Myanmar man accused of self-immolation in Australian bank

A fire damaged ATM (automated teller machine) is seen at the Commonwealth Bank Springvale in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on Friday, after more than two dozen people were injured in a fire. (EPA)
Updated 19 November 2016

Myanmar man accused of self-immolation in Australian bank

CANBERRA, Australia: A 21-year-old man accused of injuring 26 bystanders when he set himself on fire with gasoline in a bank branch in Australia’s second-largest city was identified on Saturday as a Myanmar asylum seeker who had been waiting three years to be accepted as a refugee.
The suspect, known by his friends as Noor, and five bystanders were taken to hospital with serious burns following the fire at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia branch in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale Friday morning, officials said.
Another 21 people ranging from children to elderly in their 80s were taken to hospitals with breathing problems.
Noor, who remained under police guard on Saturday, came to Australia by boat as a lone teen in 2013 and had been waiting to be granted a refugee visa ever since, said Pamela Curr, who recently retired from the non-government Asylum Seeker Resource Center outside Melbourne.
Curr did not know why Noor had allegedly decided to set himself alight. But she said the Immigration Department was threatening to make thousands of asylum seekers financially desperate by cutting their benefits if their refugee claims were rejected.
“The department is going to starve thousands of people out of the country, or so they think,” Curr said.
A member of Myanmar’s minority-Muslim Rohingya community in Melbourne, Habib Habib, said Noor speaks Rohingya, although he might not himself identify as Rohingya.
Noor had been struggling financially to help support his family in Myanmar with the government benefits he is paid every two weeks, Habib said. Asylum seekers are not legally allowed to work.
Habib had been told that Noor’s latest benefit had not been deposited into his bank account when it was due on Wednesday and that Noor had returned to the bank each day in the hope of making a withdrawal.
Noor’s friends had become concerned by the state of his mental health as years passed without his refugee claim being resolved.
“This system makes all of them crazy. They’re in legal limbo,” Habib said.
Police have yet to announce a motive for the fire, which was quickly extinguished.
Closed-circuit television footage showed Noor walking toward the bank carrying a plastic bottle of gasoline that he had bought from a nearby gas station moments before the blaze.
Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Saturday declined to comment on Noor’s refugee claim.
“You’d have to lose your mind to do something so cruel,” Joyce told reporters.
Noor arrived in Australia shortly before July 19, 2013, when the government introduced a hard-line policy banning refugees who arrive by boat after that date from ever making Australia home. Since then, asylum seekers have been sent to Australia-run camps on the Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Two refugees on Nauru set themselves alight within a week early this year. The first was a 23-year-old Iranian man who died. A 21-year-old Somali woman survived after hospital treatment in Australia.
Noor was initially detained in an immigration camp on the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean before he was relocated to Melbourne on a bridging visa while awaiting the outcome of his refugee application, Curr said.

Modi secures a second five-year term with landslide win in Indian elections

Updated 2 min 40 sec ago

Modi secures a second five-year term with landslide win in Indian elections

  • The governing alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, sweeps back to power after a bitter campaign

NEW DELHI: India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday scored a landslide election victory, increasing its seats in Parliament after a bitter and divisive campaign.

The results amount to a massive blow for the 133-year-old Congress Party, which dominated India’s political life for more than 50 years after the country gained independence in 1947. Narendra Modi has made history by becoming India’s first prime minister in the last 40 years to be re-elected with a parliamentary majority.

The BJP on its own is expected to have a little over 300 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house), more than it had in the outgoing chamber. The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the BJP is a part, will have nearly 350 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress Party is expected to finish with just 55 seats, albeit 11 more than its 2014 election tally. By most projections, the Congress-led opposition alliance will not even have 100 seats. Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi suffered a major personal setback in the family borough, the constituency of Amethi in northern India, where he lost to a Modi Cabinet minister. But Gandhi won his second seat in Wayanad in the south by a big margin. 

“I concede defeat and congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for winning the elections,” Gandhi said on Thursday. He has offered to resign from his post in his party’s most powerful organizational body, the Congress Working Committee, but political analysts say it is highly unlikely that his resignation will be accepted.

The margin of the BJP’s victory has come as a surprise to many, with the party not only retaining its seats in the battleground states of northern and western India, but also expanding its footprint in two eastern states: West Bengal and Odisha. “Together, we’ll build a strong and inclusive India. India wins yet again!” Modi tweeted after the results showed the BJP sweeping to victory.

Modi’s India can do its bit for Middle East and Gulf stability

Shashi Shekhar, a New Delhi-based political analyst, told Arab News: “This is a phenomenal election victory that has stumped all the pollsters. The BJP was expected to face a big challenge from the opposition alliance in some of the crucial states, such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, which together account for 128 seats. But it seems the narrative of muscular nationalism propagated by the BJP overcame all challenges. There’s a now a genuine fear that if the BJP continues with its old policy of marginalizing religious minorities, India might turn into a majoritarian state. However, I hope Modi’s second term turns out to be more inclusive.”

Sudheendra Kulkarni, a Mumbai-based political commentator, said: “The Congress Party failed to capture the imagination of the people. The party’s slogans didn’t click with voters the way the BJP’s did.”

Against this backdrop of an imminent decisive win, Modi began to receive messages of congratulations from world leaders on Thursday. Among them was Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. “I congratulate Prime Minister Modi on the electoral victory of BJP and allies. Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia,” Khan tweeted.

In his second term, in addition to addressing economic problems at home, Modi will need to keep a close eye on relations with neighboring Pakistan. Bilateral relations remain tense months after they came close to war following a deadly attack in Indian-administered Kashmir on paramilitary soldiers, and an Indian air raid deep inside Pakistan.

“There’s no alternative to dialogue,” said Kulkarni. “We should expect that with a renewed mandate (for Modi’s government), there should be a fresh attempt to engage with Islamabad.”