Moscow, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — The leaders of Russia and Turkey agreed Monday to establish a demilitarized zone in Syria's Idlib region, the last major stronghold of anti-government rebels where fears had been running high of a devastating offensive by government forces.
The zone will be established by Oct. 15 and be 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) deep, with troops from Russia and NATO-member Turkey conducting coordinated patrols, President Vladimir Putin said at the end of a more than three-hour meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi.
The deal marked a significant agreement between the two leaders and effectively delays an offensive by Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies, one that Turkey fears would create a humanitarian crisis near its border.
Putin said "radical militants" would have to withdraw from the zone. Among them would be those from the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee. The group denies it is linked to al-Qaida.
It was not immediately clear exactly how the deal would be implemented in the province, which is home to more than 3 million Syrians and an estimated 60,000 rebel fighters from various groups.
"I believe that with this agreement we prevented a great humanitarian crisis in Idlib," Erdogan said at a joint briefing with Putin.
Turkey has been eager to prevent an assault by Syrian government troops in the province.
Putin said he believed the agreement on Idlib could hasten final resolution of Syria's long and devastating civil war.
"We agreed that practical implementation of the steps we plan will give a fresh impetus to the process of political settlement of the Syrian conflict and will make it possible to invigorate efforts in the Geneva format and will help restore peace in Syria," he said.
Asked whether Syrian President Bashar Assad's government agreed with the Putin-Erdogan plan, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters in Sochi that "in the coming hours, we will agree with them on all the positions put forth in this document."
Ahmed Ramadan, a spokesman for the Syrian political opposition in exile, said the agreement offered Russia a chance to walk back its threat against Idlib and represented a success for diplomatic pressure from Turkey and the United States, which was also against an offensive.
Ramadan also said the deal offers the Syrian government and Russia one of their main demands, which is securing the highway that passes through Idlib and links northern Syria with other cities. That was one of the government's strategic aims in an offensive in Idlib.
"Turkey offered Putin a ladder with which to climb down from the tree, threatening a military offensive in Idlib that had little chance for success," Ramadan said in a series of text messages with The Associated Press. "The Turkish and U.S. serious pressures were the reason behind Russia abstaining from the offensive and offering an air cover which means Iran alone won't be able to carry out the offensive with the overstretched forces of the Assad regime."
He said Russia has also refrained from its accusations that the rebels are all terrorists. "Russia swallowed all its accusations," he said. "Turkey is in a strong position."
He said the zone would be enforced by Turkish patrols on the opposition side and Russian patrols on the government side.
Ramadan added that the opposition was now stronger than when it was after losses in Daraa and Ghouta.
He said the Russians reached the agreement without negotiating it first with the Syrian government, pointing to Shoigu's comments that Moscow will discuss the deal with the Syrian government later.
Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed rebel group Faylaq al-Sham, thanked Erdogan for preventing an offensive and giving the rebels time to defend their rebellion and people. Millions "of civilians in Idlib are in peace," he tweeted.
He said he was confident that the deal "would not have been possible without the steadfastness of our people and fighters. Thank you, Erdogan."
Capt. Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed umbrella group of opposition fighters known as the National Front for Liberation, said diplomatic efforts have prevented a wide-offensive on Idlib but that his group still needs to learn the details of the deal.
He said the nature of the demilitarized zone and how it would be implemented are not yet clear.
"We need details," he said, adding that the Assad government has broken many agreements before, including the Russian-Turkey negotiated de-escalation zones.
"We will remain ready for fighting," he said.
Russia has called Idlib a hotbed of terrorism and had said the Syrian government has the right to retake control of it. In recent weeks, Russian officials repeatedly claimed rebels in Idlib were preparing a chemical weapons attack that could be blamed on the Syrian government and prompt a retaliatory strike by the West.
Turkey had appealed to Russia and Iran, its uneasy negotiating partners, for a diplomatic resolution. At the same time, it has sent reinforcements to its troops ringing Idlib, a move designed to ward off a ground assault, at least for now.
The International Rescue Committee, a New-York based humanitarian group, said the people of Idlib "will rest easier tonight knowing that they are less likely to face an impending assault."
However, Lorraine Bramwell, the group's Syria country director, cautioned that previous de-escalation deals didn't last long.
"In order to give people in Idlib peace of mind then, this agreement needs to be built upon by the global powers working together to find a lasting political solution that protects civilians," Bramwell said. "It is also essential that humanitarian organizations are allowed to reach those who will remain in need throughout Idlib, including in any 'demilitarized zone.'"
Idlib and surrounding areas were quiet Monday, a continuation of the calm that started less than a week ago amid Russia-Turkey talks.
Dhaka, Sept 17 (UNB) – BNP senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi on Monday alleged that the medical board’s report on its Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s health is ‘manufactured’ by the government.
“The statement of the medical board about our leader’s (Khaleda’s) illness is self-contradictory which reflected the government’s thoughts. The medical board gave a manufactured report as per the desire of the government to push Khaleda towards a serious health risk,” he said.
Speaking at press conference at the party’s Nayapaltan central office, the BNP leader further said, “We strongly condemn and protest the government’s such vindictive attitude.”
Earlier on Sunday, the five-member medical board, formed by the government for jailed BNP chief Khaleda, submitted its report suggesting admitting her to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), though they have found ‘no symptom of any serious disease’ in her.
The government on Thursday formed the medical board comprising five BSMMU expert physicians who examined Khaleda’s physical condition inside Old Dhaka Central Jail on Saturday afternoon.
Rizvi alleged that the medical team, which was formed with doctors loyal to the government, conducted a ‘so-called 20-minute health examination of the BNP chief, and recommended admitting her to the BSMMU.
He alleged that Khaleda Zia’s personal physicians were not kept in the medical board only to make such a recommendation.
Opposing the BNP chief’s treatment at the BSMMU, Rizvi said the hospital lacks modern and sophisticated equipment for conducting tests like MRI and CT Scans. “These machines are available in the specialised hospitals.”
He criticised the government for not paying heed to their party’s repeated demand for ensuring Khaleda’s treatment in a specialised hospital.
Rizvi urged the government to include their chairperson’s personal physicians in the medical board and take immediate steps for ensuring her proper treatment in United Hospital or any other specialised hospital.
Khaleda Zia has been in the erstwhile Dhaka Central Jail at Nazimuddin Road since she was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case on February 8.
On April 7 last, Khaleda Zia underwent some medical tests at the BSMMU for her illness.
Dhaka, Sept 17 (UNB) - BNP senior leader Moudud Ahmed on Monday said an election-time government like that of 1991 can be formed without amending the Constitution to hold the next general election in a credible and acceptable manner.
“Constitution can’t be a barrier to people’s welfare as the charter is meant for people, but people are not meant for it. Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, then the sitting Chief Justice, became the head of the interim government in 1991 going beyond the Constitution. It was later rectified through the 11th amendment. We can also follow it now,” he said.
Speaking at a discussion, the BNP leader also said the government is now trying to form an election-time cabinet going beyond the Constitution as there’s no such provision in the current charter. “This means a non-party neutral government also can be formed as per our demand going beyond the Constitution.”
Moudud, a BNP standing committee member, urged the government to come forward to install an out-of-constitution polls-time neutral government like that of Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed-led to ‘restore’ democracy, and establish a true representative government through a credible election.
Nasir Uddin Ahmed Pintu Smrity Sangsad arranged the programme at the Jatiya Press Club demanding the release of BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia and all other political prisoners.
Moudud said the next election will not be fair if it is overseen by an election-time cabinet of the current government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The BNP leader also said though the ruling party is now calling the non-party neutral-government system is unconstitutional, the same party claimed it was their brainchild, and enforced hartals for 173 days in 1995-96 for including it in the charter.
About their party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir’s US tour, he said it seems the Prime Minister and ruling party senior leaders are making ‘unguarded’ remarks on his visit out of their worry and nervousness.
Moudud said Fakhrul never told anyone he was going to meet the United Nations Secretary General. “But they (govt) are making negative and false remarks on it.”
Referring to the BNP secretary general’s meeting with UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča at the UN headquarters, he said Fakhrul only depicted the country’s present scenario at the meeting, not lodged any complaint.
“It was our secretary general’s responsibility to present the real condition of the country, the rule of law, judiciary and the basic rights. He also presented the statics on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances which made the government nervous,” Moudud observed.
Dhaka, Sept 16 (UNB) – BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir returned home from the United States via London on Sunday.
The BNP leader landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport by a flight of Emirates Airlines around 5:30pm, said BNP chairperson’s media wing member Sayrul Kabir Khan.
Fakhrul along with party executive committee member Tabith Awal left here for New York, USA early Wednesday.
During his stay in the USA, the BNP leader had a meeting with UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča at the UN Headquarters on Thursday.
He had also a meeting with a US State Department official in Washington on Friday.
From Washington, Fakhrul went to London on Saturday and met party acting vice-chairman Tarique Rahman before flying for home.
BNP senior leader Moudud Ahmed at a programme on Friday claimed that their party secretary general went to the UN Headquarters at the invitation of its Secretary General António Guterres.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a programme accused BNP of resorting to falsehood over Fakhrul’s visit to the US as it claimed the UN secretary general invited him.
She also said an assistant secretary general of the UN confirmed that the UN chief did not invite Fakhrul. “Rather, the BNP leaders sought his appointment.”
Dhaka, Sept 16 (UNB) – Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on Sunday said all the registered political parties will get permission for holding their programmes at Suhrawardy Udyan in the city following the Prime Minister’s directive.
“Our national election steering committee’s first meeting was held at Ganobhaban yesterday (Saturday). At one stage of the meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked me to inform the Police Commissioner to keep Suhrawardy Udyan open to all parties for their meetings and rallies,” he said.
Quader further said, “I’ve given the police commissioner a directive today (Sunday) in this regard. There’s no necessity to hold rallies blocking roads at Paltan or in front of the Jatiya Press Club. Suhrawardy Udyan will remain open, and police will permit those who will seek permission.”
He came up with the remarks while speaking at the 22nd National Council of the Institution of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh (IDEB).
Quader, also the Road Transport and Bridges Minister, said though the government had no objection, police denied permission to some political parties to hold their programmes on various occasions on security concerns.
“The Prime Minister has clearly instructed the police to permit the registered political parties to hold their programmes at Suhrawardy Udyan,” he added.