Baghdad, Sep 03 (AP/UNB) — Iraq's newly-elected parliament held its first session on Monday as two blocs, both claiming to hold the most seats, vied for the right to form a new government.
The session opened with a prayer and an orchestral performance of the national anthem, as lawmakers convened for the first time since national elections were held in May.
The new parliament faces the twin tasks of rebuilding the north of the country following the war against the Islamic State group and rehabilitating services in the south, where severe water and electricity shortages have fueled protests.
"We must focus in the next stage on reconstruction, services, and providing jobs. It is the time for economic reforms and expanding our security achievements," said caretaker Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in an address to parliament.
Al-Abadi, who came to power in 2014, oversaw the war on IS after the extremists seized Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and close to one-third of Iraqi territory.
Al-Abadi declared victory last year, but the militants continue to raid, kidnap, and murder Iraqis in lawless and underserved regions in the west and center of the country.
Lawmakers must now select a parliament speaker before electing a president, a largely ceremonial post. The president then appoints a prime minister, nominated by the largest bloc in parliament, to form a government.
Two blocs are claiming the right to name the prime minister.
A coalition led by al-Abadi and populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has the support of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, while an alliance between former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and militia leader Hadi al-Amiri has the backing of Iran.
Both alliances are dominated by Shiites, who have held the preponderance of power in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. But the largest Sunni blocs are aligned with al-Abadi and al-Sadr. Iraq's two main Kurdish parties have not taken a side.
By custom, the prime minister's post is reserved for Shiites, the speaker's post for Sunnis, and the presidency for Kurds.
On Monday, the al-Maliki bloc presented a statement with 150 signatories from the 329-member Parliament saying they had formed the largest grouping in the legislative body.
The al-Abadi bloc attested in a document to the legislative body that it had more than 160 members in its caucus, though their statement contained only a handful of signatories.
Lawmaker Qateh al-Rukabi said the matter would likely be taken to Iraq's highest court for a ruling.
Al-Maliki is said to be trying to woo lawmakers from al-Abadi's bloc. Al-Maliki and al-Abadi are both leading members of the Islamic Dawa party, which remains divided over the longstanding rivalry between the two men.
Mohamad Ali Zeini, parliament's oldest lawmaker and its caretaker speaker, adjourned the session until Tuesday to allow members time to choose a speaker.
He told The Associated Press he was doubtful a quorum would be achieved Tuesday as Sunni lawmakers were divided between 6 nominees.
Jerusalem, Sep 3 (AP/UNB) — The first-ever visit of a leader of the Philippines is sure to be touted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as another success in his campaign to enhance Israel's relations across the globe. But critics say this outreach has come at a cost, with Netanyahu cozying up to authoritarian leaders, some of whom are guilty of human rights abuses.
Netanyahu takes great pride that under his leadership Israel has found new friends in Europe, as well as in far-flung countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that long sided with the Palestinians at the United Nations and other global bodies.
But while many of Netanyahu's new allies have offered blanket support for Israel, or at least indifference to its conflict with the Palestinians, some have also voiced borderline anti-Semitic sentiments and adopted a revisionist approach to the most painful chapters of Jewish history.
The Philippines' foul-mouthed president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has cursed out everyone from former U.S. President Barack Obama to God, arrived in Israel on Sunday for a four-day visit. It's the first Philippine presidential visit since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1957. He is expected to lunch with Netanyahu, meet other top officials and visit the country's Holocaust memorial. He is also expected to sign a major oil deal and view an arms display.
His forces are accused of killing thousands in anti-drug raids since he took office in 2016. Duterte drew outrage that year when he compared his anti-drug campaign to the Holocaust, and himself to Hitler, saying he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts. He later apologized. More recently, he forcibly kissed a woman on stage and said there would be many rape cases in a Philippine city "if there were many beautiful women."
Israeli human rights activists plan to protest the visit and have encouraged President Reuven Rivlin not to meet Duterte. "Certainly there is no place for a mass murderer and a person who supports rape, shooting women in their sexual organs and bombing schools to meet with Israel's president," wrote the group, headed by human rights attorney Eitay Mack.
Netanyahu's critics accuse him of giving a pass to authoritarian leaders out of political considerations. Here's a look at some of Netanyahu's other friends on the world stage:
Netanyahu welcomed the four-time Hungarian prime minister for a visit in July as a "true friend of Israel."
Orban drew criticism last year for praising Miklos Horthy, Hungary's World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis.
Critics have also accused Orban of employing anti-Semitic tropes against the Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros during his re-election campaign. In denouncing Soros, Orban said Hungary's enemies "do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs."
Despite global Jewish condemnation of those remarks, Netanyahu praised Orban for combatting anti-Semitism and thanked him for Hungary's pro-Israel stance.
Orban, who has exhibited increasing authoritarianism at home, has cast himself as the champion of a Christian Europe and adopted an aggressive stance to halt the flow of African and Muslim migrants through Hungary.
Netanyahu took a lot of heat for striking a deal with the Polish president over his country's controversial Holocaust speech law, which would have criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.
Critics said Netanyahu appeared to capitulate to the claim that Poles were only victims of the Nazis, while historians say anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in pre-war Poland and many Poles collaborated in the genocide.
Poland and Hungary have increasingly sided with Israel in the Mideast conflict, in contrast to Western European powers, which have sympathized with the Palestinians and pressed for renewed peace talks.
Duda's Law and Justice party, meanwhile, has steadily chipped away at Polish democratic institutions while aggressively trying to minimize its citizens' role in killing Jews during and after the Second World War.
Netanyahu is one of the few world leaders to enjoy warm ties with both the Russian and American presidents. Netanyahu has made frequent visits to Moscow in recent years to meet with Putin and coordinate Israeli operations in neighboring Syria with those of Russian forces.
Though Russia has traditionally backed Israel's Arab neighbors, Netanyahu has indicated the Putin backchannel has helped keep Israel out of trouble in Syria's civil war and would be beneficial in getting arch-enemy Iran's forces out of there as well. He has been wary of ever criticizing Putin, who has been accused by the West of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, poisoning former spies and cracking down on dissidents.
After a rocky eight-year relationship with Barack Obama, Netanyahu has relished Donald Trump's warm embrace. In a break from his predecessors, Trump has refrained from criticizing Israeli settlement activity and delivered Netanyahu two major international gifts — recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has also won Israeli praise for drastically cutting funding for aid to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has vouched for Trump when the president's critics have accused him of failing to counter the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some of his supporters and of downplaying the rise of white nationalists, including those who marched in Charlottesville last year under the slogan "Jews will not replace us."
At times, Netanyahu also has seemed to follow Trump's lead. The Israeli leader has denounced the media, the legal system and other perceived opponents in the face of growing legal problems — often using social media platforms to unleash his attacks.
Jerusalem, Sep 3 (AP/UNB) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of condoning human rights abuses in his deadly drug crackdown and who has made controversial comments about the Holocaust, received a warm welcome in Israel when he arrived Sunday for an official visit.
Before his departure from Manila, Duerte said he "looks forward to broader cooperation on a broad range of mutually important areas — defense and security, law enforcement, economic development, trade (and) investments and labor."
Sales of Israeli weapons to his government are high on the agenda, according to Israeli media. Filipino officials have said the Philippines has recently acquired Israeli-made arms such as Galil assault rifles and pistols for its 120,000-strong police force, which is on the front line of Duterte's battle against illegal drugs and other crimes.
His four-day visit begins with a Filipino community event Sunday evening. An estimated 28,000 Filipinos live in Israel, mostly as health aides.
A Filipino living in Israel, Lisa Levi, told Channel 10 TV that she is "excited" and "proud" he is visiting.
Speaking in Hebrew, she said "I wish I could hug him and thank him for everything he does."
She said her home country is safer now and that accusations of rights abuses are "untrue."
Duterte, who has made foul-mouthed attacks against former U.S. President Barack Obama and even God, will receive a warm welcome in the Holy Land meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials.
Duterte drew outrage in 2016 when he compared his anti-drug campaign to the Nazi genocide of Jews in World War II and said he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts. He later apologized.
He is scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Monday and later a monument commemorating the Philippines' rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.
In contrast to the warm official welcome, Israeli human rights activists plan to protest the visit and have encouraged President Reuven Rivlin not to meet him over accusations of rights abuses at home.
Official Philippine police tallies place the number of suspects killed in police-led anti-drug raids at more than 4,500 since Duterte took office in June 2016.
International human rights watchdogs have cited far higher death tolls.
Duterte, a 73-year-old former government prosecutor, denies condoning extrajudicial killings but has openly and repeatedly threatened drug dealers with death.
Relatives of several people slain in the president's anti-drug campaign last week asked the International Criminal Court to prosecute him for alleged crimes against humanity, in the second such request for a ruling on thedeaths that have occurred during the crackdown.
Duterte's visit is the first by a Philippine president to Israel since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1957.
Yangon, Sep 3 (AP/UNB) — A Myanmar court sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison Monday for illegal possession of official documents, a ruling met with international outrage that will add to condemnation over the military's alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been reporting on the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya when they were arrested and charged with to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They had pleaded not guilty, contending that they were framed by police.
"Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere," Stephen J. Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, said in a statement. These two admirable reporters have already spent nearly nine months in prison on false charges designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press. Without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police setup, today's ruling condemns them to the continued loss of their freedom."
The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how democratic reforms in long-isolated Myanmar have stalled under the civilian government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which took power in 2016. Though the military, which ruled the country for a half-century, maintains control of several key ministries, Suu Kyi's rise to government had raised hopes for an accelerated transition to full democracy and her stance on the Rohingya crisis has disappointed many former admirers.
As the verdict was announced in the hot Yangon courtroom, Kyaw Soe Oo's wife started crying, leaning into the lap of the person next to her. Outside the court, police and journalists shouted as the two Reuters reporters were led to a truck to be taken away.
"It's heartbreaking for friends and colleagues and family of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who in addition to the outrage many will feel, are deprived of their friends and colleagues, husband and father," Kevin Krolicki, Reuters regional editor for Asia, said outside the court.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, both testified they suffered from harsh treatment during their initial interrogations. Their several appeals for release on bail were rejected. Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to the couple's first child in Yangon on Aug. 10, but Wa Lone has not yet seen his daughter.
The two journalists had been reporting last year on the brutal crackdown by security forces on the Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence targeting them after attacks by Rohingya militants killed a dozen members of the security forces.
Investigators working for the U.N.'s top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Myanmar military officers over the crackdown.
The accusation of genocide was rejected by Myanmar's government, but is the most serious official recommendation for prosecution so far. Also last week, Facebook banned Myanmar's powerful military chief and 19 other individuals and organizations from its site to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation in connection with the Rohingya crisis.
Dozens of journalists and pro-democracy activists marched Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, in support of the reporters. But in the country at large, with an overwhelming Buddhist majority, there is widespread prejudice against the Rohingya, and in the government and military, there is near-xenophobic sensitivity to foreign criticism.
Myanmar's courts are one of the country's most conservative and nationalistic institutions, and the darkened political atmosphere had seemed unlikely to help the reporters' cause.
The court earlier this year declined to stop the trial after an initial phase of presentation of evidence, even though a policeman called as a prosecution witness testified that his commander had ordered that documents be planted on the journalists. After his testimony, the officer was jailed for a year for violating police regulations and his family was kicked out of police housing.
Other testimony by prosecution witnesses was contradictory, and the documents presented as evidence against the reporters appeared to be neither secret nor sensitive. The journalists testified they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby said the UN was "disappointed by today's court decision."
"The United Nations has consistently called for the release of the Reuters journalists and urged the authorities to respect their right to pursue freedom of expression and information," he said. "Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be allowed to return to their families and continue their work as journalists."
In the latest U.S. expression of concern, Washington's envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the Trump administration expected to see the two journalists acquitted of all charges.
Haley told the Security Council during a discussion of the Rohingya crisis last week that "a free and responsible press is critical for any democracy."
Yangon, Sep 3 (AP/UNB)— The U.S. says the conviction of two Reuters reporters in Myanmar is "deeply troubling for all who support press freedom and the transition toward democracy."
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty Monday of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act while reporting on government abuses against the country's Rohingya Muslims.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Yangon said "the clear flaws in this case raise serious concerns about rule of law and judicial independence in Myanmar, and the reporters' conviction is a major setback to the Government of Myanmar's stated goal of expanding democratic freedoms."
It called for their immediate release.
A court in Myanmar has sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for illegal possession of official documents, a ruling that comes as international criticism mounts over the military's alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They contended they were framed by police.
Monday's verdict was postponed from a week ago.
The two journalists had been reporting last year on Myanmar's brutal crackdown against the Rohingya in the country's western state of Rakhine.
Investigators working for the U.N.'s top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Myanmar military officers over the crackdown.