Turkish parliament nears approval of presidential system sought by Erdogan

supporters of turkish president erdogan

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey moved closer to adopting a new constitutional bill extending President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers that supporters welcome as a guarantor of stability at a time of turmoil and opponents see as a step toward an authoritarian state.

Parliament ratified the first seven of 18 articles in a second round of voting, putting the assembly on track to approve the package as a whole by Friday night.

Under the new system, Erdogan could rule in the NATO-member and European Union candidate country until 2029.

As debate on the reforms went late into the evening, an independent lawmaker, Aylin Nazliaka, handcuffed herself to the podium in protest against the stronger presidency.

A lawmaker from the ruling AK Party attempted to end the protest by force and deputies from other parties then weighed in, one losing her prosthetic arm in the fracas, witnesses said.

The AK Party, backed by the nationalist MHP, says it will bring the strong leadership needed to prevent a return to the fragile coalition governments of the past. It would also, they say, help Turkey tackle attacks by Kurdish insurgents and Islamic State militants spilling over from war in Syria.

The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament – powers that the two main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan’s power.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was cited as telling Turkey’s Fox TV: “In the presidential period, when ministers will be appointed from outside, people from and close to the MHP could be appointed as ministers.”


Erdogan assumed the presidency, a largely ceremonial position, in 2014 after over a decade as prime minister. Since then, pushing his powers to the limit, he has continued to dominate politics by dint of his personal popularity.

Critics accuse him of increasing authoritarianism with the arrests and dismissal of tens of thousands of judges, police, military officers, journalists and academics since a failed military coup in July. Erdogan points to a danger from Islamic State militants and Kurdish insurgents.

The seven articles approved lower the minimum age to be a lawmaker to 18 from 25, raise the number of MPs to 600 from 550 and will result in parliamentary and presidential elections being held together every five years.

The seventh article opens the way for the president to be a member of a political party.

The main opposition CHP and the pro-Kurdish HDP, the second largest opposition party, strongly oppose the changes.

The bill needs the support of at least 330 deputies in the assembly to go to a referendum. The AKP has 316 deputies eligible to vote and the MHP 39. So far, articles have generally been approved with at least 340 votes in favor.

A study by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University showed the presidency was rated as Turkey’s most trusted institution, outstripping the army, which normally tops such surveys but whose popularity has fallen after a failed coup in July.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker and Ercan Gurses; Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Janet Lawrence)

Wife of Orlando nightclub gunman arrested on federal charges

Police in front of apartment building

By Daniel Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The FBI on Monday arrested the wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub last year, a massacre that intensified fears about attacks against Americans inspired by Islamic State, officials said.

Noor Salman, 30, is being charged with obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting by providing material support to a terrorist organization, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement.Salman’s arrest came seven months after her husband, Omar Mateen, went on a hours-long siege at the Florida club that ended when police killed him. She was due to appear in federal court in Oakland, California on Tuesday morning.

“Certainly I can confirm that an arrest did occur in this case,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch told MSNBC.

“We said from the beginning we were going to look at every aspect of this case, every aspect of this shooter’s life to determine – not just why did he take these actions, but who else knew about them, was anyone else involved?” Lynch said.

Salman, who has a young son by Mateen, was arrested at her home outside San Francisco, The New York Times reported, citing an unnamed law enforcement official. Salman has moved at least three times since the attack, attempting to avoid the news media, The Times said.

The daughter of parents who immigrated from the West Bank in 1985, Salman was repeatedly questioned by law enforcement interrogators after the club attack, telling them she was with Mateen when he bought ammunition and conducted surveillance of the club.

But she denied any involvement in the attack or any knowledge of her husband’s plans, she told the Times in an interview published on Nov. 1.

“I was unaware of everything,” Salman told the Times. “I don’t condone what he has done. I am very sorry for what has happened. He has hurt a lot of people.”Her husband, who was 29 at the time of his death, claimed a connection to or support for multiple Islamist extremist groups, including al Qaeda, Hezbollah, al Nusra and Islamic State, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told reporters a few days after the attack.

During the siege, Mateen spoke to a 911 emergency dispatcher and expressed solidarity with an al Nusra suicide bomber as well as Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

Representatives of the FBI could not be reached immediately for more details.

The Orlando massacre came about seven months after a husband and wife who sympathized with Islamic extremists opened fire in December 2015 on a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 and wounding 22 others.

(Additional reporting by Frank McGurty and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

Illinois man sues police over flag burning arrest

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – An Illinois man is suing members of a local police department alleging his rights were violated when he was arrested last year after he posted photos of himself burning an American flag on social media and they were shared widely, according to court documents.

Bryton Mellott, 22, of Urbana, Illinois, a city around 140 miles (225 km) south of Chicago, set an American flag on fire on July 3 in a friend’s backyard to protest the conditions of many Americans’ lives. He then posted photos to Facebook along with an explanation of his actions, according to court documents filed on Wednesday.

Many states, including Illinois, continue to have flag desecration laws on the books, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that burning of the flag is protected as an expression of free speech.

The Urbana Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Mellott’s lawsuit alleges that four Urbana police officers violated his right to free speech and detained him without reason. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Mellott. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.

“I am not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis,” Mellott wrote last year in the caption accompanying his photos, according to court documents.

He ended his post, “#ArrestMe.”

By the following morning, the post had been shared widely and attracted numerous comments. An officer from the Urbana Police Department called Mellott and told him to take the post down, according to court documents. Mellott declined to do so, saying it had already been shared many times.

Later in the day, Mellott was arrested by Urbana officers for violating the state’s flag desecration statue. He was detained for around five hours.

However, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz declined to charge Mellott, citing the Supreme Court rulings, and Mellott was released.

President-elect Donald Trump briefly waded into the debate over flag burning last year, when he said in a message on Twitter that there “must be consequences” for burning the flag. He suggested those who do so face loss of citizenship or jail time.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Spain arrests two accused of connections to Islamist militants

Spanish civil guards

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish police have arrested two people in Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta accused of connections with Islamist militants, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

The two detained had been through a long radicalization process and formed part of a group which was thought to be at an advanced stage of preparation for potential attacks, it said.

Police, searching six locations in relation to the arrests, found one gun and three non-firing weapons, the ministry said, though it did not elaborate.

Police had unearthed at least one automatic weapon wrapped in a plastic sheet on wasteland near the locations being investigated, a Reuters witness said.

Spanish police have arrested 180 people accused of connections to Islamist militant groups since raising the country-wide security alert to one below the highest level in 2015.

(Reporting by Paul Day; Editing by Toby Chopra and Hugh Lawson)

New York man gets 13 years prison for trying to join al Qaeda

New York high school senior trying to join al Qaeda

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York man was sentenced on Tuesday to 13 years in prison for trying to join the Islamic militant group al Qaeda when he was a high school senior.

Justin Kaliebe, now 22, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley in Central Islip, New York, after pleading guilty in February 2013 to having attempted to provide material support to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Kaliebe had been arrested a month earlier at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where prosecutors said he planned to board a flight to Muscat, Oman, as part of his plot to eventually travel to Yemen.

The defendant was also sentenced to 20 years of supervised release.

“I am disappointed and feel that a lesser sentence was warranted,” Kaliebe’s lawyer Anthony LaPinta said in an email.

“Justin is a harmless young man who had many psychological, medical and personal issues that contributed to his criminal conduct,” LaPinta continued. “Justin will make the best of his time in prison. I am certain that he will emerge as a rehabilitated, productive and respected member of society.”

Federal authorities have estimated that 80 percent of Americans linked to activities supporting militant Islamic movements have radicalized themselves with information from the internet.

Prosecutors said Kaliebe, a resident of Babylon, New York, began his plot in 2011, and told an undercover law enforcement operative the following year that he was “doing the J word,” or violent “jihad.”

In June 2012, Kaliebe was recorded as saying that upon arriving in Yemen, he expected to fight “those who are fighting against the Sharia of Allah,” be it the Yemeni army or U.S. forces, prosecutors said.

Kaliebe received support from Marcos Alonso Zea, another Long Island resident who according to prosecutors attempted to fly to Yemen in January 2012 but was intercepted by British customs officials and returned to the United States.

Zea, 28, was arrested in October 2013 and sentenced in April 2015 to 25 years in prison, after pleading guilty to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Tom Brown)

Egypt arrests four in connection with church bombing, death toll rises

Egypt work on restoration of Cathedral

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian police have arrested four people in connection with the bombing that killed dozens of Christians at Cairo’s Coptic Christian cathedral last month, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

At least 25 people, mostly women and children, were initially killed when a bomb exploded in a chapel adjoining St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic papacy. The Health Ministry said on Wednesday the death toll had climbed to 28.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said after the attack that the bomber was a man wearing a suicide vest and that security forces were seeking two more people believed to be involved.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement it had arrested one of the two along with three others who were part of the same cell and who planned to carry out more attack. One man is still on the run, it said, without saying when they were arrested.

Police also seized improvised explosive devices, shotguns, and ammunition with those it arrested, the ministry said.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing and threatened more attacks against Christians but Egypt has sought to link the attack to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The ministry said in December that Mahmoud Shafik, the alleged bomber, was a supporter of the group. It said on Wednesday that one of the people it arrested was also a supporter of the Brotherhood but it did not mention if the others had any affiliation.

The Brotherhood has condemned the attack and accused Sisi’s administration of failing to protect the church. Sisi has dismissed the accusation.

Sisi took power in 2013, deposing Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood, and has since outlawed the group as part of a crackdown in which hundreds of its supporters have been killed and thousands jailed. An Islamist insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has gained pace since and pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014.

Orthodox Copts, who comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people, are the Middle East’s largest Christian community.

(Reporting by Mostafa Hashem and Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

‘Get us out of here’: desperate Aleppo residents fear arrest, death

Children walk together as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria

By Laila Bassam and Lisa Barrington

ALEPPO, Syria / BEIRUT (Reuters) – As the four-month siege of eastern Aleppo neared its end, some survivors trudged in the rain past dead bodies to the government-held west or the few districts still in rebel hands.

Others stayed in their homes and awaited the Syrian army’s arrival.

For all of them, fear of arrest, conscription or summary execution had added to the daily terror of bombardment.

“People are saying the troops have lists of families of fighters and are asking them if they had sons with the terrorists. (They are) then either left or shot and left to die,” said Abu Malek al-Shamali in Seif al-Dawla, one of the last rebel-held neighborhoods.

The United Nations said it had reports that Syrian government troops and their Iraqi militia allies had killed civilians in eastern Aleppo, including 82 people in four different neighborhoods in the last few days.

Speaking from a small area still under rebel control, father of five Abu Ibrahim, said he knew of two families executed by the advancing militias that have formed the vanguard of the assault on Syria’s second city.

The United Nations also said it was concerned about reports that hundreds of young men leaving rebel-held territory had been detained.

People walk as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.

People walk as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents have accused the government of mass arrests and forced conscription. The government has denied this and accused rebels of compelling men to fight in their ranks.

On Sunday foreign journalists were invited to a ceremony where Syria’s army enlisted 220 men, including former rebels and others from areas captured by the government.

“You have been recalled to obligatory service,” Brigadier Habib Safia told the men in the military police headquarters in a government-held Aleppo district.

One of the men, Mohammed Hilal, in his 20s, said he and some comrades had escaped from the east along with more than 60 families and that he was ready to join the army.


Those still trapped in eastern Aleppo have been using social media to distribute messages they feared would be their last.

“This is a message from someone saying farewell and who could face death or arrest at any time,” a medic working in Aleppo wrote via the Whatsapp messaging service.

“Trapped from all sides, death comes from the sky in barrels … Remember what you had in Aleppo, that there was a city called Aleppo wiped off the map and from history by the world.”

Abu Yousef, in his thirties, said he and his family fled bombardments, tanks and executions in his home neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr.

“Thanks to god, we are still alive … the regime is constantly bombing us. My two children are injured, I am injured. The regime wants to kill us all. We are very afraid,” he said.

“You tell me ‘may God protect you’. I don’t want God to protect us, we want a solution! We want a cessation of hostilities. We want someone to get us out of here. It’s enough. People are dying,” he said.

The UN has called for international oversight for civilians and rebel fighters as the government takes over.

“The only way to alleviate the deep foreboding and suspicion that massive crimes may be under way both within Aleppo, and in relation to some of those who fled or were captured, whether fighters or civilians, is for there to be monitoring by external bodies, such as the UN,” UN human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said.

Children’s charity War Child said: “What we are witnessing in Aleppo is a humanitarian catastrophe of historic proportions, bearing comparison to infamous disasters of the past – such as Srebrenica and Guernica.”


East Aleppo’s civil defense rescue organization, which pulled many hundreds of dead and injured from rubble over years of the war, told Reuters rescue services had stopped.

“Our machinery and equipment is all broken. We have nothing left … We are working with our hands just to get people from under the rubble,” said Ibrahim Abu Laith, an official from the civil defense group also known as the White Helmets.

The civil defense wrote on its Twitter account on Tuesday it could no longer keep track of the numbers of dead.

“There is no total number of casualties in besieged Aleppo today, all streets and destroyed buildings are full with dead bodies. It’s hell.”

With hospitals bombed out of service, aid stocks exhausted and a brutal bombing campaign in recent weeks, people in east Aleppo are desperate.

“People, even those wanted (by the regime) have started to flee to the regime from the intensity of the shelling, hunger, cold and amount of injuries which are not treated, in addition to the corpses in the streets … Planes and artillery are hitting strongly places where civilians are gathering,” the medic said in his message.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein warned that what we are seeing now in Aleppo could happen to populations of other towns outside government control such as Douma, Raqqa and Idlib.

“The crushing of Aleppo, the immeasurably terrifying toll on its people, the bloodshed, the wanton slaughter of men, women and children, the destruction – and we are nowhere near the end of this cruel conflict,” Zeid said.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, John Davison, Ellen Francis and Angus McDowall in Beirut, Laila Bassam in Aleppo and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Editing by Janet McBride)

Police clash with North Dakota pipeline protesters, arrest one

police surround north dakota pipeline protesters

By Chris Michaud

(Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters opposed to a North Dakota oil pipeline project they say threatens water resources and sacred tribal lands clashed with police who fired tear gas at the scene of a similar confrontation last month, officials said.

An estimated 400 protesters mounted the Backwater Bridge and attempted to force their way past police in what the Morton County Sheriff’s Department described as an “ongoing riot,” the latest in a series of demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A media statement from the agency said one arrest had been made by 8:30 p.m. local time (0230 GMT Monday), about 2 1/2 hours after the incident began some 45 miles (30 miles) south of Bismark, the North Dakota capital.

The Backwater Bridge has been closed since late October, when activists clashed with police in riot gear and set two trucks on fire, prompting authorities to forcibly shut down a protesters encampment nearby.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said officers on the scene of the latest confrontation were “describing protesters’ actions as very aggressive.”

Demonstrators tried to start numerous fires as they attempted to outflank and “attack” law enforcement barricades, the sheriff’s statement said.

Police said they responded by firing volleys of tear gas at protesters in a bid to prevent them from crossing the bridge.

Activists at the scene reported on Twitter that police were also spraying protesters with water in sub-freezing temperatures and firing rubber bullets, injuring some in the crowd.

Police did not confirm the use of rubber bullets or water.

The clashes began after protesters removed a truck that had been on the bridge since Oct. 27, police said. The North Dakota Department of Transportation closed the Backwater Bridge due to damage from that incident.

The $3.7 billion Dakota Access project has been drawing steady opposition from Native American and environmental activists since the summer.

Completion of the pipeline, set to run 1,172 miles (1,185 km) from North Dakota to Illinois, was delayed in September so federal authorities could re-examine permits required by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Plans called for the pipeline to pass under Lake Oahe, a federally owned water source, and to skirt the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation by about half a mile. Most of the construction has otherwise been finished.

The Standing Rock tribe and environmental activists say the project would threaten water supplies and sacred Native American sites and ultimately contribute to climate change.

Supporters of the pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, said the project offers the fast and most direct route for bringing Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries and would be safer than transporting the oil by road or rail.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Tait)

Dozens of demonstrators arrested at North Dakota pipeline

North Dakota Pipeline protesters

(Reuters) – More than 80 protesters were arrested on Saturday after clashing with police near a pipeline construction site in North Dakota, according to the local sheriff’s department, which said pepper spray was used on some demonstrators.

The 83 protesters were arrested near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline on numerous charges ranging from assault on a peace officer to rioting and criminal trespass, the Morton County Sheriff’s department said in a statement.

Law enforcement was alerted early Saturday morning to an SUV on private property near the pipeline construction site and found that four men had attached themselves to the vehicle, according to the sheriff’s department. Police removed the men from the SUV before arresting them.

Later, around 300 protesters marched toward pipeline construction equipment and tried to breach a police line keeping them from the equipment, the sheriff’s department said.

Some were pepper sprayed by law enforcement. One protester attempted to grab a can of pepper spray from an officer, resulting in the officer being sprayed.

The demonstration closed a section of a local highway, but it was reopened on Saturday afternoon.

“Today’s situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks, that this protest is not peaceful or lawful,” sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement.

“It was obvious to our officers who responded that the protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior during this event. This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmental activists have been protesting construction of the 1,100-mile (1,886-km) pipeline in North Dakota for several months, saying it threatens the water supply and sacred sites. Numerous protesters have been arrested near the pipeline.

It was unclear who organized and led the protest. A spokesman for the Standing Rock Sioux could not immediately be reached for comment.

The pipeline, being built by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners LP, would be the first to bring Bakken shale from North Dakota directly to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Supporters say it would provide a safer and more cost-effective way to transport Bakken shale to the U.S. Gulf than by road or rail.

Earlier this week, pipeline equipment in Iowa was intentionally lit on fire causing about $2 million in damage, according to local authorities and company officials.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)

Refugee from Iraq pleads guilty in U.S. to attempting to join Islamic State

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – An Iraqi-born man who entered the United States as a refugee pleaded guilty on Monday in Texas to attempting to volunteer to fight with Islamic State, federal prosecutors said.

Omar Faraj Saeed Al-Hardan, 24, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Houston to one count of attempting to provide material support, specifically himself, to the militant group, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the southern district of Texas said in a statement.

Al-Hardan, who most recently lived in Houston, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 17, prosecutors said.

The case comes during a U.S. presidential race in which the question of admitting refugees from the Middle East, especially Syria, has become a point of contention between the two leading candidates.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has called for increasing the number of Syrian refugees admitted and said the United States can adequately screen them. Republican nominee Donald Trump has opposed their entry and called for “extreme vetting” of incoming Muslim immigrants.

In the Texas case, federal agents began investigating Al-Hardan in 2014 after he communicated with a California man who he believed was associated with the Syrian Islamist rebel group Al-Nusrah, prosecutors said in a statement.

Al-Hardan in 2014 and 2015, in discussions with a confidential informant, said he planned to travel overseas to support Islamic State, prosecutors said.

He also said he had taught himself to make remote detonators and showed off a circuit board he built as a transmitter, prosecutors said.

Al-Hardan entered the United States as an Iraqi refugee in late 2009, about two years before the start of a civil war in Syria, after spending time in refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq, prosecutors said. He was later granted legal permanent residence.

The arrest of Al-Hardan gained national media attention in January, with Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a conservative Republican, citing it as an indication of why Texas was seeking to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Islamic State, which controls tracts of land in Iraq and Syria, has claimed credit for a surge in global attacks this summer, even as it has been hammered by U.S.-led coalition air strikes. On Monday, Iraqi forces launched a U.S.-backed offensive to drive Islamic State from the city of Mosul.

President Barack Obama has said refugees are properly screened and vetted.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Macfie)