Thousands of Australians defy coronavirus rules to mark ‘Invasion Day’

Thousands of Australians defy coronavirus rules to mark ‘Invasion Day’
Thousands of people gathered at a central Sydney park, above, in defiance of police threats of fines and arrests for breaching a 500-person limit on public gatherings. (AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2021

Thousands of Australians defy coronavirus rules to mark ‘Invasion Day’

Thousands of Australians defy coronavirus rules to mark ‘Invasion Day’
  • Officially recognized as Australia Day, January 26 sees annual rallies drawing attention to the injustices faced by Indigenous people
  • Thousands of people gathered at a central Sydney park in defiance of police threats of fines and arrests

SYDNEY: Thousands of Australians defied coronavirus rules on Tuesday to protest the country’s national day, held on the anniversary of British colonization of the vast continent that its Indigenous population marks as “Invasion Day.”
Officially recognized as Australia Day, January 26 also sees annual rallies drawing attention to the injustices faced by Indigenous people and calling on the government to change the date of the national holiday.
The celebration of the origins of the modern nation is a time of mourning for Indigenous Australians, who have inhabited the land for 65,000 years and view the arrival of British settlers in 1788 as the beginning of two centuries of pain and suffering.
Thousands of people gathered at a central Sydney park in defiance of police threats of fines and arrests for breaching a 500-person limit on public gatherings, though organizers called off a march through the city that usually follows.
Police said five people were arrested, including one who was charged with assaulting a police officer, but praised the crowds as largely peaceful.
Authorities earlier refused to waive the cap on numbers, despite no new cases being detected in Australia’s biggest city for more than a week.
Chants of “Sovereignty was never ceded” and “No justice, no peace” rang out while others held up placards with slogans including “Not a Date to Celebrate” and “Black Lives Matter.”
“For us it represents cultural genocide. Our families being ripped apart. Years and years of disease and famine. And the intergenerational impacts of that are still being felt today,” Gomeroi man Dylan Booth said.
Australia last year failed to meet most key targets on closing the health and wellbeing gap between Aboriginal Australians and the rest of the population, with soaring incarceration rates among Indigenous people and a life expectancy about eight years lower than the national average.
Thousands also attended protests in other major cities across the country, with rally organizers encouraging attendees to wear face masks and maintain physical distance where possible.
In Australia’s second-biggest city of Melbourne, where an estimated 10,000 turned out to march through the streets, attendees walked in 100-person groups to comply with coronavirus rules.
Some waved Aboriginal flags, while others held aloft signs including “No Pride in Genocide” and “You are on Stolen Land.”
“People (are) having barbecues and shrimp on the barbie and celebrating the death and destruction of these people, the oldest continuing living culture in the world,” The Age reported Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe as telling the crowd.
Police in Melbourne detained one counter-protester, a man wearing an Australian flag as a cape and a shirt supporting the violent US far-right group Proud Boys, according to an AFP photographer.
The push to change the date — or even abolish the celebration entirely — remains divisive.
On social media, supportive hashtags #InvasionDay2021 and #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe were trending but a poll of more than 1,000 people conducted for Fairfax newspapers showed 48 percent opposed the change while just 28 percent supported it.
The debate around Australia Day — which was only formally established as a national holiday in 1994 — has grown increasingly heated debate in recent years.
The occasion is staunchly defended by right-wing commentators and retains strong support from the country’s conservative government.
Official celebrations this year were muted amid the pandemic, with many towns and cities canceling or scaling down events due to coronavirus restrictions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who earlier in the week chided Cricket Australia for dropping the name from promotions for its January 26 matches, said history “changed forever” when the First Fleet arrived in 1788 and there was “no escaping or canceling this fact.”
“For better and worse, it was the moment where the journey to our modern Australia began,” he told an official ceremony in Canberra.
“And it is this continuing Australian journey that we recognize today.”


New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques
Updated 04 March 2021

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques
  • Police on Thursday arrested the 27-year-old man and charged him with threatening to kill
  • The arrest comes as Muslims prepare to mark the second anniversary of a white supremacist gunman’s attack at the mosques

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A New Zealand man is facing criminal charges after allegedly posting online threats against two Christchurch mosques that were the sites of a terrorist attack that left 51 people dead.
Police on Thursday arrested the 27-year-old man and charged him with threatening to kill. If found guilty, he faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
Police Superintendent John Price told reporters the threats were made earlier this week on the website 4chan, which has been used as a forum in the past by white supremacists.
The arrest comes as Muslims prepare to mark the second anniversary of a white supremacist gunman’s attack at the mosques.
Price said there would be an enhanced police presence at the mosques during the commemoration of the March 15, 2019, attacks. He said that had been planned before the threats came to light.
Price declined to give details of the alleged threats or name the man ahead of his first scheduled court appearance on Friday.
“Any threat made on our community and our people is a threat on our society, and will not be tolerated,” Price said. “Any messages of hate or people wanting to cause harm in our community, they will be held to account.”
Police initially arrested two men and executed search warrants at two Christchurch addresses. One of the men was later released without being charged.
In the 2019 attack, gunman Brenton Tarrant slaughtered worshippers at the mosques during Friday prayers. Last year he pleaded guilty to 92 counts of murder, attempted murder and terrorism. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.


20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti
Updated 04 March 2021

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti
  • At least 200 migrants, including children, were aboard the vessel when it left Oulebi in Djibouti in the early hours of Wednesday for Yemen
  • About thirty minutes into the voyage across the Gulf of Aden the smugglers panicked, survivors said, throwing around 80 people overboard

NAIROBI: At least 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a crossing between Djibouti and Yemen, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Thursday.
“Survivors believe at least 20 people have been killed. There are still some unaccounted for. Five bodies washed up onshore,” said Yvonne Ndege, IOM regional spokesperson for the East and Horn of Africa, told AFP.
At least 200 migrants, including children, were aboard the vessel when it left Oulebi in Djibouti in the early hours of Wednesday for Yemen, survivors told the IOM.
About thirty minutes into the voyage across the Gulf of Aden the smugglers panicked, survivors said, throwing around 80 people overboard before turning the vessel back toward Djibouti.
“Of the 80 people who were forced off, only 60 made it back to shore,” Ndege said.
Five bodies were recovered Wednesday and there are fears the death toll could still rise.
The survivors are receiving medical treatment in the Djibouti port town of Obock and testimonies are still being collected.
Two similar incidents in the Gulf of Aden in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants, the IOM said.


Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan
Updated 04 March 2021

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan
  • The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack
  • Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan

STOCKHOLM: The suspect in the stabbing that left seven injured in Sweden is a 22-year-old Afghan, who arrived in the Nordic country in 2018, media reported Thursday.
Swedish police are investigating a possible terror incident after a man stabbed and injured at least seven people in the city of Vetlanda on Wednesday.
A police statement early Thursday revised the number of injured in the attack to seven from eight but did not give further details.
The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack in the southern city of 13,000 inhabitants.
Speaking to AFP, police said the man had used a “sharp weapon,” while local media reported that he had brandished a knife.
Police initially treated the incident as “attempted murder” but later changed it in a statement to include a “suspected terrorist crime,” without giving further details.
Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan and had arrived in Sweden in 2018.
Three of those attacked were said to have suffered life-threatening injuries, while two others were in serious condition, according to the local health authority in Jonkoping where they were being treated in hospital.
Regional police chief Malena Grann later clarified that a preliminary investigation was still under the designation “attempted murder,” but details had emerged that meant they were also looking into “potential terror motives.”
“There are details in the investigation that have led us to investigate whether there was a terror motive,” Grann said, without giving details.
He added that the police were working closely with the Swedish intelligence service Sapo.
The suspect was a resident of the area and previously known to police, but in the past had only been accused of “petty crimes,” including small-scale cannabis use, according to local press.
The extent of his injuries were also unknown but police said they believed they would be able question him.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven condemned the “horrific violence” in a statement published on his Facebook page.
“We face these despicable actions with the combined force of the community,” Lofven said.
“We are reminded of how frail our safe existence is,” Lofven added.
Swedish intelligence services said the terrorist threat was 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 center of Stockholm. He died after only slightly injuring passers-by.
In April 2017, a radicalized Uzbek asylum seeker mowed down pedestrians in Stockholm with a stolen truck, killing five people. He was sentenced to life in prison.


Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists
Updated 04 March 2021

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists
  • The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday

HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court on Thursday denied bail to 32 out of 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law, ending a four-day marathon court hearing.
The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyze Hong Kong’s government.
The mass charges against the activists were the most sweeping action taken against the city’s pro-democracy camp since the national security law was implemented last June.
With the 32 activists remanded in custody until the next court hearing on May 31, it means that a majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Bail proceedings for the activists began on Monday, often taking a full day and at times continuing into the early hours of the morning.
The bail proceedings ongoing since Monday have lasted often a full day and at times into the morning, and several defendants have fallen ill.
Under Hong Kong’s common law system, defendants are usually granted bail for non-violent crimes. But the national security law removed the presumption of bail, with a clause saying it will not be granted unless the judge has sufficient grounds to believe defendants “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The 47 are part of a broader group of 55 activists who were arrested in January for their role in the primary elections. Eight of them were not charged on Sunday.
The primary was aimed at determining the strongest candidates to field for a legislative council election that would give the pro-democracy camp the best chance to gain a legislative majority. The government later postponed the legislative elections, citing public health risks from the coronavirus.
If the pro-democracy camp had won a majority, at least some members of the camp had plans to vote down major bills that would eventually force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign. Authorities said the activists’ participation in the primary was part of a plan to paralyze the city’s legislature and subvert state power.
The national security law criminalizes secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs as well as terrorism. Serious offenders could face life imprisonment.
Prominent pro-democracy advocate Joshua Wong, who is currently serving a 13 1/2-month jail sentence on protest-related charges, as well as Benny Tai, the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, are among the activists charged this week.


Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit

Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit
Updated 04 March 2021

Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit

Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit
  • It will be a gift to Iraqi representatives, sources tell Arab News

ROME: A special bronze medal has been minted by the Vatican to celebrate the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq.

Vatican sources told Arab News that the medal will be one of the gifts that the leader of the Catholic Church will give to Iraqi representatives whom he will meet during his four-day visit, which starts on Friday.

The medal has been designed by artists from the Ufficio Filatelico e Numismatico, the dedicated branch of the Vatican State Post Office for stamps and coins.

It features the map of Iraq, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a palm tree and Abraham leaving Ur, the Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia where the prophet is believed to have been born.

In the lower part of the medal, there is the inscription of the apostolic visit’s dates (March 5-8) in Latin, the official language of the Vatican. In its upper part the medal reads “Visit Iraquiam,” Latin for “Visit to Iraq.”

The Ufficio Filatelico e Numismatico mints a special medal for every papal trip. This one will be the 33rd since Pope Francis was elected. It will not be for sale. It is not known yet whether the Vatican State Post Office will issue a special stamp for the occasion.