Jailed Kurdish Leader in Turkey Sent to Hospital for Tests

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The jailed ex-leader of a Kurdish party in Turkey has been sent to hospital for examinations, authorities said Monday, shortly after the politician’s lawyer said he suffered chest pains and lost consciousness in prison last week.

Selahattin Demirtas, 46, has been in prison for more than three years, facing terror charges.

Lawyer Aygul Demirtas – who is also the politician’s sister – tweeted Monday that Demirtas lost consciousness for some time. He received an electrocardiogram but had still not been sent to a fully equipped hospital despite the prison doctor’s recommendation, she said.

The prosecutor’s office later said in a statement that Demirtas was examined by doctors who arrived after the prison called emergency services and did not identify any health problems. The statement said he was dispatched to a hospital Monday for a more detailed examination.

The politician’s Peoples’ Democratic Party, Turkey’s second-largest opposition party, called on the government to explain and demanded he be taken to the hospital.

The Turkish government accuses the party of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency. It has cracked down on the party, arresting lawmakers and party members.

Demirtas faces up to 142 years in jail with several cases against him. He denies the charges.



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Iraqi Protests Continue Despite Prime Minister's Resignation Announcement

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Iraqi protesters burned tires on three bridges Saturday in the southern city of Nasiriyah, despite the prime minister’s announcement that he will step down from office.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Friday he will submit his resignation to the country’s parliament, following weeks of deadly protests.

The people responsible for the killings must be brought to justice, Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission said in a statement Saturday.

“Firearms and live ammunition must only be used as a last resort,” the International Committee of the Red Cross warned in a statement.

Abdul-Mahdi’s announcement Friday came after Iraq’s top Shiite cleric called for a change in leadership in the country. At least 400 people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded since anti-government protests began October 1.
“I will submit to parliament an official memorandum resigning from the current prime ministry,” the Abdul-Mahdi said, in response to the cleric’s call. He did not specify when he will step down.
The move triggered celebrations by protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, however demonstrators said they would continue their sit-in at the square

Iraq’s parliament is set to hold an emergency session on Sunday to discuss the crisis.
Earlier on Friday, during his weekly sermon, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani urged Iraq’s parliament to reconsider its support for Abdul-Mahdi’s government, amid the rising violence.

Violence continued on Friday with medical officials saying at least three protesters were shot by security forces in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

On Thursday, Iraqi security forces used live ammunition against mostly unarmed demonstrators in Nasiriyah, killing at least 40 people in one of the bloodiest days since anti-government protests began last month, security and medical officials said.
At least 25 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when security forces opened fire on protesters who had blocked key roads and bridges in the city.

Baghdad said it had sent military troops to restore order across southern Iraq, where protests have grown increasingly violent. Demonstrators have occupied buildings and bridges and have clashed with security forces, who have used tear gas and live ammunition almost daily since protests began.

Amnesty International denounced the violence in Nasiriyah, calling it a bloodbath.

In Baghdad, security forces shot and killed four people Thursday and wounded at least another 22 as protesters tried to cross the Ahrar Bridge, which leads to the Green Zone, the heavily fortified seat of Iraq’s government.

The demonstrators are demanding an end to government corruption and what they perceive as increasing Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.


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3 Killed, More Than 50 Hurt in Latest Iraq Clashes

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Three anti-government protesters were shot dead and at least 58 others were wounded in Baghdad and southern Iraq on Saturday, security and medical officials said, as Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi formally submitted his resignation to parliament. 

Lawmakers were expected to either vote or accept outright Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation letter in a parliamentary session Sunday, two members of parliament said. 

The prime minister announced Friday that he would hand parliament his resignation amid mounting pressure from mass anti-government protests, a day after more than 40 demonstrators were killed by security forces in Baghdad and southern Iraq. The announcement also came after Iraq’s top Shiite cleric withdrew his support for the government in a weekly sermon. 

The formal resignation came after an emergency cabinet session earlier in which ministers approved the document and the resignation of key staffers, including Abdul-Mahdi’s chief of staff. 

Caretaker cabinet

In a pre-recorded speech, Abdul-Mahdi addressed Iraqis, saying that following parliament’s recognition of his stepping down, the cabinet would be demoted to caretaker status, unable to pass new laws and make key decisions. 

FILE – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks in Baghdad, Oct. 23, 2019.

Existing laws do not provide clear procedures for members of parliament to recognize Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, Iraqi officials and experts said. Cabinet bylaws allow the prime minister to tender his resignation to the president, but there is no specific law that dictates the course of action should this be tasked to parliament. 

“There is a black hole in the constitution. It says nothing about resignation,” said lawmaker Mohamed al-Daraji. 

There are two main laws that could direct parliament’s course of action, he added: Either they vote Abdul-Mahdi out in a vote of no-confidence, per Article 61 of the constitution, or resort to Article 81, reserved for times of crisis when there is a vacancy in the premiership, shifting those duties temporarily to the president. 

“My understanding is this will be taken care of per Article 61,” he said.

A vote of no confidence would demote Abdul-Mahdi’s cabinet to caretaker status for 30 days, in which parliament’s largest political bloc would have to propose a new candidate. 

This is where the real problem comes in, experts and officials said. 

Product of alliance

Abdul-Mahdi’s nomination as prime minister was the product of a provisional alliance between parliament’s two main blocs — Sairoon, led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, which includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units headed by Hadi al-Amiri. 

In the May 2018 election, neither coalition won a commanding plurality that would have enabled it to name the premier alone. To avoid political crisis, Sairoon and Fatah forged a precarious union. 

“Now we are back to the question of who is the largest bloc that can name the next prime minister,” said one official close to the State of Law party, led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. “If they don’t come to an agreement before the 30-day deadline, then we might have to go to the Supreme Court.” 

Officials traded theories as to why Abdul-Mahdi chose to tender his resignation through parliament, with some speculating it was to buy more time or avoid the risk of a vacuum should the post remain empty. 
 Abdul-Mahdi had alluded to the challenges faced by political parties to find consensus candidates, saying in earlier statements he would step down once an alternative candidate was found. 

In his speech, addressing these speculations, Abdul-Mahdi said he was acting on the advice of Iraq’s chief Supreme Court judge. 

“The perspective I received from the chief of the federal Supreme Court is that the resignation should be submitted to those who voted the government in,” he said. 

Low expectations

Abdul-Mahdi listed his government’s accomplishments, saying it had come to power during difficult times. “Not many people were optimistic that this government would move forward,” he said. 

The government, he said, had managed to push through important job-creating projects, improve electricity generation and strengthen ties with neighboring countries. 

“But unfortunately, these events took place,” he said, referring to the mass protest movement that engulfed Iraq on October 1. “We need to be fair to our people and listen to them, where we made mistakes, where we did not make up for the mistakes of previous governments.” 

Demonstrators help a wounded young man after being hit by a stone during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq…
Demonstrators help a young man who was hit by a stone during anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 30, 2019.

At least 400 people have died since the leaderless uprising shook Iraq, with thousands of Iraqis taking to the streets in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern part of the country. They have decried corruption, poor services and a lack of jobs, and they have called for an end to the post-2003 political system. 

Security forces have used live fire, tear gas and sound bombs to disperse crowds, leading to heavy casualties. 

Three protesters were killed and 24 wounded in the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq on Saturday as security forces used live rounds to disperse them from a key mosque, security and hospital officials said. 

Bridge battles

In Baghdad, at least 11 protesters were wounded near the strategic Ahrar Bridge when security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas to prevent demonstrators from removing barricades. The protesters are occupying part of three strategic bridges — Ahrar, Sink and Jumhuriya — in a standoff with security forces. All three lead to the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. 

In the southern city of Nasiriyah, security forces used live fire and tear gas to repel protesters on two main bridges, the Zaitoun and the Nasr, which lead to the city center. Heavy fighting has taken place in Nasiriyah in recent days, with at least 31 protesters killed. 

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Abdul-Mahdi referred to the rising death toll in his speech. 

“We did our best to stop the bloodshed, and at the time we made brave decisions to stop using live ammunition, but unfortunately when clashes happen there will be consequences,” he said. 

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Six European Countries Join Barter System for Iran Trade

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Paris, London and Berlin on Saturday welcomed six new European countries to the INSTEX barter mechanism, which is designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran by avoiding use of the U.S. dollar.

“As founding shareholders of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), France, Germany and the United Kingdom warmly welcome the decision taken by the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, to join INSTEX as shareholders,” the three said in a joint statement.

The Paris-based INSTEX functions as a clearing house allowing Iran to continue to sell oil and import other products or services in exchange.

The system has not yet enabled any transactions.

Washington in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the international agreement governing Iran’s nuclear program and reinstated heavy sanctions against Tehran.

The accession of the six new members “further strengthens INSTEX and demonstrates European efforts to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran,” France, Germany and Britain said.

It represents “a clear expression of our continuing commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” — the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal — the trio added.

They insisted Iran must return to full compliance with its commitments under the deal “without delay.”

“We remain fully committed to pursuing our efforts towards a diplomatic resolution within the framework of the JCPoA,” they added.

The 2015 deal set out the terms under which Iran would restrict its nuclear program to civilian use in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions.

Since the U.S. pullout, Iran has taken four steps back from the accord.

The latest was Nov. 4 when its engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into mothballed enrichment centrifuges at the underground Fordow plant south of Tehran.

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Iraqi Parliament Accepts Prime Minister's Resignation

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Iraq’s parliament accepted Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s resignation Sunday, but the move is not expected to end nearly two months of violent anti-government protests.

Mahdi resigned Friday. President Barham Salih will now ask the largest bloc in parliament to nominate a new prime minister.

But this could lead to weeks of deal-making because it is unclear which coalition of parties make up the largest bloc.

Mahdi and his government have agreed to stay on in a caretaker role until a new prime minister is approved.

Anti-government protesters gather on Rasheed Street during clashes with security forces in Baghdad, Nov. 29, 2019.

Mahdi’s resignation is unlikely to satisfy anti-government protesters who have said it is not enough for a new prime minister to take over — they are demanding changes to the entire political system, which they call corrupt, inept, and does little to help impoverished Iraqis despite the nation’s oil wealth.

“As you know, the political parties in Iraq engaged in corruption, not the person who is the prime minister,” Iraqi lawmaker Ahmed al-Jburi tells VOA’s Kurdish Service. “The political parties will put someone as the head of government and the political parties who start to engage in corruption and grip on the finances in various sectors.”

Al-Jburi says the prime minister’s resignation came about two months too late, saying he should have quit when the first Iraqi protester was killed.

Meanwhile, another demonstrator was killed Sunday when Iraqi security forces fired at marchers to stop them from climbing over the concrete barriers surrounding the parliament building in Baghdad. Nine others were wounded.

The nationwide anti-government protests have killed nearly 400 people and wounded more than 1,000 since early October.



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Former Irish Soldier Who Joined IS Arrested in Ireland

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An Irish citizen, who converted to Islam, traveled to Syria to join Islamic State and ended up marrying a British militant, has been arrested on arrival at Dublin airport Sunday.

Lisa Smith, 38, who served in the Irish Defense Forces before going to Syria, had been deported from Turkey with her 2-year-old daughter.

“On her arrival in Dublin, Lisa Smith was met by An Garda Síochána,” Irish Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said, using the Irish name for the national police force.  “This is a sensitive case and I want to reassure people that all relevant state agencies are closely involved.”

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney told Irish national broadcaster RTE that officials had been trying to repatriate Smith since learning of her presence in a refugee camp in March. He said the primary concern was for the toddler who is an Irish citizen because of her mother’s nationality. The child is now with Smith’s relatives in Dundalk.

Authorities plan to question Smith extensively before deciding on what action to take. She has denied fighting for IS or training female soldiers for the militancy.

Many European countries and the United States have resisted bringing back their citizens who joined Islamic State.


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