Archive | June 5th, 2014

‘Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine’ London meeting (VIDEO)


Here are the video and audio files of the Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine meeting in London, with Richard Brenner, Lindsey German, Boris Kagarlitsky, Andrew Murray, Alan Woods and Sergei Kirichuk.

Richard Brenner (Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine):


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Syrian election sends powerful signal of Assad’s control

Supporters of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad celebrate in front of a polling center in Damascus. Syrians voted on Tuesday in an election expected to deliver an overwhelming victory for al-Assad but which his opponents have dismissed as a charade in the midst of Syria’s devastating civil war.
Khaled Al-Hariri /Reuters
Syrians voted on in a tightly controlled election Tuesday that reinforced President Bashar al-Assad’s tenacious hold on power, underscoring the failure of U.S. policies aimed at inducing him to step down.Three years after Assad’s brutal suppression of nationwide protests plunged Syria into a vicious civil war, the election seems certain to deliver him a third seven-year term in office, defying President Obama’s 2011 call for him to “step aside.”

The vote came as the former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford delivered a scathing indictment of the Obama administration’s cautious approach to Syria, saying he resigned in March because he could no longer countenance the United States’ policies.

In an interview with PBS, Ford cited the administration’s inability to respond to the fast changing events unfolding on the ground, as Syria spun from an Arab Spring-style peaceful uprising into a full-fledged armed rebellion increasingly infiltrated by al-Qaeda-linked radicals.

“We were constantly behind the curve, and that’s why now we have extremist threats to our own country,” Ford said, citing the case of a Florida man who blew himself up in Syria last week.

As Syrians vote in wartime election set to extend President Assad’s rule, opponents say no credible vote is possible amid a civil war.

Had the administration offered arms to moderate rebels two years ago, the opposition might control more ground than it does today, and extremists might exert less influence, he said.

“Our policy was not evolving and finally I got to a point where I could no longer defend it publicly,” Ford said.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Ford is “obviously entitled to his own views” as a private citizen.

“Nobody working on it is happy with where things are,” Harf said of Syria. “We’re all frustrated, and I think you heard some of that in Ambassador Ford’s comments.”

Obama announced an unspecified increase in aid to moderate rebels in his foreign policy address last week. But Ford said he saw no evidence the extra support would make a difference to the rebels’ ability to confront the better-armed government forces.

Indeed, Assad now appears stronger than he did two years ago. Backed by Russia, Iran and volunteer militias from Lebanon and Iraq, his forces have ejected rebels from significant chunks of territory in the heart of Syria over the past year.

Tuesday’s voting leveraged his military gains into an assertion of political authority.

The opposition has denounced the election as a sham, and Western governments say they will not recognize its legitimacy. There are no serious opposition contenders or independent monitors, and voting did not take place in the many war-ravaged parts of the country that are under rebel control.

Few Western journalists were granted visas to cover the event, making it hard to ascertain the turnout or the authenticity of the scenes of exuberant crowds thronging polling stations that were broadcast on state television. The result is considered a foregone conclusion, with Assad expected to win by a landslide.

But the live footage of enthusiastic voters proclaiming their love for Assad in various locations nonetheless served as a reminder that he still controls much of the country, along with the loyalties of at least some of its citizens.

“This election sends a signal to Syrians that the regime is here to stay, that there will be no change soon,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, a Syrian journalist with the London-based al-Hayat newspaper.

“Many Syrians have already started to adapt to this new reality.”

The TV coverage switched from location to location, featuring voters waving the Syrian flag, chanting Assad’s name and demonstrating his continued sway in almost every part of Syria. Only in the province of Raqqa, controlled by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was there no voting.

“Syria is forever, and our leader is Assad,” chanted voters at a polling center in the capital of the northern province of Idlib, which is almost entirely encircled by rebels. “Today is the best day of my life. May God protect our beloved President Bashar,” a woman cradling her child told an interviewer in the southern city of Daraa, where the anti-government protests first gained momentum in 2011.

In Homs, where rebels were forced into a humiliating retreat last month, voters interviewed on television said they were casting ballots for Assad. “The immortal leader gave birth to a lion, and the lion will lead us to freedom,” said one woman, referring to Assad and his late father, Hafez al-Assad, who together have ruled the country for four decades.

Assad was shown marking his ballot behind a white curtain with his wife, Asma, at a school in the Damascus neighborhood of Melki. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem voted alongside other officials at the Foreign Ministry. “No one in the world can impose their will upon the Syrian people,” he told the cameraman filming the scene.

State media said the voting was extended by five hours until midnight, because of the high turnout, though in the absence of independent monitoring, the real numbers may never be known.

Away from the cameras, activists described a different scene. The streets of Homs were almost completely deserted, apart from security forces manning checkpoints and roadblocks, said Abu Emad, who did not vote. Many of his friends didn’t either, though some did because they were afraid to be found out not to have voted for Assad by the country’s pervasive security forces.

Rumors that government employees who did not vote would lose their jobs and that students who boycotted the election would fail their exams encouraged voters in many places, said another Homs activist, Bibar al-Tellawi, who also didn’t vote.

Some people said, however, that they were casting ballots simply because they were resigned to the lack of alternatives to Assad’s regime.

Ahmed, 25, was among a swarm of Syrian refugees who crossed the border from Lebanon to cast ballots in the town of Jdeidat Yabous. He said he was voting for Assad not because he supports him but because he hopes the election will stabilize Syria enough for him to go home.

“I am with the opposition,” he said, refusing to give his full name because he fears for his safety. “But the regime is better than many of the rebel factions who are fighting each other.”

In areas beyond government control, the war raged on. Warplanes dropped bombs on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, Homs and Daraa and on the rebel-controlled portion of the northern city of Aleppo. The opposition Local Coordination Committees said at least 28 people had been killed. Government media reported the deaths of 11 people in rebel shelling of regime-held Aleppo, where voting was taking place.

For some Syrians who supported the uprising but have since lost hope, deciding whether to vote or not was tough.

“There is a clash inside my head between what I believe and what I should do to secure myself,” said Sarah, 29, a Damascus resident contacted by telephone who still had not made up her mind. She said her friends had urged her to vote in case soldiers at checkpoints start checking identity papers against voting records. “Why vote when the final result will be the same?” she asked.

In the end, she decided not to vote.

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Syria Today 11: Bashar Assad claims landslide election win in Syria

Assad wins Syrian election in a landslideSyrian soldiers celebrate Bashar Assad’s presidential re-election in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. (AP / Dusan Vranic.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been re-elected in a landslide, officials said Wednesday, capturing another seven-year term in the middle of a bloody 3-year-old uprising against his rule that has devastated the country.

Syria’s parliament speaker, Jihad Laham, announced the final results from Tuesday’s election, saying Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7 per cent. Assad’s two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively. The Supreme constitutional Court put turnout at 73.42 per cent.

Assad’s victory was always a foregone conclusion, despite the presence of other candidates on the ballot for the first time in decades. The opposition and its Western allies denounced the election as a farce, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling it a “great big zero.”

John Kerry criticizes Syria presidential election

A woman votes for President Bashar Assad by marking the ballot with blood from her pricked finger, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday June 3, 2014. (AP / Dusan Vranic)

Bashar Assad casts his vote in Damascus, Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad, second right, casts his vote as Syrian first lady Asma Assad, stands next to him at a polling station, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, June 3, 2014. (SANA)

Damascus erupted into a thunderous, rolling clap of celebratory gunfire that appeared to include heavy weaponry after the results were announced. Thousands of Assad supporters flocked the streets to celebrate, some waving large Syrian flags and others carrying photos of Assad as car horns blared. Some men broke into the familiar pro-Assad chant: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar!”

Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television aired live footage from the government stronghold of Latakia and the war-ravaged city of Homs, which the government recaptured last month, showing crowds of people celebrating with flags and posters of Assad amid cries of “God, Syria, Bashar!” Fireworks lit up the night sky in Latakia.

Voting was held only in government-controlled areas, excluding huge tracks of northern and eastern Syria that are in rebel hands. Tens of thousands of Syrians abroad voted last week, although many of the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees across the region either abstained or were excluded by law.

The vote provided no respite from the war. As people filed to the polls in Damascus on Tuesday, the rumble of government shelling and airstrikes on rebellious suburbs provided an ominous backdrop and sobering reminder that not all Syrians were able to cast their ballots.

That did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm of Assad’s supporters, for whom the election victory provided a boost amid a war that has touched every family on both sides of the divide.

The win also provides further evidence that the Syrian leader has no intention of relinquishing power, making a protracted conflict the likely outcome in fighting that has already lasted three years and killed more than 160,000 people.

Assad’s hold on power was not always so secure. Just over a year ago, his grip was slipping as vast swaths of the country fell to the surging rebels. But Assad’s troops — bolstered by allies Iran, Russia and the Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah — managed over the past year to turn the tide, and even wrest back some of the ground lost.

For the first time in decades, there were multiple candidates on Syria’s presidential ballot. In previous elections, Assad, and before him his father, Hafez Assad, were elected in single-candidate referendums in which voters cast yes-no ballots. In both Syria’s 2000 and 2007 elections, Assad garnered 97 per cent yes votes.

The government has portrayed this vote as a democratic solution to Syria’s conflict, although there’s no indication it will help bridge the differences of a bitterly divided nation. Syria’s rebels remain determined in their fight to oust Assad. Like him, they show no inclination to compromise.

The war has left the international community deeply divided, with the U.S. and its allies backing the revolt against Assad, who enjoys the support of Russia and Iran.

That division persisted in perceptions of Tuesday’s vote.

In Beirut, Kerry sharply criticized the Syrian election, calling it “a great big zero.” It can’t be considered fair, he said, “because you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote.”

“Nothing has changed from the day before the election and the day after. Nothing,” Kerry said during a one-day visit Wednesday to the Lebanese capital. “The conflict is the same, the terror is the same, the killing is the same.”

The European Union joined the U.S. in condemning the election, saying in a statement that “it cannot be considered as a genuinely democratic vote.”

In Damascus, meanwhile, a delegation led by the government’s chief international supporters said Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential election in over four decades was transparent and free, and would pave the way for “stability and national agreement.”

The delegation of officials from more than 30 countries, including legislators and dignitaries from Iran, Russia and Venezuela, toured polling stations on Tuesday. In a final statement read Wednesday by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s Committee on National Security, the delegation blamed the U.S and its allies for “crimes committed against the Syrian people.”

Delegation member Alexey Alexandrov, a Russian senator, told reporters in Damascus that the elections assured “Assad’s legitimacy and mean he cannot be removed in a military operation.”

“I am sure that the elections that happened in Syria were done according to all the principles of democracy and international law,” said Alexandrov, whose country, along with China, has four times vetoed U.N. Security Council sanctions on Damascus.


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Syria Today 10: At Polling Stations, Talking to Assad’s Voters


We ask Syrians across the country for their views on yesterday’s election, the country’s first multi-candidate poll in more than four decades.

Yesterday, Syrians took to the polls in the country’s first multi-candidate presidential elections in more than four decades of Assad family rule. Polling took place only in areas under regime control, and it is widely expected that Assad will claim an overwhelming victory over challengers Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri.

Despite fears of rebel bomb attacks on polling stations, located in government-controlled areas, officials from the Islamic Front said they would abstain from striking civilian voters and urged other rebel groups to do the same. Meanwhile, Assad officials kept a tight reign on the proceedings, busing voters from their offices to vote.

Some people waiting to cast their votes reportedly chanted slogans in support of Assad, including: “God, Syria and Bashar,” “We will vote for Bashar only,” and “We are your men, Bashar.” In Damascus, Tartous and Latakia, the regime’s strongholds, officials with megaphones drove the streets blaring pro-Assad songs.

Signs bearing Assad’s campaign slogan “Sawa,” meaning unity, are plastered on walls outside polling stations. They also include: “United we will rebuild,” “United we will be victorious,” “United we will continue on our path” and “United we will eradicate terrorism.”

The Supreme Judicial Electoral Committee extended the presidential polls by five hours, closing them at midnight local time June 4.

We spoke to Syrians as they cast their votes at polling stations across the country.

Samira, 37, doctor, Damascus: It’s natural that we don’t see any support for Nouri and Hajjar. The election results are already known; most Syrians who are voting are Assad supporters. The opposition within Syria has boycotted the elections, while the armed groups are holed up in their areas where there is no election. I think voter turnout will be low, especially since there are millions of displaced Syrians outside the country who are opposition supporters.

Salem, 49, self-employed, Homs: I voted for President Bashar al-Assad at the emigrants’ center in Damascus. I voted for him based on the idea, That which you know is better than that which you don’t know. As soon as the president is [sworn in] he should increase the wages of the public servants because the economic conditions are intolerable. As for the current security situation, that can be resolved in the upcoming months.

Sanaa, 23, state employee, Aleppo: The election results are already known. President Assad will win because the other candidates can’t compete with the popular base Assad has as the Baath Party candidate that’s been in power since 1963. The president has hundreds of thousands of supporters in Syria. The other two candidates are unable to compete, neither in popularity nor with regard to their platforms. Nouri and Hajjar presented the exact same platform of what the current leadership is doing with only minor changes.

Ruwayda, 32, engineer, Latakia: I know that my vote will not affect the election results, but I’m casting my ballot because that’s my right. Many Western states want to strip me of that right, and that’s why I’m voting today. Bear in mind I know that the [chances of the candidates in] the elections are unequal, especially when one candidate has been in power for 14 years and he’s the son of Hafez al-Assad who remained in power for 30 years. The other two candidates have neither a political nor a social legacy in Syria.

Nashaat, 21, university student, Damascus: I took part in the elections and voted for President Assad because he’s the only hope we have to save the country from the current crisis. He is well aware of the reality of things and is a seasoned diplomat and politician, which is why he can save Syria.

Salman al-Ameri, 60, Tartous: My son, brother and over 20 people from my village were [killed] in the war led by President Assad. I voted for him so the death of my son and relatives isn’t in vain. Hopefully with the leadership of President Assad, we will rebuild Syria.

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Syria Today 9: One on One: Patrick Baz, MENA Photo Manager, Agence France-Presse

Patrick Baz oversees the news agency’s photo coverage of the Middle East, including Syria’s three-year-long war. Here, he discusses verifying images and working with local photographers.
Patrick Baz is the photo manager for the Middle East and North Africa at Agence France-Presse. As a photographer, the Cyprus-based Baz covered a number of global conflicts and crises, from Bosnia and Somalia to Afghanistan. Now, he oversees the news agency’s photo coverage of the Middle East, including Syria’s three-year-long war.Usually I work from the field. I’m a photographer. I’m an editor, but I’m mainly a photographer. But in conflicts like this, I’m usually organizing what comes out of the field. The problem with Syria is we don’t know what’s going on there. It’s frustrating.

We’re the last remaining international news agency to use photos by foreign photographers in rebel-controlled areas. We have an office in Damascus, and we also work on the rebel side. On the rebel side, it took us a while before we started relying on local [photographers], on Syrians. We’re one of the last ones who deals with foreign photographers. The reason was that we really needed to understand what was going on before relying on Syrians.

Some of the Syrian photographers we use were chosen by the [correspondents] we sent there. Others were found in Turkey, and I trained them there with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s help. Some I got in touch with through NGOs, on social networks. In regards to the content of the pictures, we’re not asking them to do feature stories. They’re not trained to do so; they don’t have a photojournalism background. What they’re providing is breaking news.

As for veracity, any suspicious images go through software called Tungsten. We ask the photographers to get the exact dates and times. We have people who we work with and who we know. They are learning, and we are learning with them, especially during the first six months of the revolution, when we were dealing with media activists and YouTube and screen grabs. It took us a while to adapt to the situation and it took them a while to understand what journalism and the international standard is. Before they were in danger from Assad’s people, and now they’re in danger from ISIS.

We use Syrians who know the place they’re covering, who know what they’re dealing with. They know the neighborhoods, the country. It’s not new in this industry. In the 1980s, when Hezbollah started to kidnap foreigners in Lebanon, I was there and considered a local, and I began to publish my photos. It’s nothing new for the industry to use local. What’s new in Syria is that we have social networks who suddenly find out what we’ve been doing for years and start talking about it.

Everything, even in your daily coverage of these events, there are things you miss that you’d have loved to have had. It’s not, “What do you do when you come in in the morning?” [This job] is 24/7. Skype rings at 2 a.m. because the photographers in Syria are losing electricity and [can’t send their photos]. Or they just need to talk.

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Syria Today 8: Children Eating from the Streets of Hajr al Aswad in Damascus ”VIDEO”

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Syria Today 7: UN Convoy Brings Food Into Syria From Turkey ”VIDEO”

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Syria Today 6: Evacuation of civilians from Yarmouk camp in Damascus ”VIDEO”

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Syria Today 5: Children Of The Syria Conflict | World Vision UK ”VIDEO”

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Syria Today 4 : 3 Years of Crisis ”VIDEO”

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