Assad: Oscar-feted White Helmets are part of Al-Qaeda

Syrian President Bashar Assad has hit out at the controversial nonprofit White Helmets, calling it a front for Islamic terrorism, and saying they are an example of Western narratives grotesquely distorting the truth about the conflict in the country.

“White Helmets are Al Qaeda members and that’s proven on the net,” Assad told RT during an interview with Russian journalists in Damascus. “The same members are killing or executing or celebrating over dead bodies, at the same time they are humanitarian heroes, and now they have an Oscar.”

The White Helmets, which calls itself a civil defense organization, operates in rebel-controlled parts of Syria, where they say they are involved exclusively in peaceful activities such as rescuing civilians after bombing raids. They are part-funded by donations, and by Western governments.

An eponymous British-made film about their work was given an Oscar for Best Documentary at last month’s Academy Awards.

Both Damascus and Moscow have repeatedly accused them of functioning as a propaganda operation that stages videos and manipulates coverage to generate sympathy abroad for the rebel cause, and as a jihadist rescue service that operates in tandem with Al Nusra and other radical groups in Syria.

The Syrian president said that the unquestioning lionization of the White Helmets is symptomatic of the West’s “double standards,” in which heroes and villains are decided on the basis of “narratives.”

For example, their raids against ISIS in Mosul in Iraq were something good, or let’s say, positive, while the same raid by the Syrian and Russian army airplanes or troops on the ground in Aleppo to liberate the people of Aleppo is against human rights, according to their political discourse,” said Assad.

Assad says that, as the conflict in the country marks its sixth anniversary, the West’s “own public doesn’t believe the [government] narrative anymore.”

“People know there’s a lie, but they don’t know what the truth is. That’s why they have a problem with RT, for example,” said Assad.

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Snitching scandal: Denmark reprimands Turkish envoy over ‘hotline to report on Erdogan critics’

Snitching scandal: Denmark reprimands Turkish envoy over ‘hotline to report on Erdogan critics’
Denmark has summoned Turkey’s charge d’affaires on the heels of a report that Danish citizens of Turkish origin might have been blacklisted and accused of treason on the basis of tips submitted by Turkish government sympathizers via a special hotline.

The Danish Foreign Ministry “made it clear that it saw with great concern reports alleging that citizens of Denmark report on the other citizens to the Turkish authorities in this manner because of a person’s political affiliation,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday, following a meeting between the Turkish charge d’affaires and the Danish ministry’s foreign policy director, Lone Dencker Wisborg.

It further pointed out that any request coming from Turkish authorities to Danish citizens to unveil the identities of fellow Danes would be deemed “unacceptable,” noting that an act of informing foreign governments, including that of Turkey, will be considered a criminal offense.

The reprimand follows the report in the Danish Berlingske newspaper on Sunday that at least 10 people contacted by the outlet, including former and current Danish MPs, have received online threats from apparent supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vowing to denounce them to the Turkish authorities as critics of his government.

Among those who have been served with such warnings are former Danish MP Özlem Cekic and Lars Aslan Rasmussen, an MP from the Social Democratic Party. Cekic told Berlingske she had received a comment on Facebook from an unknown person, who messaged her that he would “report [Cekic] to the authorities in Turkey and hope that you are put on their clean-up list, so you get blacklisted.”  

Rasmussen, who was informed by some anonymous people through phone and Facebook, that his name had been reported to the Turkish authorities, now fears repercussions if he decides to visit his Turkish relatives.

“I take this very seriously. I would of course be very upset if I couldn’t go there anymore because my father is from there,” Rasmussen told the newspaper, as cited by AFP.

READ MORE: No evidence exiled Turkish cleric Gulen behind anti-Erdogan coup – German intel

Politicians have appeared to be not the only victims targeted in online intimidation campaign by alleged Erdogan supporters. A high school teacher, Mustafa Gezen, who last year publicly blasted Erdogan’s policy on TV, has also been contacted by what he described “a man with a heavy Danish accent,” who told him that the recording of the show in question was forwarded to the Turkish embassy in Denmark.

The Berlingske report claims that a special hotline, which informants use to submit their reports, is going directly to the Turkish presidential office. As an experiment, the newspaper dialed the number, pretending it was going to report a supporter of the self-exiled preacher Fethulla Gulen, whom Turkey considers to be a terrorist and a mastermind behind the foiled coup of July 15, 2016. The person whom the paper spoke to seemingly made no distinction between Turkish nationals and foreign citizens of Turkish origin, saying that “when the person comes to Turkey, it does not matter what nationality the person has.”

READ MORE: ‘Has Erdogan lost his mind?’ Turkish leader’s ‘Nazi measures’ jibe sparks fury in Berlin

The report has sparked outrage in the Foreign Ministry, with Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen calling the alleged conduct of the Turkish government “completely unacceptable,” adding that it has nothing to do with gathering information on Danish individuals as “in principle informing is the concern of the police.”

However, the Turkish charge d’affaires, who has been representing Turkey after the Turkish ambassador to Denmark who retired last week dismissed the report, insisting that the Turkish government does not have any special system in place to track or detect its critics, also denying the existence of a “blacklist” of Danish citizens who are barred from entering or exiting Turkey.

The special hotline, he argued, was only to be used to confer information that is terrorism-related.

Despite the Turkish government’s assertions, Samuelsen promised to “follow the case closely” after the meeting.

Tensions have been running high between the two countries since Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen asked his Turkish counterpart, Binali Yıldırım, to delay a scheduled visit due to then unfolding diplomatic spat between Turkey and the Netherlands, during which Erdogan accused Dutch authorities of “Nazi practices” for not allowing a rally of his supporters in the Netherlands. The Dutch responded by expelling Turkish minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya to Germany after barring her from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam to stage a pro-Erdogan rally.

“Such a visit could not take place in light of the current attacks by Turkey against the Netherlands. Therefore, I proposed to my Turkish colleague to postpone our meeting,” Rasmussen said at the time.

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Almost half of Canadians want illegal immigrants deported back to US – poll

Almost half of Canadians want illegal immigrants deported back to US – poll
Nearly half of Canadians want the illegal immigrants that have been crossing into their country since Donald Trump was elected president of the US to be deported back to America, a Reuters/Ipsos poll has revealed.

Some 48 percent of Canadians support “increasing the deportation of people living in Canada illegally,” according to a new poll released on Monday.

The same number of respondents suggested that the migrants should be sent back to the US, while 36 percent said Canada should “accept these migrants” and allow them to apply for asylum.

Canadians’ view of illegal immigration mirrors that of their neighbors in the US, where a similar Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted earlier this week showed 50 percent support for deportations.

The increased flow of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East fleeing the US fearing a crackdown by Trump has become a hot topic in Canada in recent months.

Hundreds have crossed into Canada illegally, bringing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau under fire from both sides of the political spectrum.

The Canadian population is also unhappy with the PM, as 46 percent say they are dissatisfied with how Trudeau has handled the migrant flow.

A similar Ipsos poll from January showed that 59 percent of Canadians supported the prime minister’s approach to the issue. Trudeau’s office declined to comment on Monday’s survey when contacted by Reuters.

Some 41 percent of those surveyed expressed concern that illegal migrants would make Canada less safe, though 41 percent said they won’t.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll, which was conducted online in both English and French on March 8 and 9, included 1,001 people over 18 years old. It has a margin of error of 4 percent.

“There are so many people in the world who want to come in and go through the right channels. That’s what’s pissing most people off. These guys are jumping the border,” Greg Janzen, the head of a Manitoba border municipality, said, in commenting on the poll.

READ MORE: Canadian Girl Guides cancel US trips over Trump travel ban concerns

Janzen told Reuters that he himself saw hundreds of people illegally crossing the border from the US.

Warm weather may lead to an even greater spike in illegal immigration into Canada, warned Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute public think-tank.

READ MORE: Canadians pledge their own wall to block Trump-fleeing US liberals

“If people become convinced there’s a large uncontrolled flow of illegal immigrants, I think that will be a very serious political issue for the government,” Crowley said.

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