World Newsletter

12 March 2020


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is preparing to release 1,500 Taliban
prisoners in coming days, according to a decree viewed by Reuters on
Tuesday, as the United Nations backed a U.S.-led push to end Afghanistan's
18-year war.
The two-page decree signed by Ghani, which requires all released Taliban
prisoners to provide "a written guarantee to not return to the battlefield",
is aimed at paving the way for direct talks with the hardline insurgent
The United States warned the Taliban that the current high level of violence
was "not conducive to advancing the peace process" after the 15-member U.N.
Security Council unanimously adopted a U.S.-drafted resolution.
The United States signed an agreement with the Taliban last month for a
phased withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces if the Taliban keeps its
commitments. It also prescribed the start of talks between the insurgents
and an Afghan government delegation on a political settlement to end decades
of conflict.
The prisoner release decree, which is expected to be made public later by
Ghani's office, said the process will begin in four days.
"The process of releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners will be completed within
15 days, with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails every day," it said.
The decree said talks between the government and the Taliban will run
parallel with the prisoner release, and requires the insurgents to stick to
commitments to a reduction in violence.
Taliban commanders have sent vehicles to be ready to collect the prisoners
and said they will honour the deal by handing over 1,000 government troops.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Cherith Norman Chalet said the Taliban
had taken steps to stop attacks in cities and against major bases.


Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Wednesday that his military
would launch its harshest retaliation yet if the Syrian government breaks a
fragile truce in Idlib province brokered last week.
The cease-fire arranged by Turkey and Russia-which support opposing sides in
the conflict - halted a three-month air and ground campaign by the Syrian
government against the rebel-held province.
That offensive killed hundreds and sent 1 million people fleeing toward the
Turkish border.
The Russian-backed Syrian government offensive made significant gains in
Syria's last rebel stronghold, and Turkey sent thousands of troops across
the border to reinforce the rebels, leading to rare direct fighting between
Syrian and Turkish troops.
"If those across from us don't keep their promise, we will never shy away
from advancing on them in a much more serious way than before," Erdogan said
in his weekly address to his ruling party's legislators.


The US Supreme Court handed the White House a victory on Wednesday by
allowing a policy to remain in place that allows asylum seekers to be sent
back to Mexico. The "Remain in Mexico" policy unveiled in December 2018 by
the Trump administration calls for non-Mexican asylum seekers to remain in
Mexico while their cases are being decided.
Tens of thousands of asylum seekers, most of them fleeing poverty or
persecution in Central American nations, have been forced under the policy
to stay in Mexico while their cases are under consideration. A federal
appeals court ruled the practice illegal last month but allowed it to remain
in place while the Trump administration appealed the ruling to the Supreme
The Supreme Court granted a stay of the ruling by the lower court pending a
full consideration of the issue. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said if
the "Remain in Mexico" policy was struck down, then "substantial numbers of
the up to 25,000 returned aliens who are awaiting proceedings in Mexico will
rush immediately to enter the United States.
"A surge of that magnitude would impose extraordinary burdens on the United
States and damage our diplomatic relations with the government of Mexico,"
Francisco argued. The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the Supreme
Court order.
"The Court of Appeals declared it illegal and (the Supreme Court) should as
well," the ACLU said. "Asylum seekers face grave danger and irreversible
harm every day from this policy." President Donald Trump has named two
conservative justices to the nine-member Supreme Court since taking office,
and they now outnumber liberals by a five to four margin. The court has
handed the Trump administration several notable victories on immigration in
the past few months, including allowing the use of military funds to help
build the US-Mexico border wall.
Trump, who is seeking reelection in November, has made cracking down on
illegal immigration one of the cornerstones of his presidency.


Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged political leaders to seek compromise
on Wednesday, as he received official results from Israel's third stalemate
election in less than a year.
"Any agreement you are able to come to that produces a stable government
that gains the trust of the people will be welcomed," he told party heads.
"I am hopeful that the 23rd Knesset (parliament) that will be sworn in next
week will last longer than its predecessors," he said, referring to
deadlocked polls in April and September 2019.
The final results of the March 2 poll showed right-wing Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party gaining 29.46 per cent of the vote and 36
seats in parliament.
With his allies-two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and a nationalist
one-Netanyahu's right-wing bloc has 58 seats, three short of a majority in
the 120-seat knesset.
Centrist rival Benny Gantz's Blue and White party gained 26.59 per cent,
earning 33 seats.
With the support of a leftwing alliance and the tacit backing of the
predominantly Arab Joint List, which has 15 seats, he has the backing of 55
In a repeat of the situation following the April and September votes, the
nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, which won seven seats, holds the balance of
Its leader Avigdor Lieberman refused to back either candidate following both
elections last year.
President Rivlin, whose role is largely ceremonial, has until March 17 to
designate a candidate to form a government.
He has previously supported forming a unity government and called on all
sides to put aside personal interests.
Netanyahu is due to face trial on March 17 over a series of corruption
charges he denies.


Myanmar's parliament rejected on Wednesday a proposed constitutional
amendment that would have allowed the country's de facto leader, Aung San
Suu Kyi, to officially become president.
The rejection had been expected because the proposal was opposed by the
military, which under the constitution adopted when it held power, holds
enough parliamentary seats to block any constitutional change. The defeated
motion was one of several constitutional changes proposed by Suu Kyi's
ruling National League for Democracy party, with most expected to be
Article 59(f) of the constitution bars a person from becoming president if
his or her spouse or children are foreign citizens. Suu Kyi's two sons are
British nationals, as was her late husband.
The efforts to change the constitution come ahead of a general election
slated for late this year.
In addition to wielding a veto over constitutional change, the military
controls three key ministries: defense, border and home affairs.
Any constitutional change requires the approval of more than 75% of the
members of the combined houses of parliament. Members of the military
automatically hold 25% of the seats, and can usually also count of the
support of a civilian opposition party allied with it, the Union Solidarity
and Development Party.


Harvey Weinstein was sentenced Wednesday to 23 years in prison for rape and
sexual assault, a sight the Hollywood mogul's multitude of accusers thought
they would never see.
Weinstein, who has been accused of violating scores of women, was convicted
last month of raping a woman in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and
forcibly performing oral sex on another woman at his apartment in 2006. He
faced a maximum of 29 years in prison.
Both women that Weinstein was convicted of assaulting a once-aspiring
actress and a former TV and film production assistant spoke in court
Wednesday before Judge James Burke announced the sentence, confronting
Weinstein again after their testimony helped seal his conviction at the
landmark (hash)MeToo trial.
Burke also heard from Weinstein's lawyers, who pleaded for leniency because
of his age and frail health, and prosecutors, who said the man once
celebrated as a titan of Hollywood deserved a harsh sentence that would
account for allegations of wrongdoing dating to the 1970s.
Harvey Weinstein told a court Wednesday that the men facing allegations in
the (hash)MeToo movement are being accused of "things that none of us
understood," saying he was confused by the rape case that was about to put
him in prison.
"Thousands of men are losing due process. I'm worried about this country,"
the disgraced Hollywood mogul said after two of his accusers confronted him
in court.

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