Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Businessman jailed after helping expose Chinese judges’ illicit activities

July 19, 2018

Campaigner convicted of violating the judges’ privacy even though he argued he was answering President Xi Jinping’s call to expose corrupt officials

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 2:58pm

A businessman from central China has reportedly been sentenced to four years in prison for violating the privacy of judges after he hired detectives to photograph them indulging in activities like gambling and extramarital affairs.

Wu Zhengge, a property developer from Yiyang city in Hunan province, hired private detectives to follow and take undercover photos of several judges from January 2015 to May 2016, whom he then reported to the police for breaking the law.

The case, which ignited local debate, highlights the difficulties faced by so-called citizen journalists seeking to expose corruption by local officials in the spirit of the nationwide anti-corruption drive spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Wu was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 30,000 yuan (US$4,465) by the People’s Court of Anxiang County for “illegally obtaining a citizen’s personal information”, including travel and accommodation details, China Youth Daily reported on Tuesday. The private investigator he hired, Zhang Lili, was also fined 30,000 yuan and sentenced to three years in prison.

An additional detective, Zhou Liang, was given “lighter treatment” by the law since the court ruled that he served as an accomplice, according to the report.

The detectives used undercover cameras and GPS trackers to follow the movements of a number of Yiyang and Heshan District Court judges.

Wu paid each investigator more than 10,000 yuan for their services. His exact motives for hiring the investigators were not known but his trial subsequently heard that in 2014 he had sent allegations of corruption at the Yiyang court to the local authorities.

His lawyer told court that these complaints had either been dismissed or passed to lower-level departments and Wu had decided to investigate further after being told to provide more detail about the claims, reported.

As a result of his investigation, Wang Maohua, deputy judge of the People’s Court of Heshan District, was photographed holidaying in Guangzhou and Hainan Island with an unidentified woman, presumed to be his mistress.

The leak of the photographs online prompted a public outcry, according to China Youth Daily, and the local district’s disciplinary commission began an investigation.

Soon afterwards, online rumours flew about Xie Deqing and Xia Xiaoying, judges from Heshan District and Yiyang City municipal courts, gambling in a clubhouse, as well as another Heshan District judge, Cao Deqin, sharing a hotel room with a married woman.

These reports were picked up by local media, igniting further public outrage over the state of the local judiciary system and sparking intense speculation over the real identity of the source, “Wu Zheng”.

Wang Maohua and Cao Deqin were both suspended as the result of a joint investigation by Yiyang city disciplinary committee and Yiyang City Intermediate People’s Court.

Xia Xiaoying has also been placed under investigation but further details of the case are not known.

In July 2016, Xie Deqing and Wang Maohua were officially charged with judicial corruption as part of the same investigation.

Earlier this year People’s Daily reported that the pair had been convicted of helping to falsify evidence in a bribery case involving a corrupt party boss, with Xie being jailed for two years and Wang for 18 months.

Despite this, Wu was arrested by local police in June 2016 on suspicion of being the whistle-blower quoted in local media reports. He was charged with illegally obtaining the personal information of individuals and loan fraud.

His defence lawyer, Wu Danhong from the China University of Political Science and Law, argued that the men had not used the information they obtained for criminal purposes and legally reported the judges’ activities.

However, the court held that since Wu and his co-defendants obtained the information illegally, that already constituted a crime.

Wu Danhong told China Youth Daily that Wu Zhengge had travelled long distances to report corruption in public or semi-public spaces, and immediately provided the incriminating material to the local disciplinary commission and the media, resulting in the prosecution and suspension of the judges involved.

He further argued that Wu was heeding the state’s call for citizens to report corruption as part of President Xi’s widespread anti-corruption drive.

Wu Danhong added that there was no clear legal distinctions on the means of obtaining conclusive evidence of corruption.

The newspaper likened the case to a 2013 case involving five Shanghai judges who were suspended by the party disciplinary committee after being caught on camera visiting prostitutes and having extramarital affairs at a high-end hotel. The citizen who secretly filmed the judges participating in these activities was not charged with a criminal offence.

Reactions to the whistle-blower’s sentence were mixed on the Chinese internet.

“Public officials should be supervised by the public,” said one commenter on news portal

“Who told him to report people indiscriminately? The judges were not standing on the wrong side. Which public officials should step down should be determined by the authorities, it’s not up to you,” said another user on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.


Amid Iraq Protests, People Ask: “Where is the government?”

July 18, 2018

In the heat of battle against the Islamic State group, Iraqis united against a common enemy.

But just a few months after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the jihadists, social grievances that once simmered on the back burner have boiled over in a series of protests that have spread to several cities.

After erupting in oil-rich Basra province on July 8, unrest has quickly spread, as people have vented their anger over unemployment, high prices, power cuts and a lack of usable water.

© AFP | A demonstrator burns tyres during a protest against unemployment and high prices in the southern Iraqi city of Basra during the night of July 12, 2018

From Basra to the capital Baghdad, the question on people’s lips has been: “Where is the government?”

That query is made all the more pertinent by the failure of May’s elections — thus far — to produce a new administration, as a record abstention rate highlighted Iraqis’ contempt for their political leaders.

Eight people have been killed during the demonstrations so far, multiple sources say, while there has been a brief internet blackout and the authorities claim over 260 security personnel have been wounded.

– ‘Explosion of rage’ –

The protests represent “an explosion of rage at an entire system that has brazenly robbed Iraqis of the chance for a better life,” says Iraq expert Fanar Haddad.

With the jihadists in retreat, “the failings of the Iraqi political classes in all aspects of governance and economic management come into sharper relief,” adds Haddad.

For more than a week protesters have taken to the streets, questioning how a country that is the second largest producer in the OPEC oil cartel can leave its 38 million citizens so bereft of basic services.

In some cases security forces have fired live rounds into the air, including to deter protesters who set fire to public property and political parties’ headquarters.

The authorities say troublemakers have turned peaceful protests violent.

In an effort to restore calm, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew to Basra last week from Brussels, after a NATO meeting where the continued threat of IS was on the agenda.

The premier announced investments of $3 billion (2.6 billion euros) for Basra province and pledged additional spending on housing, schools and services.

And several cabinet minsters summoned powerful tribal chiefs in southern Iraq, urging them to use their clout to restore order in their provinces.

When Abadi was elected in 2014, the prime minister pledged to tackle endemic corruption and vowed to rid Iraq of the jihadists, who at that stage held a third of the country.

He has won plaudits for overseeing the war effort — but the battle against corruption will take time, his supporters say.

Iraq is ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

– ‘Cosmetic concessions’ –

The promises of investment for Basra will fail to satisfy the demonstrators who know Abadi may well not lead the next government, political analyst Hisham al-Hashemi says.

The elections placed the premier’s Victory Alliance third.

And while his bloc tentatively allied itself with nationalist cleric Moqtada Sadr in June, the combined forces would still take only 96 out of 329 parliamentary seats.

But despite the political chaos — two months after the elections, even the fragmented results are subject to a recount in some areas — Hashemi expects the protest movement to fizzle out.

“They don’t have a leadership, a political identity or media support (to further their) legitimate demands,” he says.

And alongside the offer of carrots, sticks are being deployed.

The authorities have ordered the arrest of dozens of activists who encouraged others to take to the streets by posting pictures of the protests online.

On Saturday, the internet was cut across the country, as demonstrations threatened to spread.

Authorities said the shutdown was due to maintenance work and Iraq was largely back online Monday.

But Iraqis were still unable to connect on social networks.

An end to the protests could lie in offering temporary solutions until political and meteorological temperates cool, Haddad says, noting that anger over public services has historically tended to boil over during the summer.

It is “likely that the Iraqi political classes will bunker down and wait for the storm to pass while offering cosmetic concessions and promises of reform,” he says.

But the problems facing the country are long-term ones “that require far more than Iraq’s self-interested political classes are likely to be able to offer”.


New evidence of Qatar’s $1 billion ransom that funds terror

July 18, 2018

Damning new evidence has emerged to suggest that a $1 billion ransom paid by Qatar for the release of 28 Qataris kidnapped in Iraq has been used to fund terror.

Text messages and voicemails obtained by the BBC reveal communications between Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Qatar’s newly appointed foreign minister, and Zayed Al-Khayareen, its ambassador to Iraq, as talks to release the hostages dragged on for 16 months.

In this April 21, 2017 file photo, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani, second left in front row, welcomes released kidnapped members of Qatar’s ruling family at the Doha airport, Qatar. (AP)

In the end Qatar paid the biggest ransom in history: $1 billion plus $125 million in “side payments,” all paid to groups such as Al Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah.

The ransom payment was a key factor in driving the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — to close borders and sever diplomatic ties with Qatar.

The 28 Qataris were taken hostage on Dec 16, 2015, while hunting with falcons in southern Iraq, having ignored all warnings about not traveling to the area. The party included members of the ruling family.

The kidnappers were identified as members of Kataib Hezbollah but nothing was heard from them until three months later, when they offered to release three hostages in return for “a gesture of goodwill”  — money.

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Ambassador Al-Khayareen wrote in a text to the foreign minister: “This is a good sign for us, which indicates that they are in a hurry and want to end everything soon.”

As the months passed, however, the kidnappers kept upping their demands. As well as money they wanted Qatar to leave the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and demanded the release of Iranian soldiers held in Syria.

One Kataib Hezbollah negotiator, Abu Mohammed, wanted $10 million for himself. “All of them are thieves,” the ambassador wrote to the minister.

Two Iraqi mediators recruited by the ambassador asked in advance for $150,000 in cash and five Rolex watches when they visited Sheikh Mohammed. Who the “gifts” were for was not clear. Qatari officials admit the texts and voicemails are genuine but say they have been edited in a misleading fashion.

Arab News

FBI Agents Express Eroding Faith in Leadership — Time to Restore Integrity, Trust

July 17, 2018

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Christopher Wray testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Confidence in the FBI’s senior leadership among rank-and-file employees has dropped from previous years, according to an internal climate survey obtained by Lawfare.

Why it matters: The survey confirms that the dismissal of former FBI director James Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe, in tandem with the Peter Strzok scandal and President Trump’s barrage of attacks against the intelligence community, have created an air of instability within the bureau.

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The details: Employees across the Bureau’s headquarters 56 field offices expressed pride in working for the FBI at levels that were consistent with previous years. When asked questions related to their views on the honesty, integrity and vision of the FBI’s senior leadership and director, however, positive sentiment declined by as much as 0.62 points out of five.


Pakistan currency tumbles ahead of election

July 17, 2018

Jailed ex-PM Nawaz Sharif begins appeal against corruption conviction

Image result for Nawaz Sharif, photos

Nawaz Sharif — The Islamabad High Court will hear the appeals filed by Sharif, Maryam and Safdar challenging the verdict against them. (Reuters)

By Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad and Kiran Stacey in New Delhi

Pakistan’s currency took another tumble on Monday as Nawaz Sharif, the country’s jailed former prime minister, launched a legal appeal against his conviction for corruption, adding to political uncertainty ahead of next week’s election.

The Pakistani rupee slid more than 4.5 per cent against the dollar to close at PKR128 on Monday, with analysts predicting the new government would have to appeal for help from the International Monetary Fund to stave off a foreign currency crisis.

Policymakers have now allowed the carefully managed currency to fall around 20 per cent against the dollar since the beginning of last December as one way of managing an escalating balance of payments problem.

Lower exports and higher imports have led the country’s stocks of foreign reserves to decline to $9.5bn in recent months — not enough to cover two months’ worth of imports.

The latest slide in the currency was prompted in part by the news on Monday that Mr Sharif and his daughter have lodged appeals against their corruption convictions, three days after being jailed in Lahore.

They had both been sentenced in absentia on charges of owning property for which they could not account. They have protested their innocence, with family members suggesting the convictions are part of a conspiracy by the country’s powerful army, with which Mr Sharif has regularly clashed.

Pervaiz Rasheed, a former minister in Mr Sharif’s cabinet, said on Monday: “Legal experts including former justices who have looked at this case have concluded that there is no solid basis to the accusations.

“Mr Sharif, his daughter and her husband have approached the Islamabad High Court to seek a reversal of the verdict against them”.

Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party is one of two favourites to win this week’s election, alongside the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by Pakistan’s former cricket captain, Imran Khan.

Image result for Imran Khan, photos

Imran Khan

Allies say Mr Sharif returned home on Friday from London to be arrested in part as a political gamble to win sympathy from the electorate.

“The most important verdict still has to come from the Pakistani public,” said one former member of his party. “Nawaz Sharif is convinced that if that verdict lands in his favour, the court’s verdict will be left behind.”

Arifa Noor, a political commentator for the Dawn newspaper, said: “There is a body of opinion which believes that a sympathy vote will emerge in favour of Nawaz Sharif on election day.”

Whichever party wins this week, analysts predict the country’s new prime minister will soon have to approach the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

“The new government will have to return to the IMF soon after it gets in to office,” said Muhammad Suhail of Karachi’s Topline securities.

The president of a privately owned Pakistani bank added: “The economy has become Pakistan’s immediate problem number one. You will need to have tough and decisive actions very soon.”

Pakistan’s economic crisis deepens in an election year

July 15, 2018

Pakistan desperately needs to borrow to stave off a major economic crisis. But the IMF says it is in no position to service existing debts

he Pakistan government to be formed after July 25 elections will inherit a record high-trade deficit of $37.7 billion, a plunging stock market that hit this year’s lowest at 39,288 points on Monday and a currency that has been devalued by over 15% in the past seven months.

The outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has been criticized for its economic policies, which have left the country with a balance of payments crisis, and a record debt, with the rupee being devalued three times since December 2017.

A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on Pakistan says “risks to Pakistan’s medium-term capacity to repay have increased significantly… due to mounting external and fiscal financing needs and declining reserves.”

The report says, Pakistan’s external financing needs are expected to rise from $21.5 billion (7.1% of GDP) in 2017 to $45 billion by 2023 (9% of GDP). The figures suggest that the next government will have few options but to seek another IMF loan to reduce the current account deficit.

Finance Ministry sources told Asia Times that a recent $1 billion loan from China was agreed to in May this year. It will provide a much needed respite to the foreign currency reserves. Pakistan has received an additional $3 billion worth of loans from Chinese commercial banks in recent months in connection with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Finance Ministry officials, however, say Chinese loans are a short-term fix and Islamabad will need a longer-term solution. “Pakistan has borrowed up to $7 billion from China over the past two years, but an IMF bailout has become a necessity. And it is the new government that will carry it out,” said Waqar Masood Khan, a former federal secretary at the Ministry of Finance.

“It was almost as if the previous government had sworn not to go to the IMF, even though they could’ve done so in January to stabilize the economy. They practiced a lot of fiscal indiscipline and are leaving behind a record deficit of 70.1% [of the GDP],” he said, adding that fixing the broken macroeconomic framework would be the biggest challenge for the next government.

While the PML-N government continued to deny it was looking for an IMF bailout during the last few months of its tenure, the then finance minister, Miftah Ismail, had talks with World Bank and IMF officials during his trip to Washington in April this year.

Diplomatic sources confirm that a major purpose of the US visit was to discuss terms of a bailout package for after the elections, which the PML-N expects to win.

A Foreign Ministry official confirmed that Islamabad has been in talks with Washington over the need for financing, maintaining that economic deterioration in the country could allow militant elements to exploit the situation.

Miftah Ismail told Asia Times that he did not meet the US over a potential bailout loan, maintaining that help from the IMF wasn’t needed right now.

“It’s for the next government to decide, but it is too soon [to ask for an IMF bailout],” he said. Even so, the former finance minister conceded that some policies during the previous five years were flawed.

“Exports [have gone] down for three years in a row, suggesting that we should have devalued the rupee [earlier]. By keeping the rupee at a nominally high rate we hurt our exports, increased our imports and we drained our reserves. We also had to borrow money resulting in the State Bank having to intervene,” he said.

However, Ismail believes that with the latest devaluation, the rupee has regained competitiveness and should help export growth. “Also, I think we’ve now reached the accurate rupee value now,” he says. Ismail also says the current debt numbers are being viewed out of context.

“When our tenure started the debt was around 64% [of the GDP], now it is around 70.7 %. When we started the foreign debt to GDP was 21.4%, now it’s 23.5% – so it’s not that much [of an increase]. We shouldn’t look at absolutely numbers, and instead should focus on the relative numbers,” he said.

“Just for context, Japan’s debt to GDP is 228%, Italy has 123%, Singapore 111%, Sri Lanka 78% and India 68%. The debt has definitely gone up in 2018 as compared to 2013, but it’s not out of the norm in terms of how things are among international countries. “And let’s not forget we’ve spent the money on building a network of motorways, highways and power plants, so obviously that has to be done by debt – that’s all.”

The outgoing finance minister added that curtailing the budget deficit would be the biggest challenge for the next government. “In terms of the current account deficit the things that we’ve done are actually enough.”


Peter Strzok’s arrogance is the product of a corrupt FBI — The death of public trust in the Department of Justice

July 15, 2018

Watching FBI agent Peter Strzok battle with Congress, my initial reaction was pure anger. His repeated, arrogant insistence that he had done nothing wrong despite tons of evidence to the contrary convinced me he deserved immediate firing — if not the firing squad.

Gradually, though, anger gave way to amazement as Strzok grew increasingly combative and condescending. Given his predicament, the sneering and smirking were stupid, and yet he persisted.

By Michael Goodwin
New York Post

Who is this jerk, I wondered, and how in the hell did he get to be a big shot at the FBI? And why are taxpayers still paying for the privilege of his malignant presence on the FBI payroll?

My answers can be summarized in four names: James Comey, Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray. They are chief culprits in the death of public trust in the Department of Justice.

The cause of death was murder, and it was an inside job.

Strzok, whose voluminous texts with his office lover show him to be a king of partisan bias, rose to leadership positions under former FBI director Comey — and it shows. Comey’s self-righteousness was his ultimate undoing, but not before he led the agency into a double death grip of corruption and rank partisanship.

Blinded by his own ambition, Comey brushed aside superiors, rules and maybe laws while giving Hillary Clinton a free pass and turning the screws on Donald Trump. Comey defends himself by saying he sought to protect the FBI’s independence, as if it — and he — are a fourth branch of government that is beyond accountability from the other three.

In the end, he disgraced the agency and himself, though gained consolation in the millions he made by selling his book to Trump haters.

But the FBI didn’t stink only from the head — Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, also was fired, and could be prosecuted for allegedly being dishonest with investigators about a media leak.

Strzok appears to be a chip off the Comey/McCabe block. Like them, he insists he is committed to the FBI’s high standards, but his reprehensible conduct makes a mockery of his claims.

His stated contempt for Trump and his promise to stop him from becoming president render Strzok unfit to be a dogcatcher.

But, aping his mentors, he nonetheless demands his denials of wrongdoing be accepted as if his integrity is self-evident. All three believe they are entitled to trust and respect, without having to earn or return either.

Sessions, as attorney general, is nominally the boss over his deputy, Rosenstein, and FBI director Wray. But by recusing himself from anything related to the 2016 campaign, Sessions abdicated the most important part of his job.Which brings us to Sessions, Rosenstein and Wray. How can they stomach the likes of Strzok and refuse to clean the stables?

As I have said, his appointment was Trump’s biggest mistake, one that denied the president and the nation a functioning attorney general. The most critical result is the unchecked and apparently endless investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Speaking of which, breathes there a soul who believes the timing of Mueller’s latest batch of ghost indictments of Russians has nothing to do with Trump’s planned meeting with Vladimir Putin? The timing shows Rosenstein, who announced the charges, and Mueller are neck deep in politics by trying to force Trump to confront Putin about the meddling charges.

Is that their job? Would they embarrass and try to box in Barack Obama or any other president?

Their decision persuades me both harbor suspicion of Trump’s legitimacy, and thus feel entitled to abuse their powers to wade into issues that are none of their business. In that way, they are no better than Comey, McCabe and Strzok — applying a double standard of law enforcement based on their personal views. That makes them, at the least, allies of the resistance.

Rosenstein’s stonewalling conduct toward Congress over Russia-probe documents is especially suspicious. Claims he threatened members and their staffs ring true, and, if they are, it means he lied under oath when he denied making any threats.

But, thanks to the somnolent Sessions, we can add Rosenstein to the long list of those above accountability. A real attorney general — oh, what’s the use? Sessions is not a real attorney general and never will be.

Then there is Comey’s successor, Christopher Wray. He looks as if he wandered into the wrong movie theater and can’t find the exit.

He defined himself as unwilling to tackle the mess he inherited by downplaying the devastating Inspector General report on the handling of the Clinton investigation. While conceding the findings made it “clear we’ve got some work to do,” he minimized them by saying, “It’s focused on a specific set of events back in 2016, and a small number of FBI employees connected with those events. Nothing in the report impugns the integrity of our workforce as a whole, or the FBI as an institution.”

Baloney. While it’s true only a fraction of the total employees were singled out, they were the director of the FBI, his top deputy, the deputy’s top lawyer and Strzok, the head of counterintelligence.He defined himself as unwilling to tackle the mess he inherited by downplaying the devastating Inspector General report on the handling of the Clinton investigation. While conceding the findings made it “clear we’ve got some work to do,” he minimized them by saying, “It’s focused on a specific set of events back in 2016, and a small number of FBI employees connected with those events. Nothing in the report impugns the integrity of our workforce as a whole, or the FBI as an institution.”

Others were also faulted, but not named, including an agent who tried to get his son a job on Clinton’s campaign while sending campaign boss John Podesta “heads up” e-mails.

And so the corruption of the Justice Department proceeds, unmolested by actual justice. The voter revolution of 2016 has more work to do.


Hillary Clinton speaking during a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday.

Personal, not secure, “home-brew” email server?

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John Podesta: His password was “password”.

Protests spread from oil-rich Basra across southern Iraq

July 15, 2018

Curfews have been imposed, troops put on the streets and the internet reportedly shut down. Burgeoning protests in Iraq against corruption and poor services represent a major challenge and risk boiling over.

Protests in Basra, Iraq (picture-alliance/AP Photo)

Mass demonstrations against unemployment, corruption and poor services spread further across southern Iraq on Saturday, forcing the government to impose a curfew in the oil-rich Basra province and put security forces on high alert.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also commander-in-chief, ordered troops and reinforcements to Basra and several southern cities in a bid to quell the unrest as it entered its sixth day. There were also widespread reports of the internet being shut down or throttled across parts of the country.

On Friday, Abadi rushed from a NATO summit in Brussels to Basra to meet with local officials and tribal leaders in a bid to restore calm. He was met with a growing wave of protests despite summer temperatures that reach 49 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit).

On Saturday, he announced investments worth $3 billion (2.6 billion) for Basra province, as well as promises to provide jobs, housing, schools and services.

Anger boiling over

Demonstrations that began last Sunday in Basra province have since spread to the cities of Amara, Nasiriya, Karbala and the Shiite holy city of Najaf. There were also protests in parts of the capital, Baghdad.

Protesters have stormed government buildings and clashed with security forces.

In Najaf on Friday, protesters shut down and torched part of the airport. Also on Friday, protesters blocked access to the key oil export port of Umm Qasr in Basra as well as several oil facilities outside the city.

A demonstration against unemployment in Baghdad (Getty Images/AFP/A. Al-Rubaye)Protesters in Baghdad demonstrate against unemployment, corruption and poor services

The protests have led to attacks on party offices, including those of the Abadi’s ruling Dawa party and the Iranian-supported Badr Organization.

Dozens of protesters have been injured and, on Saturday, two protesters were killed in Maysan province, bringing the total death toll to three in the past week.  It was unclear how the protesters on Saturday died.

Protesters have a host of grievances against the government, including high unemployment, water and electricity shortages and poor governance in Iraq’s oil-rich region.

Protesters block the road to Iraq's main Umm Qasr port, south of Basra. (Reuters/E. al-Sudani)Protesters block the road to Iraq’s main Umm Qasr port, south of Basra

Top Shiite cleric backs protests

On Friday, protesters got a boost from Iraqi’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who offered solidarity with the people during a sermon.

“The dear governorate of Basra is the number one in providing the country with financial revenue. And it is the number one in the number of martyrs and those who have been wounded in the fight against the Islamic State group terrorists,” said Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, who speaks on behalf of the reclusive and apolitical grand ayatollah whose words move millions of followers. “So it is not fair, indeed it is not acceptable, that this governorate is one of Iraq’s poorest.”

Basra and southern Iraq are predominately Arab Shiite populated.

Ali al-Sistani (AFP Photo/Getty Images)As the spiritual leader of Shiites in Iraq, Sistani wields tremendous power and his word is followed by millions.

Government in limbo

The protests come as Abadi is in charge of a caretaker government following May elections that witnessed low turnout as many Iraqis shunned the corrupt ruling class.

A coalition of Communists and a bloc led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won the most votes on an anti-corruption platform. Sadr has so far backed the protesters, although he has urged them to refrain from violence.

Read more: Who is Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric?

Sadr has sought to form a broad coalition with other parties including Abadi’s Dawa.

However, the already complicated Iraqi government formation process has been drawn out by a manual recount of some of the votes amid allegations of fraud.

Abadi’s caretaker status and ongoing government formation talks mean that his pledges to invest in Basra may not be implemented, and even if they were, there is little guarantee money would not be siphoned off through corruption.

cw/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)


Security situation at Najaf, Iraq deteriorates — Airlines suspend service — Protests over poor public services, unemployment, Iranian interference 

July 15, 2018

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Jordan’s state airline said on Sunday it had suspended four weekly flights to the Iraqi city of Najaf due to the “security situation at it’s airport, a company statement said.

Royal Jordanian said Najaf is the ninth destination in the region – from Mosul in Iraq to Aden and Sanaa in Yemen – to which it has suspended flights due to turmoil in recent years.

Najaf is among the cities in southern Iraq that have witnessed days of protests over poor services and against alleged official corruption.


Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Toby Chopra



DUBAI (Reuters) – Flydubai has halted flights to the Iraqi city of Najaf “due to the disruption on the ground” at the airport until July 22, the Dubai state-owned airline said on Sunday.

Najaf airport was closed on Friday after protests there halted air traffic. Najaf is among the cities in southern Iraq that have witnessed days of protests over poor services and against alleged official corruption.

Flydubai, which operates a daily return flight from Dubai to Najaf, is monitoring the situation, an airline spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky


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Iraqi protesters demanding services and jobs burn tires

Ousted Pakistan PM flying home to face jail, authorities lock down Lahore city

July 13, 2018

Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, both sentenced to lengthy jail terms in absentia, are due to return to Pakistan on Friday in a high-stakes gamble to galvanize their beleaguered party ahead of a July 25 general election.


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Ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif (L) and his daughter Maryam Nawaz (R) attend a UK PMLN Party Workers Convention meeting with supporters in London on July 11, 2018. (AFP)

Authorities have mobilized more than 10,000 police officers ahead of their arrival and plan to block roads with shipping containers to shut down the city of Lahore. Supporters of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party say they will march to the airport there, where the former prime minister is due to land, in defiance of a ban on all public rallies.

Sharif is returning from Britain one week after an anti-corruption court handed him a 10-year jail term over the purchase of luxury London flats and sentenced his daughter and political heir to seven years in prison.
Their return could shake up an election race marred by claims Pakistan’s powerful military was skewing the contest in favor of ex-cricket hero Imran Khan.


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Imran Khan

Sharif alleges the military is aiding a “judicial witchhunt” against him and his PML-N party. The party’s past five years in power has been punctuated by the civil-military discord that has plagued Pakistan since its inception.

“Nawaz really believes this is about democracy and his legacy,” Musadik Malik, Sharif ally and former PML-N cabinet minister, told Reuters.

“That is why he is willing to lose 10 years of his life over this.”

Sharif’s PML-N expects a groundswell of support as he returns from London, where his wife Kulsoom is critically ill and undergoing cancer treatment.

To prevent PML-N workers staging a hero’s welcome on the streets, authorities said they will arrest the father and daughter upon landing and transport them to the capital Islamabad by helicopter, local media reported.

Party officials say the police have started a crackdown against them, detaining hundreds of workers in the early hours on Friday.

Recent opinion polls suggest PML-N has lost its lead nationally to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of arch-rival Khan, whose anti-corruption message has resonated with many Pakistanis.
Khan has painted Sharif as a “criminal” who has looted the state for decades, and welcomes his prison term as overdue accountability.

Sharif was ordered jailed after failing to explain how the family acquired the London flats in a case stemming from 2016 Panama Papers revelations that showed they owned the apartments through off-shore companies. Maryam was convicted for concealing ownership of the apartments. The both deny wrongdoing.




Sharif, 68, has cast himself as a defender of democracy, a far cry from the start of his political life when he was the protege of military dictator General Zia ul-Haq and had his career nurtured by the generals in the 1980s.

He was elected prime minister in 1990-93. A second stint in power was ended by a military coup in 1999, prompting a period in jail for Sharif and years in exile in London. When he returned to power in 2013, he clashed with the military over how to deal with Islamist militants and his desire for friendlier relations with arch-foe India.

After the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif in July 2017 for not declaring a small source of income which he denied receiving, he toured the nuclear-armed country urging voters to protect the “sanctity of the vote.”

“Despite seeing the bars of prison in front of my eyes, I am going to Pakistan,” Sharif told Pakistani journalists this week in London, where he vowed to re-assert “civilian supremacy.”

The opposition Pakistan People Party (PPP) has also alleged “pre-poll rigging” this week, but did not specifically name the armed forces.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half its history since 1947, has denied interfering in modern-day politics. It plans to place 371,000 soldiers around polling stations so there can a “free and fair” elections, it added.




Sharif’s return comes at a time of dwindling fortunes for his party, which one year ago was considered a run-away favorite to retain power.

After the Supreme Court ousted Sharif last July, the courts barred him from heading the PML-N party he founded. His brother Shehbaz became PML-N’s president, but Sharif remains the power behind the throne.
Since then, a host of his allies have been either disqualified by the courts, or face corruption cases. Many PML-N lawmakers have also defected to Khan’s party.

PML-N has also been riven by internal divisions. Sections of the party oppose Sharif’s combative approach against the army and fear it will turn off voters in a deeply conservative and patriotic Muslim nation of 208 million people.

The kind of reception Sharif receives on the streets of Lahore will be viewed carefully in Pakistan, where political popularity is often measured by the size of rallies that politicians can attract.

PML-N leaders say authorities have began a crackdown against union council leaders, the street-level party workers who bring out people on the streets.

“Those who think they can scare us…open your ears and hear this: we are winning this election,” Shehbaz Sharif told reporters in Lahore on Thursday.