New Age Islam
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Islamic World News ( 19 March 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

World Sufi Forum Urges PM Modi to Rectify 'Historical Blunders' Against Muslims

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Pointing out that true Sufism has great potential in the struggle against terrorism and extremism, the Grand Mufti noted Sufism can defend the true teachings of Islam and its image.

 

Grand Mufti of Egypt Takes Pot Shots against Hard-Line Groups within Islam

Ansarullah to Present Documents of Mansour Hadi's Crimes to Security Council

Suicide Attack Plan during Nowruz Celebrations Thwarted In Kabul

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India

World Sufi Forum Urges PM Modi to Rectify 'Historical Blunders' Against Muslims

Grand Mufti of Egypt Takes Pot Shots against Hard-Line Groups within Islam

'World Sufi Forum' Issues Manifesto; Says ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban against 'Islam And Humanity'

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Arab World

Ansarullah to Present Documents of Mansour Hadi's Crimes to Security Council

Yemen Clashes Kill 35 As Rebels Try To Retake Western Taiz

Russian, Syrian Jets Pound ISIS Bastion Raqqa, ‘Dozens Killed’

Militants Kill 13 Policemen in Egypt's Northern Sinai

Syrian Army Launches Major Counter-Offensive in Southern Hama

Several Senior ISIL Leaders Killed in Syrian Airstrikes over Raqqa

Syrian Army Hammering ISIL across Deir Ezzur Province

Al-Nusra Attack Repelled by Syrian Army in Hama Province

Al-Nusra Terrorists Smashed by Syrian Airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta

ISIL Sustains Heavy Damage in Clashes South of Maheen

Syrian Troops Advance to Push Back ISIL Further in Homs Province

Islamic State rocket kills US Marine in Iraq —Pentagon

Sources: S. Arabia Plotting to Assassinate Yemeni Leaders

Syrian Army, Hezbollah Liberate Key Mountain-Top West of Palmyra

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South Asia

Suicide Attack Plan during Nowruz Celebrations Thwarted In Kabul

19 Militants Killed In Latest Counter-Terrorism Operations: MoD

6,000 security personnel to maintain security during Nawroz celebration in Balkh

Ghani promises peace, development and Afghan forces victory in New Year

Noor: Afghans need to know about closed-door discussions on peace process

Pakistan to be hit by problems it causes in Afghanistan, Sima Samar warns

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Pakistan

Pakistan Province Declares Public Holiday on Holi

Pak Hindu Marriages Bill Picks Up Steam

Over 2.5 Lakh Pakistanis Repatriated In the Last Two And A Half Years

Ban off, Musharraf heads to Dubai for treatment

Pakistan Day to be celebrated at UN

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Mideast

NATO in Solidarity with Turkey after Istanbul Attack

Turkey Will Not Have More Refugees after EU Deal, Says Turkish PM

DNA sample taken from ISIL suspect’s father in Istanbul attack probe

Opposition parties condemn Istanbul suicide bombing

Iranian President Underlines Importance of Leader's Nowruz Message

Senior Israeli official to visit Turkey after deadly terror act in Istanbul

Turkey’s main opposition leader offers PM counterproposal for lifting immunities

Germany urges Turkey to focus on integrating Syrian refugees

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Should Pay More Attention to TPP: Analyst

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Europe

British Captive Appears In New IS Video

UN Blames Saudi-Led Coalition for Most Yemeni Civilian Deaths

Spaniards Hold Protest against Migrant Policy

Paris attacks suspect to 'oppose' extradition to France

I was a suicide bomber: Paris suspect charged in Belgium

The Latest: Russia Says US Slow to Agree on Syria Monitoring

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North America

U.S. Set to Deploy Troops to Philippines in Rebalancing Act

US Supports Moroccan Autonomy Plan For Western Sahara

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

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World Sufi Forum Urges PM Modi to Rectify 'Historical Blunders' Against Muslims

By IANS Published: 20th March 2016

NEW DELHI: The organisers of the first World Sufi Forum on Sunday urged the government to rectify the "historical blunders" against Muslims and to introduce Sufism at all levels of education.

Speaking at the Ramlila Ground on the final day of a four-day event, renowned Sufi leader Hazrat Syed Muhammad Ashraf said: "Over the last few decades, there have been concerted efforts to weaken Sufism in India and replace it with an extremist and radical ideology."

"This recent phenomenon is dangerous not just for the Muslim community, but also for the country itself," added the founder president of All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), the organisers of the event.

"We request our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to rectify these historical blunders and meet the demands of millions of Sufi followers in India."

He also demanded that the home ministry to spell out what steps had been taken with regard to the small and big communal incidents that have taken place in different parts of the country.

Ashraf also raised concerns over low Muslim representation in various minority institutions.

"Indian Muslims having faith in Sufi traditions should be given representation according to their share in population" in various bodies such as Central Waqf Council, State Waqf Boards, Central and State Hajj Committees and National Minority Finance Development Corp.

AIUMB, the apex body representing Sufis in India, unveiled its 25-point charter on the occasion.

AIUMB appealed to the government to establish a Sufi university in the name of revered Sufi saint Khwaja Gareeb Nawaz.

It said a central Sufi centre should be established in New Delhi and in all capital cities to promote Sufi literature, Sufi culture and music.

In order to promote Sufi tourism, it suggested that a 'Sufi corridor' be created to connect all the shrines in the country.

newindianexpress.com/nation/World-Sufi-Forum-Urges-PM-Modi-to-Rectify-Historical-Blunders-Against-Muslims/2016/03/20/article3337316.ece

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Grand Mufti of Egypt Abdel Karim Allam takes pot shots against hardline groups within Islam

By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, ET Bureau | Mar 19, 2016,

NEW DELHI: Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawki Ibrahim Abdel Karim Allam has taken pot shots against certain hardline groups within Islam for misinterpreting jihad and espousing extremism.

Speaking at the World Sufi conference in Delhi on Friday, Abdel Karim Allam noted that many different groups have emerged in Arab and Islamic societies in numerous different guises, names, and ideologies. "They preach the Islamic system and way of life and strive to return Muslim societies to the right pat ..

Some of them focused only on political reform, maintaining that governance is the basis for everything. However, the experience, or rather the numerous experiences, in Egypt and elsewhere are a testament to the failure of this theory, the Grand Mufti noted. "Those groups did not revise their stance, but sought to correct their mistake only to commit another. Their political struggle shifted to militant terrorism that has inevitably pushed them toward self-destruction."

"Some others ostensibly advocated a return to the way of al-Salaf al-Salih without paying due attention to the moral dimension. If they did indeed grasp the truth, spirituality, essence, moral refinement, wisdom, and the intellectual and methodological enlightenment of the Salaf, they would not have been downed by appearances and taken the people down with them. Some other groups took an excommunicative approach, espousing violence and terrorism. They misinterpreted the verses on jihad, accused M ..

They found support in the enemies of Allah and Islam who supply them with arms and wealth. So deep is the conviction of the enemies of Islam that those groups represent the greatest destructive power that can succeed to defeat Islam where warships, warplanes, tanks, and bombs have failed, that they furnish them with the means for their power and survival."

"To all of those groups, we say you have gone astray. You contradicted the teachings of the Qur`an and deviated from the Prophet's g ..

Pointing out that true Sufism has great potential in the struggle against terrorism and extremism, the Grand Mufti noted Sufism can defend the true teachings of Islam and its image, as well as defend homelands, which are the substance for their citizens' hopes and the protectors of their security and future. Sufism is moreover capable of acting as a guardian of societal peace and coexistence due to its prevalence across the globe.

It is worthwhile to invest the wide proliferation of Sufism and the great number of followers it has attracted in the battle against terrorism and radicalism.

Throughout history and especially during times of crises, Sufism served as the most prominent religious, political and social exponent of Islam, not only in the domain of proselytization but also in the jihad against imperialism and defense of homelands. It is therefore of crucial importance to connect and coordinate between licensed Sufi orders. At this point, I would like to commend the pioneering event of the World Sufi Forum that is hosting this important conference in the sister Republic o ..

"I invite you to invest major conferences and events not only to raise awareness about Sufi teachings, but also to disseminate their proper understanding and utilize them to create aversion to extremism through different channels such as lectures, brochures, and posters. We must also utilize social media to promote positive Sufi ethics and virtues such as patience, perseverance, obedience to Allah's rulings, piety, righteousness and so forth, which are of particular appeal to the youth, thus imb ..

economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/51470879.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

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Ansarullah to Present Documents of Mansour Hadi's Crimes to Security Council

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA) - Yemen's judiciary system is in possession of documents and evidence showing fugitive President Mansour Hadi's involvement in massacring the Yemeni people, an Ansarullah leader said on Saturday.

"The Yemeni judiciary has some documents which prove Mansour Hadi's involvement in leading the war and forming terrorist groups that have killed innocent civilians," Ali Abdulmajid, an Ansarullah politburo member, told FNA.

"Considering the evidence, Hadi can no more deny his role in destroying the country with his intelligence and logistic support," he added.

Abdulmajid underlined that Ansarullah will present the documents to the UN Security Council for Hadi's prosecution.

Yemen has been engulfed in a military conflict between the former government and militants and al-Qaeda and ISIL terrorists on one side and Ansarullah (Houthi) movement and the army and popular forces on the opposite side for over a year now. Since March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on Yemen in support of Mansour Hadi.

The rising death toll among the civilian population prompted the United Nations to mediate a ceasefire between the Saudi coalition and the popular forces in December for the time of the intra-Yemeni talks in Geneva, although hostilities have continued.

The bombardments have so far killed more than 8,800 people and injured more than 16,500 others.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000298

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Suicide attack plan during Nowruz celebrations thwarted in Kabul

By Ghanizada - Sat Mar 19 2016

suicide attack foiled in Kabul cityA plot to carry out coordinated suicide attack during Nowruz celebrations in Kabul has been thwarted by the Afghan intelligence operatives, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said.

A statement by NDS said a group of 3 militants affiliated with the Haqqani terrorist network were arrested as they were plotting the attack.

The statement further added that the arrest was made from the 1st police district of the city as the group was planning to carry out the attack using a suicide bombing vest.

The detained militants have been identified as Mohammad Nazir son of Haji Zazai, Sultan son of Mohammad Hassan, and Mujibullah son of Jawid, NDS added.

The Afghan intelligence operatives confiscated a suicide bombing vest and a pistol from the detained militants.

This comes as the US Embassy in Kabul issued alerts to its citizens in the country on Friday regarding possible attacks planned by insurgents to target Nowruz celebrations in Kabul.

“The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has received reports that due to Nawruz, the Afghan New Year (20-21 March) insurgents are planning disruptive activities aimed to target celebrations in Kabul City, Kabul Province, Afghanistan,” the alert by the embassy said.

khaama.com/suicide-attack-plan-during-nowruz-celebrations-thwarted-in-kabul-0389

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India

World Sufi Forum Urges PM Modi to Rectify 'Historical Blunders' Against Muslims

By IANS Published: 20th March 2016

NEW DELHI: The organisers of the first World Sufi Forum on Sunday urged the government to rectify the "historical blunders" against Muslims and to introduce Sufism at all levels of education.

Speaking at the Ramlila Ground on the final day of a four-day event, renowned Sufi leader Hazrat Syed Muhammad Ashraf said: "Over the last few decades, there have been concerted efforts to weaken Sufism in India and replace it with an extremist and radical ideology."

"This recent phenomenon is dangerous not just for the Muslim community, but also for the country itself," added the founder president of All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), the organisers of the event.

"We request our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to rectify these historical blunders and meet the demands of millions of Sufi followers in India."

He also demanded that the home ministry to spell out what steps had been taken with regard to the small and big communal incidents that have taken place in different parts of the country.

Ashraf also raised concerns over low Muslim representation in various minority institutions.

"Indian Muslims having faith in Sufi traditions should be given representation according to their share in population" in various bodies such as Central Waqf Council, State Waqf Boards, Central and State Hajj Committees and National Minority Finance Development Corp.

AIUMB, the apex body representing Sufis in India, unveiled its 25-point charter on the occasion.

AIUMB appealed to the government to establish a Sufi university in the name of revered Sufi saint Khwaja Gareeb Nawaz.

It said a central Sufi centre should be established in New Delhi and in all capital cities to promote Sufi literature, Sufi culture and music.

In order to promote Sufi tourism, it suggested that a 'Sufi corridor' be created to connect all the shrines in the country.

newindianexpress.com/nation/World-Sufi-Forum-Urges-PM-Modi-to-Rectify-Historical-Blunders-Against-Muslims/2016/03/20/article3337316.ece

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Grand Mufti of Egypt Abdel Karim Allam takes pot shots against hardline groups within Islam

By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, ET Bureau | Mar 19, 2016,

NEW DELHI: Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawki Ibrahim Abdel Karim Allam has taken pot shots against certain hardline groups within Islam for misinterpreting jihad and espousing extremism.

Speaking at the World Sufi conference in Delhi on Friday, Abdel Karim Allam noted that many different groups have emerged in Arab and Islamic societies in numerous different guises, names, and ideologies. "They preach the Islamic system and way of life and strive to return Muslim societies to the right pat ..

Some of them focused only on political reform, maintaining that governance is the basis for everything. However, the experience, or rather the numerous experiences, in Egypt and elsewhere are a testament to the failure of this theory, the Grand Mufti noted. "Those groups did not revise their stance, but sought to correct their mistake only to commit another. Their political struggle shifted to militant terrorism that has inevitably pushed them toward self-destruction."

"Some others ostensibly advocated a return to the way of al-Salaf al-Salih without paying due attention to the moral dimension. If they did indeed grasp the truth, spirituality, essence, moral refinement, wisdom, and the intellectual and methodological enlightenment of the Salaf, they would not have been downed by appearances and taken the people down with them. Some other groups took an excommunicative approach, espousing violence and terrorism. They misinterpreted the verses on jihad, accused M ..

They found support in the enemies of Allah and Islam who supply them with arms and wealth. So deep is the conviction of the enemies of Islam that those groups represent the greatest destructive power that can succeed to defeat Islam where warships, warplanes, tanks, and bombs have failed, that they furnish them with the means for their power and survival."

"To all of those groups, we say you have gone astray. You contradicted the teachings of the Qur`an and deviated from the Prophet's g ..

Pointing out that true Sufism has great potential in the struggle against terrorism and extremism, the Grand Mufti noted Sufism can defend the true teachings of Islam and its image, as well as defend homelands, which are the substance for their citizens' hopes and the protectors of their security and future. Sufism is moreover capable of acting as a guardian of societal peace and coexistence due to its prevalence across the globe.

It is worthwhile to invest the wide proliferation of Sufism and the great number of followers it has attracted in the battle against terrorism and radicalism.

Throughout history and especially during times of crises, Sufism served as the most prominent religious, political and social exponent of Islam, not only in the domain of proselytization but also in the jihad against imperialism and defense of homelands. It is therefore of crucial importance to connect and coordinate between licensed Sufi orders. At this point, I would like to commend the pioneering event of the World Sufi Forum that is hosting this important conference in the sister Republic o ..

"I invite you to invest major conferences and events not only to raise awareness about Sufi teachings, but also to disseminate their proper understanding and utilize them to create aversion to extremism through different channels such as lectures, brochures, and posters. We must also utilize social media to promote positive Sufi ethics and virtues such as patience, perseverance, obedience to Allah's rulings, piety, righteousness and so forth, which are of particular appeal to the youth, thus imb ..

economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/51470879.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

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'World Sufi Forum' issues manifesto; says ISIS, al Qaeda, Taliban against 'Islam and humanity'

March 20, 2016

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: Although Narendra Modi – led government at the Centre has often been accused of being anti-Muslim, a 'World Sufi Program' concluded here in the national capital peacefully on Sunday. The forum where Muslim scholars from more that 20 countries participated gave a message that the community is against terrorism.

Prominent Muslim leaders from around the globe condemned violence in the name of Islam at the International Sufi Conference and said that it is sin to misuse the name of Islam in order to spread terror.

Speaking at the Ramlila Ground here on the final day of a four-day event, Pakistani cleric Tahir Ul Qadri said, "The only aim of  ISIS, al Qaeda, Taliban is to kill people, nothing to do with Islam."

The organisers of the first World Sufi Forum also released a manifesto today.

They also urging the government to rectify the "historical blunders" against Muslims and to introduce Sufism at all levels of education.

Renowned Sufi leader Hazrat Syed Muhammad Ashraf said: "Over the last few decades, there have been concerted efforts to weaken Sufism in India and replace it with an extremist and radical ideology."

"This recent phenomenon is dangerous not just for the Muslim community, but also for the country itself," added the founder president of All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), the organisers of the event.

"We request our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to rectify these historical blunders and meet the demands of millions of Sufi followers in India."

He also demanded that the home ministry to spell out what steps had been taken with regard to the small and big communal incidents that have taken place in different parts of the country.

Ashraf also raised concerns over low Muslim representation in various minority institutions.

"Indian Muslims having faith in Sufi traditions should be given representation according to their share in population" in various bodies such as Central Waqf Council, State Waqf Boards, Central and State Hajj Committees and National Minority Finance Development Corp.

AIUMB, the apex body representing Sufis in India, unveiled its 25-point charter on the occasion.

AIUMB appealed to the government to establish a Sufi university in the name of revered Sufi saint Khwaja Gareeb Nawaz.

It said a central Sufi centre should be established in New Delhi and in all capital cities to promote Sufi literature, Sufi culture and music.

In order to promote Sufi tourism, it suggested that a 'Sufi corridor' be created to connect all the shrines in the country.

Over 8000 Muslim clerics and Sufi leaders came together in a large congregation to attend the conference.

(With Agency inputs)

zeenews.india.com/news/india/world-sufi-forum-issues-manifesto-says-isis-al-qaeda-taliban-against-islam-and-humanity_1867710.html

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Arab World

Ansarullah to Present Documents of Mansour Hadi's Crimes to Security Council

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA) - Yemen's judiciary system is in possession of documents and evidence showing fugitive President Mansour Hadi's involvement in massacring the Yemeni people, an Ansarullah leader said on Saturday.

"The Yemeni judiciary has some documents which prove Mansour Hadi's involvement in leading the war and forming terrorist groups that have killed innocent civilians," Ali Abdulmajid, an Ansarullah politburo member, told FNA.

"Considering the evidence, Hadi can no more deny his role in destroying the country with his intelligence and logistic support," he added.

Abdulmajid underlined that Ansarullah will present the documents to the UN Security Council for Hadi's prosecution.

Yemen has been engulfed in a military conflict between the former government and militants and al-Qaeda and ISIL terrorists on one side and Ansarullah (Houthi) movement and the army and popular forces on the opposite side for over a year now. Since March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on Yemen in support of Mansour Hadi.

The rising death toll among the civilian population prompted the United Nations to mediate a ceasefire between the Saudi coalition and the popular forces in December for the time of the intra-Yemeni talks in Geneva, although hostilities have continued.

The bombardments have so far killed more than 8,800 people and injured more than 16,500 others.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000298

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Yemen clashes kill 35 as rebels try to retake western Taiz

AP | Mar 20, 2016

SANAA (Yemen): Yemeni security and medical officials say 35 fighters have been killed in clashes between Shiite rebels and pro-government forces in Taiz, the country's third-largest city.

The officials say Shiite rebels known as Houthis were trying to retake the western part of the city Saturday, while a Saudi-led coalition launched more than a dozen airstrikes to prevent the Houthis from advancing.

Yemen's civil war pits Houthi rebels against fighters allied with the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes against the Houthis in March 2015.

The Houthis had besieged Taiz for over a year until pro-government forces pushed them out of the western part of the city last week, reopening a passage into Taiz.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Yemen-clashes-kill-35-as-rebels-try-to-retake-western-Taiz/articleshow/51477649.cms

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Russian, Syrian jets pound ISIS bastion Raqqa, ‘dozens killed’

Reuters | Mar 19, 2016

BEIRUT: Dozens of people were killed in a series of air strikes on the city of Raqqa in northern Syria on Saturday, a monitoring group and activists said, as Damascus and Moscow waged attacks on areas controlled by Islamic State.

A cessation of hostilities in Syria took effect three weeks ago, reducing violence but not halting the fighting as peace talks take place in Geneva. The deal does not include al-Qaida or Islamic State jihadists, whose de facto capital in Syria is Raqqa.

Russia has been pulling out its attack aircraft after announcing a partial withdrawal from Syria, where its air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad has turned fighting in his favour.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 39 people had been killed and dozens more wounded in the raids on Raqqa.

An activist group with sources in Raqqa, called "Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently", said more than 40 had been killed, and that separate strikes hit areas in the north of Raqqa province.

The observatory said the dead included seven women and five children. It said it was not clear whether Syrian or Russian warplanes had conducted the air strikes.

Separately, Russian warplanes hit the Islamic State-held historic city of Palmyra and its immediate vicinity with some 70 air strikes, the observatory said, with no immediate reports of casualties.

Government forces and their allies are aiming to capture Palmyra, some 200 km southwest of Raqqa and also held by Islamic State since May.

The observatory said 16 people were also killed in air strikes in Raqqa on Friday.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Russian-Syrian-jets-pound-ISIS-bastion-Raqqa-dozens-killed/articleshow/51474418.cms

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Militants kill 13 policemen in Egypt's northern Sinai

Mar 20, 2016

CAIRO: Militants killed 13 Egyptian policemen in an attack Saturday on a checkpoint south of northern Sinai's provincial capital of el-Arish, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said.

“A mortar round was fired at the Safa checkpoint... which resulted in the martyrdom of 13 policemen,” the ministry statement said.

Related: Egypt's Sisi imposes tough anti-terrorism law

A Sinai-based Islamic State affiliate has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a statement circulated on social media, but the authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

IS said a suicide bomber, identified by the nom de guerre “Abu Al-Qaaqaa the Egyptian”, blew up a car packed with explosives at the checkpoint.

“This was followed by the storming of the checkpoint,” it said in the statement posted on social media.

Related: Russia, Egypt dismiss US, UK claims bomb brought down jet

The local IS affiliate has been targeting Egyptian security forces in Sinai and claimed the downing of a Russian airliner last October that killed 224 people.

That attack prompted Russia to suspend all flights to Egypt, and has lost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenues.

Egypt has been hit with a wave of suicide bombings and militant attacks that intensified after the military's ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

dawn.com/news/1246860/militants-kill-13-policemen-in-egypts-northern-sinai

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Syrian Army Launches Major Counter-Offensive in Southern Hama

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army stormed the outskirts of Qantara village in reaction to the al-Nusra terrorists' unsuccessful offensive to the government-held neighboring village of Tall ad-Dirrah on Sunday.

According to a military source in the region, four al-Qaeda-linked militants were killed during the counter-attack operation on top of the tens of casualties inflicted on the al-Nusra earlier on Saturday near Tall ad-Dirrah.

Pro-government troops are resolved to capture Qantara as this rebel-held village poses a threat to the government-controlled road from Salamiyah to the provincial capital of Hama.

Meanwhile, Syrian Artillery units, stationed at Tall ad-Dirrah, keep pounding al-Nusra while Russian warplanes have also been requested to aid this evening’s offensive.

"If the Syrian army and their allies capture Qantara village from the al-Nusra, this will furthermore enable a push Southwards along the strategic al-Assi river into the Northern sections of Homs province where terrorist forces are now in control," a military source said.

Yesterday, Syrian Army forces and their popular allies pushed back the al-Nusra terrorists in areas near the key city of Salamiyah in the Northern province of Hama and killed a number of militants.

"The al-Nusra militants in an attempt to capture the key points of al-Rabi'ah near Tal al-Dara village, on the Western outskirt of Salamiyah, attacked the army troop's positions in the region, but the army fended off the attack after killing several terrorists," a military source said.

The source added that the army forces destroyed several militants' heavily-armed pick-up trucks and defused some explosive devices left by the militants in the region.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13950101000092

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Several Senior ISIL Leaders Killed in Syrian Airstrikes over Raqqa

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Informed sources reported death of several ISIL top leaders and executives during the Syrian strikers' latest raids on the terrorist group structures across the stronghold city of Raqqa, Northeastern Syria, on Saturday.

A source on the ground said ISIL's top judge, Fawaz Muhammed al-Muhsin al-Kurdi (also known as Abu Ali al-Shar'ei) was killed when the Syrian Air force fighter jets bombed ISIL structures in Firdows district in the city of Raqqa.

The reports also informed of the death of ISIL's self-proclaimed Raqqa governor, Abu Luqman, alongside his uncle, Ibrahim al-Shawwakh who was deemed as one of most senior ISIL leaders, in a high-precision airstrike over al-Sahl district of Raqqa.

The reports come as military sources said tens of terrorists are fleeing the battlefields Eastward from Palmyra toward ISIL's stronghold city of Raqqa as Syrian army troops alongside popular forces continue to smash the terrorists in the Eastern parts of Homs province.

The news about the death of ISIL leader was released as the Syrian army and popular forces are making significant advances in Eastern Syria.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000441

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Syrian Army Hammering ISIL across Deir Ezzur Province

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian air force and artillery units, in a series of intensive attacks, pounded the ISIL militants' positions in Deir Ezzur province, eliminating tens of terrorists and inflicting damage on them, a military source said on Saturday.

"The ISIL positions in two districts of al-Hwaiqa and al-Ummal were razed as Syrian fighter jets pounded the military positions and gathering centers of the ISIL in the city of Deir Ezzur and village of al-Hatla in the Eastern parts of the province, which also resulted in the destruction of the terrorist group's equipment and vehicles," the battlefield source said.

The Syrian army also hit several ISIL gatherings in Burj al-Mustafa, inflicting heavy casualties on them.

Also on Saturday, the Syrian artillery units pounded a power plant in al-Thayyem oilfield, causing rather heavy casualties among the terrorists in the region.

In a related development in Deir Ezzur province, the Syrian artillery units managed to track and destroy an ISIL military vehicle in Tal al-Mahrouqat area in the village of Baqaliyeh, destroying terrorists' military hardware and annihilating some of them.

On Friday, the Syrian air force in a high-precision strike targeted and destroyed a mortar launch pad used by the ISIL terrorist group in Deir Ezzur.

The Syrian fighter jets struck the ISIL gathering centers and lines of defense near al-Jafra region on Friday, which ended in the destruction of a mortar platform.

The Syrian army and its popular allies are now readying for the final battle against the ISIL terrorists over al-Shoula region after capturing the key oil-rich region of al-Thayyem in the Southeastern province of Deir Ezzur.

Liberation of al-Shoula region will lead to the reopening of Homs-Damascus road and winning back Deir Ezzur city from the terrorists completely.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000417

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Al-Nusra Attack Repelled by Syrian Army in Hama Province

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian Army forces and their popular allies pushed back the al-Nusra terrorists in areas near the key city of Salamiyah in the Northern province of Hama and killed a number of militants, a military source said on Saturday.

"The al-Nusra militants in an attempt to capture the key points of al-Rabi'ah near Tal al-Dara village, on the Western outskirt of Salamiyah, attacked the army troop's positions in the region, but the army fended off the attack after killing several terrorists," the source said.

The source added that the army forces destroyed several militants' heavily-armed pick-up trucks and defused some explosive devices left by the militants in the region.

Earlier on Saturday, the Syrian army fighter jets pounded terrorist groups positions in different parts of Hama province, destroying their vehicles and equipment and killing tens of terrorists.

"Two vehicles equipped with 23.5-mm machine guns and a vehicle carrying terrorists in al-Zayara and Tal Wasit region in Hama were destroyed," military sources said on Saturday, adding that 11 terrorists were killed and 19 others were injured in the Syrian army offensive.

Also, the Syrian army's airstrikes on Jund al-Aqsa terrorist group's gathering centers in Kafr Nabouda, Northern Hama, destroyed their underground arms depot and an armored vehicle.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000422

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Al-Nusra Terrorists Smashed by Syrian Airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian air force pounded the al-Nusra militants' positions in Eastern Ghouta ,Damascus province, inflicting a number of casualties on the terrorists, a military source said on Saturday.

"The Syrian fighter jets pounded the military positions and gathering centers of the al-Nusra terrorists in al-Marj region in Eastern Ghouta, which resulted in the destruction of the terrorists' military grid," the battlefield source said.

The Syrian air force has intensified its air raids on militants' strongholds across Ghouta region inflicting growing loss and damage on the terrorists.

Earlier this week, the Syrian government forces detected and destroyed a tunnel used by the militants in Ghouta.

"The tunnel had connected the militant groups' position to a hospital," army sources said.

Elsewhere, the Syrian army inflicted major casualties on the ISIL terrorists near key Tishrin power plant South of Damascus province.

The Syrian Army shelled an ISIL terrorists gathering in al-Ghyath region located in areas south of Tishrin thermal power plant in Southern Damascus province, leaving a number of terrorists dead or injured.

The source added that the operation, conducted after the Syrian army was tipped off by intelligence forces active in the area, delivered another crushing blow to the terrorists in the Damascus province.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000448

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ISIL Sustains Heavy Damage in Clashes South of Maheen

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The ISIL terrorist group sustained many casualties and significant damage on its hardware during the clashes Southwest of Homs province on Saturday, as Syrian soldiers have been intensifying their offensive against the militants in a battle over strategic regions close to the city of Maheen, military sources said.

"Fierce clashes have been underway in al-Taheen and al-Mahasa hills, South of Maheen, leading to huge damage on terrorists, including an ISIL tank blown up by Syrian soldiers along with all its crew," the sources said.

Maheen is a strategic city Southwest of Homs province and a house to the Syrian army's huge arms depots that supply the army needs in the Eastern part of the country. The city was recaptured from the ISIL terrorist group for a second time a few months ago, after the internationally blacklisted terror cult staged a massive raid on government troops and came in control of the city for about three weeks. The army captured the city and moved Eastward to free Quaryatayn and Palmyra when its positions in Maheen came under a surprise attack by fresh ISIL troops from Qalamoun region behind them. The army took the city back after three weeks of bloody clashes.

Meantime, the Syrian army and popular forces have stormed the militant group's fortified positions in areas West of the ancient city of Pamyra (Tadmur) since early this week and taken back several villages and heights on their way along the roads leading to the city.

The Syrian Army and popular forces are pushing their way further into militant-held areas and came closer to key city of Palmyra in the Eastern part of Homs province, imposing heavy casualties in heavy clashes with militants in the region.

In a significant development, the ISIL terrorist group lost a couple of top commanders in clashes with the Syrian Army near the ancient city of Palmyra in the Eastern part of Homs province,

After Sultan bin Abdul Rahman, a Saudi commander of the terrorist group succumbed to his injuries and died early Friday, Taha al-Dandashi nom de guerre Abu Muhammed al-Libnani, was killed during fierce clashes between the Syrian Army and the ISIL around the ancient city of Tadmur, Eastern Homs province.

The latter hunted ISIL commander was originally from the city of Tripoli and His death is considered as a huge blow to the terrorist group.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000340

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Syrian Troops Advance to Push Back ISIL Further in Homs Province

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian Army forces and their allies pushed their way to advance further into the Eastern parts of Homs province, and established their control over more areas after fierce clashes with militants in the region, military sources said on Saturday.

The military sources said pro-government forces seized control of more strategic hill-tops in both Western and Southern fringes of the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) after heavy clashes with ISIL terrorists in the region.

The Syrian Army alongside the popular forces, backed up by the Russian fighter jets, advanced further in al-Hayal and Wadi Abyad Dam, while pushing back ISIL militants in Palmyra-Talal road, Southwest of Palmyra.

Meanwhile, military sources reported that tens of terrorists are fleeing the battlefields Eastward from Palmyra toward ISIL's stronghold city of Raqqa as Syrian army troops alongside popular forces continue to smash the terrorists in the Eastern parts of Homs province.

Battlefield reports also suggest the ISIL Takfiri terrorists are deserting their positions in Western as well as Southern Palmyra, leaving behind scores of dead and wounded members in Palmyra desert.

The Syrian Army's large-scale operation in the Eastern parts of Homs province continued on Saturday with the main focus on regions surrounding the cities of Palmyra and Quaryatayn.

"As the army continues with its operation on the ground, the Syrian and Russian fighter jets provide them with air support pounding ISIL positions and concentration centers to facilitate the advance of army soldiers in their way to win back the vital regions in Eastern Homs province," battlefield reports said on Saturday.

"Syrian and Russian Jets conducted more than 50 rounds of airstrikes hitting ISIL positions and their gatherings in areas around Palmyra, Quaryatayn, Ithriyah and in al-Makala, al-Bayarat al-Maalif and just outside the Jazal Oilfield," added the reports.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000374

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Islamic State rocket kills US Marine in Iraq —Pentagon

March 20, 2016

WASHINGTON - A US Marine who was part of the coalition fighting Islamic State was killed in a rocket attack by the militant group in northern Iraq, the Pentagon said in a statement on Saturday.

It was the second combat death of an American service member in Iraq since the start of the campaign to fight the militant Islamic State group.

The Marine, who was providing force protection fire, died in the rocket attack at a base near Makhmur, a town between the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.

Cook did not identify the Marine who had been killed. He said several other Marines had been wounded and were being treated for injuries.

A US defense official said two rockets had been fired. One did not cause any damage.

In October, Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma, became the first American to die in combat in Iraq since 2011 when he was killed during an overnight mission to rescue hostages held by Islamic State militants.

Earlier this year US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that a new US force of special operations troops had arrived in Iraq and was preparing to work with Iraqi forces to go after Islamic State targets.

While that force was expected to number only about 200, its deployment marked the latest expansion of US military pressure on Islamic State. —Reuters

gmanetwork.com/news/story/559757/news/world/islamic-state-rocket-kills-us-marine-in-iraq-pentagon

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Sources: S. Arabia Plotting to Assassinate Yemeni Leaders

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Saudi Arabia has hatched plots to assassinate the senior leaders of Yemen's revolution, Ansarullah sources revealed on Saturday.

"Saudi Arabia is plotting to assassinate leaders of Ansarullah movement and Yemeni revolution," Colonel Hassan Zaidi, a field commander of Ansarullah, told FNA today.

"Saudi Arabia is leading and supporting the terrorist operations in Yemen and wants to omit the leaders of Yemen revolution and it has masterminded the recent assassinations in Aden and Ta'iz provinces," he added.

Saudi Arabia which has faced failure in Yemen after waging a one-year-long war against its Arab neighbor has now resorted to assassination of Yemen's popular revolution to bring back its fugitive ally, Mansour Hadi, back to power, he continued.

A Yemeni intelligence source said on Thursday that over 4,000 Saudi mercenaries, including 178 commanders, have been killed during the year-long Riyadh-led war against Yemen.

"At least, 4,000 Saudi mercenaries have been killed during the savage aggression of the Saudi-led Arab coalition against Yemen in the past one year," the source told FNA.

He said that tens of the Saudi mercenaries killed by the Yemeni army and popular forces have been Sudanese, Djiboutian, and even Chechnian nationals, adding that 178 commanders are seen among the Saudi death toll in Yemen war, "a fact that has always been kept secret the Saudi media".

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941229000262

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Syrian Army, Hezbollah Liberate Key Mountain-Top West of Palmyra

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army Forces and Hezbollah fighters managed to advance further towards the city of Palmyra (Tadmur) in Homs province, liberating another important mountain-top that overlooks the ancient city’s Western suburbs.

According to a battlefield correspondent embedded with the government forces near Palmyra, the Syrian Army and Hezbollah imposed full control over Jabal Musharraf after a late night battle with the ISIL militants.

The Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters and other Syrian army's allies, carried out a night assault on ISIL’s lines near Palmyra’s Western suburbs, killing several terrorists and confiscating a large cache of weapons from the terrorist group.

Earlier reports said that Syrian Army forces and their allies were pushing their way to advance further into the Eastern parts of Homs province, and established their control over more areas after fierce clashes with militants in the region.

Military sources said pro-government forces seized control of more strategic hill-tops in both Western and Southern fringes of the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) after heavy clashes with ISIL terrorists in the region.

The Syrian Army alongside the popular forces, backed up by the Russian fighter jets, advanced further in al-Hayal and Wadi Abyad Dam, while pushing back ISIL militants in Palmyra-Talal road, Southwest of Palmyra.

Meanwhile, military sources reported that tens of terrorists are fleeing the battlefields Eastward from Palmyra toward ISIL's stronghold city of Raqqa as Syrian army troops alongside popular forces continue to smash the terrorists in the Eastern parts of Homs province.

Battlefield reports also suggested the ISIL Takfiri terrorists were deserting their positions in Western as well as Southern Palmyra, leaving behind scores of dead and wounded members in Palmyra desert.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13950101000106

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South Asia

Suicide attack plan during Nowruz celebrations thwarted in Kabul

By Ghanizada - Sat Mar 19 2016

suicide attack foiled in Kabul cityA plot to carry out coordinated suicide attack during Nowruz celebrations in Kabul has been thwarted by the Afghan intelligence operatives, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said.

A statement by NDS said a group of 3 militants affiliated with the Haqqani terrorist network were arrested as they were plotting the attack.

The statement further added that the arrest was made from the 1st police district of the city as the group was planning to carry out the attack using a suicide bombing vest.

The detained militants have been identified as Mohammad Nazir son of Haji Zazai, Sultan son of Mohammad Hassan, and Mujibullah son of Jawid, NDS added.

The Afghan intelligence operatives confiscated a suicide bombing vest and a pistol from the detained militants.

This comes as the US Embassy in Kabul issued alerts to its citizens in the country on Friday regarding possible attacks planned by insurgents to target Nowruz celebrations in Kabul.

“The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has received reports that due to Nawruz, the Afghan New Year (20-21 March) insurgents are planning disruptive activities aimed to target celebrations in Kabul City, Kabul Province, Afghanistan,” the alert by the embassy said.

khaama.com/suicide-attack-plan-during-nowruz-celebrations-thwarted-in-kabul-0389

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19 militants killed in latest counter-terrorism operations: MoD

By Ghanizada - Sat Mar 19 2016

At least 19 anti-government armed militants were killed in the latest counter-terrorism operations led by the Afghan army, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said.

According to an operational update by MoD, the operations were conducted during the past 24 hours in Uruzgan, Helmand, and Ghazni provinces of the country.

The operational update further added that 11 of the militants were killed in Charchino district of Uruzgan province, 7 militants were killed in Khanshin district of Helmand, and another militant was killed in Andar district of Ghazni province in the southeast.

At least 18 militants were also wounded during the operations, MoD said, adding that various types of weapons, ammunition and explosives were seized during the same operations.

The anti-government armed militant groups have not commented regarding the reports so far.

The Afghan national security forces have stepped up counter-terrorism operations amid deteriorating security situation across the country.

The Taliban-led insurgency has been rampant despite ongoing efforts to bring the militant group to negotiations table and end the ongoing violence through reconciliation process.

khaama.com/19-militants-killed-in-latest-counter-terrorism-operations-mod-0386

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6,000 security personnel to maintain security during Nawroz celebration in Balkh

By Zabihullah Moosakhail - Sat Mar 19 2016

6,000 security personnel have been assigned to maintain security for Nawroz (New Year) celebration in northern Balkh province which is center of the annual event in Afghanistan.

Officials say additional security measures have been taken at highways leading to Mazar-e-Sharif, the provincial capital, and a tight check is ongoing to prevent possible arrival of terrorists, explosives or weapons to disrupt the celebration.

This comes as thousands of people from other provinces or neighboring countries have been arriving in Mazar-e-Sharif to attend the Gul Surkh Mila (Red Flowers Festival) which is part of the event.

Red Flowers Festival refers to Tulip flowers which grow over the hills around Mazar-i-Sharif, giving it an attractive view.

Various customs are performed during the Gul Surkh Mila, including Bozkashi games and Janda Bala event.

The Janda Bala event is raising a flag in the Shrine of Hazrat Ali (karam allah wajhu), Islam’s 4th Khalifa (caliphate).

The flag is raised at the 1st day of the New Year which also starts the 40 days festival.

khaama.com/five-russian-speaking-foreigners-arrested-in-nangarhar-4753

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Ghani promises peace, development and Afghan forces victory in new year

By Khaama Press - Sun Mar 20 2016

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani promised peace, development and Afghan national security forces victory in the ongoing war during the Afghan new year.

In his message on the occasion of Nowruz, Ghani said the Afghan forces will be victorious in the ongoing war and promised that peace will be attained.

He noted the assumptions questioning the capabilities of the Afghan forces following the withdrawal of the Afghan to protect their country and system and said said the Afghan forces with the support of the people did not allow the enemies of of Afghanistan to divide the country and destroy the system.

President Ghani further added that the country will witness major developments and presented the electricity production in the country as an example, saying the electricity production in 1395 would be unprecedented as compared to the previous one hundred years.

He admitted the shortcomings of the government in certain sectors and pointed towards corruption, saying certain departments in the government are operating the way they should be doing.

President vowed to take strict measures in fighting the growing corruption in the country during the new year.

The remarks by Ghani comes as UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom said survival will be an achievement for the Government of National Unity for 2016 amid deteriorating security, economic and political situation in the country.

Briefing the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday evening, Haysom said Afghanistan is being as severely tested in 2016 as it was in 2015 in managing its political, economic and security challenges.

Haysom further added that the National Unity Government will need to overcome a contracting economy, an intensifying insurgency and an increasingly divided political environment in a bid to survive in 2016.

khaama.com/ghani-promises-peace-development-and-afghan-forces-victory-in-new-year-0391

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Noor: Afghans need to know about closed-door discussions on peace process

By Khaama Press - Sun Mar 20 2016

The acting provincial governor of northern Balkh province Ata Mohammad Noor has called on the government of national unity to update the Afghan people regarding the behind the scenes discussions on Afghan peace process.

In his opening remarks during a ceremony to mark Nowruz, start of the new Solar year, Noor said the Afghan people wants peace and stability in the country, noting the growing violence during the recent years.

However, Noor said the Afghan people must become aware regarding the peace deals and closed-door discussions on reconciliation efforts.

“The Afghan people need to know what is going behind the scenes, people need to know about the potential deals with the militant groups and they need to be aware that the deals are not against the national interests of the country,” Noor said.

He also added that the security situation has sharply deteriorated in the northern provinces recently and pointed towards the temporary fall of the strategic Kunduz city last year.

According to Noor, the violence will likely persist during the new year as the anti-government armed militants have been deployed on larger extent in the northern provinces who are still coming for the future terrorist related activities.

The remarks by Noor comes as the Afghan government was expecting to start face to face talks with the Taliban group at the first week of this month following the conclusion of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) meeting last month where calls were made for direct talks.

The group once reiterated on its pre-conditions to sit-in for peace talks, saying ”unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, black lists eliminated and innocent prisoners freed, such futile misleading negotiations will not bear any results.”

khaama.com/noor-afghans-need-to-know-about-closed-door-discussions-on-peace-process-0392

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Pakistan to be hit by problems it causes in Afghanistan, Sima Samar warns

By Khaama Press - Sat Mar 19 2016

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) Chief Sima Samar has warned Pakistan will be hit by problems it causes in Afghanistan.

Samar is in India to participate in an international conference on child and youth. “I believe that our neighbour (Pakistan) should realise that problems that it is causing in Afghanistan is not going to stay within our boundaries. It would reach them,” she told IANS in an interview.

She also added “As soon as they realise this and take action against enemies of human rights, the world will have a positive change.”

Samar further added “When you (Pakistan) are training bad people against a country, you will be trapped.”

According to Samar, social and economic stability reach Afghanistan within next 20 years provided that regional cooperation was in place that lead to peace in the country.

“If everything goes well, including the social, economical and political situation in the region, we may achieve prosperous Afghanistan sooner than 20 years,” she added.

Samar described poverty, inequality and disorientation against the people as a major cause of terrorism. “Those who are killing themselves and involve in terrorist activities are also people like us. But what put them in that situation has reasons and conditions. I think poverty, inequality and lack of job opportunities for youth is major reason of terrorism. Where would they go? Either they are used by group of people to brainwash and make them supporter of the government or by the extremists,” she said.

She also voiced concerns regarding the discrimination against the girl child in the region while advocating for an over overall policy revision for south Asian countries, in terms of quality education and social services.

Recalling Farkhunda, a 27-year-old Afghan woman who was lynched by a mob on March 19 last year in Kabul over rumours of blasphemy, Samar said “If I had a choice, maybe I would have not born a girl.”

khaama.com/pakistan-to-be-hit-by-problems-it-causes-in-afghanistan-sima-samar-warns-0387

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Pakistan

Pakistan province declares public holiday on Holi

IANS | Mar 20, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Sindh province has declared a public holiday on March 24 as a public holiday to mark the occasion of Holi - a religious festival of the Hindu community, the media reported on Sunday.

The announcement was made by the provincial government on Saturday. A government spokesman told Dawn that earlier only the Hindu community was given a holiday on Holi.

"This is the first time Holi has been declared a public holiday anywhere in Pakistan." The move comes after the National Assembly (NA) adopted a resolution to take steps to declare Holi, Diwali and Easter as holidays for minorities.

The resolution moved independently by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani called for national holidays marking the three occasions. But despite the passage of the resolution in the NA, no notification was issued by the federal interior ministry officially declaring holidays.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pakistan-province-declares-public-holiday-on-Holi/articleshow/51477890.cms

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Pak Hindu marriages bill picks up steam

Sameer Arshad | TNN | Mar 19, 2016

Pakistani parliament's law and justice standing committee approved the much-delayed Hindu Marriage Bill last month, overcoming years of bureaucratic inertia. The legislation is now expected to sail through with ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmakers Ramesh Kumar Vankwani and Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk being its main protagonists.

The bill was virtually gathering dust since it was first proposed with the restoration of democracy in 2008. It picked up steam after Pakistan's top court ordered its approval within two weeks in January for immediate passage.

A few issues need to be sorted out to make the bill more effective. Vankwani achieved a major success in this regard when he managed to get support of the human rights panel of Pakistani Senate on February 17 regarding removal of a controversial clause in the bill. The provision says a marriage could be annulled if a spouse converts. Vakwani told the panel the clause could lead to forceful conversion of married women, which remains a major Hindu concern in Pakistan.

Senator Farhatullah Babar of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which rules Sindh where 90% of Pakistani Hindus live, backed Vankwani in annulling the clause calling it "a grave rights violation''. The panel's chairperson, Nasreen Jalil, who belongs to Sindh-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement, called the clause repugnant.

The panel's backing is expected to fast-track the legislation that would make it mandatory for Hindu couples to register their marriages. It would address issues like difficulty in transferring properties and getting travel as well as identity documents, which require proof of marital status. In the absence of legislation, widows are often deprived the properties of their husbands. The bill makes opening bank accounts and obtaining visas easier too. It would allow a wife claim alimony and custody of children if her husband leaves her and check child marriages, which are common in Sindh bordering Rajasthan.

Experts are worried about the Hindu community's opposition to the divorce clause in the bill saying there is no such concept in Hinduism. They say it could hurt the effectiveness of the legislation and reeks of patriarchy. Sindh, where the Hindu vote is crucial, consequently has done away with the provision of divorce in its law on Hindu marriages. Experts have called for replication of legal provisions in India related to divorce and inheritance of property for daughters that overcame pressures from Hindu conservatives.

The urgency related to the bill has coincided with a resolution passed in Pakistani parliament on March 8 to declare Diwali and Holi as public holidays. Vankwani moved the resolution saying such holidays were essential for Pakistan's "good image".

Earlier in November, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Karachi to take part in a Diwali function, where Gayatri Mantra was recited along with the Quran. He told Hindus he would support them even if their oppressors are Muslims while underlining he is their prime minister too. Sharif's rival, Imran Khan, promised equal citizenship for minorities at a rally in Hindu-dominated Umerkot amid fireworks a day after Diwali. PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari joined the Hindus for Diwali festivities in Hindu-dominated Mithi in Tharparkar. He cut a cake and enjoyed dandia performance.

Many credit steady democratization for the minority outreach besides the importance of Hindu votes in Sindh, where the community is concentrated in Umerkot (49%), Tharparkar (46%) and Mirpurkhas (33%). The Hindu population varies from 8-19% elsewhere in Sindh.

Political expediency aside, many believe the outreach is genuine as part of the anti-extremism efforts. It dovetails with the anti-terror National Action Plan formulated after the Peshawar school massacre in December 2014 that includes a pledge to "stop religious extremism and protect minorities''.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pak-Hindu-marriages-bill-picks-up-steam/articleshow/51471403.cms

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Over 2.5 lakh Pakistanis repatriated in the last two and a half years

IANS | Mar 19, 2016

ISLAMABAD: A total of 251,624 Pakistani nationals were repatriated to the country from abroad during the tenure of the present government, a media report said on Saturday.

According to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, 45,008 Pakistanis were brought to the country between June 1 and Dec 31, 2013, 78,409 in 2014 and 116,165 last year, Dawn online reported.

In the past few months, 12,022 Pakistanis were repatriated from all over the world.

According to official documents, 120,393 persons were sent back from Saudi Arabia, 38,097 from Iran, 23,330 from the United Arab Emirates, 5,400 from Britain, 358 from the US, 11,248 from Oman, 9,789 from Malaysia and 6,976 from Greece during the two and a half years.

Another 4,304 were repatriated from Turkey, 1,275 from South Africa, 493 from Qatar, 485 from France, 198 from Canada, 99 from Australia, 91 from Bangladesh, 115 from China, 64 from Japan, 30 from Afghanistan and 27 from India.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Over-2-5-lakh-Pakistanis-repatriated-in-the-last-two-and-a-half-years/articleshow/51468237.cms

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Ban off, Musharraf heads to Dubai for treatment

TNN | Mar 19, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's ex-President Pervez Musharraf left for Dubai on Friday morning for medical treatment, two days after the country's top court lifted a ban on his travel abroad.

However, he forgot to add years to his statement.

It should read "I am a com... Read MoreLakshminarayanan Srinivasan

The former military dictator, being tried on treason and other charges in Pakistan, needed urgent spinal treatment which was unavailable in Pakistan, his lawyers said. He departed from Karachi airport at 3.55 am in a Dubai bound Emirates flight. Local TV channels showed him leaving for the airport in a heavily guarded convoy of police and paramilitary force. "I am a commando and I love my homeland. I will come back in a few weeks or months," local media quoted the ex-president as saying before his departure. "I am keeping myself abreast with developments in the country, and will actively take part in politics after my return," he said.

Legally, the government could stop him from leaving the country by issuing fresh orders to again place his name on the Exit Control List (ECL), but avoided to take any such step. On Thursday, interior minister Nisar Ali Khan announced that the government had decided to allow Musharraf to travel abroad for treatment following the Supreme Court decision lifting a ban on his foreign travel.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Ban-off-Musharraf-heads-to-Dubai-for-treatment/articleshow/51465631.cms

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Pakistan Day to be celebrated at UN

March 20th, 2016

NEW YORK: Pakistan Day will be celebrated at the United Nations for the first time with a concert planned in the prestigious General Assembly hall on March 23.

Organised by the Pakistan Mission to the UN, the concert will feature Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

The concert, appropriately titled Sufi Night: Music of Peace, is aimed at spreading the message of peace and harmony at the world stage.

During an hour and a half long performance, Rahat Fateh Ali will sing his popular songs which already have worldwide familiarity.

Ambassador to the UN Dr Maleeha Lodhi said the concert is an effort to project Pa­­k­istan’s soft image and present the country’s rich cultu­­re. “Public diplomacy is the most effective way to win hearts and minds” and this programme aims to do just that.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly urged Pakistan envoys to actively engage in public diplomacy.

dawn.com/news/1246834/pakistan-day-to-be-celebrated-at-un

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Mideast

NATO in solidarity with Turkey after Istanbul attack

March/19/2016

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on March 19 condemned the suicide bomb attack in Istanbul that killed five people, and said the treaty will continue to support Turkey in its fight against terror.

“I strongly condemn this morning's terrorist attack on a pedestrian avenue in central Istanbul, yet another terrorist outrage targeting innocent civilians and our ally Turkey,” Stoltenberg said in a written statement.

“My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the victims, and to the people of Turkey. My thoughts are also with all those who have been injured.

“There can be no justification for terrorism. NATO Allies stand with Turkey, united in our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms,” said the NATO chief.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was on an official visit to Istanbul, described the bombing as an attack that showed "the ugly face of terrorism."

France also condemned the attack.

"I strongly condemn this despicable and cowardly act that has caused the death of several people," Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement, adding that Paris stood in solidarity with Turkey.

The attack was also condemned by the U.S. Embassy in Turkey.

“Saddened, shocked by explosion on Istiklal. We mourn with families of the lost, and we wish the injured a speedy recovery,” the Embassy said on its official Twitter account.

hurriyetdailynews.com/nato-in-solidarity-with-turkey-after-istanbul-attack.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96667&NewsCatID=341

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Turkey will not have more refugees after EU deal, says Turkish PM

Mar 20, 2016

A recent deal between Turkey and the European Union for curbing the influx of migrants that has plunged Europe into its biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II does not mean Turkey will get back the refugees from Europe, Turkey’s prime minister has said.

Speaking to journalists on his way back from Brussels, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said there were two ways ahead of the sides.

Davutoğlu said Turkey had chosen to take its relations with the EU to a "new level" against the backdrop of the refugee crisis.

Turkey and the EU sealed a deal on March 18 in Brussels intended to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.

The accord aims to close the main route by which a million migrants and refugees poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece in the last year before marching north to Germany and Sweden.

“The number of refugees in Turkey will not increase,” said Davutoğlu. “The deal includes only those who arrive on the Greek islands as of March 20.”

Under the deal, Ankara would take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally across the sea. In return, the EU would take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with more money, early visa-free travel and faster progress in EU membership talks.

Ankara's central objective -- visa-free travel for Turks to Europe by June -- would still depend on Turkey meeting 72 long-standing EU criteria.

“We will have completed the necessary criteria for visa-free travel as of May 1,” Davutoğlu told journalists.

Migrants who arrive in Greece from March 20 will be subject to being sent back once they have been registered and their individual asylum claim processed. The returns are to begin on April 4, as would resettlement of Syrian refugees in Europe.

The EU would also accelerate disbursement of 3 billion euros already pledged in support for refugees in Turkey and provide a further 3 billion by 2018. It would help Greece set up a task force of some 4,000 staff, including judges, interpreters, border guards and others to manage each case individually.

Turkey's four-decade-old dispute with Greek Cyprus had been a key stumbling block for the deal. Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades insisted there could be no opening of new "chapters" in Turkey's EU talks until Ankara de facto recognizes the Greek Cypriot state as the sole representative of the island .

But the issue was sidestepped as EU leaders agreed to open a negotiating chapter that was not one of the five blocked by Nicosia. Anastasiades said he was "fully satisfied" after the sides agreed to swiftly open only chapter 33 on budget policy.

But deep doubts remain about whether the deal is workable, a point acknowledged even by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been the key driving force behind the agreement.

"I have no illusions that what we agreed today will be accompanied by further setbacks. There are big legal challenges that we must now overcome," Merkel said.

"But I think we've reached an agreement that has an irreversible momentum," Merkel said, adding it showed that the EU was still capable of taking difficult decisions and managing complex crises.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the idea was to discourage illegal and perilous voyages across the Aegean and open legal paths to Europe instead.

"There is nothing humanitarian in letting people, families, children, step on boats, being tempted by cynical smugglers, and risk their lives," he said.

hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-will-not-have-more-refugees-after-eu-deal-says-turkish-pm.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96659&NewsCatID=351

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DNA sample taken from ISIL suspect’s father in Istanbul attack probe

March/19/2016

Authorities have taken blood samples from the father of Savaş Y., a suspected member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in a probe into a suicide bomb attack in Istanbul on March 19 that killed five.

Doğan News Agency reported that authorities were investigating the possibility that Savaş Y., a 33-year-old who was being investigated for his role in bomb attacks against Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) buildings in Mersin and Adana on May 18, 2015, might have been responsible for the March 19 attack.

According to allegations, Savaş. Y. was behind the bombings in Mersin and Adana, which injured three people, and fled to Syria after the attacks. He was included on a list prepared by the police of four suspected ISIL members who infiltrated Turkey from Syria and were planning suicide attacks.

Blood samples from his father, who resides in Adana, were taken and sent to Istanbul for DNA tests to determine whether the body found at the scene was that of Savaş Y., Doğan reported.

The March 19 assault on central Istanbul’s İstiklal Avenue killed five, including three Israelis and one Iranian, and wounded 36 others.

hurriyetdailynews.com/dna-sample-taken-from-isil-suspects-father-in-istanbul-attack-probe.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96669&NewsCatID=341

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Opposition parties condemn Istanbul suicide bombing

March/19/2016

Turkey’s three opposition parties represented in parliament have condemned a suicide bomb attack that killed at least five people in central Istanbul on March 19 and wounded 36 others, including foreign nationals.

“We strongly condemn terrorism and call on everybody who have left Turkey on the lap of terrorism to take responsibility,” said Selin Sayek Böke, deputy leader and spokeswoman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“We ask again, who is responsible for taking this path that took Turkey into a terror swamp. We do not want to hear big words on terror fight anymore, we want immediate measures that will secure our citizens,” she added in a veiled criticism of the government.

The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), a Kurdish problem-focused party often slammed by the ruling party officials for its alleged links to the PKK, condemned the bombing.

"Just as in the Ankara attack, this is a terrorist act that directly targets civilians," the HDP said in a written statement. "Whoever carried out this attack, it is unacceptable and inexcusable."

Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) called for solidarity.

“Whatever happens, the Turkish nation has the power to stand up and overcome terrorism,” Bahçeli said in his statement.

“The traitors will fail, they will not be able to destroy our national unity and brotherhood,” he added.

hurriyetdailynews.com/opposition-parties-condemn-istanbul-suicide-bombing.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96668&NewsCatID=341

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Iranian President Underlines Importance of Leader's Nowruz Message

Mar 20, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani underscored the importance of Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei's Nowruz message which called for doubled efforts by the entire nation and government officials to boost domestic economy.

"I, again, extend my hands to the great Iranian nation; I hope and I am certain that we can move on the path of economic flourishing, efforts, growth and activity through cooperation, internal efforts and constructive interaction with the world. God willing, we will be able to reach twice the average growth rate of the past 10 years with the help of each other," Rouhani said in his televised message to mark the start of the Iranian New Year on Sunday.

"We can reach the 5% economic growth rate with the efforts of all people," he added.

Rouhani also underscored the necessity for increasing the number of stable jobs and fighting against corruption.

In his message today, Ayatollah Khamenei felicitated the Iranian nation on the advent of Nowruz, and called on people and officials to double efforts to improve economy and turn the threats into opportunities.

"The main issue is that the Iranian nation should be able to do something to bring its vulnerabilities to zero point, and we should have the art of using opportunities and turning threats into opportunities," Ayatollah Khamenei said in his message on Sunday after the start of the Iranian New Year.

He underlined that improvement of economy is the country's main priority, and said increasing national production, creating jobs and fighting recession are among the issues which should receive attention in the New Year.

Ayatollah Khamenei described the resistance economy as the remedy to all economic problems and the way to stand against enemies' threats and create opportunities, and said, "Therefore, what I choose as the slogan of this year is 'the resistance economy; action and implementation'."

Praying God Almighty for a life full of blessing for all Iranians, the Supreme Leader wished that the New Year will be a year that the Iranian nation deserves.

Nowruz, which coincides with the first day of spring on the solar calendar, is mostly celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The International Day of Nowruz was registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on February 23, 2010.

For Iranians, Nowruz is a celebration of renewal and change, a time to visit relatives and friends, and pay respect to senior family members.

Iranians welcome the New Year by wearing new clothes and setting the Haft Seen, a table containing seven items starting with the letter 'S'; Sabzeh (freshly grown greens), Samanu (sweet wheat paste), Senjed (jujube), Seeb (apple), Seer (garlic), Serkeh (vinegar) and Somaq (sumac).

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13950101000097

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Senior Israeli official to visit Turkey after deadly terror act in Istanbul

March/19/2016

A senior Israeli official is scheduled to pay a rare visit to Turkey on March 20 after a suicide bomb attack killed three Israeli citizens and wounded another three in the touristic center of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district.

Dore Gold, general director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, will arrive in Istanbul on March 20 after cutting short a trip to the United States, sources from the Israeli Embassy to Ankara told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Gold’s visit will mark the first high-level diplomatic visit from Israel to Turkey since the two countries’ relations were soured by the Mavi Marmara crisis in 2010.

After visiting wounded Israeli citizens in hospital, Gold will meet with high-level Turkish officials, sources said, without specifying with whom the Israeli diplomat will hold talks.

Gold and his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, met in June and December 2015 to find ways to reconcile ties and to normalize diplomatic relations by appointing respective ambassadors.

Embassy sources hailed the ongoing collaboration with the Turkish officials in the aftermath of the attack that killed five people on Beyoğlu’s İstiklal Avenue.

hurriyetdailynews.com/senior-israeli-official-to-visit-turkey-after-deadly-terror-act-in-istanbul.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96671&NewsCatID=510

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Turkey’s main opposition leader offers PM counterproposal for lifting immunities

March/19/2016

Turkey’s main opposition party leader has responded to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s call for parliament to lift the immunity of all lawmakers with an alternative proposal, urging a “permanent amendment” rather than the temporary change that the government has suggested.

“All along we have had a principled and consistent approach: Let no deputy have immunity accept podium immunity,” Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said on March 18, stating that Davutoğlu’s proposal has only outlined “a special constitutional arrangement.”

On March 17, Davutoğlu raised eyebrows by proposing that parliament lift the immunity from prosecution of all lawmakers and collectively review 506 outstanding dossiers by adopting only one temporary constitutional amendment at a single plenary session of parliament.

“I’m making an extremely loud and clear call to Mr. Davutoğlu. As we are changing the constitution, let’s also change Article 83 of the constitution and lift all immunities except podium immunity,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, speaking with a group of journalists in Antalya where he attended a meeting of his party.

“In this way, let’s get rid of the distinction between former legislators and current legislators, let’s not allow for double standards. Let us bring in a permanent, consistent and principled solution,” he added.

15 days

In Ankara, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) presented its proposal to all three parties with seats at parliament, the CHP, the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Tasked by Davutoğlu, AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Naci Bostancı and AKP Deputy Chair Ayhan Sefer Üstün presented the proposal to CHP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Levent Gök, MHP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Oktay Vural and Sırrı Süreyya Önder, an Ankara deputy and the HDP’s administrative chief for the parliamentary group.

According to the proposal, a provision of Article 83 of the constitution which states, “A deputy who is alleged to have committed an offence before or after election shall not be detained, interrogated, arrested or tried unless the General Assembly decides otherwise,” will not be applied for the current files as soon as a temporary constitutional amendment goes into force. Accordingly, after the amendment goes into force, all 506 files of summaries of proceedings waiting at parliament, without making any distinction between any party, will be returned to the Prime Minister’s Office within 15 days in order to be sent to the judicial authorities.

The HDP’s Önder said his party was in favor of a more permanent change.

“We are in favor of dealing with the matter through a permanent and essential revision, not temporarily like this. There should be no immunity other than the podium immunity,” Önder told reporters after meeting with AKP executives, adding that the HDP would discuss the proposal following Nevruz spring festival celebrations on March 21.

Speaking to reporters before meeting AKP executives, the MHP’s Vural said files concerning “terror” crimes should be given a priority.

“We support to the end both restricting immunities and lifting immunities. This proposal [from the AKP], however, is a tactical, temporary step. Parliament should instead act with strategic steps, not tactical ones,” Vural said.

Both the CHP and the MHP are expected to deliver their final response to the proposal next week, like the HDP.

Independent judiciary

In meeting with AKP executives, Önder reportedly stressed the importance of judicial independence.

“This issue needs to be dealt with, alongside many other topics. One is the issue of judicial independence and judges. All courts that have issued summaries of proceedings about us are criminal courts of peace, which are all ‘appointed courts,’” he was quoted as saying by reliable sources.

The reignited conflict between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) triggered nationalist calls to prosecute politicians accused of being close to the PKK, with the MHP asking parliament on March 3 to discuss requests to lift MPs’ immunity as part of the fight against terrorism.

On March 9, Davutoğlu’s office filed a submission requesting the lifting of the immunity of HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ and deputies Selma Irmak, Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Ertuğrul Kürkçü. As of late March 16, the Prime Ministry also sent a motion to parliament seeking the removal of the immunity of Tuğba Hezer Öztürk, a HDP deputy from the eastern province of Van who visited the family of a suicide bomber in her constituency after the bomber killed 29 people in Ankara on Feb. 17.

The HDP, the third largest party in the national assembly, currently holds 59 seats.

hurriyetdailynews.com/turkeys-main-opposition-leader-offers-pm-counterproposal-for-lifting-immunities-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96650&NewsCatID=338

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Germany urges Turkey to focus on integrating Syrian refugees

March/19/2016

As Turkish and EU leaders discuss a joint action plan agreement to deal with the migrant crisis, with the former asking the latter to share the burden, a German government official has underlined the need for Turkey to better integrate Syrian refugees, comparing the situation to Germany’s experience dealing with “Gastarbeiter,” or guest workers, in the post-war period.

“I would like to say a few words on our experience with integration in Germany first. It took us quite a while to realize that we are a country of immigration. Migrants, particularly from Turkey, were perceived as “guest workers” who would leave the country after a while. Some did; the vast majority, however, stayed in Germany,” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister of state for Europe at the country’s federal foreign office, said when asked about Germany’s proposal to Turkey for a sustainable refugee policy and whether the consequences of Syrians’ obtaining Turkish citizenship and thus gaining access to the EU as Turkish citizens were reviewed by EU and German officials as an option.

Roth provided written answers to questions from Hürriyet Daily News on March 18, ahead of his visit to Turkey scheduled to take place on March 22.

“[The] integration of migrants only later became a major topic in German politics. We learned from that – we had missed chances. That is why I would warmly recommend to our Turkish friends that they put integration on the political agenda earlier than Germany did, and I welcome the initial signs that indicate this is happening. Thinking about the current situation, there are so many Germans of Turkish descent helping and supporting refugees who come to seek shelter in Germany. It is so good to be able to count on them, and they are an integral part of our civil society,” Roth said.

“Thus, we are probably not a model in every sense, but we can share our experience of doing a better job of integrating refugees today. I think enhanced cooperation on integration can become a successful Turkish-German endeavor,” he added.

In the decades after World War II, then-West Germany encouraged immigration as a way of dealing with labor shortages, but it described those who came from countries like Turkey, Italy and Greece as “Gastarbeiter,” as if they would return to their home countries once the work was done.

Last September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany needed to learn from its mistakes in dealing with “Gastarbeiter” in the post-war period and integrate refugees and asylum seekers from the moment they arrive in the country.

“Many of them will become new citizens of our country. We should learn from the experiences of the 1960’s, when we asked Gastarbeiter to come to us, and make integration the top priority from the start,” Merkel told the German parliament at the time.

‘In a nutshell’

Roth, meanwhile, acknowledged Turkish citizens’ probable “exhaustion” in dealing with the EU Schengen visa application procedure.

“I am fully aware that a lot of Turks are tired of applying for a visa to travel to the EU,” Roth responded, when asked whether he believed Turkey’s demand to have a condition of visa-free travel for its citizens as part of the action plan with the EU to be fulfilled by the end of June was “feasible.”

“In 2013, Turkey accepted a visa roadmap according to which Turkey has to fulfill 72 challenging criteria related to document safety, border management and more. This is a very transparent exercise; all the criteria have to be fully met before the EU can decide about granting Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the EU. At the EU summit on March 7, EU leaders agreed with Turkey that the visa requirement could already be abolished by the end of June – if all of the criteria are met. In a nutshell, it is in the hands of the Turkish government to get this challenging list of necessary reforms on track,” Roth said.

“In the end, EU member states and the European parliament will reach their decision on the basis of the facts. Personally speaking, I would be very happy if visa-free travel could bring European and Turkish societies even closer to one another,” he added.

hurriyetdailynews.com/germany-urges-turkey-to-focus-on-integrating-syrian-refugees.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96639&NewsCatID=351

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia should pay more attention to TPP: Analyst

Mar 20, 2016

An analyst has said Indonesia should give more attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a US-led free trade agreement between 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that was signed last October and has entered the ratification process in legislative bodies of its member countries.

“TPP has been agreed and is being ratified by its member countries,” HSBC senior trade economist Douglas Lippoldt told thejakartapost.com in Jakarta on Friday.

He pointed to ongoing negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Touted as the largest free-trade area in the world, RCEP, which comprises the 10 ASEAN member countries as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, would integrate all of ASEAN’s existing free-trade agreements into one scheme.

In the RCEP, Lippoldt said, Indonesia might have a stronger bargaining position; however, the partnership had not yet been finalized. Discussed since 2011, RCEP talks would enter their 12th round, scheduled to be held in Perth, Australia, in April.

"We know the RCEP aims to remove tariffs and integrate service sectors, but we don't know exactly where all of this will head. We can see that in the TPP, 80 percent of subjects of duty will be liberalized,” Lippoldt said.

Both RCEP and TPP have member countries that together represent more than 25 percent of global trade. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), the TPP’s 12 member countries generate US$27 trillion, while the 16 members of RCEP have a combined GDP of $22 trillion.

"RCEP is important in globalization. Indonesia wants to improve trade access to countries across Asia. Indonesian producers want to find input from areas across Asia. However, they may not be able to go further than what TPP can [provide]," Lippoldt said.

There has been growing concern of tighter trade competition between Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, especially Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, since economic conditions and the export structure of those three countries are quite similar to Indonesia’s.

"If, once TPP takes effect, Indonesian exports will face competition from TPP member countries [...], the economic benefits expected to come will be substantially larger," Lippoldt said.

As it did not include China, he said, the TPP trading scheme would not be focused on commodities. Thus, Indonesia would get the chance to develop more value-added non-oil and gas exports in TPP.

"TPP is more ambitious and will help Indonesia to liberalize further and to diversify its natural resources," Lippoldt said. (ebf)

thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/20/indonesia-should-pay-more-attention-tpp-analyst.html

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Europe

British captive appears in new IS video

March 20th, 2016

BEIRUT: British journalist John Cantlie, who is being held prisoner by the militant Islamic State (IS) group, appeared in a new video released on Saturday supposedly filmed in the militants’ Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.

In the latest instalment in a series of propaganda videos released by IS, Cantlie speaks to the camera in the style of a news report.

It is unclear when it was shot, but Cantlie last appeared in an IS video in early 2015.

In Saturday’s video, a gaunt-looking Cantlie says he is in Mosul, IS’ main city in northern Iraq.

Dressed in black and squinting in the sunshine, he is seen standing in front of a metal shack he describes as a media kiosk that distributes IS pamphlets, which was destroyed in an air strike by a US-led coalition.

dawn.com/news/1246750/british-captive-appears-in-new-is-video

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UN blames Saudi-led coalition for most Yemeni civilian deaths

AFP | Mar 19, 2016

SANAA: The Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen for one year has caused the vast majority of civilian deaths in the conflict, the UN rights chief said on Friday, warning international crimes may have been committed.

During its campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen there have been repeated criticisms that coalition air strikes have not done enough to avoid non-military targets. Rights groups have also raised concerns about civilian casualties caused by the Houthi rebels, but United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the coalition bore the greatest responsibility.

"Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of air strikes," Zeid said in a statement. "We are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the coalition," he said.

His office said it had tallied just under 9,000 civilian casualties, including 3,218 killed, since the coalition on March 26 last year intervened to support Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the embattled president, after rebels seized large parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa. The Houthis are allied with elite troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Zeid voiced particular alarm at two air strikes on a market this week in northern Yemen's rebel-held Hajja province. The UN children's agency on Thursday put the death toll from those strikes at 119, and Zeid's office said Friday that 106 of those killed in the crowded market were civilians, including 24 children.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon demanded an investigation into the incident, one of the deadliest yet in the war.

During an exclusive interview on Wednesday the coalition spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, told AFP the strikes targeted "a militia gathering", the term he uses to describe Houthis. Assiri said an independent panel was being formed nationally to examine charges of possible abuses against civilians in the war.

The alliance says it does not aim at civilians, and that targeting is verified many times to ensure non-combatants will not be killed.

Zeid's office condemned "the repeated failure of the coalition forces to take effective actions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, and to publish transparent, independent investigations into those that have already occurred." Assiri said the coalition itself has investigated various incidents and some of the findings have been released.

The latest controversy comes with the coalition "in the end of the major combat phase", according to Assiri, who said security stabilization and then reconstruction would follow.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Thursday that "we would welcome and do welcome" Assiri's comment about an end to major operations. "We have expressed our concerns about the loss of innocent life in Yemen. The violence there that is plaguing that country has caught too many innocent civilians in the crossfire," Earnest said.

While the United States has provided logistical and intelligence support to the coalition, the White House has privately expressed anger about the loss of civilian lives. US support includes targeting assistance, which officials say makes strikes less indiscriminate.

"The Yemen operation I think by all accounts has produced horrific costs and tangled the United States in this conflict," said Frederic Wehrey of the Middle East Programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. There may now be "the start of a recalibration" but the proof will lie in what happens on the ground, he said.

"They've done these announcements before," Wehrey told AFP.

Last April, Saudi Arabia announced an end to its initial air strikes in Yemen, dubbed "Decisive Storm", and a Saudi newspaper proclaimed "Mission Accomplished". But the war has continued, with coalition forces providing training, equipment and guidance to Yemen's army, backed by the coalition air support, Assiri said.

Anti-rebel forces have retaken territory, including much of the south, but have failed to dislodge the Shia Houthi rebels from Sanaa or to completely remove them from the country's third city Taez where intense battles continue.

Mustafa Alani, of the independent Gulf Research Centre, said that although fighting is not necessarily going to finish by March 26 "the operation is basically reaching its end".

He said the coalition was keen "not to go beyond that psychological date."

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/UN-blames-Saudi-led-coalition-for-most-Yemeni-civilian-deaths/articleshow/51460893.cms

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Spaniards hold protest against migrant policy

March 20th, 2016

BARCELONA: Several thousand people have gathered in Spain’s north-eastern port city of Barcelona to protest against what they say is Europe’s “racist and uncaring” approach to migrants.

The protest, organised by the Stop Mare Nostrum and Prou Racisme groups, marched toward a meeting point next to the Mediterra­nean Sea “where so many migrants are perishing”, spokesman Toni Borrell said.

dawn.com/news/1246838/spaniards-hold-protest-against-migrant-policy

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Paris attacks suspect to 'oppose' extradition to France

AFP | Mar 19, 2016

BRUSSELS: Key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam will fight his extradition to France from Belgium where he was formally charged today with "terrorist murder" after his dramatic capture in central Brussels.

French President Francois Hollande said shortly after Abdeslam's arrest yesterday that he wanted to see him transferred to France as quickly as possible to face prosecution for the deadly attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.

"I can already tell you that we will oppose his extradition," Abdeslam's lawyer Sven Mary told reporters at federal police headquarters in Brussels.

Legal experts said this could delay but not prevent his handover to the French authorities on a European Arrest Warrant which the European Union introduced specifically to speed up extradition cases.

An investigating judge formally charged Abdeslam with "participation in terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist organisation," a prosecutors statement said.

Abdeslam's arrest in the gritty Molenbeek neighbourhood was hailed by European and US leaders, while French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it dealt a "major blow" to IS jihadists operating in Europe.

The 26-year-old Abdeslam, who had been on the run for four months, and an alleged accomplice who was captured with him were initially taken to a Brussels hospital for treatment for gunshot injuries sustained in the police raid.

In Paris, Hollande met on Saturday with key cabinet ministers and security officials to discuss the next steps in the probe into the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more.

"The operations of the past week have enabled us to incapacitate several individuals who are clearly extremely dangerous and totally determined," Cazeneuve said after the meeting.

The aim was now "to review operations that are under way and the fight against terrorist groups in France and Europe," a member of Hollande's entourage said.

Hollande, who was in Brussels for an EU summit when the raid took place, described Abdeslam as "directly linked to the preparation, the organisation and, unfortunately, the perpetration of these attacks".

Abdeslam's capture was hailed by the Belgian press as restoring the country's honour, tarnished by perceived intelligence and police blunders before and after the attacks, which appear increasingly to have been planned and coordinated in Brussels.

Former small-time criminal Abdeslam is believed to be the last surviving member of the 10-man jihadist team that carried out the attacks on the Bataclan concert venue, restaurants, bars and the Stade de France stadium.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/europe/Paris-attacks-suspect-to-oppose-extradition-to-France/articleshow/51474019.cms

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I was a suicide bomber: Paris suspect charged in Belgium

Reuters | Mar 20, 2016

BRUSSELS/PARIS: The prime surviving suspect for the November 13 Paris attacks planned to blow himself up at a sports stadium with fellow Islamic State militants but changed his mind, he told Belgian investigators on Saturday.

The admission by Salah Abdeslam came a day after he was shot in the leg and captured during a police raid in Brussels, ending an intensive four-month manhunt.

"He wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France and ... backed out," said the lead French investigator, Francois Molins,quoting Abdeslam's statement to a magistrate in Brussels before he was transferred to a secure jail in Bruges.

The gun and bomb attacks on the stadium, bars and a concert hall killed 130 people and marked the deadliest militant assault in Europe since 2004.

Paris attacks top fugitive Abdeslam arrested in Brussels raid

Molins told reporters in Paris that people should treat with caution initial statements by the 26-year-old French national. But his capture and apparent urge to talk marked a major breakthrough for investigators after the trail had seemed to go cold.

Abdeslam's lawyer said he admitted being in Paris during the attacks but gave no details. He told reporters his client, born and raised by Moroccan immigrants in Brussels, had cooperated with investigators but would fight extradition to France.

Legal experts said his challenge was unlikely to succeed but would buy him weeks, possibly months, to prepare his defence.

Belgian prosecutors charged Abdeslam and a man arrested with him with "participation in terrorist murder".

Paris attacks suspect to 'oppose' extradition to France

Abdeslam's elder brother Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar, was among the suicide bombers. Salah's confession suggested he was the 10th man mentioned in an Islamic State claim of responsibility for the attacks, after which police found one suicide vest abandoned in garbage.

Abdeslam's family, who had urged him to give himself up, said through their lawyer that they had a "sense of relief".

Authorities hope the arrest may help disrupt other militant cells that Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said were certainly "out there" and planning further violence. French security services stepped up their measures at frontier crossings after a global warning from Interpol that other fugitives might try to move country.

"We've won a battle against the forces of ignorance but the struggle isn't over," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said.

The case has raised tensions with France but Michel and French President Francois Hollande, who was in Brussels for an EU summit when Abdeslam was arrested, praised each other's security services. Hollande was attending an international soccer match at the Stade de France when the bombers struck.

FLIGHT RISK

A man using false papers in the names of Amine Choukri and Monir Ahmed Alaaj was also charged with terrorist murder. As Choukri, he was documented by German police in the city of Ulm in October when he was stopped in a car with Abdeslam. French prosecutor Molins said Abdeslam travelled widely to prepare the attacks.

A third man in the house when the pair were arrested was charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation. He and a woman who was present were charged with concealing criminals.

Police had sought Abdeslam since he called two acquaintances in Belgium in a panic, hours after the attacks, to have them collect him and bring him home. Suspected to be as far away as Syria, it seems he was in Brussels all or most of the time.

Failure to complete his mission could have limited his access to any support from Syria-based Islamic State; the chief Belgian investigator on the case said he had instead relied on a network of friends, family and neighbours with whom he had a history of drug trafficking and petty crime.

Security agencies' difficulties in penetrating some Muslim communities, particularly in pursuit of Belgium's unusually high number of citizens fighting in Syria, have been a key factor in the inquiry.

PARIS RELIEF

As Parisians, and families of the victims, voiced relief at the arrest, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after an emergency cabinet meeting that a trial could answer questions for those who suffered in the attacks.

"Abdeslam will have to answer to French justice for his acts," he said. "It is an important blow to the terrorist organisation Daesh (Islamic State) in Europe."

A trickle of people came to a makeshift memorial in central Paris, near the scene of much of the bloodshed, to pay their respects.

"It's really a relief," said Emilien Bouthillier, who works in the neighbourhood. "I can't wait for Belgium to transfer and return him to France so he can be tried the way he should be."

Friday's armed swoop came after Abdeslam's fingerprints were found at an apartment following a bloody raid on Tuesday in which an Algerian was shot dead and police officers wounded.

Later, local media said, a tip-off and a tapped telephone led police to a mobile phone number used by Abdeslam and, by triangulating the device's location, established where he was.

At his nearby newspaper store, a vendor named Dominique said Abdeslam had been well known and liked in the community: "He was a very nice lad before," he said. "How can things go this far?"

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/europe/I-was-a-suicide-bomber-Paris-suspect-charged-in-Belgium/articleshow/51478792.cms

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The Latest: Russia Says US Slow to Agree on Syria Monitoring

MARCH 19, 2016

The Russian Defense Ministry says the U.S. has dragged its feet on responding to Moscow's proposals on joint monitoring of a Syria cease-fire.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko said Saturday that Russia proposed measures on controlling the truce on Feb. 25, but the U.S. hasn't answered yet, adding that further delays led to civilian casualties and were "inadmissible." Kuralenko said 67 civilians have been killed by militant fire in Aleppo alone since the truce started.

The Russian and U.S.-brokered cease-fire that began on Feb. 27 has helped significantly reduce hostilities. The Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been excluded from the truce.

President Vladimir Putin has recalled some Russian warplanes from Syria earlier this week, but said the air strikes against the IS and the Nusra Front will continue

2:30 p.m.

Opposition monitoring groups say airstrikes have killed and wounded dozens of people in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group's de facto capital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 19 people were killed and some 60 wounded when the air raids hit several areas in the city, which has been held by the extremists since 2013.

The Local Coordination Committees said the air raids were carried out by Syrian government warplanes, adding that dozens were killed or wounded.

Both groups say Saturday's air raids struck near the national hospital, a former army base and other neighborhoods.

They say most of the casualties were civilians.

nytimes.com/aponline/2016/03/19/world/middleeast/ap-ml-syria-the-latest.html?_r=0

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North America

US supports Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara

Reuters | Mar 20, 2016

UNITED NATIONS: The United States supports Morocco's autonomy plan for the disputed territory of Western Sahara, considering it both credible and realistic, the US mission to the United Nations said on Saturday.

The announcement on Twitter comes amid an escalating spat between Rabat and the United Nations.

Morocco accused UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week of no longer being neutral in the conflict, criticizing his use of the word "occupation" to describe Morocco's annexation of the region at the centre of a struggle since 1975, when it took over from colonial power Spain.

This week Morocco ordered the United Nations to withdraw 84 international civilian personnel from its peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO. It said this was a response to Ban's "unacceptable" remarks.

"We consider Morocco autonomy plan serious, realistic, credible," US mission spokesperson Kurtis Cooper said on his Twitter feed. "It represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of Western Sahara."

He added that the United States continues to support the work of MINURSO in Western Sahara as well as the UN-led peace process.

The controversy over Ban's comments is Morocco's worst dispute with the United Nations since 1991, when the UN brokered a ceasefire to end a war over the Western Sahara and established the mission.

Earlier this month, Ban visited refugee camps in southern Algeria for the Sahrawi people, who say Western Sahara belongs to them and fought a war against Morocco until the 1991 ceasefire.

Their Polisario Front wants a referendum, including over the question of independence, but Rabat says it will only grant semi-autonomy.

Ban's spokesperson said on Friday that he was disappointed by the UN Security Council's failure to take a strong stand in the dispute between him and Morocco over Western Sahara and would raise it with council members soon.

Diplomats said the council members that argued against a strong statement of support of Ban and in favor of countries dealing with the issue bilaterally included Morocco's traditional ally France along with Spain, Egypt and Senegal. Council statements need to be unanimous.

France has offered to mediate between Ban and Morocco.

The Polisario's UN representative Ahmed Boukhari told reporters on Thursday that Morocco's goal was to shut down MINURSO, which he said "would mean the shortest way to the resumption of war."

Ban has said he wants to restart stalled negotiations between Morocco and Polisario Front.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/US-supports-Moroccan-autonomy-plan-for-Western-Sahara/articleshow/51478015.cms?

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U.S. Set to Deploy Troops to Philippines in Rebalancing Act

March 20, 2016

MANILA—U.S. forces will soon have access to five Philippine military bases, some strategically positioned on the disputed South China Sea, as the treaty allies forge ahead with plans to station American troops in the Southeast Asian country for the first time in 25 years.

The Philippine embassy in Washington, D.C. announced on Friday after two days of high-level talks that four Philippine air bases and one army camp will be opened up to the U.S. military under the terms of a defense pact signed in 2014 designed to enhance the U.S.-Philippines alliance.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will visit Manila in April to finalize the details of the coming deployments, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amy Searight said at the talks in Washington.

The agreement to send U.S. troops back to the Philippines—a former U.S. colony that once hosted some of the largest American bases in the world—is a key element of the Obama administration’s strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. New U.S. military deployments to Australia and Singapore are already under way as part of that plan.

The Philippines is locked in an acrimonious dispute with China over the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, and has been encouraging the U.S. to play a more active role in resisting what it regards as Chinese aggression in Philippine waters. For the past two years China has been constructing seven artificial islands and at least three airstrips in the South China Sea, despite its neighbors’ protests, and has refused to take part in legal arbitration initiated by the Philippines at a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague in 2013.

Chinese officials have repeatedly asserted China’s right to reclaim land within its own sovereign territory, while warning the U.S. to keep out of the territorial disputes.

The deal to send American forces to the Philippines had been held up for 18 months by a legal challenge, but in January the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the pact is constitutional and can go ahead. With the legal obstacles removed and the five bases now identified, the deployment of U.S. forces would follow “very soon,” the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said.

However, the omission of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay from the list of five locations surprised security analysts, who assumed the two former American bases would be at the top of Washington’s wish-list due to their strategic positions and relatively modern facilities.

“Despite the uptick in regional tensions, Subic and Clark are not as strategically indispensable to American power projection in the region as before,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a security expert at De La Salle University in Manila, while adding that the next Philippine government—which takes office in June after elections the month before—could open up additional bases like Clark and Subic to U.S. forces in the future.

Among the four air bases being made available to the U.S. military, Antonio Bautista Air Base on the western island of Palawan is strategically located overlooking the disputed South China Sea, potentially giving American aircraft quick access to potential flashpoints there, and improve their ability to fly surveillance missions.

The inclusion of Lumbia Air Base on the southern island of Mindanao reflected the “serious concern” in both Manila and Washington about efforts by Islamic State to establish a foothold on the island, said Mr. Heydarian. “Counterterror operations continue to be a key element of American military footprint in the region,” he said.

Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in central Philippines, and Basa Air Base and army camp Fort Magsaysay, both on the northern island of Luzon, are the other three locations.

The lack of any Philippine naval bases in the roster of agreed locations suggests that the U.S. Navy is already satisfied with the level of access it has to Philippine waters through regular port calls, Mr. Heydarian said. The U.S. Navy has major bases in Japan and Guam, and a smaller presence in Singapore, from which it can capably patrol the South China Sea, he said.

Access to the bases would help U.S. forces to train their Philippine counterparts, and enable them to respond more quickly to the natural disasters that frequently strike the archipelago, the Philippine embassy said in a statement.

wsj.com/articles/u-s-set-to-deploy-troops-to-philippines-in-rebalancing-act-1458466797

 

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