Social unrest rising as Italy’s lockdown enters 4th week

Social unrest rising as Italy’s lockdown enters 4th week
People wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing — to prevent the spread of the virus — queue up outside a post office in Catania, Italy. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Social unrest rising as Italy’s lockdown enters 4th week

Social unrest rising as Italy’s lockdown enters 4th week
  • Country’s poorest southern regions hardest hit as people run out of food and money

ROME: As Italy enters its fourth week under lockdown, tensions are building across the poorest southern regions of Campania, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia as people run out of food and money.

The number of checkpoints has increased nationwide to discourage people from going out. But instead of staying home as required by the government, there have been reports of shop owners being pressured to give food for free, and police are patrolling supermarkets in some areas to stop thefts. 

Small but vocal crowds of unemployed have gathered in front of city halls in the south, calling for financial help to buy food.

“Give us something, it’s tough,” read a sign protesters held up in the city of Messina. Police dispersed the crowd and identified some of the demonstrators.

“They haven’t been working for weeks as everything has stopped because of coronavirus. Now they have no money left to buy food, and they don’t qualify for state aid,” said a policeman, adding that some of his colleagues gave demonstrators sandwiches and cigarettes to calm them down.

Similar scenes were witnessed in the Naples and Bari hinterland. Investigators are concerned that this could be a visible sign that the situation is heating up, and are afraid that the mafia might take advantage.

The self-employed, and those working on contracts that do not guarantee social benefits provided by the government to help face the crisis, have lost their salaries. Many small businesses may never reopen.

The ramifications of the lockdown, which has been extended until after Easter, are also hitting badly the estimated 3.3 million people in Italy who were working off the books, of whom more than 1 million live in Campania, Sicily, Puglia and Calabria, according to the most recent figures from CGIA Mestre, a Venice-based small business association.

“A significant number of people live day to day, doing occasional jobs,” Emanuele Fiano, chief whip of the Democratic Party in the Italian Parliament, told Arab News. “There are also many shopkeepers, or professionals working for themselves, who may have moderate reserves that will run out the longer they’re in lockdown.”

Caritas, a Roman Catholic charity operating nationwide, said requests for food at its soup kitchens have increased by 50 percent since the lockdown was enforced.

Amid the brewing social unrest, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said €4.3 billion ($4.7 billion) from a solidarity fund would immediately be advanced to all municipalities, and an additional €400 million would go to mayors for conversion into food stamps. Private donations to charities have also increased in recent days.

But mayors have said the funds provided by the government so far, especially the €400 million for food vouchers, are insufficient.

“It isn’t enough. We were expecting more, and I hope the government will find a way. The situation is extremely delicate as a significant part of the population in cities like mine have zero income,” said Messina Mayor Cateno de Luca.

“Those who previously managed in some way to live with dignity now find themselves in real difficulty. Those people need to eat even if they don’t do a job by the book.”

After weeks with nearly zero petty crime reported due to the lockdown, now local media have started to report an increase in robberies.

Two elderly people were robbed of their shopping by young people on scooters in separate incidents when they left a supermarket.

Police are trying to increase surveillance on supermarkets so that the elderly do not get targeted, but the situation does not seem to be improving.

“Today two guys came to me as I left the supermarket. They didn’t beg for money, but they asked me to hand them the two shopping bags I was carrying,” Lina di Marco, 60, a housewife from the city of Palermo, told Arab News.

“I saw their faces and didn’t dare say no. They looked desperate and quite ready to get my bags anyway,” she said. “What could I do? I just went back inside and bought something else for me.”

Giuseppe Provenzano, Italy’s minister for the southern regions, expressed concern about potential social tensions and civil unrest in poorer areas of the country if coronavirus spreads further in the south.

“I am afraid that the worries that are affecting large sections of the population over health, income and the future, with the continuation of the crisis, will turn into anger and hatred,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.

There are also clear signs that criminal organizations are exploiting the situation. Sicilian prosecutors are investigating the activities of a Facebook group called “National Revolution,” which has been inciting people to loot supermarkets.

Police are convinced that the people behind this group are those who, before the lockdown, made a living from house robberies and shop thefts.

With some of these criminal activities on standby due to the lockdown, the only shops open to rob are supermarkets and chemists.

Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando has asked the government to establish a “survival income” for the poorest citizens, due to fears that “criminal groups could promote violent acts.”


France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’
Updated 4 min 20 sec ago

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’
PARIS: France on Tuesday paid tribute to Chad’s president Idriss Deby Itno as a “courageous friend” and “great soldier,” while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country after his shock death.
The veteran leader died from wounds sustained while commanding troops fighting a rebel incursion, according to the army, opening a period of uncertainty in Chad, a key strategic ally of the West in the Sahel region of Africa.
“Chad is losing a great soldier and a president who has worked tirelessly for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” the office of President Emmanuel Macron said in statement, hailing Deby as a “courageous friend” of France.
The statement also emphasised France’s insistence on the “stability and territorial integrity” of Chad as it faces a push by rebel forces toward its capital, N’Djamena.
Defense Minister Florence Parly praised Deby as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” while emphasising that the fight against jihadist insurgents “will not stop.”
Deby’s son was immediately named transitional leader as head of a military council as both the government and parliament were dissolved, but the army vowed “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period.
The statement by the French presidency underscored “the importance of the transition taking place under peaceful conditions.”
There should also be “a spirit of dialogue with all political and civil society actors, and allowing the rapid return to inclusive governance based on civil institutions,” it added.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was important that the transition would lead “after a limited period of time” to the establishment of a civilian and inclusive government to serve Chad’s people.
Deby had ruled Chad with an iron fist since taking power on the back of a coup in 1990, but was a key partner in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region, where France’s 5,100-strong Barkhane force is deployed.

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
Updated 20 April 2021

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
  • Deby said he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”
  • Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

N’DJAMENA: Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops battling what he called extremists after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of km (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
The cause of death was not yet clear.

A four-star general who is a son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him at the head of a military council, the army announced Tuesday.
“A military council has been set up headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno,” the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said on state radio.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.
Deby was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
His election victory had given him a sixth term in office but the April 11 vote was boycotted by opposition leaders.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
Updated 20 April 2021

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.