Shelling, air strikes as Philippine troops hunt pro-Daesh militants in marshland

A mosque with its dome blasted at the battle-scarred Marawi City in southern Philippines. Philippine troops are pushing on with a new offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters after crushing an alliance of pro-Daesh militants in Marawi. (AP)
Updated 17 November 2017
0

Shelling, air strikes as Philippine troops hunt pro-Daesh militants in marshland

MANILA: Philippine troops shelled positions held by a small group of pro-Daesh militants in southern marshland on Friday, as the military pushed on with a new offensive after the country’s biggest urban battle in decades.
The army estimated 2,000 villagers had been displaced by several days of operations in a region straddling two provinces on the island of Mindanao, as the army went after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a small and splintered rebel group inspired by the Daesh.
The latest operation follows the end last month of what was the Philippines’ biggest battle since World War Two, in which troops took five months to crush an alliance of Daesh loyalists including BIFF fighters in Marawi City.
The occupation of the city by the militants and their dogged resistance spread alarm in the region about the rise of extremism and radical aspirations to create a Daesh caliphate.
Captain Nap Alcarioto, spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, said troops were shelling BIFF gunmen in support of ground attacks in an area of marshland between the provinces of Maguindanao and Cotobato, about 170 kilometers from Marawi.
“We are still awaiting results of operations,” he said.
The army said it was fighting a BIFF faction led by Abu Toraypie, a man allied with the Maute group, the biggest militant group in an alliance that led the Marawi conflict.
Toraypie and some of his men had escaped from Marawi and the army was trying to prevent them from regrouping, the army said.
Military aircraft dropped bombs on another BIFF wing in a town close by.
The BIFF broke away from the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) a decade ago after becoming disillusioned with a protracted process with the government to grant autonomy to what is the mainly Catholic country’s only predominantly Muslim region.
Separately, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Marawi was clear of militants who had been hiding in the ruins of the pummeled city, but unexploded munitions and booby traps had yet to be cleared.
“The last firefight we had was on November 5 when we killed nine terrorists,” he told a news conference, adding all top militant leaders had been killed, although that was subject to DNA confirmation.


Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

A woman carries a placard as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalising abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 May 2018
0

Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

  • Exit polls says 68 percent of voters back change
  • The country's leaders support a "yes," an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment

DUBLIN: Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.
An Irish Times exit poll released Friday night projected a landslide victory for those who want to loosen abortion laws, but official results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.
The country’s leaders support a “yes,” an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize some of Europe’s strictest abortion rules.
Voters went to the polls after a campaign that aroused deep emotions on both sides. For advocates of repeal, a “yes” vote would be a landmark in Irish women’s fight for equality and the right to control their own bodies. For opponents, it would be a betrayal of Ireland’s commitment to protect the unborn.
The vote also is a key indicator of Ireland’s trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after its first openly gay prime minister took office.
The newspaper exit poll indicated overwhelming support for change. The survey by pollster Ipsos-MRBI says 68 percent of voters backed repeal of the ban and 32 percent opposed it. The pollster says it interviewed some 4,000 people and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The poll is only a prediction.
Theresa Sweeney, a repeal supporter, was one of the first to arrive at a church polling station in Dublin.
“I feel like I’ve waited all of my adult life to have a say on this,” she said.
Emma Leahy said her “yes” vote comes from her firm belief that everyone should be able to make their own choice when it comes to abortion.
“For Ireland, it’s hope for the future,” she said of the referendum. “Whether you agree or disagree, it shouldn’t be the government or anyone else making that decision.”
Vera Rooney voted against repeal.
“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life,” she said. “I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no.”
The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.
The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. That effectively bans all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman’s life is at risk. Having an illegal abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.
If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a doctor, voted in favor of repeal.
“Not taking anything for granted of course, but quietly confident,” he said, adding that the upside of a sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote.
Thousands of Irish people abroad traveled home to take part in the historic referendum, and supporters of repeal gathered at Dublin Airport to give arrivals an ecstatic welcome.
Some activists held a placard reading “Thank you for making the journey so other women don’t have to” — a reference to the way Irish women seeking abortions have had to leave the country to obtain them.
Tara Flynn, who 11 years ago flew to the Netherlands for an abortion, said she planned to vote “yes” to make sure future generations of women don’t endure what she did, with feelings of isolation and shame.
She said her vote would be one for solidarity and compassion, “a vote to say, I don’t send you away anymore.”
Campaigning was not allowed Friday, but Dublin was still filled with signs and banners urging citizens to vote “yes” or “no.” Many of the anti-abortion signs showed photographs of fetuses.
Voting has already taken place on Ireland’s remote islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.
Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained several emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.
“If we vote ‘yes’ every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill.”