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Afghan-Born Australian Man Sentenced To Life For Running Down Pedestrians In 2017

Police sit in front of a crashed vehicle after Saeed Noori, the driver, was arrested after plowing into pedestrians at a crowded intersection in Melbourne in December 2017.

An Afghan-born Australian man was sentenced to life in prison for running down pedestrians in Melbourne in late 2017 and killing an elderly man.

The sentence handed out on March 28 by Supreme Court of Victoria Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth means that 37-year-old Saeed Noori must serve 30 years before being eligible for parole.

Upon his arrest, police found images of terrorist attacks abroad and videos about the extremist Islamic State group on Noori's computer and a USB stick.

Video from a security camera showed Noori driving an SUV onto tram tracks near the Flinders Street Station and then accelerating through the intersection as dozens of people crossed the road four days before Christmas 2017.

Noori, driving his mother’s car, plowed over dozens of pedestrians, injuring 21 people, including an 83-year old man who died a week later in a hospital.

The judge said it was "sheer good fortune" that more people were not killed or injured.

"Some victims have likened the scene to a horror movie -- one which keeps replaying in nightmares and flashbacks," she said.

Based on reporting by ABC, AAP, and dpa

United Nations Chief Warns Of Pushback On Women's Rights

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as he makes remarks at the opening meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women 63rd session, in New York City on March 11.

The head of the United Nations has warned of a "deep, pervasive and relentless" pushback on women's rights around the world.

Speaking at the opening of the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women on March 11, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a fight to "push back against the pushback."

The commission has been charged with achieving "equality with men in all fields of human enterprise" since its founding in 1947.

Guterres pointed to increased violence against women, especially defenders of human rights and women running for political office.

He cited "online abuse of women who speak out," and said women were 26 percent less likely to be employed than men.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of the UN women's agency, said some countries don't want health-care facilities to provide "sexual and reproductive rights."

She said the latest data indicated 131 million girls worldwide aren't going to school and there had been a 6 percent increase in girls not attending elementary school.

Geraldine Nason, the Irish UN ambassador who presides over the Commission on the Status of Women, said less than 7 percent of heads of state and government were women. She said only one in four parliament members around the world were female.

She said the commission will be deliberating in the next two weeks about maternity, pensions, safe roads and transport.

The commission will also be focusing on schools that teach girls skills to succeed, women's access to vital health care, "and the fair distribution of care and the domestic work between men and women," she said.

Based on reporting by AP and UN News Service

RSF Marks International Women’s Day With Call To Release Detained Female Journalists

Iranian journalist Hengameh Shahidi

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the immediate and unconditional release of 27 women journalists currently held in “appalling conditions” around the world.

According to the Paris-based media watchdog’s tally, of the 334 journalists in prison at the end of February, 27 of them were women.

These female journalists are being held by nine countries. Iran and China are the two largest jailers, with seven held in each country.

The 27 detained female journalists are deprived of their freedom “because of what they wrote or because they spoke out courageously,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement on March 6.

Deloire added that they are “often the victims of disproportionate and iniquitous sentences,” are “subjected to the most appalling prison conditions, like their male colleagues,” and they are “sometimes also tortured and harassed sexually.”

In Iran, where detainees are “constantly denied proper medical care,” women journalists detained there “often stage dangerous hunger strikes” in protest against prison conditions, RSF said.

It added that several UN reports have confirmed that Iranian female detainees "fall sick more often than male detainees."

“The situation of female detainees is aggravated by the segregation of men and women imposed by Iran’s ultra-conservative society and the traditional hatred toward intellectuals and the Islamic regime’s critics,” the watchdog said.

The seven Iranian female journalists currently detained in Iran include Narges Mohammadi, Hengameh Shahidi, Roya Saberi, Negad Nobakht, Sepideh Moradi, Avisha Jalaledin, and Shima Entesari, according to RSF.

It said besides Iran and China, Turkey continues to detain four women journalists, Saudi Arabia three, Vietnam two, while Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Nicaragua are each holding one.

U.S. Stops Reporting Civilian Deaths From Drone Strikes Outside War Zones

A U.S. Predator drone

President Donald Trump has revoked a policy requiring U.S. intelligence officials to report civilian deaths in drone strikes outside of war zones.

"This action eliminates superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission," an administration official said on March 7.

Lawmakers and rights groups criticized Trump's executive order, saying it could allow the CIA to conduct drone strikes without accountability.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, put the policy in place in 2016 as part of an effort to be more transparent about increasing drone strikes.

It required the CIA, which has carried out drone strikes in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, to release annual summaries of U.S. drone strikes and assess how many died as a result.

Trump’s executive order does not overturn reporting requirements on civilian deaths set for the U.S. military by Congress.

Drone strikes have been increasingly used by the United States against terror and military targets since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

Based on reporting by Reuters and the BBC

Passengers Stranded After Pakistan Closes Airspace To Commercial Traffic

Stranded passengers wait at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport on February 28 after Thai Airways canceled 11 European-bound flights.

Pakistan’s decision to close its airspace amid rising tensions and aerial dogfights with neighboring India has left many tourists stranded in Asian cities when airlines were forced to cancel flights.

Thai Airways, Emirates, and Qatar Airways were among the carriers forced to cancel their flights, many to and from Europe, on February 27 because the flights were scheduled to fly to Pakistan or over its airspace.

Etihad, flydubai, Gulf Air, SriLankan Airlines, and Air Canada also canceled flights.

Singapore Airlines and British Airways were among those forced to reroute flights.

Pakistan closed its airspace after Islamabad and New Delhi claimed to have shot down the other's fighter jets earlier in the day. Pakistan said it captured an Indian pilot after its air force shot down an Indian warplane.

The activity came after Indian jets on February 26 struck inside Pakistan for the first time since a 1971 war, claiming to hit the training base used by a terror group that had killed at least 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers inside India-administered Kashmir on February 14.

The Thai flag carrier said 27 of its flights were canceled on February 27, with three passenger jets being forced to return to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport after having taken off earlier in the day.

The airline said some 5,000 passengers had been caught up in the cancellations.

"There are 4,000 from European flights and 700 to 800 from flights to Pakistan," a Thai Airways spokesperson said.

"We are waiting for permission to fly over other countries," she said, adding that Iran had rejected a request to allow flights over its airspace.

Pakistan aviation officials said the country's airspace would likely reopen as of midnight on February 28.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and The Express

Foreign Ministers, Diplomats To Meet In Washington For Talks On Islamic State

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is hosting diplomats from dozens of countries involved in the effort to defeat Islamic State militants.

Diplomats and foreign ministers from around the world are scheduled to meet in Washington for high-level talks on the fight against Islamic State militants.

The February 6 meeting, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, follows President Donald Trump's controversial decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

That decision was criticized by U.S. allies and sparked concern about a power vacuum in Syria, and the possibility that fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, could regroup.

The daylong meeting features officials from the 79-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which the United States assembled in 2014 as the militant groups seized vast territories of Syria and Iraq.

Ahead of the meeting, U.S. officials said the meeting was focusing on what they said was Islamic State's imminent "territorial defeat."

"What we’re going to try to talk about in the ministerial [meeting] is the determination of this truly global coalition as we near the end of ISIS territorial defeat....That involves the liberation of 8 million people that were under [Islamic State’s] brutal rule, about 4 million who were displaced in Iraq, as well as hundreds of thousands in Syria," a State Department official told reporters February 4. "And they have safely returned to their homes, and we think that’s a success story.”

“Equally important is taking away [Islamic State's] oil and revenue from taxes and oil and natural gas proceeds," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In December, Trump announced he was withdrawing the 2,000-strong U.S. force from Syria and he declared the defeat of the Islamic State group.

Aides have since walked back the timeline but said that the pullout will happen.

The U.S. envoy spearheading the coalition, Brett McGurk, resigned in protest over Trump's decision and voiced fears for Syria's future.

Germany Detains Man Suspected Of Spying For Iran

FILE: German Police officers watch demonstrators gathering to protest against the German asylum policy at the Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees and Integration of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) in Duesseldorf (July 2018).

German authorities say they have detained a 50-year old Afghan-German dual national suspected of passing data to an Iranian intelligence agency.

The suspect, identified only as 50-year-old Abdul Hamid S., worked as a “language expert and cultural adviser” for the German military, the federal prosecutor's office said on January 15.

“In this capacity, he is believed to have passed on information to an Iranian intelligence service," a statement said.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said it was aware of an espionage case involving a member of the Bundeswehr, but declined to give any further details.

The suspect, who was detained in the Rhineland in western Germany, was set to appear before a judge later in the day.

German news outlet Spiegel Online reported that the man had spied on the army for years and had access to highly classified material, including the German troops' mission in Afghanistan.

There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials on the case.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

New Acting Defense Chief Takes Over At Pentagon

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, sits next to Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on January 2.

Patrick Shanahan has taken over the helm of the Pentagon, as U.S. President Donald Trump attacked his Defense Department predecessor, pointing to what he said was a lack of success in Afghanistan.

Shanahan, who has been serving as deputy defense secretary, worked his first day in office as acting defense secretary on January 2 as the replacement for Jim Mattis, who resigned as defense chief on December 20, saying his policies were not fully “aligned” with the president.

Trump has not specified a time frame for choosing a permanent defense secretary or said whether Shanahan could potentially assume that role.

Mattis initially said he would be leaving the Pentagon at the end of February. But Trump later announced that Mattis, 68, would be leaving earlier after the defense secretary published a letter that directly criticized the president.

In televised remarks on January 2, Trump said he “essentially fired” Mattis. "I'm not happy with what [he has] done in Afghanistan -- and I shouldn't be happy," said Trump, as Shanahan sat by his side.

"I wish him well. I hope he does well. But as you know, President [Barack] Obama fired him, and essentially so did I. I want results."

A former Marine general, Mattis was fired by Obama in 2013 as head of U.S. Central Command over what the then-president said were too hawkish views toward Iran.

Shanahan, 56, meanwhile, said his priorities would include the impending U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria and countering China’s military might.

"While we are focused on ongoing operations, Acting Secretary Shanahan told the team to remember: China, China, China," a Pentagon official said.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

U.S. To Sharply Cut Refugee Admissions

President Donald Trump (file photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has proposed sharply cutting the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year to 30,000.

The announcement, made on September 17 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, came despite calls from humanitarian groups that the 2018 cap of 45,000 was already too low.

Trump's administration has consistently voiced opposition to accepting refugees and other immigrants, which has helped drive refugee admissions to their lowest level in a decade.

The new figure will go into effect October 1.

"The improved refugee policy of this administration serves the national interest of the United States and expands our ability to help those in need all around the world," Pompeo said in a statement.

By comparison, the administration of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, allowed in 85,000 refugees in its final year in office.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Afghan Refugee, 27, Wins Primary Election For Seat In New Hampshire State Legislature

FILE: A man casts his ballot inside a polling station just after midnight in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire in November 2016

A 27-year-old Afghan refugee has won the Democratic primary for a seat in the legislature of the U.S. state of New Hampshire, defeating a fellow Democrat who held the seat for four terms.

Safiya Wazir defeated District 17 State Representative Dick Patten, who said during the campaign that Wazir's lack of political experience and background as a refugee would hurt her chances of election.

Wazir won the primary on September 11 after a campaign in which she highlighted her years of community activism and dedication to education and family issues.

She said that record, as well as her efforts to communicate with voters by knocking on doors and sending thank-you notes, among other things, helped her win.

Supporters "were very excited there was someone new running for the State House,” Wazir said.

Wazir's family left Afghanistan in 2007 and she arrived in Concord, the capital of the northeastern state, that same year.

New Hampshire officials say that if Wazir beats Republican Dennis Soucy in the November election, she will be the first refugee to hold public office in the state.

Based on reporting by AP and the Concord Monitor

U.S. Religious Freedom Envoy Traveling To Ukraine, Poland, Uzbekistan

Ambassador Sam Brownback

The United States' religious freedom ambassador is traveling to Ukraine, Poland, and Uzbekistan for meetings on protecting the rights of religious and ethnic groups.

The State Department said that, in Ukraine, Ambassador Sam Brownback is scheduled to meet with government officials and religious leaders.

He was later set to travel to Poland for a major conference hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe "for discussions about repressive measures against peaceful members of ethnic and religious groups."

The department said Brownback would also be touring the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where he will participate in a wreath-laying and a candle-lighting ceremony.

In Uzbekistan, Brownback is expected to meet with top government officials "to discuss Uzbekistan’s recent positive steps on religious freedom policies and encourage legislative reforms."

Washington has criticized the Central Asian nation for years about its policies toward religious expression.

In its annual report released in January, the United States singled out Uzbekistan, along with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and "egregious" violations of religious freedom.

Germany Detains Two Afghans On Suspicion Of Killing Man

Demonstrators wave German flags during a protest organized by the right-wing populist Pro Chemnitz movement, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and the anti-Islam Pegida movement on September 1 in Chemnitz.

Police in Germany have detained two Afghan suspects in the death of a German man in the eastern city of Kothen.

The 22-year-old victim in Kothen died of heart failure overnight on September 9 following an alleged fight with Afghan men.

However, police and prosecutors said that "the concrete circumstances of the event are not yet known" and that all lines of inquiry remained open.

It comes two weeks after an incident involving a Syrian and an Iraqi in Chemnitz, about 160 kilometers to the south, sparked clashes between far-right and anti-Nazi protesters.

The Syrian and Iraqi suspects were detained after a 35-year-old German man was stabbed to death in a fight in August.

Following the protests by rival sides in the migrant debate, a German court on September 3 gave an 8 1/2-year prison sentence to a failed asylum seeker who claims to be from Afghanistan over the stabbing death of his 15-year-old ex-girlfriend.

Identified as Abdul D., the defendant admitted to the court that he stabbed the girl at a drugstore in the southwestern town of Kandel in December.

The case sparked national outrage and led to German far-right groups holding protests as part of their campaign against migrants.

With reporting by the BBC, dpa, and AFP

Dutch Judge Orders Afghan Stabbing Suspect Held In Custody

Dutch police officers stand near the scene of a stabbing attack near the central daily station in Amsterdam, on August 31.

A Dutch judge has ordered a 19-year-old Afghan man held for a further two weeks on suspicion of stabbing two U.S. citizens at Amsterdam's main train station in a suspected terrorist attack.

Following a behind-closed-doors hearing, the judge extended the suspect's custody because of fears he may flee, repeat the crime, or violate the law, an Amsterdam court said on September 3.

The statement did not release further details of the case.

Two American tourists were seriously injured on August 31 when the suspect, identified only as Jawed S., attacked people with a knife in the crowded train station near Amsterdam’s city center.

Police at the station quickly shot the man in the lower body. He was taken to the hospital, as were the two injured men.

Thousands of commuters and tourists were evacuated from the train station after the attack. The site is a major hub for international tourists visiting Amsterdam.

"Following an initial statement by the suspect it has emerged that the man had a terrorist motive," Amsterdam city hall said after police questioned the suspect.

The authorities said Jawed S. had a German residency permit and that German police raided his apartment on September 2. Police did not reveal the location of the residence.

German Interior Ministry spokesman Harald Neymanns on September 3 said the suspect was registered as an asylum seeker in Germany.

Neymanns also said that German police had no information that he was considered a threat to security.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Channel News Asia

Afghan Man To Appear In Court As Suspect In Amsterdam Train Station Stabbing

Police at the central train station in Amsterdam after the August 31 stabbing.

A 19-year-old Afghan man is scheduled to appear in a Dutch court after allegedly stabbing two American citizens at Amsterdam's central train station in a suspected “terrorist” attack.

Amsterdam police said the suspect, identified only as Jawed S., "will appear before a judge [on September 3] and until then no further details will be released."

The two American males were seriously injured on August 31 when a man with a knife attacked people in the crowded train station near Amsterdam’s city center.

Police at the station quickly shot the man in the lower body. He was taken to the hospital, as were the two injured men.

Thousands of commuters and tourists were evacuated from the train station after the attack. The site is a major hub for international tourists visiting Amsterdam.

"Following an initial statement by the suspect, it has emerged that the man had a terrorist motive," Amsterdam City Hall said after police questioned the suspect.

The authorities said Jawed S. has a German residency permit and that German police raided his apartment on September 2. Police did not reveal the location of the residence.

Based on reporting by AFP and Channel News Asia

Police Suspect Double Stabbing In Amsterdam Station Was Terror Attack

Dutch police officers stand at the scene of a stabbing attack near Amsterdam's Central Station on August 31.

Dutch police on September 1 said they were investigating a double stabbing at Amsterdam's crowded Central Station as a suspected terror attack.

The assailant, who stabbed two people before being shot by police, was identified as a 19-year-old Afghan man with a German residency permit.

Witnesses described scenes of panic shortly after midday as gunshots rang out and thousands of commuters and tourists were evacuated from the rail terminal, which hosts about 250,000 travelers a day.

Police spokesman Rob van der Veen said the two people who were stabbed were "very badly injured, and they were brought to the hospital."

"We are looking at all scenarios, also the worst scenario, which is terrorism," he said.

The Netherlands has so far been spared from a series of terror attacks which have hit neighboring countries France, Belgium, and England in recent years.

Dutch police declined to speculate on the reasons for the stabbings, but the Afghan Taliban on August 30 called for attacks on Dutch troops because of plans by a Dutch far-right politician to stage a Prophet Muhammad cartoon competition -- an event which was cancelled hours after the Taliban announcement.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Dutch Lawmaker Cancels Muhammad Cartoon Contest Amid Pakistan Protests

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders (file photo)

Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders has canceled a planned contest calling for cartoon caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad amid mass protests against the event in Pakistan.

Wilders, who had received death threats over his plans, said late on August 30 that he decided to cancel the event to "avoid making people victims of Islamist violence."

"People's safety is more important," Wilders, 54, wrote on Facebook.

Physical depictions of Allah or the prophet, even positive ones, are considered blasphemous under Islam and are forbidden. In Pakistan, such blasphemy is punishable by death and the mere accusation of it can cause lynchings.

Wilders said that strong opponents "see not only me, but the entire Netherlands as a target." The organizers of street protests in Pakistan had called on Islamabad to break off diplomatic relations with the Netherlands over the event.

The lawmaker canceled the contest even as an estimated 10,000 Pakistanis continued their march from the eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad to protest the event. The protests were sponsored by Pakistan's Tehreek-i-Labaik Islamist political party.

Pakistan deployed thousands of troops to protect a diplomatic enclave in the capital on August 30 as angry protesters approached Islamabad.

Supporters of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, head of the Islamist political party Tehreek-i-Labaik, have joined a march to Islamabad prompted by Geert Wilders contest.
Supporters of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, head of the Islamist political party Tehreek-i-Labaik, have joined a march to Islamabad prompted by Geert Wilders contest.

The thousands of police and paramilitary troops that were already guarding the highly fortified enclave in the capital that houses embassies were reinforced with around 700 troops, a police official said.

Before demonstrators arrived in Islamabad, they were briefly halted by police in the town of Jhelum. But when protesters threatened to resist police in a way that could have led to violence, authorities relented and allowed them to proceed, AP reported.

"We are on roads to show to the world that we can die to protect the honor of our Prophet," Labaik party leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi told the crowd.

Taliban Urge Attacks On Dutch Troops

Reuters reported that hours before Wilders cancelled the cartoon contest, the Afghan Taliban urged Afghan soldiers to attack Dutch troops serving in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

In a statement, the Taliban's main spokesman called the planned contest "blasphemous" and a "hostile act" by the Netherlands against all Muslims.

Members of the Afghan security forces, "if they truly believe themselves to be Muslims or have any covenant towards Islam, should turn their weapons on Dutch troops" or help Taliban fighters attack them, the statement said.

Around 100 Dutch troops are serving in the 16,000-strong NATO Resolute Support mission to train and advise Afghan forces, according to the Dutch Defense Ministry.

The controversy over Wilders' now-cancelled cartoon contest echoed a controversy over Muhammad cartoons in 2005, when the publication of pictures of the prophet in a Danish newspaper led to protests and violence in many Muslim countries.

On August 30, a 26-year-old man of Pakistani descent who had threatened on Facebook to attack Wilders was remanded in custody by a judge in the Dutch capital, The Hague. He is accused of preparing to commit a murder and inciting with terrorist intent, among other crimes.

The Dutch government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week questioned Wilders' motive for organizing the competition.

"His aim is not to have a debate about Islam. His aim is to be provocative," the prime minister said.

However, Rutte added that people in the Netherlands have far-reaching freedom-of-speech rights and the government did not intend to seek the contest's cancellation.

The anger sparked by Wilders' plans in Pakistan had prompted the Netherlands to caution citizens about travelling there and to postpone a planned trade mission to the South Asian country.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Islamic State Leader Urges More Attacks In First Purported Audio In Year

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a 2014 video

The leader of the Islamic State extremist group in his first purported audio recording in a year is urging his followers to keep fighting the group's enemies around the world despite recent defeats.

The 54-minute audio was released by the group's media arm, al-Furqan Foundation, late on August 22.

Conflicting reports have emerged on the whereabouts of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and whether he is dead or alive. His group has lost 90 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, where Baghdadi declared a caliphate in June 2014.

Baghdadi's last audio message in September 2017 called on his followers to kill enemies everywhere using whatever weapons are available, and IS has claimed numerous attacks around the world since then.

In the latest recording, Baghdadi mentions current events, including the Muslim al-Ahda feast and Turkey's row with the United States over its detention of an American pastor. If the voice on the audio is confirmed to be that of Baghdadi, that would disprove reports of his death.

Baghdadi says that "America is going through the worse time in its entire existence" and says Russia is competing with the United States for influence in the Middle East.

He also criticizes rebel surrenders in southern Syria to President Bashar Assad's forces, calling them traitors and urging fighters to join his group instead. He warns that Syria's Idlib Province -- the last stronghold of rebel forces -- is about to fall to an invasion by Russian and Syrian forces.

Baghdadi has only appeared in public once -- in 2014 in the Iraqi city of Mosul. There have been recurring reports of his death, but U.S. military officials have said they believe he is still alive.

Baghdadi's whereabouts are unknown but he is believed to be hiding in the desert along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

UN Says Record 68.5 Million People Displaced Globally In 2017

FILE: Rohingya refugees push a fishing boat from the sea at Shamlapur beach in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh in March.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says nearly 69 million people who have fled war, violence, and persecution were forcibly displaced in 2017 -- a new record for the fifth year in a row.

The number of refugees and internally displaced people increased by 4.6 percent in 2017 as compared to the previous year, according to the UNHCR's annual Global Trends Report published on June 19.

It said nearly 70 percent of the refugees have fled from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Burma, also known as Myanmar, and Somalia.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the flow of refugees could be slowed down greatly if some of the wars and crises in these countries were solved.

"But we haven't seen any significant progress in peacemaking or peace-building in any of these countries," he added.

By the end of last year, Syria's conflict pushed more than 6.3 million people out of the country, accounting for nearly one-third of the global refugee population, UNHCR said. Another 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced.

The second-largest refugee-producing country, Afghanistan, saw its refugee population grow by 5 percent in 2017 to 2.6 million people. The increase was due mainly to births and more Afghans being granted asylum in Germany, the report said.

Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran were among the main host countries for refugees.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa

Malala Praises G7 Pledge To Provide Billions For Girls' Education

PAKISTAN -- Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai poses for a photograph at all-boys Swat Cadet College Guli Bagh, during her hometown visit, some 15 kilometres outside of Mingora, on March 31, 2018. Malala Yousafzai landed in

Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai praised the Group of Seven industrialized nations after they pledged nearly $3 billion to help vulnerable women and girls get educations.

The 20-year-old on June 9 said the move would "give more girls hope that they can build a brighter future for themselves."

The pledge came at the end of the G7 summit near Quebec, Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who hosted the event, called it "the single largest investment in education for women and girls in crisis and conflict situations."

Canada will contribute $300 million of the total, he said.

Malala was shot in the head on her school bus by Taliban gunmen in 2012 because she campaigned for the education of girls, which the militant extremist group opposes.

She wrote on Twitteron June 9 that the funds give "young women in developing countries the opportunity to pursue careers instead of early marriage and child labor."

Officials said the funds will be spent over the next three to five years and used to train teachers and improve curriculums, collect educational data, support new education methods, and raise the graduation rates for women and girls in developing countries.

With reporting by AFP

Asylum Seeker Claiming Afghan Origin Sentenced For Rape, Murder In Germany

The case triggered protests in Germany against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies.

An asylum seeker who claims to be from Afghanistan was sentenced by a German court on March 22 to life in prison for the rape and murder of a woman.

Hussein Khavari, who arrived in Germany without identification in 2015, had admitted to attacking 19-year-old Maria Ladenburger in the southwestern city of Freiburg in October 2016.

Prosecutors said Khavari pushed the woman off her bicycle, then bit, choked, and raped her. She was left alive on the bank of a river, where she subsequently drowned.

Khavari was arrested seven weeks later after a manhunt.

Khavari had previously received a 10-year sentence for attempted murder in Greece, only to be freed in 2015 because of overcrowded prisons.

German authorities have not been able to confirm Khavari’s age and nation of origin. He originally claimed to be a teenager, but after examining dental records and X-rays, experts said they believe him to be 22 to 29 years old.

The case triggered protests in Germany against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies.

Under German law, a life sentence means 15 years in prison with no chance of parole and the possibility of "security detention" after release.

Based on reporting by AFP and the BBC

Thousands Worldwide March For Rights, Denounce Abuse On Women's Day

Hundreds of Pakistanis rallied on International Women's Day in Karachi to denounce violence against women.

Thousands of women marched in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kosovo, Ukraine, and elsewhere around the globe on International Women's Day, demanding equal rights and denouncing harassment and abuse.

More than a dozen people reportedly were detained in Tehran as women's rights activists attempted to stage a peaceful protest outside the Labor Ministry on March 8.

“On this one day, out of an entire year, we as women of this country should be able to make these cities our own, stay in the streets, and return to our homes at days’ end, without having our bones crushed,” the activists said in a statement issued earlier in the week.

Chanting slogans, hundreds of women rallied in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, its largest city Karachi, and the cultural capital of Lahore, denouncing violence against women in Pakistan, where nearly 1,000 women are killed by close relatives each year in so-called honor killings.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addressed a gathering of women and assured them full protection.

Pakistani women at the rallies said they have been largely been deprived of their rights since the country gained independence in 1947.

In Karachi, a victim of an acid attack wearing black glasses to cover part of her badly burned face joined hundreds at a rally where activists saluted her for taking a public stand.

Hundreds of Muslims and minority Christian women stood up as a sign of respect when the acid attack victim joined the rally, which was held amid tight security.

Acid attacks are not uncommon in Pakistan, where men sometimes assault women for refusing to marry them. Victims of acid attacks tend to avoid public gatherings.

Meanwhile, in Kosovo, hundreds of women took to the streets to protest what they said were injustices ranging from job and housing discrimination to domestic violence.

Some posters held up during the demonstration in Pristina said, "We march, we do not celebrate" and "Job for me."

"We fight for our rights as women. We want our rights at the workplace. We don't want to be sexually harassed," said Luljeta Aliu of the nonprofit Justice And Equality organization.

In Pristina, three red billboards like those in the Oscar-winning movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, were placed outside the Kosovo police headquarters.

"How many more missed calls?" read the first, followed by the names of two women -- Diana Kastrati and Zejnepe Bytyqi -- who were killed by their husbands.

Kosovo's Haveit Group created the banners to criticize the police system, which failed to respond in time to save the victims.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, hundreds of women marched to remind authorities that much remains to be done to give Afghan women a voice, ensure their education, and protect them from increasing violence.

The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Sima Samar, addressed women in Afghanistan's security forces.

"Your safety represents the safety of all Afghan women," she said, reminding women in uniform to report any abuse by superiors to the rights commission.

Samar said no one has the right to comment on their physical appearance or to speak to them disrespectfully.

The overall situation for Afghan women has gradually improved in the last decade, especially in the major urban areas, but those living in rural parts of the country still face major discrimination and violence.

Afghanistan in 2015 ranked 154th out of 158 countries on the UN Gender Inequality Index.

In Saudi Arabia, where women are hopeful of big changes in the deeply conservative kingdom, a group of women whooped and cheered by exercising a recently acquired freedom: the right to go for a jog.

"This is just the beginning of a revolution for women in Saudi Arabia. In jobs, in our lives, in society, everything is going to change for Saudi women," one of the joggers, university student Sama Kinsara, told Reuters.

Women in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which last year was liberated from control by the Islamic State extremist group, also ran a symbolic marathon to celebrate their freedom.

Some of the women carried placards saying, "I have the right to speak freely."

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, RFE/RL's Radio Farda, BBC, Kalame, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

'Chelsea Bomber' Gets Two Life Sentences In New York Court

Ahmad Khan Rahami

A man convicted of planting bombs in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood in September 2016 has been sentenced to life in prison.

A Manhattan federal court on February 13 handed down two life sentences to Ahmad Khan Rahami for engineering an explosion that injured 30 people. A second bomb failed to detonate.

Rahimi, known to many as the "Chelsea bomber," is a 30-year-old U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan who grew up in New Jersey.

He was convicted in October on all eight counts brought against him, including the use of a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a public place.

District Judge Richard Berman said that Rahimi offered no explanation for his actions that would warrant imposing less than the two life sentences.

Rahimi told the court that he does not "harbor hate for anyone.”

"But through life experience, I have learned to understand why there's such frustration between the Muslim community overseas and the American people," he added.

He also said that he had been "harassed" by authorities while traveling because of his Muslim appearance.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that "justice has been served," adding that the sentencing “sends a strong message that we will not tolerate those who seek to sow fear, hate, and violence."

Investigators said Rahimi left his home in New Jersey on the morning of September 17, 2016, with several homemade bombs.

He allegedly placed a small pipe bomb on the route of a charity running race in New Jersey, which exploded without injuring anyone, and then planted the two bombs in Chelsea.

Other devices were left in a rubbish bin at a train station in New Jersey.

Rahimi still faces charges in New Jersey over the first bombing and for shooting at police before being captured two days after the bombings.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and the BBC

Many Pakistani Migrants Feared Drowned Off Libyan Coast

The bodies of 74 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe after they washed up on a beach near Zawiyah on Libya’s northern coast, in February 2017.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says at least 90 people are feared dead after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.

"At least 90 migrants are reported to have drowned when a boat capsized off the coast of Libya this morning," the IOM said in a statement on February 2.

It said that the bodies of 10 people -- eight Pakistanis and two Libyans -- were "reported to have washed up on Libyan shores."

Two survivors swam to shore while another was rescued by a fishing boat, IOM said.

Most of the migrants onboard were from Pakistan, according to the survivors.

The agency has warned repeatedly over the extreme dangers facing migrants who try to reach Europe via the so-called central Mediterranean route, which connects Libya to Italy.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Former Taliban Hostage Freed In Pakistan Faces Assault Charges In Canada

FILE: Joshua Boyle speaks to the media in Toronto in October.

A Canadian man recently rescued in Pakistan with his American wife and children after five years of captivity by the Taliban has been arrested and faces assault charges in Canada, his lawyer says.

In a 15-count indictment, Ottawa police have charged Joshua Boyle, 34, with eight counts of assault, two counts of sexual assault, two counts of forcible confinement, and one count of uttering death threats.

A publication ban has been imposed, preventing the alleged victims from being identified.

A hearing on Boyle's case is scheduled for January 3 in Ottawa, the Canadian capital. His lawyer, Eric Granger, said on January 2 that Boyle was in custody, though he had never been in trouble with the law before and was innocent of the charges.

Boyle, his wife Caitlan Coleman, and their three children were rescued last year in Pakistan, five years after the couple was abducted by a Taliban-linked militant group while on a backpacking trip in neighboring Afghanistan. The children were born in captivity.

Pakistan said its troops rescued the family on October 11 from their captors, the Taliban-linked Haqqani group, after they had been moved across the border from Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said the operation was based on a tip from U.S. intelligence.

U.S. officials gave a different account of the family's captivity and rescue, saying the family spent almost all of their five-year confinement in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan.

The parents of Caitlan Coleman, who is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, said after the rescue that they were elated she had been freed, but they also expressed anger at their son-in law for taking their daughter to Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Migrants Cluster Near Serbian Border Day After Police Break Up Protest

Migrants sit around a fire inside an abandoned warehouse near Serbian border with Croatia on December 23.

More than a hundred refugees and migrants were still wandering around the Serbian border town of Sid on December 27 one day after Serbian police broke up a protest there.

A few dozen people had protested at the border line between Serbia and Croatia on December 26 and were demanding to continue their trip toward Western Europe.

After police and officials of the Commissariat for Refugees broke up the protest, many migrants went to sleep in the nearby woods. They were provided with food and medical care by humanitarian organizations.

More than 4,000 refugees and migrants are settled in camps provided by the state throughout Serbia.

Humanitarian groups say there are about 500 people living under the open sky throughout the country, avoiding registration with the authorities out of fear that they will be deported to Macedonia and then sent back to their home countries -- mainly Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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