Somalia elects speaker, paves way for presidential vote

Somalia’s newly elected lower house parliament speaker Sheikh Adan Madobe, 2nd left, after being elected at the airport complex in Mogadishu on April 28, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 28 April 2022

Somalia elects speaker, paves way for presidential vote

  • The election is well over a year behind schedule, marred by deadly violence and a power struggle between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ and PM Mohamed Hussein Roble
  • ‘Farmajo’ congratulated Sheikh Adan Madobe, saying in a statement that he hoped his election ‘becomes a starting point for a greater change that saves the country’

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s parliament elected a veteran politician as speaker of the lower house on Thursday, as the fragile nation edges closer to holding a delayed presidential vote.
The election is well over a year behind schedule, marred by deadly violence and a power struggle between the current president and the prime minister.
Somalia’s international partners have been pushing for the process to pick up speed, fearing the delays were distracting from the country’s myriad problems including the fight against Al-Shabab extremists and the threat of famine.
Following the election of the upper house speaker on Tuesday, lawmakers in the lower house chose Sheikh Adan Mohamed Nur, better known as Sheikh Adan Madobe, as speaker in a drawn-out process that extended into two rounds and only concluded in the early hours of Thursday.
The vote took place in a tent inside Mogadishu’s heavily-guarded airport complex under tight security, following a spate of attacks in recent weeks by Al-Shabab which has been waging an insurgency against the government for more than a decade.
It had been due to take place on Wednesday but was delayed by a dispute over who should provide security at the venue, highlighting the continuing rifts between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.
Madobe, 66, who had previously served as speaker between 2007 and 2010, secured 163 votes out of the 252 ballots cast. He is not known to be allied with either the president or prime minister.
Farmajo congratulated Madobe, saying in a statement that he hoped his election “becomes a starting point for a greater change that saves the country.”
Roble also offered his congratulations on Twitter, urging the speakers of both houses to “carry out their responsibilities and conduct the presidential election in a transparent, prompt and peaceful manner.”
On Tuesday, 76-year-old Abdi Hashi Abdullahi was re-elected speaker of the upper house.
Parliament will now set a date for lawmakers to choose a president — the country has not held a one-person, one-vote election in 50 years.
Farmajo’s mandate expired in February 2021 but in the absence of agreement on elections, he tried to extend his rule by decree, sparking violent street battles in Mogadishu.
Under pressure from the international community, he appointed Roble to seek consensus on a way forward.
But the pair’s disagreements have hindered progress and stoked fears of further instability.
In addition, a crucial IMF three-year $400 million (380 million euros) financial assistance package for Somalia will automatically expire in mid-May if a new administration is not in place.
On Wednesday, Somalia’s international backers warned that “political tensions and security incidents must not be permitted to disrupt (the election’s) final stages.”
“We urge all Somali leaders to exercise restraint, resolve differences through compromise, and avoid escalation of any incidents.”
Polls in Somalia follow a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
The voting process has seen a number of attacks by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab which frequently strikes at civilian, military and government targets in Somalia’s capital and elsewhere in the country.
The extremists controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when they were pushed out by an African Union force, but still hold territory in the countryside.


Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy

Updated 9 sec ago

Norway police ban Qur'an burning protest after Turkiye summons Oslo envoy

ANKARA/OSLO: Norwegian police on Thursday banned a planned anti-Islam protest including the burning of a copy of the Qur'an this week for security reasons, hours after the Turkish foreign ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to complain.
A group of protesters planned to burn a copy of the Qur'an outside the Turkish embassy in Oslo on Friday, police said, echoing similar demonstrations last month in Sweden and Denmark.
“Burning the Qur'an remains a legal way to express political views in Norway. But this event cannot be carried out for security reasons,” Oslo police said in a statement, citing intelligence it had received.
Earlier on Thursday, Ankara strongly condemned the anti-Islam group’s plans, which it said were a “provocative act,” a source from the Turkish foreign ministry said, adding that the ministry had asked for the demonstration to be called off.
Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Turkiye had raised the planned demonstration in a meeting.
“Our ambassador referred to the constitutional right to freedom of expression in Norway, and added that the Norwegian government neither supports nor is involved with the planned demonstration,” said a ministry spokesperson.
The police can only ban a demonstration if there is a danger to the public.
A protest including the burning a copy of Qur'an last month near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm by an anti-immigrant Danish-Swedish politician from the far-right fringe drew strong condemnation from Ankara.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but faced unexpected objections from Turkiye and have since sought to win its support.
Sweden said on Thursday it would tighten laws covering membership of terrorist organizations.

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

Updated 02 February 2023

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

  • Women's freedoms in Afghanistan were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam
  • 32 women judges and prosecutors left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum in Europe

MADRID: Pushing her son on a swing at a playground on a sunny winter's day in Madrid, former Afghan prosecutor Obaida Sharar expresses relief that she found asylum in Spain after fleeing Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban took over.
Sharar, who arrived in Madrid with her family, is one of 19 female prosecutors to have found asylum in the country after being left in limbo in Pakistan without official refugee status for up to a year after the Taliban's return to power. She feels selfish being happy while her fellow women suffer, she said. "Most Afghan women and girls that remain in Afghanistan don't have the right to study, to have a social life or even go to a beauty salon," Sharar said. "I cannot be happy."
Women's freedoms in her home country were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam.
The Taliban administration has banned most female aid workers and last year stopped women and girls from attending high school and university.
Sharar's work and that of her female peers while they lived in Afghanistan was dangerous. Female judges and prosecutors were threatened and became the target of revenge attacks as they undertook work overseeing the trial and conviction of men accused of gender crimes, including rape and murder.
She was part of a group of 32 women judges and prosecutors that left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum.
A prosecutor, who gave only her initials as S.M. due to fears over her safety and who specialised in gender violence and violence against children said, "I was the only female prosecutor in the province... I received threats from Taliban members and the criminals who I had sent to prison."
Now she and her family are also in Spain.
Many of the women have said they felt abandoned by Western governments and international organizations.
Ignacio Rodriguez, a Spanish lawyer and president of Bilbao-based 14 Lawyers, a non-governmental organisation which defends prosecuted lawyers, said the women had been held up as symbols of democratic success only to be discarded.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was not in a position to comment on specific cases.
"The Government of Pakistan has not agreed to recognise newly arriving Afghans as refugees," UNHCR said in a statement. "Since 2021, UNHCR has been in discussions with the government on measures and mechanisms to support vulnerable Afghans. Regrettably, no progress has been made."
The foreign ministry of Pakistan did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Pakistan is home to millions of refugees from Afghanistan who fled after the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979 and during the subsequent civil war. Most of them are yet to return despite Pakistan's push to repatriate them under different programmes.
The Taliban has said any Afghan who fled the country since it took power in 2021 can return safely through a repatriation council.
"Afghanistan is the joint home of all Afghans," said Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson for the Taliban administration. "They can live here without any threat."


EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

Updated 02 February 2023

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

  • An existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day
KYIV: The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday.
“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February — exactly one year since the invasion started — we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen said during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she said, and “throwing it back by a generation,” estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

Updated 02 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

  • Russia vows to push Ukrainian army back in response to longer-range rockets

MOSCOW: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said the United States was directly involved in explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea last year.
Lavrov provided no evidence for his claim. President Vladimir Putin has previously accused Britain of blowing up the pipelines, which London denied.
In an interview on state TV, Lavrov also said the West was lying about Russia’s refusal to negotiate over Ukraine and was trying to turn Moldova, Georgia and former Soviet states in Central Asia against Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.
In the interview on state TV, Lavrov said everybody wanted the conflict in Ukraine — which Moscow calls a “special military operation” — to end, but that the West’s support for Kyiv was playing an important role in how Russia approached the campaign.
Two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was preparing a new package of military aid worth $2.2 billion which is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time.
.”..We’re now seeking to push back Ukrainian army artillery to a distance that will not pose a threat to our territories,” said Lavrov.
.”..The greater the range of the weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime the more we will have to push them back from territories which are part of our country.”
Longer-range rockets would allow Ukraine — which has said it plans to retake all of its territory by force, including annexed Crimea — to strike deeper into Russian-held territory.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that such rockets would escalate the conflict but not change its course.
President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of Russian troops into Ukraine in February last year. He has said the operation was needed to protect Russia’s own security and to stand up to what he has described as Western efforts to contain and weaken Moscow.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of waging an illegal war designed to expand its territory.


EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’

Updated 02 February 2023

EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’

  • EU countries have staunchly backed Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February
  • In June last year, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status

KYIV: European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she had arrived in Kyiv with a team of commissioners on Thursday, a day before a Ukraine-European Union summit in the war-torn country.
“Good to be back in Kyiv, my 4th time since Russia’s invasion.... We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation,” she wrote in a tweet.
She is accompanied by 15 commissioners, including the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
The Commission described the visit as a “strong symbol” of European support for Ukraine “in the face of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression.”
EU countries have staunchly backed Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, by hitting Russia with waves of economic sanctions and by sending weapons to Kyiv.
In June last year, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status.