US calls military acts in Myanmar a coup, UN Security Council takes no action

Myanmar’s police officers stand guard at the entrance of parliament members residence at the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Feb. 2, 2021. (Reuters)
Myanmar’s police officers stand guard at the entrance of parliament members residence at the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Feb. 2, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 February 2021

US calls military acts in Myanmar a coup, UN Security Council takes no action

US calls military acts in Myanmar a coup, UN Security Council takes no action
  • Biden has threatened new sanctions against the generals who seized power in Myanmar
  • UN envoy urges Security Council to ‘send clear signal’ to support Myanmar democracy

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS: The US State Department will conduct a review of its foreign assistance to Myanmar after determining that the military takeover in the Asian country this week constituted a coup, senior officials said on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden has threatened new sanctions against the generals who seized power in Myanmar and detained elected leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi early on Monday.
In a briefing with reporters, State Department officials said Washington has not been in direct contact with the coup leaders in Myanmar or the deposed civilian government leaders.
Under US law, the assessment that a coup has taken place automatically puts restrictions on US assistance, but officials said humanitarian aid, including to the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, and programs that promote democracy or benefit civil society would continue.
“In addition, we will take a broader review of our assistance programs to ensure they align with recent events,” a State Department official said.
US officials would also conduct a review of sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and companies associated with them, the official said.
State Department officials briefed staff from the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday about the situation but did not preview new sanctions, according to aides who were on the call.
US officials were trying to work with European and Asian allies who have contacts with Myanmar’s military, but had not made much progress, lawmakers were told, according to an aide.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has close ties to Suu Kyi, said in a statement he had spoken to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday about the situation in Myanmar and urged the administration to “impose significant costs on the military for its attack on democracy.”
Meanwhile, the UN envoy for Myanmar urged an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday to ensure that “democracy is expeditiously restored” to the Southeast Asian nation, but the United Nations’ most powerful body took no immediate action.
Christine Schraner Burgener, the Myanmar ambassador who is currently in Europe, strongly condemned the military’s takeover of the government and said the council must “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar” and ensure the country “doesn’t fall back into isolation.”
Diplomats said restoring democracy was the key element of a draft statement prepared for the council to release to the media after the closed-door meeting, along with a condemnation of the military’s action and call for the immediate release of all those detained.
But the statement was not issued because it requires support from all 15 council members and the UN missions for China and Russia said they needed to send it to their capitals for review, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. China has close ties to Myanmar.
Schraner Burgener told the council that the Myanmar military’s declaration of a state of emergency and detention of top leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of lawmakers and civilian officials just as the new parliamentary session was about to open Monday “was surprising and shocking.”
The military said the seizure of power was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud in November’s election in which Suu Kyi’s party won a majority of seats.
Britain’s UN ambassador, Barbara Woodward, the current council president, told reporters after the meeting that ambassadors echoed widespread international concerns about the military’s action at the virtual session.
“And we welcome the role of regional partners ... to resolve this crisis,” including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, she said.
Brunei, which chairs the 10-nation regional ASEAN group, including Myanmar, issued a statement Monday noting the bloc’s principles include “the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The statement encouraged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”
But it made no mention of any action by ASEAN to take the lead in returning Myanmar to a democratic path.
At the United Nations, Woodward said: “Discussions will continue among council colleagues on next steps. I certainly hope that we will be able to speak with one voice.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, called Myanmar “a friendly neighbor” Tuesday and expressed hope that all parties “will properly handle their differences under the constitutional and legal framework and maintain political and social stability.”
“Whatever actions taken by the international community shall contribute to Myanmar’s political and social stability, promote its peace and reconciliation, and avoid escalating the conflict and complicating the situation,” Wang said in Beijing.
Myanmar has been a very difficult issue for the Security Council to take any action, but not impossible.
In November 2017, the council adopted a presidential statement condemning widespread violence in northern Rakhine State and expressing grave concern at reported human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces against minority Rohingya Muslims. It called on the government to ensure “no further excessive use of military force,” which led 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
Before Tuesday’s council meeting, the UN’s director for the group Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, said the council’s “abysmal failure to address Myanmar’s past appalling human rights abuses assured the military they could do as they please without serious consequences.”
He called on the council to demand the immediate release of all detained political leaders and activists and the restoration of civilian democratic rule. He said sanctions should be imposed “on those military leaders responsible.”
Amnesty International’s deputy director of advocacy, Sherine Tadros, urged the council to freeze the assets of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, now in charge of the government, and other military leaders responsible for crimes against ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya.
“The Security Council must also impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar, and crucially, refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” she said.
US President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday called the Myanmar military’s action a coup, setting the stage for sanctions and other measures targeting what State Department officials said was “the very small circle of military generals” responsible.
While the US and other Western nations may impose sanctions on Myanmar, Security Council approval of targeted measures is highly unlikely. That would take a resolution, which China would likely veto.
Getting approval for a press statement remains a possibility, but not a certainty.
Sven Jürgenson, the UN ambassador for council member Estonia, supported the proposed statement, strongly condemning the coup and urging Myanmar’s military to respect the 2008 constitution, allow Parliament to do its work, and “recommit to the peace process.”
(With Reuters and AP)


Greece begins moving migrants to new ‘closed’ camp

Greece begins moving migrants to new ‘closed’ camp
Updated 8 sec ago

Greece begins moving migrants to new ‘closed’ camp

Greece begins moving migrants to new ‘closed’ camp
  • The Samos camp, which will serve as a pilot for the other so-called closed and controlled access facilities, can only be entered via fingerprint scans and electronic badges
  • The EU has committed €276 million euros for the new camps on Greece’s five Aegean islands — Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos — that receive most of the migrant arrivals
SAMOS, Greece: Greece on Monday began moving asylum seekers to the first of several new EU-funded “closed” camps on its islands, despite activists complaining that controls on access are too harsh.
A double barbed-wire fence surrounds the camp on Samos island, a facility for 3,000 people that also has surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic doors.
During the migrant crisis in 2015 and 2016, the previous camp on Samos sheltered nearly 7,000 asylum seekers despite being built to take just 680, and campaigners had long denounced conditions as deplorable.
“Today is a historic day... a day of joy for us,” Manos Logothetis of the Greek migration ministry told state TV ERT on Samos.
Logothetis told AFP that out of some 400 people at the current Vathy camp at Samos, 270 have said they want to move to the new Zervou facility.
At the entrance of the new camp, police lined up the residents, checking them for weapons or dangerous objects, an AFP reporter said. Asylum personnel handed out clean bedsheets and showed the migrants how to use the gate’s magnetic entry cards.
Some of the asylum seekers carried boxes containing stray cats from the old camp, where rats were an ever-present menace.
“People are just angry for what will happen in the new camp, they think that it’s prison, but I don’t think it,” said Didier Tcakonmer, a 28-year-old Cameroonian who has spent more than two years in Samos.
“It will be better than here, no mosquitos, no rats.”
The ministry is prepared to register up to 200 people today and the remainder on Tuesday, Logothetis said.
The Samos camp, which will serve as a pilot for the other so-called closed and controlled access facilities, can only be entered via fingerprint scans and electronic badges.
Gates will remain closed at night and disciplinary measures await those who return after 8:00 pm.
Late on Sunday, a fire broke out in an abandoned part of the Vathy camp — though the ministry said nobody was hurt.
Logothetis told ERT it was common for asylum seekers to sort through their belongings ahead of a camp move and burn anything they did not intend to bring with them.
According to the ministry, all the asylum seekers had been evacuated on Sunday to an empty space near the entrance of the camp as firefighters tackled the blaze.
The new Samos facility is the first of several such camps on five Greek islands created with EU funds.
The EU has committed 276 million euros ($326 million) for the new camps on Greece’s five Aegean islands — Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos — that receive most of the migrant arrivals by sea from neighboring Turkey.
The Leros and Kos camps will open in November, the government said Monday.
Logothetis said the new restricted-access Samos camp offers “safety and humanitarian values,” but rights groups say the measures are too restrictive.
The Samos community, which had for years demanded the relocation of all the migrants to mainland Greece and Europe, has also opposed the construction of the new Zervou camp.
On the nearby island of Lesbos, the similarly overcrowded camp of Moria was destroyed in two fires that left 13,000 without shelter for several days.

India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors

India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors
Updated 20 September 2021

India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors

India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors
  • India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, stopped exports of COVID-19 shots in April to focus on inoculating its own population

NEW DELHI: India will resume exports of COVID-19 vaccines from the next quarter, prioritizing the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX and neighboring countries first as supplies rise, the health minister said on Monday.
India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, stopped exports of COVID-19 shots in April to focus on inoculating its own population as infections exploded.
The country’s monthly vaccine output has since more than doubled and is set to quadruple to over 300 million doses next month, minister Mansukh Mandaviya said, adding that only excess supplies would be exported.
“We will help other countries and also fulfill our responsibility toward COVAX,” he told reporters.
Reuters reported last week that India was considering restarting exports of COVID-19 vaccines soon. It donated or sold 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries before the export halt.
The announcement on resumption of exports come ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington this week where vaccines are likely to be discussed at a summit of the leaders of the Quad countries — the United States, India, Japan and Australia.
India wants to vaccinate all its 944 million adults by December and has so far given at least one dose to 64 percent of them and two doses to 22 percent.
India’s inoculations have jumped since last month, especially as the world’s biggest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, has more than trebled its output of the AstraZeneca shot to 200 million doses a month from April levels.
Indian companies have set up the capacity to produce nearly 3 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses a year.


Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
Updated 20 September 2021

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
  • Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges
  • Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai

KIGALI: A Rwandan court on Monday found Paul Rusesabagina, a one-time hotel manager portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood film about the 1994 genocide, guilty of being part of a group responsible for terrorist attacks.

“They should be found guilty for being part of this terror group — MRCD-FLN,” judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said of 20 defendants including Rusesabagina. “They attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling.”

The case has had a high profile since Rusesabagina, 67, was arrested last year on arrival from Dubai after what he described as a kidnapping by Rwandan authorities.

Since being portrayed by actor Don Cheadle as the hero of the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” Rusesabagina emerged as a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame, based in the United States. He had denied all the charges against him, while his supporters called the trial a sham and proof of Kagame’s ruthless treatment of political opponents.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges, including terrorism, arson, taking hostages and forming an armed rebel group which he directed from abroad. After the announcement of the initial verdict, one of the defendants became ill, causing a short recess which delayed verdicts on other charges and sentencing.

Rusesabagina became a global celebrity after the film, which depicted him risking his life to shelter hundreds as the boss of a luxury hotel in the Rwandan capital Kigali during the 100-day genocide when Hutu ethnic extremists killed more than 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority.

Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Rusesabagina used his fame to highlight what he described as rights violations by the government of Kagame, a Tutsi rebel commander who took power after his forces captured Kigali and halted the genocide.

Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai. His supporters say he was kidnapped; the Rwandan government suggested he was tricked into boarding a private plane. Human Rights Watch said at the time that his arrest amounted to an enforced disappearance, which it called a serious violation of international law.


Macron apologizes for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron apologizes for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
Updated 38 min 5 sec ago

Macron apologizes for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron apologizes for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
  • The French government left the loyalist fighters known as Harkis to fend for themselves, despite earlier promises that it would look after them
  • Macron has already spoken out on a number of France’s unresolved colonial legacies, including nuclear testing in Polynesia, its role in the Rwandan genocide and war crimes in Algeria

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday asked “forgiveness” on behalf of his country for abandoning Algerians who fought alongside France in their country’s war of independence.
More than 200,000 Algerians fought with the French army in the war that pitted Algerian independence fighters against their French colonial masters from 1954 to 1962.
At the end of the war — waged on both sides with extreme brutality, including widespread torture — the French government left the loyalist fighters known as Harkis to fend for themselves, despite earlier promises that it would look after them.
Trapped in Algeria, many were massacred as the country’s new masters took brutal revenge.
Thousands of others who escaped to France were interned in camps, often with their families, in degrading and traumatising conditions.
“I want to express our gratitude to the fighters,” Macron said at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace attended by around 300 people, mostly surviving Harkis and their families.
“I’m asking for forgiveness. We will not forget,” Macron said, adding that France had “failed in its duty toward the Harkis, their wives, their children.”
The centrist president, who has been tackling some of the darker chapters of France’s colonial past, said the government would draft a law on the recognition of the state’s responsibility toward Harkis and the need for “reparation.”
His speech was interrupted several times by hecklers, with one woman in the audience accusing Macron of “making empty promises.”
Previous French presidents had already begun owning up to the betrayal of the Algerian Muslim fighters.
Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande in 2016 accepted “the responsibilities of French governments in the abandonment of the Harkis.”
The meeting came days before national Harki day, which has been observed since 2003 — especially in southern France where many of the surviving fighters settled after the war.
Their political sympathies often lie with the nationalist right whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is the frontrunner among Macron’s rivals in France’s presidential election next spring.
Authorities have in the past allowed a number of legal procedures to go ahead for the Harkis and their families to claim damages from France.
Ahead of the ceremony, Harki organizations had demanded an official recognition of their treatment to be enshrined in a law by the end of the year.
“We hope that you will be the one to end 60 years of a certain hypocrisy by which the abandoning of the Harkis is recognized in speeches, but not in the law,” they said in an open letter to Macron.
Macron’s initiative comes over a year after he tasked historian Benjamin Stora with assessing how France has dealt with its colonial legacy in Algeria.
The report, submitted in January, made a series of recommendations, including owning up to the murder of a prominent Algerian independence figure and creating a “memory and truth commission.”
Macron has already spoken out on a number of France’s unresolved colonial legacies, including nuclear testing in Polynesia, its role in the Rwandan genocide and war crimes in Algeria.
Before the end of his mandate he is expected to attend ceremonies marking the anniversaries of two key events still weighing on French-Algerian relations.
One is the brutal repression of a demonstration of Algerians on October 17, 1961, by Paris police who beat protesters to death or drowned them in the river Seine, and the other is a signing of the Evian accords on March 18, 1962, which ended the war of independence.


Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus

Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus
Updated 20 September 2021

Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus

Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus
  • The Investigative Committee initially said eight people were killed
  • Country’s second mass shooting this year to target students

MOSCOW: A gunman opened fire Monday on a university campus in central Russia and killed six people before being detained, investigators said, in the country’s second mass shooting this year to target students.

Video on social media showed students throwing belongings from the windows of university buildings in the city of Perm, around 1,300 kilometers east of Moscow, before jumping to flee the shooter.

The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes in Russia, initially said eight people were killed but later revised the number of deaths to six.

It said 28 people were being treated after the attack at Perm State National Research University.

“Some of them have been hospitalized with injuries of varying severity,” it said in a statement.

It said the gunman, later identified as a student at the university, carried out the shooting with a hunting rifle he purchased earlier this year.

“During his arrest, he put up resistance and was wounded, after which he was taken to a medical facility,” the statement said.

The health ministry, in comments cited by Russian news agencies, said 19 among the wounded were being treated for gunshots.

State media broadcast amateur footage reportedly taken during the attack showing an individual dressed in black tactical clothing, including a helmet, carrying a weapon and walking through the campus.

Video from outside the university showed distressed students fleeing the campus and making phone calls to friends and family behind a cordon of police wearing helmets and body armor.

President Vladimir Putin had been notified of the shooting, the Kremlin said, and ministers had been ordered to travel to Perm to coordinate assistance for the victims.

“The president expresses sincere condolences to those who have lost family and loved ones as a result of this incident,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Regional authorities said that classes at local schools, colleges and universities were canceled on Monday.

School shootings have been relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities and because it is difficult to buy firearms.

But Monday’s attack was the second one this year, after a 19-year-old opened fire in his old school in the central city of Kazan in May, killing nine people.

Investigators said that gunman suffered from a brain disorder, but he was deemed fit to receive a license for the semi-automatic shotgun he used in the attack.

On the day of that attack — one of the worst in recent Russian history — Putin called for a review of gun control laws. The age to acquire hunting rifles was increased from 18 to 21 and medical checks were strengthened.

Peskov noted Monday that despite the tightened legislation “unfortunately, this tragedy has happened, and it has to be analyzed.”

“Law enforcement agencies must give an expert assessment. It looks like we are talking about abnormalities in a young man who committed these killings,” Peskov said.

Authorities have blamed foreign influences for previous school shootings, saying young Russians have been influenced by similar attacks in the United States and elsewhere.

In November 2019, a 19-year-old student in the far eastern town of Blagoveshchensk opened fire at his college, killing one classmate and injuring three other people before shooting and killing himself.

In October 2018, another teenage gunman killed 20 people at a Kerch technical college in Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

He was shown in camera footage wearing a similar T-shirt to Eric Harris, one of the killers in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in the United States, which left 13 people dead.

The Crimea shooter was able to legally obtain a gun license after undergoing marksmanship training and being examined by a psychiatrist.

The country’s FSB security service says it has prevented dozens of armed attacks on schools in recent years.

The shooting took place as Russia was counting ballots following three-day parliamentary and local elections.