In Other News

Bill Weinberg to speak at Left Forum

CounterVortex editor and chief blogger Bill Weinberg will speak at the Left Forum in New York City on June 4, at a panel on "Confronting 'Anti-Neoliberal Left' Collaboration with Trumpism and the Far Right." In spite of Trump making good on as many of his racist, sexist, nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-worker plans for the US as he can, a portion of the left continues to insist that the rise of Trumpism is preferable to or no worse than the "neoliberal" status quo. We see the same tendency now in part of the French and international left regarding Le Pen. Is this phenomenon due to ignorance of the dangers of white-nationalist authoritarianism, or because a portion of the left actually favors it over "neoliberalism"? This panel will offer diverse views on the causes and consequences of collaboration with Trumpism and the far right and will suggest diverse ways to try to keep it from stifling the real left—the growing Resistance in the streets.

Egypt bombs Libya after new attack on Copts

Egyptian warplanes on May 26 carried out air-strikes on what President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called six "terrorist training camps" in Libya after a new massacre of Coptic Christians earlier in the day. The latest of a series of bloody attacks on Copts in Egypt came as Christians were headed to the Saint Samuel Monastery, near the city of Minya, some 220 kilometers south of Cairo. Masked gunmen cut off the bus in three pick-up trucks, and opened fire before fleeing the scene. At least 28 people were killed, many of them children. The retaliatory air-strikes apparently struck locations of the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (Al Arabiya, BBC News, France24, Egyptian Streets, Al Jazeera)

Iraq to investigate Mosul atrocity reports

Iraq's Interior Ministry has launched an investigation into human rights violations carried out against civilians by its special forces while fighting the Islamic State in Mosul. The allegations were initially reported by Ali Arkady, an Iraqi photographer with Der Spiegel who accompanied the Interior Ministry's Emergency Response Division (ERD), a unit closely backed by the US-led coalition. During operations against IS, Arkady said he witnessed the killing, torture and rape of suspects. Arkady's piece featured photos of torture scenes that included people hanging from ceilings with their arms tied behind their backs. After days of such abuse, ERD commanders would execute the detainees with a technique Arkady says the unit's personnel learned from US instructors during military training. Brig. Gen Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry's spokesman, said "legal measures will be applied...against wrongdoers."

Manchester, xenophobia and the left's complicity

The horrific Manchester suicide bombing of May 22 is said to have been carried out by a son of Libyan refugees, and speculation is rife that he was linked to militant networks rather than being a lone wolf. The UK's right-wing tabs are responding predictably. The Daily Star screams that Libya has become an "ISIS breeding ground where THOUSANDS of terrorists are created." We are told that the attacker's older brother "was recently arrested in the Middle Eastern country after intelligence suggested he was about to commit an attack there." After thusly revealing that they don't know where Libya is (it's in North Africa, not the Middle East), the Star goes on to sensationalize about the jihadist threat there. Embarrassingly, it cites a UN report from November 2015 (yes, more than a year and a half ago) that warned, "ISIS has clearly demonstrated its intention to control additional territory in Libya."

Palestinians burn effigies of Trump in Gaza

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continued to express outrage over US President Donald Trump naming the Hamas movement—Gaza's de facto ruling party—in a list of terrorist organizations during a speech in Riyadh before 50 leaders of Arab and Muslim-majority countries on May 20. Palestinians in Gaza from across the political spectrum united in denouncing the remarks, which have been interpreted as a blanket condemnation of all forms of Palestinian resistance. "No description of the suffering and depravity can begin to capture its full measure. The true toll of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams," Trump said, in his first speech delivered abroad since taking office.

Syria: mounting civilian toll of US air-strikes

Over the past month, air-strikes carried out by the US and its coalition partners in Syria have killed the highest number of civilians on record since the bombing campaign began in September 2014, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A total of 225 civilians, including 36 women and 44 children, were killed in the period between April 23 to May 23 by the Observatory's count. At least 122 ISIS fighters and eight members of militias loyal to the Syrian regime were also killed in US-led strikes over the same period.

Rights situation in Belarus deteriorating —again

The human rights situation in Belarus has seen a dramatic deterioration, according to a report published May 22 from Miklos Haraszti, the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. The report notes numerous instances of rights abuses, beginning with the suppression of peaceful protests in March over a law (PDF) imposing a tax on people who are not employed full-time, in which more than 900 people were detained. Among those detained in the March protests were political opponents, civil activists, human rights defenders, journalists and foreign observers. This wave of mass arrests was the most severe repression of human rights since the contested election of 2010. Before the new crackdown, there were reports of political opponents, social activists, and human rights defenders being harassed.

Turkey: 200 on trial over coup attempt

A trial over the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey began at a prison courtroom in Sincan on May 22. Two hundred of the 221 defendants in the case were marched into the courtroom before a group of pro-government protesters, some of whom threw nooses and demanded the death penalty. Many of the protesters had lost relatives during the coup, which resulted in 240 deaths, primarily civilians. Most of the defendants are former military personnel, with ranks ranging from captains to generals. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the defendants, who they are accused of "commandeer[ing] tanks, warplanes and helicopters, bombing the parliament and attempting to overthrow the government." US-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, named as the number one defendant in the case and accused of orchestrating the coup, will be tried in absentia.

Yemen: protest persecution of Baha'i community

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion Ahmed Shaheed stated May 22 that Houthi de facto authorities in Yemen must end the campaign of harassment against the Bahá'í community in Sana'a. Shaheed's statement was prompted by reports of increased arbitrary arrests and detentions against the Bahá'í community. In addition to demanding Bahá'í community members be released, he also said that authorities must open an inquiry into the disappearance of Bahá'í who were arrested by Houthi-controlled political police in April and whose whereabouts are unknown. Shaheed said "the new wave of court summons and arrest orders appears to be an act of intimidation pressuring the Yemeni Bahá'ís to recant their faith." Such discrimination and harassment against the religious minority threatens the Republic of Yemen's independence and is a violation of Yemeni individuals' rights.

Colombia: protests rock Pacific coast

Following days of protests and strikes, Colombia's largest port city of Buenaventura exploded into violence May 19 as police opened fire on demonstrators, leaving one dead and many wounded. Marches have since continued in the city in defiance of a curfew, and scores have been detained. The protests are part of a regional campaign over harsh conditions on Colombia's Pacific coast. Buenaventura is one of South America's most important ports, yet half the city's 400,000 residents have no access to potable water. The protests began in Chocó department, up the coast from Buenaventura, under the slogan "Down with Colombia's corrupt oligarchy!" Strike leaders charge that millions of dollars in infrastructure investment for the region have disappeared. (Colombia Reports, May 21; Colombia Reports, RCN Noticias, May 20; El Espectador, El Tiempo, May 10)

Colombia: high court deals blow to peace process

The FARC rebels are on "high alert" following a May 17 ruling by Colombia's Constitutional Court, striking down congressional "fast track" authority for legislation related to the country's peace process. Under "fast track" rules, Colombia's Congress could only vote to approve or deny reforms related to implementing the peace process, rather than debating and voting on each point individually. The ruling comes two weeks before after "D+180," the date marking 180 days from the start of the FARC demobilization process, by which time it was slated to be complete. (InSight Crime, May 19; TeleSur, May 18, Semana, May 17)

Reynosa shoot-outs: death throes of Gulf Cartel?

Mexico's northeastern border state of Tamaulipas—just across from Texas' Gulf Coast—has for years been engulfed in an under-reported war, as the Gulf Cartel and its rogue offspring the Zetas battle for dominance over the narco-trafficking "plaza" (zone of control). The current flare-up in the border town of Reynosa may signal a turning point. Street gun-battles have become so common in the town that authorities have instituted a color-coded alert system to warn citizens. The town has been on "red alert" repeatedly over the past days, and there are signs that the long struggle is entering an endgame.

Trump-Duterte 'bromance' bodes ill for freedom

The Philippines' inimitable President Rodrigo Duterte is being his usual charming self. The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, arrived in the country on May 5 to attend a conference on drug policy and human rights at the University of the Philippines. Callamard is of course a harsh critic of Duterte's campaign of police and paramilitary terror against low-level drug dealers and users. Duterte wasted not a moment in voicing defiance, warning drug users: "And here's the shocker: I will kill you. I will really kill you. And that's why the rapporteur of the UN is here, investigating extrajudicial killing."

Abused women forcibly deported to Saudi Arabia

Turkish police on May 16 arrested two sisters and deported them to Saudi Arabia after receiving a formal complaint from their family living in the kingdom. The complaint was lodged by their father in March, claiming they are ISIS loyalists. Areej and Ashwaq al-Harby pleaded for help in a video that went viral on social media as they were being taken to a Turkish police station by immigration officers. In the video, they said their abusive family has been spreading lies to get them deported. The sisters, who fled Saudi Arabia in February, were seeking for asylum in Turkey, fearing they will be criminally charged and face execution if returned to their home country. (India Today, May 17)

Right-wing populist slammed in Iran

As the votes came in on Iran's May 19 elections, populist hardliner Ebrahim Raeesi reluctantly accepted incumbent president Hassan Rouhani's 57% victory, after a bitter campaign. The rhetoric was so heated that a week before the poll, Rouhani even challenged Raeesi, a sitting judge, to issue an arrest warrant for him. Media organizations affiliated with Iran's hardliners, like Tasnim and Fars, went to bat for Raeesi, publishing rumors about the death of Rouhani's son 20 years ago, alleging the apparent suicide was carried out with the father's personal firearm and calling for a new investigation. Meanwhile, Basiji pro-regime militia forces (which played a critical role in violence following the disputed 2009 elections) attacked a number of Rouhani campaign offices in Tehran, Mashhad, Qazvin, Babolsar and Isfahan.