Manila cancels Canada Bell helicopter deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Davao City on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Manila cancels Canada Bell helicopter deal

DAVAO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday abruptly canceled a $235 million contract to buy 16 helicopters from Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered a review over human rights concerns.
“I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal. Do not proceed anymore, and somehow we will look for another supplier,” he said of the deal for 16 Bell 412EPI utility helicopters announced by the two governments this week.
Ottawa said Thursday that the deal was under review due to concerns over the human rights record of Duterte, the subject of a complaint in the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the alleged extra-judicial killings of thousands of Filipino drug suspects.
Bell Helicopter said in an announcement of the deal that the aircraft were intended “for a variety of missions such as disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport and utility transport.”
However, Manila said they would also be used for “anti-terrorism” operations, including to evacuate soldiers wounded fighting insurgents.
Philippine troops are battling militants in the Muslim south and communist guerrillas in other parts of the mainly Catholic Asian nation.
Duterte said Friday he respected Canada’s stand but added it was unavoidable that the Philippine air force would use the choppers “against the rebels and terrorists.”
“Do not buy anymore from Canada and the US because there is always a condition attached,” he said, adding that he was referring to defense material.
“If I cannot use the gunship, the helicopter, then I might as well surrender this government to them,” he said, referring to the rebels.
“The reason I’m buying helicopters is because I want to finish them off,” Duterte added.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that an “extremely rigorous human rights review” would be undertaken before any export permit was issued over the helicopter contract, facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corp.
“The prime minister and I have been very clear about the Duterte regime’s human rights abuses and the extra-judicial killings,” she told Parliament.
“I have the authority to deny a permit if I feel that it poses a risk to human rights, and I am prepared to do so,” Freeland added.
Trudeau said in November he had called out Duterte over “human rights, the rule of law, and specifically extra-judicial killings.”
Duterte, who has overseen a crackdown that has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead at the hands of the police, later described Trudeau’s comments as “a personal and official insult.”
The Philippine government says police have only shot suspects in self-defense and rejects human rights monitors’ description of the crackdown as a crime against humanity.


Indian police face fury over shooting deaths of 10 protesters

Updated 23 May 2018
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Indian police face fury over shooting deaths of 10 protesters

CHENNAI: Outrage swelled Wednesday over the deaths of 10 protesters at a rally over a copper plant in southern India, after police opened fire on demonstrators in what critics termed “mass murder.”
Violence erupted Tuesday in Tamil Nadu state at a long-running demonstration demanding the closure of the smelting plant owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources which residents say is causing environmental damage.
The state’s chief minister has ordered a judicial inquiry into the shootings but the move failed to stem rising anger over the clashes, which also left about 80 wounded.
M.K. Stalin, leader of the main Tamil Nadu opposition party the DMK, said police were guilty of “atrocities.”
“Mass Murder of Innocent People,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Who ordered the police firing on protesters? Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted?“
A video of a police officer on top of a bus and pointing an assault rifle at crowds has fueled fresh anger.
Rahul Gandhi, the national leader of the opposition Congress party, has called the deaths “a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism.”
“These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice,” he said.
Police said Tuesday that 12 people had died but later revised the toll in the port city of Tuticorin.
P. Mahendran, superintendent of Tuticorin district police, said 18 officers were also wounded in the clashes.
“The situation is tense but under control today,” he said. “The post mortem on the bodies is being conducted and they will be handed over to families today.”
The plant, about 600 kilometers (375 miles) south of Tamil Nadu’s state capital Chennai, is currently closed as Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper subsidiary seeks a new license so it can be expanded.
The protesters had set ablaze the local administrator’s office after they were denied permission to hold a rally at the plant.
Police said efforts to disperse the crowd of several thousand with a baton charge and tear gas volleys failed before authorities used live ammunition.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami ordered the judicial inquiry into the shootings but defended the police.
“The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protesters resorted to repeated violence,” he said.
The families of each victim would be offered one million rupees ($14,700) compensation, he added.
The deaths came on the 100th day of demonstrations against the plant, which environmentalists and residents claim is contaminating water sources — a charge the company denies.
The protests intensified after Vedanta, owned by an Indian billionaire but with its head office in London, sought to double the 400,000-ton annual capacity of the plant.
It was shut briefly after an alleged gas leak in March 2013 that left hundreds with breathing difficulties, nausea and throat infections.
The company maintains that it adheres to environmental standards and said it was the victim of “false propaganda” about its operations.
Tamil Nadu is one of India’s most industrialized and prosperous states and similar protests over environmental concerns have turned deadly in the past.
Tuticorin witnessed violent demonstrations in 2012 over a nuclear power plant in neighboring Kudankulam district that left one person dead.