Fury escalates over cartoons

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July 30th, 2019

Another 55 people were said to be injured, according to a report by the Associated Press news agency.

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The group had been protesting against the publication of the cartoons, which originally appeared in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, before being published by several other European newspapers.

The nine were killed as they attempted to storm the Italian consulate in Benghazi.

It was not clear how they died.

Denmark closes embassy

Meanwhile, Denmark has temporarily shut its embassy in Islamabad, while Pakistan has recalled its envoy from Copenhagen.

Unrest over the cartoons has mounted in Pakistan, even as the tide of anger has ebbed elsewhere in Asia and the Middle East.

There have been large turnouts at rallies in Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar this week where millions of dollars of damage was caused by rampaging crowds attacking Western symbols, such as banks and fast food outlets.

Many US and other foreign-brand businesses, including McDonald’s, Citibank, KFC, Holiday Inn and the Norwegian mobile phone company, Telenor, were targeted.

In addition to closing its embassy, Denmark has advised Danes to avoid all travel to the country and has urged its citizens still in Pakistan to leave.

“We have decided to do so because of the general security situation in the country,” foreign ministry spokesman Lars Thuesen said.

Denmark has already temporarily closed its embassies in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Indonesia after anti-Danish protests and threats were made against staff.

Pakistan has recalled its ambassador to Denmark for “consultations” about the cartoons, foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.

Pakistani cleric detained

Police in Pakistan said they had confined an Islamic cleric to his home in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan, after he announced a US$1 million (A$1.35m) bounty for killing the cartoonist who drew the prophet Mohammed.

Prayer leader Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi offered the bounty in an announcement before 1,000 people outside the Mohabat Khan mosque.

Police said they had detained him in a bid to prevent him from addressing his followers and potentially inciting further violence.

Security forces are maintaining a heavy presence around government offices and Western businesses, with more than 200 people detained.

Over the border in India, police in the southern city of Hyderabad used tear gas and batons to quell thousands of angry worshippers.

Demonstrators burned Danish flags, pelted police with stones and looted shops.

Hundreds of protesters also took to the streets in neighbouring Bangladesh.

OCSE comments on cartoons

In Vienna, an expert for the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe criticised Western and Muslim parties for their role in fuelling the violence.

Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE’s representative on media freedom, said he believed Jyllands-Posten had first published the cartoons “without any intent to express or incite religious hatred” but rather as a “critique vis-à-vis extremist misuse of the teachings of Islam”.

But, he charged that the paper had misjudged how the cartoons would be perceived and in thinking they were not directed at the majority of Muslims.

Mr Haraszti said the paper’s aims had in turn been “deliberately misinterpreted by ill-willed jihadist propagandists.”

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UN urges Guantanamo closure

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July 30th, 2019

“I think sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo,” said Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, at the UN headquarters.

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“It will be up to the [US] government to decide hopefully to do it as soon as possible,” he said.

His comments came after the report, leaked earlier in the week, was released, saying prisoners at the facility have been abused.

Mr Annan said while he does not necessarily agree with everything in the report, “the basic point that one cannot detain individuals in perpetuity and that charges have to be brought against them and they must be given a chance to explain themselves and be prosecuted, charged, or released.”

The White House has blasted the report and called it “a discredit to the UN”.

Spokesman Scott McClellan said the world body has not looked into all the facts, only the allegations.

“The United Nations should be making serious investigations across the world, and there are many instances in which they do when it comes to human rights. This was not one of them,” he said.

In their report, five independent experts who act as monitors for the UN Human Rights Commission said aspects of the treatment of detainees violate their rights to physical and mental health, and in some cases amount to torture.

The US administration currently “operates as judge, prosecutor and defence counsel of the Guantanamo Bay detainees,” it said.

Many of the 500-odd inmates at the US naval base in Cuba have been held for four years without trial.

The report also said the US’ justification for holding the inmates is a distortion of international human rights treaties.

The draft version of the report was leaked earlier this week and was rejected by the US as making a “baseless assertion”, saying its authors had never visited the prison.

UN human rights experts began talks with the US inn 2002 on a possible visit.

The experts in the report said they cancelled a planned visit in December after failing to get approval to speak freely with prisoners, and in the report demanded full and unrestricted access to Guantanamo.

The findings were based on the US government’s answers to a questionnaire as well as interviews with former inmates in Europe and lawyers for current detainees.

EU adds its voice

Shortly after the UN report was made public, European Union legislators also urged the US to close the facility and give a fair trial to all prisoners.

In a resolution passed overwhelmingly at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament said: “every prisoner should be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law and tried without delay in a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, impartial tribunal.”

Amnesty International has also backed the call, saying Guantanamo represents “just the tip of the iceberg” of US-run detention facilities worldwide.

The report said detainees have suffered harsh treatment such as solitary confinement, being stripped naked, subjected to severe temperatures and being threatened with dogs, which is banned in all circumstances.

“The excessive violence used in many cases during transportation … and forced-feeding of detainees on hunger strike must be assessed as amounting to torture,” it added.

US response

The US has unequivocally rejected the UN demands.

The White House insisted that the detainees are treated humanely, with new challenges to be made to the US Supreme Court this week and new war crimes trials about to get underway at the camp this month.

“These are dangerous terrorists that we’re talking about that are there,” he said, adding that “nothing’s changed” in the US opinion of whether the camp should close.

He suggested that allegations of abuse amounting to torture at the camp are propaganda by militants trained to make such charges.

“We know al-Qaeda detainees are trained in trying to disseminate false allegations,” he said.

Meanwhile, a judge in Britain has granted three British Guantanamo detainees to seek a court order asking the British government to petition for their release.

Judge Andrew Collins at London’s High Court said the three have a case and the British government is obliged to act of their behalf, adding that the US idea of what constitutes torture “is not the same as ours ands doesn’t appear to coincide with that of most civilised countries”.

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Cowsills singer dies aged 58

By
July 30th, 2019

“He is singing with the angels now,” said Canadian record producer Neil MacGonigill, who first met the singer with the pure, soaring voice in the 70s.

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The Cowsills, the inspiration for the TV series The Partridge Family, recorded a series of top hits between 1967 and 1970, including The Rain, The Park and Other Things and Hair.

At one time the band members were also were spokespeople for the American Dairy Association, appearing in commercials and print ads for milk.

Cowsill, who was suffering from emphysema, osteoporosis, Cushing syndrome and other ailments, died in Calgary, Alberta, on Friday.

He had been in deteriorating health for a number of months. He was also still coping with the aftereffects of an eight-hour back surgery during which one lung had to be collapsed.

Doctors could not get it to function again but no cause of death has been released.

Four Cowsill brothers played in the band: Barry on bass, Bill on guitar, Bob on guitar and organ, and John on drums. Their mother, Barbara, and little sister, Susan, eventually joined the group.

The band’s career began in Newport, Rhode Island, where by 1965 they had a regular gig at a club. They were spotted by a producer for NBC’s Today show who booked them for an appearance that led to a record deal.

The band had an acrimonious breakup in the 1970s. William, the oldest member, moved to Canada about 35 years ago.

The news of Cowsill’s death came during a memorial service being held at Newport’s King Park honouring his brother Barry, who drowned after Hurricane Katrina.

William Cowsill is survived by two sons, Travis and Del.

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The seven-member Truth and Reconciliation Commission has a mandate to investigate crimes committed from 1979 until 2003, when years of civil war came to an end.

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“I have come to believe that when the truth is told, humanity is redeemed from the cowardice claws of violence,” said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took over last month from a postwar transitional government.

“We must therefore be courageous sufficiently as a nation to face up to the past and revile as an affront to all civilised people the despicable acts our people endured during the past 14 years of our civil conflict,” President Sirleaf told a jubilant audience at the Executive Mansion.

The commission will not have the power to try cases and is modelled on South Africa’s truth commission, which was established in 1995 and investigated political crimes committed by all sides during decades of white-minority rule.

A similar commission was set up in Sierra Leone, which is struggling to recover from its own decade-long civil war that began in 1991.

Liberia’s parliament passed legislature to create the commission last year, but it had not begun its work until now.

The commission’s mandate is to “investigate gross human rights violations and violations of international laws, as well as abuses that occurred during the war, including massacres, sexual violations, murders, extra-judicial killings and economic crimes,” according to the act that created it.

In 1979, the government increased the price of rice – a staple food crop in a deeply impoverished nation – sparking massive riots in which dozens of people were killed by security forces.

The following year, President William Tolbert was ousted in a 1980 coup by illiterate Master Sgt Samuel Doe, who ordered the country’s Cabinet members tied to poles on a Monrovia beach and executed. Ms Sirleaf, who was finance minister at the time, was jailed but escaped death.

The 1980 coup marked the start of nearly 25 years of instability from which the country, founded by freed American slaves in 1847, is struggling to recover.

Rebels led by warlord Charles Taylor invaded in 1989, plunging the country into civil war. A year later, Doe was captured, tortured and killed by troops loyal to Taylor rival Prince Johnson, who is now a senator in the new government.

“This commission is our hope – to define the past on our behalf in terms that are seen and believed to be fair and balanced, and bring forth a unifying narrative on which our nation’s rebuilding and renewal processes can be more securely anchored,” Ms Sirleaf said.

The Liberian government has committed $US350,000 ($A474,000) to the commission along with $US500,000 pledged by the United Nations.

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Austria puts Irving on trial

By
July 30th, 2019

Irving, 67, has been in custody since his arrest in November on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he was accused of denying the Nazis’ extermination of 6 million Jews.

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An eight-member jury and a panel of three judges will hear the proceedings, which officials said could produce a verdict within a day.

His trial opens amid fresh, and fierce, debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad has triggered violent protests worldwide.

Irving had tried to win his provisional release on euro 20,000 ($A32,370) bail, but a Vienna court refused, saying it considered him a flight risk.

His lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said last month the controversial Third Reich historian was getting up to 300 pieces of fan mail a week from supporters around the world, and that while in detention he was writing his memoirs under the working title, Irving’s War.

Irving was arrested on November 11 in the southern Austrian province of Styria on a warrant issued in 1989.

He was charged under a federal law that makes it a crime to publicly diminish, deny or justify the Holocaust.

Gas chambers

Within two weeks of his arrest, Irving asserted through his lawyer that he now acknowledges the existence of Nazi-era gas chambers.

In the past, however, he has claimed that Adolf Hitler knew little if anything about the Holocaust, and has been quoted as saying there was “not one shred of evidence” the Nazis carried out their “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish population on such a massive scale.

Vienna’s national court, where the trial is being held, ordered the balcony gallery closed to prevent projectiles from being thrown down at the bench, the newspaper Die Presse reported.

It quoted officials as saying they were bracing for Irving’s supporters to give him the Nazi salute or shout out pro-Hitler slogans during the trial, which will continue into Tuesday if a verdict is not forthcoming.

Irving is the author of nearly 30 books, including Hitler’s War, which challenges the extent of the Holocaust, and has contended most of those who died at concentration camps such as Auschwitz succumbed to diseases such as typhus rather than execution.

In 2000, Irving sued American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court, but lost. The presiding judge in that case, Charles Gray, wrote that Irving was “an active Holocaust denier … anti-Semitic and racist”.

Irving has had numerous run-ins with the law over the years.

In 1992, a judge in Germany fined him the equivalent of $US6,000 ($A8,128) for publicly insisting the Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz were a hoax.

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Top Hamas leaders Mahmud Zahar and Haniya made the announcement at a news conference in Gaza City following talks with the moderate Palestinian Authority president, two days after a Hamas-led parliament was sworn in.

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Mr Abbas will hand over the official nomination letter at 6pm on Tuesday during a meeting with Mr Haniya, Mr Zahar told journalists.

The Gaza leader of Hamas, which is branded a terrorist organisation by the European Union and United States, said he expects the group to finalise a coalition line-up within an initial three-week period allotted to the new prime minister.

“I think we can declare the cabinet during the three weeks,” Mr Zahar said.

Coalition talks

Faced with stinging Israeli sanctions and the prospect of cuts in aid from Washington and the EU, not to mention the faction’s lack of government experience, Hamas is keen to form a national coalition.

To that end, talks with other parliamentary factions would continue in order to agree on the make-up of the new cabinet, Mr Zahar and Mr Haniya said.

Hamas representatives on Monday started to thrash out the line-up of the new-look government with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

PFLP politburo member Rabah Muhanna said the faction had agreed in principle to join the incoming administration.

Mr Haniya confirmed that Hamas would also talk to Abbas’s Fatah party, although several senior party lights have ruled out joining the government that Mr Abbas has said already faces a “serious financial crisis”.

Talks on forming a government would be held with “Fatah and other personalities and political forces … inside and outside” the Palestinian territories, he said.

Payments suspended

Israel’s cabinet voted on Sunday to suspend immediately payment of customs duties and VAT to the Palestinian Authority, estimated at US$50 million a month.

Washington also wants $50m in aid returned by the Palestinians, in light of Hamas’s control of the government.

But the United Nation’s Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, said on Monday that Israel has no right to freeze the transfers and should have at least waited for the new government’s formation.

Mr De Soto, who met Israeli defence officials after the cabinet imposed a series of financial and travel sanctions, said the freeze was “problematic for several reasons”, especially as the money belonged to the Palestinians.

In the wake of the sanctions, the EU, the biggest Palestinian donor, and Russia stressed they would continue to provide as much financial support as possible.

“We will continue to support the Palestinian Authority until the new government is formed and on that we are trying to find the necessary resources,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said that Moscow would continue to send “urgent aid”.

Although Western powers are reluctant to channel money directly into what they consider a terrorist organisation, they have also cited concern that a drastic drying up in funds will merely push Hamas closer to backers in Iran.

Iran support

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Muslims worldwide on Monday to provide a “yearly financial aid package” to the Palestinians during talks in Tehran with Hamas’s visiting political leader Khaled Meshaal.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will on Tuesday start a Middle East visit, during which she is likely to press home demands that Hamas renounce violence, recognise Israel’s right to exist and abide by previous Palestinian agreements.

Hamas, which refuses to recognise the Jewish state’s right to exist and has carried out dozens of suicide attacks in the past five years, has so far dodged calls by Mr Abbas to recognise past agreements signed with Israel.

Aziz Duweik, the new Hamas speaker of parliament, ordered a freeze on all decisions made by outgoing MPs at a meeting last week, which included approval for Mr Abbas to appoint members of a new constitutional court.

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Civilians targetted in Chad

By
June 30th, 2019

The Human Rights Watch report, based on a January-February investigation in eastern Chad, documents a sharp increase in the number of attacks since December, resulting in dozens of civilian deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

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“The government of Sudan is actively exporting the Darfur crisis to its neighbour by providing material support to Janjaweed militias and by failing to disarm or control them,” said Peter Takirambudde, HRW’s Africa director.

“The Janjaweed are doing in Chad what they have done in Darfur since 2003: killing civilians, burning villages and looting cattle in attacks that show signs of ethnic bias,” he added.

The 15-page report, “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” maintains that Sudanese forces have had a direct hand in the recent violence in Chad.

The report cites an example where Sudanese troops and helicopter gunships reportedly supported a Janjaweed attack across the border in the region of Goungor, Chad, on two occasions in early December.

HRW again called for the UN Security Council to urgently transfer the African Union force to a UN mission with a strong and clear mandate to protect civilians, by force if necessary.

HRW also called on the Security Council to place Janjaweed leaders responsible for the attacks on civilians in Chad on a list of people subject to travel bans and other UN sanctions.

Peacekeeping criticism

Meanwhile the US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has accused the UN and some Security Council members of moving too slowly toward setting up a UN peacekeeping force in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.

Ambassador Bolton expressed frustration with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UN officials over the pace of preparation for the mission, which would replace 7,000 African Union troops.

He also said African and Arab diplomats on the Security Council needed to move more quickly.

“We’re prepared, but the main thing, I think, is to get the internal UN operation to be moving more quickly, which we’d like to see,” he said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said United Nations officials were in talks with African leaders about the force and that planning for the mission “is moving full steam ahead”.

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Moscow market disaster

By
June 30th, 2019

The Moscow health authority said the injured included one victim in critical condition, 12 in serious condition and 10 more suffering from lesser injuries, RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

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A fire briefly broke out after the disaster, sending up thick clouds of acrid smoke and hampering rescuers’ efforts as they searched with sniffer dogs for any survivors.

Emergency workers ordered silence every 15 minutes to listen for sounds of those trapped. At one point they could be seen rushing to dig at 10 different spots.

“Time is running out,” Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the scene.

Rescue workers used metal cutters, hydraulic lifters and pickaxes to clear the ruins of the Basmanny market and knelt down to shout into the holes in search of survivors.

Medical workers tried to help a man trapped under a slab of concrete that left only his hand visible, giving him painkillers through an intravenous drip.

Machines were brought in to blow warm air into the rubble to try to keep victims alive in the near freezing temperatures.

Interfax news agency quoted a senior official with the emergency situations ministry as saying “dozens” of people could still be trapped in the rubble.

President Vladimir Putin said that “rescuers are doing all they can to help the victims.” He added: “It is necessary to conduct a detailed inquiry and get objective information about the reasons” for the collapse.

Possible causes

Investigators were considering whether a failure to clear recent heavy snowfall from the roof may have contributed to the cave-in, officials said.

It was the third major building collapse blamed on snow in Europe since last month.

The Moscow market, in service since 1975, was designed by the same architect who drafted the building plans for the Transval aqua park in Moscow where a similar roof collapse two years ago left 28 dead and in which structural flaws were also cited as a focus of investigation.

The architect who designed the market building, Nodar Kancheli, was at the scene. He said “incorrect use” of the building’s structure may have been a factor in the disaster.

Media reports said a platform for housing additional market stalls had been built and attached to the roof in violation of building regulations and may have contributed to the collapse.

“The construction of the roof did not plan for this,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted Mr Kancheli as saying.

The architect was placed under investigation last year in connection with the Transval aqua park roof collapse on February 14, 2004, but no charges have been brought against him so far.

The Moscow market operates around the clock and was used for wholesale trading overnight when dozens of people work inside, officials said.

The victims were municipal and market workers, most believed to be migrant workers from former Soviet republics.

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Buildings swayed and doors shook across the African nation, but there was no immediate report of injuries.

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The US Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.5 quake struck, with its epicentre 225 kilometres south-west of Beira.

It was felt as far away as Durban, in South Africa, and Harare, in central Zimbabwe.

“Somebody just called to say a building collapsed in Beira,” a reporter at the state Mozambique radio station in the capital Maputo said. But he had no further information.

In Beira, a hotel manager said the quake sent the mainly South African tourists running terrified from their rooms as the building began moving, but nobody was hurt.

“It felt like the building was going to fall down and it went on for a long time, the trembling,” Tivoli Hotel manager Johana Neves said.

She said panicked guests had returned to their rooms. But Antonio Dinis, who also was at the hotel, said the streets were full of people afraid to go back home or sleep.

In Maputo, hundreds of people fled their homes into the streets, as they did in Chimoyo, about 480 kilometres west of Beira near the border with Zimbabwe, and at Tete, which neighbours Zambia and Malawi, the Mozambique radio station said.

The quake was shallow, which increases the potential for damage, said Dale Grant, a geophysicist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado.

“It was felt very widely in the epicentral area, though it’s not a very heavily populated area,” Grant said. “There is certain to be damage, but so far, we’ve had absolutely no word of damage.”

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Curfew lifted in Baghdad

By
June 30th, 2019

The night curfew will continue in the capital and three other central provinces: Salaheddin, Bail and Diyala.

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Traffic has reportedly returned to the streets of the capital.

Despite the measures aimed at curbing the violence, around 25 Iraqis were killed in a string of attacks around the country.

Around 19 civilians were killed in mortar attacks in a Shi’ite neighbourhood of Baghdad.

Police said at least 11 mortar rounds hit a Shi’ite enclave in Dora, a predominantly Sunni Arab district. Eight houses were hit and at least 15 people were killed and 49 others injured.

Later in the night, another mortar round hit a house in a Sunni section of Dora, killing one person and wounding four.

Two mortar rounds also crashed into homes in the Shi’ite-dominated neighbourhood of Hurriyah, killing three people, police said.

As night fell, more explosions rocked the city.

In other violence two people were killed and six wounded, including two children, when gunmen opened fire on a group of people playing football in the province of Diyala northeast of Baghdad.

In the southern city of Basra, an explosion wounded two civilians outside a Shi’ite holy site, according to a military spokesman.

Arrests over shrine attack

The attack on the Shiite city aimed to ignite a fresh outbreak of sectarian violence following Wednesday’s bombing of a revered Shi’ite shrine in the northern town of Samarra, which sparked a series of attacks against the minority Sunni community.

The ensuing sectarian violence has left more than 150 dead and dozens wounded.

Ten people have been arrested over the shrine bombings, Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said on Sunday.

“We have arrested 10 people, four from the guards of the Golden Tomb shrine,” he told CNN.

The other six suspects, he said “were in the city of Samarra, (and had) just moved in and rented a place… so we are investigating them,” he said.

The latest deadly barrages came as restrictions eased in Baghdad, which had been under lockdown after the bombing of the shrine.

Appeals for unity

Iraq’s sectarian clashes have threatened to derail talks on setting up a government of national unity, a crucial step in paving the way for a withdrawal of US forces from the insurgency-racked country.

On Saturday top Iraqi leaders vowed to preserve national unity as they sought to pull their nation back from the brink of civil war.

“All the leaders felt a need to accelerate the political process and proposed to sign a national pact between all the different political factions,” Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said after the meeting.

“If I have any good news it is that Iraq is far away from a civil war. There is no Shiite against a Sunni or a Muslim against a non-Muslim … the name of Iraq is above everything,” he said.

al-Sadr in Basra

Meanwhile, Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr arrived in Basra on Sunday following a Middle East tour that included Iran, and immediately called on Iraqis to unite and demand US troops withdrawal.

“I call on all Iraqis, Sunnis and Shi’ites, Muslims and non-Muslims, to take part in a demonstration of unity in Baghdad to call for the withdrawal of the forces of occupation, even if this has to take place over time,” he told supporters.

“Sunnis and Shi’ites must back each other and help each other because there is no difference between a Sunni and a Shiite. Iraqis must avoid division and unite in the face of the Crusaders,” he said, speaking of US-led coalition forces.

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