Thousands protest in Barcelona against Catalan independence

Thousands protest in Barcelona against Catalan independence
Protesters listen to Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa during a demonstration called by "Societat Civil Catalans" (Catalan Civil Society) to support the unity of Spain on Sunday in Barcelona. (AFP)
Updated 09 October 2017

Thousands protest in Barcelona against Catalan independence

Thousands protest in Barcelona against Catalan independence

BARCELONA: Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Catalonia’s capital Barcelona on Sunday to express their opposition to declaring independence from Spain, showing how divided the region is on the issue.
A crowd estimated by local police to number 350,000 waved Spanish and Catalan flags and carried banners saying “Catalonia is Spain” and “Together we are stronger.” They poured into the city center after politicians on both sides hardened their positions in the country’s worst political crisis for decades.
Two more Catalonia-based companies set board meetings for Monday to decide whether to shift their head offices out of the region, adding to the intense pressure Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is under to back away from declaring independence when he addresses the regional parliament on Tuesday.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Saturday he would not rule out removing Catalonia’s government and calling a fresh local election if it claimed independence, as well as suspending the wealthy region’s existing autonomous status.
Catalonia, which has its own language and culture and is led by a pro-independence regional government, held a referendum on Oct. 1 over secession, in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court which had declared the vote illegal.
The Catalan authorities say the referendum showed voters overwhelmingly support independence.
More than 90 percent of those who voted backed secession, but opinion polls on the issue suggest the region is more closely divided. Turn-out for the referendum was 43 percent, with most residents who wish to remain in Spain staying home.
The anti-independence demonstration, which included Catalans and people from other parts of Spain, underlined how the dispute has riven the region itself. A month ago, a million people rallied in the city to support independence.
“We feel both Catalan and Spanish,” Araceli Ponze, 72, said during Sunday’s rally. “We are facing a tremendous unknown. We will see what happens this week but we have to speak out very loudly so they know what we want.”
Puigdemont will address the Catalan parliament at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Tuesday on “the current political situation” amid speculation he could ask the assembly to declare independence.
Puigdemont said in an interview broadcast on Catalan television on Sunday that a law passed by the Catalan parliament preparing the way for the referendum called for a declaration of independence in the event of a “yes” vote.
“We will apply what the law says,” he said, according to a partial transcript released by TV3.
Puigdemont said he had not been in contact with the Madrid government for some time because Spain refused to discuss independence. “What is happening in Catalonia is real, whether they like it or not. Millions of people have voted, who want to decide. We have to talk about this,” he said.
Rajoy has said repeatedly he will not talk to the Catalan leaders unless they drop their plans to declare independence.
The Spanish government sent thousands of national police to the region to prevent the vote. About 900 people were injured when officers fired rubber bullets and charged crowds with truncheons in scenes that shocked Spain and the world, and dramatically escalated the dispute.

COMPANY MEETINGS
Losing Catalonia is almost unthinkable for the Spanish government. It would deprive Spain of about 16 percent of its people, a fifth of its economic output and more than a quarter of its exports. There is widespread opposition to a Catalan breakaway among people in the rest of the country.
The political stand-off has pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia. The board of Catalonia-based infrastructure firm Abertis will meet on Monday to discuss moving its head office elsewhere in Spain, a source familiar with the matter said.
Real estate firm Inmobiliaria Colonial also called a board meeting for Monday to discuss moving its head office out of Catalonia, a source close to the firm said.
Companies that have already decided to move their head offices out of Catalonia include Spain’s third biggest lender, Caixabank, and the fifth-biggest, Sabadell.
The exodus adds to pressure on Catalan leaders by potentially undermining tax revenues paid by companies.
Concern is growing in EU capitals about the impact of the crisis on the Spanish economy, the fourth largest in the euro zone, and on possible spillovers to other economies.
Some European officials are also worried that any softening in Spain’s stance toward Catalan independence could fuel secessionist feelings among other groups in Europe such as Belgium’s Flemings and Italy’s Lombards.
Until the weekend, Rajoy has remained vague on whether he would take the unprecedented step of triggering Article 155 of the constitution, the so-called nuclear option which enables him to sack the regional government and call a local election.
However, asked if he was ready to do so, Rajoy told El Pais newspaper on Saturday: “I don’t rule out anything that is within the law ... Ideally, we shouldn’t have to take drastic solutions but for that not to happen there would have to be changes.”
Rajoy also said he planned to leave in Catalonia the 4,000 national police the government had shipped in for the referendum, until the crisis was over. He ruled out using mediators to resolve the crisis — something Puigdemont has said he is open to — and added the issue would not force a snap national election.
Sunday’s demonstration in Barcelona was organized by the anti-independence group Catalan Civil Society to mobilize what it believes is a “silent majority” that opposes independence.
“The people who have come to demonstrate don’t feel Catalan so much as Spanish,” said 40-year-old engineer Raul Briones, wearing a Spanish national soccer team shirt. “We like how things have been up until now and want to go on like this.”
The rally was addressed by Nobel prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who has dual Spanish and Peruvian nationality. He told reporters it showed many Catalans “don’t want the coup d’etat the Catalan government is fostering.”


Islamophobic British teenage extremist wanted to ‘bring about revolution,’ court hears

Islamophobic British teenage extremist wanted to ‘bring about revolution,’ court hears
Updated 15 June 2021

Islamophobic British teenage extremist wanted to ‘bring about revolution,’ court hears

Islamophobic British teenage extremist wanted to ‘bring about revolution,’ court hears
  • Matthew Cronjager alleged to have provided instructions for manufacture of firearms using 3D printer
  • He told online group: ‘Not sure which kind of racism you’re into but I’ll do all of them’

LONDON: A British teenage extremist who “hated Jews and Muslims” hoped to spark a revolution based on his racist ideology, a court in central London has heard.

Matthew Cronjager, 18, was alleged to have produced plans for a storage bunker and provided instructions for the manufacture of two firearms using a 3D printer.

He transferred funds to help purchase materials to build weapons between Oct. 31 and Dec. 19, 2020, the court was told.

“He wanted to bring about a change of government by violence,” said Alistair Richardson for the prosecution. “He wanted to bring about his own revolution based on his own racist ideology. To that end, he sought to produce a firearm using a 3D printer.”

Among a collection of far-right material, Cronjager allegedly uploaded violent manuals that gave instructions on how to seriously maim and murder people.

In one online group, he wrote: “Not sure which kind of racism you’re into but I’ll do all of them.” He added: “May dreams of Hitler and swastikas guide you to sleep.”

In another group, Cronjager said: “I’d prefer pure whiteness in our country but if we had to compromise I’d want segregation.”

He was then added to another messaging group on Telegram, a platform popular with terrorists. The new group was hosted by a user called Bull based in Spain.

Richardson said: “There was then discussion of what skills would be most useful — those, for example, of an electrician or a welder.

“Bull explained that welding was one of the most important skills. A welder could fix metal, create ammunition and weapons.”

The prosecutor added: “The defendant offered his own view that they ‘should all be able to at least put together the parts and also be able to reload our own ammo’.”

The court was told that Bull asked the group who would be willing to be its UK division leader as he would need to start organizing training and conducting recruitment.

Richardson said an undercover police officer “asked whether anyone wanted to be leader. The defendant immediately replied that ‘I wouldn’t mind being the leader’.” Bull confirmed that Cronjager was the leader of the UK outfit.

Richardson said: “He then told everyone they must not talk about the group and must not leave their phones open with their screens on the group messages.

“The defendant then went on to explain that he was going to begin construction of an underground hideaway nearby. He was preparing a bunker in which to store the firearms he was seeking to obtain.”

Jurors heard that Cronjager posted a sketch plan of an underground bunker in October 2020 along with two posts on how to carry out the “revolution.”

He told the group: “Here are my bunker plans. Nothing special. It’ll work tho. I’ll use pallets for the walls, ceilings and floors.”

Richardson said the undercover policeman and the teenage extremists discussed producing weapons.

Cronjager told the officer: “I don’t want to start anything too soon, but I want to conduct at least one offensive action within two years.”

Cronjager has denied preparing for terrorist acts and disseminating terrorist propaganda. He rejected four counts of collecting information likely to help others preparing for terror acts.


Children orphaned by COVID-19 facing uncertain future in India

Children orphaned by COVID-19 facing uncertain future in India
Updated 15 June 2021

Children orphaned by COVID-19 facing uncertain future in India

Children orphaned by COVID-19 facing uncertain future in India
  • Officials, NGOs warn thousands of vulnerable to exploitation, neglect

NEW DELHI: Despite Indian government assurances to provide free food and education to children orphaned by the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, a majority continue to face an uncertain future after losing one or both parents amid the second wave of the pandemic.

In a recent report, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said that 3,621 ophans had lost both parents to the disease, while more than 26,000 had lost one parent.

“We are still in the process of compiling data, but looking at the initial figure, it looks grim,” an NCPCR official told Arab News.

“The challenge is to reach out to them and extend all support,” he added.

Shainza Sadat, 12, lost her mother to COVID-19 in the third week of April in the capital city, New Delhi, after her family failed to find hospital bed space.

“Life is difficult now in my mother’s absence,” Sadat told Arab News, adding: “Everything is established. Our main support system has gone.”

Her father Anwar said that since his wife’s death, “the family was without an anchor.”

He added: “The pandemic has jolted us. It’s not easy to raise a 12-year-old daughter single-handedly without her mother’s support.”

The second wave of the pandemic across India earlier this year claimed more than 300,000 lives and wreaked havoc across towns and villages in the country of 1.3 billion people.

After losing their father to COVID-19 late last year, Shatrudhan Kumar, 13, and his seven-year-old brother, from the Jehanabad district in the eastern state of Bihar, also lost their mother to the disease in April.

BACKGROUND

The Bihar government has registered 48 cases of children losing both parents and 1,400 cases of single parent deaths to COVID-19.

“I want to study, but now it’s a challenge to live without any support,” Kumar told Arab News.

“We are living with our relatives, but how long can we depend on them?”

The Bihar government has registered 48 cases of children losing both parents and 1,400 cases of single parent deaths to COVID-19.

“We are providing RS1,500 ($20) per month to each child who has lost their parents besides free education and free rations for the family,” Raj Kumar, director of Bihar’s social work department, told Arab News.

He added that a “widow is also getting $6 every month and free rations for the family.”

However, Bihar-based child rights NGO center, DIRECT, questioned the figures claimed by the government, and is now seeking “higher compensation for the victims.”

“I believe the figure of the children without a single parent or any parents must be double of what the government is saying,” Suresh Kumar, director of the NGO, told Arab News.

“The situation is bleak in rural areas. There are children whose parents have died due to COVID-19, but they don’t have proof to show that they lost their parents to the virus,” Kumar said, adding: “As a result, they are not getting the benefits announced by the government.”

On May 29, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced welfare measures for children who had lost their parents to COVID-19. Part of the measures requires the government to take care of children’s education, with a $14,000 corpus created for each child, which they can avail after turning 23.

However, officials and NGOs worry that children left without parents now face the double threat of neglect and vulnerability to exploitation and human trafficking.

Sonal Kapoor of NGO Protsahan, based in the capital, questioned the government’s narrative of supporting “orphans of the pandemic” while “ignoring the larger question.”

According to Kapoor, who works for vulnerable children facing rights violations, an overwhelming majority of orphaned children are being forced into child labor.

“Among the children in distress cases that have erupted and we are working to support, fewer than 5 percent are children who have lost parents, but the remaining 95 percent are facing severe cases of child labor, child hunger and even sexual exploitation within families,” Kapoor told Arab News.

“In the last three months, the 48 slum communities where we work in Delhi have seen an escalation in cases of child labor and using children — both girls and boys — for transactional sex by parents in exchange for food,” she said, adding: “Children have been pushed into child labor to supplement their family income and there is no saying if they will go back to school even if the pandemic ends.”

Kapoor said that adoption or institutional support was not a feasible option, as India’s adoption rate is low, with just 3,351 children being adopted last year despite thousands being orphaned.

“Every orphan child does not have to end up in a child care institute. A simple semblance of extended family with limited resources is any day better than life for a child in a shelter home,” Kapoor added.

Citing an example of two children who had lost both their parents to COVID-19 last month, Kapoor said that they were left in the care of elderly grandparents, where “the poor grandmother is working overtime to meet the requirements of the teens.

“As an NGO, we support such families so that children grow under the patronage of their kith and kin,” she said.


England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions
Updated 14 June 2021

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions
  • Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed "Freedom Day"
  • Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to "ease off the accelerator"

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-week delay to the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England due to a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant.
The delay comes as a blow to Johnson’s plans to fully reopen the UK economy on June 21 after months of gradually easing restrictions since March.
Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed “Freedom Day,” which was set to mark an end to all social distancing restrictions and the reopening of nightclubs.
But Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to “ease off the accelerator” and focus instead on ramping up vaccinations.
“On the evidence I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks and won’t need to go beyond July 19,” Johnson told a press briefing.
Health policy is devolved in the four nations that make up the UK, handled separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland, which was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28, is also expected to announce a delay to its reopening.
In England, most current rules — including limits on the number of people who can meet in pubs and restaurants — will remain in place until July 19, although restrictions on the number of guests allowed at weddings will be lifted.
Large scale pilot events, such as Euro 2020 football matches, will also go ahead as planned.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for 96 percent of UK cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.
Total reported cases are now at their highest since February — around 8,000 new infections a day.
The Delta variant is believed to be around 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, southeast England.
That strain forced the country to go into another three-month lockdown in January.
Nevertheless hospital admissions and deaths remain low, thanks in large part to Britain’s rapid vaccination rollout.
More than 55 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.
Newspapers have hinted at dissent within Johnson’s cabinet over the delay, with The Times citing an unnamed minister as saying it was “a very odd decision.”
Johnson accepted that “we cannot simply eliminate Covid, we must learn to live with it,” but added that “once the adults of this country have been overwhelmingly vaccinated... we will be in a far stronger position to... live with this disease.”
The government hopes that two thirds of all adults will have received two shots by July 19.
A study released Monday found that two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine stopped the need for in-patient treatment in 96 percent of cases of the new variant.
With a double dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, the rate was 92 percent.
The government had hoped to allow crowds to return unrestricted to pubs and clubs next week, with the hard-hit hospitality industry warning it is on its last legs.
Trade association UKHospitality estimated that a month’s delay in lifting the restrictions would cost the sector around £3 billion ($4.23 billion) in sales.
“A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably,” said its chief executive Kate Nicholls.


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.