Trump a ‘ brainless billionaire’ says Al-Shabaab
The Somalia-based al-Shabab had released a new video mocking U.S. President Donald Trump as a "brainless billionaire" as his administration stepped up military efforts against what had become the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa. It was the first public criticism by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab of the U.S. president since his election. The SITE Intelligence Group said the video released Sunday, July 23 included the comments as the extremist group addressed next month's presidential election in neighboring Kenya. Al-Shabab had claimed a growing number of deadly attacks in Kenya as the election approached, and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta this month declared a new offensive against the extremists. Trump earlier this year approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, including more aggressive airstrikes and considering parts of southern Somalia areas of active hostilities. Somalia was also included in Trump's ban on refugees and visitors from six mostly Muslim countries. The new video said U.S. voters elected "arguably the most stupid president a country could ever have" and that Trump was "making the United States the greatest joke on earth and is now propelling it further to its eventual defeat and destruction." The extremist group had vowed retribution on Kenya in particular for sending its troops to Somalia to take part in a multinational African Union force against al-Shabab. "Your military's invasion of Somalia will continue to destabilize your country," the new al-Shabab video said. "When we do strike, your government will not be able to protect you."
Smart surveillance to replace metal detectors in Jerusalem
Israel had decided to remove metal detectors it had placed at the entrance to a holy site in Jerusalem's Old City and replace them with smart, less obtrusive surveillance means, a Cabinet statement said. Israel installed metal detectors at entry points to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem after two police officers were fatally shot on July 14, triggering the bloodiest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in years. The spike in tensions and the deaths of three Israelis and four Palestinians in violence on Friday and Saturday had triggered international alarm and prompted the United Nations Security Council to convene a meeting to seek ways of calming the situation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet voted to remove the metal detector gates after a meeting lasting several hours. A statement issued after the forum of senior ministers concluded their meeting said they had decided to act on the recommendation of the security bodies and replace the metal detectors with "smart checking" means. The Cabinet statement added that it had allocated 100 million shekels (about $28 million) for the equipment and for additional police officers. But on top of the outbreak of violence mainly in the Jerusalem area, a Palestinian move on Friday by President Mahmoud Abbas to suspend official contacts and international criticism put pressure on Israel.
Judicial reforms blocked by Polish President
Polish President Andrzej Duda unexpectedly announced on Monday he would veto two of three judicial reform bills passed by parliament that had triggered nationwide protests and raised EU and U.S. concerns about a politicisation of the courts. Duda, an ally of the ruling right-wing, eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, said while he agreed with the government on the need for an overhaul of the judiciary, the proposed measures were not in line with the constitution. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, clearly disappointed, said her government would not "yield to pressure" to drop the reforms but did not say how it would now proceed. PiS lacked a big enough parliamentary majority to overturn Duda's veto. "I use the right of veto because (the proposals) require changes to ensure they conform with the constitution," Duda said in a televised address to the nation, adding that he would shortly present his own proposals. The overhaul of the judiciary, coupled with a drive by PiS to expand its powers in other areas, including control of media, had provoked a crisis in relations with the European Union and sparked one of the biggest political conflicts since Poland overthrew communism in 1989. For days, tens of thousands of protesters had held candlelit vigils in cities including Warsaw, Krakow and Poznan, demanding that Duda veto the reforms.
Journalists on trial in Turkey
Seventeen directors and journalists from one of Turkey’s most respected opposition newspapers were to go on trial after spending over eight months behind bars in a case which had raised new alarm over press freedoms under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The suspects were detained from October last year under the state of emergency implemented after the July 15, 2016 failed coup blamed on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. If convicted, the defendants would face varying terms of up to 43 years in jail. The trial was seen as a test for press freedoms under Erdogan in Turkey, which ranked 155th on the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) world press freedom index, below Belarus and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the P24 press freedom group, there were 166 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested under the state of emergency. Erdogan, however, insisted in an interview earlier this month there were just “two real journalists” behind bars in Turkey. Cumhuriyet (Republic), which was set up in 1924 and was Turkey’s oldest mainstream national title, had been a thorn in the side of Erdogan in recent years. It was one of the few genuine opposition voices in the press, which was dominated by strongly pro-government media and bigger mainstream dailies that were increasingly wary of challenging the authorities. A total of 17 staff of the newspaper — including writers, cartoonists and executives — would go on trial. Those appearing in court included some of the best known names in Turkish journalism including the columnist Kadri Gursel, the paper’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and the respected cartoonist Musa Kart. Also being tried in the case was the investigative journalist Ahmet Sik who in 2011 wrote an explosive book “The Imam’s Army” exposing the grip Gulen’s movement had on the Turkish state. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in an opinion released last month, said it found that the detention of the staff was arbitrary and that they should be immediately released and given the right to compensation. It said that their imprisonment “resulted from the exercise of their rights and freedoms” and said it was concerned by the “vagueness” of the charges of aiding terror groups.