US marks 9/11 with somber tributes, new monument to victims

A U.S. flag that few over the World Trade Center is presented during ceremonies marking the 17th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York, U.S., September 11, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 11 September 2018
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US marks 9/11 with somber tributes, new monument to victims

NEW YORK: Americans were commemorating 9/11 with somber tributes, volunteer projects and a new monument to victims Tuesday, after a year when two attacks demonstrated the enduring threat of terrorism in the nation’s biggest city.
Margie Miller was among the thousands of 9/11 victims’ relatives, survivors, rescuers and others who gathered on a misty Tuesday morning at the memorial plaza where the World Trade Center’s twin towers once stood. She came to the site from her home in suburban Baldwin, as she does 10 or so times a year, to remember her husband, Joel Miller. Only a few fragments of his remains were recovered.
“To me, he is here. This is my holy place,” his widow said before the ceremony began a moment of silence and tolling bells at 8:46 a.m., the time when the trade center was hit by the first of two terrorist-piloted planes. Victims’ relatives who had brought signs bearing photos of their loved ones wordlessly held them high.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence headed to the two other places where hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the deadliest terror attack on American soil.
The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to Pennsylvania to join an observance at the Sept. 11 memorial in a field near Shanksville, where a new “Tower of Voices” was dedicated Saturday. Pence is attending a ceremony at the Pentagon. Trump, a Republican and native New Yorker, took the occasion of last year’s anniversary to issue a stern warning to extremists that “America cannot be intimidated.”
Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on 9/11, when international terrorism hit home in a way it previously hadn’t for many Americans. Sept. 11 still shapes American policy, politics and everyday experiences in places from airports to office buildings, even if it’s less of a constant presence in the public consciousness after 17 years.
A stark reminder came not long after last year’s anniversary: A truck mowed down people, killing eight, on a bike path within a few blocks of the World Trade Center on Halloween.
In December, a would-be suicide bomber set off a pipe bomb in a subway passageway near Times Square, authorities said. They said suspects in both attacks were inspired by the Islamic State extremist group.
The recent attacks in New York, as well as terror attacks elsewhere, were on Miller’s mind as she arrived Tuesday.
“You don’t want to live in fear, but it’s very real,” she said.
Debra Sinodinos, who lost her firefighter cousin Peter Carroll and works near the trade center, said she tries not to let the recent attacks unnerve her.
“You have to move on,” she said as she headed into the anniversary ceremony with her extended family. “Otherwise, you’d live in fear.”
The 9/11 commemorations are by now familiar rituals, centered on reading the names of the dead. But each year at ground zero, victims’ relatives infuse the ceremony with personal messages of remembrance, inspiration and concern.
For Nicholas Haros Jr., that concern is officials who make comparisons to 9/11 or invoke it for political purposes.
“Stop. Stop,” pleaded Haros, who lost his 76-year-old mother, Frances. “Please stop using the bones and ashes of our loved ones as props in your political theater. Their lives, sacrifices and deaths are worth so much more. Let’s not trivialize them.”
This year’s anniversary comes as a heated midterm election cycle kicks into high gear. But there have long been some efforts to separate the solemn anniversary from politics.
The group 9/11 Day, which promotes volunteering on an anniversary that was declared a national day of service in 2009, routinely asks candidates not to campaign or run political ads for the day. Organizers of the ground zero ceremony allow politicians to attend, but they’ve been barred since 2011 from reading names or delivering remarks.
The names are read by victims’ loved ones, some of them not yet born when the attacks happened.
“Even though I never met you, I’ll never forget you,” Isabella Del Corral said of her grandfather, Joseph Piskadlo.
Hours after the ceremony, two powerful light beams will soar into the night sky from lower Manhattan in the annual “Tribute in Light.”
Memorials to 9/11 continue to grow at Shanksville, where the Tower of Voices will eventually include a wind chime for each of the 40 people killed there, and ground zero, where work is to begin soon on a pathway honoring rescue and recovery workers.
It will serve as a way to honor those who became sick or died from exposure to toxins released when the Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed. Researchers have documented elevated rates of respiratory ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses among people who spent time in the rubble.
About 38,500 people have applied to a compensation fund, and over $3.9 billion in claims have been approved.
Meanwhile, rebuilding continues. A subway station destroyed on 9/11 finally reopened Saturday. In June, doors opened at the 80-story 3 World Trade Center, one of several rebuilt office towers that have been constructed or planned at the site. A performing arts center is rising.
However, work was suspended in December on replacing a Greek Orthodox church crushed in the attacks; the project hit financial problems.
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Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Karen Matthews contributed to this report.


Own up to mass Muslim detentions, Amnesty tells China

Updated 8 min 17 sec ago
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Own up to mass Muslim detentions, Amnesty tells China

  • Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang
  • Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment

BEIJING: China must come clean about the fate of an estimated one million minority Muslims swept up in a “massive crackdown” in its far western region of Xinjiang, Amnesty International said Monday.
Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang.
Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment.
In a new report, which included testimony from people held in the camps, the international rights group said Beijing had rolled out “an intensifying government campaign of mass internment, intrusive surveillance, political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation.”
Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are punished for violating regulations banning beards and burqas, and for the possession of unauthorized Qur’ans, it added.
Up to a million people are detained in internment camps, a United Nations panel on racial discrimination reported last month, with many detained for offenses as minor as making contact with family members outside the country or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media.
“Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart by this massive crackdown,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia director, in a statement.
“They are desperate to know what has happened to their loved ones and it is time the Chinese authorities give them answers.”
Beijing has denied reports of the camps but evidence is mounting in the form of government documents and escapee testimony.
These suggest that Chinese authorities are detaining large groups of people in a network of extrajudicial camps for political and cultural indoctrination on a scale unseen since the Maoist era.
Amnesty’s report interviewed several former detainees who said they were put in shackles, tortured, and made to sing political songs and learn about the Communist Party.
The testimony tallies with evidence gathered by foreign reporters and rights groups in the past year.
Amnesty also called on governments around the world to hold Beijing to account for “the nightmare” unfolding in Xinjiang.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced “awful abuses” of Uighur Muslims detained in re-education camps.
“Hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Uighurs are held against their will in so-called re-education camps where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses,” Pompeo said in a speech.
However Pakistan, China’s biggest Muslim ally, quickly denied reports last week that it had criticized Beijing — which is pouring billions in infrastructure investment into the country — over the issue.
Religious affairs minister Noorul Haq Qadri told AFP China has agreed to exchange delegations of religious students to help promote “harmony” between Muslims and Chinese authorities.
China’s top leaders recently called for religious practices to be brought in line with “traditional” Chinese values and culture, sparking concern among rights groups.
Earlier this month draft regulations suggested Beijing was considering restrictions on religious content online, such as images of people praying or chanting.
State supervision of religion has increased in a bid to “block extremism,” and authorities have removed Islamic symbols such as crescents from public spaces in areas with significant Muslim populations.
Christians have also been targeted in crackdowns, with a prominent Beijing “underground” church shuttered by authorities earlier this month. Churches in central Henan province have seen their crosses torn down and followers harassed.