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US military says 2 service members killed in Afghanistan
By RAHIM FAIEZ | Wed, June 26, 2019 01:20 EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. military said two of its service members were killed on Wednesday in Afghanistan, but did not offer any details surrounding the circumstances of their deaths.
The killings occurred a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a quick visit to the Afghan capital of Kabul where he said Washington was hopeful of a peace deal before Sept. 1.
It’s not clear if the deaths were the result of the war, which at nearly 18 years is America’s longest running. More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led coalition invaded in October 2001 to oust the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s protracted war accelerated last year with the appointment of U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who will begin a fresh round of direct talks with the Taliban on Saturday in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where the insurgents maintain a political office.
Khalilzad has held a series of meetings in Kabul as well, in an effort to restart Afghan-to-Afghan of talks that would also include the Taliban. Such a planned meeting was scuttled earlier this year because neither side could agree on participants.
The Taliban have refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, calling it a U.S. puppet, but have said they would talk with government officials if they arrive at the meeting as ordinary Afghans.
Before leaving Afghanistan for India, Pompeo on Tuesday underscored Khalilzad’s strategy in the talks, which involves four interconnected issues: counterterrorism, foreign troop presence, inter-Afghan dialogue and a permanent cease-fire.
Wednesday’s U.S. military statement announcing the killings of the U.S. service members was a terse, two-paragraph announcement. The statement also said the identities of the soldiers would not be released until their families had been notified.
Talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban have focused on U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal and guarantees from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not again become a safe haven for terrorists to plan global attack like 9/11. Pompeo said the United States and the Taliban were close to a deal on countering terrorism.
Pompeo added that discussions with the Taliban have also begun on U.S. troop withdrawal.
“While we’ve made clear to the Taliban that were prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear we’ve not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” Pompeo said.
Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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Opposition leader: Ethiopia, AU join forces in Sudan efforts
HUSSEIN MALLA and SAMY MAGDY | Wed, June 26, 2019 11:47 EDT
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — A leading Sudanese opposition figure said on Wednesday the African Union and Ethiopia will present a new and joint proposal for a solution to the crisis in Sudan, as they renew efforts to bring the ruling generals and protest leaders back to the negotiating table.
In recent weeks, Ethiopia and the AU have been mediating between the military council and the pro-democracy movement demanding civilian rule. Talks collapsed when Sudanese security forces cleared a protest camp in the capital, Khartoum, earlier this month. The deadly clampdown killed at least 128 people cross the county, according to protest organizers.
Protest leaders, represented by the coalition Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, said over the weekend they had accepted the Ethiopian proposal for a power-sharing agreement.
The military council, however, refused to agree, saying that the initiative was to pave the way for resuming talks with the FDFC, “not to offer proposals for solutions.”
It asked Ethiopia to present a joint proposal with the AU, which it said had handed the military a separate transition plan.
The leading opposition figure Sadek al-Mahdi told reporters that Ethiopia and the AU were now planning a joint proposal to be presented later on Wednesday.
A former prime minister, Al-Mahdi’s Umma Party is the country’s largest political party, and part of the FDFC coalition.
The proposal would tackle the main points behind the current impasse, he said. These include the setup of a temporary legislative body. The FDFC has asked for a majority of seats.
“Some have complained that the 67 percent (of seats) for the FDFC means excluding us,” al-Mahdi said. “The mediation will review the shares.”
In earlier rounds of talks, the military council and the protest leaders had agreed on an interim legislative body, with 67 percent of seats for the FDFC, which would have a veto over the appointment of the remaining seats. They also had agreed on a protester-appointed Cabinet.
The two sides had not reached agreement on the extent of the military’s role in the planned sovereign council, which would lead the country during the three-year transition period, when security forces launched the deadly clampdown on June 3.
After the dispersal of the sit-in, the military council cancelled all previous deals. It also threatened to form an interim government without consulting protest leaders.
It remains to be seen whether the African-led mediation will restore the previous deals, a condition for talks with the military that protest leaders have insisted on.
Al-Mahdi also criticized the protesters over calls for mass demonstrations next week to pressure the military council to hand over power.
The demonstrations are planned to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamist-backed coup that brought Omar al-Bashir to power in 1989 — and toppled Sudan’s last elected government which was led by al-Mahdi.
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Lebanese town bans Muslims from buying, renting property
By BASSEM MROUE 05:27 EDT
BEIRUT (AP) — Mohammed Awwad and his fiancee, both Muslims, recently found an affordable apartment for rent online in a town in Lebanon, southeast of Beirut.
The 27-year-old journalist called the number and asked the owner when they could drop by to take a look. He was stunned by her response: Muslims are not allowed to settle in the town, she said.
The apartment owner apologized to Awwad, saying she wouldn’t mind renting to people of any sect but officials in the town of Hadat issued orders years ago that only Christians be allowed to buy and rent property from the town’s Christian residents.
The young Shiite Muslim man could not believe what he heard and asked his fiancee, Sarah Raad, to call the municipality and she, too, was told that the ban had been in place for years.
Hadat is a small example of Lebanon’s deeply rooted sectarian divisions that once led to a 15-year civil war that left more than 100,000 people dead. Christian communities feel under siege as Muslims, who tend to have higher birth rates, leave overcrowded areas for once predominantly Christian neighborhoods.
“There are people who live in fear and feel threatened and this can be removed through (state) policies that make citizens equal,” said Pierre Abi Saab, a Lebanese journalist and critic.
Three decades ago Hadat was almost entirely Christian, but today it has a Muslim majority because the Muslim population expanded greatly between 1990, when the war ended, and 2010, when the ban was imposed. Since then, the Muslim population has hovered between 60% and 65%.
The ban only applies to Christian property — a Muslim resident or landowner of Hadat is allowed to sell or rent his property to Muslims from outside the town or to whomever he wants.
Hadat is the only area where such a ban is publicly announced. Local officials in Christian areas in central, eastern and southern Lebanon impose such bans in more discreet ways. In the predominantly Christian southern region of Jezzine, some local officials have changed the status of land in their villages from commercial to agricultural in order to prevent mass construction projects while in other villages and towns only locals are allowed to buy property.
“As a Lebanese citizen I don’t see that there is justification for fear and mixing with others is our salvation in Lebanon,” said Abi Saab, deputy editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper. He said it’s unacceptable that Lebanese citizens cannot live wherever they want in the country.
Hadat is on the edge of an area known as Dahiyeh, Beirut’s heavily populated Shiite southern suburbs that is a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group. Hadat, along with other nearby areas, saw tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims move in over the years, raising fears among some of the country’s Christians.
Lebanon, a country of about 5 million, has a very delicate sectarian balance between its 18 religious sects. The last census was conducted in Lebanon in 1932, during which Christians were the majority but over the decades their numbers have been declining because of slower birth rates and more immigration. Today, Christians make up nearly a third of the population, while the two other thirds are almost equally split between Shiites and Sunnis.
“When he says Muslims are not allowed to rent property he means that he does not want to see Muslims,” Awwad said, referring to Hadat Mayor George Aoun.
Lebanon’s Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan denounced the town’s policy as unconstitutional.
Aoun strongly defended his decision, noting it was made in 2010, shortly after he was elected to the post. He said at the end of Lebanon’s civil war in 1990, Hadat was a purely Christian town but by 2010, tens of thousands of Muslims, many of them Shiites from Dahiyeh, moved in.
“We are telling every Christian to be proud of his or her village. Live here, work here and raise your children here. We are an exemplary village for coexistence,” he said. Asked whether his decision violates the constitution, which allows any Lebanese citizen to settle and own property anywhere in Lebanon, Aoun denied it, saying the proof is that Hadat is 60% Muslim.
“Every village should preserve itself. Every Shiite village should preserve its Shiite nature, every Christian village should preserve its Christian nature and every Sunni village should preserve its Sunni nature. We want to preserve our village or what remains of it,” Aoun said in an interview in his office, which is decorated with a giant framed map of Hadat.
The mayor has received a barrage of criticism recently on social media and on local TV stations that describe his decision as “racist and discriminatory.”
In response, hundreds of supporters marched in Hadat supporting the mayor’s decision over the weekend. Aoun told the crowd that he will commit to the ban until “doomsday.”
Christians once dominated Lebanon’s politics until the 1989 Taif agreement, named after the Saudi city of Taif where it was signed, that ended the 1975-90 civil war. The agreement divided Cabinet and parliament seats as well as senior government jobs, equally between Muslims and Christians. The agreement also removed powers from the Christian president and gave them to the Sunni Muslim prime minister.
According to Lebanon’s power-sharing system since independence from France in 1943, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite.
Hadat’s municipality is dominated by members of President Michel Aoun’s ultranationalist Free Patriotic Movement, which has been leading a campaign against Syrian refugees in the country calling for their return to safe areas in war-torn Syria.
Two years ago, Hadat’s municipality banned Syrians from working in the town, becoming one of the first areas to do so in Lebanon. Walking through the streets of Hadat, no Syrians can be seen unlike in other parts of Lebanon and shop owners boast that they only hire Lebanese.
Hadat resident George Asmar invited a reporter into his clothes shop near a church and proudly pointed to a woman who works for him, saying “she is one of our Shiite sisters.” But Asmar said he supported the mayor because the ban on Muslims owning or renting property in the town is preserving the town’s identity.
“The decision of the municipality is very good because we want to keep our sons in Hadat,” Asmar said. “It is good to keep our sons, to live with us rather than travel.”
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Saudi envoy blasts UN expert’s report on Khashoggi killing
By JAMEY KEATEN | Wed, June 26, 2019 12:29 EDT
GENEVA (AP) — A top Saudi diplomat lashed out Tuesday at an independent U.N. expert’s searing report alleging that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was based on “prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas.”
In what amounted to a face-off at the U.N’s top human rights body, Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil insisted that special rapporteur Agnes Callamard had failed to follow proper procedures and used flawed sourcing in her 101-page report made public last week.
“Accusations have been launched, and fingers have been pointed — (she is) supporting herself on non-credible articles or sources,” he told the Human Rights Council, in Arabic through a U.N. interpreter.
Callamard, sitting at the council podium to present her report, retorted that her methodology had respected precedent and insisted her report wasn’t based on media reports. She also said she hadn’t received any responses in writing from Saudi authorities to her report.
The report by Callamard, an independent expert on extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, alleged that Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for The Washington Post columnist’s grisly apparent dismemberment by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October. It said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s possible role in the killing should be examined, and Callamard used Tuesday’s presentation to push for further investigation.
She also wrote that Saudi Arabia, which has put 11 people on trial in non-public proceedings, shouldn’t be allowed to mete out justice alone in a case with vast international implications — and called for a “proper authority” to determine if crimes had been committed.
Callamard said the Saudi trial should be suspended because it fails to meet procedural standards.
The Saudi ambassador rejected that.
“This is something that is set against Saudi Arabia, it’s based on prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas,” he said. “This is why we reject any attempt to remove this from our national justice system in Saudi Arabia.”
Among diplomats speaking out Tuesday, European Union ambassador Walter Stevens called on Saudi Arabia “to disclose all information available,” and “fully cooperate” with investigations into the killing, and Ralf Schroeder of Germany said “nothing can justify this killing, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
Russia’s representative, Yaroslav Eremin, questioned the focus on journalists, dissenters and others, wondering aloud if the lives of regular citizens were “less valuable.” Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri of Bahrain rallied to the defense of its big Arab neighbor, insisting Saudi Arabia had shown “full transparency from the outset.”
The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the council a year, alleging it has an anti-Israeli bias among other complaints.
Her voice trembling in English, Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, intervening on invitation by a non-governmental organization, told the council that “those who are behind the murder and cover-up should face punishment.”
“It was not only my beloved Jamal who was murdered that day, but also democracy, human rights and freedoms,” she said.
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Judge accused of aiding wanted immigrant wants pay restored
By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER 01:25 EDT
BOSTON (AP) — A judge charged with helping an immigrant escape a federal agent waiting to arrest him at a courthouse should keep her salary while she fights to clear her in name, one of her lawyers told Massachusetts’ highest court Wednesday.
Stripping Judge Shelley Joseph of her pay as soon as she was charged goes against the presumption of innocence and sends the message to judges across the state that their livelihood could be taken away merely because of an allegation, attorney Michael Keating said.
“As a judge, she’s charged with giving everyone who appears before her due process of law,” Keating told the Supreme Judicial Court. “I think she is entitled to due process of law before this panel.”
Joseph was suspended without pay in April after federal prosecutors alleged she and a former court officer helped a man from the Dominican Republic slip out a back door of Newton District Court.
She has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice, and another of her lawyers, Thomas Hoopes, has called the case against her “political.”
Joseph, who made $181,000 last year, said in an affidavit filed with the Supreme Judicial Court that her family faces mounting legal bills, has had to borrow money from friends and family, and may be forced to sell its home.
Her pay should be restored, and she should be allowed to work on administrative tasks for the court system while the case plays out, her lawyers say.
Lawyers’ groups and a collection of retired judges are backing Joseph, calling it “unprecedented” to take away the pay of a judge who hasn’t been found guilty of wrongdoing.
“Judges must be able to act without fearing for their livelihood or the well-being of their family if a powerful litigant, the public, or other judges disagree with their actions,” the Massachusetts Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys said in court documents.
But several of the justices questioned how it would be fair to allow judges to keep their salary when other court officials — like a clerk or probation officer — would lose theirs under court policy if they are criminally charged.
“What do we say to that probation officer or that court officer or that clerk?” asked Chief Justice Ralph Gants.
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