Saturday, February 21, 2015

ISL: ISIL may use Libya as doorstep to Europe, says analyst

Around 50 people are now known to have died in three suicide car bombings in Libya.

Fighters loyal to the group calling itself Islamic State (ISIL) have claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks in the town of Qubbah.

Euronews spoke to Arab world analyst Mustapha Tossa about the extremists linked to ISIL building a presence in Libya.

"Those attacks represent ISIL's military spread to Libya, a country transformed into a new place of conflict which hits right into the centre of the Maghreb an…

Armenia: Armenian Opposition Runs Up Against Karabakh Cops

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,
Armenian Opposition Runs Up Against Karabakh Cops

After a recent incident in which opposition activists from Armenia were attacked by police while attempting to enter Nagorny Karabakh, experts are unsure whether the orders came from local officials or from Yerevan.

Several dozen members of the Constituent Parliament (formerly known as the Pre-Parliament), an opposition movement in Armenia were stopped and assaulted by police on January 31 when they tried to cross into Karabakh near the border town of Berdzor. About 20 cars in their convoy were damaged.

The group has been touring Armenia to publicise protests it is planning, and it wanted to do the same in Karabakh, which has been controlled by a local Armenian administration since the war with Azerbaijan in the early 1990s year.

The Karabakh authorities accused Constituent Parliament of provocation and claimed that police only intervened to protect group members from enraged local residents.

“The police stood between Karabakh residents opposed to this [protest] action and the convoy of vehicles so as to avoid a confrontation,” David Babayan, spokesman for Karabakh president Bako Sahakyan, said. “However, participants in the tour ignored police requests and effectively forced them into taking action.”

Constituent Parliament deputy head Varuzhan Avetisyan told IWPR that video footage posted on the internet clearly showed police attacking members of the group after they had decided to turn back.

“We did not put up any resistance,” Avetisyan said. “This was a deliberate attack by them. If we had resisted, they’d have had a pretext to use firearms against the participants. We were of course prepared foracts of provocation, but we didn’t expect the [Karabakh] state to commit a terrorist act.”

Lawyer Yervant Varosyan said that Sahakyan’s subsequent instructions that police should investigate the incident were“absurd”.

“The footage of beatings and damage to property that has emerged provides clear evidence that criminal proceedings should be launched,” he said.

Nagorno Karabakh’s deputy prime minister Arthur Aghabekian, speaking on local television, did not condemn the police action in Berdzor, and merely expressed regret that video footage of the incident had entered the public domain.

One theory that has emerged to explain why Constituent Parliament was given such short shrift is that the Karabakh administration is extremely touchy about its claim to self-determination and its aspiration to international recognition – something it has not even received from Armenia. According to this argument, Constituent Parliament has made it clear it regards the territory as merely an extension of the state of Armenia.

“This approach taken by Constituent Parliament calls into question the process of international recognition for Nagorny Karabakh,” said Ruben Mehrabyan, a researcher with the Centre for Regional and International Studies in Yerevan.

Armenian opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan agreed, explaining that the Karabakh government’s official position was that the territory was broadly speaking “Armenia but not part of the Republic of Armenia”.

Whatever the reasons, though, Pashinyan said the incident was troubling, and proposed that a special commission composed of his parliamentary colleagues go to Karabakh to try to sort the matter out.

“Everyone in Karabakh, without exception, is seriously concerned about what happened. What’s important for me is that President Bako Sahakyan should completely understand the gravity of what happened in Berdzor,” he said.

Another view is that the decision to foil Constituent Parliament’s publicity tour was taken in Yerevan and thus had little to do with the internal politics of Nagorny Karabakh.

Avetik Ishkhanyan, chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, noted that Constituent Parliament had already come under attack at home in recent months. He recalled a wave of attacks late last year in which cars belonging to its members were set on fire in Yerevan, and a member suffered a brutal street attack. (See Not-So-Random Violence in Armenia.)

“This is a continuation of the series of attacks on political figures and forces who the authorities perceive to be a threat,” Ishkhanyan told IWPR, predicting new cases of violence in the coming months. “The Armenian government wants to nip in the bud any audacious or rebellious act.”

Arevik Sahakian is a freelance journalist in Armenia.

Iran: Minister defends “music” policy while observing religious etiquettes

Source: IRNA

Tehran, Feb 19, IRNA Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati said his ministry would defend “music” programs while remaining faithful to all religious etiquettes.
He made the remarks here on Friday in the closing ceremony of the 30th International Fajr Music Festival.

He noted that certain political groups are manipulating the sincere religious sentiments of people to downgrade the art of music.

He stressed that his ministry while observing all religious etiquettes and regulations of the Islamic system will defend spread of this art.

Referring to attempts by some political groups to create a certain atmosphere around the activities in the area of music, he said that Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance vigoursouly believes it know all religious and government regulations much better than such groups.

He said all the concerts having received permissions by his ministry for their public performances have been abiding by all regulations.

He said the ministry will support such performances and is not going to give in to the pressures of self-willed groups.

As for propaganda saying that women singers have been given licenses for solo performances, he said all these are attempts to mar the political atmosphere in the country.

The minister said had his ministry issued such licenses, it would had defended it.

However, he stressed, no such permissions have ever been issued and the self-willed groups are only scattering the rumor based on the incorrect information they have received.

Referring to the important status of the Fajr Music Festival in safeguarding the vitality and dynamism of the Iranian music, he said all should join efforts to protect this wave.

Jannati added that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance as the embodiment of the government of President Hassan Rouhani is using all its capacities to support and protect the sublime and dignified art of music the nation possesses.

Ukraine: Can Southwestern Ukraine Become a Trouble-spot?

Originally published by
Can Southwestern Ukraine Become a Trouble-spot?
by Katya Kumkova

The failure of a ceasefire to take hold in eastern Ukraine is stoking concerns about a potential revival of trouble elsewhere.

An area of particular concern is the Ukrainian portion of Bessarabia, an oblong stretch of land southwest of Odessa, bound by the Black Sea to the east, Moldova to the west, and Romania to the south. Ranging along the north bank of the Danube River, the region features still-prosperous farms and abundant fishing. But it is also a region in the grip of a general economic malaise, where factories keep closing, even as local oligarchs keep profiteering.

“This is not the Donbas, with its economic problems and a disaffected population,” commented Anatoliy Baronin, an analyst who tracks developments in the region. “Here we should expect political moves. … A [military or financial] crisis scenario would supply the possibility for destabilization.”

Talk of a “People’s Republic” of Bessarabia began circulating last spring amid a spike in separatist sentiment after the Euromaidan Revolution installed a European-oriented government in Kyiv. While separatism in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine quickly coalesced into an armed insurrection backed by Russia, Ukrainian authorities managed to keep discontent under control in other restive cities and regions, including Bessarabia, Kharkiv and Odessa.

Back in November, however, an Odessa-based risk analysis firm called Da Vinci Consulting published a report, titled On the Danger of the Formation of a Bessarabian People’s Republic. The report asserted that Bessarabia, given its large percentage of ethnic minorities, including Bulgarians (21 percent), Moldovans (13 percent), and Gagauz, a Turkic minority (about 4 percent), posed a special threat to Ukrainian stability. Ukrainians and Russian comprise the bulk of the rest of Ukrainian Bessarabia’s population.

The report paid particular attention to what some have called the “center-periphery problem” of discord between regions and Kyiv, as well as the potential for unrest among Ukraine’s Gagauz community. In neighboring Moldova, the Gagauz secured broad cultural autonomy in the mid-1990s. The report suggested that the Kremlin had the means to induce Gagauz politicians on both sides of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border to join forces and stir up trouble.

“Today Gagauzia is the main center of activity for the Kremlin in the region,” the report stated, noting that 98 percent of Gagauz in Moldova expressed support in a referendum held in early 2014 for seceding from Moldova, if the country went ahead with plans for European integration. Moldova signed an association agreement with the European Union last summer.

The Da Vinci report profiled four local political actors to keep an eye on: Mikhail Formuzal, the current governor of Moldovan Gagauzia; Nikolay Dudoglo, the mayor of Komrat, the Gagauz capital; Yuriy Dimchoglo, a Ukrainian Gagauz member of the Odessa regional council; and Anton Kisse, an ethnic Bulgarian and long-time member of the Ukrainian Rada who lauded Gagauz voters for voting against EU integration in early 2014. All four are considered to be allied with pro-Russia interests, and both Ukrainian representatives were previously part of former president Victor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

“The one thing I am convinced of right now is that destabilization will be impossible without the active participation from … those who represent Russia,” Baronin, who heads the Da Vinci Group, told He assailed the four politicians as “agents.”

Since the appearance of the report, Formuzal, Dudoglo, Dimchoglo and Kisse each have made repeated statements in support of peace and Ukrainian sovereignty. Even so, here, as elsewhere in Ukraine where pro-Russian sentiment dominates, a desire for peace does not automatically mean a rejection of Russia.

“People are living under the motto ‘as long as there’s no war,’” said Svetlana Gud, an activist in Izmail, Ukrainian Bessarabia’s administrative center, who is affiliated with the Committee of Voters, a national monitoring organization. ”They just believe that if Putin comes, he’ll protect them, and there’ll be no war. That the war is being kept warm by this aggressor, they don’t think about that.”

Observers worry that many residents of Bessarabia, especially Russian-speakers, are susceptible to Kremlin propaganda.

“For many people who never learned the Ukrainian language … they kept automatically listening and watching Russian [television] channels,” Valeriy Peykov, a commentator for the BessarabiaInfo news website, noted in a recent interview. “Everything that they know about what’s going on in the world, in Russia, in Ukraine, they saw it there.”

In Izmail, those who openly support the government in Kyiv can face hostility. One such individual, Larisa Marar, a homemaker, said she encountered lots of derision recently when she tried to solicit donations for Ukrainian troops fighting in the Donbas region. Marar admitted that her support for the Euromaidan cause has cost her some friendships, but she added that it was a price she was willing to pay.

“Yes, [Russia] is the land of our forefathers, but what we have to think about is what will we pass on to our children.” she said.

Syria: With IS Forced Out, Village Life Returns for Some in Syria

Islamic State militants overran the northern Syrian city of Kobani and the surrounding countryside last September. Kurdish fighters, backed by anti-IS-coalition airstrikes, forced them out last month. Slowly, people are making their way back from refugee camps in Turkey and elsewhere. Videojournalist Mahmoud Bali went to one village where people are trying to pick up the pieces and has this report, narrated by Elizabeth Arrott.