Tunisia arrests Al Jazeera journalist: bureau director

Samir Sassi a journalist at the Al Jazeera office in Tunisia (X)
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Updated 04 January 2024
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Tunisia arrests Al Jazeera journalist: bureau director

  • Al Jazeera’s Tunisia bureau has been closed since President Kais Saied’s swift power grab in July 2021
  • Campaigners voiced concern over a growing number of journalists behind bars in the North African country

Tunis: Tunisian authorities have arrested an Al Jazeera reporter, the network’s bureau chief said Thursday, as campaigners voiced concern over a growing number of journalists behind bars in the North African country.
“Samir Sassi, a journalist at the Al Jazeera office in Tunisia, was arrested after security forces raided his house” late Wednesday, said Lotfi Hajji, director of the Qatar-based television network’s bureau in Tunis.
He told AFP that police did not disclose the reasons for the arrest nor where Sassi was being held. There was no official comment from Tunisian authorities.
Hajji said the security forces had also seized Sassi’s “computer, phone, and the phones of his wife and children.”
Al Jazeera’s Tunisia bureau has been closed since President Kais Saied’s swift power grab in July 2021, but the network’s journalists remained accredited and maintained their coverage in Tunisia.
Authorities did not provide a reason for shutting down the bureau at the time.
Tunisia has come under criticism for a crackdown on the freedom of speech, including the arrests of more than 30 journalists in 2023, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
In an open letter to Saied published on Thursday, the IFJ expressed its “deepest concern at the frequent imprisonment of journalists, in total contravention of the provisions of the Tunisian Constitution in respect of freedom of expression and the media.”
It mentioned the case of Tunisian journalist Zied El Heni, who was arrested on December 29 after criticizing Tunisian Commerce Minister Kalthoum Ben Rejeb in a radio show he hosts.
Heni became well known during the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set in motion what later came to be known as the Arab Spring.
The journalist remains in detention, awaiting trial scheduled for January 10.
“Heni’s case is not an isolated one, but clearly indicates the existence of a systematic policy of instrumentalising legal procedures and the judicial system to systematically intimidate, bully and imprison journalists,” said the IFJ.
Last summer, the United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said he was “deeply concerned” over the crackdown on media in Tunisia, with vaguely worded legislation used to criminalize criticism.
Seventeen journalists in Tunisia currently face trial, according to local media.
Heni and some other journalists have been prosecuted under the provisions of Decree 54, which punishes those accused of spreading “false news” with a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The legislation “is being used to silence journalists and opponents of the president,” Anthony Bellanger, general secretary of the IFJ, said earlier this week, accusing the government of “attacking journalists.”


Xander the Great! Schauffele wins the British Open for his 2nd major this year

Updated 13 min 28 sec ago
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Xander the Great! Schauffele wins the British Open for his 2nd major this year

  • Schauffele closed with a 6-under 65 with a final round that ranks among the most memorable in British Open history, particularly the 31 on the back nine

TROON, Scotland: Xander Schauffele went from the most nerve-wracking putt of his career to the coolest walk toward an 18th green he ever imagined.
He won a nail-biter at the PGA Championship in May. He delivered a masterpiece Sunday in the British Open. Two different finishes, two different feelings.
One major conclusion.
Schauffele has more than enough game and all the confidence in the world to win the biggest championships. Questioned at the start of the season whether he could win a major, he now has two of them.
Schauffele closed with a 6-under 65 with a final round that ranks among the most memorable in British Open history, particularly the 31 on the back nine. It matched the best score of the week at Royal Troon with nothing less than the claret jug riding on the outcome.
He played bogey-free in a daunting wind and turned a two-shot deficit into a two-shot victory for his second major of the year.
It also gave the Americans a sweep of the four majors for the first time since 1982.
“It’s a dream come true to win two majors in one year,” Schauffele said. “It took me forever just to win one, and to have two now is something else.”
He won the PGA Championship at Valhalla by making a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 65. In a final round set up for high drama at Royal Troon — six players one shot behind, nine players separated by three shots — Schauffele made a tense Sunday look like a nice walk along the Irish Sea.
“I think winning the first one helped me a lot today on the back nine,” he said. “I had some feeling of calmness come through. It was very helpful on what has been one of the hardest back nines I’ve ever played in a tournament.”
It sure didn’t show. Standing on the 18th tee, Schauffele said he turned to caddie and longtime friend Austin Kaiser and told him that he had felt calm down the decisive back nine.
“He said he was about to puke,” Schauffele said.
In the 90-year history of four majors, Schauffele became the first player to win two majors in one season with a final-round 65. Jack Nicklaus is the only other player to do that in his career.
And he never looked more calm, oozing that cool California vibe even as the wind presented so much trouble at Royal Troon.
Schauffele pulled away with three birdies in a four-hole stretch early on the back nine to go from two shots behind to leading by as many as three.
He won by two shots over American Billy Horschel and Justin Rose, the 43-year-old from England who had to go through 36-hole qualifying just to get into the field. They were among four players who had at least a share of the lead at one point Sunday.
They just couldn’t keep up with Schauffele. No one could.
“He has a lot of horsepower,” Rose said. “He’s good with a wedge, he’s great with a putter, he hits the ball a long way, obviously his iron play is strong. So he’s got a lot of weapons out there. I think probably one of his most unappreciated ones is his mentality. He’s such a calm guy out there.
“I don’t know what he’s feeling, but he certainly makes it look very easy.”
Even with so many players in contention early, the engraver was able to get to work early on those 16 letters across the base of the silver claret jug.
Schauffele kept staring at golf’s oldest trophy in his press conference, looking forward to gazing at it in private, wondering what kind of drink to pour from it. He said he’d leave that up to his father, Stefan, who missed his son’s first major title and was blubbering on the phone with him.
As to where that final round ranks — Henrik Stenson shot 63 when he won his duel with Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon in 2016 — Schauffele left no doubt where it stood in his own career.
“At the very tip-top,” Schauffele said. “Best round I’ve played.”
Playing in the third-to-last group, he matched the round of the championship with a score that was just over eight shots better than the field average.
The final birdie was a pitch over a pot bunker to 4 feet on the par-5 16th. The grandstands at The Open are among the largest, lining both sides of the fairway as Schauffele walked through and soaked up the cheers.
“I got chills,” he said.
The 30-year-old from San Diego became the first player since Jordan Spieth in 2015 to win his first two majors in the same season. And he extended American dominance on this Scottish links as the seventh Open champion in the last eight visits to Royal Troon.
It was the 11th straight year for a first-time British Open champion, tying a tournament record.
Rose started one shot behind and closed with a 67. That was only good for second place. He had a chance to set a record by going the longest time between majors after his 2013 US Open win.
“Gutted when I walked off the course and it hit me hard because I was so strong out there today,” Rose said. “Xander got it going. I hit a couple of really good putts that didn’t fall, and then suddenly that lead stretched. I left it all out there. I’m super proud of how I competed.”
Horschel, who started the final round with a one-shot lead in his bid to win his first major, dropped back around the turn and birdied his last three holes for a 68.
“I’m disappointed. I should feel disappointed. I had a chance to win a major,” Horschel said. “I just made a few too many mistakes today when I didn’t need to.”
The player Schauffele had to track down was Thriston Lawrence of South Africa, who birdied three of four holes to end the front nine with a 32.
Schauffele was two shots behind when it all changed so suddenly. Schauffele hit a wedge out of the left rough on the difficult 11th and judged it perfectly to 3 feet for birdie. He hit another wedge to 15 feet for birdie on the 13th, and capped his pivotal run with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th.
Lawrence finally dropped a shot on the 12th and didn’t pick up any shots the rest of the day. He closed with a 68 and earned a small consolation — a trip to the Masters next April, his first time to Augusta National.
Scottie Scheffler, who got within one shot of the lead briefly on the front nine, lost his way with a three-putt from 6 feet for a double bogey on the ninth hole. Scheffler finished his round by topping a tee shot on the 18th and making another double bogey. The world’s No. 1 player closed with a 72 and tied for seventh.
He stuck around to share a hug with Schauffele, the two top players in golf. Schauffele was the only player this year to finish in the top 10 in all four majors.
He finished at 9-under 275 and earned $3.1 million, pushing him over $15 million for the season.
Schauffele went from the heaviest major trophy at the PGA Championship to the smallest and oldest, the famed claret jug.
“I just can’t wait to drink out of it,” he said, smiling as wide as ever.


Nadal ‘not comfortable’ ahead of Olympics bid

Updated 22 July 2024
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Nadal ‘not comfortable’ ahead of Olympics bid

BASTED, Sweden: Rafael Nadal will head to the Paris Olympics chasing a third gold medal but admitted his “level was so far from what it should be” after losing in the Bastad clay-court final on Sunday.

The 38-year-old Spanish great went down to a straight-sets defeat to Portuguese journeyman Nuno Borges in his first final since capturing a 14th French Open in 2022.

“The level was so far from what it should be. Probably the energy too,” said Nadal.

“It has been a long week with long matches. Even if my body, I don’t have damage, that’s important — but mentally and physically, I am not used to playing four days in a row and playing long matches.”

Nadal was playing his first tournament since an opening round exit at the French Open in May.

He skipped Wimbledon to focus on his clay-court bag of tricks ahead of the Olympics which are being played at Roland Garros, the site of 14 of his 22 Grand Slam triumphs.

At the Games, Nadal will be looking to add to his singles gold from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and doubles victory at Rio in 2016.

As well as singles, in Paris he will team up with French Open and Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz.

“I played the final, that’s positive. I was able to play long matches without having an injury, that’s good,” added Nadal of his week in Sweden.

The former world number one has played just six tournaments in 2024 due to injury while his ranking has slumped to 261.

“In some way I felt that I arrived here practicing much better than what I played on the tournament during the whole week. That’s something that I am not satisfied with,” he explained.

“I arrived here with the feeling that I was playing a good level and I was not able to show that during the whole week. That is something that I am not happy with.

“Anyway it’s a final, so I can’t say it’s a bad result because it’s the first final since a long time ago. But I was not able to feel myself comfortable enough during the whole week to be satisfied with the week of tennis that I played.”


Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race

Updated 22 July 2024
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Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race

  • Some Democrats will likely demonstrate their anger toward Biden and Netanyahu by skipping Wednesday’s speech

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to Washington on Monday, leaving behind a brutal war to make a politically precarious speech before Congress at a time of great uncertainty following Joe Biden’s withdrawal from the presidential race.
With efforts ongoing to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, rising concerns about the war spreading to Lebanon and Yemen, and the US in the midst of a dizzying election campaign, Netanyahu’s speech has the potential to cause disarray on both sides of the ocean.
The risks only increased with Biden’s decision Sunday to drop out of the race for president, especially since the choice of a replacement Democratic nominee — and the potential next American leader — are still up in the air.
A person familiar with Biden’s schedule confirmed Sunday that the president will host Netanyahu at the White House. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said the exact timing of the meeting has not been established because Biden is recovering from COVID-19.
Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on Wednesday. He is also expected to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
An official in Netanyahu’s office confirmed that the Israeli leader was set to travel to Washington on Monday. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.
Netanyahu will deliver his congressional address with an eye on several audiences: his ultranationalist governing partners, the key to his political survival; the Biden administration, which Netanyahu counts on for diplomatic and military support; and Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which could offer Netanyahu a reset in relations if he is reelected in November.
His words risk angering any one of those constituencies, which the Israeli leader cannot afford if he hopes to hold on to his tenuous grip on power.
“There are a few land mines and pitfalls on this trip,” Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said before Biden’s withdrawal. “He is thought of as a political wizard who knows how to escape from traps. I am not sure he still knows how to do that.”
It is Netanyahu’s fourth speech to Congress — more than any other world leader. During his address, his far-right governing partners will want to hear his resolve to continue the war and topple Hamas.
The Biden administration will look for progress toward the latest US-backed ceasefire proposal and details on a postwar vision. Republicans hope Netanyahu besmirches Biden and bolsters the GOP’s hoped-for perception as Israel’s stalwart supporter.
Upon receiving the invitation, Netanyahu said he would “present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us.”
The war, which was sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has tested Israel’s ties with its top ally as never before.
The Biden administration has stood staunchly beside Israel. But it has grown increasingly alarmed about the conduct of the Israeli military, the continued difficulties of getting humanitarian aid into Gaza, especially after the short-lived US military pier off Gaza coast, as well as Israel’s lack of postwar plans and the harm to civilians in Gaza. Similar concerns will likely persist if Americans elect a new Democratic president.
Biden earlier this year froze the delivery of certain bombs over fears they would be used in Israel’s incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which at the time sheltered more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.
The US abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote in March that called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages but did not link the two. Netanyahu called the decision a “retreat” from a “principled position” by Israel’s ally.
Biden has had to walk a fine line of his own. He has faced harsh criticism from progressive Democrats and many Arab Americans. Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking elected US Jewish official, lambasted Netanyahu in March for his handling of the war.
Some Democrats will likely demonstrate their anger toward Biden and Netanyahu by skipping Wednesday’s speech. Netanyahu is also likely to be hounded by pro-Palestinian activists during his trip.
The last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress in 2015 was at the invitation of the Republican Party. The trip drove Israeli-American politics deep into the partisan divide as Netanyahu railed against then-President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.
Netanyahu has not shied away from making Israel a partisan issue. With his nationalist conservative ideology, he has been perceived as throwing his support behind Republican candidates in the past, rankling Democrats and Israelis who want to keep the US-Israel relationship bipartisan.
It’s unclear if he will meet Trump. If there is a meeting, it could expose Netanyahu to accusations that he is once again taking sides. But if he doesn’t meet with Trump, the former president could feel slighted.
The speech also offers Netanyahu opportunity. He will be able to show Israelis that despite the tensions with the Biden administration, US support for him remains ironclad.
“He wants the Israeli public to believe that he is very much still very welcome in the United States. And this shows that the American people are with him,” said David Makovsky, director of the program on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
For critics of Netanyahu, that embrace is unacceptable and grants legitimacy to a deeply polarizing leader whose public support has plummeted. Netanyahu faces widespread protests and calls to resign over the failures of Oct. 7 and his handling of the war.
In a letter to Congress, 500 Israeli writers, scholars and public figures expressed their dismay over the invitation to Netanyahu, saying he will use the platform to advance misguided policies that align with his far-right governing partners.
“His only interest is preserving his own power,” they wrote. “Does the United States Congress wish to support such a model of cynical and manipulative leadership in these times?”
Israeli media reported that Netanyahu will be joined by rescued hostage Noa Argamani and her father. But for many of the families of hostages held in Gaza, the trip is an affront.
“This is not the time for trips,” Ayelet Levy Shachar, whose daughter Naama was kidnapped on Oct. 7, told reporters.
“Netanyahu: First a deal, then you can travel.”


Many Democrats back Harris in 2024 race, but Pelosi, others silent

Updated 22 July 2024
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Many Democrats back Harris in 2024 race, but Pelosi, others silent

Many Democrats on Sunday quickly backed Vice President Kamala Harris to run as the party’s presidential nominee against Donald Trump after incumbent President Joe Biden’s abrupt departure from the race, but some powerful party members, including former House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, stayed quiet.

After weeks of in-party fighting between Democrats on whether Biden, 81, should stay in the race, a rush of support coalescing behind Harris is crucial just over 100 days before November’s election.

However, there are plenty of doubts inside the Democratic Party about whether Harris can beat Trump in November.

Biden himself endorsed Harris on Sunday, not in his initial letter stepping down, but in a separate statement. He was quickly followed by the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, several key donors, lawmakers including US Senator Patty Murray, and super PACs including Priorities USA and Unite the Country.

“Today I want to offer my full support and endorsement for Kamala to be the nominee of our party this year,” Biden said on social media platform X. “Democrats — it’s time to come together and beat Trump. Let’s do this.”

Dmitri Mehlhorn, an adviser to Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn founder and a major Democratic donor, called Harris “the American dream personified,” noting she was the daughter of immigrants. “She is also toughness personified, rising from my home town of Oakland California to become the top prosecutor of the state. With Scranton Joe stepping back, I cannot wait to help elect President Harris.”

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, also endorsed Harris in a statement.

Still, others including Pelosi and former President Barack Obama thanked Biden for his patriotism but did not yet throw their support behind Harris or any other candidate.

“We will be navigating uncharted waters in the days ahead,” Obama said in a statement. “But I have extraordinary confidence that the leaders of our party will be able to create a process from which an outstanding nominee emerges.”

US Senator Peter Welch, the first Democratic senator to call on Biden to drop his reelection run, called for an open process to nominate Harris.

The Democrats should have “an open process so that whoever our nominee is, including Kamala, has the strength of having a process that shows the consensus position of the party,” he said. “The debate in the Democratic Party is who can carry on the legacy of President Biden and defeat Trump.”

One Democratic donor told Reuters they would support a ticket for Kamala Harris as the presidential candidate and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro as her vice president, as a way to gain votes in Pennsylvania. It is not clear yet whom Harris would pick as her vice president if she were to become the nominee.

Though Shapiro said on Sunday he was grateful for Biden’s leadership, he did not endorse Harris.


World leaders pay tribute to Biden as he ends re-election bid

Updated 22 July 2024
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World leaders pay tribute to Biden as he ends re-election bid

PARIS: World leaders lined up to pay tribute to US President Joe Biden Sunday after he announced he was dropping out of the US presidential race, even as Republicans called on him to step down from the job before the end of his term.

Biden announced his decision in a letter released on Sunday, a stunning move that upends the 2024 race for the White House. He endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party’s new nominee.

One senior Republican argued that if he was not fit to run for re-election then he was not fit to serve out his term. But world leaders lined up to pay tribute to the Biden’s achievements as US president.

“You’ve taken many difficult decisions thanks to which Poland, America and the world are safer, and democracy stronger,” said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“I know you were driven by the same motivations when announcing your final decision. Probably the most difficult one in your life,” added Tusk, who served as the European Council president between 2014 and 2019.

UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer said he respected Biden’s decision, adding: “I look forward to us working together during the remainder of his presidency.

“I know that, as he has done throughout his remarkable career, he will have made his decision based on what he believes is best for the American people,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also paid tribute to Biden’s legacy.

“My friend @POTUS Joe Biden has achieved a lot: for his country, for Europe, for the world,” he wrote on X. “His decision not to run again deserves respect.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog thanked him for his decades of support.

“I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to @POTUS Joe Biden for his friendship and steadfast support for the Israeli people over his decades long career,” Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, wrote on social media.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also thanked Biden for his years of service.

“I’ve known President Biden for years,” he wrote on X.

“He’s a great man, and everything he does is guided by his love for his country. As President, he is a partner to Canadians — and a true friend. To President Biden and the First Lady: thank you.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote on X: “Thank you for your leadership and ongoing service President Biden.”

“The Australia-US Alliance has never been stronger with our shared commitment to democratic values, international security, economic prosperity and climate action for this and future generations.”

Former president Barack Obama, with whom Biden served two terms as vice president, praised his record in office as president.

“Internationally, he restored America’s standing in the world, revitalized NATO, and mobilized the world to stand up against Russian aggression in Ukraine,” he said.

While he had every right to run for reelection, Biden’s decision to drop out of the race was testament to his “love of country,” Obama added.

The Kremlin said it was monitoring developments.

“The election is still four months away. And it’s a long time, during which a lot can change. We need to pay attention, follow what will happen and go about our business,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Life.ru news outlet.

Even as world leaders paid tribute to his performance on the world stage, leading Republicans were insisting he was unfit to remain president.

“If Joe Biden is not fit to run for president, he is not fit to serve as president,” said a statement from House Speaker Mike Johnson, the top Republican in Congress.

“He must resign the office immediately. November 5 cannot arrive soon enough,” he added.

Former president Donald Trump, who is running for the presidency again, wrote on his Truth Social network: “Crooked Joe Biden was not fit to run for President, and is certainly not fit to serve.”