UPDATE – Pakistan: Opposition leader arrested in corruption case

UPDATES WITH STATEMENT BY FORMER PM NAWAZ SHARIF, HAMZA SHEHBAZ

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Pakistan’s main opposition leader and three-time chief minister of the country’s largest Punjab province was arrested on Friday by anti-corruption authorities, officials confirmed.

Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif, was taken into custody by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the northeastern city of Lahore in connection with a housing scam, a NAB spokesman told reporters.

Shehbaz, also head of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, is accused of granting illegal contracts to his favorites for the construction of low-cost houses for the poor and middle-class in Punjab — the country’s political power base, and a stronghold of the PML(N).

He will appear in an accountability court on Saturday, the NAB said.

Shehbaz’s arrest came days after the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) warned PML(N) leaders of their arrests and other legal actions.

Quoting unnamed officials, local broadcaster Geo TV reported that Shehbaz had been summoned by NAB officials for investigation but was taken into custody after he allegedly was unable to “satisfy” a three-member investigation team.

Shehbaz's elder Nawaz Sharif has already been disqualified for life, and given a 10-year jail term in a corruption case. However, Islamabad's High Court last month suspended the jail term, and granted bail to the former three-time premier.

Reacting to the arrest, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters in the capital Islamabad: “This is the first step. You will see more arrests in the future with the passage of the accountability process.”

– 'Political victimization'

The PML(N), for its part, rebutted the corruption allegations, calling the arrest “political vendetta” — a contention also supported by several local media outlets and independent analysts.

In a statement, the three-time premier said the PTI government was responsible for the vendetta.

He warned that those who have unleashed this reign of victimization against their political opponents should be ready for the same.

"You better go to that length which you can bear when you are in opposition," Sharif was quoted as saying by Geo News, a local broadcaster.

Hamza Shehbaz, son of Shehbaz Sharif and opposition leader in Punjab assembly, dubbed his father's arrest as a result of "NAB-Niazi nexus", in a reference to Prime Minister Imran Khan whose surname is Niazi.

Established by former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2000, the NAB has often been accused of targeting anti-government politicians.

A rare meeting last month between Prime Minister Imran Khan and NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal also raised eyebrows as the first-time premier is also facing an NAB probe over allegedly illegal use of government helicopters.

“The government is taking such steps to rig the forthcoming by-elections,” Rana Sanaullah, a senior parliamentarian and PML(N) leader, told reporters.

“There is neither merit nor any proof in this case. This is mere political victimization,” he said.

The Center-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also condemned Shehbaz’s arrest.

“There should be a court trial instead of media trial. The fashion in which Shehbaz has been arrested is tantamount to humiliating the entire parliament,” said Khursheed Shah, a PPP parliamentarian and former opposition leader.

Several senior bureaucrats have already been arrested by the NAB in the case.

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UPDATE – Pakistan: Opposition leader arrested in corruption case

ADDS COMMENTS BY OPPOSITION LEADERS, ANALYSIS, CORRECTS DETAILS OF CHARGES IN PARAGRAPH 3

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Pakistan’s main opposition leader and three-time chief minister of the country’s largest Punjab province was arrested on Friday by anti-corruption authorities, officials confirmed.

Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif, was taken into custody by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the northeastern city of Lahore in connection with a housing scam, a NAB spokesman told reporters.

Shehbaz, also head of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, is accused of granting illegal contracts to his favorites for the construction of low-cost houses for the poor and middle-class in Punjab — the country’s political power base, and a stronghold of the PML(N).

He will appear in an accountability court on Saturday, the NAB said.

Shehbaz’s arrest came days after the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) warned PML(N) leaders of their arrests and other legal actions.

Quoting unnamed officials, local broadcaster Geo TV reported that Shehbaz had been summoned by NAB officials for investigation but was taken into custody after he allegedly was unable to “satisfy” a three-member investigation team.

Shehbaz's elder Nawaz Sharif has already been disqualified for life, and given a 10-year jail term in a corruption case. However, Islamabad's High Court last month suspended the jail term, and granted bail to the former three-time premier.

Reacting to the arrest, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters in the capital Islamabad: “This is the first step. You will see more arrests in the future with the passage of the accountability process.”

– 'Political victimization'

The PML(N), for its part, rebutted the corruption allegations, calling the arrest “political victimization” — a contention also supported by several local media outlets and independent analysts.

Established by former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2000, the NAB has often been accused of targeting anti-government politicians.

A rare meeting last month between Prime Minister Imran Khan and NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal also raised eyebrows as the first-time premier is also facing an NAB probe over allegedly illegal use of government helicopters.

“The government is taking such steps to rig the forthcoming by-elections,” Rana Sanaullah, a senior parliamentarian and PML(N) leader, told reporters.

“There is neither merit nor any proof in this case. This is mere political victimization,” he said.

The Center-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also condemned Shehbaz’s arrest.

“There should be a court trial instead of media trial. The fashion in which Shehbaz has been arrested is tantamount to humiliating the entire parliament,” said Khursheed Shah, a PPP parliamentarian and former opposition leader.

Several senior bureaucrats have already been arrested by the NAB in the case.

Syrian opposition welcomes Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib

By Omer Koparan and Burak Karacaoglu

IDLIB, Syria (AA) – The largest armed opposition group in Syria, the National Liberation Front (NLF), announced its support to the agreement between Turkey and Russia regarding northwestern Idlib province.

In a written statement issued via their social media accounts, the NLF said: "We thank the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his hard efforts and persistent work on preventing this war."

Underscoring that the outcome of the Sochi discussions was an "obvious victory for the Turkish diplomacy", the statement further added that the group "will not give up on its goal to overthrow [Bashar al-]Assad regime."

"We announce our full cooperation with the Turkish ally in their efforts […] We will be also aware and cautious for any treachery by the Russians, the [Assad] regime and the Iranians," the statement said.

On Monday, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed in in Russia's coastal city of Sochi to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib.

Ankara and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the stabilization of the situation in Idlib's de-escalation zone.

Located near the Turkish border, Idlib is home to more than 3 million Syrians, many of whom fled to other cities following attacks by Assad regime forces.

Last month, the regime announced plans to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which is controlled by various armed opposition groups.

But, the UN warned that such an offensive would lead to the "worst humanitarian catastrophe in the 21st century".

INFOGRAPHICS – Moderate opposition in Syria's Idlib braces for attack

By Selen Temizer, Burak Karacaoglu and Esref Musa

IDLIB, Syria (AA) – As the world braces for the Assad regime to attack Idlib, Syria’s last opposition stronghold, more than 70,000 fighters remain determined to defend the city.

Moderate Syrian opposition groups are the main force now controlling Idlib. And it is these groups that plan to defend the city against a looming attack by the regime and its allies.

The moderate opposition, along with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, currently share control of Idlib’s de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Last month, 14 moderate opposition factions unified under a single umbrella group dubbed the National Liberation Front (NLF).

The new group includes factions of the Sham Legion; the Jaysh al-Nasr; the Free Idlib Army; the First Coast Division; the Second Coast Division; the First Division; the Second Army; the Elite Army; the Martyrs of Daraya al-Salam; the Hourya Brigade; Brigade 23; the Syrian Liberation Front; the Jaysh al-Ahrar; and the Suqour al-Sham Brigades.

The NLF, which maintains a presence in Idlib and Hama provinces and can field some 70,000 fighters, constitutes the primary force fighting the Assad regime.

An Anadolu Agency correspondent based in the region said the Syrian opposition had reinforced its positions — on all fronts — in anticipation of an expected regime assault.

Apart from the opposition, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, another powerful force in the region, was drawn up from about 25,000 fighters after the Nusra Front was disbanded last year.

Recent months have seen the group’s ranks shrink as a several factions operating under its umbrella disbanded.

Several thousand of these fighters later formed a new group dubbed “Guardians of the Religion”, which is known to be affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Since Sept. 1, at least 30 civilians have been killed in Idlib and Hama — and dozens injured — by airstrikes and attacks by regime and Russian warplanes, according to the White Helmets civil defense agency.

The Syrian regime recently announced plans to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which remains under the control of various armed opposition groups.

Last week, the UN warned that such an offensive would likely lead to the “worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century”.

Mauritanians vote in parliamentary, local polls

By Mohamed El-Bakai

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AA) – Mauritanian voters began to cast ballot in the country’s parliamentary and local election on Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 07:00 a.m. local time (0700 GMT) and will close at 07:00 p.m. (0700 GMT).

Around 1.4 million Mauritanians are eligible to cast the ballot in Saturday’s polls, which are being held in the absence of international observers.

A high voter turnout was reported in a number of polling stations in the capital Nouakchott, according to an Anadolu Agency reporter.

On Saturday, some 98 Mauritanian political parties are vying for seats on the country’s 146-member legislative assembly and on numerous municipal councils.

For the first time ever, parties are also competing for seats on Mauritania’s 13 regional councils.

While opposition figures have questioned the integrity of the electoral process, the government — led by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s Union for the Republic (UFR) party — has promised to hold “free and transparent” elections.

Mauritanian leader, opposition trade pre-election barbs

By Mohamed al-Bakay

NOUAKCHOTT (AA) – Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz traded barbs with opposition leaders this week in advance of legislative and municipal polls slated for Saturday. At a final electoral rally held by his Union for the Republic (UFR) party on Thursday evening, Ould Abdel Aziz criticized opposition parties, several of which he accused of corruption.

“We must fight corruption, extremism, sedition and the erosion of gains that the Mauritanian people have realized over the last decade,” he said while addressing thousands of supporters in capital Nouakchott.

He vowed to use “all legal means” at his disposal to win a “comfortable” parliamentary majority in Saturday’s polls.

Shortly afterward, Mauritania’s main opposition coalition held a press conference elsewhere in the capital to respond to Ould Abdel Aziz’s assertions, which, it said in a joint statement, “reveal the president’s insecurity on the eve of the elections”.

Speaking at the press conference, Mohamed Ould Maouloud, leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces Party, also warned against the possibility of vote-rigging in Saturday’s polls.

“The opposition will not accept any fraud or manipulation of poll results and will firmly resist any attempts to do so,” he asserted.

On Saturday, almost 100 Mauritanian political parties will vie for seats on the country’s 146-member legislative assembly and on numerous municipal councils.

For the first time ever, parties will also compete for seats on Mauritania’s 13 regional councils.

According to official figures, some 1.4 million Mauritanians are registered to vote in the upcoming polls.

While opposition figures have questioned the integrity of the electoral process, the government — led by Ould Abdel Aziz’s UFR — has promised to hold “free and transparent” elections.

Mauritanian opposition slams poll integrity

By Mohamed al-Bakay

NOUAKCHOTT (AA) – The Mauritanian opposition on Wednesday cast doubts on the integrity of the country’s parliamentary and municipal elections, set for September 1.

“The current electoral path in the country does not augur well for…holding fair and transparent election and allow Mauritanians to express their will freely,” the National Forum for Democracy and Unity (FNDU), a coalition of 14 opposition groups, said in a statement.

Mauritanian authorities have arrested two candidates in recent days, a move described by the opposition as a “cause of concern”.

These moves “show the flagrant interference by the executive authority in the electoral process and its use of the judiciary to settle political score, pressure candidates and intimidate voters,” the opposition said.

It called on the authorities to free the detained candidates and allow them to exercise their electoral right.

There was no comment from the Mauritanian authorities on the opposition statement.

While some opposition figures have questioned the integrity of the electoral process, the government insists that all steps have been taken to ensure “free and transparent” polls.

Zimbabwean opposition leader said to be arrested

By John Cassim

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AA) – A prominent Zimbabwean opposition figure was arrested Wednesday morning by the country’s police while trying to seek political asylum in neighboring Zambia, according to his attorney.

“Tendai Biti was arrested on Zambian soil at the Chirundu border between Zimbabwe and Zambia,” added the lawyer, Ngobizitha Mlilo.

Police in the southern African country say Biti has been wanted on allegations that he incited violent protests in the capital leading to the death of six people.

Police have neither confirmed the arrest nor the motive behind the arrest.

“Authorities were investigating Biti for unofficially and unlawfully declaring MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa the duly elected president of Zimbabwe‚ which is alleged to be a violation of Zimbabwean electoral law,” said the lawyer.

The reported charges come less than 10 days after Zimbabwe’s hotly contested July 30 elections, the first in the post-Robert Mugabe era, in which Emmerson Mnangagwa has been declared the winner.

Chamisa has rejected the results, calling them a “fiction.”

The Zimbabwean police appear to blame Biti for public violence that flared up in Zimbabwe, including “accomplices” using firearms who burned various vehicles and a bus at the ruling ZANU-PF provincial headquarters, said Mlilo.

The attempt to flee followed an attempt on Biti’s life on Monday during which a gunman opened fire on his car, Mlilo said.

Separately, Thabani Mpofu, leader of a large team of lawyers, says he is seeking the reversal of the declaration of Mnangagwa as the election winner.

“We are working with a huge team of lawyers locally assembled who have given their all to this course. Part of the team include internationally renowned constitutional law lawyers,” he said Wednesday.

Mpofu alleged that some members of the team are being harassed, but said this would not deter them.

Turkey: Opposition dissidents denied leadership contest

By Diyar Guldogan

ANKARA (AA) – Dissidents at Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) failed to garner the support they need to hold an emergency convention of the party to challenge the leadership of their current chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

A total of 569 delegates out of an overall 1,242 signatures submitted to hold a convention in a bid to replace Kilicdaroglu, the party said in a statement, more than 50 signatures short of the required number.

According to party bylaws, 50 percent plus 1 signatures from party representatives must be collected for the emergency congress to take place.

The CHP's "Change and Hope Congress" is expected to discuss the replacement of Kilicdaroglu by none other than the party’s former presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince.

The move comes after opposition figures in the party called for an emergency congress following the party's defeat in the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Pakistan: Opposition parties form grand alliance

By Islamuddin Sajid

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AA) – The opposition parties in Pakistan on Thursday announced to form “Grand Opposition Alliance” against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which emerged as the single largest party in July 25 elections.

The grand alliance has decided to nominate joint candidates for the election of prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker of the parliament, Sherry Rehman, opposition leader in the Senate, told reporters in the country’s capital Islamabad.

The alliance include Pakistan Muslim-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Awami National Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, National Party Balochistan, Qaumi Watan Party and Pak Sarzameen Party.

“Opposition parties would support PML-N candidate for premiership, while PPP will field its candidate for speaker and MMA will nominate its candidate for deputy speaker slot,” Rehman told media.

Ahsan Iqbal, a central leader of the PML-N, said the parties have also agreed to protest inside and outside the parliament against the “rigged and manipulated” elections.