Ecuador’s Moreno Scraps Fuel Subsidy Cuts in Big Win for Indigenous Groups

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno on Monday officially scrapped his own law to cut expensive fuel subsidies after days of violent protests against the IMF-backed measure, returning fuel prices to prior levels until a new measure can be found.

The signing of the decree is a blow to Moreno, and leaves big questions about the oil-producing nation’s fiscal situation.

But it represents a win for the country’s indigenous communities, who led the protests, bringing chaos to the capital and crippling the oil sector.

The clashes marked the latest in a series of political convulsions sparked by IMF-backed reform plans in Latin America, where increased polarization between the right and left is causing widespread friction amid efforts to overhaul hidebound economies.

Moreno’s law eliminated four-decade-old fuel subsidies and was estimated to have freed up nearly $1.5 billion per year in the government budget, helping to shrink the fiscal deficit as required under a deal Moreno signed with the International Monetary Fund.

But the measure was hugely unpopular and sparked days of protests led by indigenous groups that turned increasingly violent despite a military-enforced curfew.

Moreno gave in to the chief demand of demonstrators late on Sunday, tweeting on Monday that: “We have opted for peace.”

Then, later on Monday, he signed the decree officially reverting his previous measure. Moreno, who took office in 2017 after campaigning as the leftist successor to former President Rafael Correa, said fuel prices would revert to their earlier levels at midnight.

A demonstrator holds tires as he runs during a protest against Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno’s austerity measures in Quito, Ecuador October 12, 2019.

He added that the government would seek to define a new plan to tackle the fuel subsidies that does not benefit the wealthy or smugglers, with prices remaining at prior levels until the new legislation is ready.

“While Moreno has survived for now, he is not yet out of the woods. Once again, Ecuador’s indigenous sector has proven its strength and now will be emboldened to look for concessions from the government in other areas,” said Eileen Gavin, senior Latin America analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

“This inevitably means a slower fiscal adjustment between now and the 2021 election,” Gavin added in an email.

Nonetheless, for the time being, Moreno’s actions brought a much-needed measure of calm to the streets of the capital Quito, where residents on Monday began to restore order and clear away the makeshift blockades that sprang up in recent days.

“We have freed the country,” indigenous leader Jaime Vargas said to cheers from supporters at a press conference. “Enough of the pillaging of the Ecuadorean people.”

The protests had grown increasingly chaotic in recent days after the government launched a crackdown against what it labeled as extremists whom it said had infiltrated protests.

Authorities reported that the office of the comptroller, a local TV station and military vehicles were set on fire.

Indigenous protesters who streamed into Quito from Andean and Amazonian provinces to join the protests piled into buses that departed the city on Monday.

“We’re going back to our territories,” said Inti Killa, an indigenous man from the Amazonian region of Napo. “We’ve shown that unity and conviction of the people is a volcano that nobody can stop.”

One of the government’s more immediate priorities will be to kick-start oil sector operations, which were suspended in some regions after protesters broke into plants.

“We need to re-establish oil production,” said Energy Minister Carlos Perez. He added that Ecuador stopped producing some 2 million barrels of oil during the protests, costing the government more than $100 million in lost income. “I expect things to be back to normal in about 15 days,” Perez said.

Pacific Northwest Tribes: Remove Columbia River Dams

Two Pacific Northwest tribes on Monday demanded the removal of three major hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River to save migrating salmon and starving orcas and restore fishing sites that were guaranteed to the tribes in a treaty more than 150 years ago.

The Yakama and Lummi nations made the demand of the U.S. government on Indigenous Peoples Day, a designation that’s part of a trend to move away from a holiday honoring Christopher Columbus.

For decades, people have debated whether to remove four big dams on the Lower Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, but breaching the Columbia dams, which are a much more significant source of power, has never been seriously discussed.
 
Proposals to merely curtail operations, let alone remove the structures, are controversial, and the prospects of the Columbia dams being demolished any time soon appear nonexistent.

Tribal leaders said at a news conference along the Columbia River that the Treaty of 1855, in which 14 tribes and bands ceded 11.5 million acres to the United States, was based on the inaccurate belief that the U.S. had a right to take the land.

Under the treaty, the Yakama Tribe retained the right to fish at all their traditional sites. But construction of the massive concrete dams decades later along the lower Columbia River to generate power for the booming region destroyed critical fishing spots and made it impossible for salmon to complete their migration.

FILE – Water flows through the Dalles Dam, along the Columbia River, in The Dalles, Oregon, June 3, 2011.

After a song of prayer, Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy spoke Monday at the site of now-vanished Celilo Falls near The Dalles, Oregon, and said the placid Columbia River behind him looked “like a lake where we once saw a free-flowing river.”
 
“We have a choice and it’s one or the other: dams or salmon,” he said. “Our ancestors tell us to look as far into the future as we can. Will we be the generation that forgot those who are coming behind us, those yet unborn?”

Celilo Falls was a traditional salmon-fishing site for the Yakama for centuries, but it was swallowed by the river in 1957 after the construction of The Dalles Dam.

Support for dams

The three dams operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are a critical part of a complex hydroelectric network strung along the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho that powers the entire region.

Government officials were unavailable for further comment Monday due to the holiday.

Supporters of dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers note the vast amount of clean energy they produce and their usefulness for irrigation and transportation. For example, they allow farmers to ship about half of U.S. wheat exports by barge instead of by truck or rail. According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, about 40,000 local jobs are dependent on shipping on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Salmon, orcas 

The Lummi Nation is in northwestern Washington state, far from the Columbia River, but it has also been touched by construction of the dams, said Jeremiah Julius, Lummi Nation chairman.

Chinook salmon are the preferred prey of endangered orcas but just 73 resident orcas remain in the Pacific Northwest — the lowest number in three decades — because of a lack of chinook, as well as toxic contamination and vessel noise. The orcas were hunted for food for generations by the Lummi Nation in the Salish Sea, he said.

“We are in a constant battle … to leave future generations a lifeway promised our ancestors 164 years ago,” he said. “Our people understand that the salmon, like the orca, are the miner’s canary for the health of the Salish Sea and for all its children.

“I choose salmon,” he added. “I will always choose salmon.”

Fish ladders built into the dams allow for the passage of migrating salmon, and migrating fish are hand-counted as they pass through. But the number of salmon making the arduous journey to the Pacific Ocean and back to their natal streams has declined steeply in recent decades.

The Columbia River Basin once produced between 10 million and 16 million salmon a year. Now there are about 1 million a year.

FILE – Water flows through the Bonneville Dam near Cascade, Oregon, June 27, 2012.

The Bonneville Dam was constructed in the mid-1930s and generates enough electricity to power about 900,000 homes — roughly the size of Portland, Oregon. The Dalles Dam followed in the 1950s and John Day Dam was completed in 1972.

Environmental groups applauded the tribes’ demand and said efforts to save salmon without removing the dams aren’t working because without the free flow of the Columbia, the entire river ecosystem is out of balance.

“The stagnant reservoirs behind the dams create dangerously hot water, and climate change is pushing the river over the edge. Year after year, the river gets hotter,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for the nonprofit group Columbia Riverkeeper. “The system is broken, but we can fix it.”
 

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day Gains National Approval

Along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and tourists celebrated the world’s largest display of Italian-American pageantry on Columbus Day, while New Mexico and a growing list of states and municipalities ditched the holiday altogether for the first time.

The Italian navigator namesake who sailed to the modern-day Americas in 1492, Christopher Columbus has long been considered by some scholars  and Native Americans as an affront to those who had settled on the land thousands of years prior to his arrival. 

While the earliest  commemoration of Columbus Day dates back to 1866 in New York City,  as a celebration to honor the heritage and contributions of the now-17 million Italian-Americans living in the United States, the movement behind “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” began more than a century later, in 1977, by a delegation of Native nations.

The resolution, presented in Geneva at the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, paved the way for cities like Berkeley, California to officially replace the holiday 15 years later.

Yet to organizers of the 75th annual Columbus Day Parade, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus remains worth celebrating.

“Columbus discovered America. If it weren’t for Columbus, who knows where we’d be today,” said Aldo Verrelli, Parade Chairman with the Columbus Citizens Foundation.

“[With] any of those people in those days, we have to remember the good that they did,” Verrelli said. Let’s forget about all the other controversy.”

It’s a sentiment and a suggestion that has long divided Americans: honor tradition, or correct history and rectify the past.

“There were Native Americans that were here before, but [Columbus] basically discovered the New World, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Joe Sanfilippo, a participant at the New York Columbus Day Parade.

“The Europeans essentially tried to eradicate us,” U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM) told VOA. “They brought disease. They banished us to reservations later on when the U.S. government became an active force.”

Red paint covers a statue of Christopher Columbus, Oct. 14, 2019, in Providence, R.I., after it was vandalized on the day named to honor him as one of the first Europeans to reach the New World.

Since Berkeley’s decision to rename the holiday in 1992, more than 130 cities have followed suit. Joining several states — including Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, Oregon and South Dakota — New Mexico became the latest state to legally replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2019, celebrated for the first time on Monday.

One of the first two Native American women elected to U.S. Congress and member of the Laguna Pueblo, Haaland describes her mission as one to “correct history” and honor the resilience of America’s Indigenous Peoples on the national stage. On October 11, she co-sponsored a national resolution to designate the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

“There’s 573 distinct tribes right now in our country. And we’re all diverse. And I just I think that it’s an excellent way for us to celebrate the diversity and recognize that when other indigenous people come to this country, that there’s a place for them also,” Haaland said of the renamed holiday.

People taking part in a rally to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day in downtown Seattle sing as they march toward Seattle City Hall, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. The observance of the day was made official by the Seattle City Council in 2014.

America, she adds, was never “discoverable” in the first place, a “misnomer” that runs in direct contradiction to decades-old American history textbooks and the people who defend Christopher Columbus’s legacy.

“In their minds, accepting the truth, is somehow shifting the power — [in] that it contributes to the loss of power by minority over the majority,” said Regis Pecos, former governor of Cochiti Pueblo. “I think that these attitudes and behaviors are so deeply entrenched, that it is really based upon fear of losing a narrative, as false as that narrative is.”

Festival attendees in the state’s capitol, Santa Fe, say the celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day marks progress.

“History is always written by the winners. And then now, we[ve] come to a generation [where] we start to think about what we used to think is right is wrong now,” said attendee Silvia Sian.

At the Columbus Day Parade in New York, others argue it shouldn’t be an either-or decision.

“Those who want to honor Columbus, then they keep that day,” said New York resident Heather Fitzroy. “But those who want to honor the ones who lived before us, like the indigenous people of America, if they want to honor them, then that’s OK too.”

Report: South Korean Pop Star Sulli Found Dead at Home

News reports say South Korean pop star and actress Sulli has been found dead at her home south of Seoul.
 
A report by Yonhap news agency said the 25-year-old was found Monday afternoon. The report said police have said there were no signs of foul play at her home in Seongnam.
 
Repeated calls to the Seongnam Sujeong Police Department and Sulli’s agency weren’t answered.
 
Sulli’s legal name is Choi Jin-ri. She debuted in 2009 as a member of the girl band “f(x)” and also acted in numerous television dramas and movies.

Spain at Odds With US on Venezuela’s Former Spy Chief

For weeks, Spain has rejected repeated U.S. requests for the extradition of former Venezuelan spy chief Hugo Carvajal, wanted in the United States on drug trafficking and narco-terrorism charges.

Now, the reasons for Madrid’s refusal are emerging: he is cooperating in Spain’s efforts to mediate Venezuela’s drawn out political crisis.  Spanish court documents say Carvajal was operating under “directions and orders from the Presidency of Venezuela,” and analysts say Spain’s protection of him may be influenced by his importance as an intelligence asset to the Spanish Foreign Intelligence Service, CNI.

The weight of the charges levied by the United States is hefty. The indictment, sent to Voice of America by the Department of Justice, alleges that Carvajal “worked with terrorists and other drug traffickers to dispatch thousands of kilograms of cocaine” to the United States. U.S. Justice department officials say that to accomplish this, he worked with the leadership of the militant Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, during his near decade-long tenure as head of Venezuela’s powerful military counterintelligence service, DGCIM.
 
Carvajal and his alleged shady dealings have long been on the U.S. radar.  In 2008, the United States Department of the Treasury accused Carvajal of assisting the FARC in protecting Colombia’s Arauca Department, a region known as a center of cocaine production, and providing the FARC with official Venezuelan government identification.
 
 FARC used profits from its drug trafficking networks to fund its decades-long insurgency against the Colombian government. The United States designated the FARC as a terrorist group in 1997. 
 
The Department of Justice further alleged that Carvajal was a member of the Cartel De Los Soles. According to the indictment, the cartel is a group of high-ranking Venuezelan officials who not only cooperate with the drug traffickers, but also provide heavily armed security, military grade weapons, and intelligence to protect some of these drug shipments.

FILE – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, right, speaks next to retired General Hugo Carvajal as they attend the Socialist party congress in Caracas, July 27, 2014.

After serving under the Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez Venezuelan governments for nearly two decades, Carvajal defected in February. In a direct rebuke to Maduro, he filmed a video expressing support for Juan Guaido as interim president before fleeing the country in dramatic fashion.

Carvajal secured a boat for a night trip to the Dominican Republic, evading the Venezuelan military before boarding a direct flight to Madrid. According to testimony, Spanish intelligence agents escorted Carvajal from the plane and into a four wheel drive vehicle, bypassing immigration and customs inspections. The escort ended at a luxury apartment, rented by his son, where Carvajal resided until his arrest on an Interpol warrant some weeks later.
 
Carvajal’s VIP treatment by Spanish intelligence officials indicates that he is benefiting from his previous cooperation with the Spanish government, say analysts. Court records do not specify how long Carvajal has been in service to the CNI, but his relationship precedes his arrival in Spain. The records show that he collaborated in botched uprisings and negotiations to try and ease current Venezuelan president Maduro out of power.  
 
The Spanish continue to see Carvajal as valuable despite his break with the Maduro government. As a member of the Cartel de los Soles, Carvajal was privy to highly sensitive information on the Venezuelan government’s involvement with drug trafficking. Carvajal claims to have specific information on the group’s money laundering operations, including those of the group’s top officials. What he knows could prove important, as the US Department of Justice believes officials as high in the government as Vice President Tareck El Aissami are involved.

Carvajal’s claim on information, however, may be just that. It is unclear how involved he was with the group’s activities after his tenure as intelligence chief ended, and the information could be too dated to prove useful.
 
Carvajal has escaped U.S. warrants before. In 2011, the Netherlands refused to turn over Carvajal to American authorities after apprehending him in Aruba. The Netherlands freed Carvajal after accepting Venezuela’s claim that the general enjoyed diplomatic immunity as their consul-general appointee for the island.
 
Spain, and the European Union, appear ready to again frustrate any further U.S. efforts to extradite Carvajal. The Spanish government maintains a strong interest in its former colony, with 200,000 dual nationals residing there. Madrid is in the lead role for the EU in mediating the current crisis in Venezuela, and these efforts are taking precedence over U.S. efforts to prosecute former members of the Maduro government.
 

 

Spain Hands Catalans Lngthy Prison Terms Over Secession Bid

Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday sentenced 12 prominent former Catalan politicians and activists to lengthy prison terms for their roles in a 2017 bid to take the wealthy region out of Spain and create a new European country.

The landmark ruling, after a four-month trial, inflamed independence supporters in the northeastern region bordering France where Catalan identity is a passionate issue.

Nine of the Catalans on trial in association with their efforts to achieve independence received between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition. Four of them were additionally convicted for misuse of public funds, and three more were fined for disobedience. The Spanish Constitution says the country can’t be divided.

Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said he hoped the sentence would mark a watershed in the long standoff between national authorities in Madrid and separatists in the Catalan capital Barcelona. Sánchez said the court’s verdict proved the 2017 secession attempt had become “a shipwreck.”

He urged people to “set aside extremist positions” and “embark on a new phase” for Catalonia.

Authorities will respond firmly to any attempt to break the law, Sánchez said in a live television address, as thousands of people joined protest marches in the Catalan capital Barcelona shortly after the court’s verdict. Some protesters held banners saying, “Free political prisoners.”

Grassroots pro-secession groups previously had warned that guilty verdicts would bring what they called “peaceful civil disobedience.” Spanish authorities deployed hundreds of extra police to the region in anticipation of the ruling.

“Today, they have violated all their rights. It is horrible that Europe doesn’t act,” 60-year-old civil servant Beni Saball said at a Barcelona street protest, referring to those convicted.

But retired 73-year-old bank clerk Jordi Casares said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict.

“It is fair because they went outside the law,” he said, walking out of his home on a Barcelona street. “I hope that after a few days of tumult by the separatists the situation can improve.”

Catalan regional president Quim Torra described the verdict as “an act of vengeance.”

“The Spanish state’s refusal to launch a dialogue and seek a democratic solution to the political conflict will not stop us from acting on our determination to build an independent state for our nation,” Torra said in a speech in Barcelona.

In their ruling, the seven Supreme Court judges wrote that what the Catalan leaders presented as a legitimate exercise of the right to decide was in fact “bait” to mobilize citizens and place pressure on the Spanish government to grant a referendum on independence.

Although prosecutors had requested convictions for the more severe crime of rebellion, which under Spanish law implies the use of violence to subvert the constitutional order, judges convicted nine defendants of sedition, implying that they promoted public disorder to subvert the law.

Ex-Catalan regional Vice President Oriol Junqueras was sentenced to 13 years for sedition.

He and three other former Cabinet members — Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull and Dolors Bassa, who were sentenced to 12 years — were also convicted for misuse of public funds.

The former regional parliament speaker, Carme Forcadell, was given 11 ½ years in prison; ex-Cabinet members Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull 10 ½ years each; and grassroots pro-independence activists Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart got nine years.

Three other former members of the Catalan Cabinet — Santiago Vila, Meritxell Borràs y Carles Mundó — were fined for disobedience.

All of them were barred from holding public office.

The trial featured over 500 witnesses, including former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and 50 nationally televised hearings.

At the center of the prosecutors’ case was the Oct. 1, 2017 independence referendum that the Catalan government held even though the country’s highest court had disallowed it.

The “Yes” vote won, but because it was an illegal ballot most voters didn’t turn out and the vote count was considered of dubious value. The Catalan Parliament, however, unilaterally declared independence three weeks later, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Seven separatist leaders allegedly involved in the events, including ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, fled the country and are regarded by Spain as fugitives.

The separatist effort fell flat when it won no international recognition. The Spanish government stepped in and fired the Catalan regional government, with prosecutors later bringing charges.

Defense lawyers argued that the leaders of the secessionist movement were carrying out the will of roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia who, opinion polls indicate, would like the region to be a separate country.

The Catalan leaders — jailed for nearly two years while their case was heard — have grown into powerful symbols for the separatists. Many sympathizers wear yellow ribbons pinned to their clothes as a sign of protest.

The verdict will almost certainly become another rallying point for the separatist cause, which is going through its most difficult period in years with its most charismatic leaders behind bars or abroad.

The Catalan separatist movement’s two main political parties disagree on the next moves, and the grassroots organizations that have driven the movement are starting to criticize the lack of political progress.

The verdict also came less than a month before Spain holds a general election on Nov. 10 to choose a new government, and the political handling of the Catalan independence question will undoubtedly be one of the top issues.

Hunter Biden Defends His Ukraine, China Business Deals

Hunter Biden, the son of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on Sunday defended his work in Ukraine and China after calls by President Donald Trump that the two countries investigate his business dealings, pleas that have engulfed Trump in an impeachment inquiry.

The younger Biden, whose father is one of the leading Democratic candidates seeking to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election, said in a statement issued by his lawyer that despite Trump’s accusations of improprieties while he was a board member of the Burisma energy company in Ukraine for five years, no foreign or domestic law enforcement agency has accused him of any wrongdoing.

Hunter Biden left the Burisma board last April and said, without giving an explanation, that he would leave the board of China’s BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company at the end of October.

Published accounts say that he was paid as much as $50,000 a month to serve on the Burisma board, although his Sunday statement did not mention the salary he received. The younger Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, said the position with the Chinese investment firm was unpaid, but that Hunter Biden two years ago invested $420,000 for a 10% equity stake in the firm, which he still holds, although has not received any return on his investment.

“Hunter undertook these business activities independently,” Mesires said. “He did not believe it appropriate to discuss them with his father, nor did he.”

But Trump in a late July call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked for “a favor,” that Ukraine investigate the younger Biden’s business activities there and Joe Biden’s efforts while he was President Barack Obama’s second in command to get a Ukrainian prosecutor dismissed, a demand that by numerous accounts did not relate to Burisma’s activities and at the time was supported by other Western countries. Trump subsequently publicly asked China to investigate the younger Biden.

With disclosure of Trump’s demands by an U.S. intelligence community whistleblower, and the White House’s subsequent release of a rough account of the Trump-Zelenskiy call confirming the U.S. leader’s call for a Ukrainian investigation, Democrats in the House of Representatives opened an impeachment inquiry against Trump. The elder Biden says Trump “has convicted himself,” and “should be impeached.”

Mesires said that when Hunter Biden “engaged in his business pursuits, he believed that he was acting appropriately and in good faith. He never anticipated the barrage of false charges against both him and his father by the president of the United States.”

The lawyer said that if Joe Biden is elected president, Hunter Biden “will readily comply” with any White House strictures on “purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts,” along with refraining from serving on any boards of foreign companies or working for them.

Until Sunday, the younger Biden had remained silent as Trump called him “a loser” with few business skills and assailed him at a political rally last week for being kicked out of the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2013 for cocaine use.

“Hunter, you know nothing about energy,” Trump said. “You know nothing about China. You know nothing about anything, frankly. Hunter, you’re a loser.”

On Sunday, Trump tweeted, “Where’s Hunter? He has totally disappeared! Now looks like he has raided and scammed even more countries!”

Where’s Hunter? He has totally disappeared! Now looks like he has raided and scammed even more countries! Media is AWOL.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2019

 

Al-Shabab Mortar Attacks Hits Area Around Mogadishu Airport

Seven people were wounded after a mortar attack by al-Shabab militants hit the area around Mogadishu airport on Sunday, Somali witnesses and officials say

The mortars landed on the heavily-guarded Halane area of the airport that houses the African Union and United Nations Mission in Somalia.

Witnesses told VOA Somali that six mortars were fired at the vicinity just after 1pm local time.

The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Somalia, James Swan, confirmed that the mortars landed inside the U.N. and AMISOM facilities.

 “I am appalled by this blatant act of terrorism against our personnel, who work together with the Somali people on humanitarian, peace building, and development issues,” Swan said in a statement. “There is no justification for such despicable acts of violence, and the United Nations remains determined to support Somalia on its path to peace, stability and development.”

Al-Shabab uses mobile vehicles that transport mortars from one location to another. The mortars are then dissembled immediately after being fired and hidden in the bush or in a car, according to security sources.

Al-Shabab attacked the same facility with mortars earlier this year injuring two United Nations staff members and a contractor.

The attack on Sunday comes a day before Somalia marks the deadliest terrorist attack in Somalia and in Africa.

October 14 is the second anniversary of the truck bomb in Mogadishu that killed 587 people and injured hundreds of others.

Pakistan PM Says Ready to Host Iran-Saudi Peace Talks

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan held talks Sunday with leaders in Iran to formally begin a diplomatic offensive he said was aimed at defusing the neighboring country’s escalating tensions with Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Khan told a joint news conference after his “wide-ranging consultations” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that his country’s close ties with both Tehran and Riyadh go a long way back and Islamabad will do its utmost to prevent a conflict between the two Islamic countries.  

“We recognize that it’s a complex issue. But we feel that this can be resolved through dialogue,” Khan stressed and announced he plans to travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to further his peace mission.

“I have been very encouraged talking to you Mr. President. I feel encouraged and I go in a very positive frame of mind to Saudi Arabia and we will act as a facilitator. We would like to facilitate talks [between Tehran and Riyadh],” Khan said.

The Pakistani leader noted his country has previously hosted Saudi Arabia and Iran for talks to help them iron out mutual differences and it is ready to do it again.

For his part, Rouhani said he agreed with Khan that regional tensions must be settled through political talks, promising to assist Pakistan in its peacemaking efforts.

“I told Mr. Prime Minister that we openly welcome any goodwill gesture by Pakistan to promote regional  peace and stability,” the Iranian president stressed.

US-Iran tensions

Khan emphasized his peace Middle East mission is “purely a Pakistan initiative”, though he acknowledged the United States also has a role in it. He also has said previously that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has asked him to help mediate tensions with Iran.

“When we were in New York, President Trump spoke to me and he wanted us to facilitate some sort of a dialogue between Iran and the United States… I know there are difficulties but whatever we can do we will be happy to facilitate,” Khan said while referring to his last month’s meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Rouhani said he discussions with Khan also focused on how Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers could be restored to its previous status and ultimately fully implemented.

Last year, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting the Shi’ite Muslim nation to gradually reduce its stated commitments to limit controversial uranium enrichment operations.

“We emphasized as a key point that the United States should return to the JCPOA and lift the sanctions,” Rouhani said.

Washington and Riyadh blame Tehran for being behind last month’s strikes against key Saudi crude oil processing facilities, which fuelled regional tensions. Iranian officials deny the charges.

Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, which are fighting a Riyadh-led military coalition, took responsibility for the September 14 attacks.

Rouhani noted he also conveyed his concerns to Khan regarding Friday’s missile attack on one of Iranian oil ships near the port of Jeddah. The Iranian leader said his country  has “clues” and will continue investigations to determine who the culprit is behind the attack before coming up with a “proper response.”

Pakistan’s challenges

Khan met Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei before concluding his one-day official visit to Tehran.

Khan explained Pakistan is promoting peace because it can ill-afford another regional conflict at a time when it is already dealing with security and economic challenges stemming from the 18-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan. The Pakistani prime minister has lately also facilitated peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban to help bring an end to the Afghan war.

Pakistan has traditionally relied on financial assistance and import of oil on deferred payments from Saudi Arabia to support its troubled economy. Pakistani military troops are also stationed on Saudi soil to train local forces. More than 2.5 million of Pakistanis are living and working in the kingdom.

However, with its large Shi’ite minority and a nearly 900-kilometer border with Iran, Pakistan has stayed neutral in Middle East tensions. It declined a Saudi call a few years back to join the military alliance fighting the Houthi insurgents in Yemen.

 

Burkina Faso Mosque Attack Claims 16

Armed men stormed a mosque in the volatile north of Burkina Faso as worshippers were at prayer, killing 16 people and sending residents fleeing, security sources and locals said Saturday.

The attack on the Grand Mosque in the town of Salmossi on Friday evening underscores the difficulties faced by the country in its battle against jihadists.

One source said 13 people died at the scene and three succumbed to their injuries later. Two of the wounded are in critical condition.

“Since this morning, people have started to flee the area,” one resident from the nearby town of Gorom-Gorom said.

He said there was a “climate of panic despite military reinforcements” that were deployed after the deadly attack.

Although hit by jihadist violence, many Burkinabes oppose the presence of foreign troops — notably from former colonial ruler France — on their territory.

French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in Lyon, France, Oct. 9, 2019, during the meeting of international lawmakers, health leaders and people affected by HIV, Tuberculosis and malaria.

Terrorism, foreign military

On Saturday, a crowd of about 1,000 people marched in the capital Ouagadougou “to denounce terrorism and the presence of foreign military bases in Africa.”

“Terrorism has now become an ideal pretext for installing foreign military bases in our country,” said Gabin Korbeogo, one of co-organizers of the march.

“The French, American, Canadian, German and other armies have set foot in our sub-region, saying they want to fight terrorism. But despite this massive presence … the terrorist groups … are growing stronger.”

Jihadists arrive in 2015

Until 2015, the poor West African country Burkina Faso was largely spared violence that hit Mali and then Niger, its neighbors to the north.

But jihadists, some linked to Al-Qaida, others to the so-called Islamic State group, started infiltrating the north, then the east, and then endangered the southern and western borders of the landlocked country.

Combining guerrilla hit-and-run tactics with road mines and suicide bombings, the insurgents have killed nearly 600 people, according to a toll compiled by AFP.

Civil society groups put the number at more than 1,000, with attacks taking place almost daily.

Burkina’s defense and security forces are badly equipped, poorly trained and have shown themselves to be unable to put a halt to the increasing violence.

France has a force of 200 in Burkina Faso but also intervenes frequently as part of its regional Barkhane operation.

Almost 500,000 people have fled their homes because of the violence, according to the U.N. refugee agency, which has warned of a humanitarian crisis affecting 1.5 million people.

Almost 3,000 schools have closed, and the impact on an overwhelmingly rural economy is escalating, disrupting trade and markets.