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Serbian troops on heightened alert at Kosovo border

Government in Belgrade accuses neighbouring Kosovo of ‘provocations’ by sending special police units to border.

A Kosovo Serb is pictured waving a Serbian flag as he protests against a government ban on entry of vehicles with Serbian registration plates in Jarinje, Kosovo [Laura Hasani/Reuters]
A Kosovo Serb is pictured waving a Serbian flag as he protests against a government ban on entry of vehicles with Serbian registration plates in Jarinje, Kosovo [Laura Hasani/Reuters]
26 Sep 2021

Serbian troops have been on a heightened state of alert after the government in Belgrade accused neighbouring Kosovo of “provocations” by sending special police units to the border.

Already tense relations between Serbia and its former breakaway region have grown worse since the ethnic Albanian-led government there despatched the police units to an area mainly populated by minority ethnic Serbs, who reject the authority of the government in Kosovo’s capital Pristina.

The deployment came as hundreds of ethnic Serbs have staged daily protests against a decision to require drivers with Serbian registration plates to put on temporary ones when entering Kosovo – a “reciprocal measure”, according to Pristina.

“No one here wants a conflict and I hope there won’t be one,” said a 45-year-old protester who identified himself as Ljubo and was camped at the Jarinje border crossing.

“We want Pristina to withdraw its forces and cancel the decision on licence plates.”

Hundreds of Serbs in Kosovo have been protesting and blocking traffic with trucks on the roads leading to two border crossings.

“After the provocations by the [special police] units … Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic gave the order to heighten the alert for some Serbian army and police units,” the defence ministry in Belgrade said in a statement.

Serbian fighter jets could again be seen flying over the border region on Sunday after several sorties on Saturday, AFP news agency reported.

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Tensions grow with Azerbaijan as Iran moves forces to border

Tensions spiked between Azerbaijan and Iran recently surrounding trade with Armenia and military exercises in the region.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 11:30
A still image from a video released by the Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry shows members of Azeri armed forces firing artillery during clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in an unidentified location, in this still image from footage released September 28, 2020 (photo credit: DEFENCE MINISTRY OF AZERBAIJAN/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A still image from a video released by the Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry shows members of Azeri armed forces firing artillery during clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in an unidentified location, in this still image from footage released September 28, 2020
Tensions spiked between Azerbaijan and Iran in recent weeks after Azerbaijan began targeting Iranian trucks with fines and arrests, and Iran moved military forces to its border with Azerbaijan and warned against Israeli influence near its borders.
In August, the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry invited the Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, due to "undesirable facts" concerning what it called illegal travel of Iranian trucks to the Karabakh region without the permission of Azerbaijan. A statement by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry stated that the new Iranian administration would take steps to end such incidents.
The trucks in question were traveling on a road between the Armenian towns of Kapan and Goris which partially crosses through territory handed over to Azerbaijan after the Nagorno-Karabakh war last year, according to RFE/RL. The highway, patrolled by Russian peacekeepers, is Armenia's only link to Iran.
Earlier this month, Azerbaijani forces set up a checkpoint and began taxing and inspecting Iranian commercial trucks traveling on the highway, according to RFE/RL. A number of Iranian truck drivers were even arrested.
Azerbaijani officials have stated that Azerbaijani law requires all foreign vehicles, not just Iranian ones, entering the country to pay road and transit fees.
In an interview with the Turkish Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressed outrage at the continued travel of Iranian trucks through Azerbaijani territory, questioning why Iran was so insistent on continuing trade to a region with only 25,000 inhabitants.
"Is this market really so important? Is this trade really so important that you show such outright disrespect for a country you consider friendly and fraternal?" said Aliyev to Anadolu Agency.
Tensions also rose recently due to joint military exercises carried out by Azerbaijan and Turkey in the Caspian Sea, with the Iranian Foreign Ministry warning that such drills violated international conventions banning the military presence of countries other than the five states which border the sea.
In the interview with Anadolu Agency, the Azerbaijani president expressed shock at Iran's decision to hold a military exercise along its border, saying it was the first time in Azerbaijan's 30-year history of independence that this had occurred.
While Aliyev admitted that every country has the sovereign right to conduct military exercises in its own territory, he questioned why Iran chose this specific time to do so. The president stressed that he does "not wish to see a single fact that would undermine long-term cooperation in the region" and hopes that the "emotional reaction" to Azerbaijan's "legitimate steps" is temporary.
After the interview, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stated that Aliyev's remarks were "surprising" as such issues should have been handled through proper channels and not the media.
Concerning the upcoming Iranian military drill, Khatibzadeh stated that it was aimed at "protecting regional security," adding however that Iran "will not tolerate the Israeli regime’s presence near its borders even if it’s ceremonial" and "will take any actions it deems necessary to protect its national security."
In a meeting with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stressed the importance of good relations between the two countries, but added that "some third parties should not be allowed to affect the good relations," according to the Iranian IRNA news agency.
The "third parties" comment has been interpreted by some as referring to Israel, an ally of Azerbaijan, but an enemy of Iran.
On Tuesday, Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the land forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), warned that Iran expected neighboring countries not "to be a breeding ground for the evil deeds of the Zionist regime," according to the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency.
"The Islamic Republic expects our neighboring border areas and neighboring countries to be a safe and secure environment for countries and the region," said the commander. "Therefore, it is expected that while being doubly sensitive to this, they will not allow a foreign element such as the Zionist regime, whose conspiracies and malice with the Muslim nations are not hidden from anyone, to make the soil of our neighbors a bedrock to achieve its evil and criminal goals."
Pakpour warned that there is "no doubt" that Israel is helping "some countries in the region" with the goal of created discord and division among Muslim countries.
"We cannot accept that some countries, under the influence of third countries, make unrealistic and provocative statements regarding the promotion of the readiness of the combat units of the Islamic Republic and undermine our actions," said Pakpour. "Neighboring governments know better than anyone else the reasons for holding Iranian exercises."
Pakpour stressed that Iran had not reacted to 37 exercises conducted by countries in the region in recent months and respected the inalienable right of every country to conduct drills.
Kioumars Heydari, commander of the Iranian Army's Ground Forces, announced on Thursday that an exercise, named "Conquerors of Khaybar," would start on Friday in northwestern Iran in order to test weapons and equipment and assess the readiness of the armed forces in any arena and along the borders of Iran, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency.
The name of the exercise, "Conquerors of Khaybar," may be a reference to the Battle of Khaybar, in which the Muslims, led by Muhammad, fought against the Jews in Khaybar, eventually defeating and imposing a tax on them.
An opinion piece published in Kayhan, a newspaper associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, warned against an alleged "invisible alliance" between the US, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Israel, saying that it could have a "major impact" on Iran's and Russia's political weight in the region.
The author of the piece warned that Turkey and Azerbaijan must know that "Iran can thwart the conspiracy designed for them in a regrettable way."
A video report on Iran's IRIB broadcaster on Tuesday seemed to insinuate that a "terrorist" group that it recently thwarted was armed in Azerbaijan, showing pictures of Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, while stating that it was armed in "one of the neighboring countries."
Iran's Intelligence Ministry announced on Tuesday that it had killed the leader of a group that it claimed was supported and guided by the intelligence services of countries hostile to Iran. The group allegedly planned to strike sensitive and vital sites in Iran, according to Iranian media. All members of the group were arrested by Iranian intelligence forces.
Azerbaijan and Israel have close ties, with the president of Azerbaijan saying in a discussion with The Nizami Ganjavi International Center in May that relations with Israel were very diverse and were especially strong in the defense industry. "It is no secret that Azerbaijan has full access to Israeli defense industry products," said Aliyev at the time.
Israeli arms, including the LORA missile and the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Harop suicide drone, were reportedly used by Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia last year.
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Family's 'hell' as Lewisham dad stuck in Iranian prison after police put 'bag over his head and shoved him into van' on shopping trip

Daughter Elika had to keep her father's plight a secret for eight months

  • 18:07, 8 OCT 2021
  • UPDATED18:09, 8 OCT 2021

The daughter of a South London dad being held in an Iranian prison is fighting for his freedom as part of a four-year-long battle.

Elika Ashoori says her family have been in "hell" after her father Anoosheh was bundled into a police van while out on a shopping trip in Iran.

Anoosheh, 67, a father of two from Lewisham has been in jail in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where Nazanin Zaghari Ratciffe is detained, for four years on spy charges, which the family and Amnesty International say are false.


Elika, 35, says the family has suffered ‘hell’ since he was arrested in August 2017 following a trip to Iran to visit his mother.

While out shopping one day he was approached by police who asked his name then put a bag over his head before shoving him into a van.

The retired engineer was taken to Evin and placed in solitary confinement for four months during which time he was forced into making a false confession-charges.

Elika told MyLondon: “The first eight months were the worst in my life because we couldn't talk to him, he was in solitary, he tried to take his own life too. They knew what we did, where we worked, they told him they would hurt us, even our pets.”

Elika and her brother Aryan have campaigned for their father's release (Image: family handout)

Anoosheh attempted to take his life three times, on the third attempt he went on hunger strike for 17 days: “He thought if he took himself out of the picture he it would be better for us.”

The family were advised by the Foreign Office not to speak about the case and the family kept silent for eight months; fearful even of seeking consular assistance.

“It was worse for us because we had to keep it a secret, you don’t get a guide book for things like this, we thought if we keep it hushed up it would resolve itself," Elika explained.

“So we didn’t say anything to anyone we thought would antagonize Iran and they wouldn’t let him go.”

Anoosheh Ashoori with his family (Image: Family handout)

Elika believes her father may have been singled out after renewing his Iranian passport which flagged him on the system as a dual national living in the UK.

As the realisation dawned that Anoosheh wouldn’t be coming home the family have struggled to carry on with their day to day lives.

“Everything had to go on as normal, I had a holiday booked and there were other friends involved and I couldn't tell them what had happened, I became very resentful I was very angry," she said.

Elika runs Lilika’s treats, her cake business from Greenwich Market. It’s popular with locals selling French patisserie-style macarons and cheesecake, it’s a business her father Anoosheh was a big part of.

“He was involved from the beginning, he was building me things like macaron trays and a machine to self pipe, to this day even from prison when he calls we talk about it," she said. "He’s always been extremely supportive.”

Elika added:“Even going to work, why am I not doing something to help my dad, why am I doing these irrelevant things?”

Elika appeared in a video alongside Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe's daughter Gabriella (Image: Amnesty International UK/Darius Bazargan)

The family now have regular contact over the phone with Anoosheh from prison for 20 minutes a day and Elika says he takes comfort in reading his diary to the family which her mother records.

She said: “It’s his day to day life, ‘today I went to the library, I met a new prisoner,’ he keeps his daily routine, it’s a comfort and peace of mind that he’s not being forgotten; it’s the biggest fear that prisoners have in Evin.

“They’re so disconnected from the outside world they need to be comforted by doing something lasting, for him it’s one way of doing it."

Alongside her business, Elika has dedicated herself to campaigning for her father’s release and raising awareness after deciding to talk publicly about his case.

But the family has struggled to get the same level of attention of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe’s case.

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North Korea: Kim Jong-un vows to build 'invincible military'

31 minutes ago
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North Korea"s leader Kim Jong Un presents awards to military service personnel at the Defence Development Exhibition, in PyongyangIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,North Korea says it needs to continue developing weapons for its protection

North Korea's leader has vowed to build an "invincible military" in the face of what it says are hostile policies from the United States, report state media.

Kim Jong-un added that weapons development was for self-defence, and not to start a war.

Mr Kim made the comments at a rare defence exhibition while flanked by a variety of large missiles.

North Korea has recently tested what it claims to be new hypersonic and anti-aircraft missiles.

The South meanwhile has tested its own submarine-launched weapon.

In his speech at the Self-Defence 2021 exhibition held in Pyongyang, which featured an array of military hardware including tanks, Mr Kim addressed the military build-up in the South and said that North Korea did not want to fight its neighbour.

"We are not discussing war with anyone, but rather to prevent war itself and to literally increase war deterrence for the protection of national sovereignty," he said.

Mr Kim also accused the US of stoking tensions between North and South Korea.

He added that there was "no behavioural basis" to make North Korea believe that the US was not hostile.

The US under President Joe Biden has repeatedly said it is willing to talk to North Korea, but has demanded Pyongyang give up nuclear weapons before sanctions can be eased. North Korea has so far refused.

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Beirut port blast: Gunfire erupts at protest against judge leading probe

25 minutes ago

At least six people have been killed and 32 others injured in armed clashes in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

The shooting began during a protest by the Shia Muslim groups Hezbollah and Amal against the judge investigating last year's blast at the city's port.

They said Christian snipers fired at the crowd to drag Lebanon into strife.

Huge tension surrounds the probe into the port explosion. Hezbollah and its allies claim the judge is biased, but the victims' families support his work.

No-one has yet been held accountable for the August 2020 disaster, in which 219 people were killed and swathes of the city were devastated.

What began as a protest outside the Palace of Justice by hundreds of people arguing the investigation had become politicised and demanding the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar escalated remarkably quickly, reports the BBC's Anna Foster in Beirut.

Heavy gunfire erupted in the streets as the crowd passed through a roundabout in the central Tayouneh-Badaro area.

Protest in Beirut against the judge investigating last year's blast at the city's port (14 October 2021)IMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,Hezbollah said snipers opened fire at supporters demanding the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar

Local residents had flee their homes and schoolchildren ducked for cover under their desks as men armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers - believed to have members of Shia and Christian militias - exchanged fire in the streets.

The clashes continued for several hours before calm was restored.

Hospital and military sources said some of those killed were shot in the head. They included a woman who was hit by a stray bullet while inside her home.

Hezbollah and Amal accused a staunch opponent, the Christian Lebanese Forces party, of being behind the attack on the protesters.

Debris strewn across a road in Beirut after gunfire erupts during protest against the judge investigating last year's blast at the city's port (14 October 2021)IMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,The army warned that it would open fire against any gunmen in the area

The two Shia organisations said demonstrators were "subject to an armed attack by groups from the Lebanese Forces party that deployed in neighbouring streets and on rooftops, and engaged in direct sniping activity and intentional killing".

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea condemned the violence and appealed for calm.

"The main cause of these developments lies in the presence of uncontrolled and widespread weapons that threaten the citizens at any time and in any place," he tweeted.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on everyone to "calm down and not be drawn into sedition for any reason whatsoever".

The army said it had deployed troops to search for the assailants, and warned that they would "shoot at any gunman on the roads".

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Haiti: US Christian missionaries kidnapped in Port-au-Prince - reports

A group of US missionaries and their family members, including children, are reported to have been kidnapped by an armed gang near Haiti's Port-au-Prince.

At least 15 people were taken off a bus after visiting an orphanage, Haitian security sources have told news media.

Few details are known, but US officials said they were aware of the reports.

Haiti has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, as powerful gangs exploit the lawless situation to make money from ransom payments.

Since the killing of President Jovenel Moïse in July, rival factions have been trying to gain control and the lack of security has intensified the daily struggle to survive of many Haitians.

The Christian missionaries were seized shortly after leaving the town of Croix-des-Bouquets and continue to be held by the gang, according to a security source quoted by the AFP news agency.

The Haitian justice ministry and the National Police have not commented.

The US government is yet to provide any information on the incident, but the US state department told AFP it had seen the reports and that the safety of American citizens abroad was one of its highest priorities.

Christian Aid Ministries, a US-based organisation, sent a voice message to religious groups in Haiti as a "special prayer alert", the Associated Press news agency reported.

The message said the group was working with the US embassy in Haiti to "see what could be done" to help the abducted people.

Christian Aid Ministries supports Haitians largely through donations and supplies shelter, food and clothing to children and helps to fund their education.

Armed gangs have controlled the poorest districts of the Haitian capital for years. Recently they have extended their hold to other parts of Haiti's capital city Port-au-Prince and its outlying areas.

More than 600 kidnappings were recorded in the first three quarters of 2021, compared with 231 over the same period last year, according to a local civil society group.

Violence in Haiti - the poorest country in the Americas - has spiralled both since the assassination of President Moïse and an earthquake the following month which killed more than 2,000 people.

According to the New York Times, many in Haiti have been calling for the US to send troops to the country, a request the Biden administration is reluctant to accept.

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Iskcon followers, students protest in Dhaka over violence against Hindus

Dozens of homes of Hindus were burned late on Sunday in Rangpur district’s Pirgonj upazila, about 255km from Dhaka, after an image was posted on social media that was perceived as insulting to the country’s Muslim majority.
Bangladeshi Hindus stage a demonstration in Dhaka to protest against the fresh religious violence against Hindus in the country. (AFP Photo) Bangladeshi Hindus stage a demonstration in Dhaka to protest against the fresh religious violence against Hindus in the country. (AFP Photo)
Published on Oct 18, 2021 07:06 PM IST
By hindustantimes.com | Written by Meenakshi Ray

Followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) and students and teachers from Dhaka University on Monday protested against the latest attack on Hindus in Bangladesh, according to reports.

The new wave of violence took place in a village in Rangpur district’s Pirgonj upazila, about 255km from Dhaka, where dozens of homes of Hindus were burned late on Sunday. According to local reports, the violence came after an image was posted on social media that was perceived as insulting to the country’s Muslim majority.


The Bangladesh Chhatra League led the protest march, blaming the Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir for the attack, as they blocked a major intersection in Dhaka along with the university teachers and students to demand justice. Several other Hindu groups also joined the peaceful protest at the Shahbagh intersection.

News website bdnews24.com reported citing the district’s superintendent of police Mohammad Qamruzzaman as saying that the police rushed to the fishing village as tension mounted over a rumour that a young Hindu man of the village had ‘dishonoured religion’ in a Facebook post. The attackers set fire to other homes nearby as the police stood guard around the man’s home, the report said.

“Whoever is involved in the incident, will be brought to justice. I have provided some immediate assistance to the victims,” said Pirganj municipal mayor ASM Tajimul Islam Shamim said, according to the Associated Press.

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Hugo Carvajal: Spain to extradite Venezuela's ex-spy chief to US

2 hours ago
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Former Venezuelan intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal stands during his extradition hearing in MadridIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,Mr Carvajal was arrested in Spain last month after he had been in hiding for nearly two years

Spain's high court has ruled that Venezuela's former spy chief, Hugo Carvajal, should be extradited to the United States.

Mr Carvajal faces charges of drug trafficking and collaborating with Colombia's Farc terrorist group.

But he could also have incriminating evidence against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, a major adversary of the United States.

Mr Carvajal fell out with Mr Maduro and fled Venezuela for Spain in 2019.

Mr Carvajal has repeatedly denied having any links to drug traffickers or the Marxist Farc rebels, and said the charges against him are politically motivated.

The Spanish high court ruling follows an interior ministry decision to refuse Mr Carvajal asylum. However, that process has yet to be completed as Mr Carvajal can appeal.

The extradition could also be delayed by another court case Mr Carvajal may have to testify in.

It involves alleged illegal financing from Venezuela of Spain's left-wing Podemos party.

Mr Carvajal, 61, nicknamed "El Pollo" (The Chicken), was arrested in Spain last month after he had been in hiding for nearly two years in the wake of an earlier Spanish court decision which backed his extradition.

The US and the government of President Maduro have been at loggerheads for years, with the US imposing tough sanctions on Venezuela.

Who is Hugo Carvajal?

Gen Carvajal was the head of Venezuela's military counter-intelligence from July 2004 until December 2011, when Hugo Chávez was president of the country.

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