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Syrian Forces Launch Ground Assault in Aleppo

Syrian forces encircle rebels in Aleppo stronghold

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A Free Syrian Army Figther takes cover during clashes in Aleppo Reuters/The Indepedent

By AJ Correspondents

DOHA, Qatar, (IPS/Al Jazeera).- The Syrian army has launched a ground assault on the northern city of Aleppo, sparking fierce clashes with opposition fighters in the frontline district of Salaheddine.

“The army is advancing from west to east to cut Salaheddine in half horizontally,” an official said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity, referring to the key rebel stronghold in the city.

Wassel Ayub, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), said: “The regime forces advanced into Al-Malaab Street with tanks and armoured vehicles and fierce fighting is now taking place in the area.”

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Ahmed Zaidan, reporting from Aleppo, said “a large number of people have been killed or injured in a fierce battle near Salaheddine in which advanced Russian tanks have been used by the government forces”.

Zaidan says control of Salaheddine, and Aleppo, is “very important for both sides”.

“Aleppo is the second largest city and financial hub of Syria. We shouldn’t forget that almost 60 or 70 percent of the Syrian economy now is on a standstill because there is no life in Aleppo,” he added.

“Aleppo battle might decide the future of Syria and the future of the position of the regime.”

Fierce clashes

Clashes have also been reported in Hanano, Tareeq Al Bab and Sha’ar in the besieged city, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

The observatory said that the clashes taking place in the streets of Salaheddine and in surrounding areas were the most fierce that the northern city has seen in the nearly 17-month uprising.

SOHR said neighbourhoods of Maysaloun, Sakhour and Tal Rifaat were under shelling by government forces.

The Syrian army has made progress but rebels have not abandoned Salaheddine, our correspondent said, adding that the FSA has shot down a plane and destroyed five tanks in Aleppo.

The army, which has been massing its troops and armour in and around Aleppo since late last month, was moving from west to east, coming from Hamdaniyeh, a district adjacent to Salaheddine, the FSA’s Ayub said.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from neighbouring Beirut, said: “It’s not just symbolic but also where most of Free Syrian Army is concentrated, and for the world it also became symbol of FSA’s major success in getting their hold on this city.”

“FSA has been bringing in its own rebels from outside Aleppo from country side e.g. Idlib, Homs because for them it’s a major battle. Salaheddine is also crucial for government, as it has been a pillar of support for the (Syrian) President (Bashar al-) Assad in the last 16 months,” she said.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Andrew Simmons, reporting from Antakya, on the Syrian-Turkish border, said people in Al Dana, near Aleppo, “are fully aware that only minutes away is the potential for massive shellfire raining down on their city.”

“They are within range of the long-distance artillery; they know that the situation could change – so that atmosphere permeates throughout the town. You you talk to people and they have the same symptoms, the same fear etched on their faces, because they are also concerned of retribution should the Syrian government forces return to where they live,” he said.

“They are trying to get by, it is extremely difficult, and they look to the Free Syrian Army for everything really. But security is not heavy on the ground, because so many of the young men have gone from the area to go to the battle for Aleppo city.

“That is the primary objective, they are aware of that, but many feel that Aleppo is the final battle but there is a long distance to go. There is a solemn feeling there really, a feeling that liberation is a long way away.”

Retired guards among Iran hostages

In other developments, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Wednesday that “retired” members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and army were among 48 Iranians taken hostage in Syria by rebels, the ISNA news agency reported.

Salehi said the former military personnel were exclusively on a religious pilgrimage to Damascus when they were seized on Saturday.

“A number of the (hostages) are retired members of the Guards and the army. Some others were from other ministries,” Salehi was quoted as telling reporters as he flew back from Turkey, which he asked for help in freeing the Iranians.

Another senior Iranian official visited Damascus on Tuesday where he met Assad.

Saeed Jalili, a senior aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Assad that Iran will continue to back the Syrian government.

During talks with Assad, Jalili said that what was happening in Syria was “not an internal issue”.

It is “a conflict between the axis of resistance on one hand, and the regional and global enemies of this axis on the other,” Jalili said.

On Monday, while on a visit to Beirut, the Lebanese capital, Jalili issued a veiled warning to countries backing the rebels.

“Those who believe that, by developing insecurity in the countries of the region by sending arms and exporting terrorism, they are buying security for themselves are wrong,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted him as telling Adnan Mansour, Lebanon’s foreign minister.

 

*Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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Conditions at Mississippi’s Most Notorious Prison Violate the Constitution, DOJ Says

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by Jerry Mitchell, Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting/ProPublica

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Locked Down

An Investigation of Mississippi’s Prisons

Conditions at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman state prison violate the Constitution, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday.

“Our investigation uncovered evidence of systemic violations that have generated a violent and unsafe environment for people incarcerated at Parchman,” Kristen Clarke, the U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights, said at a press conference. “We are committed to taking action that will ensure the safety of all people held at Parchman and other state prison facilities.”

The department began investigating Parchman in February 2020 after the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica reported on increases in grisly violence, gang control and substandard living conditions. The news organizations found that state lawmakers had known about these problems for years and had done little to fix them.

In one example, a cellphone video appeared to show a fight at Parchman. Prisoners can be heard egging on the violence. Prison officials declined to authenticate the video, but several inmates said it matched details of the facility. Prison authorities later reported that a man was killed around the same time the video was circulating on social media.

“I’ve got him in a chokehold,” one inmate boasts.

Another inmate cheers him on: “Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Dead. Oh, yeah. Dead. Deaaaaad.”

After the report, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and others called on the DOJ to investigate.

U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner of Oxford said: “Prisons have a constitutional obligation to keep safe the incarcerated persons who depend on them for their basic needs. Mississippi violated the rights of persons incarcerated at Parchman by failing to keep them safe from physical violence and for failing to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care.”

In a 59-page report, the DOJ said the prison had failed to protect inmates from violence at the hands of others, provide adequate mental health treatment or take sufficient suicide prevention measures. The report said penitentiary officials had subjected prisoners to “prolonged isolation in solitary confinement in egregious conditions that place their physical and mental health at substantial risk of serious harm.”

DOJ officials say they are committed to working with the state to ensure that prisoners’ civil rights are protected. Joyner told reporters that Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain, who was appointed in 2020, has already implemented some changes.

Responding to the department’s allegations, Gov. Tate Reeves said, “We have made significant strides at Parchman in the last two years, everything from significantly reducing the number of inmates at Parchman all the way to working with the Legislature this year to get funding to increase the number of officers we have.”

Parchman has a long history of being one of the nation’s worst prisons, but by 2011, it had turned a corner. After ‌nearly four decades‌ ‌of‌ ‌court‌ ‌monitoring‌ ‌and‌ ‌an‌ ‌infusion‌ ‌of‌ ‌taxpayer‌ ‌dollars,‌ ‌new‌ ‌facilities‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌built.‌ ‌Prisoner‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌had‌ ‌declined.‌ ‌A‌ ‌judge‌ ‌ended‌ ‌federal‌ ‌oversight‌,‌‌ ‌and‌ ‌Mississippi‌ ‌was‌ ‌once‌ ‌again‌ ‌entrusted‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌care‌ ‌of‌ ‌its‌ ‌inmates.‌

In the years that followed, conditions at Parchman began to deteriorate. By 2017, accreditation for the prison had lapsed. Ron Welch, a Jackson lawyer who represented the state’s inmates until the monitoring ended, called the prison’s conditions an “unbelievable nightmare.”

The DOJ report said that Parchman inmates have been subjected to “an unreasonable risk of violence due to inadequate staffing, cursory investigative practices and deficient contraband controls,” adding that “these systemic failures result in an environment rife with weapons, drugs, gang activity, extortion and violence, including 10 homicides in 2019.”

Six homicides took place in 2020, three of them in a single week in January, when one inmate was stabbed 89 times, another 75 times and a third strangled to death, according to the report.

Another killing took place in October 2020, when several individuals stabbed an inmate 12 times in Unit 30’s shower. “The sole correctional officer assigned to watch the approximately 180 incarcerated persons in that area did not observe any signs of disturbance from her position in a tower removed from the floor,” the DOJ report said. “Approximately three hours after the stabbing, an incarcerated person alerted the officer that another incarcerated person needed help, and she called for backup. When help arrived, they found the victim unresponsive, and he was pronounced dead a few minutes later.”

An inmate told an investigator with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, or MDOC, that the killing was gang related. The DOJ report said state investigators blamed the death on a staff shortage but did not “investigate the alleged gang cause or take any interest in what happened to the apparently unrecovered weapon.”

The DOJ said this homicide illustrates how Parchman inmates are “on their own. It further demonstrates how MDOC’s cursory investigations fail to address the underlying causes for violence, such as gang activity, or the location of the weapon after the incident to prevent future violence.”

The DOJ cited MDOC’s “gross understaffing” in its report: “Although MDOC has made some efforts recently to recruit and hire more staff, Parchman has been operating with roughly half the needed staff since at least 2018.”

Because of that lack of staffing, the report alleged, two inmates in Unit 30 were stabbed on Jan. 21, 2020, but did not receive medical care until a dozen hours later when they were discovered. One inmate died later that day from skull fractures, rib fractures and other injuries. Another homicide took place just a few hours later.

Between 2014 and 2021, the number of correctional officers plummeted from 1,591 to 667. The inmate population shrank during that time from 21,919 to 16,945.

“The lack of supervision and staff presence on Parchman housing units creates an authority vacuum — where individuals incarcerated at Parchman rather than staff control the day-to-day operations of the units,” the report said. “As evidence of this absence of authority, persons confined to Parchman have openly defied contraband restrictions, posting photos of themselves on social media, or posting photos and videos of decrepit conditions in a cry for help. Unless MDOC institutes effective, necessary remedies to alleviate Parchman’s staffing and supervision crises, staff and incarcerated persons will remain at an unreasonable risk of serious harm.”

Even after succeeding in getting lawmakers to provide raises to correctional officers, Cain said it’s been difficult to recruit because of competition for workers.

The report said that MDOC fails “to identify incarcerated persons in need of mental health care. Parchman has too few qualified mental health staff to meet the mental health care needs of persons confined at Parchman, which results in serious harm.”

DOJ officials also said that MDOC failed “to identify individuals at risk of suicide and houses them — often unsupervised — in dangerous areas that are not suicide resistant.” In addition, MDOC fails to adequately train officers to identify signs and symptoms of suicidal behavior, the report said. Twelve individuals incarcerated at Parchman died by suicide in the last three years, all in single cells.

“The problems at Parchman are severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision,” the report said.

Former Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall repeatedly asked the Republican-controlled Legislature for more money to hire guards and to fix up Parchman’s maximum-security block, known as Unit 29, but the request went nowhere, despite MDOC saying publicly that the unit was “unsafe for staff and inmates.”

On New Year’s Eve in 2019, “a fight in Parchman’s Unit 29 sparked what would become a prison riot lasting several weeks,” according to the report. “In the months leading up to the riot, there had been widespread reports about unlivable and unsanitary conditions through Parchman; violent murders and suicides on the rise; staffing plummeting to dangerous levels; and mounting concerns that gangs were filling the void left by inadequate staff presence and gaining increasing control of Parchman through extortion and violence.”

Despite those crises, Parchman staff were “caught off guard, utterly overwhelmed, and ultimately unable to adequately and quickly respond to fighting and significant injuries in multiple buildings,” the report said.

DOJ officials say their investigation of conditions at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility is continuing.

The DOJ is encouraging those with relevant information to contact it by phone at 833-591-0288 or by email at Community.MSDoc@usdoj.gov.

 

Original: propublica.org

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The Governorship Elections in Venezuela. The PSUV Wins By a Landslide, Opposition in Disarray

A political Analysis on the recent electoral victory for State governorship by the governing party of Venezuela, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela

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the campaign for Constituent Assembly

 

By Nino Pagliccia and Armold August

The governing party of Venezuela, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), has recently obtained a resounding electoral victory for State governorship. The election was called by the CNE (National Electoral Council) at the instance of the ANC (National Constituent Assembly). Soon after, the opposition group MUD (Democratic Unity Coalition) seemed to be in disarray. Enrique Capriles of Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, for example, resigned from the MUD coalition questioning Henry Ramos Allup of the AD (Democratic Action) party who in turn expelled the four AD governors who dared to be sworn-in in front of the ANC in acceptance of the election results.

I asked Canadian author Arnold August to give his assessment of the political significance for the Bolivarian process.

Question: In the last elections of October 15 for the 23 state governorships in Venezuela, the governing party won 18 states. What is your analysis of this result in the context of the political process in Venezuela?

Arnold August: Not only did it win the 18 states, but the PSUV substantially increased its popular vote compared with the National Assembly elections held in December 2015, when the opposition won by a wide margin. Thus, in a short period of time, the Bolivarian Revolution reversed the situation. These latest October 2017 state elections, therefore, are of great historical significance not only for Venezuela but for the whole region. The U.S. is hoping to subvert the Bolivarian Revolution and use it as a springboard to weaken, and even destroy, other left-wing movements and governments in the area. The latter represent an alternative to capitalism and they, along with other powers such as Russia, China and Iran, flourish as a major multi-polar challenge to the U.S. goal of world hegemony.

Thus, because of the domestic and international importance of this resurgence in the last elections, the analysis is still ongoing. Any serious observer is obliged to continue to reflect upon and investigate the upset victory, as you are striving to do now with this interview.

Nevertheless, there is one ongoing conclusion that I have been exploring since the elections. The election results marked a watershed in Venezuelan democracy. The majority of the people and the Maduro government crossed the Rubicon from participatory democracy toward protagonist democracy. They may not have yet reached terra firma on the other shore of the Rubicon, but Venezuelan democracy is firmly on the path toward protagonist democracy as the main feature of its political system.

Some Bolivarian Revolution sympathizers and activists in Venezuela and outside may raise their eyebrows in surprise, and even suspicion, with regard to my view. The analysis may seem, if looked at superficially and dogmatically, as an underestimation of the outstanding Bolivarian experience in participatory democracy.

However, this is far from being the case. For example, in my 2013 publication Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, there is a section dealing with Cuba’s neighbour titled “Venezuela: New Experiments in Participatory Democracy” that provides a very positive analysis.

And, more importantly, consider this. Hugo Chávez very clearly stated that “socialism means participatory democracy but above all protagonist democracy” (Comandante Chávez, “El Socialismo es la Democracia Participativa y sobre todo la Protagónica,” posted March 19, 2013).

Protagonist democracy means that the people are reaching the stage of consciousness and action – individually and collectively – to exercise on a daily basis their rightful protagonist role in their own revolution.

We saw this in the massive uprising by the Venezuelan people. A civic–military alliance overturned the U.S.-supported April 11, 2002 coup d’état against the Chávez government only two days later on April 13. This is how the now legendary Chavista slogan came into being: “Every 11th has its 13th!” The people themselves are able to overcome even the most adverse situation and seemingly hopeless obstacle by taking affairs into their own hands.

This growing protagonist feature of the Bolivarian Revolution’s democracy goes hand in hand with its development of socialist measures. It has been evolving over the years at a steady pace despite the economic war waged by the U.S. against Venezuela. Alongside this evolution, protagonist democracy has deepened and broadened to increasingly become a daily feature in the lives of the people. The Chávez thinking on this progression, as expressed above, is crucial to viewing today’s Venezuela from his perspective: socialism cannot be defended nor, even less, be developed without a political and electoral system based on protagonist democracy. Nonetheless, this developing level of consciousness is not tied to elections. On the contrary, the electoral process is just part of the battle of ideas that is being waged nationally and internationally in favour of socialism.

Out of necessity, this political movement in Venezuela increasingly becomes “daily” – perhaps not literally but very close to it since the death of Hugo Chávez. Ironically, Obama and Trump, by striving to subvert the participatory and protagonist people’s political defence of its Bolivarian Revolution and the biggest oil reserves in the world, have contributed to pushing the revolution to convert democracy toward, as Chávez said, “above all protagonist.” Thus, the paradox: Venezuela is now anchored in an even more favourable position to defend and expand its revolution, as the state election results glaringly exposed.

The 2002 American policy of blatant interference, as exemplified in the coup d’état, has become a daily staple in other more “smart power” forms feeding the unrest and crisis in Venezuela. This approach began to take shape after President Obama refused to recognize Nicolás Maduro as the constitutionally elected successor to Chávez on April 14, 2013. There has been virtually no let up since, with Obama handing the U.S. Venezuela game plan over to Trump on a silver platter. Only the form of the 2002 attempted coup has changed. It has become a slow-motion coup but with the same intent: to smash the socialist program. The response is that, metaphorically, every day in Venezuela is lived with the slogan “every 11th has its 13th” at the forefront.

However, unlike the military coup d’état attempt in 2002, now the “11th” is represented by the slow-motion coup that the U.S. has been fomenting since April 2013 to date, while the “13th” is the day-to-day people’s revolutionary struggle during this time to maintain political power. It was – and is – either that the Venezuelans will be the authors of their own revolution or that the revolution will be subverted.

Question: And what was the role that the National Constituent Assembly plays in the country?

AA: On May 1, 2017, the Maduro government announced the daring convening of elections to the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to be held on July 30, 2017. The country was in the throes of the U.S.-provoked crisis. This was the only way out for the well-being and peace of the entire nation. The time had come to “re-found” the Bolivarian Revolution, just as in 1999 with the new Constitution after the election of Chávez, who founded it as a first step.

Please allow me to pursue the “crossing of the Rubicon” metaphor. The successful NCA elections, its dramatic convening and the results work together to represent the first plunge into the Rubicon: the protagonist feature of the Bolivarian Revolution overtook its complementary participatory characteristic to become what Chávez said was “above all” the need for being protagonist and not only participatory.

The NCA itself constitutes the highest expression of a protagonist system whereby the people themselves govern. It thus provided the orientation and confidence for the state elections only two-and-a-half months later in order to propel the Bolivarian Revolution further toward crossing the river to the shore. This new form of people’s power is the basis for safeguarding and further developing Venezuela’s socialism.

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Thousands march in Seattle to denounce white supremacists

When Seattle anti-fascists of many political persuasions massed to protest a «Patriot Prayer» rally on Aug. 13, police prevented them from marching to the site of the far-right gathering. But they made their message heard regardless.

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March Anti-racism. Photo: Freedom Socialist Party

Police attack protesters trying to counter far-right rally

SEATTLE, Washington.- Downtown Seattle was awash with opponents of white supremacy on Sunday, August 13 as a diverse crowd of 2,000 marched in opposition to a rightwing “Patriot Prayer” rally at Westlake Park. Participation swelled dramatically as the counter-protest also became a response to the August 12 car attack on anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although police blocked the main protest from entering the park, the demonstrators’ message of solidarity reverberated through downtown canyons. In addition, several hundred protesters managed to enter the park and shout down the rally attended by 75 or so Trump supporters, Proud Boys, and militaristically clad allies.
 
The “Patriot Prayer” gathering was planned weeks earlier by Joey Gibson, of Vancouver, Washington, who claims to oppose racism, but whose events consistently draw white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He previously visited Seattle on June 10 as part of an anti-Muslim rally in Seattle that drew hundreds of counter-protesters.
 
Many of the organizations that came together in an ad hoc coalition to defend the Muslim community in June joined forces again for the August 13 march. Organizers and endorsers included Greater Seattle IWW General Defense Committee, Freedom Socialist Party, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Veterans for Peace Chapter 94, Seattle Solidarity Network, Radical Women, ANSWERSeattle.org, SAFE in Seattle, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Clifton Wyatt, former president of the International Association of Machinists Local A 751.
 
The M.L. King County Labor Council encouraged unionists to attend with a note stating, “If we are not fighting racism, sexism, homophobia we are not really fighting for workers’ rights.” Speaking for an endorsing union, Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304, Steve Hoffman addressed the key role of the labor movement in opposing the far right and roused the crowd before the march began with the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all!”
 
Approaching the city core, marchers became frustrated as Seattle police repeatedly blocked their access to Westlake Park. Scores of police in riot gear, with bicycles, batons, tanks and other vehicles, blocked all intersections and alleyways leading to the park. They lobbed flash-bang grenades and pepper-sprayed protesters in unprovoked attacks on a crowd that included elders, children, and people with disabilities. In response, protesters chanted, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and “Cops and Klan work hand in hand!”
 
“We need to protest to Seattle’s mayor and police chief for essentially taking the side of the racist reactionaries by teargassing locals who came to take a stand against them, while providing a military-type escort for the bigots,” said Patrick Burns, a union carpenter who was a marshal for the counter-protesters’ march.
 
“I urge everyone to call the City Council and demand that the police be brought under control,” said Annaliza Torres of Radical Women. Torres said sixty organizations and community leaders signed onto a letter protesting «biased policing» at the June anti-Muslim rally. She said police allowed the Proud Boys to repeatedly attack the anti-racist rally, but then pepper-sprayed and arrested the people who attempted to defend themselves. «We haven’t yet had a reply to our complaint. Instead, we got intensified police harassment today,” said Torres.
 
Su Docekal of the Freedom Socialist Party, one of the march organizers, said, “The police and the city absolutely violated our constitutional rights to protest and free speech. We know from experience with the Aryan Nations and others here in the Pacific Northwest that the way to prevent fascism from taking root is through direct, disciplined confrontation when they come out in public to recruit. Our goal is to build a broad, democratic united front able to stop them in their tracks.”

 

Source: Freedom Socialist Party LA

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