January 9th, 2012
05:55 AM ET

Amnesty: Middle East protesters not looking for 'cosmetic changes'

Unless governments in the Middle East stop offering "cosmetic changes" to calls for reform, they should brace themselves for another year of protests, Amnesty International warned Monday.

The protests and bloodshed will continue unless governments and the international community ensure the demonstrators' demands are addressed, the rights group said in a new report.

Protesters are not interested in "piecemeal" reforms, it said.

"With few exceptions, governments have failed to recognize that everything has changed," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa.

"The protest movements across the region, led in many cases by young people and with women playing central roles, have proved astonishingly resilient in the face of sometimes staggering repression."

Protesters want accountability and change in governance, according to Luther.

The 80-page report is called "Year of Rebellion: State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa."

It highlights the success of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in removing their longtime regimes, but underscores the need to institute democracy to ensure past actions are not repeated.

"The uprising in Tunisia brought significant improvements in human rights, but one year on, many consider that the pace of change has been too slow, with families of the victims of the uprising still awaiting justice," Amnesty said.

In Egypt, for example, military rulers are yet to deliver on demands of the revolution and are in some cases behind attacks that are "worse than under Hosni Mubarak" regime, the report said.

Amnesty warned that some governments "remained grimly determined to cling onto power" at all costs, citing an example of Syria.

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Filed under: Middle East • World
January 3rd, 2012
02:01 AM ET

Egyptians to begin 3rd round of voting after weeks of unrest

Egypt opens the third round of voting for the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday after Islamist parties performed strongly in the previous rounds last month.

The vote is the latest step in a tense and complex process meant to move Egypt toward a more representative form of government after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has led Egypt's government since Mubarak's fall. It has said it will hand over power to a new government once one is in place.

But the transition has not been quick or transparent enough for some Egyptians. A series of protests in Cairo last month resulted in violent and sometimes deadly clashes between demonstrators and the country's armed forces.

The unrest appeared to have largely stemmed from a stretch of assaults by police and defiant protests by demonstrators demanding that Egypt's ruling military cede power to a civilian government.

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Filed under: Egypt • Middle East • World
January 3rd, 2012
12:30 AM ET

Israeli, Palestinian officials to meet in Jordan to relaunch negotiations

Israeli and Palestinian representatives are expected to meet in Jordan on Tuesday in an effort to relaunch negotiations between the two sides after more than a year of deadlock, Jordanian state media reported.

Netanyahu's special envoy, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, and Erakat will meet in Amman with representatives of the Middle East Quartet - made up of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

Peace talks between the two sides fell apart more than a year ago over disagreements on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In September, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made a bid for the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state, a move Israel called premature without direct talks that address its long-standing security concerns.

Filling the vacuum left open by the removal of Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah has taken a more active role in trying to bridge the gulf between Israelis and Palestinians.

In November, King Abdullah made a rare visit to the Palestinian political capital of Ramallah in the West Bank followed by a meeting in Amman a week later with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

While both sides thanked the Jordanian government for its role in bringing about the meeting, few are expecting any serious breakthroughs.

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Filed under: Israel • Middle East • Palestinians • World
January 3rd, 2012
12:21 AM ET

Prosecutors to begin their case in Hosni Mubarak's trial

Prosecutors begin presenting their case Tuesday in the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is accused of ordering protesters killed during the country's uprising last year.

"I expect a verdict before January 25, the anniversary of the revolution," said Khaled Abu Bakr, a lawyer involved in the trial.

He was referring to the beginning of the uprising that ended Mubarak's 30-year rule in February 2011.

Adel Saeed, an official spokesman for the general prosecutor's office, confirmed that there is "a possibility" of a verdict by January 25, depending on how long prosecutors and lawyers for the victims and the defense take to present their cases, plus the time the judge needs "to review all the documents and evidence presented."

The former president also faces corruption charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Abu Bakr said prosecutors will take three days to make their case.

Many Egyptians are critical of the court proceedings and some worry that Mubarak may be acquitted of the murder charges. Five police officers accused of killing protesters were acquitted last week.

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Filed under: Egypt • Middle East • World
December 28th, 2011
05:55 AM ET

Arab League monitors to visit 3 more Syrian cities

Monitors from the Arab League will visit three additional cities in Syria on Wednesday to gauge whether the country is ending a bloody crackdown on protesters.

Observers will visit the flashpoint cities of Daraa, Hama and Idlib, said Alaa Shalaby, a member of the Arab League advance team.

They will also spend a second day in the besieged city of Homs.

Ahead of the monitors visit in Daraa, violence erupted. Four Syrian forces members were killed and 12 wounded after defectors ambushed their convoy, according to the opposition activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Arab League fact-finding team is monitoring an Arab League initiative that calls for President Bashar al-Assad's security forces to withdraw from cities, release detainees and end violence.

But a report from Human Rights Watch says authorities have moved possibly hundreds of detainees to military sites to hide them from observers.

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Filed under: Middle East • Syria
December 27th, 2011
05:44 AM ET

Al Qaeda in Iraq claims responsibility for recent attacks

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Tuesday for a string of attacks that killed almost 70 people and wounded more than 200.

The seemingly coordinated explosions Thursday struck during the height of morning rush hour, hitting a number of Baghdad's primarily mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods. Nine car bombs, six roadside bombs and a mortar round all went off in a two-hour period, targeting residential, commercial and government districts in the Iraqi capital, police said.

"The series of special invasions launched, under the guidance of the Ministry of War in the Islamic State of Iraq, to support the weak Sunnis in the prisons of the apostates and to retaliate for the captives who were executed," the group said on an al Qaeda website.

Iraq's leadership is dominated by Shiite Muslims, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The country's Sunni minority held power under former leader Saddam Hussein.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Iraq • Middle East • World
December 27th, 2011
05:36 AM ET

Arab League mission arrives in embattled Syrian city of Homs

Members of an Arab League observatory team have arrived in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, a senior official in the league's advance delegation to Syria said Tuesday.

The fact-finding team is visiting Syria this week to assess whether the government is upholding a commitment to end a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Observers from the team "will have access to any place they want, freely," said the senior official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media. "The protocol entails that Syrian security only escorts the monitors to the entrances of the city only. According to the protocol, any party on the ground has the right to contact the monitors as they please."

But shortly before the arrival, military forces began scurrying away from Homs' Baba Amr neighborhood, said resident and activist Omar al-Humsi. Baba Amr has been wracked with deadly violence at the hands of the Syrian regime, opposition activists say.

Al-Humsi estimated more than 2,000 people joined a sit-in waiting for the arrival of the Arab League team.

Despite the league's mission, it's unclear whether observers will see the full picture of the violence on the ground - or whether their trip can help stop a 9-month conflict that some say has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

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Filed under: Middle East • Syria • World
December 18th, 2011
03:00 AM ET

Crisis plagues Iraq as U.S. troops depart

As the last U.S. soldiers exited Iraq Sunday and debate was raging about the nation's future, political crisis erupted in Baghdad that raised fears of more sectarian strife to come.

Iraqiya, a powerful political bloc that draws support largely from Sunni and more secular Iraqis, said it was boycotting parliament, a move that threatens to shatter Iraq's fragile power-sharing government.

The move pits the largely Sunni and secular coalition against the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Iraqiya contends al-Maliki is trying to amass dictatorial power and many believe al-Maliki was simply waiting for the Americans to leave before making his move.

It all makes for burgeoning political chaos and raises serious questions about whether democracy and human rights can take root in the war-ravaged nation.

"The only country that makes U.S. politics look like a picnic is Iraq," said Christopher Hill, the former U.S. ambassador in Baghdad.

Al-Maliki, Hill said, is a man who perceives concessions as weakness. He's a tough guy who knows what he's doing, Hill said.

He managed to forge relationships with the Kurds and peel off some Sunni support to build the majority he needed to put together a government, Hill said. But whether he is the man to unify Iraq, to lead it now, without American presence, is uncertain.

His rivals say that al-Maliki still controls the country's security ministries and all decisions go through him. They also say that the hundreds of people seized by the government in October for backing terrorism and supporting the banned Baath Party are Iraqiya supporters.

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Filed under: Iraq • Middle East • World
December 17th, 2011
11:28 PM ET

Deadly Iraq war ends with exit of last U.S. troops

Early Sunday, as the sun ascended to the winter sky, the very last American convoy made its way down the main highway that connects Iraq and Kuwait.

The military called it its final "tactical road march." A series of 110 heavily armored, hulking trucks and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles carrying about 500 soldiers streamed slowly but steadily out of the combat zone.

A few minutes before 8 a.m., the metal gate behind the last MRAP closed. With it came to an end a deadly and divisive war that lasted almost nine years, its enormous cost calculated in blood and billions.

Some rushed to touch the gate, forever a symbol now of an emotional, landmark day. Some cheered with the Army's ultimate expression of affirmation: "Hooah!"

Once, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were in Iraq, the main highway was better known as Main Supply Route Tampa and soldiers trekked north towards Baghdad and beyond, never knowing what danger lurked on their path.

On this monumental day, the Texas-based 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division's main concern was how to avoid a traffic jam on their final journey in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Gaumer, 37, was on this road in August 2003. It was his first time at war. He was frightened.

There was not a lot of traffic at that time, he recalled. He remembered a lot of cheering by Iraqis, even though the situation was tense.

Sunday morning, the air was decidedly different.

"It's pretty historic," he said about the drive south, hoping he will not ever have to come back through this unforgiving terrain again.

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Filed under: Iraq • Middle East • World • World Update
November 6th, 2011
01:53 AM ET

Gunfire, protests mar Eid celebrations in Syria

What is usually a time of comity and celebrations was marked by gunfire and protests in Syria on Sunday as residents ushered in the first day of the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha.

In Aleppo, Syria's largest city and the country's economic center, residents took to the streets in anti-government protests after the morning Eid prayers, according to the the Local Coordination Committees of Syria - a network of opposition activists.

In the southern city of Daraa, where the unrest started in March, security forces fired in the air to disperse crowds and prevent them from demonstrating after prayers, the group said.

And in Arbeen, a suburb of the capital Damascus, government forces set up barricades and maintained a heavy presence, it said.

Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the Muslim prophet Ibraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God, is one of two major holidays in Islam. The other, Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

In ordinary times, the occasions are marked with joyous community prayers, acts of charity, visits from far-flung relatives, gift-giving and elaborate feasts.

But Syria is in the midst of a nearly eight-month uprising that started with calls for elections and an end to abuses by security forces, but turned into widespread calls for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.


Filed under: Middle East • Syria • World
October 19th, 2011
03:48 AM ET

Multiple deaths feared in attack in Turkey

Multiple casualties were reported from an early Wednesday morning attack in southeastern Turkey, officials said.

Rockets were launched at security forces and military sites in the town of Cukurca, an official with the provincial governor's office and Turkish President Abdullah Gul said.

Neither gave a death toll in the attack but CNN Turk reported that at least 24 people were killed.

Gul blamed terrorism when he spoke about the attack during a televised address.

"Our determination is certain. Those who think that democratic improvements in Turkey are achieved as a result of terrorism are making a big mistake," Gul said. "It is our decision to continue the struggle against terrorism without giving any concessions."

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Filed under: Middle East • Turkey • World
Security forces fire on protesters in Yemen
October 15th, 2011
05:35 AM ET

Security forces fire on protesters in Yemen

Yemeni security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters Saturday, killing 10 and wounding 38 others, a medic said.

Mohammed Al-Qubati, who was at the scene of the protests in Sanaa's Change Square, said forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators who planned to march to the city center from the square.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets regularly to call for an end to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Sanaa, marching, chanting and calling for the United Nations to come out with a firm resolution in support for change in the country.

For its part, the government says it is trying to come up with a solution to end the political stalemate.

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Filed under: Middle East • World • Yemen
October 15th, 2011
05:18 AM ET

Official: Drone attack kills Al-Awlaki's son in Yemen

he son of U.S.-born militant cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki was among those killed in a trio of drone attacks in southern Yemen on Friday night, a security official said.

The attacks, carried out in the Shabwa district, killed seven suspected militants, the defense ministry said. It would not confirm that Abdul Rahman Anwar Awlaki was among them.

The senior security official in Shabwa, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the younger Awlaki had been hiding in the mountains of Shabwa for more than eight months. He had first-hand knowledge of the death, he said.

The Awlaki family did not want to comment.

On September 30, a U.S. drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born miltant cleric who was a key leader of the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

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Filed under: Middle East • World • Yemen
October 11th, 2011
12:28 AM ET

Opposition group: Iran sentences actress for film critical of government

An Iranian actress has been sentenced to a year in jail and 90 lashes for appearing in a film critical of the country's government, an opposition website said.

Actress Marzieh Vafamehr stars in the recently released "My Tehran, For Sale," which challenges the limits imposed on artists in the Islamic republic, according to the website, Kaleme.

"As producers of the film ... we would like to express our deep shock and sadness at the sentence imposed by the Iranian government," said Kate Croser and Julie Ryan.

The movie features Vafamehr playing an actress who is banned from working in Iran and then tries to leave, the Kaleme website said.

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Filed under: Iran • Middle East • World
September 13th, 2011
12:02 PM ET

U.S.: Top two Mideast officials headed back to region

The top two American officials dealing with Middle East peace talks are headed back to the region, U.S. officials said Tuesday in a sign that flagging negotiations might be revived.

David Hale, the special envoy for Middle East peace, and Dennis Ross of the National Security Council are returning to the Mideast, the officials said.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for a number of months, and tensions between the two have escalated recently. On August 21, Richard Serry, the United Nations' special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, issued a statement saying he was concerned about the situation, "in particular the escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel."

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Filed under: Middle East
August 7th, 2011
06:07 PM ET

Saudi king: 'No justification' for Syrian clampdown

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah condemned the crackdown on anti-government protesters in Syria on Sunday, saying there is "no justification for the bloodshed."

In an audio message that aired on Saudi state television Sunday night, Abdullah said the kingdom had recalled its ambassador from Damascus for consultations.

His statement puts the leader of one of the leading powers in the region behind calls for an end to the violence. In his remarks Sunday night, he said Syria's future "lies between two choices - either wisdom or chaos."

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Filed under: Middle East • Protest • Saudi Arabia • Syria
July 18th, 2011
03:56 PM ET

Libya says it's holding talks with U.S.

Libyan and American officials engaged in direct, face-to-face talks in Tunisia on Saturday, a spokesman for Moammar Gadhafi's embattled regime said Monday.

"This is a first step. We welcome any further steps," Musa Ibrahim said in a brief interview with CNN. "We don't want to be stuck in the past."

There was no immediate comment on the report from Washington.

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Filed under: Libya • Middle East
June 30th, 2011
11:33 AM ET

Explaining the Arab unrest

[Updated October 20, 2011] In January, protesters in Tunisia forced out longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt that triggered unrest across North Africa and the Middle East.

In some countries, demonstrators have forced their governments to enact reforms. In others, brute force has met the protests.

CNN.com’s interactive map highlights differences among the countries, offering an overview of the region and the major changes that have taken place since beginning of the year.


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Filed under: Arab unrest: developments • Middle East • World
Tribunal indictments in Lebanese leader's killing
A photo of Rafik Hariri at his memorial in Beirut, Lebanon.
June 30th, 2011
09:18 AM ET

Tribunal indictments in Lebanese leader's killing

Two of the four people indicted in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri are senior members of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, multiple sources in the region told CNN on Thursday.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued the indictments and a U.N. source familiar with the body said the people include alleged perpetrators on the ground. The sources said they include Mustafa Badreddine and Hasan Oneisa.

Badreddine is the brother-in-law of Imad Monghneiye, a former Hezbollah commander who was assassinated in Syria in 2008. Badreddine  is reported to be a member of Hezbollah's advisory council. The other names on the list are Salim Ayyah and Asad Sabra.

Two additional lists of indictments are expected later this summer and are expected to include the organizers and planners of the attack, the U.N. source said.

Suspected connections to Hariri's death which link the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and the Syrian government have raised tensions in the country, stoking fears of sectarian conflict erupting in the ethnically and religiously diverse nation. Syria was mired in a civil war from 1975 to 1990.

Hezbollah has had longstanding animosity toward the tribunal based on the expectation that some of its members would be indicted as conspirators in Hariri's assassination.

Hezbollah is a political faction in Lebanon and provides social services to Shiites. However, it has long been regarded as a terrorist organization and an ally to Iran by the United States.

The movement, which fought a war on Lebanese soil with Israel five years ago, claims the tribunal is a plot involving the United States, Israel and France. Ibrahim Mousawi, a Hezbollah media relations officer, said it had no immediate reaction to the indictments.

Rafik Hariri and 22 others were killed on February 14, 2005, when a bomb went off as his motorcade passed by. Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri's son and a former Lebanese prime minister, said on Thursday the indictments were issued after years "of patience and waiting and a constant national struggle."

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Filed under: Lebanon • Middle East • World
Lebanon PM names new government
Lebanese prime minister-designate Najib Mikati is a Sunni political independent who is backed by Hezbollah and its allies.
June 13th, 2011
09:45 AM ET

Lebanon PM names new government

Lebanon's prime minister-designate Najib Mikati has formed a new government that he hopes will receive the backing of parliament, he announced Monday, five months after the country's last government fell.

Mikati promised a "government of all of Lebanon and will labor for all Lebanese. There will be no divisions or distinctions between those who formed the government or those who opposed it."

The government of the last prime minister, Saad Hariri, was brought down in January by the Shiite Hezbollah movement.

Mikati is a Sunni political independent who was backed by Hezbollah and its allies.

But local media reports Monday suggested that Hezbollah and the Amal movement of parliament speaker Nabih Berri did not support the Cabinet line-up.

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Filed under: Lebanon • Middle East
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