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Iraq’s Sadr Bloc Confirmed As Biggest Winner of October Parliamentary Vote

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Iraq’s Shiite Muslim firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr was Tuesday confirmed the biggest winner of last month’s parliamentary election that had sparked charges of voter fraud from pro-Iranian factions.

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Sadr‘s movement won 73 out of the assembly’s 329 seats, the election commission said, after a lengthy manual recount of hundreds of ballot boxes.

A distant second in the Shiite camp with 17 seats was the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, the political arm of the pro-Iran Hashed al-Shaabi former paramilitary force, which is now integrated into Iraq‘s state security apparatus.

Hashed leaders had rejected the preliminary result, which was sharply down from their 48 seats in the outgoing assembly, as a “scam”, and their supporters have held street protests chanting “No to fraud”.

Their activists have staged sit-in protests outside Baghdad’s ultra-secure Green Zone district, where the government, the assembly and many foreign embassies are located.

Analysts have warned that — in a country still recovering from decades of war and chaos, and where most parties have armed wings — political disputes could spark a dangerous escalation.

On November 7, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi — leader of the outgoing government — escaped unhurt when an explosive-packed drone hit his Baghdad residence. The attack was not claimed by any group.

Backroom negotiations

The final results must now be sent to the federal court for ratification.

The formation of Iraqi governments has involved complex negotiations in the multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country ever since a US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Posts and ministries have typically been handed out according to compromises reached by the main blocs in backroom talks, rather than to reflect the numbers of seats parties have won.

Sadr, a former leader of an anti-US militia who has often surprised observers with his political manoeuvres, has called for a “majority” government which, analysts say, could include Sunni and Kurdish parties.

Iraq, an oil-rich country of 40 million, is still recovering from years of conflict and turmoil.

Major fighting has stopped since a military alliance including the Hashed defeated the Islamic State jihadist group in 2017, but sporadic violence continues.

Military bases housing US troops have been targeted with dozens of missile and drone strikes which Washington blames on pro-Iran factions.

Tensions culminated weeks after the election with the unclaimed drone attack against Kadhemi.

(AFP)

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Source: france24.com

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World at ‘inflection Point’ Warns Biden, Raising Alarm at Democracy Summit

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Democracy faces “sustained and alarming challenges” worldwide, US President Joe Biden said Thursday at the opening of a virtual summit on democracy with representatives from some 100 countries.

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Biden said trends were “largely pointing in the wrong direction” and that democracy needed “champions.”

“We stand at an inflection point,” he said. “Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked?”

The two-day event, held by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, was billed by the White House as US leadership in an existential struggle between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorships.

“Make no mistake, we’re at a moment of democratic reckoning,” said Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. “Countries in virtually every region of the world have experienced degrees of democratic backsliding.”

The summit featured opening remarks from Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with representatives from some 100 governments, as well as NGOs, private businesses, philanthropical organisations and legislatures attending.

China, Russia not invited

The conference is a test of Biden’s assertion, made in his first foreign policy address in February, that he would return the US to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

Both countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of America’s democracy. Biden is struggling to pass his agenda through a polarised Congress following the turbulent and disruptive Trump presidency.

Amid rising US-China tensions, the Biden administration’s decision to invite Taiwan has irked Beijing.

China considers Taiwan, a democratically ruled island, part of its territory.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the invitation of Taiwan showed the US was only using democracy as “cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests.”

‘Lip service’

Washington used the run-up to the summit to announce sanctions against officials in Iran, Syria and Uganda it accuses of oppressing their populations, and against people it accuses of being tied to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.

US officials hope to win support during the meetings for global initiatives, such as use of technology to enhance privacy or circumvent censorship, and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies before an in-person summit planned for late 2022.

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at non-profit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and to spur coordination between democratic governments.

“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are implemented in the year ahead,” Boyajian said.

Zeya at the State Department said civil society would help hold the countries, including the United States, accountable. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would disinvite leaders who did not fulfill their pledges.

Human Rights Watch’s Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the invitation to the 2022 summit dependent on delivering on commitments was the only way to get nations to step up.

Otherwise, Holewinski said, some “will only pay lip service to human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”

“They shouldn’t get invited back,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Original Source: france24.com

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Top US Scientist Fauci: Omicron ‘almost Certainly Not More Severe’ Than Delta Variant

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Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.Read More

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Suspected Member of Khashoggi Hit Squad Arrested at Paris Airport

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French police Tuesday arrested at Paris’s main airport a suspected member of the team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, sources said.Read More

Source Here: france24.com

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