Putin lays out path to staying in power

Putin lays out path to staying in power
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a session prior to voting for constitutional amendments at the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament, in Moscow. (AP Photo)
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Updated 11 March 2020

Putin lays out path to staying in power

Putin lays out path to staying in power
  • In a surprise address to the lower house State Duma, Putin said there could be a presidential reset allowing him to run after his current term expires
  • This would allow 67-year-old Putin, who was first elected in 2000, to run again after his current six-year term expires, and potentially stay in power until 2036

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out a path Tuesday to staying in power beyond 2024, as lawmakers approved sweeping reforms to the constitution.
In a surprise address to the lower house State Duma, Putin said there could be a presidential “reset” allowing him to run after his current term expires.
“This would be possible... if the constitutional court rules such an amendment would not go against (the constitution),” he said.
Putin appeared before the Duma after lawmakers proposed a series of amendments to a package of constitutional reforms he announced in January.
Among them was an amendment put forward by Valentina Tereshkova, an MP and Soviet-era cosmonaut who was the first woman in space, that would annul previous presidential terms.
This would allow 67-year-old Putin, who was first elected in 2000, to run again after his current six-year term expires, and potentially stay in power until 2036.
“These amendments are long overdue, they are needed, and I am sure they will be useful for society, for our citizens,” he told lawmakers.
He said Russia needed evolutionary change, “because we have had enough of revolutions” while suggesting that the country may not yet be ready for a new leader.
Shortly after his address, Moscow’s mayor banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people through to April 10, justifying the move with the need to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Lawmakers also proposed holding early parliamentary elections but Putin said that was not necessary and the amendment was withdrawn. He also rejected a call for a lifting of the overall two-term presidential limit.
Deputies then voted to approve the reforms in the key second reading, with 382 in favor, 44 abstentions and none against.
Opposition came outside the chamber, however, in the form of a protest by some 100 people in central Moscow while opposition groups called for rallies on Friday.
A third and final reading is due in the Duma on Wednesday, followed by approval in the upper house Federation Council and a public vote on the reforms planned for April 22.
Putin shocked Russia’s political establishment by announcing the package of reforms in January, the first major changes to the country’s basic law since 1993.
The political changes will also give parliament the power to choose the government and increase the role of the State Council, an advisory body.
Other proposals aim at boosting living standards, including a guaranteed minimum wage and state pensions adjusted to inflation.
And — in line with Putin’s strongly conservative views — the reforms would enshrine a mention of Russians’ “faith in God” and spell out that marriage is a heterosexual union.
Russia’s opposition, including Putin’s most prominent critic Alexei Navalny, has denounced the proposals as an effort to make him “president for life.”
“Interesting how things turn out,” Navalny said in a tweet after Putin’s speech.
“Putin has been in power for 20 years but he’s going to run for the first time.”
More than 20,000 protesters took part in a rally on February 29 calling on Putin not to hold on to power and opposition groups on Tuesday quickly put in requests for permission for more demonstrations.
But so far there has not been an upswell of opposition to the reforms, with polls showing many Russian are confused about what the constitutional proposals entail.
Observers had previously suggested that Putin could be looking to stay on in a behind-the-scenes role after 2024 as head of another state body.
But Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Tuesday’s events made it clear Putin wanted to remain in charge.
“It looks that after playing with ideas of State Council and Security Council Putin has finally decided in favor of running again in 2024,” Trenin said on Twitter.
“Putin intends to to govern us for at least two (more) terms ... Putin until 2036, it’s unthinkable,” said Ilia Azar, an opposition journalist.
Putin was re-elected to a fifth term in 2018 but his approval ratings have been slipping as Russia’s economy struggles under the weight of Western sanctions and living standards fall.
The economy is set for more turbulence after oil prices crashed following the collapse of an output limits deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The value of the ruble and Russian stock exchanges have since tumbled.
But in presenting the amendment that would annul previous presidential terms, cosmonaut-turned-politician Tereshkova said the possibility of Putin staying on would be reassuring.
“The very existence of such an opportunity for the incumbent president — given his great authority — is a stabilising factor for our society,” she said.


Myanmar security forces shoot dead more protesters despite calls for restraint

Myanmar security forces shoot dead more protesters despite calls for restraint
Updated 1 min 32 sec ago

Myanmar security forces shoot dead more protesters despite calls for restraint

Myanmar security forces shoot dead more protesters despite calls for restraint
  • The violence took place a day after foreign ministers from Southeast Asian neighbors urged restraint but failed to unite behind a call for the release of Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy

YANGON: Myanmar security forces opened fire on protests against military rule on Wednesday, killing nine people, witnesses and media reported, a day after neighboring countries called for restraint and offered to help Myanmar resolve the crisis.

The security forces resorted to live fire with little warning in several towns and cities, witnesses said, as the junta appeared more determined than ever to stamp out protests against the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“It’s horrific, it’s a massacre. No words can describe the situation and our feelings,” youth activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told Reuters via a messaging app.

A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

In the central town of Myingyan, where one teenaged boy was killed, protest leader Si Thu Maung, told Reuters police initially fired tear gas and stun grenades but quickly opened fire.

“They didn’t spray us with water cannon, no warning to disperse, they just fired their guns,” he said.

The heaviest toll was in another central town, Monywa, where five people — four men and one woman — were killed, said Ko Thit Sar, editor of the Monywa Gazette.

“We’ve confirmed with family members and doctors, five people have been killed,” he told Reuters.

“At least 30 people are wounded, some still unconscious.”

Two people were killed in the country’s second-biggest city Mandalay, a witness and media reports said, and one person was killed when police opened fire in the main city of Yangon, a witness there said.

At least 31 people have been killed since the coup.

The violence took place a day after foreign ministers from Southeast Asian neighbors urged restraint but failed to unite behind a call for the release of Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy.

“The country is like the Tiananmen Square in most of its major cities,” the Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, said on Twitter, referring to the suppression of student-led protests in Beijing in 1989.

Security forces also detained about 300 protesters as they broke up protests in Yangon, the Myanmar Now news agency reported.

Video posted on social media showed lines of young men, hands on heads, filing into army trucks as police and soldiers stood guard.

Images of a 19-year-old woman, one of the two shot dead in Mandalay, showed her wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK.”

Police in Yangon ordered three medics out of an ambulance, shot up the windscreen and then kicked and beat the workers with gun butts and batons, video broadcast by US-funded Radio Free Asia showed. Reuters was unable to verify the video independently.

Democracy activist Esther Ze Naw told Reuters that the sacrifices of those who died would not be in vain.

“We will continue this fight and win. We shall overcome this and win,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to make a breakthrough in a virtual foreign ministers’ meeting on Myanmar.

While united in a call for restraint, only four members — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore — called for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees.

“We expressed ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner,” the ASEAN chair, Brunei, said in a statement.

Myanmar’s state media said the military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, attended the video conference and “apprised the meeting of voting irregularities” in a November election.

The military justified the coup saying its complaints of voter fraud in the Nov. 8 vote were ignored. Suu Kyi’s party won by a landslide, earning a second term.

The election commission said the vote was fair.

Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said the intervention was to protect Myanmar’s fledgling democracy and has pledged to hold new elections but given no time frame.

State television has said agitators were mobilizing people on social media and forming “illegal organizations.”

Suu Kyi, 75, has been held incommunicado since the coup but appeared at a court hearing via video conferencing this week and looked in good health, a lawyer said.

She is one of nearly 1,300 people who have been detained, according to activists.

Ousted President Win Myint is facing two new charges, his lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said, including one for a breach of the constitution that is punishable by up to three years on prison.

A former United Nations expert on Myanmar said on Wednesday foreign firms should suspend all business there to send a clear message to the military that its coup will hurt its people and ruin its economy.


In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar

In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar
Updated 04 March 2021

In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar

In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar
  • A community of Chaldean Catholics in California keenly await Pope Francis’s arrival in Baghdad
  • Visit stirs difficult memories and mixed emotions for congregation in El Cajon

El Cajon, CALIFORNIA: As Pope Francis begins his historic visit to Iraq on Friday, his journey will be closely watched by a community of Christians thousands of kilometers away in southern California.

El Cajon, near San Diego, is home to one of the largest populations of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics in the US.

As increasing numbers of Christians left Iraq in recent decades, fleeing violence and persecution, many Chaldeans arriving in America relocated to the city.

There are an estimated 15,000 Chaldeans living in El Cajon.

Emad Hanna Al-Shaikh, Rev. Msgr. of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church in El Cajon, tends to a shrine to those killed in a 2010 Baghdad church attack. (Screengrab)

For many, the pope’s visit to Iraq is a time to reflect on their past lives and pray for the community still living there.

“This is a visit of love and support to Iraq as a whole and specifically to the Christians of Iraq,” Emad Hanna Al-Shaikh, Rev. Msgr. of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church in El Cajon, told Arab News. 

“Enough with the rage and displacement. We need to have love among us and we look forward to his visit where we wish for love and peace to prevail in all religions and nationalities.”

Like many Catholic Christians around the world, the community in El Cajon has planned celebrations in support of the visit.

There are an estimated 15,000 Iraqi Christians in El Cajon, California. (Screengrab)

“We have a program that will start on Friday,” Al-Shaikh said. “We will do preparations for a small sort of festival especially this Sunday. We will have a celebration, prayers and hymns in the front yard.”

One parishioner, Hadeel Albert, told Arab News that he wished he could be back in his old country to see the pope.

“Since we are in the diaspora, we wish we were in Iraq to witness the decrees,” he said.

Another member of the congregation, Wameedh Tozy, said: “It will be a great dialogue between religions. It is an open message that we all believe in God and practice religions freely and in one brotherly relationship.”

The pope’s visit to Our Lady of Salvation Church, the same church in Baghdad where 58 people were killed in a horrific suicide attack, will have added significance for the community in California. There is a memorial for the victims of the 2010 massacre inside the church in El Cajon.

“Of course we would like to announce that we have a shrine for the church of the martyrs,” Al-Shaikh, who has met Pope Francis, said.


Danish PM under pressure for working with Israel on vaccines

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. (AFP/File Photos)
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 03 March 2021

Danish PM under pressure for working with Israel on vaccines

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Frederiksen’s political allies say COVID-19 vaccine surplus should be given to Palestinians instead

LONDON: Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, it was reported on Wednesday.

Frederiksen’s political allies demanded that Israel’s vaccine surplus should be given to Palestinians instead.

She is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday along with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to discuss a joint vaccine production project to battle future COVID-19 variants.

Copenhagen and Vienna both criticized the European Union’s rollout of the vaccines as being “too slow,” so Frederiksen is looking at other options.

Before she left for Tel Aviv, Frederiksen said she planned to talk with Netanyahu about the possibility of financing new factories and purchasing surplus doses from Israel’s vaccination program, the Guardian reported.

“I do not rule out any ideas, not even to build factories,” Frederiksen said. “We are happy to buy vaccines from countries that cannot use them, either because they do not have time to roll them out at the same rate as us or for other reasons.”

Israel’s vaccine rollout has been praised internationally as more than half of all adults have received a dose. However, Netanyahu was criticized heavily for only approving doses for Palestinians last Sunday.

Human rights groups pointed out that international law requires Israel to provide Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the same access to vaccines as Israeli citizens.

The Palestinian Authority said it has received only 2,000 doses from Israel and another 10,000 from Russia.

Frederiksen is facing pressure in Denmark to step back from dealing with Netanyahu.

Søren Søndergaard, an MP with the country’s Red-Green Alliance Group, which supports Frederiksen’s minority Social Democrat government, said: “We should not rely on Israel to produce vaccines for us.

“It would be a historic mistake for Denmark to cooperate with Israel as long as it does not live up to its obligations under international law. Instead, we should demand that Israel provides the Palestinians with the vaccines, which they have a rightful claim to.”


Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany
Updated 03 March 2021

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany
  • Ethnic minorities need support due to additional pressures, researcher tells Arab News
  • Number of Muslim intensive care patients above 50% despite making up 5% of Germany’s population

LONDON: More than 90 percent of severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany have a “migrant background,” a leading doctor has said, amid concerns that minority ethnic groups require more support in the fight against the virus.

Thomas Voshaar, a top doctor at a German lung hospital, said a survey of leading medics had found that many of the most gravely ill patients were what he described as “patients with communications barriers.”

Saloni Dattani, a science writer and researcher at OurWorldInData, told Arab News: “The reasons that ethnic minorities are more likely to develop severe disease are well-understood. In the UK and the US, ethnic minorities are more likely to live in geographical areas that are hard hit, more likely to work in essential services where they come into contact with more people, more likely to live in dense areas, and more likely to live in multigenerational households.”

She added: “In sum, a greater proportion of severely ill patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds because a greater proportion of all COVID-19 patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

The head of Germany’s top diseases institute, Lothar Wieler, said the number of intensive care patients with a Muslim background was “clearly above 50 percent,” despite making up just 5 percent of Germany’s 83 million population.

Voshaar told a conference call of journalists that government warnings about the dangers of the virus are “simply not getting through” to migrant communities.

Jonathon Kitson, a fellow at the London-based Adam Smith Institute, told Arab News: “This shows the need for an acceleration in Germany’s vaccination program to reach all members of society.”

He added: “Although vaccine acceptance rates in the UK amongst BAME (black, Asian and ethnic minority) people have initially been lower than the rest of the population, thanks to outreach and personal testimony this is beginning to change.”

Wieler said doctors had compiled figures from intensive care wards toward the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, the peak months of the second wave.

“According to my analysis, more than 90 percent of the intubated, most seriously ill patients always had a migrant background,” he said.

“We agreed among ourselves that we should describe these people as ‘patients with communications barriers.’ We don’t seem to be getting through to them,” he added.

“There are parallel societies in our country. You can only put that right with proper outreach work in the mosques, but we’re not getting through. And that sucks.”

Minority groups have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 in many countries, including in the UK, where studies have shown a higher mortality rate among black and Asian people.

But Germany does not publish official figures on infection or death rates among different ethnic groups.

“Since it’s more difficult for ethnic minorities to self-isolate and protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19, it’s all the more important to vaccinate and provide support for ethnic minorities,” Dattani said.
 


Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police

Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police
Updated 03 March 2021

Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police

Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police
  • The assailant was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police when he was taken into custody
  • In Sweden, the intelligence services consider the terrorist threat to be high

STOCKHOLM: A man attacked eight people with a "sharp weapon," seriously injuring two, in the Swedish city of Vetlanda on Wednesday, police said, in what they called a suspected terrorist crime.
The assailant was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police when he was taken into custody, following the attack in the southern Swedish city in mid-afternoon.
Speaking to AFP, police said the man in his twenties had used a "sharp weapon," while local media reported the man had brandished a knife.
Police originally treated the incident as "attempted murder" but later changed it, in a statement, to a "suspected terrorist crime," without giving further details.
A press conference was announced for 8 pm local time (1900 GMT).
In Sweden, the intelligence services consider the terrorist threat to be high.
The Scandinavian country has been targeted twice by attacks in recent years.
In December 2010, a man carried out a suicide bomb attack in the centre of Stockholm. He was killed but only slightly injured passers-by.
In April 2017, a rejected and radicalised Uzbek asylum seeker mowed down pedestrians in Stockholm with a stolen truck, killing five people. He was sentenced to life in jail in June 2018.