Niger military says 25 soldiers are dead after another large attack blamed on extremists

Niger military says 25 soldiers are dead after another large attack blamed on extremists
A US special forces soldier stands in front of Chadian soldiers during Flintlock 2015, an American-led military exercise, in Mao, February 22, 2015. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 10 January 2020

Niger military says 25 soldiers are dead after another large attack blamed on extremists

Niger military says 25 soldiers are dead after another large attack blamed on extremists

NIAMEY: Militants carried out another large assault on Niger's military Thursday, leaving at least 25 soldiers dead along with dozens of extremists only a month after the worst attack of its kind in years, the military said.
The latest violence blamed on extremists struck the town of Chinagodrar right on Niger's troubled border with Mali. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the attack bore the hallmarks of an Daesh-linked group that said it was behind the December ambush near the town of Inates.
Thursday's assault comes just days before French President Emmanuel Macron is due to meet in France with the president of Niger and other leaders from the Sahel region — a meeting that was pushed back a month ago after the unprecedented attack on Niger's armed forces.
The leaders from France's former colonies of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are due to discuss the future role of the French military in the face of mounting extremist attacks.
Niger's defense ministry said late Thursday that 63 jihadists had been killed along with the 25 soldiers in the attack some 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the border with Mali.
On Wednesday, the UN envoy for West Africa and the Sahel spoke of “a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets” in recent months.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas told the UN Security Council that terrorist attacks have increased five-fold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016. There were more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 compared to an estimated 770 deaths in 2016, he said.
Military camps have increasingly been targeted by the extremists, who have amassed more weapons and vehicles for their arsenal with each ambush. Mali's military already has retreated from some of its most remote and vulnerable outposts following a surge in deadly attacks.


Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown

Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown
Updated 09 March 2021

Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown

Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown
  • Activists accuse security forces of detaining family members of suspects

YANGON: Protests erupted in several cities across Myanmar on Sunday, with several more planned for today, after an official from the party of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi died overnight after “fainting” in police custody.

The family of Khin Maung Latt, a 58-year-old Muslim man from Yangon, however, rejected the claims saying that he was healthy “with no injuries at all” when police detained him on Saturday night.

“We were informed by the police on Sunday morning that he had died after fainting and that the body was being kept at a military hospital in Yangon,” one of Latt’s relatives, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told Arab News.

Soon, Family members, accompanied by a lawyer and community leader, went to the hospital and found Latt’s head “covered”
in blood.

“His body had multiple injuries, especially the head. He was healthy and had no injuries at all when soldiers took him” she said.

Latt, a member of the ruling National League for Democracy party (NLD), was among several detained by police who, reinforced by soldiers, moved throughout Yangon, firing shots and arresting dissidents.

Anti-military protests reached fever pitch after the deaths of dozens of protesters, with rally organizers saying “security forces were intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement with wanton violence and sheer brutality.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 50 people have died during the security forces’ recent crackdown, with 1,790 arrested, charged or sentenced during the anti-coup movement, which began on Feb. 1.

While the number of detained persons remains unknown, it included Latt, other protest leaders, striking government staff and members of vigilante groups guarding neighborhoods.

AAPP spokesperson Tun Kyi, who helped Latt’s family with the funeral process, said that it was “possible” that Latt’s death was as a result of torture.

“Citing the injuries on his body, he was beaten and tortured,” Kyi told Arab News

“Troops took him alive and returned the dead body. This is the democracy promised by the military dictatorship,” he added.

Myanmar has been in a state of unrest for more than a month after military leaders seized power, overthrowing the civilian government led by Suu Kyi.

The coup followed a landslide win by  the  NLD in the November general election, but the army rejected the results, citing poll irregularities and fraud.

During the takeover, the military detained key government leaders — including Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and several prominent activists — and declared a state of emergency, along with an announcement that the country would be under military rule for at least a year.

Myanmar has witnessed widespread protests ever since, with thousands ignoring a ban on public gatherings.

Yangon, the country’s largest city, witnessed one of the deadliest incidents last week after security forces opened fire on the mostly peaceful protesters in the North Okalapa township’s outskirts, killing at least 38, according to a UN report.

Witnesses said that after increasing their crackdown on anti-coup protesters, security forces were escalating late-night raids in cities and towns across the country as well.

Tun Kyi said security forces were “acting lawlessly” during the crackdown and night raids, adding that in many cases, “when the targeted persons could not be found, they detained family members instead.

“They (security forces) took family members as hostages, looted and destroyed the private properties. They are acting like terrorists,” he added.

Latt served as a campaign leader for Sithu Maung, one of the NLD’s two Muslim lawmakers, who contested and won a seat in the lower house of Parliament representing Yangon’s Pabedan township.

His father, Peter, a former political prisoner and member of the NLD party in Yangon’s Hlaing township, was detained on Sunday night during a raid.

“They took my father hostage,” said Maung, who was issued an arrest warrant by the junta for his involvement in the Committee Representing Phyidaungsu Hluttaw which ousted lawmakers formed to represent the country’s Parliament after the Feb. 1 military coup.

He expressed grave concern over his father’s situation, especially after Khin Maung Latt’s death. 

“Khin Maung Latt was like my uncle. Now he has died of torture during overnight detention, so I am greatly concerned (that something) similar will happen to my father,” he told Arab News over the phone from a safe place on Monday.

“The junta is using all possible means to make people bow to them, but we will never let it happen. They have a gun; we have unity,” he said.

Maung added that the junta was responding to the opposition movement with “panic” because “they know they are going to lose anyway.

“After more than one month of the coup, it has not been recognized by most foreign countries while facing opposition from all sectors in the country. Its administrative mechanism has not functioned yet due to the non-recognizing and non-participation of the government staff and people,” he said.

Despite the deadliest crackdown by security forces, the anti-coup movement is gaining momentum across the country.

In Yangon, tensions were high after anti-coup protesters regrouped after being forcefully dispersed by stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and, eventually, live ammunition.

Meanwhile, the Hlaing Thar Yar township of Yangon, where most of the areas garment factories are located, has yet to experience violence despite daily protests by thousands of people, mostly industrial workers.

“The forces mainly focus on cracking down on the protests in other townships, but we anticipate our turn would come soon,” Thar Zaw, an activist and a protest leader, told Arab News.

Striking workers, who had previously joined the demonstration in major protest sites across Yangon, including those stationed in Hlaing Thar Yar, said they were “prepared to defend themselves against security forces” with makeshift barricades on the streets.

“The protests here are even bigger now,” Thar Zaw told Arab News.

The country’s biggest trade unions have also called for an extended, nationwide strike until civilian rule is restored.

Moe Sandar Myint, founder of the Federation of General Worker Myanmar, said the garment sector was “already in danger since the coup.

“As long as the junta rules the country, there is no worker rights. So we, garment workers and industrial workers would continue the movement against the junta,” she told Arab News.

Myint has been in hiding since Feb. 6 after organizing and participating in an anti-coup rally in Yangon, the first mass protest since the coup took place.

“We are determined to fight till the end,” she said.


Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants

Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants
Updated 09 March 2021

Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants

Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants
  • The number of patients on ventilators in Hungarian hospitals has more than doubled in the last two weeks

BUDAPEST: Hungarians on Monday awoke to a new round of strict lockdown measures aimed at slowing a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths that are among the worst in the world.

A rapid rise in pandemic indicators since early February prompted Hungary’s government to announce the new restrictions, including closing most stores for two weeks and kindergartens and primary schools until April 7. Most services are also required to cease operations, and the government urged businesses to allow employees to work from home. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and tobacconists can stay open.

Hungary’s high schools have been remote learning since November and its bars, restaurants and gyms have been closed since then as well.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that the strain on the country’s hospitals will soon surpass any other period in Hungary since the pandemic began, and that failing to impose harsher restrictions now would result in a “tragedy.”

“The next two weeks will be difficult ... but if we want to open by Easter, we’ve got to close down,” Orban said Friday on a Facebook video.

The number of patients on ventilators in Hungarian hospitals has more than doubled in the last two weeks, with 806 patients on Monday compared to the previous peak of 674 in early December.

Deaths have also risen sharply. With nearly 16,000 confirmed deaths in a country of fewer than 10 million, Hungary has the 8th worst death rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals is also likely to break its previous record on Tuesday.

“We can see that the third wave is spreading very forcefully, mainly due to (virus) variants,” Hungary’s chief medical officer Cecilia Muller said Sunday. “We can’t do anything else now but break the
chain of infections.”

The new restrictions came as many Hungarian businesses were already struggling to make ends meet as shoppers stayed at home amid the surging cases. Zoltan Suto, the founder and owner of Hungarian fashion brand Griff Collection, said revenues were down 70 percent  through the winter thanks to cautious consumers avoiding crowds at shopping malls.

“I can’t pay rent. I can’t pay salaries or social contributions, not to mention the taxes,” Suto said, adding that a 50 percent  commercial tax break offered by the government meant little in the absence of revenues.

Last year’s pandemic-induced economic recession, which saw a 5.1 percent  decrease in Hungary’s GDP, led to the shuttering of five of Griff Collection’s 10 stores in Hungary, which employ around 80 people. Suto says his business suffered a loss of 200-300 million Hungarian forints ($645,000-$968,000) in 2020, and that the crisis will only deepen if the two-week closure that begins Monday is extended further.

Such economic pain has made Hungary’s government, which is facing an election next year, reluctant until now to introduce restrictions on businesses, even as COVID-19 cases and deaths have skyrocketed since early February.

Many parents scrambled over the weekend to alter work schedules and arrange for childcare, including Gyongyver and Szilard Brasnyo, a couple in Budapest who have two young daughters.

“We are lucky, my parents are coming over to help us out with the kids,” said Gyongyver, adding that her parents live in Serbia, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, and have already received two vaccine shots.

Szilard, who works from home, said they felt “exhausted” after a year of raising the children during a pandemic. But he was optimistic that Hungary’s ambitious vaccination program — which has given more than 1 million Hungarians a vaccine shot, the second-highest vaccination rate in the 27-nation European Union — would soon bring life back to normal.

Hungary has obtained vaccines from Russia and China as well as those approved by the EU.

“We’re really looking forward to having a much safer environment for all of us,” Szilard said.


Faith communities urged to work together to protect women

Faith communities urged to work together to protect women
Updated 09 March 2021

Faith communities urged to work together to protect women

Faith communities urged to work together to protect women
  • ‘Pandemic has brought forth gender-based violence statistical explosion,’ UN official says at forum attended by Arab News

LONDON: Speakers at the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity’s (HCHF) Women’s 2021 Forum, attended by Arab News, have urged religious communities to work together in tackling gender violence and the coronavirus pandemic.

This came in the wake of the pope’s visit to Iraq to meet Christians and leaders of other faiths, including top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, which several speakers highlighted as an example of the power of cooperation.

Irina Bokova, former director-general of UNESCO, recalled that the HCHF’s establishment came after the signing of a document of human fraternity by the pope and Egypt’s Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb in 2019, which urged “reconciliation of all the world’s citizens for the sake of universal peace.”

Azza Karam, senior advisor on culture at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), called the document “historic in every possible sense,” on account of it being a “commitment from two leading men of two of the largest religious establishments in the world. The fact that they can reiterate these points in a document in which they commit to the fraternity of humanity in and of itself is a remarkably valuable point.”

Karam, though, said a growing movement toward greater religious tolerance and cooperation at higher levels had been curtailed by COVID-19.

“What we see is (an) epidemic of gender-based violence that has taken (on) massive proportions, because we’re talking about a shrinking civil society space (where) those who help those gender-based violence survivors are civic institutions, before the governmental ones step in,” she added.

Karam said problems remain in responding to crises, from the pandemic to gender-based violence, because of a lack of coordination between secular and religious institutions, as well as between organizations belonging to different faiths.

“Civil society institutions are our future. Secular and religious civil spaces often operate in distinction from one other. There are very rare moments when we see a society convene the religious and the secular. What COVID-19 has helped us do is force us to look beyond the parameters and the boundaries of our traditional partnerships,” she added.

“We can’t afford to let the religions respond to humanitarian emergencies separately. We must encourage and support them to work together with one another, and to work with the secular institutions.”

UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem agreed, raising the specter of gender-based violence as an area where religious communities need to do more to help women, especially with rates of violence heightened by the circumstances caused by the pandemic.

“People of faith are called to uphold the values the HCHF represents. My concern is to make clear — there’s a pandemic within a pandemic that began ages and millennia ago. The respect and value of women must start with the girl child who must be encouraged to understand that she is the equal of everyone on the planet, and that her aspirations are important,” she said.

“This pandemic has brought forth a gender-based violence statistical explosion, but long before the pandemic, the truth is that on average one in three females experienced some form of gender-based violence or harassment during her lifetime,” she added.

“The UN … is working deeply with governments … to support responses. The increasing rates of domestic violence have been a challenge, calling on all of us to adapt very quickly,” Kanem said.

“You can imagine if someone is in lockdown, locked in with an abusive partner, the ability to contact someone, have someone visit, have a hotline, can be lifesaving. We’re paying attention to the prevention of violence, and in this sense I think the community of faith has the responsibility to de-stigmatize women and girls who come forward to complain, to say that they’re uneasy or that something is wrong,” she added.

“Girls out of school are much more available for child marriage, the promulgation of female genital mutilation, and other things that can be done to them against their will,” Kanem said, adding that it is “very important for communities, traditional leaders and faith leaders” to do more to stop violence against women.


UK politicians highlight Iran’s ‘appalling’ treatment of women

UK politicians highlight Iran’s ‘appalling’ treatment of women
Updated 09 March 2021

UK politicians highlight Iran’s ‘appalling’ treatment of women

UK politicians highlight Iran’s ‘appalling’ treatment of women
  • Parliamentarians slam ‘brutal theocracy’ at International Women’s Day event attended by Arab News
  • European governments urged to take tougher stance against Tehran

LONDON: British parliamentarians have denounced Iran’s “appalling” treatment of women on International Women’s Day, and urged their government and European counterparts to take a tougher stance against Tehran.

At an online event on Monday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and attended by Arab News, politicians from the UK’s House of Commons and House of Lords — most of them members of the British Committee for Iran Freedom — said women in Iran live as second-class citizens under a system of gender apartheid.

“When I look at what the women of Iran have had to endure in terms of their rights, their health, their roles in society in general, I realize how limited their rights are and how brave they are when they object,” said Amber Rudd, an MP and former Cabinet minister.

“In Iran, women have to endure a religious regime that gives them few rights. They don’t have the freedom to choose how to live their life, to the law, or to welfare benefits to survive.”

She praised the tenacity and courage of Iranian women for the central role they have played in overtly and covertly resisting the regime.

“In Iran, it’s so much more difficult to challenge the regime — difficult, illegal and above all dangerous. But it’s fascinating to see how the women of Iran do fight back,” Rudd added.

Invoking the motto of International Women’s Day 2021, she said Iranian women “choose to challenge.”

Conservative MP Matthew Offord said he believes “women in Iran deserve support and greater international recognition as they take on and challenge the brutal theocracy.”

He added: “This is a regime that treats half of its population, the women, in such an appalling way by depriving them not only of their fundamental right to freedom, but also their dignity. It’s not a regime that can be trusted.”

The politicians had a clear message for the British government: Stand up to Tehran, and do not tolerate the human rights abuses that have been rampant since the Islamic Republic’s inception.

They highlighted various egregious examples of abuses against women committed by Tehran — but the case of Zahra Esmaili, they said, stood out for its cruelty.

Esmaili, a mother of two, was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to murdering her physically and sexually abusive husband — a senior intelligence member.

She took the blame for her daughter, who it is widely believed shot him as he was assaulting her.

Esmaili died of a heart attack in February after witnessing 16 hangings before her own. Security forces, her lawyer said, hung her body anyway.

Maryam Rajavi, head of the NCRI, said Esmaili’s case is shocking but not surprising. “The number of women executed during (President Hassan) Rouhani’s term has reached 114, making Iran the world record holder in executing women,” she added.

“The regime wants to preserve its rule through repression. However, Iranian women play critical roles in challenging the regime and pushing for its overthrow. Women are Tehran’s prime victims, and they therefore have greater motivation to end this regime.”


Forum calls for action on plight of women, female refugees during pandemic

Forum calls for action on plight of women, female refugees during pandemic
Updated 08 March 2021

Forum calls for action on plight of women, female refugees during pandemic

Forum calls for action on plight of women, female refugees during pandemic
  • Ex-head of UNESCO highlights ‘unprecedented obstacles’ faced by women
  • UAE minister discusses country’s pandemic response, female empowerment

LONDON: The former director-general of UNESCO on Monday urged the world to do more to alleviate the plight of female refugees suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity’s Women’s 2021 Forum, attended by Arab News, Irina Bokova said: “Women are facing increasing social economic and safety challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic — from vulnerable refugees to working mothers. Women are facing unprecedented obstacles that threaten to reverse years of progress toward women’s rights.”

She added: “We know that the impact of crises are never gender neutral, and COVID-19 is no exception. When we talk about refugees, it’s a crisis within a crisis. We know that in many camps … displaced persons are mostly women and girls, who are at risk because of gender-based violence and lack of hygienic facilities.”

Bokova said: “There’s a need for a lot more funding. There’s a need for political action. Over 8 million refugee children are no longer able to go to school. Part of this I’d say is (due to a) dramatic increase in forced, early and child marriages. We have to take all this into account when we talk about our response to the COVID-19 crisis.”

Ambassador Susan Esserman, former US assistant secretary of commerce and deputy trade representative, highlighted the risk faced by women and girls at the hands of human traffickers, which she said had been heightened by the pandemic.

“Sex and labor trafficking thrives on human misery and vulnerability. Isolation is a tactic used by traffickers to control their victims. While lockdowns are vitally necessary for public health, traffickers have taken advantage of the increased isolation, driving trafficking further underground and putting victims at even greater risk,” she said.

“During economic crises, traffickers prey on and seek to exploit those most desperate for income, shelter, food, housing and security. And during this pandemic, critical government services that would ordinarily support victims have been extraordinarily limited at the exact time there has been a surge in demand for those services. With school closures, children and adolescents have been spending more time on the internet, and have become more vulnerable to trafficking.”

Noura Al-Kaabi, the UAE’s minister of culture and youth, highlighted her country’s response to the pandemic in the context of measures meant to keep women and children secure.

“Talking about how the pandemic has affected us — especially working mothers, with online learning — it’s clear there are many disruptions, with job losses, economic slowdowns across the world, while the impact on some sectors may be far larger than others. We don’t have any comprehensive and precise data on the impact of the pandemic yet on the (female) workforce,” she said.

“The UAE has a strong legal framework to ensure that women aren’t disadvantaged in any way in the job market. In 2018, the UAE Cabinet approved a law on equal wages and salaries for women and men. This covers both private and public sectors,” she added. 

“The most important decision concerning women in the job market was allowing mothers with children at age 6 or below to work remotely from home. The decision included husbands of working women in the medical sector — it’s a joint effort, and it’s crucial for us to strike that balance.”

Al-Kaabi also reflected on her country’s progress on female empowerment more generally. “After the 2019 elections, women comprised half of the Federal National Council members. In the IMF (International Monetary Fund) World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020, the UAE ranked first in the female parliamentary representation index, and more than a third of UAE diplomats are female,” she said.

“I’ll give you just quick percentages: Fifty percent of women (make up) the Parliament; we have 66 percent … in the public sector; we have 75 percent in the healthcare sector; 50 percent worked in the Mission of Hope, the Mars mission, and leading that mission was a great scientist — a woman; we have nine (female) ministers; and of course we have a lot of wonderful graduates in … STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) — more than 70 percent of these in the UAE are women,” she added.

“This is a country that is going to celebrate our 50th (anniversary) by the end of this year, and it’s so crucial and important that we double down on such efforts.”