Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani calls for formation of new government as protesters killed

Iraqi demonstrators burn tires as they block a road during ongoing anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq January 23, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani calls for formation of new government as protesters killed

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, urged Iraq’s political parties on Friday to form a new government as soon as possible, and urged authorities to respect protesters’ right to express themselves.

Al-Sistani, who delivered his message through a representative at Friday prayer in Karbala, reiterated calls to foreign powers to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. 

“The formation of the new government is constitutionally long overdue, it is necessary for the various parties concerned to cooperate,” Al-Sistani said.

He admonished authorities for “procrastinating” on reform promises and parties for being “very late” in naming a successor to Premier Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has acted as caretaker since resigning in December.

Two anti-government protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Baghdad, hours after thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr rallied separately to demand the ouster of US troops.

A vowed enemy of US troops, Al-Sadr had called for “a million-strong” rally but did not attend himself. “Get out, get out, occupier!” they chanted.

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A statement read out at Al-Sadr’s rally demanded all foreign forces leave Iraq, Iraqi-American security agreements be cancelled, Iraqi airspace be closed to US military aircraft and for Trump not to act ‘arrogant.’

A statement read by his representative at the rally demanded all foreign forces leave Iraq, Iraqi-American security agreements be cancelled, Iraqi airspace be closed to US military aircraft and for President Donald Trump not to act “arrogant” when addressing Iraqi officials.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country — otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement read.

Four NGO workers, three of them French nationals, were also reported missing in Baghdad, rocked since October by a youth-dominated protest movement demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

The NGO’s director described the men as “experienced staff members who have been working with us for years” and who had “perfect knowledge of conflict zones.”

More than 470 people have died in protest-related violence since October, most of them demonstrators, and violence has spiked this week.

The Pentagon said that 34 US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries suffered in this month’s Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi air base, and that half of the troops have returned to their military duties.

Seventeen of the 34 are still under medical observation, according to Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

Trump had initially said he was told that no troops had been injured in the Jan. 8 strike. The military said symptoms were not immediately reported after the strike and in some cases became known days later.


Egypt arrests alleged serial sexual predator

Updated 04 July 2020

Egypt arrests alleged serial sexual predator

  • Allegations have been widely circulating on social media detailing horrific sexual abuse and related blackmail suffered by women at the hands of the same man
  • Trending hashtags carrying the alleged abuser’s name widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook, urging government action

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities on Saturday arrested a man who allegedly sexually abused dozens of girls and women, in a case that has sparked outrage online, a security source said.
Allegations have been widely circulating on social media since Wednesday detailing horrific sexual abuse and related blackmail suffered by women at the hands of the same man.
One allegation claimed that he attempted to abuse a 14-year-old girl.
“The person accused of harassing the girls has been arrested and will be facing the prosecution following the allegations carried on social media,” the security source said.
“Those affected should submit formal reports of the harm they endured,” the source added.
The source did not identify the suspect.
According to the social media reports, the first of which was published on an Instagram account, the abuse had been going on since at least 2018.
Trending hashtags carrying the alleged abuser’s name widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook, urging government action.
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) lodged an official complaint with the public prosecutor to investigate the allegations on Saturday.
“The NCW has followed the social media account on Instagram, which was launched by girls and women complaining that a man raped some of them and sexually assaulted and harassed others,” it said on Facebook.
It also said that several victims, who reached out to the council, recounted that the man “blackmailed and threatened to defame them using photos and clips documenting his heinous crimes.”
The council urged the women to submit official complaints to the prosecutor.
Some online reports suggested the perpetrator was a university student.
The American University in Cairo acknowledged the suspect had studied there but said he left the university in 2018.
He “is not a current student at the American University in Cairo,” a statement said.
Sexual harassment is highly prevalent in Egypt.
United Nations surveys have found that most Egyptian women have been subject to harassment, ranging from catcalling to pinching and groping.
Egyptian authorities have criminalized sexual harassment since 2014, but many women complain that the problem remains rampant.