17 February 2019


Iran rejects 'laughable' anti-Semitism allegations by Pence

KONFRONTASI-Iran has rejected accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against the Islamic Republic by US Vice President Mike Pence, saying it respects Judaism but opposes Israel.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi said on Saturday that Iran had a "historic respect" for "divine religions", dismissing claims by Pence that Tehran is in favour of a second Holocaust.

"Iran's historic and cultural record of coexistence and respect for divine religions, particularly Judaism, is recorded in reliable historic documents of various nations," Qasemi said, according to the Iranian foreign ministry's website.

He added that the principle underlying Tehran's foreign policy was "the aggressive and occupying nature of the Zionist regime [Israel] ... which is a killing machine against the Palestinian people".

Iran and Israel have been bitter enemies since the former's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the Western-allied secular monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and led to the formation of an Islamic Republic headed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shia religious leader.

'Just against Zionists'

Qasemi's comments came after Pence alleged earlier on Saturday that Iran "advocates another Holocaust and … seeks the means to achieve it".

"The Ayatollah Khamenei himself has said, 'It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map'," Pence said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

The Holocaust saw German forces led by Adolf Hitler and his ruling Nazi Party murder more than six million Jews during World War II, from 1939-1945, with nearly seven out of every 10 Jews in Europe being killed because of their identity.

On Friday, Pence accused Tehran of anti-Semitism akin to the Nazis after visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed Pence's comments as "laughable", the Reuters news agency reported on Saturday.

"Iran has always supported the Jews, we are just against Zionists, the Holocaust was a disaster," Zarif told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, according to the Reuters report.

Iran's ancient Jewish community has slumped to an estimated 10,000-20,000 from 85,000 at the time of the country's 1979 revolution, but it is believed to be the biggest in the Middle East outside Israel.

Dr Mahathir: Any Government will collapse if it doesn't fulfil its promises

KUALA LUMPUR, kONFRONTASI: Any government will collapse if they fail to fulfil their promises to the rakyat, says Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He said this also applies to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) led government that took over from Barisan Nasional following the coalition’s victory at the 14th General Election.

“People have decided that, now is the time for the opposition to take over power and the opposition have made promises, a lot of promises. So now the nation is watching this opposition government implementing those promises.

Politics is now a matter of life and death': Muhammadiyah warns against deepening polarization

KONFRONTASI - Sectarianism is exacerbating political divisions in the country as voters now view politics as “a matter of life and death” and not a “worldly” issue in which differences are accepted, the leader of the nation’s second-largest Islamic organization has warned.

In his opening speech at a leadership meeting in Bengkulu on Friday, Muhammadiyah chairman Haedar Nashir argued that religious absolutism seemed to have pervaded politics and caused division among the people. 

Former Chicago Mafia boss Joey Lombardo wants out

KONFRONTASI -  Joey “The Clown” Lombardo the former boss of the Chicago Mafia has been in prison for more than a decade after being convicted in the infamous Family Secrets trial.

Democratic lawmakers say U.S. military action in Venezuela 'not an option'

KONFRONTASI-Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday said Congress would oppose U.S. military intervention in Venezuela and challenged the credibility of President Donald Trump’s special envoy, Elliott Abrams, over his past embrace of American covert action.

The Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, expressed concern about Trump’s hints that military action was an option in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro is under intense international pressure to step aside and the country’s economy is in chaos.

“I do worry about the president’s saber rattling, his hints that U.S. military intervention remains an option. I want to make clear to our witnesses and to anyone else watching: U.S. military intervention is not an option,” Engel told a hearing on the OPEC nation.

The head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.

Most Western countries, including the United States, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, but Maduro’s socialist government retains the backing of Russia and China, as well as control of state institutions including the military.

Under U.S. law, Congress - not the president - must approve foreign military action. At the hearing, Democrats on the committee pressed Abrams on his views on military intervention, but questions about his credibility provoked the most heated exchanges.

Abrams, an assistant secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, was convicted in 1991 of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, in which U.S. officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran and funneled the money to rebels fighting Nicaragua’s leftist government. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Representative Joaquin Castro asked Abrams if he was aware of any transfers of weapons or defense equipment by the U.S. government to groups in Venezuela opposed to Maduro. Abrams responded that he was not.

“I ask this question because you have a record of such actions,” Castro said. “Can we trust your testimony today?”

Representative Ilhan Omar discussed U.S. support for anti-communists in Central America during the Cold War and cited Abrams’ initial dismissal of reports of the 1981 El Mozote massacre in El Salvador as left-wing propaganda.

“Would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believe they serve the U.S. interests as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua?” Omar asked.

“I am not going to respond to that question,” Abrams replied. He called her questioning a personal attack.

Abrams also drew intermittent outbursts from protesters at the hearing. “You are a convicted criminal!” one man shouted before being escorted out.

Suicide bomber kills 27 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards

KONFRONTASI-A suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, state media said, in a southeastern region where security forces are facing a rise in attacks by militants from the country’s Sunni Muslim minority.

The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, claimed responsibility for the attack, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The heavy losses among Iran’s premier military force prompted a senior Revolutionary Guards commander to issue a warning to the country’s foes.

“Our response in defense of the Islamic Revolution will not be limited to our borders,” Ali Fadavi was quoted as saying by Fars.

“The enemies will receive a very firm response from the Revolutionary Guards like before.” He did not specify which enemies or what actions Tehran would take.

In the past Iran has accused its regional rival, Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia, of supporting Sunni separatist groups who have attacked its security forces. Riyadh has denied the charges.

Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim authorities say militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan and have repeatedly called on the neighboring country to crack down on them.

A suicide bomber driving a vehicle laden with explosives attacked a bus transporting members of the Guards, the force said in a statement. Thirteen people were wounded.

A video posted by Fars showed blood and debris at the site of the attack on a road in a volatile area near the Pakistan border where militants and armed drug smugglers operate.

The bus was turned into a twisted pile of metal, a photo published on Fars showed. Reuters could not independently verify the image.

While Sunni militant groups are not regarded as a major threat, the attack dealt a fresh blow to Iran’s security establishment, which has often said it can repel any threat no matter how big, even from the United States and its ally Israel.

Taliban announce surprise talks with US in Pakistan capital

KONFRONTASI-The Taliban said it will meet envoys from the United States for talks next week in Pakistan even as another round of negotiations is scheduled in Qatar by the end of this month.

The unexpected announcement, not yet confirmed by Washington or Islamabad, came as US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad tours the globe, shoring up support for a peace process to end America's longest war.

Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman guilty in US trial

KONFRONTASI-Notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was found guilty in a US court on Tuesday of operating a criminal enterprise.

Jurors in federal court in Brooklyn began delivering their verdict following an 11-week trial. Guzman, 61, now faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

Guzman was convicted on all 10 criminal charges he was tried for. US prosecutors said he had amassed a $14bn fortune through bribery, murder and drug smuggling.

Guzman, one of the major figures in Mexican drug wars that have roiled the country since 2006, was extradited to the United States for trial in 2017 after he was arrested in Mexico the year before.

Though other high-ranking cartel figures had been extradited previously, Guzman was the first to go to trial instead of pleading guilty.

Guzan's trial included nearly three months of testimony about a vast drug-smuggling conspiracy steeped in violence. 

Throughout the months-long trial, the jury has heard more than 200 hours of testimony about Guzman's rise to power as the head of the Sinaloa cartel.

Prosecutors said he is responsible for smuggling at least 200 tonnes of cocaine into the US and a wave of killings in turf wars with other cartels.

The 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than 50 witnesses, offered the public an unprecedented look into the inner workings of the cartel, named after the state in northwest Mexico where Guzman was born in a poor mountain village.

Prosecutors said he trafficked tonnes of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and methamphetamine into the US over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

The defence has argued that Chapo was set up as a "fall guy" by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, a drug kingpin from Sinaloa who remains at large.

Fears of violence in Nigeria ahead of Saturday vote

KONFRONTASI-A fear of violence has gripped many in Nigeria days before the presidential and legislative elections on February 16 with at least five deaths reported so far in pre-poll clashes.

On Sunday, five members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) were shot and killed near the oil city of Warri in southeast Nigeria, with authorities calling it a revenge attack by people suspected to be from the opposition.

Clashes between APC supporters and rival contenders from the People's Democratic Party (PDP) have been reported from various places in Africa's largest democracy.

Nigeria has a history of election violence, with analysts warning that the forthcoming vote might be one of the bloodiest in the country's history.

In 2011, election violence claimed nearly 1,000 lives in the country's north following the defeat of Muhammad Buhari by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The presidential contest will see incumbent Buhari seek to win a second four-year term against former vice president Atiku Abubakar in what is expected to be a close race.

'No different from previous polls'

"Nigerian elections have often been characterised by violence and with political tensions now further aggravated by current conflicts and deepening insecurity, there are fears that this election would be no different from the ones in the past," Nnamdi Obasi, International Crisis Group's senior Nigeria researcher, told Al Jazeera.

"The intensely acrimonious exchanges between the two major political parties have already resulted in many clashes, risking further violence during and after the polls," Obasi said.

The election campaign has been dominated by politicians accusing their rivals of inciting violence. 

"The highly desperate and increasingly intolerant dispositions of both the parties signal fierce disputes over results, with protests possibly leading to further violence," said Obasi.

A key ally of Buhari and governor of the northern state of Kaduna, Nasir El Rufai, recently warned the Nigerians abroad to not intervene in the elections.

"We are waiting for the person who will come and intervene. They will go back in body bags because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country," said El-Rufai.

El Rufai's comments drew criticism from international organisations and the opposition, heightening tensions further.

Two top officials of the PDP in Kaduna have also been arrested by security officials after they made provocative comments in their campaign rallies.

Security analyst Don Okereke told Al Jazeera that election violence will not go away soon.

"In 2015, nearly 58 Nigerians lost their lives in pre-election violence. This is a result of the do-or-die brand of politics played in Nigeria," Okereke said.

Trump objects to measure ending U.S. support for Saudis in Yemen war

KONFRONTASI-The Trump administration threatened on Monday to veto an effort in the U.S. Congress to end U.S. military support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war in Yemen, continuing a stand-off with lawmakers over policy toward the kingdom.

Democrats and Republicans re-introduced the war powers resolution two weeks ago as a way to send a strong message to Riyadh both about the humanitarian disaster in Yemen and condemn the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.