Rohingya rebel leader challenges Myanmar’s Suu Kyi, vows to fight on

Author: 
Antoni Slodkowski | Reuters
Sat, 2017-04-01 13:30
ID: 
1491027999912530100

YANGON, Myanmar: The leader of a Rohingya Muslim insurgency against Myanmar’s security forces said on Friday his group would keep fighting “even if a million die” unless the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, took action to protect the religious minority.
Attacks on Myanmar border guard posts in October last year by a previously unknown insurgent group ignited the biggest crisis of Suu Kyi’s year in power, with more than 75,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh in the ensuing army crackdown.
In his first independently conducted media interview, Ata Ullah, who has been identified by analysts and local people as the group’s leader, denied links to foreign Islamists and said it was focused on the rights of the Rohingya, who say they face persecution at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority.
“If we don’t get our rights, if 1 million, 1.5 million, all Rohingya need to die, we will die,” he said, speaking via a video call from an undisclosed location. “We will take our rights. We will fight with the cruel military government.”
A United Nations report issued last month said Myanmar’s security forces have committed mass killings and gang rapes against Rohingya during their campaign against the insurgents, which may amount to crimes against humanity.
The military has denied the accusations, saying it was engaged in a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.
“No one will be above the law,” said Suu Kyi’s spokesman Zaw Htay, responding to questions from Reuters on Friday about the insurgent leader’s comments. “If they attack us violently, we will respond the same way. Nowhere in the world would violent action be tolerated.”

Ethnic clashes
More than a million Rohingya live in northwestern Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where they are denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to services such as health care. Serious ethnic clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in 2012 in which more than 100 people were killed and some 140,000 were displaced.
“In 2012, lots of things happened and they killed us, so we understood at that time, they would not give us our rights,” said Ata Ullah.
A report by the International Crisis Group in December said the insurgent group, which at first called itself Harakah Al-Yaqin, Arabic for “Faith Movement,” was formed by Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia after the 2012 violence.
It identified Ata Ullah, who appeared in a series of videos claiming responsibility for the Oct. 9 attacks on security forces, as the group’s leader.
Ata Ullah said decades of resentment at their treatment had prompted hundreds of young Rohingya men to join him after he returned to Rakhine following several years in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.
“We can’t turn on the lights at night. We can’t move from one place to another during the day too. Everywhere checkpoints. That is not the way human beings live,” he said.
Rohingya refugees Reuters has spoken to in camps in Bangladesh have said that many initially sympathized with the insurgents, but that the violence their campaign has unleashed had cost them support. Some have described how suspected government informers were killed by fighters.

“We survive by selling cows”
In the earlier videos, Ata Ullah had cited Qur’anic verse and called for “jihad.”
Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, said he “urged the international community to see the group’s background…they are linked with terrorist organizations from the Middle East.”
But Ata Ullah denied the group, which issued a statement earlier this week saying it was changing its name to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, had any connections with other militants or received outside support.
“We have no groups who help us from behind, whether from here or also abroad…We survive here by selling cows and buffalos,” he said.
Myanmar’s military said last month that what it called a clearance operation in northwestern Rakhine had ended, although the area remains closed to outside observers.
Ata Ullah did not respond to several questions regarding the group’s future strategy, its current location or how many fighters were left with him. Flanking him as a spoke to Reuters was another man brandishing a machine gun.
The Rohingya crisis has posed the biggest challenge to Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi’s government, which on Thursday marked its first year in power. Her defenders say there is little she can do, given the constitution gives her no control over the military.
“The people are in such trouble, the military is so cruel to many in the Rohingya community, so she should speak out, do something for these people as a Nobel prize winner,” said Ata Ullah. “If she tries to do something for us, the military would do something to her government. That’s why she will not protect us.”

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Myanmar’s armed Rohingya militants deny terrorist links
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Australia floods still rising with two dead, four missing

Author: 
Daniel De Carteret | AFP
Sat, 2017-04-01 13:20
ID: 
1491031209402580300

BEENLEIGH, Australia: Flooded rivers were still rising Saturday in two Australian states with two women dead and four people missing after torrential rains in the wake of a powerful tropical cyclone.
Queensland police warned that the Logan River, which runs through Beenleigh south of Brisbane, would only hit peak flood levels during the afternoon while further north the city of Rockhampton was also facing a serious threat.
Commissioner Ian Stewart warned there was “still a major risk to the community around Logan and further south caused by that flooding situation.”
Rockhampton, with a population of over 80,000 on the Fitzroy River, was expected to suffer flood levels not seen for a century and Stewart urged residents in low-lying areas to leave.
“By Wednesday, we will be at peak flooding in Rockhampton,” he said.
“It will be a gradual rise, so I encourage people to move now.”
Queensland police tweeted “we currently have four people missing… that we have serious concerns about,” including a 77-year-old man.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from a string of towns in Queensland and New South Wales as the floods move south toward Ballina, cutting roads.
Others have tried to stick it out to save their properties.
The scene was grim along the Logan river.
Casey Bently, a 47-year-old mechanic from North Maclean appeared visibly upset as she looked at her house, submerged to the roof.
“We got as much out as we could in the short time that we had,” she told AFP.
“People have lost everything. I’d only just finished renovating the house, and it is all gone again now.”
Nearby a calf was stuck in a tree as a man in a kayak paddled out to see if it was alive. Dozens gathered to watch but by the time two people on jet skis arrived to help the calf only to discover it was dead.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on residents in affected areas to exercise caution.
“In many parts of the country you will see floodwaters continuing to rise over the next days,” he told reporters.
“This is a very dangerous time in these flooded areas.
“I want to say to everybody who is affected by these floods — do not go into flooded waters. Do not cross flooded roads.”
Category four Cyclone Debbie hit northeastern Australia on Tuesday between Bowen and Airlie Beach ripping up trees and causing widespread damage that is still being assessed.
It was downgraded to a tropical low as it tracked southeast still packing high winds and dumping huge amounts of rain all down the east coast to Sydney and beyond before blowing out over the Tasman Sea.
Police on Friday found the body of a woman who disappeared in floodwaters near Murwillumbah just south of the Queensland border.
And a 64-year-old woman, whose vehicle was swept off a causeway on a property in Gungal, in the Hunter Valley south of Sydney was also found dead Friday.
Lismore, south of Murwillumbah was among the worst flooded towns on Friday with Tweed Heads, Kingscliff and Murwillumbah also subject to evacuation orders.
In areas further north where the cyclone made landfall, water and power were still being restored.
Bowen, Mackay and the Whitsunday islands bore the brunt of the cyclone and nearly 40,000 homes were waiting to be re-connected on Saturday.
The military has mobilized 1,300 soldiers for the clean-up with helicopters and planes deploying to restore infrastructure and supply emergency food, water and fuel.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the Queensland and northern NSW regions disaster zones, adding that the damage bill could top Aus$1 billion (US $770 million).

Main category: 
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Brothers recount Indian mob attacks leaving Africans fearful

Author: 
MUNEEZA NAQVI | AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 12:40
ID: 
1491025842702496800

GREATER NOIDA, India: The Amalawa brothers were wandering through a mall in a New Delhi suburb when the phone rang with warnings from a friend: Hurry home, mobs of Indians are attacking Africans across the area.
The brothers, Nigerians who came to India to seek better education and work opportunities, rushed out and tried to hail an autorickshaw, just as a mob of Indian men saw them and ran toward them. The Amalawas ran back inside the mall but dozens of screaming men followed them. Precious Amalawa hid inside a changing room but Endurance got dragged out.
“They attacked him with bricks, sticks, belts,” 23-year-old Precious said Friday as he sat, still stiff with shock and fear, in their apartment. Endurance’s body was dotted with medical staples — on his temple, his cheek and both arms. Precious’ arms were covered in cuts and bruises from when the mob chased him from his hiding place by shoving sharp objects through the changing room’s thin walls.
The violence started March 24 when a teenage boy disappeared in Greater Noida, outside New Delhi, and angry relatives claimed he’d been killed by his Nigerian neighbors. A mob of people began searching the area for Africans, with some accusing kidnappers of eating the boy.
The boy returned home Saturday morning. He died later that day of what police said was a drug overdose.
Five men who had been charged with kidnapping and murder were let go within hours because police could find no evidence.
But rumors about cannibalism swirled and mobs began to attack Africans across the suburb. The last attacks were reported Wednesday. There were reports of mobs pulling Africans out of taxi cabs and autorickshaws and assaulting them.
In shaky cellphone videos of the attack on the Amalawa brothers last Monday afternoon, more than a dozen men can be seen brutally beating Endurance with whatever they could lay their hands on — one man smashed a large metal trash can repeatedly on his torso and head. Another man used a collapsible metal chair to hit the cowering man as he lay on the ground. The snap of leather belts can be heard. One man even attempts a selfie with the violence in the background.
Endurance, 21, wouldn’t talk about the attack at all as he sat, still tense with fear, in the sparsely furnished apartment.
The African Students’ Association in India asked Africans across the capital to remain alert and especially warned those living in Greater Noida from stepping out at all.
“All African Students Studying in Greater Noida are hereby instructed to stay at home as the situation remains volatile,” the statement said.
The association has been arranging food and water for African students in Greater Noida as most of them hide at home.
Police say they have arrested five men for attacking the brothers and are searching for others. Police patrols in the area have been increased after India’s foreign minister asked that the local government ensure the safety of Greater Noida’s African population.
Tens of thousands of Africans in live and study in India, and newly built suburbs like Greater Noida especially draw students because they are home to several sprawling private universities.
But prejudice and racism are near-constants. Skin color and appearances are used to place people in India’s strict social order, and stereotyping of all African men as drug dealers and women as prostitutes is prevalent. Landlords shun Africans in all but the poorest neighborhoods and charge them unusually high rent. And gang assaults are not uncommon.
“We face street aggression, abuses. We also face difficulty in getting accommodation, we face difficulty in naturally integrating with the local community,” said Samuel Jack, the president of the African Students’ Association of India.
“I just give you an example. I have Indian friends in my school, I have never visited their house and they have never ever decided to ask me: Where do you live? Can I come and see you?“
The sufferings Africans experience daily go largely unnoticed, and Africans, most of whom are young students, also hesitate to complain and draw attention to themselves.
That changed when a Congolese student was killed in a dispute over hiring an autorickshaw in New Delhi last year. Three men who insisted they had hired the vehicle beat him up and hit him on the head with a rock, killing him, according to police.
The death made the city’s African students, diplomats and business owners’ rally together demanding quick justice. The African Heads of Mission in New Delhi asked the government to address “racism and Afro-phobia” in the country.
Other examples of anti-African prejudice in India have occurred.
Early last year a Tanzanian woman was beaten and stripped naked by a mob in Bangalore after a Sudanese student’s car hit an Indian woman. In 2014, a video of three African men being beaten inside a security booth at a New Delhi Metro station went viral. For several minutes a large mob beat the men with bare hands and sticks and shoes as they climbed up the walls of the glass booth in terror. The police were absent.
These incidents made it to the local newspapers. Hundreds more do not.
For Precious and Endurance Amalawa the memory of their suffering will be impossible to forget. Their fear is palpable even inside their home.
When Endurance stepped out on the balcony to make a phone call, his brother’s eyes darted toward him.
“Come back inside Eddy. Come inside,” he said calling him by his nickname.

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3 arrested in fire underneath US interstate bridge

Author: 
By BILL BARROW and KATE BRUMBACK | AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 12:40
ID: 
1491028049142531300

ATLANTA, US: Three people have been arrested in connection with the raging fire that collapsed a portion of Interstate 85 a few miles north of downtown Atlanta, crippling a major traffic artery in a city already known for dreadful rush-hour congestion.
Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence said Friday evening that Basil Eleby faces a charge of criminal damage to property, and Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas each were charged with criminal trespass.
“We believe they were together when the fire was set and Eleby is the one who set the fire,” Florence told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Florence would not discuss how the fire was started or why, saying those details would be released as the investigation progresses.
The fire broke out Thursday afternoon in an area used to store state-owned construction materials and equipment, sending flames and smoke high into the air.
Dozens of firefighters battling the roaring blaze beneath the roadway moved safely out of harm’s way amid telltale signs the roadway was breaking apart from the intense heat.
“They heard the cracking of the concrete,” Atlanta Fire Chief Joel Baker said. “They could see concrete was flying all over the place toward firefighters.”
Firefighters shut down the roadway before it fell and retreated safely without injury.
Experts in structural engineering said fires on highways and bridges rarely burn long enough or hot enough to cause a complete collapse — but it has happened. Intense heat can compromise even steel-reinforced concrete, said Lauren Stewart, director of the Structural Engineering and Materials Laboratory at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
“With fires, especially fires that burn for long periods and with high heat, you can see structures, anything from buildings to bridges, can have their material properties degrade,” Stewart said.
It’s happened before. In 1996, a fire in a big pile of tires beneath I-95 in Philadelphia left a span too weak to handle cars, forcing authorities to shut down 4 miles of the busy East Coast route for repairs.
Andy Herrmann, a retired partner with the New York-based engineering firm Hardesty & Hanover, said there have also been a few instances of gasoline trucks crashing and causing intense heat that damaged overpasses.
Herrmann said concrete will undergo severe cracking at about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (815 degree Celsius) and start disintegrating at higher temperatures. Building roads to withstand such heat would be prohibitively expensive, he said.
“We have limited dollars for maintaining our bridges,” Herrmann said. “This is such a rare thing to occur.”
The highway collapse in Atlanta forced commuters Friday to find different routes to work or to use mass transit. Things won’t be back to normal for months, said Russell McMurry, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation.
McMurry told a news conference Friday that 350 feet of highway will need to be replaced in both directions on I-85, which carries about 400,000 cars a day through Atlanta and is one of the South’s most important north-south routes. He said repairs will take “at least several months.”
Traffic was bumper to bumper Friday on streets near the closed stretch of highway. Amelia Ford picked a new route to drive to work and said it took her 45 minutes to travel 3 miles from her Atlanta home to the nearest open on-ramp to the interstate.
McMurry said his department stored coils of plastic conduit, used in fiber optic networks, beneath the span but insisted they were noncombustible.
US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao promptly released $10 million for the initial repair work, and the Federal Highway Administration promised more in emergency repair funds. Officials gave no estimate of how much the job would cost.
Built in 1953 and renovated in 1985, the collapsed span scored a sufficiency rating of 94.6 out of 100 in its last inspection in 2015, said Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the Georgia DOT.
___
AP writers Alex Sanz in Atlanta; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; and Kevin McGill and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Witness: Driver in deadly Texas road collision was texting

Author: 
By JUAN A. LOZANO | AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 03:00
ID: 
1491025859892497400

HOUSTON: A witness says the driver of a pickup truck that collided with a church minibus in rural Texas, killing 13 people, acknowledged he had been texting while driving — a development that highlights the dangers of sending messages on smartphones while behind the wheel.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Conrad Hein wouldn’t comment Friday on whether texting might have played a role in the Wednesday collision on a two-lane road about 75 miles west (120 km) of San Antonio, near the town of Concan. But officials have said the truck driver appeared to have crossed the center line.
Jennifer Morrison, the investigator in charge of the team from the National Transportation Safety Board, would only say that distracted driving will be among the issues investigated.
The witness who is saying the pickup driver was texting while driving recounted the incident Friday in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. Jody Kuchler, a 55-year-old self-employed welder, said he and his girlfriend were driving back to their home in the nearby town of Leakey when he came across a truck that was driving erratically across the road.
“He kept going off the road and into oncoming traffic and he just kept doing that,” said Kuchler, who first shared the account of what happened with the San Antonio Express-News.
Kuchler, who followed the truck for at least 15 minutes, said he called the sheriff’s offices for both Uvalde and Real counties and told them “they needed to get him off the road before he hit somebody.”
Kuchler said he witnessed the crash and afterward, he checked on both the bus and the truck and was able to speak with the driver of the truck, who the Department of Public Safety has identified as 20-year-old Jack Dillon Young, of Leakey.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was texting.’ I said, ‘Son, do you know what you just did?’ He said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry,’” Kuchler recalled.
Texas is unusual in that it has no statewide ban on texting while driving. Dozens of cities across the state prohibit the practice, but local ordinances may not have applied in the rural area where Wednesday’s crash occurred. Laws in 46 other states ban sending or reading e-mail, using apps or engaging in other use of the Internet while driving.
The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature approved a statewide ban in 2011 but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who characterized such prohibitions as government micromanagement and said educating drivers was the key to deterrence. A similar proposal passed the Texas House a few weeks ago but has yet to make it to a Senate floor vote.
The wreck on Wednesday occurred along a curve in the road where the speed limit is 65 mph, according to Department of Public Safety officials. The bus occupants — members of First Baptist Church of New Braunfels in Texas — were returning from a three-day retreat in Leakey, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) from where the crash happened.
Twelve people on the bus died at the scene, authorities said. Another died at a hospital. One bus passenger remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition, according to the church.
Young, the driver of the pickup, also remains hospitalized.
The number of motor vehicle deaths in the US last year topped 40,000 for the first time since 2007, according to the National Safety Council. The number of vehicle crash deaths in Texas rose 7 percent last year to 3,464, slightly higher than the national rise. One-in-10 driving fatalities in 2015 were caused by some kind of distraction, the USDepartment of Transportation said.
Morrison said most, if not all, of the bus occupants in the Texas crash — who ranged in age from 61 to 87 — were wearing seat belts. The driver and front-passenger seats had three-point lap-and-shoulder belts while the rest of the seats behind had lap belts only, she said.
Three-point seat belts are always preferable to lap belts because they hold the upper torso in place and help prevent head injuries, said automotive safety advocate Joan Claybrook. One of the problems with lap belts only is that in a frontal impact crash, people will remain in their seats but their upper bodies will go forward and their heads can strike the back of the seat in front, she said.
If the passengers wearing lap-only belts are seated along the sides of the buses, instead of facing forward, they will often hit their heads on the sides of the vehicle or the windows, said Henry Jasny, senior vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. A frontal crash of this type would be like “hitting a brick wall,” he said.
The NTSB identified the church vehicle as a 2004 Ford E-350 series van that had been converted to a minibus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the only safety issues identified with that vehicle model from that particular year was a fuse problem reported in 2007 in vehicles that had been retrofitted to become ambulances.
___
Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., Will Weissert in Austin and David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.

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