Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day

Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day
A soldier prays during a flag raising ceremony at the Lanao Del Sur provincial capital of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on Monday. Embattled Philippine troops struggling to force out Islamist militants from a southern city raised the national flag for Independence Day on June 12, in a tearful ceremony dedicated to the scores killed during the conflict. (AFP / NOEL CELIS)
Updated 12 June 2017

Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day

Blasts rock Marawi as Philippines marks Independence Day

MARAWI CITY, Philippines: Bomb blasts rocked Marawi City in the southern Philippines on Monday as the national flag was raised to mark independence day, almost three weeks after hundreds of militants overran the town and hunkered down with civilians as human shields.
Rescue workers, soldiers and firemen sang the national anthem and listened to speeches as three OV-10 attack aircraft darted through the cloudy sky, taking it in turns to drop bombs on areas where fighters are still holed up.
“To our Muslim brothers there, we want to tell them to stop their meaningless fight because we are all Muslims,” Vice Provincial Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. told the gathering.
Flag ceremonies are normally performed twice a week, but this was the first in the mainly Muslim town since May 23, the first day of the siege, when the militants killed and abducted Christians, and torched a cathedral.
Almost the entire population of about 200,000 fled from the lakeside town on the Philipppines’ southernmost island of Mindanao, but beyond the checkpoints fencing it off there are still some 500-1,000 civilians trapped or being held hostage.
As of Saturday the number of security forces killed in the battle for Marawi stood at 58. The death toll for civilians was 20 and more than 100 had been killed overall.
The seizure of Marawi by fighters allied to Daesh, including some from the Middle East, has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear the ultra-radical group — on a backfoot in Iraq and Syria — is trying to set up a stronghold on Mindanao that could threaten their region.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he had not expected the battle for Marawi to be as serious as it has turned out, adding it had now emerged “that Baghdadi himself, the leader of the Daesh, has specifically ordered terroristic activities here in the Philippines.”
Duterte did not say how he knew that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had given instructions for the attack on Marawi.
Foreign Affairs Minister Allan Peter Cayetano said in an independence day speech in Manila that the militants’ had planned to take over at least two or three cities in Mindanao.
Their plot was foiled because troops made a preemptive raid on Marawi to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and Daesh’s “emir” of Southeast Asia.
“We want to coordinate very well with Indonesia and Malaysia so they won’t also suffer in the hands of extremists,” he said.
“But the president knew at the start of his term that, as the allies become more successful in Syria and Iraq, they (Daesh) will be looking for a land base, and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will be a potential target to them.”
Washington said at the weekend it was providing support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clear the militants from pockets of Marawi. Manila said this was technical assistance and there were no US “boots on the ground.”
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said support included aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance and training. A US P-3 Orion surveillance plane was seen over the town on Friday.
The cooperation between the longtime allies in the battle is significant because Duterte, who came to power a year ago, has taken a hostile stance toward Washington and has vowed to eject US military trainers and advisers from his country.
The Pentagon has no permanent presence in the Philippines but for years has kept 50 to 100 special forces troops in the south of the country on rotational exercises.
Duterte said on Sunday he had not sought support from Washington to end the siege and had not been aware that US special forces were assisting.
Cayetano said the government did not need to be involved in decisions on US participation because of a bilateral visiting forces agreement and, with “events happening real time,” such matters are left to the armed forces and defense department.


US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
Updated 8 min 27 sec ago

US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
  • The J&J vaccine is the third to be greenlighted in the US after Pfizer’s and Moderna’s were provisionally approved in December
  • US President Joe Biden hails 'exciting news' but urge Americans not to let guard down

WASHINGTON: The United States on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine for emergency use, giving the nation a third shot to battle the outbreak that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
The single-shot vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe Covid-19, including against newer variants, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said before giving it a green light.
“This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
But he urged Americans to remain vigilant with anti-virus curbs such as social distancing, warning that new variants of the virus still posed a threat.
“But we cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable,” he said.
A third vaccine is seen as a vital means to ramp up the immunization rate in the United States, where more than 500,000 people have lost their lives to the coronavirus.
In large clinical trials, the J&J vaccine’s efficacy against severe disease was 85.9 percent in the United States, 81.7 percent in South Africa, and 87.6 percent in Brazil.
Overall, among 39,321 participants across all regions, the efficacy against severe Covid-19 was 85.4 percent, but it fell to 66.1 percent when including moderate forms of the disease.
Crucially, analyses of various demographic groups revealed no marked differences across age, race, or people with underlying conditions.
The J&J vaccine is the third to be greenlighted in the United States after Pfizer’s and Moderna’s were provisionally approved in December.

Practical advantages
Over 65 million people in America have so far received at least one shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — but unlike those, the J&J vaccine requires just one dose, and is stored at fridge temperatures, offering logistical and practical advantages.
The J&J shot appears less protective than Pfizer and Moderna’s two-shot regimens, which both have an efficacy of around 95 percent against all forms of Covid-19 from the classic coronavirus strain.
All three have been shown to fully protect against hospitalizations and death, however.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Washington Post the two earlier vaccines were tested months before the emergence of “variants of concern” that could affect the efficacy, meaning the Pfizer and Moderna results were not an “apples to apples” comparison with the J&J shot.
There was a hint, based on preliminary data, that the J&J vaccine might be effective against asymptomatic infection — though the company said it needs to do more research.
The company has announced it aims to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March, with 100 million by June — though the US is pushing to expedite that timeline.
The J&J vaccine uses a common-cold causing adenovirus, which has been genetically modified so that it can’t replicate, to carry the gene for a key protein of the coronavirus into human cells.


US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium

US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium
Updated 27 min 41 sec ago

US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium

US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium
  • The CDC eviction moratorium was signed in September by President Donald Trump
  • President Joe Biden until March 31 to give tenants a breathing spell as the pandemic continues

WASHINGTON: The Justice Department said Saturday it will appeal a judge’s ruling that found the federal government’s eviction moratorium was unconstitutional.
Prosecutors filed a notice in the case on Saturday evening, saying that it was appealing the matter the to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
On Thursday, US District Judge J. Campbell Barker ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority and that the moratorium was unlawful.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution,” the judge wrote.
The CDC eviction moratorium was signed in September by President Donald Trump and extended by President Joe Biden until March 31.
Barker, who was nominated by Trump in 2018 to serve in the Eastern District of Texas, stopped short of issuing an injunction in the case. Several property owners had brought the litigation arguing that the federal government didn’t have the legal authority to stop evictions.
“The federal government cannot say that it has ever before invoked its power over interstate commerce to impose a residential eviction moratorium,” Barker wrote. “It did not do so during the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic. Nor did it invoke such a power during the exigencies of the Great Depression. The federal government has not claimed such a power at any point during our Nation’s history until last year.”
State and local governments had approved eviction moratoriums early in the pandemic for many renters, but many of those protections have already expired.
To be eligible for protection, renters must have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate they’ve sought government help to pay rent; declare that they can’t pay because of COVID-19 hardships; and affirm that they are likely to become homeless if evicted.


Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal
Updated 28 February 2021

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal
  • Earlier in the day, 5,000 opposition protesters waving Armenian flags and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation gathered for the third day running outside the parliament in Yerevan

YEREVAN: Armenian President Armen Sarkisian said on Saturday he had refused to sign a prime ministerial order to dismiss the army’s chief of staff, deepening a national political crisis.
The ex-Soviet nation has faced turmoil since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Moscow-brokered peace accord in November, sealing a humiliating defeat to Azerbaijan after six weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Divisions widened Thursday when Pashinyan defied a call by the military to resign, accused the army of an attempted coup, and ordered the chief of the general staff Onik Gasparyan to be fired.
On Saturday, Armenian President Sarkisian said in a statement that he would not back the sacking.
“The president of the republic, within the framework of his constitutional powers, returned the draft decree with objections,” the presidency said.
It added that the political crisis “cannot be resolved through frequent personnel changes.”
Earlier in the day, 5,000 opposition protesters waving Armenian flags and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation gathered for the third day running outside the parliament in Yerevan.

BACKGROUND

Armenia has faced turmoil since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Moscow-brokered peace accord in November.

Some protesters have now set up camp there.
“Today Pashinyan has no support. I call on the security services and the police to join the army, to support the army,” said former premier Vazgen Manukyan, who has been named by the opposition to replace Pashinyan.
“I am sure that the situation will be resolved within two to three days,” he told the crowd.
Pashinyan has faced fierce criticism since he signed a peace deal over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region that broke from Azerbaijan’s control during a war in the early 1990s.
The agreement was seen as a national humiliation for many in Armenia, but Pashinyan has said he had no choice but to agree or see his country’s forces suffer even bigger losses.


India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea
Updated 27 February 2021

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea
  • Abide by international laws to deal with refugees rescued near Andaman Islands, Human Rights Watch says
  • New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people”

NEW DELHI: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday called on India to abide by international laws in protecting refugees a day after New Delhi said it had rescued 81 Rohingya stranded in Indian waters.
“India should abide by its international obligations to offer all protection and access to the UN refugee agency,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News.
On Feb. 11, nearly 90 Rohingya from the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh boarded a small boat for Malaysia, Anurag Srivastava, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement.
Four days later, on Feb. 15, “the boat’s engine broke down, and the boat drifted toward the southern Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar.”
Eight people lost their lives, and one drowned.
Two days later, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to “all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress.”
On Friday, New Delhi announced that it had rescued the stranded refugees.
“When we learned of the boat in distress, we immediately dispatched two coast guard ships to provide food, water and medical assistance to the occupants of the boat. Seven of them were administered IV fluids,” the statement said.
It added that since most of “the occupants of the boat have ID cards issued to them by the UNHCR office in Bangladesh,” New Delhi was in talks with Dhaka “to ensure their safe and secure repatriation.”
The HRW, however, said that India needed to do more to abide by its “international obligations” and should not “pass the buck.”
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which mandates refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. Nor does it have any domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including some Rohingya from Myanmar.
“Whether it is India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh or other countries in the region, governments need to protect the Rohingya refugees instead of trying to pass the buck,” Ganguly told Arab News.
She added that the “primary responsibility” for the plight of the Rohingya lay with Myanmar and that “these governments should join the international community to ensure that the Rohingya can return to their homes voluntarily, with safety and dignity.”
Meanwhile, the New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people.”
“Rohingya stranded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are not Bangladeshi; they are hapless refugees. India, being a big country, should shelter these stranded people till the situation normalizes in Myanmar,” RHRI founder Sabber Kyaw Min said.
Min was referring in part to a coup d’etat by the Myanmar military on Feb. 1, which has led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the ruling regime and widespread, nationwide protests.
He called on the Indian government to disclose the refugees’ whereabouts.
“I was in touch with some of the refugees and their relatives till Wednesday, but since then their phones have been off. Rohingya are suffering. New Delhi should demonstrate large-heartedness in accommodating the refugees in the same way Bangladesh has demonstrated,” Min added.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a federally administered archipelago lying between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Both Myanmar and Thailand have coastlines along the eastern edge of the sea.
In 2012, some Rohingya refugees were rescued from near the islands and provided medical care and attention, before being sent back to Myanmar.
However, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime assumed office in New Delhi, India has taken a harder line over providing admission and shelter to any Rohingya refugees.
Denis Giles of the Andaman Chronicle, an English newspaper based in Andaman’s capital Port Blair, was the first to break the story about the stranded refugees and alert the world about the crisis.
Giles, who covered the Rohingya rescue operations in 2012, said that this time “there is a big difference.”
“They were properly treated, and the administration used to ask social organizations to help them out, but now no one wants to talk about that. There is a hush now,” Giles told Arab News.
“Earlier, we would know where they are being kept, which hospitals they are being treated at but this time, we are completely in the dark.”
Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution at the Myanmar military’s hands in the Buddhist-majority country.
The Rohingya endured decades of abuse in Myanmar, beginning in the 1970s when hundreds of thousands sought refuge in Bangladesh.
Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 fled when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal under which thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine.
The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in August 2017 following a military crackdown on the ethnic minority group.
According to the UN, by the end of 2020, 866,457 Rohingya refugees had been registered at 34 camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh due to a joint initiative by Dhaka and the UNHCR.


Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies
Updated 27 February 2021

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies
  • Move part of efforts to speed up inoculation, achieve herd immunity

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Friday said it would allow private companies to run coronavirus vaccination programs for workers and families alongside a nationwide drive to expedite efforts in achieving herd immunity.

The country is aiming to inoculate 181.5 million people out of the total 270 million population by year-end.

“The companies will provide the vaccines for free for workers,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, health ministry spokesperson for the vaccination program, said during a press conference.

Tarmizi added that the ministry’s revised regulation, which serves as the main reference for the vaccination program, was issued on Wednesday to include articles regulating the private sector’s involvement in the vaccination drive.

“The number of vaccines distributed in the private-run program will match the number that the companies requested, and the inoculations will be conducted at private healthcare facilities or the companies’ own facilities,” Tarmizi said.

Additionally, the vaccines used in the program will be different from the free CoronaVac, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer vaccines that the government has distributed since mid-January.

While initial population targets included health workers, senior citizens, frontline public workers, teachers and lecturers, athletes, journalists, and lawmakers, the general population or those in their productive age will receive their first vaccine jab in April.

The private scheme, which the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) proposed, will require companies to purchase the vaccine from Bio Farma, a state-owned vaccine manufacturer appointed as the sole importer for all jabs that Indonesia procures.

Bio Farma spokesperson Bambang Heriyanto said the company is in discussions with Moderna and Sinopharm to procure vaccines for the private scheme, which has been dubbed “Gotong Royong,” an Indonesian term for mutual cooperation.

“In accordance with its name, this is a mutual cooperation initiative. The government will provide a space for any members of society that will want to assist the government in the vaccination program,” Arya Sinulingga, a spokesperson for the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said on Friday.

He added that the private drive will run in parallel with the government’s program and will not alter the existing schedule or priority groups being targeted.

Kadin said that about 7,000 companies had already registered for the vaccination drive as of Saturday.

“The enthusiasm is really high to take part in this program because it is quite costly for the companies to swab test regularly. It is better for the companies to allocate the cost to vaccinate their workers,” Shinta Kamdani Widjaja, Kadin deputy chairwoman, said at a press conference earlier this week.

She dismissed concerns that the program will commercialize vaccines, saying the government would closely monitor the program to avoid any violations of terms and conditions.

“There are also companies that are willing to vaccinate not only their workers, but also their families. It would be difficult for the economy to recover if we don’t achieve the herd immunity target. The business community is ready to support the government in the vaccination drive and economic recovery program,” Widjaja said.

However, opponents of the scheme said the private vaccination drive will “only enable queue jumpers who don’t really need the vaccine compared with the more vulnerable groups, and disregard the principle of equity for all citizens in a vaccination program.”

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist, said in an online discussion: “There is also no guarantee that we will achieve herd immunity by inoculating 181.5 million people. This could be misleading the public and making them have the wrong expectation.

“This is also prone to make the government, the companies, and the public relax its compliance to the health protocols, testing, tracing and treatment,” Budiman added.

He said that achieving herd immunity is a long-term goal and that the vaccination drive could not stand alone in battling the pandemic without a comprehensive public health approach.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed and said that the private vaccination program focused mainly on economic recovery targets instead of controlling the pandemic.

“It is clear from the start that the government does not view the vaccine as one of the ways to handle the pandemic, but it has been more about economic recovery,” Riono said.