Greater Middle East

Gains for Kurds, Armenians in Turkish elections

Thousands of jubilant Kurds flooded the streets of Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey, on June 7, setting off fireworks and waving flags as election results showed the pro-Kurdish opposition likely to enter parliament for the first time. Initial results show the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) taking 80 of 550 seats—a major setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party is poised to lose its majority. Erdogan had been counting on the AKP majority to push through constitutional changes giving him broad executive powers. The elections also brought three Armenians to the Turkish parliament after a lapse of several years—one from the HDP, one from the AKP, and one from the Republican People's Party (CHP). Two members of Turkey's small Yazidi community were also elected on  the HDP ticket.

Egypt: court orders Mubarak retrial in 2011 killings

Judge Anwar Gabri of the Egyptian Court of Cassation ordered a retrial on June 4 for former president Hosni Mubarak regarding his complicity in the killings of hundreds of protestors in the 2011 demonstrations that ousted his regime. This order overturns his acquittal by Cairo's Criminal Court last November, and he is set to stand trial again beginning November. Mubarak was separately convicted of corruption earlier this year and sentenced to three years in prison. The Cassation Court upheld the rulings in other cases that acquitted Mubarak and his sons of graft charges. Opponents of Mubarak view this decision for retrial as a victory in a court system that has been too lenient, but his supporters claim there can be no stability in the region while Mubarak is treated "unfairly." This retrial marks the third time this case will be heard, but its verdict will be the final verdict in this case.

Turkey: mine disaster survivors face prison

Nine Turkish miners who survived last year's Soma mining disaster face six years in prison for violating the law restricting demonstrations and damaging property during a protest to demand that the bodies of their co-workers be extracted from the mine. The protestors are alleged to have blocked a road and damaged a passing vehicle at a protest to demand justice over the disaster, in which 301 miners died in an explosion on May 13, 2014. The trial for the Soma disaster opened on April 13, during which the 45 suspects, including the eight former managers from the Soma Coal Mine Company denied charges of "killing with probable criminal intent," precipitating anger among the families of the victims.

ISIS insurgency escalates in Sinai Peninsula

Egyptian security forces killed 12 suspected militants during raids on the Sinai Peninusla towns of al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid last week, Egypt's state news agency MENA reported May 25. Security sources said 18 suspects were arrested in the raids, and that forces destroyed various "terrorist hotbeds." as well. One solider was killed in a clash with a "terrorist cell" in the town of Sheikh Zuweid. The armed forces announced two weeks earlier that "security operations" have left a total of 725 suspected militants killed between late October and late April. (Aswat Masriya via AllAfrica, May 26) Iran's Press TV on June 1 identifies the group involved in the clashes as the (ISIS-aligned) Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which it now says has been renamed the Velayat Sinai. Although it has not been reported elsewhere, the account claims militants destroyed the (presumably Shi'ite) al-Rifa'i Mosque in Sheikh Zuweid, leaving it "flattened" with rocket-propelled grenades. 

US tilt to Assad undermining drive against ISIS

Despite the persistent pseudo-left hallucination of a US campaign to destabilize Bashar Assad, the evidence mostly goes the other way: the US is tilting to Assad in the Syrian war, viewing him as a bulwark against the jihadists. Now Daily Beast offers an interview with Syrian rebels who say they are turning down Washington's offer of training due the predictable strings attached. "We submitted the names of 1,000 fighters for the program, but then we got this request to promise not to use any of our training against Assad," said Mustapha Sejari, a leader of the Revolutionary Command Council. "It was a Department of Defense liaison officer who relayed this condition to us orally, saying we'd have to sign a form. He told us, 'We got this money from Congress for a program to fight ISIS only.' This reason was not convincing for me. So we said no."

Nuclear strike in Yemen? No, but the truth is bad

Gordon Duff's website Veterans Today (a soapbox for vulgar conspiranoia that has nothing to do with veterans' issues) has posted a truly terrifying video, purported to be of the massive explosion on Naqm mountain outside Yemen's capital Sana'a last week. A fiery mushroom cloud unfolds over the mountain as panicked onlookers are heard beseeching God in the foreground. Commentary says the video has been "analyzed by nuclear weapons experts" (unnamed, of course) who determined that it was a "neutron bomb that could only have been an Israeli attack." The Israelis are said to have carried out the attack at Saudi behest. The claim is arbitrary and utterly improbable—the neutron bomb is designed for one purpose: to kill massive numbers through radiation, while leaving property intact. It would make no sense to set it off over a mountain as opposed to in Sana'a itself if the aim was kill massive numbers—and this is not an overwhelmingly Shi'ite area, so the Saudis would have no reason to do so, even if we ascribe the worst of intentions to them. Furthermore, there have been no reports of massive radiation deaths from the area over a week later. Nonetheless, the "report" (if we may so flatter it) is being posted by Facebook conspiranoids and has been picked up by such likely places as Pravda, Al Manar and (of course) Global Research.

ISIS blows up Syrian prison at Palmyra

ISIS militants on May 30 blew up the Tadmur prison complex in the central Syrian city of Palmyra, destroying an important symbol of government control. ISIS announced the destruction of the prison in a statement on social media, and posted pictures of huge clouds of smoke above the sprawling complex. The facility was reportedly emptied before it was destroyed. Days earlier, ISIS released photographs showing appalling conditions in the complex, which held dissidents and deserters from the Syrian army. Photos showed small cells with mold-streaked walls and no beds, plumbing or lighting. Nonetheless, the destruction was protested by leaders of Syria's civil resistance as eliminating substantiation of dictator Bashar Assad's crimes. "ISIS has wiped out evidence of the crimes of the Assad clan by blowing up the infamous Palmyra prison," said Syrian opposition member Mohammad Sarmini on Twitter. The fate of the detainees at the complex is not clear.

Egypt: court acquits officer in torture death

An Egyptian court on May 28 acquitted a police officer accused of torturing an Islamist to death over a church bombing. Mohammed Abdel Rahman al-Shimi was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June 2012 for taking part in the tortue of Sayed Bilal. On appeal the verdict was overturned, and the retrial that resulted in this week's verdict was ordered. The bombing occurred weeks before the 2011 uprising against then-ruler Hosni Mubarak, when a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a church near Alexandria, killing more than 20. Police responded by arresting Islamists, including Bilal. He was tortured to death by al-Shimi and others, and his badly bruised body was returned to his family the next day. Police abuses were a major catalyst for the 2011 uprising.

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