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Christian teen imprisoned in Pakistan over blasphemy

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Sun, 2017-08-20 20:49
ID: 
1503240227931472600

LAHORE, Pakistan: A Christian teenager in Pakistan has been arrested and imprisoned for allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an, officials said Sunday.
The incident occurred in the central province of Punjab, with a local police official saying police had caught 18-year-old Asif Massih “red-handed.”
“On the night of August 12, police received a complaint that a Christian boy has been found burning pages of the holy Qur’an outside a shrine,” Asghar Ali told AFP.
The incident was confirmed by another local police official, Pervaiz Iqbal, who is investigating the case.
“When the police took the suspect into custody and brought him to a police check-post, a crowd of around 200 men gathered outside…demanding the culprit be handed over to them,” Iqbal said.
“We then secretly moved the culprit to the police station in Wazirabad where he was interrogated and confessed to his crime.”
Massih was charged under section 295-B of Pakistan’s penal code, added Iqbal, referring to a part of the country’s constitution that makes the death sentence mandatory for anyone who damages or desecrates the Qur’an.
He will stand trial and faces the possibility of being put to death.
Blasphemy is a sensitive charge in the conservative Muslim country, where even unproven allegations can trigger mob lynchings and violence.
A Pakistani man was sentenced to death for committing blasphemy on Facebook in June.
In May, a 10-year old boy was killed and five others were wounded when a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy for allegedly posting an incendiary image on social media.
At least 65 people have been murdered by vigilantes over blasphemy allegations since 1990.

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Crowds rally in Hong Kong after activists jailed

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-08-20 15:30
ID: 
1503233082370850600

HONG KONG: Thousands of supporters of three jailed young democracy activists took to the streets in Hong Kong Sunday to protest their sentences.
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies, were sentenced to six to eight months in jail Thursday for their role in a protest that sparked the months-long demonstrations calling for democratic reforms.
People took on the summer heat to stream from the district of Wan Chai to the Court of Final appeal in the heart of Hong Kong Island, protesting the jail terms.
They held signs including: “Give back hope to my children” and “One prisoner of conscience is one too many” as they gathered in one of the biggest recent rallies the city has seen.
William Cheung, an engineer in his 40s, described the ruling as “the beginning of white terror” in Hong Kong.
“These young people are our hope for the future. We shouldn’t treat them like this,” Jackson Wai, a retired teacher in his 70s, told AFP as he teared up.
Rights groups and activists called the case against the trio “political persecution” and more evidence that an assertive Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.
The Beijing-backed Hong Kong government brought the case for harsher sentences against the three, saying previous non-custodial terms were too light and did not serve as a deterrent to activists undermining stability.
University student Ann Lee said the government’s efforts to overturn the previous sentences were “attempts to intimidate us from taking part in acts of resistance.”
Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland after being handed back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal, but there are growing fears Beijing is trampling the agreement.
The three jailed protest leaders were found guilty last year on unlawful assembly charges for storming a fenced-off government forecourt known as “Civic Square” as part of a protest calling for fully free leadership elections in September 2014.
Wong and former legislator Law, who was disqualified from parliament last month following Beijing intervention, had expressed their intentions to run for office in future elections, but will be prevented from standing for five years because their jail terms exceeded three months.
Wally Yeung, one of the panel of three judges that handed down the jail terms, said in a written judgment there had been an “unhealthy trend” of people in Hong Kong breaking the law for the sake of their ideals and having what he described as “arrogant and self-righteous ideas.”
Protesters stayed on until the evening Sunday as campaigners addressed the crowds and messages of solidarity were projected onto the building of the Court of Final Appeal.
Veteran activist and former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who was ousted along with Nathan Law, said elite officials including the justice chief understood the 2014 mass protests differently from judges of lower courts, who adjudicated on everyday matters in society and had decided on lighter sentences for the protest leaders.
“Those at the top — they are the ones who met with Xi Jinping during the July visit and were lectured by him,” said Leung, referring to the high-profile visit last month where the Chinese President delivered a hard-line message warning against challenges to China’s control of Hong Kong.
Lau Siu-lai, another unseated lawmaker, told supporters the court cases against activists in recent months sought to wear them out, bankrupt them and “push Hong Kong people into a state of heartbrokenness and giving up.”
Former colonial governor Chris Patten slammed the government’s move to persecute the activists.
“The names of Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law will be remembered long after the names of those who have persecuted them have been forgotten and swept into the ashcan of history,” wrote Patten in a letter to the editor at the Financial Times Saturday.
Wong, 20, is currently held in a high security prison for young male offenders. Law and Chow are at a maximum security holding center.

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Muslims fear anti-Islam backlash in tolerant Barcelona

Author: 
AFP
Sat, 2017-08-19 22:29
ID: 
1503227199260476700

BARCELONA: Prayer time is approaching but Raja Miah, an imam at a tiny mosque in the heart of Barcelona does not expect a big turnout.
Since the twin attacks in Barcelona and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils claimed by the Daesh group, the Muslim community in central Barcelona’s neighborhood of Raval fears an anti-Islam backlash.
“People are very scared,” said Miah, 23, as he sat in a small room at the mosque in Raval as a small group of children in an adjoining room studied the Qur’an.
Raval — whose name derives from the Arabic word for neighborhood — is located just west of Barcelona’s bustling Las Ramblas boulevard where a van plowed into pedestrians on Thursday, killing 13 and injuring dozens of others. Just hours later, another person died in a similar attack in the holiday town of Cambrils, where police shot five suspects dead.
“There is a lot of fear, people don’t go out. Very few people come to pray. Normally we are about 40 people, last night we weren’t even 15 and this morning 10,” said Miah, who moved to Barcelona nine years ago from Bangladesh.
Spain’s Muslim community has until now been spared from the islamophobia that has swept parts of Europe.
Far-right parties remain barely visible and just four percent of Spaniards consider immigration to be a problem, according to a survey by the government’s Center for Sociological Research (CIS).
But the string of attacks in Europe, claimed by Daesh, has sparked a rise in hate incidents.
The number of recorded cases jumped from just 48 in 2014 to 534 in 2015, according to a campaign group, the Citizens’ Platform Against Islamophobia.
And Muslims fear it will get worse following the twin attacks.
The narrow and normally noisy streets of Raval were silent on Saturday morning.
Immigrants account for roughly half of the densely-populated neighborhood’s population, with a huge number of people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Morocco.
“(The) Spaniards treat us well, they help us, they make us feel at home,” said Raja.
But just minutes after the attack in Barcelona, he said he could feel that something was changing. When he fled the Ramblas area in the wake of the attacks he was stopped by police.
“It’s normal, they saw me with my beard and robe and they stopped me. But you feel bad,” he said.
“We fear that the same will happen here as in France, Britain or other places” where far-right parties have grown strongly in recent years, said Islam Zahid, 22, who runs a small supermarket in back streets of Raval. Children could be heard playing football in the background.
About 100 members of Barcelona’s Muslim community, many of them tearful, gathered on Las Ramblas on Saturday to demonstrate against the twin attacks in Spain.
“They are not Muslims, they are terrorists” and “Islam is peace,” they shouted.
Marzouk Rouj, a 39-year-old Moroccan construction worker who went to the demonstration with his daughter, said the bloodshed left him “shattered.”
“I have lived more years here than in my (own) country. My children go to school here and I don’t want people to look at them negatively because of some barbarians,” said Rouj, who moved to Spain from Nador in northern Morocco when he was just 16.
Several Muslims left flowers at an impromptu shrine on Las Ramblas.
“In the end Muslims are the main victims, for the deaths as well as for the social pressure,” said Xantal Genovart, vice president of the Association of Catalan Muslim women.
Catalonia is home to about a quarter of Spain’s 1.9 million Muslims — and it is also a center of jihadism, according to experts.
Even so, Mounir Benjelloun, president of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities, remains optimistic.
“I think that Spain will know how to handle this and will separate the culprits from the rest so a xenophobic message does not prosper,” he said.
The initial signs are encouraging. A small group of anti-Islam protesters who turned up at Las Ramblas on Friday were forced to leave after passers-by began to shout “No racists” at them.

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Police: Bandits abduct 7 Pakistani officers

Author: APSun, 2017-08-20 03:00ID: 1503223154100257000MULTAN: Pakistani police say bandits have abducted seven policemen from a forested area of southern Punjab.
They say the gang wants several of its members who are behind bars to be freed.


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Bangladesh sentences 10 to death for plot to kill PM Hasina

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-08-20 12:47
ID: 
1503222671270219600

DHAKA: A Bangladesh court sentenced ten Islamist militants to death Sunday over a failed plot to assassinate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina by detonating a huge bomb at one of her rallies.
The men were sentenced to death by firing squad for planting a huge explosive near where Hasina was scheduled to speak during her first term as prime minister in 2000, prosecutor Shamsul Haq Badol told AFP.
“The bomb was planted in an attempt to kill Sheikh Hasina, high-ranking leaders of the (ruling) Awami League party and dignitaries,” Badol said.
The 76 kilogram (167 pound) explosive was detected and defused, sparking a manhunt for those responsible for the assassination attempt on Hasina, who is in her third term as leader of Bangladesh’s secular government.
Police allege the operation was led by Mufti Abdul Hannan, the late leader of extremist group Harakat ul Jihad Al Islami, which perpetrated a string of attacks across Bangladesh in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Hannan, the main accused in the failed bomb plot, was hanged in April for orchestrating a grenade attack on Britain’s envoy to Bangladesh in 2004.
The accused in this latest case wanted to kill Hasina because “they said she was not a Muslim, and an agent of India, and Islam can be established (in Bangladesh) only by killing her,” Badol said.
He said another large explosive was found three days later at a helipad where Hasina was scheduled to land.
A separate prosecutor, Khandaker Abdul Mannan, said those sentenced to death were also implicated in other assaults, including a deadly bombing at a church and a secular festival.
Defense lawyer Faruque Ahmed said the defendants would lodge an appeal through the jail authorities.
“There are a lot of questions about this case. The defendants said they did not get justice,” he told AFP.
Hannan tried to kill Hasina in a separate grenade attack at a rally in the capital Dhaka in August 2004, in which 22 people were killed, Badol said.
Hasina, who was opposition leader at that time, suffered injuries to her ear in the carnage.
A madrassa teacher who studied in India and Pakistan, Hannan fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan before returning home to Bangladesh where he rose to prominence for a string of deadly attacks under his command.

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Russia steps up probe into attack claimed by Daesh

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-08-20 12:43
ID: 
1503222671360219900

MOSCOW: Russia said Sunday that a stabbing which injured seven people and was claimed by the Daesh group is being probed by top investigators in Moscow, as new details emerged.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack in the remote city of Surgut along with the attacks in Spain that killed 14 through its Amaq propaganda agency, calling the attacker “a soldier of the Islamic State (Daesh).”
A black-clad attacker in a balaclava ranged through central streets of the city around 2,100 kilometers (1,330 miles) northeast of Moscow on Saturday morning, stabbing people apparently at random before being shot by police.
Russia, which initially said the theory of terrorism was “not the main one” being considered, has opened a criminal probe into attempted murder and has not reacted officially to the Daesh claim.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said in a statement on Sunday that “due to the wide public reaction,” its chief Alexander Bastrykin has put the case directly under control of its central apparatus in Moscow.
Investigators said they had carried out searches of the attacker’s home and were establishing the circumstances and the “motive for the attacker’s actions.”
The attacker was born in 1998, the Investigative Committee said, while previously it had said he was born in 1994.
Unconfirmed media reports on Saturday had described the attacker as a 19-year-old whose father originates from Dagestan in Russia’s mainly-Muslim North Caucasus region.
Video posted by Izvestia newspaper on its website on Sunday showed the attacker, a slim young man, lying on the ground dressed all in black with a red object taped round his waist.
NTV television aired witness video of a policeman chasing the attacker through streets and firing apparently at his head, after which the attacker falls to the ground.
Earlier investigators said that they were looking into the attacker’s “possible psychiatric disorders.”
One of the stabbing victims remained in a serious condition while the others were stable, investigators said.
Late Saturday, the governor of the region Natalya Komarova visited the wounded in hospital. She said one victim was fighting for his life.

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related_nodes: 
Daesh claims Russia knife attack wounding 7
Saudi Arabia denounces terrorist stabbing attacks in Russia and Finland
3 people dead, several injured after stabbings in Finland and Germany

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Turkish political refugees flock to Germany, seeking safety

Author: 
AP
Sun, 2017-08-20 03:00
ID: 
1503220699330122900

BERLIN: The Turkish judge sits in a busy cafe in a big German city. Thirteen months ago, he was a respected public servant in his homeland. Now he is heartbroken and angry over the nightmarish turn of events that brought him here.
The day after a 2016 coup attempt shook Turkey, he was blacklisted along with thousands of other judges and prosecutors. The judge smiles, sadly, as he recounts hiding at a friend’s home, hugging his crying son goodbye and paying smugglers to get him to safety.
“I’m very sad I had to leave my country,” he said, asking for his name and location to be withheld out of fear that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government might track him down. “But at least I’m safe and out of Erdogan’s reach. He cannot hurt me anymore.”
Germany has become the top destination for political refugees from Turkey since the failed July 15, 2016 coup. Some 5,742 Turkish citizens applied for asylum here last year, more than three times as many as the year before, according to the Interior Ministry. Another 3,000 Turks have requested protection in Germany this year.
The figures include people fleeing a long-simmering conflict in the Kurdish region of southeastern Turkey, but the vast majority belong to a new class of political refugees: diplomats, civil servants, military members, academics, artists, journalists and anti-Erdogan activists accused of supporting the coup.
With many of them university-educated and part of the former elite, “their escape has already turned into a brain-drain for Turkey,” said Caner Aver, a researcher at the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research in Essen.
Germany is a popular destination because it’s already home to about 3.5 million people with Turkish roots and has been more welcoming of the new diaspora than other Western nations, Aver said.
“Some of the highly qualified people also try getting to the US and Canada because most speak English, not German. But it’s just much harder to get there,” Aver said. “Britain has always been popular, but less so now because of Brexit.”
Comparable figures for post-coup asylum requests from Turks were not available for other countries.
More than 50,000 people have been arrested in Turkey and 110,000 dismissed from their jobs for alleged links to political organizations the government has categorized as terror groups or to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara blames the Muslim cleric, a former Erdogan ally, for the coup attempt. Gulen denies the claim.
The true number of recent Turkish arrivals to Germany exceeds official asylum requests. Many fleeing academics, artists and journalists came on scholarships from German universities or political foundations. Some got in via relatives. Others entered with visas obtained before the failed coup.
The judge, a slim man in his 30s with glasses, arrived illegally by paying thousands of euros to cross from Turkey to Greece on a rubber dinghy and then continuing on to Germany.
Two other Turks in Germany — an artist who asked for anonymity, fearing repercussions for her family back home, and a journalist sentenced to prison in absentia — also spoke of ostracism and flight.
Ismail Eskin, the journalist, left Turkey just before he was sentenced to 3½ years in prison on terrorism-related charges. The 29-year-old worked for the Ozgur Gundem newspaper and the Kurdish news agency Dicle Haber Ajansi until the government shut them down shortly after the failed coup.
Eskin tried to write for different online news sites but the Turkish government blocked them too. He reluctantly decided to leave when the situation became unbearably difficult for journalists — about 160 are now in jail.
“I kept changing places to avoid being arrested, and I hid that I was a journalist,” Eskin said, chain-smoking at a Kurdish immigrants’ center. He hasn’t applied for asylum but is studying German — an acknowledgment he might be here to stay.
The judge said he “never supported any kind of coup” and had no connection to the Gulen movement but took hurriedly packed a few belongings and went to a friend’s place after learning he was among more than 2,000 judges and prosecutors being investigated.
A few hours later, police searched his apartment and took his computer.
His wife and children had been out of town during the coup attempt. While he was in hiding, his wife was told she had 15 days to move out. Friends and relatives stopped talking to her. After several months, he chose to leave.
“Since there’s no independent justice in Turkey anymore, I would have been exposed to injustice, maybe be tortured, if I had surrendered,” he said.
He sold his car and paid 8,500 euros ($9,910) to a smuggler for a December boat trip to a Greek island. From there, he flew to Italy and on to Germany. He brought his wife, son and daughter to join him a few weeks later.
The number of Turkish citizens fleeing to Germany has complicated the already tense relations between Ankara and Berlin. Accusing Germany of harboring terrorists, Turkey has demanded the extradition of escaped Turkish military officers and diplomats.
At least 221 diplomats, 280 civil servants and their families have applied for asylum, Germany says. Along with refusing to comply with the extradition requests, Germany has lowered the bar for Turkish asylum-seekers — those given permission to remain increased from 8 percent of applicants last year to more than 23 percent in the first half of 2017.
Some Turkish emigres have started building new lives in exile.
The artist from Istanbul lost her university job in graphic design before the 2016 coup because she was one of more than 1,000 academics who triggered Erdogan’s ire by signing a “declaration for peace” in Turkey.
She went to Berlin on a university scholarship in September, not long after the attempted coup. In February, she discovered she’d been named a terror group supporter and her Turkish passport was invalidated.
“Now I’m forced into exile, but that’s better than to be inside the country,” the woman in her early 30s said.
The artist said she’s doing fine in Berlin. She enrolled at a university and has had her work exhibited at a small gallery. Yet with her family still in Turkey, some days the enormity of the change weighs on her.
“In the winter I was so homesick,” she said. “I really felt like a foreigner, in my veins and in my bones.”

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Britain will not exclude possible EU oversight of UK borders after Brexit

Author: 
Reuters
Sun, 2017-08-20 11:43
ID: 
1503220488720104100

LONDON: Britain will not rule out the possibility that the European Union may retain oversight of customs controls at UK borders after it leaves the bloc, as the country seeks ways to keep unhindered access to EU markets following Brexit.
Last week, the UK published a policy document proposing two possible models for British-EU customs arrangements after withdrawal from the EU in 2019.
The first model was a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” which involved the re-introduction of a customs border but which envisaged electronic tracking of shipments, rather than physical checks of goods and documents at the border.
An alternative proposal was the “new customs partnership” which would remove the need for a UK-EU customs border altogether.
Under this model, the UK would operate as if it was still part of the bloc for customs purposes. British goods would be exported tariff-free and Britain would levy EU tariffs on goods coming into the UK for onward passage to the EU directly or as components in UK export goods.
However, lawyers said there would be a need for a mechanism to oversee the “new customs partnership” to ensure that the UK was correctly monitoring goods coming into the UK and destined for Europe.
The EU’s system of movement of goods across EU borders without checks works on the basis that all members closely monitor shipments coming into the bloc from outside, to ensure the correct tariffs are paid and that goods meet EU standards.
WEAKNESSES
The EU anti-fraud agency OLAF polices customs agencies across Europe to ensure they are correctly monitoring imports. OLAF has the powers to conduct on-the-spot inspections and seek information from customs bodies.
If OLAF finds weaknesses in a country’s systems and that the member is not charging the appropriate duties on imports from outside the EU, it will recommend that the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, should recover money from the offending member.
For example, in March OLAF slammed lax UK border controls and recommended the European Commission reclaim 2 billion euros the agency said was lost because Britain had failed to apply the correct EU duties on imports of Chinese clothes and footwear in recent years.
A spokesman for the UK’s tax authority said it questioned OLAF’s estimate of lost revenue. Duties collected are paid to Brussels.
Commission duty recovery claims can be appealed to the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), the EU’s highest court.
UK Prime Minster Theresa May has said the UK will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ after Britain’s exit from the bloc.
However, the British finance ministry declined to say if the country would bar OLAF from policing the UK’s customs system under the “new customs partnership” model or whether it would allow the Commission to make demands for recovery of lost duties.
“The exact form of the arrangements will be agreed as part of the negotiations,” a ministry spokeswoman said.
MONEY AND EFFORT
Lode Van Den Hende, a partner with Herbert Smith Freehills in Brussels, said it was hard to see how the customs partnership model could work without OLAF or a similar body policing the UK’s monitoring of imports destined for the EU.
“In practical terms they (Britain and the EU) would have to operate in the same way or the whole thing would fall apart,” he said.
Bernard Jenkin, a member of parliament for May’s Conservative party, who backed Brexit in last year’s referendum, said he opposed continued EU oversight of UK borders.
“There is no need for an EU institution to police our customs, and we should not accept this,” he said in a statement.
“Any dispute about each other’s customs arrangements should be settled by an independent arbitrator, as with any other international agreement, not by an institution which belongs only to one party of the agreement,” he added.
Van Den Hende said the ECJ may not accept the creation of an independent body to oversea EU customs. Customs are a matter of EU law and the court is supposed to be the highest authority on this.
Also, the breadth of areas in which the UK wishes to retain free trade with Europe means many such independent arbitrators would be required. They would be needed to monitor enforcement of health standards, standards in financial services and rules that apply to a host of other regulated markets.
“In theory you can design that, but in practice neither the UK nor the EU would want that because you would be replicating institutions which already exist. It would be a huge amount of money and effort,” he said.
“This is in one of the fundamental problems about Brexit. The UK wants to retain deep integration but the UK doesn’t like the institutions that administer all this stuff,” Van Den Hende said.

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Philippines deploys troops to a 2nd province to fight bird flu

Author: 
Reuters
Sun, 2017-08-20 11:35
ID: 
1503218461240018200

MANILA: The Philippines has deployed more troops to cull thousands of chickens one day after the farm ministry confirmed the spread of bird flu into a second province north of the capital, Manila.
More than 100 soldiers were sent on Saturday to the towns of Jaen and San Isidro in Nueva Ecija province after two cases of avian flu were detected in quails, army spokesman Lt. Col. Isagani Nato said in a statement.
The new bird flu cases were about 50 km (30 miles) from the initial outbreak in a swampy area of Pampanga that is a sanctuary for migratory birds from China.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the bird flu outbreak, nor the exact strain, on which tests are being done in Australia.
There has been no case of human transmission in either outbreak, and early tests have ruled out highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.
Nato said the deployment in Nueva Ecija followed a request from the Bureau of Animal Industry in the Department of Agriculture for assistance “after confirming a new incident of bird flu outbreak.”
He said troops were now undergoing training on how to do their jobs.
The 300 soldiers sent to Pampanga on Thursday culled nearly 30,000 chicken from a farm within a one kilometer radius of the first bird flu outbreak.
The farm ministry said about 600,000 chickens on about 36 farms in Pampanga will be culled. It did not say how many will be culled in the second province.

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Thousands join anti-racism march in Boston

Author: AFPSun, 2017-08-20 08:30ID: 1503218461200018100BOSTON: Thousands of anti-racism demonstrators flooded the streets of Boston Saturday, dwarfing a gathering of white nationalists in the city and triggering scuffles with police but avoid…