Egypt Independent: World-Main news en US network of Turkish cleric facing pressure as those at home seek help <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>A network of more than 150 U.S. charter schools linked to followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric the Turkish government blames for instigating July&rsquo;s failed coup, has come under growing financial and legal strain, according to school officials, current and former members of Gulen&rsquo;s movement, and public records reviewed by Reuters.<br /><br />The publicly financed schools, a key source of jobs and business opportunities for U.S. members of Gulen&rsquo;s global movement, have sharply slowed their expansion in recent years, public records show.<br /><br />The slowdown comes amid a series of government probes in more than a dozen states into allegations ranging from misuse of taxpayer funds to visa fraud. The investigations launched by state and federal officials have not resulted in criminal charges or directly implicated Gulen, whose name is not on any of the charter schools. The increased pressure on the schools also comes as the Turkish government is cracking down on Gulen supporters at home and presses hard for Gulen&rsquo;s extradition.<br /><br />Just three new schools were opened each in 2015 and this year to date, down from a peak of 23 new schools in 2010, according to a Reuters review of the public records of 153 charter schools and their management companies around the country.<br /><br />The decline runs counter to the steady growth over the past six years of all U.S. charter schools, which receive taxpayer funds but are exempt from some rules that govern traditional state-run public schools.<br /><br />At the same time, 15 schools have been closed or transferred to owners with no connection to Gulen&rsquo;s movement since 2010. In at least 11 of those cases &mdash; including in Georgia, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio &mdash; the management firms or individual schools themselves had faced official investigations, Reuters found.<br /><br />&ldquo;Since these investigations and pressures from media coverage have been going on, the schools are much more, maybe five times more careful, in terms of their finances, how they hire contractors,&rdquo; said Hakan Berberoglu, acting executive director of the Illinois-based Niagara Foundation, which aims to promote the inter-faith dialogue espoused by Gulen, its honorary president.<br /><br />&ldquo;They are much more careful in how they expand,&rdquo; he told Reuters.<br /><br />Berberoglu said that the schools are not officially affiliated with Gulen and are not centrally controlled by anyone.<br /><br />In another sign of a slowdown, the number of visa applications the schools submitted for guest workers from Turkey and other countries declined to 360 last year from more than 1,000 in 2010, immigration records show. The trend reflects a desire by the schools linked to Gulen followers to avoid further government scrutiny, according to current and former members of the movement.<br /><br />In the wake of the failed coup, Ankara&rsquo;s attorneys in the United States have stepped up an aggressive campaign to try to persuade local, state and federal authorities to open new inquiries and discredit the charter schools and other U.S. operations linked to Gulen.<br /><br />Asked about signs that the movement is under stress in the United States, Alp Aslandogan, Gulen&rsquo;s spokesman, said: &ldquo;We are not worried about that.&rdquo;<br /><br />Many Gulen supporters in Turkey are now looking to their U.S.-based brethren for material support and safe haven, according to current and former members of the movement.<br /><br />&ldquo;It&#39;s been my job to save people, to help people who want to come over here,&rdquo; said one U.S.-based Turkish businessman, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his efforts to assist would-be immigrants.<br /><br />The reclusive imam Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies involvement in the coup attempt.<br /><br /><strong>Base of business</strong><br /><br />Gulen&rsquo;s global movement &mdash; known as &ldquo;Hizmet&rdquo;, which means &ldquo;service&rdquo; in Turkish &mdash; seeks to spread what his supporters say is the charismatic preacher&rsquo;s moderate brand of Islam, which promotes Western-style education, free markets and inter-faith communication.<br /><br />The United States has become the Gulen movement&rsquo;s most important base of business operations outside Turkey except for Germany, according to independent experts on the movement.<br /><br />In addition to the schools, followers run a loosely affiliated collection of businesses, civic associations and charities. Some Turkish-American-owned contractors who do business with the schools have been targeted in state and federal investigations over allegations they received preferential treatment, according to current and former members and legal documents.</p> Tue, 27 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Reuters 2472998 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/12/19/499612/islamic_preacher_fethullah_gulen.jpg ICC to rule on damage of Timbuktu shrines by Islamist rebel <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>International war crimes judges are to rule on Tuesday in the case of a former Islamist rebel who pleaded guilty to wrecking holy shrines during Mali&#39;s 2012 conflict and apologised for the damage he cause in Timbuktu.<br /><br />It is the first case at the International Criminal Court focusing on cultural destruction as a war crime.<br /><br />During a two-day trial in August Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi asked for forgiveness and said he had been swept up in an &quot;evil wave&quot; by al Qaeda and the Ansar Dine Islamist groups that briefly seized control of the ancient sites.<br /><br />As part of a plea agreement the prosecution and the defence requested a sentence of between 9 and 11 years in prison. However, the judges are free to ignore the recommendation and hand down a sentence of up to 30 years.<br /><br />Mahdi has admitted to charges of involvement in the destruction of historic mausoleums in the North African city. Prosecutors say he led a group of religious police using pick-axes and crowbars to destroy nine mausoleums and the door of a mosque, and at times took part himself.<br /><br />Most of the sites dated from Mali&#39;s 14th-century golden age as a trading hub and centre of Sufi Islam, a branch of the religion seen as idolatrous by some hardline Muslim groups.<br /><br />During the trial, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda compared the attacks to Islamic State&#39;s smashing of monuments in the Syrian city of Palmyra and the 2001 destruction of the Afghan Bamiyan Buddha statues by the Taliban.<br /><br />If convicted, Mahdi, who estimates his age at 45, would be the first defendant to be found guilty of Islamist-related charges by the global court.<br /><br />Since the ICC began operating in 2002, prosecutors have indicted 39 individuals, including Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. The court has handed down three convictions and acquitted one defendant.<br />&nbsp;</p> Tue, 27 Sep 2016 07:43:00 +0000 Reuters 2472996 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/09/27/504802/timbuktu.jpg Clinton puts Trump on defensive in blistering debate <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>Democrat Hillary Clinton accused Republican Donald Trump of racism, sexism and tax avoidance on Monday, putting him on the defensive during a debate that a snap poll said boosted her White House chances.<br /><br />Trump, a real estate tycoon making his first run for public office, said Clinton&#39;s long years of service represented &quot;bad experience&quot; with few results and said she lacked the stamina to serve as commander-in-chief.<br /><br />Clinton was under pressure to perform well after a bout with pneumonia and a drop in opinion polls, but her long days of preparation appeared to pay off in her highly anticipated first 90-minute standoff with Trump.<br /><br />Trump, a former reality TV star who eschewed a lot of debate practice, was strong early on but appeared to become repetitive and more undisciplined as the night wore on in front of a televised audience that could have reached upwards of a record 100 million people.<br /><br />A CNN/ORC snap poll said 62 percent of respondents felt Clinton won and 27 percent believed Trump was the winner.<br /><br />In signs that investors awarded the debate to Clinton also, Asian shares recovered from an early bout of nerves while the Mexican peso surged on Tuesday. Her chances in the Nov. 8 election improved also on online betting markets.<br /><br /><strong>&#39;Great debate&#39;</strong><br /><br />&quot;You feel good tonight?&quot; Clinton asked supporters after the event. &quot;I sure do. We had a great debate.&quot;<br /><br />Trump, 70, declared himself the winner to reporters at the debate site, then opted against a visit to a local debate watch party that his staff had left open as a possibility.<br /><br />The 68-year-old Clinton relentlessly sought to raise questions about her opponent&#39;s temperament, business acumen and knowledge.<br /><br />Trump used much of his time to argue the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state had achieved little in public life and wants to pursue policies begun by President Barack Obama that have failed to repair a shattered middle class, with jobs lost to outsourcing and over-regulation.<br /><br />Trump suggested her disavowal of a trade deal with Asian countries was insincere. Her handling of a nuclear deal with Iran and Islamic State militancy were disasters, he argued.<br /><br />In one of their more heated exchanges, Clinton accused Trump of promulgating a &quot;racist lie&quot; by suggesting Obama, the first U.S. African-American president, was not born in the United States.<br /><br />The president, who was born in Hawaii, released a long-form birth certificate in 2011 to put the issue to rest. Only this month did Trump say publicly that he believed Obama was U.S.-born.<br /><br />&quot;He (Trump) has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely no evidence for it. But he persisted. He persisted year after year,&quot; Clinton said.<br /><br />Trump repeated his false accusation that Clinton&#39;s failed 2008 presidential campaign against Obama had initiated the so-called &quot;birther&quot; issue.<br /><br />&quot;Nobody was pressing it, nobody was caring much about it ... I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job,&quot; Trump said.<br /><br /><strong>Tax returns</strong><br /><br />Trying to get under Trump&#39;s skin and provoke a volcanic eruption, Clinton suggested Trump was refusing to release his tax returns to avoid showing Americans he paid next to nothing in federal taxes or that he is not as wealthy as he says he is.<br /><br />&quot;It must be something really important, even terrible, that he&rsquo;s trying to hide,&quot; she said.<br /><br />Trump fought back, saying that as a businessman, paying low taxes was important.<br /><br />&quot;That makes me smart,&quot; Trump said.<br /><br />&quot;I have a tremendous income,&quot; he said at one point, adding that it was about time that someone running the country knew something about money.<br /><br />Trump sniffed loudly at points - a campaign aide said the candidate had no cold - but largely contained himself. He said he would release his tax documents after a government audit.<br /><br />But Clinton, the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party, seemed to pique Trump&#39;s ire when she brought up Trump&#39;s past insults about women.<br /><br />&quot;He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them and he called this one &#39;Miss Piggy&#39; and then he called her &#39;Miss Housekeeping,&#39;&quot; she said.<br /><br />During the debate Trump darkly hinted at wanting to stay something but stopped short. Afterwards he told reporters he had thought of raising the sex scandal involving Clinton&#39;s husband, former President Bill Clinton, who was in the audience with their daughter Chelsea.&quot;I was going to say something extremely tough to Hillary and her family and I said I can&rsquo;t do it. I just can&rsquo;t do it. It&#39;s inappropriate, it&rsquo;s not nice,&quot; he said.<br /><br /><strong>Red and blue</strong><br /><br />Clinton wore a red pantsuit, and Trump wore a dark suit and a blue tie to the encounter. She called him Donald. He avoided his campaign trail name for her, &quot;Crooked Hillary,&quot; and instead called her Secretary Clinton for much of the debate before switching to her first name.<br /><br />Toward the end of the debate, Trump said Clinton did not have the endurance to be president but avoided mentioning her bout this month with pneumonia.<br /><br />&quot;She doesn&rsquo;t have the look, she doesn&rsquo;t have the stamina,&quot; he said.<br /><br />Clinton retorted: &quot;As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents ... or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.&quot;<br /><br />Clinton called Trump&#39;s tax policies &quot;Trumped-up trickle-down&quot; economics and Trump accused Clinton of being &quot;all talk, no action.&quot;<br /><br />&quot;I have a feeling I&#39;m going to be blamed for everything,&quot; Clinton said during one tough exchange.<br /><br />&quot;Why not?&quot; retorted Trump.<br /><br />The Mexican peso, dubbed the &quot;Trump thermometer&quot; because of its sensitivity to the U.S. presidential campaign, climbed 2 percent. Trump has pledged to build a wall at the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration.</p> Tue, 27 Sep 2016 07:07:00 +0000 Reuters 2472989 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/09/27/504802/trump_clinton_debate.jpg Trump tells Netanyahu he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Sunday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that if elected, the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the campaign said, marking a potential dramatic shift in U.S. policy.<br /><br />During the meeting that lasted more than an hour at Trump Tower in New York, Trump told Netanyahu that under his administration, the United States would &quot;recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.&quot;<br /><br />While Israel calls Jerusalem its capital, few other countries accept that, including the United States. Most nations maintain embassies in Tel Aviv.<br /><br />Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, as capital of the state they aim to establish alongside Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.<br /><br />Netanyahu held a separate meeting later on Sunday that lasted just under an hour with Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump&#39;s rival in the Nov. 8 U.S. election.<br /><br />Clinton emphasized her commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship and her plan to take the relationship to the next level, according to a statement from her campaign.<br /><br />She also talked about her commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict &quot;that guarantees Israel&rsquo;s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,&quot; according to the statement.<br /><br />&quot;Secretary Clinton reaffirmed her opposition to any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council,&quot; the statement said.<br /><br />During the meeting with Trump, the Republican candidate&#39;s campaign said he agreed with Netanyahu that peace in the Middle East could only be achieved when &quot;the Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish State.&quot;<br /><br />The Trump campaign said he and Netanyahu discussed &quot;at length&quot; Israel&#39;s border fence, cited by Trump in reference to his own controversial immigration policies, which include building a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border and temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country.<br /><br />Other regional issues, including the fight against Islamic State, U.S. military assistance to Israel - &quot;an excellent investment&quot; - and the Iran nuclear deal, which both parties have criticized, were also discussed.</p> Mon, 26 Sep 2016 07:57:00 +0000 Reuters 2472959 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/09/26/504802/netanyahu.jpg