BUCHAREST, Romania: Romanians who live abroad flocked to an anti-government protest in Bucharest on Friday, urging the left-wing government to resign and call an early election.
The expatriates, some of whom drove across Europe to attend the demonstration, are angry about how Romania is governed. Many of the estimated 3 million Romanians living abroad say they left because of corruption, low wages and lack of opportunities.
More than 1,000 protesters waved Romanian and European Union flags, booed and yelled “Justice, not corruption!” outside government offices in the capital.
Protesters briefly scuffled with riot police when they tried to break through a police line guarding the government offices. At least one man was detained.
The protests were to continue into Friday evening.
Since the Social Democrats won power in 2016, Romanians have regularly protested government moves to put in new laws that critics say weaken the nation’s fight against corruption.
Philippine national capital region to implement longer curfew hours as COVID-19 precaution
Metro Manila is currently under general community quarantine with ‘heightened and additional’ restrictions but will shift to a stricter one on Friday
Updated 4 min 5 sec ago
ROMMER M. BALABA
DUBAI: The Philippine national capital region will implement longer curfew hours when it shifts to an enhanced community quarantine on Friday, as a precaution to rising infections of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Movement limits in Metro Manila would be in place between 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., from the current curfew hours of 12 a.m. to 4 a.m., after a unanimous decision from mayors, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairperson Benhur Abalos said in a press briefing on Monday.
Metro Manila is currently under general community quarantine with ‘heightened and additional’ restrictions but will shift to ECQ, the strictest status, from Aug. 6 to Aug. 20 due to the threat of rising COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant.
The shift to the strictest quarantine mode means indoor and al fresco dining would be disallowed and businesses and costumers can only have take-out and delivery services.
Indoor sports venues and tourist attraction would be closed, but outdoor tourist spots, as defined by the Department of Tourism, may continue to operate, but at a 30 percent capacity.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. earlier said the two-week lockdown may be sufficient to reduce the COVID-19 caseload in Metro Manila.
Metro Manila residents such as Emmanuel S. Geslani says they are comfortable with the impending lockdown, and are preparing for it by stocking up on medicines and food.
“The Delta variant is really worrying because we do not know who (among those in public) have it,” Geslani told Arab News.
“So it is better [to implement the lockdown] as a precaution against it.”
Jaime Mendoza, a government nurse, meanwhile told Arab News that coronavirus transmission could be controlled only if there would be strict monitoring in the porous borders between cities.
“There should also be strict compliance among the residents, whose livelihood have been affected by the pandemic.”
Infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana, said in a social media post that “the lockdown was preemptive response to Delta and is premised on an accelerated vaccination program to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
“We recommended putting many areas in the country under ECQ when Delta started showing up in July, areas that were already for escalation anyway because of increasing HCUR and other parameters,” according to Salvana, who is among selected experts working with government to address the coronavirus pandemic.
“The biggest objective of this impending ECQ is to vaccinate as many people as possible in NCR. We are only tempering the anticipated increase in Delta to protect as many people as possible.”
Seoul says no decision on joint US military drills, but exercises should not create North Korea tension
South Korea and the United States regularly stage military exercises, mainly in the spring and summer
The exercises have been scaled back in recent years to facilitate talks between North Korea and the US
Updated 02 August 2021
SEOUL: South Korea said on Monday no decision has been made on its joint military exercises with the United States but they should not create tension, after North Korea warned the South against holding the exercises amid signs of a thaw in relations.
South Korea and the United States regularly stage military exercises, mainly in the spring and summer, but North Korea has long responded with scathing criticism, calling them a rehearsal for war.
Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, warned the South on Sunday that holding the drills would undercut efforts to rebuild relations.
Her warning came days after the two Koreas restored hotlines that Pyongyang severed a year ago, as Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are seeking to repair strained ties and resume summits.
Seoul’s defense ministry said on Monday that Seoul and Washington were in talks over the drills but no decision has been made.
“We have nothing to comment on her statement, but regarding the exercises, the timing and method were not finalized,” ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.
The allies will decide after considering COVID-19, joint defense posture, planned transfer of wartime operational control, and the issue of “supporting diplomatic efforts for establishing lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” Boo added.
Lee Jong-joo, spokeswoman of the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the exercises should not be a “source of military tension in any case,” without elaborating.
The exercises have been scaled back in recent years to facilitate talks between North Korea and the administration of former US President Donald Trump aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs in return for US sanctions relief.
But the negotiations stalled following a failed second summit in 2019 between Kim and Trump.
The coronavirus pandemic also had an impact on the drills, with the allies focusing instead on computerised simulations and minimizing live field training, without mobilizing US-based troops.
A high-level Unification Ministry official said on Friday that the exercises should be postponed to help restart nuclear talks, but Lee declined to comment when asked if the ministry plans to make a formal recommendation.
Lee said the South last week proposed setting up a video conference system to expedite inter-Korean dialogue and approved plans by two civilian relief groups to send humanitarian aid to the North.
ASEAN diplomats discussing crisis envoy, aid to Myanmar
The 10-nation bloc has been under increasing international pressure to act on the troubles unfolding in Myanmar
Updated 02 August 2021
MANILA: Southeast Asia’s top diplomats were meeting Monday to appoint a special envoy to help deal with the political crisis and violence gripping Myanmar and finalize an emergency plan to help control a coronavirus outbreak that many fear is spiraling out of control in the military-ruled nation.
The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were also expected to announce after their video meeting some progress in four years of painstakingly slow negotiations with China to craft a nonaggression pact aimed at preventing conflict in the disputed South China Sea.
The 10-nation bloc, frequently dismissed by critics as an ineffective talk shop, has been under increasing international pressure to act on the troubles unfolding in Myanmar, an ASEAN member where the military in February toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The grouping, however, is hamstrung by its policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations as well as its requirement to reach a consensus among members.
In Monday’s online meeting the ministers were to decide who among at least three nominees from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia should be designated as the bloc’s special envoy to try to broker a settlement between the country’s ruling generals and rival parties led by Suu Kyi, a Southeast Asian diplomat told the Associated Press.
Myanmar prefers the candidate from Thailand, former Thai ambassador to Yangon Virasakdi Futrakul, but it remains uncertain when its military leaders would decide to accept the envoy and if access to Suu Kyi, who has been detained with other political leaders and put on trial for a slew of charges, would be granted, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly.
More than 900 people have been killed by Myanmar authorities since the February takeover, according to a tally kept by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Casualties are also rising among the military and police as armed resistance grows in both urban and rural areas.
ASEAN leaders met in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in April and called for an end to the violence and the start of a dialogue among contending parties to be mediated by an ASEAN envoy.
On Sunday, Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing repeated his pledge to hold fresh elections in two years and cooperate with ASEAN on finding a political solution. He said without elaborating that Myanmar “is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework, including the dialogue with the ASEAN special envoy in Myanmar.”
Myanmar’s troubles have deepened with its worst surge of the pandemic, which has overwhelmed its crippled health care system. Limits on oxygen sales have led to widespread allegations that the military is directing supplies to government supporters and military-run hospitals.
In Monday’s meeting, the ASEAN ministers were to looking to finalize a plan to bring in medicine and medical equipment to Myanmar through the regional bloc’s disaster-response center with the military leaders’ approval.
Greg Poling, an analyst on Southeast Asia for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it’s critical for ASEAN to gain humanitarian access in Myanmar but added that the aid would not automatically mean the military leaders would accede to the bloc’s political demands.
“ASEAN has no leverage with the junta,” Poling said.
In addition to Myanmar, the other ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The ministerial meetings this week include the ASEAN Regional Forum, a security conference where North Korea attends along with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.
KABUL: With US-led forces set to leave Afghanistan by the end of August, the Taliban making rapid territorial gains, and uncertainty over the state of peace talks between the insurgent group and the government in Kabul, a critical question hangs over the fate of Afghan women’s liberties and hard-won rights.
After years of subordination, Afghan women came to enjoy unprecedented freedoms in the years after 2001 when US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime, which had imposed harsh curbs on civil liberties, barring women from education and most occupations outside the home.
In the absence of the Taliban, Afghan women have held key positions in various state institutions, have run for the presidency, and have served as lawmakers, ministers and ambassadors. Governing parties have not opposed such basic principles of democracy as gender equality and free expression.
The imminent departure of the last remaining foreign troops, therefore, is a source of considerable anxiety and tension for the middle class and educated women in Afghanistan’s urban areas, who fear that a return to power by the Taliban would deprive them of the freedoms they currently enjoy.
“Everyone now is afraid. We are all worried about what will happen,” Nargis, 23, manager of the newly opened Aryana fashion store in Kabul, told Arab News.
“People have witnessed one dark Taliban era. If they come again, certainly they will not allow women to work, and I will not be where I am today.”
Nargis has a degree in journalism, but due to a surge in targeted attacks on media workers in recent years, she decided she could not risk continuing in the profession.
As in any war-torn society, women suffer disproportionately in Afghanistan, which has frequently been ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman. Several female journalists, women’s rights activists, and women serving in the Afghan security forces have been murdered, either by suspected militants or by relatives in so-called honor killings.
Some Afghans who had hoped the Taliban would liberalize their more draconian policies following talks with the US and the Afghan government have been left disappointed by the restrictions the group has imposed in areas it has seized from Afghan forces since the start of the foreign drawdown.
They say the Taliban has ordered women to not venture outdoors without a male family member, to wear the all-enveloping burqa, and have barred men from shaving their beards, reminiscent of the group’s policies when it ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.
“You see in the areas the Taliban is controlling they have imposed forced marriages, sexual slavery, and child marriages are rising,” Shukria Barakzai, a prominent women’s rights activist who served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Norway, told Arab News.
“They are taking young widows and young girls hostage. This is against the culture of Afghanistan, religion, and all rules of war. War crimes are happening now against the people of Afghanistan and especially against the women of this society.”
Taliban officials have rejected the charges, insisted that they have issued no such orders, and accused critics of trying to tarnish the group’s image.
While women in urban areas oppose constitutional and social changes that would significantly limit their rights obtained during the past two decades, some women, at least in rural areas, are indifferent to the prospect of a Taliban takeover.
These women do not feel connected to women of the urban elite, and would rather speak for themselves. Many of these rural, and even some urban, women consider peace as their main priority, even if it means sacrificing some rights that they are currently unable to exercise in any case.
“The so-called Afghan leaders speak about women’s rights merely to draw the West’s attention to keep them in power and provide them money because we have not seen their sisters and women on TV or with them in public areas,” Nasira Ghafoori, a tailor from Ghazni province, told Arab News.
“Some of them even feel ashamed to mention their daughters, sisters, and wives by name in public. Such leaders and other women who misuse the slogans of women’s rights have no place here. We are only interested in peace and ending the war.”
Not all Afghan women are ready to surrender their freedoms in the interest of peace. Maryam Durrani, a women’s rights activist who runs a gym for women and several education centers in southern Kandahar, the former seat of Taliban power, says she has had to limit her activities and partly close the gym following threats on social media since the Taliban made new inroads into the province.
“They threatened me, saying ‘we will kill you because of your activities.’ Unfortunately, because of that, as a precautionary measure, we have shut down the club to protect the lives of our customers,” Durrani, winner of the International Women of Courage Award 2012, told Arab News.
Taliban banned girls from studying and stoned women to death for crimes such as adultery.
Afghanistan’s parliament today has 68 female lawmakers, accounting for about 30 percent of the lower house.
More Afghan women were killed or wounded in the first half of 2021 than in the first 6 months of any year since 2009.
“The issue is not that the Taliban is coming back. It depends on the Taliban’s mentality and ideology. If their ideology has changed, then we may have some of the freedoms that we have now, but if they come with their past ideology, then it is clear women will not have a good time.”
The rise of the Taliban in 1996 had disrupted a long and uneven journey to women’s emancipation through education and empowerment. In the 1920s, Queen Soraya played an active role in the country’s political and social development alongside her husband, King Amanullah Khan. A bold advocate for women’s rights, she introduced modern education for women, one that included sciences, history, and other subjects.
After some setbacks, women in the 1960s helped draft Afghanistan’s first comprehensive constitution, which was ratified in 1964. It recognized the equal rights of men and women as citizens and established democratic elections. In 1965, four women were elected to parliament and several others became government ministers.
Women’s status improved rapidly under Soviet-backed socialist regimes of the late 1970s and 1980s. Parliament strengthened girls’ education and outlawed practices opposed by women. By 1992, despite the political upheavals wracking the country, Afghan women were full participants in public life.
With the withdrawal of Western forces, not only is the fate of Afghanistan’s democratic institutions in peril but also the human rights of its women, going by reports streaming in from beleaguered districts.
Asila Ahmadzai, a senior journalist with Afghan news agency Farhat, says educated women in civil society, in the media, in rights groups, and involved in entrepreneurial pursuits have fled their homes in the northern and northeastern provinces that have fallen to the Taliban.
“The situation for women in Afghanistan now is very worrying because the Taliban is gaining ground. Due to the fear of the Taliban, educated women have moved to Kabul from the rural areas,” she told Arab News.
“No female activist, member of civil society, journalist or trader wants to live in Taliban-held areas because the Taliban do not allow them to work. The Taliban only allows girls to go to school up to the age of seven — not beyond that age. If the Taliban take cities, educated women will then leave the country for good because they cannot afford to live under the group’s restrictions.”
Women such as Barakzai fear that the withdrawal of foreign troops, coupled with the failure to obtain guarantees from the Taliban that they would honor women’s rights as enshrined under the constitution, means that the situation for women and girls will be far worse if the group retakes power.
Some have pinned hopes on the US-sponsored talks between Kabul and the Taliban and believe there will be pressure on the Taliban from outside to reform some of its views, especially from Washington, which has repeatedly reiterated the need to protect the gains made since the Taliban’s removal.
“In this era, there is no place for attempts to limit girls’ access to school or women’s rights in society, the workplace or governance,” Ross Wilson, the US chargé d’affaires to Kabul, tweeted last week in response to worrying reports from areas conquered by the Taliban.
“To the Taliban — welcome to 2021. Women and men have equal rights … halt your efforts to undermine the gains of the past 20 years. Join the 21st century.”
Critics, however, argue that the US has very little leverage over the Taliban’s attitudes and policies since it has failed to compel the Taliban to halt its attacks, which was a key component of the deal it struck with the group in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
“Whether government negotiators can force the Taliban not to weaken women’s rights and the opportunities of middle and upper-class urban women will largely depend on what happens in the war between the Taliban and the government,” Taj Mohammad, a Kabul-based analyst, told Arab News.
“Long gone are the days when US leaders justified the war and the invasion partly due to human and women’s rights issues.”
Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown
Fortnight of curbs ‘critical’ to limit spread of delta variant, official says
Updated 01 August 2021
MANILA: The Philippines government on Sunday began enforcing quarantine control points (QCP) along the borders of the National Capital Region (NCR) to curb the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, ahead of a strict lockdown later this week.
“At the moment, the QCPs are at the borders of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite with adjoining provinces, but once we move to ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) starting Aug. 6, checkpoints will now be located inside Metro Manila,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said in a statement.
The two-week ECQ will be imposed in Metropolitan Manila, the nation’s capital region with more than 13 million people, from Aug. 6 to 20.
On Sunday, the Department of Health reported 8,735 new COVID-19 infections, taking the total tally to 1,597,689 cases.
Of the total, 94.3 percent have recovered, while the number of active cases stood at 4 percent, or 63,646, a majority with mild or no symptoms.
There were 127 new deaths reported, taking the country’s death toll to 28,016 since the start of the pandemic.
As of Thursday, 216 delta variant cases had been detected in the Philippines.
Ano said that the QCPs, manned by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fire Protection, will be located along the borders of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite, and will “ensure that only authorized persons outside of residence are allowed to pass."
These include health and emergency frontline service workers and uniformed personnel, government officials and employees on official travel, those involved in fully authorized relief and humanitarian assistance efforts, those traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons, persons going to and from airports, anyone crossing zones for work in permitted industries and public utility vehicle operators.
Those found to be unauthorized people outside of residence will not be allowed to pass and will be asked to return to their homes, Ano said, adding that from Aug. 1 to 5, “no QCPs will be put up inside the NCR Plus (Metro Manila plus Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite).
“The PNP, nonetheless, may still set up regular checkpoints inside the NCR Plus bubble to implement curfew hours, enforce minimum health standards and for general law enforcement,” he said.
In an earlier radio interview, Ano said that during the interim period between Friday’s announcement of Metro Manila’s return to a hard lockdown, the government “has to implement additional heightened restrictions, to include inter-zonal movement.
“With the announcement of the ECQ, it is expected that some people would be rushing to leave Metro Manila. With that, there is a high risk that people who may already be infected with the delta variant could spread the virus to other areas,” he added.
He stressed that the implementation of strict border controls was “critical” to stop the spread of the delta variant.
“Among the objectives of the ECQ is to shut down the mobility of people to cut the chain of transmission of the delta variant and to incubate the virus, so that it will die naturally,” Ano said.
He added that another purpose is to allow the government to ramp up vaccination measures against COVID-19, and allow for a more aggressive and intensive contact tracing to identify and isolate infected individuals.
“It is important for the government to act now because once there is a surge in delta variant cases in the country, it will be explosive and exponential, and it will not be easy to reverse,” he said.
The official cited other countries in the region that also had resorted to imposing hard lockdowns.
“For example, in Indonesia, they have 21,000 infections per day, and 1,700 are dying every day. In India, the rate was 44,000 cases per day, and when they ramped up their vaccination program, the recorded deaths went down to at least 500 to 600 per day. But Malaysia and Thailand, they are at about 16,000 infections per day, and until now their cases continued to surge,” Ano said.
“In the UK and the US, they still have a high rate of infection with 27,000 new cases a day, but the number of people dying has gone down because they have already vaccinated a large number of their population. It shows that vaccination slows down the transmission of the delta variant and also helps prevent death among patients,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ano reminded the PNP to allow the “unimpeded movement of cargo and delivery vehicles across all quarantine control points, because of the importance to the economy.”
PNP chief Guillermo Eleazar assured the public that human rights “would be respected at border control points in the area.”
At the same time, he said that the PNP’s Medical Reserve Force (MRF) was placed on standby to assist in the vaccination process during the enforcement of the ECQ in the capital region.
“The MRF is ready to help as additional manpower in the vaccination process after the Metro Manila Council’s pronouncement that it is targeting 250,000 individuals for incoluation each day during the two-week ECQ,” Eleazar said in a statement.
He also tasked concerned police commanders to coordinate with local government officials, especially village executives, to discuss the vaccination process during the ECQ.