SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) Rallies have been planned in Ramallah and Gaza to mark Palestinian Prisoners' Day in honour of the thousands of Palestinians who are being detained in Israeli jails.
Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Ramallah, said activists and families of prisoners gathered on Wednesday, calling on the international community to intervene, to release some of the Palestinian prisoners, especially those who are on hunger strike.
Central to the demonstrations is the fate of at least five of the prisoners, including Samer Issawi, who have been on hunger strike.
Hana Shalabi went on a hunger strike in February last year, lasting 43 days before she was deported to Gaza Strip. Some, such as Maysara Abu Hamdeya, who had cancer, died shackled to a hospital bed.
Several of the Palestinian prisoners have not been charged with a crime.
The Palestinian Prisoners' Society says more than 215 children and 14 women are in jail.
Al Jazeera's El-Shamayleh said that since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, about 800,000 Palestinians have been detained at some point.
"So this is a crucial and important issue for most Palestinians families, as many of them have once had family members in Israeli prisons," she said.
There is concern that if the protesters move toward Israeli prisons there might be clashes with security forces and it might turn violent.
Our correspondent said: "This is also an important day for the Palestinian Authority, politically."
"It has been demanding the release of 110 prisoners before signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, however, they are still in prison."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Senators in the so-called gang of eight are coming close to a deal on immigration reform, and Democrats spent Wednesday assuring both activists and their colleagues on the left that the bill won't pursue border security to the detriment of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) briefed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on the immigration deal in the afternoon, and Menendez headed outside later in the day to speak to thousands of immigrants and allies who gathered outside the Capitol for a rally demanding swift immigration action.
One of the biggest issues for rally attendees was the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and the question of how closely it will be tied to border security.
Some of those decisions were close to being finalized on Wednesday. The plan will likely require strict border security provisions before providing a pathway to citizenship, as reported by The New York Times. A Senate Democratic aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the bill negotiations, said the plan would require the Department of Homeland Security to quickly put out a border security plan that would lay out how to get to a 90-percent operational border within five years. During that time, though, immigrants could receive a work permit and begin a 10-year waiting period to apply for a green card. That process would move forward after the 10 years if security requirements were met, according to the aide.
Details are still being worked out, and senators had another meeting on Wednesday evening. Still, there seemed to be some progress in convincing Democrats outside the group that stronger border security provisions, which the gang of eight bill will include, are necessary. Congressional Hispanic Caucus members have been skeptical of additions they fear will slow or derail a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but Schumer said they seemed willing to compromise.
"A lot of people here would not want to put dollars into the border, but as a price to get citizenship, as long as it's not an impediment to citizenship but rather works alongside citizenship, it's something we can all live with," he said after the afternoon meeting.
Hispanic Caucus member Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has long been critical of holding citizenship hostage to border security, seemed to agree with Schumer, focusing more than usual on enforcement aspects of the bill. He is working on a separate House bill, and said the lower chamber group planned to meet to discuss it later in the day.
"I want to end illegal immigration as we know it today so that we never have it again," he said. "I don't want another undocumented worker in this country. If we're going to get that done, we need a verification system here in the United States that makes sure that whatever program we propose, that an American citizen always has the first crack at that job."
Durbin and Schumer said they sketched out the plan during the closed-door meeting and assured the caucus members they are making progress. Durbin told reporters they are working out some final issues, including agricultural worker visas. "All of these elements are this close, and we're going to meet today, and I hope we can get it all finished," he said.
The bill was expected in late March at the earliest, or more likely this week, after senators returned from a two-week recess. It could come out as early as Thursday, but as of now, that's not likely. On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was reportedly planning to brief his Republican colleagues on the bill, but he wasn't there. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters they would discuss the issue in a Wednesday meeting instead, but according to Republican senators, it didn't come up.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another member of the gang of eight, said after the meeting that he and the other Republicans in the group would brief the GOP caucus before the bill was released. He said he doubted it would be this week.
It is still expected soon, and the Senate Judiciary Committee announced a hearing on immigration for April 17, with plans for a mark-up on the bill in early May.
As of now, Durbin and Schumer said there is no firm commitment within the gang of eight to stick together on every issue. Schumer said there is "a general agreement" to fight off destructive amendments in a bipartisan manner, but they have not yet discussed specifics.
"We have an entire first draft of the bill, but not everyone has agreed to each part of that draft, and people will say, 'I didn't quite mean that,' and so we have to go back and look at the language," he told reporters.
Durbin said it is their goal to get to an agreement to stick together: "We have not reached that point where we've gone around the table for that assurance, but that's our goal ... For each person at the table there's at least one element in here that is unsettling, and we've got to reach a point where there is enough concurrence and agreement [that] people will say, 'Alright, I'll stay with the package.' I hope we can reach that point."
As the senators met with the caucus, groups from across the country arrived for a major rally on immigration reform outside the Capitol. The three-hour rally took place in the afternoon in near-90-degree weather, and included a diverse but largely Latino audience that came on buses from as far as Miami and Chicago.
Like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, they said they were anxious to see movement on immigration reform. Natalia Aristizabal, a 30-year-old youth organizer who came on a bus with the advocacy group Make the Road New York, said she wanted to see the details of the plan, not simply hear from lawmakers that they will push for it.
"We've always heard nice things, I think there are great speeches -- they have time to plan them -- but I think what we want is action," she said. "We want to see that the bill is introduced, we need to see that it's humane, that it doesn't make people wait ages before they can become citizens, and that it focuses more on family unity than border enforcement."
Menendez took the stage to huge applause during the rally and promised the crowd that the gang of eight is "writing the bill as we speak." "We will make comprehensive immigration reform a reality this year, este año," he said.
Gutierrez spoke next, and made a similar vow.
"Work hard. Push us. Keep pushing us, and together we will deliver immigration reform this year," he said. "You need to guarantee that you give me and my colleagues and the Congress of the United States no place to hide. There are no acceptable excuses for failing to pass immigration reform this year, and no excuses will be accepted."-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Thousands of people have staged a demonstration in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, to renew calls for the trial of ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family.
The protesters took to the streets of the capital on Monday, demanding that Saleh and members of his family stand trial for the crimes they committed during the country’s popular uprising.
The demonstrators said that Saleh’s ouster from power was not enough and that he should be brought to justice.
They also denounced the United States and Saudi Arabia for their continuous interference in Yemen’s internal affairs. They also slammed the mistreatment of Yemen’s migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
In another demonstration also on Monday, activists and the relatives of around 90 detainees held in the Guantanamo prison staged a protest rally outside the US embassy in Sana’a and demanded the release of the inmates after over a decade of detention.
Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, stepped down in February 2012 under a US-backed power transfer deal in return for immunity, after a year of mass street demonstrations demanding his ouster.
His vice president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who is a UK-trained marshal, replaced him on February 25, 2012 following a single-candidate presidential election backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Yemenis continue to hold demonstrations to call for the political restructuring of the country and to demand the dismissal of remnants of Saleh’s regime from their government posts. -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Thousands of people have rallied in Tokyo to demand an end to atomic power two years after the nuclear disaster in north-eastern Japan.
Organisers said disaster victims and celebrities were among an estimated 15,000 people at a central Tokyo park on Saturday, two days ahead of the second anniversary of the disaster that killed 19,000 and sparked reactor meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Only two of Japan's 50 working nuclear reactors have been put back online since the disaster. This is partly because of waves of protests like Saturday's that mark the biggest public demonstrations in Japan since the 1960s movement against the Vietnam War.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his conservative Liberal Democratic Party has close ties with the nation's powerful business circle. He has repeatedly said he would allow reactor restarts if their safety could be ensured.
Protesters marched through the capital later in the day and issued a statement that called on Abe to dismantle all nuclear plants.
"The new administration should not misunderstand that the victory can mean approval of policies to maintain nuclear power," the statement saidin reference to the December elections of Abe and his party.
"We will request policies to swiftly begin procedures in decommissioning nuclear reactors and disapprove any plans to newly build nuclear plants."
Nobel Prize-winning writer Kenzaburo Oe received huge cheers from the protesters gathered in the park when he spoke of lessons learned from the atomic bombings of Japan at the end of World War II.
"I am going to fight against those who act as though Hiroshima, Nagasak and Fukush ima never happened,'' Oe said.
"I am going to fight to prevent any more reactors from being restarted.''
Another big Tokyo rally has been planned for Sunday. Commemorative services will be held on Monday throughout the nation to mark the disaster.
Less under the spotlight on Monday will be a class-action lawsuit being filed against the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, the utility that operates Fukushima Dai-ichi, that demands all land, the natural environment and homes be restored to their state before March 11, 2011.
The lawsuit in Fukushima District Court has drawn people from all backgrounds together, including farmers, fishermen and housewives.
Izutaro Managi, one of the lawyers, said there were 800 plaintiffs so far and that number could grow.
"We can't believe the government is thinking about restarting the reactors after the horrendous damage and human pain the accident has caused,'' Managi said.
"It is tantamount to victimising the victims one more time.''
Two years after the disaster, 160,000 people have left their homes around the plant, entire sections of nearby communities are still ghost towns, and fears grow about cancer and other sicknesses the spewing radiation might bring.www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Saudis have staged anti-regime demonstrations in the capital, Riyadh, and the eastern city of Qatif to express support for jailed female protesters.
The demonstrators called for the immediate release of a group of women who were arrested in the central city of Buraidah last week.
Activists say Saudi security forces arrested over 300 protesters, including scores of women and children, on March 1, after hundreds of Saudis gathered outside the investigation and prosecution bureau in Buraidah to demand the release of political prisoners.
Saudi authorities, however, claim that 161 people were arrested in connection with Buraidah protest and that they have so far freed some 100 of the detainees.
Protests against the ruling Al Saud dynasty have recently spread from the Eastern Province to other parts of the kingdom, with people of Buraidah threatening to stage a revolution against the regime.
In last week's protest in Buraidah, some protesters burned photographs of Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is King Abdullah's nephew.
Saudi activists say there are more than 30,000 political prisoners, mostly prisoners of conscience, in jails across the Kingdom.
According to the activists, most of the detained political thinkers are being held by the government without trial or legitimate charges and have been arrested for merely looking suspicious.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Hundreds of Palestinian citizens participated in a rally held on Tuesday night in Yabad town, south of Jenin, in solidarity with the hunger strikers in Israeli jails.
The rally was staged after hunger strikers Tareq Kaadan and Jafar Izzuddin, who hail from Yabad town, were transferred to hospital.
Muawiya, the brother of Tareq Kaadan, said that the health condition of his brother and his friend Jafar Izzuddin were taken to Assaf Harovih hospital after they health condition deteriorated very badly.
The crowds carried banners and chanted slogans condemning Israel's violations against the Palestinian prisoners and demanding their release.
In a related context, an oratorical festival in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails was held at the Martyr Memorial near Al-Dahisha refugee camp, south of Bethlehem city.
The Palestinian information center (PIC) reporter in the city said that many families of prisoners and Hamas figures participated in the events.
Hamas MP Mahmoud Al-Khatib criticized in his speech the international silence on Israel's violations against the prisoners, especially after the death of prisoner Arafat Jaradat.
He called on the Fatah-controlled Palestinian authority to end its security cooperation with the Israeli occupation regime instead of quelling the Palestinian young men who revolted in the face of the occupation following Jaradat's death.
In another event, Palestinian minister of prisoners' affairs Atallah Abul Sabeh said that the cause of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would remain a central issue for the Palestinian people, and the Arab and Muslim nations.
Abul Sabeh made his remarks during a ceremony held on Tuesday evening to honor the winners of the international writing contest, who were chosen for their literary works about the issue of the Palestinian prisoners.
He stressed that the issue of the Palestinian prisoners would always remain present in the hearts and writings of the creative young people in the Arab and Muslim worlds, expressing his belief that the Arabs and Muslims would never forsake or forget their brothers and sisters behind Israeli bars.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Thousands of protesters have gathered at Washington's National Mall calling on US President Barack Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline proposal and honour his inaugural pledge to act on climate change.
Organisers of the "Forward on Climate" event estimated that 35,000 people from 30 states turned out in cold, blustery conditions on Sunday for what they said was the biggest climate rally in US history.
Police did not verify the crowd size.
Protesters also marched around the nearby White House, chanting "Keystone pipeline? Shut it down".
The event came days after a bipartisan group of US senators made the latest call for Obama to approve the $5.3bn pipeline, seen by many as an engine for job growth and another step towards energy independence.
A new poll by Harris Interactive showed 69 percent of respondents said they support construction of the pipeline, with only 17 percent saying they oppose it.
One of Sunday's main organisers, climate activist Bill McKibben, said that approving the pipeline, which would transport crude oil from the oil sands of northern Alberta to refineries and ports in Texas, would be akin to lighting a "carbon bomb" that could cause irreparable harm to the climate.
"For 25 years our government has basically ignored the climate crisis: now people in large numbers are finally demanding they get to work," said McKibben, founder of the environmental group 350.org.
The proposed TransCanada Corp project has been pending for more than four years. A revised route through Nebraska, which would avoid crossing sensitive ecological zones and aquifers, was approved by that state's governor last month.
Backers of Keystone, which would transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day, say it would provide thousands of jobs in the US and increase North American energy security.
Van Jones, Obama's former green jobs adviser, said if the president approved the pipeline just weeks after pledging to act on climate change, it would overshadow other actions Obama takes to reduce pollution.
"There is nothing else you can do if you let that pipeline go through. It doesn't matter what you do on smog rules and automobile rules - you've already given the whole game way," said Jones, who is president of Rebuild the Dream, a non-government organisation.
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the lone member of Congress to speak at the rally, told Reuters news agency Obama risked creating a "credibility gap" if he approved the pipeline.
"He would have to roll out a very complete and very strong package to offset something that on its own is described by government scientist as 'game-over' on climate," he said.
Still, some of Obama's core constituents favour the pipeline, including the labour union AFL-CIO's building and construction unit, which sees the potential for job creation for its members, and certain Democratic legislators.
In January, nine Democratic senators joined 44 Republicans in urging the president to approve Keystone XL.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) --Tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims blocked Iraq's main trade route to neighbouring Syria and Jordan in a fourth day of demonstrations against Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The massive show of force on Wednesday marks an escalation in protests that erupted last week after troops detained the bodyguards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, threatening to plunge Iraq deeper into political turmoil.
"The people want to bring down the regime," chanted thousands of protesters in the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province.
It was the fourth major protest in less than a week in an area, which was once the heart of the deadly Sunni insurgency that erupted after the US -led invasion in 2003.
"This sit-in will remain open-ended until the demonstrators' demands are met, and until the injustice against ends," cleric Hamid al-Issawi told The Associated Press at the protest.
He accused Maliki of trying to create rifts among Sunni and Shia populations.
"These practices are aimed at drawing the country into a sectarian conflict again by creating crisis and targeting prominent national figures," the cleric said.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera in Doha on Monday, exiled Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi leveled similar accusations against the Maliki government.
"On the ground, al-Maliki in fact, on a daily basis [is governing in a] sectarian way," Hashimi said.
"We don't have any option but to advocate and defend ourselves," he said in justifying the ongoing protests by Sunni-backed groups.
Hashimi is now living in exile in Turkey after being handed multiple death sentences for allegedly running death squads, a charge he dismisses as politically motivated.
The case is exacerbating tensions with Iraq's Sunnis, who see the detentions as politically motivated.
Earlier in the week, demonstrators gathered along a highway linking Baghdad with neighbouring Jordan and Syria.
They held banners demanding that Sunnis' rights be respected and calling for the release of Sunni prisoners in Iraqi jails.
"We warn the government not to draw the country into sectarian conflict," read one. Another declared: "We are not a minority.''
Iraq's majority Shia rose to power following the 2003 US -led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government, although the country's minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds do hold some posts within the government.
Maliki has defended the arrests of the finance minister's guards as legal and based on warrants issued by judicial authorities.
He also recently warned against a return to sectarian strife in criticising the responses of prominent Sunni officials to the detentions.
In a recent statement, the prime minister dismissed the rhetoric as political posturing ahead of provincial elections scheduled for April and warned his opponents not to forget the dark days of sectarian fighting "when we used to collect bodies and chopped heads from the streets".
The political tensions are rising at a sensitive time. Iraq's ailing President Jalal Talabani is incapacitated following a serious stroke last week and is being treated in a German hospital.
The 79-year-old president, an ethnic Kurd, is widely seen as a unifying figure with the clout to mediate among the country's ethnic and sectarian groups.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Several hundred people rallied in central Moscow to mark the one-year anniversary of massive anti-government protests despite receiving a no-go for the event from city authorities. Arrests were made after some of the protesters refused to disperse.
The opposition says people came to honor political prisoners and to lay flowers on a monument which is located on Lubyanskaya Square.
Up to 40 people were detained, including opposition leaders Sergey Udaltsov and Aleksey Navalny, police said in the wake of the event. Police added only those were arrested who did not follow the law enforcers' orders.
Police counted around 700 people rallying in Lubyanskaya Square.
Both Udaltsov and Navalny claim that their detention was unlawful, saying people just came to the square for a stroll. Udaltsov, the head of the Leftist Front movement, was detained by police while holding some kind of banner in contravention of legislation banning unsanctioned rallies in Moscow. Later they were released without being charged.
Most of the arrests were made once the rally had thinned out and police ordered the remaining protesters to disperse. In response, several demonstrators attempted to form a human chain to hold their ground. Coming under a shower of insults, police advanced on those remaining on the square.
The unsanctioned rally was preceded by several rounds of negotiations between the opposition and authorities, but the sides could not reach an agreement on a march route.
Last December tens of thousands took to the streets of Moscow to protest against the results of parliamentary elections which they claimed were fraudulent. The rally on Bolotnaya Square marked the beginning of mass protests that continued throughout winter and spring, though the protest movement lost steam as time went on.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -
Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied in central Cairo, continuing more than a week of demonstrations against new powers assumed by the president and the drafting of a constitution seen by many as undermining basic freedoms.
"Down with the constituent assemby," the crowd chanted, referring to the 100-member body that drafted the document, which was approved after a 20-hour vote on Thursday night and Friday morning.
President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree last week that gave the panel an additional two months to finish its work. It also granted him wide-ranging power to issue decrees which would not be subject to judicial review.
But the assembly unexpectedly decided to vote on a draft constitution this week, with critics of the government accusing the panel of rushing its work.
Banners condemned a "dictatorial Morsi," while protesters shouted "down with the rule of the guide," a reference to Mohamed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi was a member of the organisation but resigned his membership after being elected.
Leading liberal politicians, including Hamdeen Sabbahi, who came third in this year's presidential election, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited Tahrir Square on Friday night and vowed to sleep there.
"The revolution is back ... we shall be victorious," Sabbahi said. "We are united against the oppressive regime."
'Huge problems down the road'
Nearly two dozen members of the assembly, including liberals and representatives from the Coptic Church, have withdrawn from the assembly in recent weeks.
Activists have criticised the document for failing to protect the rights of women and religious minorities.
The document also includes provisions that allow civilians to be prosecuted by military tribunals, and shield the army's budget from parliamentary oversight.
"Rushing through a draft while serious concerns about key rights protections remain unaddressed will create huge problems down the road that won't be easy to fix," said Joe Stork, the director of US-based Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of the document for months.
In the session's final hours, several new articles were hastily written to resolve lingering issues.
One significant change would reduce the size of the Supreme Constitutional Court by nearly a third, to 11 judges, removing several younger judges who have been critical of the Brotherhood.
The judiciary has emerged as a major source of opposition to Morsi's presidency.
But despite the public opposition, the Brotherhood - by far the best-organised political movement in Egypt - is confident that the constitution will ultimately be approved.
Hossam al-Ghairyani, the head of the assembly, said a delegation would visit Morsi on Saturday to present him with the draft constitution. A public referendum on the text is expected within two weeks.
"This constitution represents the diversity of the Egyptian people," said Essam el-Erian, a senior member of the Brotherhood.
"We will implement the work of this constitution to hold in high esteem God's law, which was only ink on paper before, and to protect freedoms that were not previously respected."
'Declaration is temporary'
In an interview with state television aired on Thursday night, Morsi said it was necessary to speed up passage of the constitution in order to end Egypt's transitional period.
He also promised that his new found legislative powers would end after the referendum.
The elected parliament was dissolved by court order earlier this year; new parliamentary elections will be held once the constitution is approved.
"This constitutional declaration is temporary, and it will end once the people have approved the constitution," Morsi said.
Protesters and police have clashed daily in the capital since the decree was issued. At least three people have been killed in nationwide unrest.
The Brotherhood and other groups have organised a rally in support of Morsi on Saturday.
They initially planned to hold it in Tahrir Square, but moved the venue amidst concerns that it would turn violent.
Demonstrators will instead rally at Cairo University.- www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera