Iran’s Guards Use Aerial Guided-Missile Attacks to Back Regime Troops in Syria

Parading a drone in Iran. (Photo: Reuters)
Parading a drone in Iran. (Photo: Reuters)
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Iran’s Guards Use Aerial Guided-Missile Attacks to Back Regime Troops in Syria

Parading a drone in Iran. (Photo: Reuters)
Parading a drone in Iran. (Photo: Reuters)

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard had single-handedly introduced a new weapon when taking up arms side by side by Syria’s regime against ISIS in the Badia region.

Air-launched guided missile activity was registered--meanwhile, ISIS militiamen rebelled against commandership orders to implement the deal brokered with regime forces and withdraw from Hama’s eastern rural zone.

ISIS militants were given an order to exit Hama to Idlib.

A video clip broadcasted on Iran's Alalam News Network showed aircraft carrying guided missiles and said they belonged to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Missiles targeted Badia posts in Syria, without specifying any locations. Other Iranian outlets reported that the attacks took place near the Syrian-Iraqi border and destroyed vehicles, military equipment, and ammunition.

Syrian opposition sources based in Deir al-Zour said that Iranian aircraft hovered over south-eastern Damascus countryside reaching all the way to the west of Abu Kamal area in Deir al-Zor border with Iraq.

Iranian aerial activity in the area near Deir al-Zour is recent -- usually, surveillance aircraft belong to Syrian regime forces and Russian air fleets, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Tehran had insisted on openly broadcasting employing new weapons in Syria.

In parallel to the launch of short-range missiles from Iran to the Deir al-Zour area last summer, Tehran announced the launch of drones nearby coalition forces present at the US occupied al-Tanf base in Syria but did not announce the use of guided missiles launched by aircraft already running.

The video showed two simultaneous images of the missile's trajectory: the first taken from a camera installed in the front, the second from a reconnaissance aircraft. Among hit targets was a tank, which means that the guided missiles are anti-armor.

On that note, the US military destroyed an Iranian reconnaissance plane that tried to approach the Al-Tanf camp.

Al-Tanf military base is used by the Washington-led coalition to train rebels belonging to the "Free Syrian Army" to fight against ISIS terrorists centered near the Syrian-Iraqi border.



Strong Winds Topple Stage at Campaign Rally in Mexico, Killing at Least 5

People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
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Strong Winds Topple Stage at Campaign Rally in Mexico, Killing at Least 5

People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

A high gust of wind toppled the stage at a campaign rally Wednesday evening in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, killing at least five people, injuring 50 and trapping others, the state's governor said.

The collapse occurred during an event attended by presidential long-shot candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez, who ran to escape, The Associated Press reported. Videos of the incident on social media showed people screaming, running away and climbing out from under metal polls.

Afterward, soldiers, police and other officials roamed the grounds of the park where the event took place while many nearby sat stunned and haunted by the tragedy.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he “sends a hug to family members, friends of the victims and political supporters.”

Condolences poured in from across Mexico, including by other presidential candidates.

In a video message, Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel Garcia, a leading member of Álvarez Máynez’s Citizens Movement party, asked residents to shelter in their houses for the next two hours. He provided the death toll of at least five and dozens injured.

Máynez wrote in his social media accounts that he went to a hospital after the accident in the wealthy suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, near the city of Monterrey. He said he was in good condition.
“The only important thing at this point is to care for the victims of the accident,” he wrote.

Miguel Treviño, the mayor of San Pedro Garza Garcia, wrote in his social media accounts that “there are people reported trapped and injured. My prayers are with the victims.”

Campaign events are being held this week and next in anticipation of the June 2 presidential, state and municipal elections.


Facing Criticism, Trump Says He Won't Ban Birth Control

US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Facing Criticism, Trump Says He Won't Ban Birth Control

US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Donald Trump said he does not support a ban on birth control, after coming under fire for comments he made earlier in the day that political opponents said suggested he would consider restricting contraceptives.

“I HAVE NEVER, AND WILL NEVER ADVOCATE IMPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON BIRTH CONTROL," the Republican presidential candidate said on his social media site, Truth Social.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was asked in an interview with KDKA News in Pittsburgh if he supported any restrictions on the right of people to use contraception.

“We’re looking at that,” he responded, “and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly, and I think it’s something that you’ll find interesting.”

Asked if that included the so-called morning-after pill, Trump said, “Things really do have a lot to do with the states, and some states are going to have different policy than others."

The fight over reproductive rights is a flashpoint in the 2024 presidential race, Reuters reported. Opinion polls show most Americans don’t favor strict limits on those rights, and Democrats are hoping the issue will encourage millions of women and independents to vote their way.

Democrat Joe Biden's campaign swiftly posted Trump's response on social media platform X, contending that Trump had said he would restrict the pill's use.

Trump, in his social media response, said Democrats were lying about his stance.

Trump was not asked about limits on the abortion drug mifepristone, which is used as part of a two-drug regimen to end pregnancies and not as a contraceptive.

Trump has promised for weeks to release a policy about mifepristone with regard to its use in states that restrict surgical abortions. Medication abortion has become the most common method of ending pregnancies, now accounting for more than 60% of US abortions.


Rishi Sunak Calls UK National Election for July 4

]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
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Rishi Sunak Calls UK National Election for July 4

]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a national election on Wednesday for July 4, saying Britons would be able to choose their future in a vote his Conservatives are widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Ending months of speculation as to when he would call a new vote, Sunak, 44, stood outside his Downing Street office in pouring rain and called the election several months earlier than expected - a risky strategy with his party far behind Labour in the opinion polls.
Almost shouting to be heard above an anthem of Labour's election victory in 1997 under former prime minister Tony Blair being played by protesters outside Downing Street's gates, Sunak listed what he said were his achievements in government, not only as prime minister but also as a former finance minister, Reuters reported.
"Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future and decide whether it wants to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one and no certainty," he said.
"Over the next few weeks, I will fight for every vote, I will earn your trust and I will prove to you that only a Conservative government led by me will not put our hard earned economic stability at risk."
He accused Labor leader Keir Starmer, conversely, of always taking the "easy way out" and of having no plan. "As a result, the future can only be uncertain with them," he said.
Starmer, who has pulled Labor to the political center ground after it had veered leftwards, responded with a statement that focused on one word: "change".

"On July 4 you (voters) have the choice and together we can stop the chaos, we can turn the page, we can start to rebuild Britain and change our country," he said, in front of two Union Jack flags.


Russia Begins Nuclear Drills in an Apparent Warning to West over Ukraine

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
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Russia Begins Nuclear Drills in an Apparent Warning to West over Ukraine

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russia’s military has begun drills involving tactical nuclear weapons that were announced by Russian authorities earlier this month in an apparent warning to senior Western officials who had spoken about the possibility of deeper involvement in the war in Ukraine.

It was the first time Russia has publicly announced drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, although its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises.

According to a statement by the Defense Ministry released Tuesday, the first stage of the new drills envisioned “practical training in the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” including nuclear-capable Kinzhal and Iskander missiles.

The maneuvers are taking place in the Southern Military District, which consists of Russian regions in the south, including on the border with Ukraine; Crimea, illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014; and four Ukrainian regions that Russia illegally annexed in 2022 and partially occupies.

The drills were announced on May 6, with the Defense Ministry saying in a statement that they would come in response to “provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials regarding the Russian Federation.”

Tactical nuclear weapons include air bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions and are meant for use on a battlefield. They are less powerful than the strategic weapons — massive warheads that arm intercontinental ballistic missiles and are intended to obliterate entire cities.

The announcement came after French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated that he doesn’t exclude sending troops to Ukraine, and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Kyiv’s forces will be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets inside Russia. The Kremlin branded those comments as dangerous, heightening tension between Russia and NATO.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 6 that Macron’s statement and other remarks by British and US officials had prompted the nuclear drills, calling the remarks “a new round of escalation.”


Death of Iran’s President Has Delayed Talks with IAEA, Grossi Says

 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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Death of Iran’s President Has Delayed Talks with IAEA, Grossi Says

 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)

The deaths of Iran's president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash have caused a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog's talks with Tehran over improving cooperation with the agency, the watchdog's chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters on Wednesday.

"They are in a mourning period which I need to respect," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Grossi said in Helsinki, where he spoke at a nuclear conference.

"But once this is over, we are going to be engaging again," he said, describing it as a "temporary interruption that I hope will be over in a matter of days".

Grossi said the IAEA was planning to continue technical discussions with Iran but they had not yet taken place due to last weekend's helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The IAEA faces a range of challenges in Iran, from Tehran's recent barring of many of the most experienced uranium-enrichment experts on its inspection team to Iran's continued failure to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites despite a years-long IAEA investigation.

The IAEA has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran's atomic activities while the country's uranium-enrichment program continues to advance. Iran is enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to the 90% of weapons-grade, which no other country has done without developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran says its aims are entirely peaceful.

Iran currently has about 140 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60%, Grossi said. According to an IAEA definition, that is theoretically enough, if enriched further, for three nuclear bombs. The IAEA's last quarterly report in February said Iran had 121.5 kg, enough for two bombs.

Iran is still producing about nine kg a month of uranium enriched to up to 60%, Grossi said. It is also enriching to lower levels at which it has enough material for potentially more bombs.

Grossi, who two weeks ago said he wanted to start to see concrete results on improved cooperation from Iran soon, repeated that hope but said a more wide-ranging deal would require "a bit more time".

For now, his team had not made progress on the main issues, he said.

"It is high time there is some concrete issuance and if not resolution, some clarification of what this is," Grossi said of the uranium traces at undeclared sites.

"And I would say, confidence in many parts of the world (in Iran on the nuclear issue) is growing thinner.


France Says Conditions Not Right to Recognize Palestinian State

Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP
Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP
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France Says Conditions Not Right to Recognize Palestinian State

Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP
Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP

France said on Wednesday conditions were not right to officially recognize a Palestinian state and that such a decision must be more than just symbolic or political posturing.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne distanced France from Ireland, Spain and Norway, which said on Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, hoping to accelerate efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza war.

"France does not consider that the conditions have yet been met for this decision to have a real impact on this process," Sejourne said after talks in Paris with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

Paris has previously said recognizing a Palestinian state is not taboo, but should be part of a broader effort to achieve a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis.

Despite lobbying by several European countries and some Arab states to recognize a Palestinian state, France has said that doing so would do little to change the situation on the ground without genuine negotiations, Reuters reported.

"This is not just a symbolic issue or a question of political positioning, but a diplomatic tool in the service of the solution of two states living side by side in peace and security", Sejourne said.

French diplomats say symbolic recognition will be of no use, especially without real momentum towards a political process supported by the United States, Israel's main ally.

France has been working on a draft UN Security Council resolution that it hopes to table over the summer.

It wants to bring the parameters for talks on a two-state solution back to the Security Council.

The US believes a Palestinian state should be achieved through negotiations and not unilateral recognition, and has the power of veto at the United Nations.


North Korea Displays Leader’s Portrait Beside Predecessors for First Time 

This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
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North Korea Displays Leader’s Portrait Beside Predecessors for First Time 

This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)

North Korean media have published photographs showing leader Kim Jong Un's portrait hanging prominently next to those of his father and grandfather, in an apparent push to solidify his status as a leader equal to his forebears.

The photographs appeared to be the first time state media was publishing his portrait hanging beside those of state founder Kim Il Sung and his late father Kim Jong Il, who ruled the nation until his sudden death in 2011.

The photographs, taken at the opening of a new school training cadres for the ruling Workers' Party, showed giant portraits of the three generations displayed on the facade of the imposing structure.

In other photographs, Kim was shown speaking to aides, including the cabinet premier, in classrooms with the portraits of the trio hanging above the blackboard at the front.

Kim told the opening ceremony the location of the school was chosen as it was close to the palace where Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state, "so that the great leaders can hear every word of even whispering students," the KCNA news agency said.

State media did not comment on the intent behind the display of the portraits or say if it had become the standard across the country for all public venues and classrooms.

The Kim family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding after World War Two has sought to strengthen its grip on power by building cults of personality around itself.

Another recent move that appeared aimed at burnishing the image of Kim Jong Un was the release of an upbeat song praising him as a "friendly father" and a "great leader" in a music video of North Koreans from all walks of life belting out the lyrics.

There has also been speculation that state media's discontinuation of the term "Day of the Sun" to describe a holiday for the birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung was to avoid drawing attention away from the current leader.


Attacks on Health Care in War Zones Surge 25% Last Year, NGOs Say 

 Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)
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Attacks on Health Care in War Zones Surge 25% Last Year, NGOs Say 

 Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)

Attacks on medics and health facilities in war zones jumped in 2023 to the highest level since records began 11 years ago, a group of non-governmental organizations said on Wednesday, with nearly half attributed to state forces.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, composed of 40 groups including medical charities, reported 2,562 incidents of violence or obstructions including arrests, killings and kidnappings of doctors and strikes across hospitals in 30 conflicts including Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan.

That is up by about a quarter compared with 2022.

Unlike the World Health Organization which also documents attacks on healthcare, the group apportions responsibility and said governments were to blame for nearly half of the attacks.

Len Rubenstein, chair of the coalition and a Johns Hopkins University professor, called for "far more assertive action to end the scourge of violence against health care," asking governments to cease arms transfers to perpetrators and press prosecutors to hold them accountable.

The group uses open source data and partner contributions and cross checks to ensure no double counting.

The coalition attributed 489 incidents in Gaza last year to Israeli forces, including medic deaths or injuries and strikes or raids on hospitals. No responsibility had been established in seven other cases, including the deaths of six Israeli military medics killed in fighting in separate incidents between October and December, and the bombing of the Al-Ahli Hospital on Oct. 17, 2023, it said.

Israel, whose military offensive in Gaza began after the deadly Hamas cross-border attacks of Oct. 7, says hospitals in the Palestinian enclave are used by Hamas militants as bases.


Erdogan: Current Constitution Cannot Sustain the New Türkiye

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks on Monday following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. (Turkish Presidency)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks on Monday following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. (Turkish Presidency)
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Erdogan: Current Constitution Cannot Sustain the New Türkiye

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks on Monday following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. (Turkish Presidency)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks on Monday following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. (Turkish Presidency)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his resolve to draft a new constitution for the country, saying the one in force after the military coup of 1980 cannot sustain the new Türkiye.

“It's not possible for the current constitution to sustain Türkiye anymore,” Erdogan said following a cabinet meeting in Ankara on Monday.

“Despite all the amendments introduced to the current constitution, we have not been able to eliminate the spirit of guardianship that the coup plotters have injected into it,” he said.

“The Turkish democracy should settle old scores with the tradition of coups by adopting a new and civil constitution,” he added.

Erdogan also stressed that he does not want a new constitution for himself. “Türkiye needs this. This is what our nation needs. Future generations deserve to be governed by a liberal constitution,” he said.

After being re-elected to a new and final presidential term in May 2023, Erdogan pledged to introduce a new liberal civil constitution to replace the current one, which according to him, is “a product of the (1980) coup.”

His insistence raises concerns that the move will help him cement his power indefinitely by allowing him to run for president again in the 2028 elections.

On Tuesday, Erdogan welcomed a Turkish court sentence of ex-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas, to 42 years in prison and HDP's former co-chair Figen Yuksekdag to 30 years and three months for their alleged involvement in the Kobani protests in 2014.

The protesters in Türkiye’s mainly Kurdish southeast accused the Turkish army of standing by as ISIS militants besieged Kobani in plain view just across the Syrian border in October 2014. The protests led to the deaths of 37 people.

Speaking at the appointment ceremony of judges and public prosecutors, Erdogan said: “Ten years after the insurrection attempt, we see that justice has been served, albeit late, and we are pleased with this.”

He dismissed the sharp criticism of the judiciary for the overblown rulings in the case and called them politicized.

“We know well, especially from our experience, the damage caused by political and ideological polarization in the judicial system. We won't let that happen again,” he said.

The Kobani trial involved 24 convicted politicians among 108 defendants, who were sentenced to a combined 407 years and seven months in prison.


Schools, Cars Burn in New Caledonia Ahead of Macron Visit 

Burnt cars and barricades are seen on a roadblock at the entrance to the Montravel district in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)
Burnt cars and barricades are seen on a roadblock at the entrance to the Montravel district in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)
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Schools, Cars Burn in New Caledonia Ahead of Macron Visit 

Burnt cars and barricades are seen on a roadblock at the entrance to the Montravel district in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)
Burnt cars and barricades are seen on a roadblock at the entrance to the Montravel district in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)

Arsonists torched schools and hundreds of cars overnight in New Caledonia, officials said Wednesday, as President Emmanuel Macron embarked on a surprise visit aiming to end nine days of deadly riots on the French Pacific archipelago.

Macron left Paris on Tuesday on a flight to the troubled territory, a popular holiday destination where roads are now littered with charred vehicles, and scores of shops, schools and other buildings are in cinders.

Clashes have left six people dead and hundreds injured since unrest erupted May 13 on the Pacific islands, home to 270,000 people.

French authorities said the violence had eased since 1,050 troops, tactical police and national security reinforcements from Paris were deployed, including to "highly sensitive" areas.

Nevertheless, two primary schools and 300 cars in a dealership were torched in the territory's capital Noumea during the night, the mayor's office told AFP.

The deadliest unrest in four decades has been blamed on French plans to give voting rights to thousands of non-indigenous residents, which Indigenous Kanaks say will dilute their votes.

Police have arrested more than 280 "rioters" since the troubles began, the French authorities said.

- Trapped tourists flee -

Tourists trapped in the territory have begun to flee.

Australia and New Zealand sent an initial batch of military planes to Noumea's small domestic Magenta airport on Tuesday, repatriating "about 100 people", according to French authorities on the island.

"When we landed, it was just like 'Oh, thank God we're here!'" said Mary Hatten, who had spent a week holed up in a Noumea hotel, after touching down in Brisbane.

Further flights will be organized until the main La Tontouta International Airport reopens to commercial flights, French officials said.

The airport operator says commercial flights should resume on Saturday morning.

Macron aims to "listen to, talk and hold discussions with New Caledonian elected officials" in an attempt to restore order, an official close to the president told AFP in Paris.

He wants to "give answers to the many legitimate questions Caledonians are asking, both on the reconstruction side and the political side", the official said.

One Kanak manning an unofficial roadblock north of the capital Noumea said Macron needed to understand Indigenous opposition to the vote reform.

"I don't know why our fate is being discussed by people who don't even live here," said the 52-year-old, who gave only his first name Mike.

"We are the people of the country, not you or the others. No, it's us," he told AFP.

The voice of local Kanaks "is not being listened to, not being heard", he said.

- Barricades -

French security forces have removed more than 90 roadblocks, authorities said.

But Kanak separatists, some masked and wielding homemade catapults, are still manning makeshift roadblocks including on the main route to the international airport, AFP correspondents said.

Armed locals, of French and other origins, have set up their own neighborhood barricades.

Local prosecutors say around 400 shops and businesses have been damaged.

Kanaks make up about 40 percent of the population.

Many of them oppose the plan to extend voting rights to those who have lived in the territory for at least 10 years.

But anti-independence representatives want it pushed through.

Withdrawing "would prove the wreckers, the looters and the rioters right," said Nicolas Metzdorf, a New Caledonia MP for Macron's Renaissance party.

Paris has for now held off extending a 12-day state of emergency, which has led to a night-time curfew, house arrests of suspected ringleaders, and bans on TikTok, alcohol sales, carrying weapons and gatherings.

New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.

But almost two centuries on, opinion is split roughly along ethnic lines over whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent.