Prominent Bahraini activist Nabil Rajab appealed on Wednesday for the world to impose sanctions on his country, which he said had slipped into "dictatorship". The head of Bahrain's Centre for Human Rights was arrested after taking part in a month of Shiite-led protests in 2011 demanding political reforms. Rajab, who was holding his first media conference since his release on May 24, claimed that between 3,000 and 4,000 political prisoners were languishing in jail in Bahrain, a country of some 700,000 people. "I came to urge all civilised nations, civilised governments to take measures against my country," he said, calling on the international community to disregard commercial interests in Bahrain and impose sanctions.
Four former heads of the US Environmental Protection Agency who served under Republican presidents urged lawmakers Wednesday to stop bickering over whether climate change is real and start finding solutions. The debate has kicked up in intensity since President Barack Obama earlier this month called on the EPA to set carbon pollution standards for power plants that would cut carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. Obama's announcement, his most ambitious yet against climate change, also called for increasing global cooperation to curb pollution and for US financial incentives for renewable energy. "President Obama's new climate regulations... will harm our fragile American economy," Senator Ron Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, told the hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
The Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao arrived in Zambia on Wednesday for a three-day visit where he will sign loan and grant agreements to aid the African country's development. China is Zambia's top foreign investor in Zambia, but relations have occasionally been tense and its preponderant role controversial, with a Chinese manager killed during a 2012 riot over wages at a coal mine. Besides their involvement in copper and coal mining, Chinese companies are building roads, Zambia's new international airport and stadiums. Li will hold talks with President Michael Sata, who when he was in opposition railed against the growing Chinese presence in Zambia.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday terrorism will strike back against the West and other countries that "supported" attacks in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ever since a revolt broke out in March 2011, Assad has blamed all violence in Syria on a foreign-backed "terrorist" plot. "The West and countries that support extremism and terrorism in Syria and the region... must realise that this growing threat will strike the whole world, especially the countries that support terrorism and that allowed it to grow," Assad told a North Korean delegation visiting Damascus. Assad has frequently blamed the West, Turkey and Gulf countries who back rebels seeking his overthrow for violence in Syria.
Germany's defence group Rheinmetall and Ferrostaal industrial group are due to sign a deal with Algeria soon for nearly 1,000 armoured personnel carriers and a factory, a media report said Wednesday. Business daily Handelsblatt said the contract, set to be signed in the coming weeks, was for 980 Fuchs (Fox) 2 vehicles worth a total of 2.7 billion euros ($3.7 billion). "For the first time Germany is delivering not only armoured personnel carriers to an authoritarian state but also a complete vehicle factory," the newspaper said. Contacted by AFP, Rheinmetall and Ferrostaal declined to comment.
The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday it had recalled its ambassador to Iraq for consultations over the growing unrest and slammed the Shiite-led government's "sectarian" policies. The UAE warned that the policies of the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, will only contribute to "escalate political tension and jeopardise security." "The only way to salvage Iraq and protect its territorial integrity and stability is through adopting a consensual national approach that brings (Iraqis) together and does not exclude" any party, the UAE ministry said in a statement carried by WAM state news agency. Earlier the UAE's Gulf Arab partner Saudi Arabia warned of the risks of civil war in Iraq after Sunni militants seized large areas from the government, and also called for a "national consensus government".
Bush-era vice president Dick Cheney savaged President Barack Obama for his alleged Iraq policy failure Wednesday, warning that a shrinking US military posture could fuel terrorism. In a blistering op-ed in that Wall Street Journal, Cheney accused Obama of pursuing "fantasy" policies that weaken the US armed forces, embolden terror networks like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and reduce Washington's ability to influence global events. "Rarely has a US president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many," Cheney said in a column co-authored by daughter Liz Cheney, a senior State Department official in the George W. Bush administration. "Too many times to count, Mr. Obama has told us he is 'ending' the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as though wishing made it so.
Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Iraq has asked the United States to conduct air strikes on Sunni Muslim jihadists who have seized key cities and large swathes of the country, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday. Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Zebari also urged the kingdom, which has openly criticised "sectarian" policies of the Shiite-led government against Arab Sunnis, to "stop media incitement" and to support it against "terrorism." "Iraq has officially asked Washington to help under the security agreement (between the two countries), and to conduct air strikes against terrorist groups," Zebari told reporters in Jeddah, following Arab ministerial consultations. Militants, spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and joined by supporters of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, have overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq in the past week, although their advance has since been slowed.
Kenyan police said they arrested several suspects Wednesday amid high political tension in the wake of twin massacres on the coast, claimed by Somalia's Islamist Shebab but blamed by the president on local political networks. "We have arrested several suspects," police chief David Kimaiyo said, including the police officer in the town, the owner and driver of a vehicle used by the attackers, and a suspect accused of running fake Shebab social media accounts. Despite an immediate claim of responsibility for the latest carnage from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta instead blamed "local political networks" along with an "opportunist network of other criminal gangs". The charges have been greeted by scepticism and confusion -- but are also seen as raising the spectre of fresh ethnic violence inside Kenya.
Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Saudi Arabia warned Wednesday of the risks of a civil war in Iraq with unpredictable consequences for the region, after Sunni militants seized large areas from Shiite-led government forces. The unrest "carries warning signs of a civil war with unpredictable consequences for the region," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at the opening of an Islamic bloc meeting in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Saud renewed Saudi accusations that "sectarian policies of exclusion" of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority implemented by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government were responsible for the violence.
Kabul (Afghanistan) (AFP) - Afghan presidential election candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday demanded a halt to vote-counting over fraud allegations, taking the country to the brink of a political crisis during its first democratic transition of power. Abdullah ramped up his complaints over alleged fraud in Saturday's run-off election by accusing his opponent Ashraf Ghani, outgoing President Hamid Karzai and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of all being involved. A smooth election was seen as a key test of the 13-year international military and aid effort to develop Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
The release of Sudan's former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi is not enough for resumption of a national dialogue aimed at resolving the country's multiple crises, a leading opposition figure said Wednesday. Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, who founded the Reform Now opposition party in December, told AFP that his and other parties which had joined the dialogue met Tuesday "demanding the government to reverse all its latest actions against opposition". They also want authorities to free Sudanese Congress Party leader Ibrahim al-Sheikh and other activists, and called for the Al-Saiha newspaper to be able to resume publishing. State security agents ordered Al-Saiha to halt its presses after it published allegations of official corruption.
European stock markets climbed Wednesday as investors awaited the outcome of the US Federal Reserve's latest monetary policy meeting, and tracked fighting in Iraq. In late morning trading, London's FTSE 100 index of top companies rose 0.39 percent to 6,793.09 points. The Fed will wrap up a two-day policy meeting later in the day. While policymakers are widely expected to continue winding down their stimulus, investors will be watching to see if Fed chief Janet Yellen gives any hints about future policy.
A bill in California that would require soft drinks to have health warning labels failed to clear a key committee on Tuesday. Under the measure, sugary drinks sold in the most populous US state would have to carry a label with a warning that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. But on Tuesday it failed to win enough votes in the health commission of the California State Assembly, the Los Angeles Times reported. "We're in the midst of a diabetes and obesity epidemic that is wreaking havoc on the public's health and driving up healthcare costs," said Senator Bill Monning, the bill's author, in remarks before the Assembly Health committee, according to the newspaper.
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Hamas slammed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's support for security coordination with Israel on Wednesday, as the Jewish state pursued a manhunt for three teens believed kidnapped by the Islamist movement. "President Abbas's statements on security coordination with Israel are unjustified, harmful to Palestinian reconciliation... and a psychological blow to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners suffering a slow death in the occupation's jails," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Kirkuk (Iraq) (AFP) - The rapid shift to Kurdish control in Iraq's ethnically mixed oil city of Kirkuk is a step toward a long-held dream for Kurds but has sparked fears among other groups. Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk and other disputed territory as Sunni Arab militants pressed an offensive that has seen them seize a large chunk of Iraq and sweep federal security forces aside. The Kurds' internal security service, the asayesh, have deployed alongside police in Kirkuk itself. Holding Kirkuk is a major step on that road but, for Arabs and Turkmen, the city changing hands is a cause for concern, not celebration.