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Filipino youth stage musical against Duterte’s deadly drugs war

Author: 
Reuters
Sun, 2017-04-02 11:52
ID: 
1491125139601105300

MANILA: A Philippine youth theater club staged a musical at a Manila park on Sunday, challenging President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
The 20-minute show features a casket salesman whose funeral parlour is doing brisk business as corpses pile up.
But the salesman and his friends end up as statistics, falling to vigilante-style killings that have gripped the Southeast Asian nation and alarmed the international community.
“The play talks about the problem in the community with the war on drugs and the irony of it, that a few earn money amid this war and all the killings,” artistic director Jessie Villabrille told Reuters.
More than 8,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers have been killed since Duterte took office on June 30, some in police operations but many others in mysterious circumstances.
The authorities vehemently deny wrongdoing and blame vigilantes and drug gangs for the killings.
Criticism of the war on drugs does not sit with Duterte or his supporters. The brash leader chastised the United Nations and former US president Barack Obama numerous times or criticizing his anti-drugs program.
Duterte won the presidency by a wide margin on the promise of wiping out drugs and criminality.
The theater group plans to take the musical to schools and stage a longer version next month.

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Pakistan sets up unique helpline for women in need

Author: 
AP
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491124667181070700

PESHAWAR: When Durdana married for a second time and to a man of her own choosing, her parents threatened to kill her if she tried to see her new husband. They imprisoned her in their home, but she still had her mobile phone and had learned that a helpline for women had been set up. She noted the number and then one day when she was alone in the house, she called.
Nayab Hassan was on the other end. She had been trained how to answer the call. “Be gentle. Listen. Let them speak. Let them tell you what they want. Sometimes they are very emotional,” she said at the helpline center — located in the sprawling provincial parliament buildings in Pakistan’s deeply conservative Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, where tribal councils still hand over young girls to settle disputes.
Not far from the border with neighboring Afghanistan, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa became the first province in Pakistan to set up a hotline for women that feeds directly into the provincial legislature.
It’s still a small operation. It began March 1 and so far there are only two operators, Hassan and Mehran Akbar. They take the information from the women and Shandana Naeem, a lawyer, follows up with advice and a network of free legal services.
They keep a careful log of all their calls, which average one a day so far, and while most have emanated from the provincial capital of Peshawar, several have come from more remote regions.
Durdana’s call was from Swat, a picturesque mountain region of clear blue lakes that ramble through valleys surrounded by imposing peaks. The area’s beauty is a stark contrast to its dark and violent history. It was in Swat where Pakistan’s Taliban briefly ruled, beheading police in the town square and where Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for advocating girls’ education and criticizing the violent religious radicals as being frightened of female education.
The log book is carefully kept. It records names, dates, phone numbers and then their stories. Some are horrifying.
One woman, Aneesa, called to say that two years earlier her husband had thrown acid at her, stole her money and jewelry and fled to Saudi Arabia. She had moved in with her parents and now her eyesight was deteriorating from the acid attack; she needed medical assistance but had no money to pay for it.
Naeem said they helped her work through the red tape of getting a health card __ the first step to health care. But Aneesa’s call also made them realize the need to engage local health clinics and develop a network that would be willing to offer free health care, similar to their legal service network.
Naeem said most of the calls have been over property disputes, where women were being denied their inheritance.
The helpline was developed by Meraj Humayun Khan, a 70-year-old parliamentarian who has taken on her male colleagues to organize a women’s caucus in the provincial parliament. With the weight of the 22-member caucus behind her, Khan lobbied for the direct helpline to the legislature.
“We need to be in touch with their issues,” she said in an interview. “I can have a lot of ideas but it should come from them.”
The original call that prompted the helpline was a property dispute, said Khan, explaining that Pakistan’s inheritance laws — based on Islamic injunctions — allow male relatives priority and give a lesser share to women. And those women are often denied or intimidated by male relatives to forfeit even that lesser share.
The reason for locating the helpline in the provincial parliament was to collect data from women that would in turn bolster arguments for legislative changes. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province is already behind on women’s right issues; lawmakers there have so far refused to pass an anti-domestic violence law that other provinces have approved.
Hard-line religious parties hold significant sway in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan (whose madrassas or religious schools were favored by Afghanistan’s Taliban) are partners in the provincial coalition government.
The 22 women in the provincial parliament are there on quota seats reserved for women. No female candidate has been able to win a general election seat in the deeply conservative and tribal-dominated province.
Khan says she plans to run on a general seat in the 2018 elections, but she admits even those men who have championed and endorsed her candidacy have been met with skepticism and resistance.
“Everyone they talk to asks ‘That’s all well and good, but don’t you have any men who can run?’” she said. “It’s a humiliation for them to be represented by a woman. They think women don’t know anything about politics, about economics.”
The chairperson of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, Zohra Yusuf, says different provinces are making progress on women’s issues at different paces. Southern Sindh is Pakistan’s most progressive province in terms of laws to safeguard women, she said. Earlier this month the most populous province, Punjab, opened state-of-the-art shelters for women facing abuse at home.
Last year Pakistan passed a bill that essentially closed a loophole which used to allow so-called honor killers to escape punishment.
Yusuf said that despite the legislative progress, on-the-ground enforcement of these new laws still remains a significant hurdle.
“I think the governments are realizing it’s about time something needs to be done,” she said in a telephone interview. “Laws were passed last year, the honor killing bill, rape, violence against women, but still it is about enforcement.”
In Pakistan it is difficult to even get the police to register a case of domestic violence, said Khan, who explained they often see it as a private family issue.
Durdana in Swat, whose family threatened to kill her if she met her husband of choice, was told to go to the police station and charge her parents with unlawful confinement or tell her husband to go to police to demand he be allowed to see her, said Naeem, the helpline lawyer.
That was March 6. Naeem has tried repeatedly to telephone Durdana on the number she gave but it is either turned off or rings unanswered. The dilemma, she says, when giving advice is that there is no way to know whether the police, for example, will help the women or hand them back to the family they are fleeing.
“We have to get the police, the justice system, the many government departments, on our side, working with us,” said Khan the founder of the helpline. “While all government departments agreed . . . we now need them to make good on their promises.”

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UK trade delegation heads to India after Brexit trigger

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-04-02 00:30
ID: 
1491121319740917100

LONDON: British finance minister Philip Hammond will head a business delegation to India next week in an effort to boost international trade as Britain begins the process of leaving the European Union.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Hammond will be joined by International Trade Minister Mark Garnier and Bank of England governor Mark Carney for the high-level talks in New Delhi and Mumbai.
“As we leave the EU and embark on an exciting new phase of our economic history, looking to boost our trade and investment beyond the borders of Europe and strengthening our relationships with the world’s most vibrant economies is more important than ever,” Hammond said in a statement.
Nine months after the shock referendum vote in favor of Britain exiting the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday formally activated Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, starting a two-year countdown for quitting the bloc.
May insists that Britain will pull out of the European single market to control EU immigration as part of her Conservative government’s Brexit plans.
Britain is now looking to strike new trade deals over the coming years with non-EU countries, although it cannot do so while still a member of the bloc.
Next week’s talks form part of the annual UK-India Economic and Financial Dialogue and Hammond’s delegation will include leaders from the field of UK financial services.
India’s “finance sector is undergoing a significant transformation, with new payment firms, small finance banks and insurance players entering the field,” the Treasury statement said.
“This shift presents enormous opportunities for the UK to work much more closely with India’s own exciting Fintech sector.”
The statement added: “The trip is also a significant opportunity, following the triggering of Article 50, for the chancellor to discuss Britain’s new role in the world, as it prepares to revitalize its links with friends and allies, opening up new markets and new opportunities for British businesses.”

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China’s Xinjiang cracks down on Muslim practices

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491083948826984300

BEIJING: China has announced bans on beards and burkas in its remote violence-wracked Xinjiang region as part of tighter “anti-extremism” regulations that also prohibit refusing to watch government propaganda.
Xinjiang is the homeland of the Uighurs — a traditionally Muslim group, many of whom complain of cultural and religious repression and discrimination.
The area has been hit by a wave of deadly unrest, while authorities have stepped up already strict controls and organized mass rallies of thousands of military police to indicate Chinese resolve in crushing security threats.
The new regulations, which will come into force on Saturday, outline prohibitions on growing “abnormal” facial hair or wearing robes that cover the whole body and face.
They also ban spreading “extremist ideas,” refusing to watch or listen to government propaganda on radio or TV, and preventing children from receiving “national education,” according to the text of regulations published on a government website.
China has for years blamed exiled Uighur “separatists” for a series of violent attacks in Xinjiang.

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Al-Shabab women handed stiff prison terms in US

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491081981296866200

WASHINGTON: Two women from an international ring that raised money via small monthly payments for the Al-Shabab in Somalia were dealt stiff prison sentences in Virginia on Friday for their roles.
Muna Osman Jama, 36, of Reston, Virginia, and Hinda Osman Dhirane, 46, of Kent, Washington, were sentenced to 12 years and 11 years in prison, respectively, for providing material support to Al-Shabab, which the US designates a foreign terrorist organization.
They were part of what prosecutors called the “Gang of 15” women in the US, Kenya, Egypt, Netherlands, Sweden and other countries who collected and transmitted funds to support the militant group.
Jama, according to the Justice Department, organized regular online chats for the group.
Evidence from phone calls recorded by US investigators meanwhile showed they had “close connections” with the Al-Shabab leadership, according to a statement.
For the two women, US authorities documented monthly payments over a year and a half for the group, often just $100 at a time. The total reported was $3,600.
They were arrested in 2014 and convicted in a northern Virginia federal district court last October.
Meanwhile, the US Justice Department announced Friday the arrest of a South Carolina man, Zakaryia Abdin, 18, who allegedly intended to travel abroad to join Daesh.
Abdin was arrested late Thursday at Charleston International Airport as he prepared to board a flight.
Abdin, whose family is from Syria according to local media reports, was charged in federal court Friday for attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

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Stranded in Serbia, migrants endure an odyssey of violence

Author: 
The Associated Press
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491078814956494000

BELGRADE: Driven back by police batons and snarling dogs, or beaten and robbed by the smugglers they relied on, migrants caught in Serbia have regularly been victims of violence as they struggle to reach Europe.
About 8,000 migrants have been trapped in the country since the EU closed its borders, hoping to block the so-called Balkans route taken by hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
But migrants continue to cross the region in smaller numbers — a few hundred a day — often with the help of traffickers.
“I could not imagine that European police could be so violent,” Najim Khan, a 21-year-old mason from Pakistan, said in a Belgrade park.
The claims from migrants as well as aid groups are dismissed by the authorities: Croatia says there is “no proof” of abuses, Hungary says it acts “with respect to human dignity,” and Bulgaria says it has looked into every claim “but they were never confirmed.”
Khan, who arrived from Bulgaria a few weeks ago, says that one evening, the police burst into the squat where he was staying in Sofia.
“They beat us, took us to a police station and then to a closed center. They beat us again during transfers,” he said.
Once in Serbia, he tried to reach the EU despite the increased patrols at Hungary’s border, but his group was quickly spotted by the Hungarian police.
“They made us lie on our stomachs, in a line. They ran on our backs, laughing. They were throwing beers in our faces,” Khan said.
“They took our cellphones and broke them. They did not take our money.” In early March, medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) denounced the violence against migrants, calling it a “ritual of brutality… designed to stop people from trying to cross again.”
“The militarization of the EU borders has led to a staggering increase in violence, especially along the Balkans,” said Andrea Contenta of MSF, which has set up a clinic in Belgrade.
“More than half of our patients have experienced violent events during their journey.”
Rados Djurovic, of the Asylum Protection Center in Serbia, said migrants “complain mostly about violence suffered in Hungary, where they were bitten by dogs, hit brutally, causing broken bones.”
Many also complained about abuse in Croatia, but the situation was better in Serbia, where the police have been given clear instructions, according to an aid worker who declined to be named.
Contenta added that although smugglers were responsible for some of the assaults, “the vast majority of our patients reported alleged violence perpetrated by state authorities, mainly by EU member states such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia.”
Attal Shafihullah, a 16-year-old Afghan, said he had experienced both.
One night Shafihullah and three comrades were intercepted by the Bulgarian police as they tried to leave Serbia.
“Sometimes they let you go,” he said. “Other times not.”
This time, the officers beat them, he said.
“Maybe they wanted money,” said Shafihullah, whose face bears the scars of burns suffered when his home went up in flames in Afghanistan.
But he is certain that financial motivations were behind the blows of smugglers he met a few weeks later, as they told the migrants to have money sent to them from back home.
“They wanted to make an example, to show that it is a serious business,” Shafihullah said.
In a Belgrade reception center, 14-year-old Qayum Mohammadi remembered vomiting after being sprayed with tear gas when the bus carrying him and other migrants crashed into a wall while trying to outrun a Bulgarian patrol.
Some weeks later, in Hungary, officers made him lie on the ground before sending him back to Serbia, added the teenager with a budding moustache.
“They told me to put my hands on the ground, and then walked on them… they hit my thighs with a baton” before sending him back to Serbia, he said.
Rights group say the EU border closures have only made the Balkans route more dangerous, now that such attempts are illegal.
Medecins sans Frontieres has registered more than 70 migrant deaths between Greece and Hungary since last year.
The causes of death include hypothermia, drowning, traffic accidents — and suicides.

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UK to Gibraltar: We will protect you in Brexit talks with EU

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491078814896493400

LONDON: Britain sought Saturday to reassure Gibraltar that it will protect the territory’s interests in upcoming talks on exiting the EU amid a dispute with Spain that underscores the complications of Britain’s EU divorce.
Spain has long sought to regain control of Gibraltar, an enclave of 32,000 people on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula that was ceded to Britain in 1713.
On Friday, the EU suggested that Spain would get a veto over the territory’s future relationship with the trading bloc. Gibraltar reacted angrily to the EU position, saying Spain was using the UK’s departure from the EU to force negotiations that it has wanted on the status of the territory.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talked with Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, on Friday to assure him of the UK’s support
“As ever, the UK remains implacable and rock-like in our support for Gibraltar,” Johnson tweeted after the conversation.
British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to mention Gibraltar in her letter triggering formal negotiations on Britain’s departure from the EU — causing dismay in the territory.
The EU fueled that anxiety on Friday when it released a nine-page draft roadmap for the talks, which included a statement that no future agreement after Brexit between Britain and the bloc would apply to Gibraltar unless both the UK and Spain agreed.
The statement on Gibraltar is unique for the EU, which in other matters has called for the 27 remaining members to speak with one voice in talks with Britain. Picardo expressed outrage at being singled out, describing the guidelines as “a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European Council for its own narrow political interests.”
“What we are seeing is a clear manifestation of the predictably predatory attitude that we anticipated Spain would seek to abusively impose on its partners,” he said in a statement.
Although May has since insisted her support for Gibraltar remains firm, some analysts suggest the prime minister’s failure to mention the territory in her letter supports the idea that it is a colony, not an integral part of the UK
Christian Hernandez, president of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, disagreed. Gibraltar became a member of the EU when Britain joined the bloc in 1973, and it is considered part of the UK for all matters relating to the EU, he told the BBC on Saturday.
The people of Gibraltar, who rely on an open border with Spain to fuel their economy, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU during the referendum on Britain’s membership but also has similarly voted to stay in the UK They will be leaving the EU, however, because a majority in Britain voted to leave.

“We have to trust that the British government is going to represent the interests of its British citizens in Gibraltar,” Hernandez said. “Gibraltar has always been a good friend and ally of mainland UK, and I think that the British government now needs to stand firm in the face of Spanish bullying.”
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis recently pledged to ensure an open border.
If the proposal on Gibraltar is accepted as the EU’s bargain position, it would increase Spain’s leverage in the debate over the enclave’s future.
The territory’s strategic location overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, has long made it an ideal location for military bases.
Timothy Boswell, chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, said May’s omission was “unfortunate,” because “the door has been opened for the EU to present it as a disputed territory, without a voice of its own in negotiations that will have profound implications for its future prosperity.”
Clare Moody, a member of the opposition Labour Party who represents Gibraltar and southwestern England in the European Parliament, said it was a “shock” that May didn’t mention the territory.
“If the government has overlooked the interests of Gibraltar, which is a crucial part of the constitutional arrangements of our membership of the EU, then what else are they going to overlook?” she told the BBC.

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British role in European security ‘unconditional’

Author: 
REUTERS
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491078814886493100

PARIS: Britain’s contribution to European security is “unconditional,” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told a French newspaper, denying the government had made a veiled threat to reduce cooperation if there was no post-Brexit trade deal.
Prime Minister Theresa May said in a letter to the EU on Wednesday that “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened” if Britain left the bloc without a new deal on trade and other matters.
Asked in an interview with France’s Le Figaro whether Britain was looking to exchange security cooperation against a trade deal, Johnson said: “No, on the contrary.”
“We regard the UK’s traditional and historic contribution to the security and stability of Europe as something that is unconditional,” he said in the interview published on Saturday.
“We will continue to make this contribution because we believe it is good for the whole of Europe and indeed of the world. It’s in our interests as much as anybody else’s and we hope this will be one of the ways in which we can continue to work very closely (with the EU) in a deep and special partnership.”
Johnson said what Britain wanted was “a strong EU buttressed by a strong UK.”
Brexit minister David Davis also said on Thursday that May’s words did not amount to a threat.
“This is a statement of the fact that this will be harmful for both of us (Britain and the EU) … if we don’t get a deal. It’s an argument for having a deal,” he said.
Despite these assurances, May’s words were widely interpreted as a veiled threat on both sides of the Channel. The Sun, a pro-Brexit British tabloid newspaper, ran the front-page headline “Your money or your lives” the day after May’s letter.
Johnson told Le Figaro he thought the chances of Britain leaving the EU without an agreement were “very small.”
The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said on Friday that the effect of Brexit on the bloc’s joint defense and security operations would be minimal.
She said she expected security and defense cooperation between Britain and the EU to continue after Brexit, not least through NATO.

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Germany opens spying probe into Turkish religious agency

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491076104146127800

BERLIN: Germany has opened a probe into the actions of a senior member of a Turkish governmental religious organization suspected of asking its members to spy on followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, German media reported Friday.
The German federal prosecutor had announced earlier in the week the opening of an investigation into claims that Turkish agents have been spying on followers of Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt last year.
Relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey have been strained by disputes centered on human rights issues, especially since last July’s failed coup and a subsequent crackdown on alleged conspirators.
The row deepened after Germany and the Netherlands blocked campaign events by Turkish ministers earlier this month ahead of a referendum vote to boost presidential powers. In an angry response, Erdogan accused both countries of using “Nazi” methods.
More than 41,000 people in Turkey have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen’s movement, and 100,000 fired or suspended from their jobs. Many of them are teachers, police, magistrates and journalists.
Boris Pistorius, interior minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, said on Tuesday that Erdogan’s government had asked Berlin to help spy on about 300 alleged Gulen supporters in Germany.
On Friday the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily and regional public television channels said that German prosecutors had last month begun investigating Halife Keskin, who heads the foreign relations department of the Turkish state religious affairs agency Diyanet.
According to the media reports, Germany suspects the agency of asking its members based overseas, notably imams in Germany, to gather information on people deemed close to Gulen.
The German Der Spiegel weekly reported Friday that Diyanet had asked Turkish consulates in 35 countries to gather information about Gulen supporters.
The magazine cited Australia, Nigeria, Mauritania and Mongolia as among the countries targeted.

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Venezuela leader urges court to review ruling on congress

Author: 
The Associated Press
Sun, 2017-04-02 03:00
ID: 
1491076104106127500

CARACAS, Venezuela: President Nicolas Maduro urged Venezuela’s Supreme Court early Saturday to review a decision stripping congress of its last powers, a ruling that set off a storm of criticism from the opposition and foreign governments.
The announcement came just hours before the opposition hoped to mount big protests against the socialist government, spurred by anger over the ruling.
In an address early after a Friday night meeting presided over by Maduro, the National Security Council announced that was supporting a review by the court “with the goal of maintaining institutional stability.”
The announcement capped an extraordinary day in which Venezuela’s chief prosecutor and long-time loyalist of the socialist government broke with the Maduro administration and denounced the court ruling. Luisa Ortega Diaz said it was her “unavoidable historical duty” as the nation’s top judicial authority to decry the ruling against the opposition-controlled National Assembly as a “rupture” of the constitutional order.
“We call for reflection so that the democratic path can be retaken,” she said to the loud applause of aides gathered around her.
Maduro called the meeting of the council seeking to calm the political uproar, though at least one key member refused to attend while criticism from other governments mounted.
Dressed in black and waving a small blue book containing the Venezuelan constitution early in the televised meeting, Maduro likened the international condemnation of this week’s Supreme Court decision to a “political lynching.”
About a dozen officials were present at the session, but among those notably absent was congress President Julio Borges, who said the meeting was no more than a circus act created for a convenient photo opportunity by the same person the opposition blames for the country’s troubles.
“In Venezuela the only dialogue possible is the vote,” Borges said.
On Friday, troops from the National Guard fired buckshot and swung batons at students protesting in front of the Supreme Court. A few people were arrested and some journalists covering the demonstration had their cameras taken. A few other, small protests popped up elsewhere in the capital.
Larger demonstrations were expected Saturday in what opposition leaders hoped would be a big turnout to denounce Maduro and call for elections.
“We all have to get out — for the dignity of our country, the dignity of our children and the dignity of Venezuela,” Borges said in urging Venezuelans to join in protests Saturday.
The Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that until lawmakers abided by previous rulings that nullified all legislation passed by congress, the high court could assume the constitutionally assigned powers of the National Assembly, which has been controlled by the opposition since it won a landslide victory in elections in late 2015.
Friday brought a second day of condemnations of the ruling by the US and governments across Latin America. The head of the Organization of American States likened the decision to a “self-inflicted coup” by the leftist Maduro, and the UN’s top human rights official urged the high court to reverse its decision.

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