Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, November 02, 2007

Two Afghan children die in U.S.-led raid

U.S.-led troops raided a compound in search of a suspected Taliban militant, resulting in the deaths of two children, CNN reported Thursday.

Maj. Chris Belcher, Combined Joint Task Forces-82 spokesman, said that troops raided the compound in Nangarhar Province after receiving “credible intelligence.”

“It is regrettable when innocent lives are put at risk by militant forces. Our sincerest condolences go out to the families of the deceased and wounded.”

For the full article, click here.

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Fewer Afghans returning home from Pakistan

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has temporarily suspended its voluntary Afghan repatriation program from Pakistan for the winter months, but will restart it in March of next year, IRIN reported Wednesday.

Since the program’s inception in 2002, over 3.2 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan.

However, despite bolstered financial assistance packages from UNHCR, the number of Afghan’s returning home is in decline due to security concerns.

“Indeed, the situation has deteriorated in parts of Afghanistan, especially the south, southeast and increasingly the central regions,” Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, said. “Others said they cannot return for economic or social reasons, such as the lack of jobs, land, shelter, schools and clinics in Afghanistan,” she added.

For the full article, click here.

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Iranian official pressed by Afghanistan on death penalty, refugees

Afghanistan said it called Iran’s representative to Kabul on Thursday to discuss refugee repatriation and reports of Afghan minors being sentenced to death for drug smuggling, Agence France-Presse reported today.

In border provinces, it is not unusual for there to be executions of drug smugglers of Afghan origin. An unconfirmed report included a case of a 17-year-old hanged for smuggling 1.5 kilograms, or 3 pounds, of heroin.

“These children are being misused by drug smugglers and their conviction is contrary to human rights, international standards and the very good relations between two countries,” said Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Kabir Farahi.

Farahi also brought up the issue of forced repatriation of Afghan refugees in border areas, especially regarding those with legal documents.

“At this time Afghanistan does not have the ability to absorb refugee groups. We want the Iranian authorities to revise their decision on this issue,” he said.

About 160,000 unregistered refugees and 6,500 registered refugees have been returned by Iran this year.

For the full article, click here.

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Amnesty International says detained Kurdish human rights defender at risk

Amnesty International says detained Kurdish human rights defender at risk
According to a press release from Amnesty International, Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, head of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan (HROK), is being mistreated by authorities in prison, Scoop Independent News reported today.

Kabudvand has been detained since July in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. He reportedly said that he was being charged with “acting against national security,” “propaganda against the system” and “cooperating with groups opposed to the system,” although it is believed no formal accusations have been brought against him.

Suffering from high blood pressure, a skin disorder, and a kidney ailment, Kabudvand reportedly needs to be able to urinate frequently in order to prevent damage to his kidneys, according to the report. He has been told by authorities, however, that he needs to ask for formal permission in writing to use the toilet.

If three members of HROK turn themselves in, on the other hand, Kabudvand will be allowed access to a toilet whenever he needs it.

Amnesty International believes the treatment of Kabudvand is an attempt by the Iranian authorities to force board members of the HROK to present themselves to authorities, which may result in their arrest and eventual closing of the organization.

For the full article, click here.

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Flooding in central Viet Nam kills 20

Flooding caused by torrential rains in Viet Nam’s central provinces has killed 20 people, injured 30 and left 1 missing, ReliefWeb reported Thursday.

The largest loss of life occurred in Quang Nam Province, where nine people died.

Many roads and houses were inundated across the central region, and the rain caused landslides in Quang Ngai and Kon Tum Province.

In 2006, natural disasters in Viet Nam killed 339 people and injured over 2,000, with total losses of approximately 18.6 trillion dong, the equivalent of $1.2 billion.

For the full article, click here.

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U.N. warns of opium ‘tsunami’ if Afghanistan’s borders are not secured

The U.N. anti-drug chief said Wednesday that a “tsunami” of opium will hit Afghanistan’s neighbors if border security is not improved, The Associated Press reported the same day.

In 2007, Afghanistan witnessed a dramatic increase in the production of opium – a drug that equals more than half of the country’s legal gross domestic product. The record harvest poses a “major threat” to global public health, according to Antonio Maria Costa, chief of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. The security of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries is also susceptible, as 90 percent of opium profits flow to international criminal gangs and terrorist networks, Costa, said

“We all know that opium and heroin cause severe, severe problems, addictions, corruption, criminality, terrorism,” said Gen. Khodaidad, Afghanistan’s acting counter-narcotics minister. “Afghanistan is not alone. Many countries in the region share this problem. If we are all part of the problem we are all part of the solution.”

According to the article: “Jean-Luc Lemahieu, a UNODC official, said the international body is looking at regional border solutions for Afghanistan such as purchasing communications equipment that officials in neighboring countries could use to coordinate with each other on drug searches. UNODC is also exploring the possibility of joint operations by neighboring countries, he said.”

For the full article, click here.

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Afghan garment factories pose health risks for women workers

IRIN reported on Wednesday that workers in Herat garment factories are exposed to microbes from fur and wool that harm the respiratory system and cause chest infections.

In the past year, seven Afghan women workers employed at wool and fur factories in Herat have died due to respiratory diseases and chest infections, according to Mohammad Ibrahim Ghafori, an official at the Safi factory.

Although Afghan labor law dictates that employers should provide medical insurance to those who work in hazardous conditions, the law is not adequately enforced.

Due to their low wages, workers are also unable to afford medical treatment. However, they continue to work out of dire economic need.

For the full article, click here.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Egypt grapples with question of presidential succession

In Michael Slackman’s article in the International Herald Tribune Wednesday, he highlights a question on the minds of many Egyptians: “Who will take the place of President Hosni Mubarak?”

As Slackman notes, “Mubarak has been president for nearly three decades. He is the longest-serving president since the removal of the king, having served longer than Gamal Abdel Nasser, a pioneer of Arab nationalism, and longer than Anwar Sadat, the man who made peace with Israel. He is routinely referred to as Egypt’s modern-day pharaoh, though usually in a cautious whisper.”

Mubarak’s governing party, the National Democratic Party will hold a general assembly on Friday with six thousand five hundred delegates from around Egypt, including guests from around the world. The discussion will likely center on the economy, politics and counterterrorism. However, Slackman writes: “What they will not discuss, party officials said, is succession – arguably, and in many minds, one of the most important issues regarding Egypt's long-term stability.”

“Who will come after Mubarak? It is a question many people here ask, but as a party officials said after a briefing on the upcoming convention, ‘You will never get the answer you want,’” the article says.

“The issue of succession is regulated by the Constitution,” said Ali el Din Helal, a party official at a briefing in advance of the convention. “This is a country ruled by institutions, not by individuals.”

“That is the answer you get,” Slackman writes, in reference to el Din Helal’s comments. “But the issue is so sensitive that the government is prepared to put an editor in prison after his newspaper ran stories saying the president was in ill health. The government’s own prosecutors alleged that the news so shook the nation, it cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars. As the rumors swirled about the president’s health, Egypt’s chief religious official, appointed by the president, issued a religious edict, saying that journalists who spread rumors should receive 80 lashes.”

For the full article, click here.

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Iraqi NGOs allege torture, abuse of children in prisons

Concerns have been raised by Iraqi NGOs about the treatment of children in prisons. The organizations say that they are abused and tortured during interrogation, IRIN reported last week.

Children are being treated as adults in Iraqi prisons and our investigations have shown that they are being abused and tortured,” said Khalid Rabia’a, a spokesman for the Prisoners’ Association for Justice (PAJ).

According to Rabia’a, PAJ’s investigation began after families brought their children, who were recently released from prison, to the organization for psychological help.

The five children showed signs of torture all over their bodies. Three had marks of cigarettes burns over their legs and one couldn’t speak as the shock sessions affected his conversation,” Rabia’a said. “It is against international law that protects children and we call for interventions in all Iraqi prisons to save the lives of these children.”

The Ministry of Interior denied the accusations, and said that children and youth are only held in interrogation for a maximum of 48 hours and are not abused or tortured. However, one senior ministry official from the ministry, who has been supplying PAJ with updates on a daily basis but asked not be named, told IRIN that every prison is holding at least 20 children, all of them suffering abuse.

It is believed that at least 220 children are currently detained in Iraqi prisons. IRIN’s request to visit the prisons was denied.

For the full article, click here.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Human Rights Watch says Burma using child soldiers

According to a report released by Human Rights Watch, children as young as 10 are being forcibly recruited into Burma’s army, Agence France-Presse reported today.

The children are bought and sold by military recruiters, who receive incentives from the military junta, which is suffering from a high desertion rate and lack of volunteers, HRW said.

“The government’s senior generals tolerate the blatant recruitment of children and fail to punish perpetrators,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. “In this environment, army recruiters traffic children at will.”

Although the regime has created a committee to prevent the recruitment of children, Becker says that the committee is a “sham” and spends most of its time denouncing reports of child soldiers.

Desperate to meet quotas, recruiters target children in public places and threaten them if they refuse to join. In some cases, the children are beaten until they agree, the report says. Former child soldier, Maung Zaw Oo, said that the recruiters “filled the forms and asked my age, and when I said 16, I was slapped and he said, ‘You are 18. Answer 18.’”

According to the report, child soldiers are used in other non-state armed groups as well, but in smaller numbers.

For the full story, click here

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Fewer Iraqi girls attending school

The number of girls attending school in Iraq is dropping and education specialists worry that it could create a huge education gap, IRIN reported Monday.

“The fear of losing their children through violence has led many families to keep their children at home but the number of girls kept at home is higher because in addition to the security problem, they are being forced by their families to assist in household chores,” said Sinan Zuhair, a media officer for the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

“Many families have lost their fathers or mothers and girls are asked to stay at home to help to cook, wash and clean. They are the ones paying the price of the violence since they have to forget about their future to be able to help the lives of their brothers,” Zuhair said. “The problem is worse in the rural areas where religion is being used by fathers as an excuse to justify why their daughters no longer attend school.”

Iraq’s northern provinces tend to have slightly better attendance, but even there it is only in the main towns, according to Mustafa Jaboury, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education. “In many villages, either girls have never attended school or they have been forced by their parents to leave school,” he said.

School attendance is expected to fall by another 15 percent this term for boys and 25 percent for girls, the ministry said.

For the full article, click here.

LCHR President denied meeting with Ayman Nour

Leadership Council for Human Rights President Kathryn Cameron Porter and Gameela Ismail were banned from entering Egypt’s Tora Prison on Monday, after the two went there to visit Ismail’s husband, jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour. The incident received significant coverage in Egypt, and the photo of Porter and Ismail speaking with the prison authority made the front page of two Egyptian newspapers.

The envoy was refused a private meeting with Nour, leading them to accuse the Egyptian authorities of hiding Nour so as to conceal their mistreatment of him.

Porter and Ismail were able to pass through the gates of Tora Prison but were barred from going further. Porter is on a fact-finding mission this week regarding the human rights situation in Egypt. She expressed her resentment concerning the humiliating treatment by the prison authority, in light of the fact that she had submitted all the needed permissions and documents for the visit.

LCHR will look to obtain approval to return to the prison to see Nour.

For the full story, in Arabic, click here.

Iran says Dutch-Iranian activist has not received death sentence

Maxine Verhagen, the Dutch foreign affairs minister, has received word from Iranian authorities and the ambassador in the Netherlands that no death sentence has been passed for Dutch-Iranian activist Abdullah Al-Mansouri, DutchNews reported Tuesday.

Al-Mansouri has been awarded for his human rights work by Queen Beatrix, and received refugee status in the Netherlands in 1989. He was arrested while visiting Syria last year and then extradited to Iran.

Al-Mansouri’s son, Adnan Al-Mansouri, reported Monday that his father would be executed in 48 hours. In response to the statements made by Iranian authorities, he said: “It’s clear that Iran is afraid of losing face. That’s why they’re now saying this.”

For the full article, click here.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Prenatal son selection could have damaging consequences for Viet Nam, other Asian countries, U.N. says

According to a recent study commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Asian countries may face severe social consequences in the future due to prenatal son selection, the UN News Centre reported Monday.

Viet Nam will face problems similar to India and China, the countries with the greatest imbalance between male and female births, unless response measures are adopted. The study reveals that “Viet Nam is in almost the same situation now as China was 10 years ago,” and that the sex ratio at birth there will be severely imbalanced within a decade.

Many in Asian countries prefer to have sons for economic and cultural reasons. Girls can be seen as a liability when it comes to paying a dowry, and families depend on their sons to perform last rights and ancestor worship.

Ultrasounds and amniocentesis are used to determine the sex of a baby, and unwanted females are sometimes aborted. Potential consequences of prenatal son selection include an increase in sexual violence and female trafficking, as well as pressure on males who will be unable to find wives.

“Sex ratio imbalances only lead to far-reaching imbalances in the society at large,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said. “And in response, we must carry forward the message that every human being is born equal in dignity, worth and human rights.”

For the full article, click here.

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UNHCR raises concern about fate of 48 African refugees detained by Egypt

Concerns are being raised about 48 African refugees, mainly from Sudan, who were detained by Egyptian security forces over two months ago after being deported by Israel to Egypt, The Scotsman reported Monday.

According to the article, “at least five of the detainees were deported by Egypt back to Sudan, where they could face protracted imprisonment or the death penalty for having gone to Israel, the one country in the world to which Sudanese are forbidden to travel.” The Scotsman adds: “Another deportee was tortured before being released from Egyptian detention, according to an Egyptian legal source.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has confirmed that the persons expelled by Israel, have been unaccounted for since their arrest by Egyptian authorities on August 19.

“We’ve been requesting information about them and their whereabouts since August and we haven’t received anything,” said Peter Kessler, senior external affairs officer for UNHCR.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, there was an understanding with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that the deportees would not be mistreated. Critics doubt that such an agreement exists though, and argue that Olmert violated international law by expelling the refugees into a dangerous situation.

A former detainee was reached by phone in Sudan by a relative in Israel this past weekend. She said that she had been in prison in Egypt for more than three weeks when she was deported.

For the full article, click here.

Syria and Iran support political solution for Iraq-Turkey crisis

Both Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday pledged their commitment to resolving the ongoing crisis between Turkey and Iraq over PKK rebels, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

“The Iranians have initiated efforts which complement those of Syria, because we want to give a political solution a chance,” Muallem said of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters based in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mottaki arrived in Damascus on Monday to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad. “The PKK terrorists threaten not only Turkey but also Iran and Syria,” the Iranian foreign minister said.

Earlier this month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani criticized Syria for allegedly backing a Turkish military strike against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. However, Syria denied that Assad ever gave his support for such a strike.

According to the article “Turkey has threatened a major cross-border assault on PKK bases in remote mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan if Baghdad and Washington fail to make good on promises to crack down on the rebels.”

For the full article, click here.

American, Indonesian experts discuss Islam and democracy at televised forum

While acknowledging recent U.S. foreign policy missteps in the Muslim world, experts in Washington and Jakarta spoke positively today about both the fledgling democratic government in Indonesia – the largest Muslim nation in the world – and the intrinsic compabilitality of Islam and democracy. The panelists spoke before a live studio audience in each city and to their cross-continental counterparts via live video feed for a televised town meeting hosted by American Abroad Media in Washington and Metro TV in Jakarta.

Calling Indonesia the “most important new democracy in the world over the last decade,” and a key example of the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, cited the country’s liberal intellectual tradition as a key reason for its successful transition out of forty years of dictatorship. Amien Rais, the former chairman of Indonesia’s People’s Consultative Assembly, echoed Gershman, saying that the majority of Indonesians accept democracy without a problem and noting that the country’s inaugural presidential elections in 2004 were carried out in a transparent and responsible manner.

Still, the panelists cautioned that a complete democratic transition will not be quick or easy. Karl Jackson, the director of Asian studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that a revival of Indonesian civil society, destroyed by decades of repression, will take time. Gershman, meanwhile, stressed the importance of ensuring the separation of religion and politics.

Towards the middle of the forum, the discussion turned towards the U.S.’s foreign policy and image in the Muslim world. Rais connected low opinions of the U.S. throughout the region with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the controversies over Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. He also expressed dismay at the American public’s acceptance of Bush administration policies. Gershman, for his part, said that the time since 9/11 has been a learning period for the U.S., with the need for greater multilateralism in relations with Muslim countries a key lesson.

The panelists also addressed negative public opinion among Indonesians towards the U.S., which, according to public polling, has fluctuated significantly in recent years, with a high of about 80 percent around the time of the Iraq invasion to a low of about 40 percent soon after the 2004 tsunami. The polls also suggest that 40 percent of Indonesians believe that the Bush administration’s “war on terror” is actually a campaign against Islam.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bush’s Darfur policies falling short

Since the Bush administration classified the violence in Darfur as genocide two and a half years ago – making the U.S. the first and only nation to do so – some have argued that Washington has stalled in attempting to fulfill its promise to end the violence in Sudan.

An article in today’s Washington Post commented on a host of issues that have contributed to the wilting domestic and international commitment to the crisis. Despite the president’s passion for this issue, his policies have fluctuated between putting pressure on and engaging with the Islamist government. Constant turnover of crucial advisors on Darfur has also contributed to the slow progress. The current U.S. involvement in other Muslim countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, has added to the already complex foreign relations quagmire.

“It’s impossible to keep Iraq out of this picture,” said Edward Mortimer, who served as a top aide to then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and says resentment over Iraq caused many countries to not want to cooperate with the United States on Darfur.

Multilateral bodies such as the U.N., NATO, and the African Union have suffered from bureaucratic slowness, preventing a unified effort to address the humanitarian crisis.

Notably, few other Western nations besides Britain and a handful of Nordic countries have shouldered responsibility for resolving the violence either diplomatically or militarily.

According to the article: “Advisers say Bush came to accept, albeit grudgingly, the arguments against using U.S. military assets – especially the possibility that they might attract al-Qaeda.”

“In my mind, there would never be enough troops to impose order on this place,” former secretary of state Colin Powell said an interview. “The only way to resolve this problem was for there to be a political settlement between the rebels and the government.”

“Overall,” concluded John R. Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, “Sudan is a case where there’s a lot of international rhetoric and no stomach for real action.”

For the full article, click here.

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Iran's presidential policies criticized by reformists

At the 10th party congress held by the Iran’s reformist Participation Front, the group’s secretary-general, Mohsen Mirdamadi, criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “unbelievable” contempt for democracy in the country, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported today.

Mirdamadi said that Ahmadinejad acts like “the greatest defender of democracy” in the world, while continually denouncing democracy and party politics in Iran.

Describing the government, Mirdamadi said the Ahmadinejad presidency was the result of two political currents: one that works to exclude all political forces that do not adhere to the government’s strict definition of Iran’s religious and revolutionary ideology, and another he said undermines the ideals of the Islamic revolution and sees the empowerment of “the most reactionary, radical, and antifreedom” elements as the means to achieve this. According to Mirdamadi, Iran faces “the decline of moral society, the spread of lies and deceptive appearances...and the wasting of social assets.”

For the full article, click here.

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Attacks on aid workers on rise in Afghanistan with 34 killed this year

The U.N. reported that 34 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan this year and called for Taliban militants and other criminals to stop attacking humanitarian aid convoys, particularly with winter looming, The Associated Press reported today.

The convoys have had difficulty accessing Afghanistan’s main highways due to the increasing violence in the south.

“Those responsible for these attacks and for the insecurity are pushing the most vulnerable people outside of our reach,” Tom Koenigs, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, said. “Those responsible for these attacks need to know that they are attacking the welfare of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that it has been set back $750,000 in stolen aid due to attacks on aid convoys, according to BBC News. Rick Corsino, the head of WFP in Afghanistan, added that the cost of transport has increased to the heightened violence.

“In a majority of these incidents, food was looted ... and so far we have lost something like 100,000 tons of food,” Corsino said.

The continued conflict has “tremendously” worsened the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and 78 districts in the country are rated as “extremely risky” for U.N. workers to operate, Koenigs said.

“Reaching the people is not a political issue, it is a humanitarian priority,” Koenigs said.

For the full Washington Post article, click here.

For the full BBC article, click here.

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Head of Egyptian opposition party and two party journalists sentenced to jail

Court sources said today that the head of Egypt’s nationalist opposition Wafd party and two party journalists have been sentenced to a month in jail after being convicted in absentia of libel, Reuters reported.

Since early September, at least 11 journalists have been given jail terms, with this ruling the latest to target independent and opposition media, the article said.

According to the article: “The men were tried in absentia and did not appear in court. The men remained free pending appeal.”

“Some analysts have linked the recent cases against journalists to preparations for a transition of power from President Hosni Mubarak, who at 79 has been at Egypt’s helm for over a quarter century. The most likely successor is his 43-year-old son Gamal, who denies having presidential ambitions,” the article said.

Lat month, the White House expressed concern about what it deemed setbacks on the press and civil society freedom in Egypt. Cairo’s rejected the statements as interference in internal affairs.

For the full article, click here.

Iraq: Turkish invasion could have devastating regional consequences

The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, commented about continued pressure from Turkey in a recent interview with the BBC. An invasion would have serious consequences for stability in both countries and for the region as a whole, Zebari said, according to The Sidney Morning Herald.

Zebari said that the present crisis was “dead serious” and that Turkey had shown no interest in Iraqi proposals to calm the situation.

According to the article “Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops, backed by warplanes and tanks, on the border between the two countries for a possible offensive against an estimated 3,000 Iraq-based rebels.”

There are fears that the Turkish military build-up will be used to carry out a larger incursion into northern Iraq than anticipated, Zebari said. He added that, according to the article, such a step would have disastrous consequences for stability in both countries.

Turkey’s demand for Iraq to hand over senior members of the outlawed PKK sheltering in Iraq was deemed impossible to fulfill by Zebari.

For the full article, click here.

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Seven die from flooding in central Viet Nam

Floods caused by heavy rains killed seven people in the central Viet Nam provinces of Khanh Hoa, Binh Dinh, and Quang Ngai, officials said today, Earthtimes.org reported.

The Central Flood and Storm department reported that all of the victims were washed away and drowned in swollen springs and rivers.

“I’m afraid more people may be killed if they keep carelessly crossing springs and rivers that are empowered by rain water,” Dam Vinh Loi, deputy head of the flood and storm department of Binh Dinh Province, said.

Floods and storms have killed at least 188 people in Viet Nam so far this year.

For the full article, click here.

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