muslims, in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the two bombings in Quetta.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Bahrain’s security forces used stun grenades and teargas to disperse anti-government demonstrators in the west coast town of Malkiya after a women’s protest was banned by authorities.
Protesters came out to show support political prisoners who remain in jail and to demonstrate against the upcoming Formula One race in April.
For the same reasons protesters in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, clashed with police who used teargas and sound bombs to disperse their demonstration against the regime on Friday.
Bahrain has seen an upsurge of demonstrations since 2011 inspired by the Arab Spring and led by Shiite Muslim groups demanding reforms, political freedom and equality from the country’s Western-backed Sunni rulers.
Just two weeks ago police used teargas on thousands of protesters who came out near Manama to mark the second anniversary of the Saudi-led intervention that quelled the 2011 Shia uprising in Bahrain.
The government and opposition resumed talks last month, however little progress has been made since then.
More than 80 people have been killed in Bahrain in connection with the uprising since February 14, 2011, according to human rights groups. Thousands have been arrested with reports of violence and torture used by Bahraini police.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – At least 12 people including security forces have been killed in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and the city of Tikrit as violence rages on in the Arab nation.
On Monday, at least 9 people lost their lives after a bomber blew up his explosive-laden vehicle near a police station in the city of Tikrit, some 170 kilometers north of the capital.
Over 18 others were injured in the massive bombing. Medical sources say six police officers were among the dead.
Officials say the number of casualties could rise as rescue teams are searching for more victims.
On the same day, gunmen opened fire at a police vehicle south of the capital, killing three officers.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but militants affiliated with al-Qaeda are commonly blamed for such attacks in Iraq.
On March 29, four bomb attacks targeted four Shia mosques in Baghdad, and the northern city of Kirkuk, killing at least 23 people.
According to police officials, the car bomb blasts hit three neighborhoods in Baghdad within an hour of each other and an area of south Kirkuk.The explosions hit outside mosques where people had gathered for Friday prayers.
On December 31, 2012, over 20 people, including children, were killed and 80 others injured in a wave of attacks in several cities and towns in the country-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –“I call on the BRICS leaders to work together to immediately stop the violence in Syria in order to guarantee the success of a political solution,” Assad said in a message sent to the group which held the second day of its fifth summit in the South African city of Durban on Wednesday.
The Syrian president added that ending nearly two years of deadly unrest in Syria requires a “clear international will to dry up the sources of terrorism and stop funding and arming” foreign-backed militants fighting against Damascus.
President Assad said his country is subjected to “acts of terrorism backed by Arab, regional and Western nation,” urging the BRICS leaders to “work for an immediate cessation of violence.”
Earlier in the day, the BRICS member states also voiced ‘deep concern’ over nearly two years of ongoing crisis in Syria.
The group’s leaders urged a “Syrian-led political process” to solve the crisis through dialogue “that meets the legitimate aspirations of all sections of Syrian society and respect for Syrian independence.”
The Syrian leader made the remarks a day after the country’s opposition bloc, known as the National Coalition, took Syria’s seat during the Arab League annual summit held in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The League also authorized its members to send all the means of what it called self-defense, including weapons, to militants fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Many people, including large numbers of soldiers and security personnel, have been killed in the violence that broke out in Syria in March 2011.www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Following the discovery of a series of racist murders that has drawn worldwide attention, Germany’s interior minister has expressed concerns over the rising crimes attributed to neo-Nazi groups over the past year.
“There is a potential for violence among neo-Nazis that we must not underestimate,” German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said in an interview with the newspaper Tagesspiegel am Sonntag and cited by Deutsche Welle.
“What worries me is that the threshold of inhibitions about committing acts of violence has dropped dramatically.”
Friedrich said that preliminary statistics for 2012 indicated that right-wing crime had risen by 4 percent compared with the previous year.
The authorities investigated 17,600 cases of extremist-related offenses in 2011, he added.
Providing no precise figures for 2012, Friedrich said he was particularly concerned by a 2 percent rise in violent crime compared with 2011, when 828 cases were reported.
The worrying statistics would be discussed in the next meeting with counterparts from Germany's 16 states, he added.
The danger of right-wing violence has received heightened attention in Germany since November 2011, when two members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terrorist cell were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide in the eastern city of Zwickau.
The cell, which had been murdering immigrants for years, was discovered by chance on 2011 by the German authorities.
Authorities found that at least nine immigrants, eight Turks and a Greek, and a policewoman were killed by the cell between 2000 and 2000.
Weapons involved in the murders were later found at a burned out house nearby in Zwickau that had been used both by them and by a woman called Beate Zschaepe, who has given herself up.
Germans, burdened by their Nazi past, were horrified by the revelations and Chancellor Angela Merkel has publicly apologized to the families of the murder victims.
The new rates were announced as security forced revealed that the NSU terrorist cell may have had a far bigger network of supporters than initially thought.
“The new number is shockingly high,” Sebastian Edathy, chairman of a special parliamentary committee set up to probe the NSU, told the Bild newspaper, confirming the list.
“Now we have to clear up whether any of these people knew about the crimes or were informants.”
The news comes less than a month before Zschaepe, the 38-year-old accomplice, goes on trial in Munich charged with the murders.
Zschaepe is believed to be part of a core group that was actively supported by roughly a dozen others currently under investigation. In addition, many more are believed to have helped provide the cell with money, false papers and weapons, according to Bild.
The inquiry into the NSU has exposed botched investigations, a lack of communication between German intelligence services and a failure to properly monitor members of far-right groups.
A recent study in November showed that right-wing extremism is notably rising in Germany, particularly in the east of the European country.
The study, "The Changing Society: Right-wing Views in Germany 2012", found that the number of Germans identifying themselves has grown.
The report indicated that 9 percent of Germans have adopted extreme right-wing beliefs, up from 8.2 percent two years ago.-www.shafaqna.com/English