SYDNEY: The abrupt departure of American officials from an Australian Pacific island refugee camp has fanned fears among asylum-seekers that plans to resettle them in the US may not go ahead, an activist group said Sunday.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to enter Australia by boat to camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, but the conditions there have been criticized by refugee advocates and medical professionals.
The Australian government struck a deal with Washington under former president Barack Obama to resettle some of those refugees in the US.
But doubts over the arrangement have persisted after President Donald Trump this year reportedly lambasted his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull during a phone call and attacked it as a “dumb deal,” before agreeing to go ahead with the proposal.
US Department of Homeland Security officials had been assessing the asylum-seekers at Nauru as part of the arrangement when they abruptly left the island on Friday and Saturday, Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said, days after the US passed its annual 50,000-refugee intake cap.
“They’ve (the DHS officials) given the people on Nauru no indication that they are coming back,” Rintoul told AFP.
About 200 refugees on Nauru have undergone interviews and medical check-ups, while on Manus, some 70 had been through a similar process, Rintoul said.
“People are becoming increasingly doubtful that there is any deal,” he added.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Sunday she was confident the deal was still in place, adding that the “matter is progressing as we expected.”
“We have been given assurances by President Trump and Vice President Pence and others, that the agreement will be adhered to,” Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“And the (refugee cap) quota will roll over again on October 1.”
The situation is particularly acute on Manus, with the camp set to close by October after a PNG Supreme Court ruling declared that holding people there was unconstitutional.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said those on Manus would not be moved to Australia and instead relocated to third countries such as the US and Cambodia or resettled in PNG.
“News like this makes us feel dead. It defuses the spark of hope that we try to hold on to,” Manus refugee detainee Imran Mohammad, from Myanmar, said in a statement Sunday via Australia’s Human Rights Law Center.
More than 800 men are being held on Manus, and 370 men, women and children are detained on Nauru, according to Australian immigration data ending May 31.
SYDNEY: The abrupt departure of American officials from an Australian Pacific island refugee camp has fanned fears among asylum-seekers that plans to resettle them in the US may not go ahead, an activist group said Sunday.
DAKAR: Eight people were killed during Senegal’s football league cup final in Dakar on Saturday, the sports minister told AFP, as a wall collapsed onto clashing supporters triggering a panicked stampede.
Sports minister Matar Ba said a young girl was among the dead, while around 60 injured fans had been taken to health facilities in Dakar.
He vowed “strong measures so that such an event will never be repeated in Senegal,” speaking to AFP by phone.
A mass deployment of firefighters and ambulances remained at the scene late Saturday.
An AFP journalist who attended the match described a stadium full to bursting with people for the long-awaited clash between local teams US Ouakam and Stade de Mbour.
At 2-1 during extra time, US Ouakam supporters began throwing stones at Stade de Mbour fans, causing spectators to begin vacating their seats in a rush, the journalist said.
Part of a wall supporting bleachers seating fans from both sides then collapsed, while police had begun firing tear gas and panic spread in the stadium leading to a crush.
“All of a sudden when the wall fell… we knew exactly that some of our own had lost their lives because the wall fell directly onto people,” said Cheikh Maba Diop, a witness who helped evacuate victims from the stadium and lost a friend in the tragedy.
Also speaking at the scene, football fan Mara Die Diouf said policing at the stadium had been inadequate.
“What I find terrible is that we have this kind of final in this kind of stadium here where there isn’t enough security,” he said.
Diouf described police retreating from an area separating the two teams’ supporters once projectiles began being thrown, triggering dangerous movements by spectators unable to defend themselves.
AFP journalists at the scene saw belongings covered in blood at the site, with a pair of glasses and clothing strewn among broken pieces of concrete.
Campaigning for Senegal’s legislative elections due on July 30 would on Sunday be suspended in respect for the victims, said a spokesman for President Macky Sall.
Sall also wanted “punishments serving as a warning,” following the tragedy, spokesman El Hamidou Kasse said on TFM television.
Senegal’s safety record at large gatherings has been heavily criticized this year after the death of dozens of people at a religious retreat in April when a fire ripped through makeshift shelters.
CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday urged citizens taking part in a vote organized by the opposition the next day to do so “peacefully,” as concerns simmered of worsening political violence.
Sunday’s polls are meant to gauge public support for Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution by electing a citizens’ body on July 30.
But with authorities refusing to greenlight Sunday’s vote and pro-Maduro supporters boycotting it, voters seemed set to reject the president’s scheme.
Likewise, the opposition has told its supporters to stay away from the July 30 election.
The cross-purpose initiatives have given rise to international worries — voiced by the Catholic Church and the head of the UN, Antonio Guterres — that the chances of bringing both sides together for dialogue has become more remote.
That, in turn, is stoking fears of more protests and running street battles with police, which have been persistent for the past three and a half months. Nearly 100 people have died in the unrest since the beginning of April.
While Maduro is deeply unpopular — with 80 percent of Venezuelans criticizing his rule, according to the Datanalisis survey firm — he enjoys backing from some, mostly poor, parts of the population and, most importantly, from the military.
Many Venezuelans, though, are less focused on the political powerplay than they are on getting by day by day under their country’s crushing economic crisis, which has meant shortages of food and medicine.
The opposition, which accuses Maduro of trying to gather dictatorial powers with the constitutional rewrite and other steps, said all was prepared for Sunday’s vote.
“Everything is ready,” one opposition figure, Maria Corina Machado, told AFP.
She predicted Sunday’s vote would “not only reject the Constituent Assembly” — the body Maduro is seeking to have elected to come up with a new constitution — “but will give a mandate for a change of the regime, the end of the dictatorship and the start of a transition with a government of national unity.”
But Maduro, giving a national radio and TV broadcast, portrayed the vote as merely an “internal consultation by the opposition parties” with no electoral legitimacy.
“I call on all Venezuelans to participate peacefully in political events tomorrow, with respect for others’ ideas, with no incidents. Peace is what I ask,” he said.
He directed his followers instead toward a rival poll exercise that, unlike that of the opposition, has been approved by electoral authorities: a dry-run simulation of the election to take place on July 30.
He also repeated claims the opposition was tied to foreign powers — implied to be the “imperialist” United States — with the aim of toppling his government.
The international media, he railed, was covering the opposition vote in a way to justify foreign intervention.
According to Datanalisis, 70 percent of Venezuelans reject Maduro’s idea of a Constituent Assembly.
An opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, said “we’re expecting 62 percent turnout on Sunday — we could get 11 million people” out of the country’s population of 30 million.
Five former Latin American presidents — from Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and two from Costa Rica — were in Venezuela at the opposition’s invitation to act as observers of the vote, alongside electoral experts from various countries.
Former Mexican leader Vicente Fox said on arriving in Caracas that the vote could be the “beginning of the end” of Maduro’s government.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called on Venezuelans to take part in Sunday’s vote “to prevent the definitive collapse” of the country’s institutions.
On Friday, UN Secretary General Guterres said talks were “urgently” needed between the opposition and government to stem the violence and find a “constitutional path” to peace.
Sunday’s vote was being held in 2,000 polling stations across the country, and in 80 countries for Venezuelans abroad.
PHOENIX: Sen. John McCain’s absence from the Senate next week as he recovers from surgery for a blood clot could complicate the GOP’s prospects for advancing health care legislation already on the brink.
Surgeons in Phoenix removed a blood clot from above McCain’s left eye on Friday. The 80-year-old Senate veteran was advised by doctors to remain in Arizona next week, his office said in a statement Saturday. Pathology reports on the clot were expected in the next several days.
A close vote had already been predicted to pass the GOP health care bill, with all Democrats and independents coming out against it and some Republicans opposed or undecided. With the GOP holding a 52-48 majority, they can afford to lose only two Republicans. Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie for final passage.
Two Republicans, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine, have already said they’ll vote against the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who schedules votes in the Senate, could postpone the procedural vote that had been cast as a showdown over the measure designed to replace President Barack Obama’s health care law, commonly called Obamacare. A spokesman for McConnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the impact of McCain’s absence.
McConnell and other GOP leaders have been urging senators to at least vote in favor of opening debate, which would allow senators to offer amendments. In recent days GOP leaders have expressed optimism that they were getting closer to a version that could pass the Senate.
In Phoenix, Mayo Clinic Hospital doctors said McCain underwent a “minimally invasive” procedure to remove the nearly 2-inch (5-centimeter) clot and that the surgery went “very well,” a hospital statement said. McCain was reported to be resting comfortably at his home in Arizona.
McCain is a three-time survivor of melanoma. Records of his medical exams released in 2008 when he was the GOP candidate for president showed that he has had precancerous skin lesions removed and had an early stage squamous cell carcinoma, an easily cured skin cancer, removed.
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump returns to Washington Sunday after a brief overseas respite, facing an enduring and intensifying storm over his campaign’s contacts with Russia.
During two pomp-filled days in Paris and another two playing maitre d’ to professional female golfers driving, chipping and putting their way around his Bedminster course in New Jersey, Trump was in his element.
In the French capital, Trump played the role of honored guest, wooed by new President Emmanuel Macron who was determined to reassert France’s importance on the world stage.
The visit seemed — and indeed was — tailor made for Trump.
It was the presidency as he would no doubt like it, ceremonial, aggrandizing and shorn of its onerous security briefings and tedious policy debates.
Trump even got to attend a military parade of the sort he is rumored to have wanted for his own inauguration.
For a few days, the angry tweets and the rants against the media were largely gone.
In their place, more than a dozen effusive electronic missives that were part tourist postcard, part thank-you note to a cherished host.
Trump variously thanked Macron “for the beautiful welcome ceremony,” for a “great evening” dining at the Eiffel Tower” and for “great conversations.”
“It was a great honor to represent the United States at the magnificent #BastilleDay parade. Congratulations President @EmmanuelMacron!” Trump wrote in one tweet.
Trump’s staff appeared to welcome the respite just as much as their boss, stealing away a few minutes for a late-night Parisian cocktail or Croque Monsieur.
But for staff, the release was tinged with a sense of exhaustion. The last few grueling weeks have seen them fly the president from Washington to Poland to Germany, back to Washington, on to Paris and then to Bedminster.
All the while, aides like chief of staff Reince Priebus have been chained to their phone trying to minimize the damage from new scandals at the same time as manage the passage of major legislation.
Simultaneous travel, scandal and lawmaking would be a massive challenge for even the most efficient White House, much less for Trump’s understaffed, chaotic, besieged and backstabbing administration.
Their return to the “swamp” — as Trump’s camp nicknames the US capital — is unlikely to bring much comfort.
In Washington, the Trump administration faces a fresh string of questions about contacts with a Russian lawyer and lobbyist, further raising the stakes in the federal investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with Russia to tilt last year’s election.
Trump and most of his top associates — from his son Donald Jr to son-in-law and close aide Jared Kushner — have retained hard-charging defense lawyers.
The rolling storms — like the Jupiter tempest captured this week — have made life difficult on the face of planet Trump, without fundamentally altering its trajectory.
While investigations are sucking up vital oxygen in Congress, and lawmakers get asked about little else, there is so far little sign Russiagate is costing Trump votes.
His allies in Congress appear to be edging closer to repealing and replacing health care reform that was the signature legislative achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency.
link banks, Trump and Russia
SHENYANG, China: Deceased Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo was cremated on Saturday while his wife, as well as a prominent rights activist have been “freed,” according to a government official.
Liu, 61, died of multiple organ failure on Thursday in a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang, where he was being treated for late-stage liver cancer, having been given medical parole but not freed.
He had been jailed for 11 years in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” after helping to write a petition known as “Charter 08” calling for sweeping political reforms.
His wife, Liu Xia, has been under effective house arrest since her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but had been allowed to visit him in prison about once a month. She has never been formally charged with any crime.
City government information official Zhang Qingyang said Liu Xiaobo was cremated on Saturday morning, in accordance with his relatives’ wishes and local customs.
His wife Liu Xia was present, and was given the ashes, Zhang told a news conference in Shenyang.
“According to my understanding, Liu Xia is currently free,” he said, adding that as a Chinese citizen, her rights would be protected under the law.
“But she just lost her spouse. She is extremely sad. In the period after dealing with the death of Liu Xiaobo, she won’t take anymore outside disturbances. This is the wish of the family members. It’s natural.”
Zhang did not say where Liu Xia currently was.
Meanwhile, China’s one of the most prominent rights activists was released by the authorities on Saturday after serving a 4-year sentence that prompted international criticism, with his lawyer saying he hoped he would be allowed to live as a free man.
Xu Zhiyong, whose “New Citizens’ Movement” advocated working within the system to press for change, was detained in 2013 and subsequently convicted of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.”
One of the group’s main demands had been for officials to publicly disclose their assets, a demand taken against the backdrop of the ruling Communist Party’s own efforts to crackdown on deep-seat corruption under President Xi Jinping.
Xu’s lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, told Reuters he had brought Xu up to speed with “events on the outside,” including the death of fellow activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Xiaobo. He said Xu was “upset” upon hearing the news.
At the height of Xu’s activism, he attracted hundreds of supporters who participated in activities related to the movement, having first gained prominence in 2003 for helping victims of tainted baby formula and migrant workers without access to health care and education.
JEDDAH: With the growing rates of Islamophobia across the world, Muslims often find themselves in a position where they feel obliged to apologize for any terrorist attack carried out by so-called Muslims, but Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan has a different take on this matter.
The unapologetic 22-year-old Muslim took to the stage to express her frustration in a powerful message to Islamophobes. “If you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one that’s not human.”
Manzoor-Khan’s eloquent poem, titled “This is Not A Humanizing Poem,” took the Roundhouse Poetry Slam’s stage by storm as she won second place.
“This will not be a ‘Muslims are like us’ poem. I refuse to be respectable,” Manzoor-Khan said in her poem. “Instead, love us when we’re lazy. Love us when we’re poor. Love us in our back-to-back council estate, depressed and washed and weeping.”
Manzoor-Khan said that her poem was overwhelmingly well-received by the audience. “The reaction so far has been phenomenally generous and very supportive,” she told Arab News. “I think the poem really resonated with people as I’ve seen a lot of comments and shares where people are really happy I put something they’ve been feeling for a long time into words.”
Manzoor-Khan, who has been performing for three years, usually writes poems that, to some extent, touch her very essence as a Muslim. “I think being Muslim is bound up with being who I am so all of my poems have relevance to being Muslim to some extent,” she said. “But this is the first poem which does so explicitly.”
The deep message Manzoor-Khan wanted to send through her well-spoken performance was to capture how suffocating it is to always have to respond to negative narratives and to be able to only exist as either a “good” Muslim, or a “bad” one, she said. “I wanted to provoke and show people that the burden of proving our humanity should not rest with Muslims, but that the narratives which dehumanize us, and the politics and wars and surveillance they enable — are what we need to focus on more,” she stressed.
“Love us high as kites, unemployed, joy riding, time wasting, failing at school. Love us filthy, without the right color passports, without the right-sounding English,” she said while performing on the Roundhouse stage.
Initially, Muslims were not the target audience the second place runner-up was addressing through her poem, but “non-Muslims as the aim of the poem was to provoke and unsettle,” she explained adding that she is ”very glad and humbled that it has also become somewhat of a point of solidarity for other Muslims.”
Hijab-wearing Manzoor-Khan has often been subjected to profiling in her surroundings like many non-white Muslims. “I am always instantly read and judged as all people are, but because I am visibly Muslim and not white, that judgment is often made within a wider context which portrays Muslims as threatening and problematic,” she said, “[a context] that portrays Muslim women in particular as submissive and passive,” which leads people to often underestimate her capabilities or “make insidious remarks and assumptions about my heritage or religion.”
The three-minute video of Manzoor-Khan’s bold performance has been viewed 1.7 million times on Facebook alone. “My mother texts me too after BBC news alerts. ‘Are you safe? Let me know you’re home okay.’ And she means safe from the incident, yes, but also from the after effects,” she said.
Britain suffered three consecutive terror attacks this year, one of which targeted Muslims near the Finsbury Park Mosque killing one man and injuring at least ten people during the holy month of Ramadan.
ZINGST, Germany: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told voters on Saturday that Britain’s decision to leave the EU and France’s election of President Emmanuel Macron had changed her view on the bloc, adding it was worth fighting for a stronger Europe.
Merkel’s comments, made in a speech in the Baltic Sea resort town of Zingst two months before a federal election, underline her personal determination to deepen European integration if she is re-elected for a fourth term.
Calling EU membership one of Germany’s biggest strengths, Merkel said last year’s Brexit decision and elections in France and the Netherlands, in which pro-European parties defeated populist candidates, had changed her perspective.
“For many people, including myself, something changed when we saw the Britons want to leave, when we were worried about the outcome of the elections in France and the Netherlands,” Merkel told voters, some of whom wore straw hats with black-red-and-gold hatbands, the colors of the German flag.
The center-right chancellor admitted that the EU was far from perfect and that Brussels sometimes was too bureaucratic.
“But we have realized in the past few months that Europe is more than just bureaucracy and economic regulation, that Europe and living together in the European Union have something to do with war and peace, that the decades of peace after World War II would have been completely unthinkable without the European Union,” Merkel said to applause.
Many people in the past had taken the EU and its advantages for granted — such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to travel, said Merkel who grew up in communist East Germany.
“You don’t have all this in many parts of the world. And that’s why it is worth fighting for this Europe,” Merkel said.
“That’s why one of our election placards is saying: If Europe is stronger, then Germany will be stronger. This is directly related.”
Merkel has said she is open to proposals of strengthening the single currency through the creation of a euro zone finance minister who would oversee a pooled budget for investments and transfers intended to help member states cushion downturns.
ABIDJAN: Three soldiers died after shooting erupted overnight at a base in the West African state of Ivory Coast, which has been gripped by tensions within the military, security sources said Saturday.
A senior military official said gunmen attacked military bases in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan and the northern city of Korhogo in the early hours of Saturday, but were repulsed.
Three military sources blamed demobilized former rebel fighters — forces caught up in years of instability in Francophone West Africa’s most important economy — though no group claimed responsibility.
“There was an attack overnight at Abobo (north Abidjan), but there were no deaths. In Korhogo, three of the assailants were killed,” Col. Zakaria Kone, commander of the Abobo camp, told Reuters by telephone. “The situation is now calm.”
He added that a police station in Abobo was also attacked, saying he did not know who had done it or for what motive.
The three military sources in the northern city of Bouake, which sent reinforcements to Korhogo, said the attackers were demobilized fighters from former rebels who controlled the north of the country during Ivory Coast’s crisis from 2002 to 2011.
During that period, northern rebels hostile to then President Laurent Gbagbo seized half the country. An election meant to end the crisis instead triggered a short civil war when Gbagbo refused to concede to President Alassane Ouattara.
Sporadic unrest since then has revealed just how precarious security still is in Ivory Coast, the world’s leading cocoa producer, six years since the war killed thousands of people.
Security has been particularly tense since soldiers made up mostly of former rebels that had backed Ouattara during the crisis mutinied in January. The 8,400 troops involved demanded bonuses they claimed they were owed and were partly paid in order to put it to rest.
But they mutinied again in May, and were paid the remainder of what they had demanded in a deal that risks both angering other factions in the military and encouraging other former rebel fighters to take up arms.
About a week after the mutiny ended, three demobilized ex-rebel fighters were killed in Ivory Coast’s second-biggest city of Bouake, as they clashed with police attempting to end a separate protest over bonus payments.
President Ouattara’s grip on the military and other former rebel fighters is tenuous and many fear that power struggles around a 2020 election to replace him could easily erupt into more violence and instability.
“The soldiers are patrolling everywhere in the town to ensure there is nothing else suspect,” said Korhogo resident Adama Coulibaly.
SITTWE, Myanmar: Three people, including two teenage boys, were killed by an explosion in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state on Saturday, a police officer said.
Police were investigating if the mine had been laid intentionally or if the victims had accidentally struck unexploded ordnance leftover from a previous conflict, an officer told AFP.
“According to our initial information, it was a homemade mine,” the officer said, requesting anonymity.
“It exploded around 10:30 a.m. this morning in a field,” he said, adding that an elderly man and two boys aged 15 and 17 were killed by the blast.
A 13-year-old boy was hospitalized with injuries.
The north of Rakhine state is an impoverished area scarred by a brutal army crackdown on its Muslim Rohingya population.
The campaign was launched in October in response to deadly raids staged by Rohingya militants, who say they are fighting for political rights of stateless minority, which Myanmar has been accused of mistreating for years.
The army crackdown has displaced more than 92,000 Rohingya.
The majority fled across the border to Bangladesh, where they gave harrowing accounts of security officers slaughtering babies, burning people alive and staging gang rapes.
The UN has ordered an investigation into the alleged army abuses, saying they may amount to crimes against humanity.
But Myanmar has vowed to block visas for the UN fact-finding team, with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi warning that their probe would inflame tensions in the region.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner, has faced global censure for not taking a stronger stance on the Rohingya’s plight since coming to power last year.