Kyrgyzstan populist tipped for easy win in presidential vote

Kyrgyzstan populist tipped for easy win in presidential vote
Supporters of Kyrgyz presidential candidate Sadyr Japarov attend a rally in Bishkek on January 8, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 10 January 2021

Kyrgyzstan populist tipped for easy win in presidential vote

Kyrgyzstan populist tipped for easy win in presidential vote
  • Voters began trickling into polling stations in frosty conditions at 8:00 am (0200 GMT)
  • First results are expected shortly after polling stations close at 8:00 p.m. (1400 GMT)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan went to presidential polls Sunday in its first elections since a political crisis embroiled the ex-Soviet country and saw a populist freed from jail who is now tipped to top the ballot.
Sadyr Japarov’s journey from prison to presidential frontrunner is an example of the dramatic changes in political fortunes in the Central Asian country that is both more unpredictable and pluralistic than its authoritarian neighbors.
But critics of combative Japarov, 52, who became acting leader during the October unrest, fear his victory could tip Kyrgyzstan toward the strongman rule dominant in the ex-Soviet region.
Voters began trickling into polling stations in frosty conditions at 8:00 am (0200 GMT).
First results are expected shortly after polling stations close at 8:00 p.m. (1400 GMT).
In the capital Bishkek, where cold winters usher in a thick blanket of smog courtesy of polluting heating systems and aging transport, many voters said they intended to back Japarov — who was convicted for hostage-taking — at the ballot box.
“He has promised to raise salaries, pensions,” said Vera Pavlova, 69, who admitted that she knew little about other candidates.
“I haven’t seen their posters anywhere. Only Japarov’s.”
In addition to picking a new president Kyrgyz are choosing between parliamentary and presidential forms of government, with Japarov backing greater powers for the post he is seeking.


Japarov, who was sprung from jail by supporters during the crisis before a court overturned his conviction, has styled himself as an uncompromising opponent of organized crime and systemic corruption.
He has poured scorn on critics, some of whom have speculated that criminal networks are behind his rise to power.
But he struck a unifying tone in his last campaign appearance on Friday in Bishkek.
“Let us come together... treat each other with understanding and respect. We are one country, one people,” he told a crowd of several thousand people.
With a threadbare economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, Kyrgyzstan’s next leader is likely to be even more dependent on goodwill from allies Russia — a destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrants — and neighboring economic giant China.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently described the overthrow of the previous government as a “misfortune.”
At his end of year press-conference Putin chided Kyrgyz politicians for attempting to imitate Western democracies.
Beijing’s ambassador met with Kyrgyz officials several times last year to discuss protection for Chinese businesses, some of which were attacked during the unrest.


Mountainous Kyrgyzstan’s votes are more competitive than in its ex-Soviet neighbors, but they have rarely offered an even playing field.
The crisis that allowed for Japarov’s overnight rehabilitation and rise to power was sparked by vote-buying campaigns favoring parties close to former president Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
Jeenbekov resigned less than two weeks later at the insistence of Japarov’s supporters and after agreeing to sign off on Japarov’s election as prime minister by parliament.
It was the third time a Kyrgyz head of state has stepped down over street protests since independence in 1991. Japarov also became acting president following the resignation.
While constitutional requirements saw Japarov abandon his positions to compete in Sunday’s election, rivals complain that his campaign has benefited from the resources of the state, where his allies now occupy top posts.
Talant Mamytov, the pro-Japarov parliament speaker who inherited presidential powers from Japarov in the run up to the vote, cast his ballot on Sunday morning in Bishkek, an AFP correspondent saw.
On Friday the national security committee, headed by another Japarov ally, said it was investigating “certain presidential candidates and their supporters” planning unrest after the vote, but did not name the candidates.
Bekjol Nurmatov, a 77-year-old retiree, accused Japarov of “plunging the people into chaos” last year and complained his campaign was using “administrative resources” to win votes in the Osh region from which Nurmatov hails.
The pensioner noted that Japarov had failed to show up for televised debates between candidates. He said he would vote instead for presidential rival Adakhan Madumarov, also from the Osh region.
“Madumarov is a worthy candidate, the retiree said, accusing frontrunner Japarov of “hiding from the people.”


2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan

2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan
Updated 5 min 4 sec ago

2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan

2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan
BEIJING: Two tornadoes killed at least seven people in central and eastern China and left more than 200 others injured, officials and state media reported Saturday.
The Wuhan government said that six people had died and 218 were injured in the inland Chinese city. The tornado hit about 8:40 p.m. with winds of 86 kilometers (53 miles) per hour, toppling construction site sheds and snapping several trees, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the Caidian district government.
Wuhan is the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019.
About 90 minutes earlier, another tornado struck the town of Shengze about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east in Jiangsu province, Xinhua reported. The Suzhou city government, which oversees the town, said that one person was killed and 21 injured, two seriously.
Xinhua said the tornado toppled factory buildings and damaged electricity facilities in Shengze, which is near the city of Shanghai on China’s east coast.

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program
Updated 10 min 27 sec ago

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program
  • China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station

BEIJING: China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time in the latest advance for its space program.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration.
Plans call for a rover to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic tests before rolling down a ramp to explore an icy area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. It will join an American one that arrived at the red planet in February.
China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought back rocks from the moon late last year.
“China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for our country’s space exploration,” Xinhua said in announcing the landing on one of its social media accounts.
The US has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976. The Soviet Union landed on the planet in 1971, but the mission failed after the craft stopped transmitting information soon after touchdown.
A rover and a tiny helicopter from the American landing in February are currently exploring Mars. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade.


Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr

Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr
Updated 14 May 2021

Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr

Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr
  • Families receive food aid, new clothes as Ramadan draws to a close amid health restrictions

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char island observed their first Eid Al-Fitr on Thursday, May 13, in an “isolated state” far away from their relatives.  

Most of the people relocated to the new island facility left their friends and relatives in 34 camps at Cox’s Bazar, which is home for more than 1 million Rohingya refugees.  

Bangladesh began the relocation of refugees, 18,000 to date, to Bhasan Char, some 63 km from the mainland, at the end of last year, explaining that it would ease pressure on the congested camps at Cox’s Bazar.

“We are observing a different kind of Eid this year, far away from friends and relatives. Usually we get together with relatives on Eid days,” Rohingya refugee Abdur Rahman, 37, told Arab News. 

“On this special occasion, I am not seeing any friends and relatives around me. Sometimes I feel isolated.”

Rahman said: “Mobile phones are the only way of communication for us but it’s not always affordable.”

Another refugee, Morium Begum, 29, said her children are missing the Eid festivities in Cox’s Bazar. 

“My children used to visit their friends’ houses and Eid fairs on these days at Cox’s Bazar. But here they don’t have any friends,” Begum told Arab News. 

“Probably, the ongoing coronavirus lockdown added more to our isolation. Otherwise authorities may have allowed some Eid fairs for the children,” she added. 

Mohammad Hossain, 19, said this Eid was a new experience to him. “The congregation field is prepared with makeshift tents and decorated in a befitting manner, which created much festivity on the island,” Hossain told Arab News. “I never saw this sort of arrangement in my days at Cox’s Bazar’s refugee camps.”

On marking Eid Al-Fitr, authorities have provided special food aid to the refugees on the island. 

“A food package containing vermicelli, powdered milk, sugar, edible oil, rice, lentil, spices etc have been provided on the occasion of Eid,” Moazzam Hossain, Bangladesh’s additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News. 

“All the families received this aid according to their family size and need,” he said, adding that 5,000 new clothing items were also distributed to Rohingya children.

For maintaining social distancing and health and safety guidelines, authorities have organized three separate Eid congregations on the island. 

“Since the beginning of the Rohingya exodus in 2017, this is the first time the refugees on the island got the opportunity to celebrate the Eid festival in a comfortable environment, free from the threat of landslides, rough weather and the highly congested environment of the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps,” Hossain added. 

Emergency health services are also open during Eid, and there are eight government health officials currently serving on the island, he said.

UN and international aid agencies are yet to begin aid operations on the island.

Currently, more than 40 local NGOs are providing humanitarian support to the relocated refugees. 

“Here the refugees are fully dependent on relief support, since there is no other source (of aid) on the island,” Saiful Islam Chowdhury, chief executive of Pulse Bangladesh Society, told Arab News. 

“We made a need assessment for each of the families, and supplied aid accordingly, so that all of them can enjoy the festival,” he added.


UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown

UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown
Updated 14 May 2021

UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown

UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown
  • Johnson also said he would accelerate the provision of second doses of COVID-19 vaccines

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the spread of a new variant of coronavirus first detected in India could disrupt plans to move to eliminate most remaining lockdown measures in June, although it would not delay the next step in easing.
"We will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday, but I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress, and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June," Johnson told a Downing Street briefing on Friday.

Johnson also said he would accelerate the provision of second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s more important than ever therefore that people get the additional protection of a second dose,” he told a news conference.
“So following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, we will accelerate remaining second doses to the over 50s and those clinically vulnerable right across the country, so those doses come just eight weeks after the first dose,” he said.


Vaccinated should still mask up in high Covid areas: WHO

Vaccinated should still mask up in high Covid areas: WHO
Updated 14 May 2021

Vaccinated should still mask up in high Covid areas: WHO

Vaccinated should still mask up in high Covid areas: WHO
  • "Vaccines are life-saving but on their own, they are not enough," WHO told AFP in an email
  • The comment followed US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to lift mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people

GENEVA: Even after receiving Covid-19 jabs, people should wear face masks in areas where the virus is spreading, the WHO said Friday, after the US decided the vaccinated do not need masks.
“Vaccines are life-saving but on their own, they are not enough,” the World Health Organization told AFP in an email.
The comment followed a decision by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday to lift mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Almost 60 percent of US adults now have one or both doses, while cases are falling fast, down to a seven-day-average of 38,000, or 11 per 100,000.
The WHO refrained from commenting specifically on the US situation, but experts highlighted that the decision to remove Covid restrictions, including mask recommendations, should rely on more than just the vaccination rate.
“It’s about how much virus is circulating,” WHO Covid-19 lead Maria Van Kerkhove told reporters.
“It’s about the amount of vaccines and vaccinations that are rolling out, it’s about the variants... that are circulating.”
The vaccines in use against Covid-19 have been shown to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and death, and there is also increasing evidence that they provide high protection against infection and transmission of the virus.
But WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan stressed they are “not 100 percent effective against preventing infection.”
“You can have asymptomatic or mild illness or even moderate symptoms even after being vaccinated,” she said, warning that “vaccination alone is not a guarantee against infection or against being able to transmit that infection to others.”
It may be rare, but could still occur, she said.
“That’s why we need the other protective measures like the mask wearing, and the distancing and so on until countries get to the level at which a large number of people are protected and virus circulation and the transmission goes to very low levels.”
So far, she warned, “very few countries are at the point now where they can drop these measures by individuals and by governments.”
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan agreed.
Relaxing measures and taking away mask mandates, he said, “should only be done in the context of considering both the intensity and transmission in your area, and the level of vaccination coverage.”
“Even in situations where you have high vaccine coverage, if you’ve got a lot of transmission, then you wouldn’t take your mask off.”