June 26, 2019  

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



CARTOON: Peter Broelman, Australia/BROELMAN.com.au)


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Entries in Bashar Assad (2)


Inside Idlib: Assad Crackdown Grows in Ferocity (REPORT) 

By Anita McNaught 

Image grab taken from a YouTube video, allegedly shows a house on fire after shelling by government forces in Idlib.
Winter still clings to the ancient cultivated hillsides of the northern Syrian province of Idlib. Nights are chillingly cold; mornings alternate between mist and feeble sun. Under the gnarled olive trees, the soil is naked and neatly raked.
Tens of thousands of trees in rows follow the contours of the hills to the horizon and beyond. Around here, the olives are usually harvested in November, but some local families have only just begun to try to take their crop. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the harvest this year.
All the old rhythms and routines have been disrupted. People don’t venture out, most shops are shuttered. Petrol for transport and heating is running short. Cell phones no longer work, there is no internet and locals warn the old landlines are monitored. Families listen carefully to traffic on the roads, alert to anything unusual, to anything that sounds "military".
The anxiety, and the fear, is palpable.  Grainy YouTube videos on the television show Syrian army tanks heading for the provincial capital of Idlib City.  The government has dug trenches around some of the towns. Military bases are being reinforced.  The people of this area are all too aware of what is coming.

This, they say, is going to be the "next Homs". 

For months now, Idlib has breathed a thin air of defiance and bravado.  The hope was that a "Syrian Benghazi" was in the making here - an area that had succeeded in keeping President Bashar al-Assad’s forces at bay.  But the fragility of that hope is clear now to everyone.

"We cannot go back, because going back is more dangerous", one activist explains to me, as we hide together in a safe house in a border village close to Turkey.  "I know I will be killed", says another, "I just don't know when. Many Syrians feel the same way."

We know, but cannot publish these activists’ names, for their safety. 

After an initial military operation on the border town of Jisr al Shughour in June last year sent more than 10,000 refugees running for their lives into Turkey, the nascent Free Syrian Army waged enough of a guerilla campaign to stretch Assad’s forces. A decision appeared to have been taken to leave Idlib alone while the government crushed rebellions in Deraa, in the provinces around Damascus and Hama…and dealt with the outspoken and well-documented resistance in Homs.

But, as the Assad crackdown has grown in ferocity - its actions, unrestrained by international condemnation - the attention of Damascus has returned to the Northern region.  Locals in Idlib cannot believe that the tragedy of Homs has failed to mobilise the international community. Now they are bracing for something as bad, if not worse.

Off the record

The most senior commander of the Free Syrian Army in the province sits sweating in front of an olive wood-fired stove. He’s come to meet us, but verifies our identities forensically before revealing his own.  He’s young, smart, and close to despair.

"We have no weapons - we have nothing to fight the Syrian army," he says. 

The black market price for a Kalashnikov is now $1,300, a single bullet is $3. He tells us that most of their rifles have come from Iraq, but even there Damascus has staged an intervention – he believes Assad has an "under the table agreement" with the Iraqi government to allow only old weapons through the smuggling network. When they unwrap their consignments, the weapons are worn out, the ammunition past its expiry date.    

We had heard that the Free Syrian Army was "strong and organised" in this provincial town but these terms are relative. The commander won't give us an interview on-camera - let alone tell us his real name - because he's a fugitive from the regular army and fears for the fate of his wider family if identified as a resistance leader. He's relying on his former commanders believing he's been killed as cover for the new role he has taken on.  

In the town itself (which we also cannot name), anti-Assad graffiti decorates the walls and most shops are shut ."It’s been like this for weeks," a local tells us.  

Middle-aged men keep watch on the streets, behind a few token sandbags.

People from the area like to boast that they "drove out Assad’s army" on December 19 and that they have a "truce" with the military.  In reality, the town feels terribly vulnerable.  The Free Syrian Army (FSA) leaders are torn between wanting to tell the world about their brave stance, and wanting to avoid provoking the regime into an early punitive strike.

'We are alone'

"We know it is coming," the FSA commander tells me. "But," he says, "we don’t want to make it come more quickly."

Coded threats of military retaliation on the Assad regime-sponsored Dounia TV have rattled everyone.

And hanging above it all, incredulity that the world stood back and watched the destruction of the Sunni districts of Homs. "We are alone. We face this alone," says the FSA leader from Idlib province "No-one is helping us".

Every single person we meet - from the roughest-handed farmers in the smallest villages, to the softest-handed young activists back home from their suspended universities – tell us the resistance in Syria needs weapons. "We can do this revolution on our own – we don't need the West to fight it for us – one young man explains to me "but we can't do it without weapons".

They want modern rifles, RPGs and shoulder-launched missiles. They want to destroy Assad’s tanks and bring down his attack helicopters. No-one talks about non-violent resistance any more.

The FSA tells me all that has reached them so far is some small cash donations – but you can’t fight with cash if no-one will sell you the weapons, and so far none of Syria’s neighbours have allowed any significant rise in cross-border smuggling, let alone a legitimate weapons trade.  It has bred a weary cynicism.

"Turkey talks, but does nothing to help," he says.

"Qatar, Saudi Arabia? More talking, only," he says.

Safe area

They desperately want a "Safe Area" enforced by the United Nations, reminiscent of the protected enclaves of the former Yugoslavian war.

If they had that, activists and FSA alike tell us, defections from the regime and the military would increase exponentially. All that is preventing many senior leaders from walking away from the Assad regime, is the fate of their families if they do. Give them a sanctuary, they say, and the balance of power will shift dramatically.

But, it seems too late for that. Idlib province is now cross-hatched by Assad’s army lines.

Checkpoints are on every major route, and appear without warning on many minor ones. Travelling any distance without careful preparation and a route scout is impossible. Communication is hard, personal appearances hazardous. We hunker down in safe houses for days, waiting for the next short ride to another location. We are asked not to go outside. Curtains are drawn. 

Seemingly every day, another town or village in the province is cut off by Assad’s security forces.  The mountain area of Jabel Al-Zawiyah is the only place where some freedom of movement remains and the Free Syrian Army does not have to lurk in the shadows. But, getting there is almost impossible. 

Turkey - once considered a supporter and ally of the revolution - is now merely regarded as a refuge of last resort. If the military crackdown on the province reaches the severity of Homs, then tens of thousands more refugees will flood across, say villagers we talk to.  Perhaps the arrival of more than 100,000 families fleeing Assad will prompt Turkey to do more, but the people of Idlib have given up on their dream of Turkey leading a peacekeeping force into Syria to rescue them. 

An eerie quiet has descended on many of Idlib’s towns.  Field hospitals are being set up in secret locations. Nervous rebel fighters are gathering. There is no talk of capitulation.

"We prefer death to more humiliation", an activist tells me. "We don't want bread and fuel, although we need them. This is a revolution of ideals and principles. It's a revolution of human beings who have been deprived of their humanity. We have tasted freedom and we can't go back again." 

-Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 


Syria Crackdown Reaches Critical Phase: Over 70 Killed on Weekend (NEWS BRIEF)

Assad, pictured here with his wife, Asma, in a government file photo, has chosen "repression over concession," says one analyst.(HN, April 30, 2011) - UPDATED MAY 1 1520GMT - In some of the worst fighting to date in the ongoing, seven-week battle between pro-democracy demonstrators and Government forces in Syria, live fire and heavy artillery is being used in an attempt to quell defiant protesters.

News agencies report that more than 70 people have been killed nationwide this weekend - including 70 in Deraa (درع), the besieged town that has become the symbol of the uprising, alone. Eyewitnesses have been quoted as saying that tanks are shelling parts of the southwestern city near the border with Jordan, and that its main mosque has been stormed by government forces.

An estimated 46 people will killed Friday and Saturday in Deraa alone. Since the conflict began, as many as 700 people have been killed.

The Shaam News Network (SNN) reports that Deraa is totally blockaded and that snipers are picking off protesters from rooftops. " Killing is random in the city from the security forces and the Fourth Battalion," SNN said.

According to one account, as many as 7,000 have been arrested since the uprising began.

On Sunday, CBC News broadcast unsourced, amateur video from two days earlier showing several people dead and injured on a road near Deraa. Shooting could be heard in the background and several motorcycles strewn on the road.

Opposition websites are showing footage said to be of a soldier who says he deserted after being ordered to fire on unarmed protesters in Damascus, the BBC reported.

Said Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor of London's Guardian newspaper, in a commentary today: "Bashar al-Assad has opted for repression rather than concession."

"...For Assad, the survival of the police state founded by his father is a very personal affair which he has dressed up as a national necessity to "prevent" his country from slipping into civil war."

Farid Ghadry, the Syrian-born head of the US-based Reform Party of Syria, told The Jerusalem Post he believes that Syria is descending into a sectarian civil war, and that President Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered.

Even if Assad survives a bit longer, Ghadry wrote in an email to the newspaper from Washington, “he will be a dead man walking. It is hard to put humpty dumpty back together. I cannot ever imagine anyone visiting with him or dealing with him after what he has done.”

Assad has been president since 2000, having succeeded his authoritarian father Hafez al-Assad. OIver the weekend, Syria's neighbour, Turkey, urged Assad to end the bloody crackdown but also said western nations should avoid an intervention like the one in Libya.

Obtaining reliable information out of Syria is extremely difficult given the paucity of accredited journalists and a crackdown on freedom-of-speech and Internet communications. While Al Jazeera is one of the few accredited media organization still allowed to report, its staff have been accused by government loyalists of "lies' and "exaggeration" in its reporting.

Al Jazeera reported today that land lines, the Internet and mobile phone networks have all been cut in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus.

- HUMNEWS staff