Kenya doctors’ union officials sentenced over strike

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-01-12

NAIROBI, Kenya: A Kenyan court has handed down a one-month suspended jail term to seven union officials over a doctors’ strike which has crippled public hospitals for the last 40 days.
However Judge Hellen Wasilwa said that if the doctors did not call off their strike within two weeks, the officials would “be arrested and taken to jail.”
The walkout by some 5,000 Kenyan doctors has devastated public health services in the East African nation, where few can afford private care which is the only option remaining to them.
The medics last week rejected a 40 percent pay rise offer from the government, demanding the full implementation of a 2013 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which assured them of a 300 percent raise and other improved conditions.
The court in December declared the strike illegal, as negotiations following the 2013 deal had not concluded. Doctors defied the ruling and several court orders since ordering a halt to the stayaway, resulting in their sentencing for contempt of court.
The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) brushed off the latest attempt by authorities to force them back to work, insisting the prospect of jail did not deter them.
“We cannot negotiate with a noose around our necks,” said union secretary general Ouma Oluga, who was one of those sentenced.
“In the month of March, we will give the best medical services to the prisons in this country,” he added.
The government had threatened to fire all the striking doctors if they had not returned to work by Wednesday.
As they failed to do so, county officials have sent out letters to doctors in their regions ordering them to explain their absence from work — the first step in the disciplinary process that could see them sacked.
Poor salaries and working conditions have already led to an exodus of Kenyan doctors to other African countries and abroad.
An intern in Kenya can expect to make around 40,000 shillings ($400, 372 euros) while entry-level doctors earn 140,000 shillings.
A Kenyan MP goes home with about three times the salary of the highest paid public doctors.
The strike has been a major embarrassment for President Uhuru Kenyatta in the run up to August elections in which he hopes to win a second term in office.
Newspaper editorials have urged the government to give the poorly paid doctors a decent wage while Kenyans on social media point to endless corruption scandals while health care providers struggle to make ends meet.

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Indian soldier kills three colleagues

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-01-12

NEW DELHI: A paramilitary soldier from one of India’s elite security units shot dead three colleagues and injured another on Thursday in an apparent row over leave, police said.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) soldier fired indiscriminately at four senior officers at the barracks in Aurangabad district in eastern India’s Bihar state before trying to flee.
“There was some argument between the victims and the accused before he opened indiscriminate fire. He tried to flee but was caught by his colleagues,” Satya Prakash, Aurangabad police chief, told AFP.
“We don’t know what exactly led to the firing but he was upset over vacations.”
All the victims were unarmed and were off-duty when the incident took place at a thermal power plant where they were stationed, Prakash said.
The CISF guards the country’s most vital civil and government installations including airports, atomic plants and government buildings.
India’s security forces have historically had a high incidence of suicides and killings linked to long hours, poor working conditions and inadequate time off.
In 2014, a soldier killed five colleagues before shooting himself in Indian-administered Kashmir after a superior denied him leave.

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New UN chief opens crunch Cyprus meet

Fulya Ozerkan, Ben Simon | AFP
Thu, 2017-01-12

GENEVA: UN chief Antonio Guterres opened a crunch conference Thursday aimed at ending decades of division in Cyprus, billed as the “very last chance” to solve one of the world’s longest-running political crises.
Guterres was undertaking his first foreign trip as UN chief in a bid to achieve a breakthrough at the Geneva summit that also involves rival Cypriot sides as well as Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Thursday’s multi-party talks follows three days of negotiation between rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders aimed at forging a united, two-zone federation.
The intra-Cypriot talks have focused on thorny domestic issues such as territory and what a future, unified government might look like.
UN Cyprus envoy Espen Barth Eide has called this week “the moment of truth” and insisted that a deal to solve the long-standing division was within reach.
In a crucial step, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci late Wednesday exchanged maps detailing their visions of how internal boundaries should be redrawn.
Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed in principle to return some of the land they have controlled since the failed 1974 coup.
Greek Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said that the map presented was “within the framework” agreed during previous negotiations that foresees the Turkish Cypriot zone amounting to a maximum of 29.2 percent of the island.
“We consider it as a particularly positive development,” Christodoulides said while noting that disputes remain and a final map has not been agreed.
Thursday’s conference marks Guterres’s first foreign trip since taking over the UN’s top job on January 1.
British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias and Turkish Mevlut Cavusoglu were all on hand representing Cyprus’s so-called “guarantor powers.”
Under a 1959 treaty, those nations were allowed to intervene to defend the island’s sovereign integrity, which Ankara used to justify its invasion.
Any peace deal will likely include significant changes to or even the elimination of the guarantor power arrangement.
Greece has called it out of date and Britain has said it was happy to give it up if Cypriots asked.
Britain also retains military bases in Cyprus that are sovereign British territory.
In a statement before arriving in Geneva, Johnson said Britain was ready to help solve the Cyprus problem “in any way it can,” applauding the “courage and commitment that has been shown by both sides.”
The estimated 30,000 Turkish troops deployed on the island remain a deeply divisive issue, with Anastasiades wanting them to leave the island but Akinci determined to keep a military presence.
Ankara has said little about the type of security deal it would be willing to endorse.
UN peacekeepers also safeguard a buffer zone between the two sides.

While Cyprus has been an European Union member since 2004, Anastasiades’s internationally recognized government exercises no control over the northern Turkish-ruled part of the island, and EU legislation is suspended there until a settlement is reached.
The UN envoy has stressed that the goal of the peace process is to create a unified Cyprus that would be a full EU member.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, in Geneva as an observer to the conference, said before arriving that the island’s future was hanging in the balance.
“I really think that, without overdramatising what is happening in Geneva, that this is the very last chance to see (a solution for) the island being imposed in a normal way,” he said.

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Cash on the line: stolen ATM partly derails train in Germany

Associated Press
Thu, 2017-01-12

BERLIN: A freight train has partially derailed in Germany after hitting a stolen cash machine that had been left on the track.
Police said no one was hurt in the incident before dawn Thursday in Dinslaken in western Germany. A freight train from the Netherlands hit the ATM, which had been stolen from the town’s station, and the locomotive came off the track.
It wasn’t immediately clear who stole the machine and put in on the track. Whoever was responsible didn’t get any money — the ATM was cracked open by the impact but the cash spread over the tracks was collected by police.
The incident forced authorities to close the line for a few hours, with trains on the route between the Netherlands and western Germany diverted.

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US troops enter Poland, 1st deployment to Russia’s doorstep

Thu, 2017-01-12

WARSAW, Poland: American soldiers are rolling into Poland, fulfilling a dream Poles have had since the fall of communism in 1989 to have US troops on their soil as a deterrent against Russia.
US Army vehicles and soldiers in camouflage crossed into southwestern Poland on Thursday morning from Germany and were heading for Zagan, where they will be based.
US and other Western nations have carried out exercises on NATO’s eastern flank, but this US deployment will be the first continuous deployment to the region by a NATO ally.
Despite the celebrations, a cloud also hangs over the historic moment: anxieties that the enhanced security could eventually be undermined by the pro-Kremlin views of President-elect Donald Trump.
Poland and the Baltic states are nervous about Russian assertiveness displayed in Ukraine and Syria.

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Fifth Pakistani social media activist reported missing

Thu, 2017-01-12

ISLAMABAD: A fifth Pakistani rights activist has gone missing, his colleagues said Thursday, as the United Nations raised concerns over shrinking freedoms for campaigners. 
Samar Abbas, a middle-aged IT worker and head of the anti-militancy Civil Progressive Alliance, disappeared under mysterious circumstances after arriving in the capital Islamabad from the southern port city of Karachi on Saturday, January 7, according to Talib Raza, a colleague from his organization.
“We formed the alliance to protect the rights of minorities. He had launched a struggle against the banned militant outfits’ activities and we together staged protests for the rights of the minorities,” said Raza.
“This seems to be an organized attempt to shut the progressive and liberal voices in the country,” he added.
Four leftist bloggers were previously reported missing from various cities in Pakistan between January 4 and 7, raising fears of a crackdown on social media, the last bastion of free speech in a country where journalism is increasingly under threat.
Human Rights Watch said their near simultaneous disappearances raised concerns of government involvement.
The government has denied this, and on Tuesday Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the Senate authorities would soon recover all the missing.
Rights groups say Pakistani activists and journalists often find themselves caught between the security establishment and militant groups including the Taliban.
The United Nations and Amnesty International have expressed concern for the missing activists.
“No government should tolerate attacks on its citizens,” said the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, David Kaye.
“By making the investigation of these disappearances an urgent priority, the Pakistani authorities can send a strong signal that they take seriously the responsibility for the life and security of all of its citizens, particularly in cases involving freedom of expression.”
Pakistan is also ranked among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, and reporting critical of the military is considered a major red flag, with journalists at times detained, beaten and even killed.
In April 2014, unidentified gunmen attacked but failed to kill Hamid Mir, one of the country’s most recognized TV anchors. His employer and his family later accused the director general of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency of involvement.

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Amazon removes India flag doormats after visa threat

Thu, 2017-01-12

NEW DELHI: Amazon said Thursday it has withdrawn doormats featuring Indian flag from sale after New Delhi called them “insulting” and threatened to expel the company’s foreign workers.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted late Wednesday that the mats, available only on Amazon’s Canadian site, were an “unacceptable” insult to the national flag and demanded an apology.
On Thursday the company said it had responded by removing them from sale.
“We have removed the products from the website following the Indian demand,” said a company spokeswoman who asked not to be named.
Swaraj, an avid tweeter with nearly seven million followers, issued her ultimatum after a Twitter user sent her a screengrab of the doormats on sale.
“Amazon must tender unconditional apology. They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately,” she tweeted.
“If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian Visa to any Amazon official. We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier.”
Amazon has made steady inroads in India since entering the competitive but rapidly-growing e-commerce market in 2013 with a pledge to invest $5 billion over six years. 
The e-retailer found itself in similar trouble last year over doormats showing Hindu deities being sold on its US website.

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Tillerson prioritizes Daesh ‘defeat,’ rebuilding ‘frayed bonds’ in Mideast

Joyce Karam
Thu, 2017-01-12

WASHINGTON, DC: More than four hours of questioning by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee of Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson yesterday offered a peek into the Middle East policy of the incoming Donald Trump administration, prioritizing the “defeat” of Daesh in the region and “asserting” US leadership on the global stage. 
Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon who has worked in Iraq and Yemen, struck a cautious tone when talking about “competing priorities” in Syria and verifying the Iran nuclear deal. His criticism of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama and its failure to implement “red lines,” and singling out the threat of “radical Islam,” suggests a break for the Trump team from the last eight years in the Middle East.

Daesh defeat and Syria
Tillerson’s long history at Exxon and his good business rapport with Russia took up a big chunk of the hearing, with the nominee calling Moscow an “unfriendly adversary” but stopping short of labeling its President Vladimir Putin a war criminal. However, key statements on the Middle East were made during the session.
Tillerson said defeating Daesh “must be our foremost priority in the Middle East,” because “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” There was no clear roadmap from him on achieving that goal, however, and he acknowledged that he has not discussed the issues of Russia, Syria or Daesh yet with President-elect Trump.
However, on Syria, Tillerson emphasized that the incoming administration would not pursue “competing priorities” of ousting President Bashar Assad and defeating Daesh at the same time, reaffirming that the first would have to wait until the defeat of the extremist group in Syria.
Tillerson seemed open to exploring cooperation with Putin on Daesh, saying: “When cooperation with Russia is based on common interests, it is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism.”
In Syria particularly, the nominee called for re-engaging Turkey, a key US ally whose differences with Obama on arming the Kurds and creating a safe zone has drawn a wedge in the relationship. “The US must re-engage with the Turkish president,” Tillerson told the committee, blaming this lack of engagement for driving Ankara closer to Moscow.
The nominee took a jab at Obama’s red line in Syria that was altered in 2013, saying: “We sent weak or mixed signals with red lines that turned into green lights.” Tillerson added that “unintended signals were sent,” undermining US credibility to the point of prompting Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine a year later without an appropriate US response.
In a departure from the Obama administration, Tillerson used the phrase “radical Islam” instead of extremism in describing the threat. “Radical Islam is not a new ideology, but it is hateful, deadly and an illegitimate expression of the Islamic faith,” he said, going as far as labeling its “other agents” besides Daesh as “Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and certain elements within Iran.”

Verifying the Iran deal
Tillerson embraced a more hawkish tone on Iran, pledging in his opening statement that “we must hold those who are not our friends accountable to the agreements they make,” and “our failure to do this over recent decades has diminished our standing and encouraged bad actors around the world to break their word.”
While he shied away from any talk on repealing the agreement signed in 2015, Tillerson said: “We cannot afford to ignore violations of international accords, as we have done with Iran.” Later in the hearing, the nominee called for a “full review of that agreement, as well as any number of side agreements that, as I understand, are part of that agreement.”
While agreeing with the objective to prevent Iran from buying a nuclear weapon, he voiced doubts that the nuclear deal prevents Tehran from doing so. Arms-control experts in Washington disputed his claim. “What comes at the end of the agreement?” Tillerson asked.
The former CEO and engineer tried to stress the importance of rebuilding relations and restoring US credibility in the region. He advocated to “build pathways to new partnerships and strengthen old bonds which have frayed,” and warned: “If we do not lead, we risk plunging the world deeper into confusion and danger.”
Tillerson voiced strong support for Israel, “our most important ally,” and called UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which the US abstained from vetoing, “unhelpful.” He also opposed regime-change policies in the region, saying the decision to “overturn the leadership in Iraq, while well-intentioned, did not achieve its objectives.”
It was unclear if Tillerson convinced the skeptics on the committee on his ties to Russia, which is necessary to sail to confirmation. But if confirmed, the nominee echoed a centrist, cautious approach in the Middle East, in a different direction than the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

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US names Indonesian extremist network a terror group

Thu, 2017-01-12

JAKARTA: The US has designated the Daesh-linked Indonesian extremist network that carried out a deadly attack in Jakarta last year as a terrorist organization.
The State Department said on Tuesday that Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) is “a terrorist group based in Indonesia that was formed in 2015 and is composed of almost two dozen Indonesian extremist groups” who are followers of Daesh.
The US also announced sanctions against four militants as part of efforts to cut off Daesh’s access to the international financial system.
US officials said militants from JAD carried out a gun and suicide attack in the Indonesian capital in January last year that left four civilians and four attackers dead in the first Daesh attack in Southeast Asia.
The attack was financially supported by an Daesh militant in Syria, they said.
The State Department said the consequences of being designated a terrorist group included a ban on US citizens engaging in business with JAD, and the freezing of any property linked to the group in America.
JAD has been connected to a series of other plots in Indonesia, including a firebomb attack on a church that killed a toddler and a plan to launch a Christmas-time suicide bombing which was foiled when the militants planning the attack were killed.
Among the four militants to be sanctioned are two Indonesians.
Bahrumsyah is an Indonesian fighting with Daesh in Syria who is believed to lead a Southeast Asian unit of radicals, and who has sought to order attacks back home and transferred funds to militants.
The other Indonesian militant is Aman Abdurrahman, a jailed radical who authorized the Jakarta attack and is considered the de facto leader of all Daesh supporters in Indonesia, according to US officials.
Despite being in prison since 2010, he has recruited militants to join Daesh, is thought to have been in communication with leaders of the militant group, and is the main translator for Daesh propaganda in Indonesia.
The Treasury also slapped sanctions on two Australians — Neil Christopher Prakash, Daesh’s most senior Australian recruiter, and Khaled Sharrouf, who has appeared in photographs holding the severed heads of people executed by the militants.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has long struggled with militancy and has been hit by a series of attacks in the past 15 years, including the 2002 Bali bombing that left 202 people dead.
A crackdown had weakened the most dangerous networks, but fears have been growing of a resurgence in militancy after hundreds of Indonesians flocked to the Middle East in recent years to join Daesh.

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Nigeria faces mounting pressure to rescue abducted girls

Thu, 2017-01-12

CHIBOK, Nigeria/DAKAR: Nigeria is facing mounting pressure to find some 200 schoolgirls abducted 1,000 days ago in Boko Haram’s most infamous attack after the rescue of 24 girls raised hopes that they are alive.
For more than two years there was no sign of the girls who were kidnapped by the militants from a school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria one night in April 2014, sparking global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.
But the discovery of one of the girls with a baby last May fueled hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released in October in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross.
For parents like Rebecca Joseph the return home of the group of 21 girls at Christmas was a bitter-sweet celebration.
Her daughter, Elizabeth, is one of an estimated 195 girls still held captive by the militant group, which has tried to force some of them to convert to Islam and to marry their captors.
“I am happy that some of the girls are returning home even though my own daughter is not among them,” Joseph said in the town of Chibok in Borno state.
“My prayer is that my daughter and the rest of the girls will be rescued and returned to their families safe.”
With last weekend marking 1,000 days since the girls were abducted, President Muhammadu Buhari said he remained committed to ensuring the abducted schoolgirls are reunited with their families “as soon as practicable.”
“We are hopeful that many more will still return,” said Buhari, who came to power in 2015 and replaced a government criticized for not doing enough to find the missing girls.
“The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts,” he said in a statement.
The Nigerian government said last month that it was involved in negotiations aimed at securing the release of some of the girls as the army captured a key Boko Haram camp, the militant group’s last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest.
The exact number of Chibok girls still in captivity is believed to be 195 but it has been hard to pin down an exact number since the girls went missing.
Academics and security experts say it may be a huge challenge to obtain the girls’ freedom given the significance of the abduction for Boko Haram, which has killed about 15,000 people in its seven-year insurgency to set up an Islamic state.
“Outside Nigeria, the Chibok girls have come to symbolize the Boko Haram conflict,” said Sola Tayo, an associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“The global outrage generated by their captivity has added to their value to the insurgents,” she said, adding that they were also significant to Buhari because he made their release a key campaign pledge before his 2015 election.
The government said in October that it had not swapped Boko Haram fighters or paid a ransom for the release of the 21 girls but several security analysts said it was implausible that the militant group would have let the girls go for nothing.
“To secure the release of the remaining girls would require concessions by the Nigerian government, which could reverse significant gains it has made against Boko Haram,” said Ryan Cummings, director of risk management consultancy Signal Risk.
“In addition to detainees, Boko Haram may also demand supplies, weapons, vehicles and even money which they could use to recalibrate and invigorate their armed campaign against the Nigerian state.”
One of the major obstacles to securing the release of all of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity is the deep divisions emerging within Boko Haram, said Freedom Onuoha, a security analyst and lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.

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