Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus

Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus
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Relatives of Rebibbia prison's inmates face police after inmates staged a protest against new coronavirus containment measures, in Rome, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP)
Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus
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Inmates' relatives gather to protest measures including a ban on family visits, as part of new rules introduced to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, outside the Secondigliano prison in Naples on March 9, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 09 March 2020

Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus

Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus
  • Some prisoners have been asking to be granted amnesty over the health crisis
  • Rights campaigners warned of mass revolts over the new measures, and families gathered outside prisons to protest at the restrictions

MILAN: Prisoners took to the roof of a Milan jail Monday as part of a string of violent country-wide protests against coronavirus measures, in which six convicts have died.
In another incident, around 50 inmates broke out of jail in the southern city of Foggia, and about 20 were still on the run after their fellow convicts were caught, Italian media reported.
Jails have been ordered to stop all visits and limit day releases.
Some prisoners have been asking to be granted amnesty over the health crisis.
Rights campaigners warned of mass revolts over the new measures, and families gathered outside prisons to protest at the restrictions — and to get news of their loved ones.

Around a dozen prisoners at the San Vittore prison in Milan managed to climb onto the roof of one of the wings and shouted slogans as police and prison guards below looked on.
It was the second day of unrest, with at least 23 jails — from Venice and Milan in the north, to Rome, Naples and Bari in the south — protesting over measures aimed at preventing the virus entering the prison system.
Six inmates died during or following clashes at Sant’Anna jail in the city of Modena in northern Italy, according to prisoner rights group Antigone.
Three died in Modena, while the other three died after being transferred from there to jails in Parma, Alessandria and Verona, Italian news agency ANSA said.
It said there were reports that the prisoners had broken into a medical center in the Modena jail and had overdosed.
Authorities in Modena would not immediately confirm the reports.
Domenico Pianese, head of the police union Coisp, said the mass revolts looked planned and warned that the mafia could be behind such “an evident strategy to try to take advantage of the difficulties caused by the coronavirus.”
At San Vittore, prisoners covering their faces with scarves or bandanas perched precariously on the slanted roof tiles. Fellow inmates could be seen massed around the barred windows at the jail in the Italian capital.
Relatives rallied outside many of the concerned jails in protest over the measures, including a ban on family visits.
“We’re urging inmates and relatives to stop violent protests, as they could spark others,” Antigone’s Andrea Oleandri said.
“The situation could rapidly deteriorate.”
Prisoners, who get most of their information from televisions, tended to protest in solidarity if they saw convicts in other jails rioting, Oleandri said.
Family members desperate for news of their loved ones had to be held off by prison guards at the entrance to the Modena jail, as ambulances and prison vans came and went, an AFP photographer said.
“This rumpus, this ‘war’ happened because the inmates hadn’t been given any information about what was going on outside, and visits had been suspended,” said Gilberto, the father of one prisoner who did not want to give his last name.
“No-one’s telling us who’s died, who is injured, or why they died and why they were injured,” the 59-year-old told AFP.
Italy’s prisons are suffering from overcrowding, with over 61,000 inmates locked up in spaces designed to hold just 51,000.
The country has been hard hit by the virus — with 366 fatalities so far — and the government has imposed draconian measures to stop it spreading further, including placing large swathes of the north under lockdown.
As well as halting visits and limiting day releases, all prison staff are supposed to have their temperatures checked on arrival each day. Medical checks for incoming inmates have also been ramped up, Antigone said.
“The prisoners are worried the virus will get into jail and spread,” Oleandri said.
“They are in confined spaces. There are usually two or three people in a 12-meter square cell. And while visits have been suspended, there are still lots of people coming and going,” he said.
Antigone has called for more inmates with only a short time left to serve to be allowed to do so at home, reducing the numbers behind bars.
Amnesty International Italy said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence and stressed that the “critical hygienic-sanitary conditions” in jails demanded the utmost precautions be taken to limit the risk of contagion.


US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say

US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say
Updated 19 min 28 sec ago

US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say

US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say
  • The figure represent an increase over a figure of 78,000 in January
  • Republicans have criticized Biden for rolling back Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, saying the shift will lead to more illegal immigration

WASHINGTON: US border agents detained nearly 100,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, according to two people familiar with preliminary figures, the highest monthly total since a major border surge in mid-2019.
The figures, which have not been previously reported, show the scope of a growing migrant influx at the southwest border as US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, seeks to roll back some of the restrictive policies of former President Donald Trump, a Republican. February was Biden’s first full month in office.
Last month’s total would represent the highest tally for the month of February since 2006. The sources who provided the figures to Reuters spoke on the condition of anonymity.
An increasing number of children arriving at the border without a parent or legal guardian has forced US officials in recent weeks to scramble for housing options and take steps to speed up their release to sponsors in the United States.
The nearly 100,000 migrants detained at the border in February represent an increase over a figure of 78,000 in January. February’s total appears to be the highest monthly number since June 2019 during a large border surge that Trump cited as justification for a broad immigration crackdown.
A US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said official statistics for last month likely will be released next week.
US Border Patrol agents caught more than 4,500 migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in a single day on Wednesday, according to government figures shared with Reuters, a sign that illegal entries could continue to rise in March.
Republicans have criticized Biden for rolling back Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, saying the shift will lead to more illegal immigration.
Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to Biden on Friday that requested a meeting to discuss the issue, saying he had “great concern” with the administration’s approach to border.
“We must acknowledge the border crisis, develop a plan, and, in no uncertain terms, strongly discourage individuals from Mexico and Central America from ever making the dangerous journey to our southern border,” McCarthy wrote in the letter.
The recidivism rate among migrants attempting to cross the border illegally increased over the past year under a Trump-era policy known as Title 42. That policy, issued on public health grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowed US authorities to rapidly expel migrants caught crossing. In some cases, migrants attempt to cross the border again.
Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the policy in February.


Eritrean troops killed hundreds in Ethiopia massacre, says HRW

Eritrean troops killed hundreds in Ethiopia massacre, says HRW
People mourn the victims of a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers in the village of Dengolat, north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 March 2021

Eritrean troops killed hundreds in Ethiopia massacre, says HRW

Eritrean troops killed hundreds in Ethiopia massacre, says HRW
  • Ethiopian and Eritrean forces entered Axum on Nov. 20 after “indiscriminate” shelling that killed civilians, said the HRW report published Friday

ADDIS ABABA: Eritrean forces shot dead hundreds of children and civilians in a November massacre in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
It was the second major report on Eritrean abuses in the town of Axum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the past week.
An Amnesty International investigation into the same events detailed how Eritrean troops “went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood.”
The findings from the rights watchdogs come as global concern mounts over atrocities by Eritrean troops in Tigray.
UN leaders on Thursday accused the Eritreans of possible crimes against humanity and urged them to pull out.
Addis Ababa and Asmara deny Eritrea is actively involved in Tigray.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s then-ruling party, in early November, saying they came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Ethiopian and Eritrean forces entered Axum on Nov. 20 after “indiscriminate” shelling that killed civilians, said the HRW report published Friday.
The Eritreans then engaged in “widespread pillaging” as Ethiopian troops mostly looked on, the report said.
“I asked one soldier, why are you not doing anything, you are Ethiopian, and we are in Ethiopia; you are allowing the Eritreans to do this,” it quoted one resident as saying.
“He told me: We need an order from above.”

BACKGROUND

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s then-ruling party, in early November, saying they came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

The massacre began on Nov. 28 after Tigrayan militia members, joined by some residents, attacked Eritrean soldiers, HRW said.
After calling in reinforcements, the Eritreans began “moving through the town, going house to house, searching for young men and boys, and executing them.”
Like Amnesty, HRW said it was impossible to provide an exact death toll but estimated that “over 200 civilians were most likely killed on Nov. 28-29 alone.”
That would make the Axum massacre one of the deadliest atrocities of the conflict so far.
Last week AFP traveled to the Tigray village of Dengolat to document a separate massacre by Eritrean troops at around the same time that church officials said left 164 civilians dead.
Since the publication of Amnesty’s report, Abiy’s government has said federal investigators are probing “credible allegations” of atrocities and abuses including in Axum.
But the government has also tried to cast doubt on Amnesty’s findings and accused it of “reinforcing the misinformation and propaganda by TPLF and its cohorts.”
HRW called Friday for an urgent UN investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray.
“Eritrean troops committed heinous killings in Axum with wanton disregard for civilian lives,” HRW Horn of Africa director Laetitia Bader said.
“Ethiopian and Eritrean officials can no longer hide behind a curtain of denial, but should allow space for justice and redress, not add to the layers of trauma that survivors already face.”


Russia accused of fending Assad 'despite its chemical weapons attack

Russia accused of fending Assad 'despite its chemical weapons attack
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. (Supplied)
Updated 06 March 2021

Russia accused of fending Assad 'despite its chemical weapons attack

Russia accused of fending Assad 'despite its chemical weapons attack
  • The team asked Syria “to declare the exact types and quantities of chemical agents produced and/or weaponized at this site,” but no response has been received, Nakamitsu said

NEW YORK: The US has accused Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Russia of trying to block all efforts to hold his regime accountable for using chemical weapons during attacks on civilians.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council that “the Assad regime has tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and undermining the role and work of the OPCW,” the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which is the international chemical weapons watchdog.
She accused Russia of defending Assad “despite its chemical weapons attacks,” obstructing independent investigations, and undermining efforts to hold the Syrian regime accountable not only for using chemical weapons but for “numerous other atrocities.”
OPCW investigators blamed three chemical attacks in 2017 on Assad’s regime in April 2020.
The OPCW Executive Council responded by demanding that Syria provide details.
When it didn’t, France submitted a draft measure on behalf of 46 countries in November to suspend Syria’s “rights and privileges” in the global watchdog which means it would lose its vote. It will be considered at the April meeting of the OPCW’s 193 member states.
Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, pressed by Russia after a deadly chemical weapons attack that the West blamed on Damascus. By August 2014, the Assad regime declared that the destruction of its chemical weapons was completed.
But Syria’s initial declaration of its chemical stockpiles and chemical weapons production sites to the OPCW has remained in dispute.
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu told the council that issues related to Syria’s declaration “remain outstanding” including a chemical weapons production facility that the Syrian government declared “as never having been used for the production of chemical weapons.”
She said, however, that analysis of information and all materials gathered by the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team since 2014 “indicates that production and/or weaponization of chemical warfare nerve agents did, in fact, take place at this facility.”
The team asked Syria “to declare the exact types and quantities of chemical agents produced and/or weaponized at this site,” but no response has been received, Nakamitsu said.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused some countries, which he didn’t name, of repeatedly using the chemical weapons “card” as a tool to pressure the Syrian regime, using grave accusations “backed up by unconvincing evidence like video footage on social media or ‘testimony’ of knowingly biased witnesses, or falsified facts.”

FASTFACT

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of obstructing independent investigations, and undermining efforts to hold the Syrian regime accountable not only for using chemical weapons but for numerous other atrocities.

At the same time, he said, “they reject the counter-arguments provided not only by Russia and Syria, but also by independent experts and organizations, and do not give any coherent explanation as to why they do so.”
Nebenzia reiterated Russia’s accusations that the OPCW and its technical experts have become the “transmitter of anti-Syrian claims of the Western countries” — an allegation strongly denied by Nakamitsu, US ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, and many other speakers.
“The root cause of the problem is that our Western colleagues have long turned Syria’s chemical file into a means of punishment of the unwanted authorities in Damascus,” the Russian ambassador said.
“Therefore, attempts to establish the connection between the file and actual use or non-use of chemical weapons are absolutely senseless.”
Syria’s new UN ambassador, Bassam Al-Sabbagh, who served as his country’s envoy to the OPCW for seven years after 2013, stressed the regime’s condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and denial that it ever used chemical weapons.
He said Syria has made “tangible progress” in resolving issues in its initial declaration and expressed regrets that some countries “always see the glass half empty and don’t hesitate to criticize rather than applaud progress achieved.”
France’s UN Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere countered that “the Syrian regime is still lying, hiding the truth and evading its international obligations.”
He emphasized “the need to fight impunity.”
He sharply criticizedd “the unfounded accusations” against the OPCW, saying “they are undignified and, above all, they are irresponsible.”
“The Security Council has a historic responsibility for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the re-emergence of chemical weapons in the world is a major threat,” De Riviere said.
“We cannot allow these weapons to become commonplace.


Myanmar paramedics face bullets for treating injured protesters

Myanmar paramedics face bullets for treating injured protesters
Engineers and students take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay on March 5, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 06 March 2021

Myanmar paramedics face bullets for treating injured protesters

Myanmar paramedics face bullets for treating injured protesters
  • Video footage showing police battering rescuers and destroying their ambulance went viral earlier this week

YANGON: Security forces in Myanmar have been increasingly targeting paramedics who treat injured anti-coup protesters, rescuers say, as police and soldiers this week started to indiscriminately fire live rounds at demonstrators.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been demonstrating in towns and cities across the country in the aftermath of the military’s overthrow of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 50 protesters have been killed since the beginning of the civil disobedience movement, 38 of them on Wednesday as security forces opened fire with live rounds. More than 1,200 people have been arrested, including rescuers.
Video footage that went viral on social media after the crackdown showed members of a Yangon-based volunteer group, Mon Myat Seik Htar (MMSH), being beaten by police.
“Police stopped the ambulance and ordered them to step out. A few moments later, police started beating them with batons,” one of the group’s leaders, who requested anonymity, told Arab News on Thursday.
“Police used the stock of the gun to beat them, and one team member was severely injured after his safety helmet was broken.” All four of them, the MMSH leader said, were taken to the notorious Insein prison.
Two members from We Love North Okalapa (WENO), a rescue team in Yangon’s North Okalapa township, were detained on the same day but later released.
A WENO volunteer said that one of them was the group’s chairman.
“The chairman was severely injured by batons while another was shot by police in thigh,” he told Arab News. The ambulances of MMSH and WENO were destroyed by security forces.
Troops also raided the office of Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS) in North Okalapa in search of its founder Kyaw Thu, one of the most vocal social activists in the country.
After the increase in violence, the group, which is present in all parts of the country, refused to provide services to persons related to the military.


Afghanistan applies to register Pashtun dance with UNESCO

Afghanistan applies to register Pashtun dance with UNESCO
In a traditional attan performance, between 30 and 50 dancers match their moves to the beat of the dhol — a double-headed drum — while waving their scarves in the air. (Reuters)
Updated 06 March 2021

Afghanistan applies to register Pashtun dance with UNESCO

Afghanistan applies to register Pashtun dance with UNESCO
  • Once you learn nuts and bolts of it, you will become addicted to attan, says tribal chief

KABUL: Afghanistan has applied to UNESCO to have the country’s ancient attan dance registered as intangible cultural heritage.

The routine, which has become Afghanistan’s national dance, was traditionally performed by Pashtun tribes ahead of battles or on special occasions such as weddings, the birth of a child, or national holidays.
Mahbooba Babakarkhail, head of intangible cultural heritage at the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, told Arab News: “For keeping this intangible art immortal and for introducing it to the world, we are registering it with UNESCO. Attan is our national identity, unique to Afghanistan. It is our national cultural heritage.
And ministry spokesperson, Sabir Mohmand, said: “We have fulfilled all the criteria required for registering attan with the UNESCO and have high hopes that it will happen.”
Attan is a form of dance that dates back nearly 3,000 years and was performed during Zoroastrian religious ceremonies.
“During Zoroastrian King Yama’s rule, whose seat of power was in northern Afghanistan, attan was performed before his army went to war because they believed it would boost the warriors’ confidence and help them defeat the enemy,” Babakarkhail said.
In a traditional attan performance, between 30 and 50 dancers match their moves to the beat of the dhol — a double-headed drum — while waving their scarves in the air. By synchronizing their steps with each beat of the dhol and pipe, the dancers form a circle and start with slow steps.
In some elaborate moves, seasoned dancers sequentially move their hips and arms from left to right while twisting their wrists in the opposite direction. Eventually, each dancer brings one of their hands forward, scooping it toward the center before clapping with the other hand. Gradually, the beats get faster and faster.
Each attan performance can last between five and 30 minutes, and it is not uncommon for dancers to faint due to the physical intensity of the dance. In some cases, Babakarkhail added, attan performers dance for two to three hours without a break.
She said that despite there being no formal training in the art form, the tradition had been kept alive in the country “through local teachers who act as the head of the group for the dancers.”
Janat Gul, a shopkeeper from the southeastern Paktia region near the border with Pakistan, told Arab News: “There is no association or union for attan dancing. So, we do not have a list of contact details for the ages or number of dancers here.
“I know in some regions, people as old as 70 still perform attan. You need strong legs and especially good knees to be able to do so beyond 55 years old,” he said.
There are several regional variations of attan, with the Mahsudi, Kabuli, Paktia or Khosti, Shenwari, Kandahari, Sistani, and Herati being the most popular ones.
In the Kabuli attan, men wear suits and ties, while women put on colorful dresses and dance to modern music.
Attan is so popular and intrinsically Afghan that even the Taliban are said to dance it despite banning performing arts during their rule from the mid-1990s until a US-led invasion in 2001.
Shafiqullah Mangal, a tribal chief from Khost province, said: “Attan is our pride, history, and a tough but very sweet type of dance. Not many can perform attan easily. But once you learn the nuts and bolts of it, you will become addicted to attan.”