Myanmar generals shut down Internet as thousands protest coup

Myanmar generals shut down Internet as thousands protest coup
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Police were out in force with riot shields as protesters gathered during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Feb. 6, 2021. (AFP)
Myanmar generals shut down Internet as thousands protest coup
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Protesters went out onto the streets of Yangon demanding an end to the Myanmar coup and the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2021

Myanmar generals shut down Internet as thousands protest coup

Myanmar generals shut down Internet as thousands protest coup
  • The internet blackout began around 10 a.m. local time (0330GMT)
  • Myanmar civil society organizations appealed to Internet providers and mobile networks to challenge the junta’s orders blocking Internet access

Myanmar’s junta shut down the Internet in the country on Saturday as thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon to denounce this week’s coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In the first such demonstration since the generals seized power on Monday, activists chanted, “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win” and held banners reading “Against military dictatorship.” Bystanders offered them food and water.
Many in the crowd wore red, the color of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) which won Nov. 8 elections in a landslide, a result the generals have refused to recognize claiming fraud.
As the protest swelled and activists issued calls on social media for people to join the march, the country’s Internet crashed.
Monitoring group NetBlocks Internet Observatory reported a “national-scale Internet blackout,” saying on Twitter that connectivity had fallen to 54% of ordinary levels. Witnesses reported a shutdown of mobile data services and wifi.
The junta did not respond to requests for comment. It has tried to silence dissent by temporarily blocking Facebook and extended a social media crackdown to Twitter and Instagram on Saturday.
Norwegian mobile phone company Telenor Asa said authorities had ordered Internet providers to deny access to Twitter and Instagram “until further notice.”
Many had sidestepped the ban on sites such as Facebook by using virtual private networks to conceal their locations, but the more general disruption to mobile data services would severely limit access to independent news and information.
“Internet already down but we will not stop raising our voice,” wrote a Twitter user with the handle Maw Htun Aung. “Let’s fight peacefully for democracy and freedom. Let’s fight until the last minute for our future.”
Myanmar civil society organizations appealed to Internet providers and mobile networks to challenge the junta’s orders blocking Internet access.
“By complying with their directives, your companies are essentially legitimising the military’s authority, despite international condemnation of this very body,” a coalition of groups said in a statement.
Telenor said before the Internet shutdown it was legally obliged to follow the order to block some social media, but “highlighted the directive’s contradiction with international human rights law.”
Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said shutting down the Internet amid a coup and the COVID-19 pandemic was a “heinous and reckless decision.”
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power alleging fraud although the electoral commission says it has found no evidence of widespread irregularities in the November vote.
The junta announced a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hand over power after new elections, without giving a timeframe.

International pressure
The takeover drew international condemnation, with a United Nations Security Council call for the release of all detainees and targeted sanctions under consideration by Washington.
Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen in public since the coup. She spent some 15 years under house arrest during a struggle against previous juntas before the troubled democratic transition began in 2011.
The lawyer for Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint said they were being held in their homes and that he was unable to meet them because they were still being questioned. Suu Kyi faces charges of importing six walkie-talkies illegally while Win Myint is accused of flouting coronavirus restrictions.
Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Suu Kyi, said in message to Reuters on Saturday he was being detained.
Saturday’s protest is the first sign of street unrest in a country with a history of bloody military crackdowns on protesters. There were also anti-coup protests in Melbourne, Australia, and the Taiwanese capital Taipei on Saturday.
A civil disobedience movement has been building in Myanmar all week, with doctors and teachers among those refusing to work, and every night people bang pots and pans in a show of anger.
In addition to about 150 arrests in the wake of the coup reported by human rights groups, local media said around 30 people have been detained over the noise protests.
The United States is considering targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by Myanmar’s military.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in a phone call on Friday to condemn the coup, the State Department said.
China, which has close links to Myanmar’s military, joined the consensus on the Security Council statement but has not condemned the army takeover and has said countries should act in the interests of the stability of its neighbor Myanmar.
UN Myanmar envoy Christine Schraner Burgener condemned the coup in a call with Myanmar’s deputy military chief Soe Win, and called for the immediate release of all those detained, a UN spokesman said.
The generals have few overseas interests that would be vulnerable to international sanctions, but the military’s extensive business investments could suffer if foreign partners leave — as Japanese drinks company Kirin Holdings said it would on Friday.
US based pressure group Human Rights Watch called for the lifting of the Internet restrictions, the release of detainees and an end to threats against journalists.
“A news and information blackout by the coup leaders can’t hide their politically motivated arrests and other abuses,” said Asia director Brad Adams.
 


12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police

12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police
Updated 16 min 29 sec ago

12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police

12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police
  • Kabul police spokesman says explosives had been placed inside the mosques
  • No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion

KABUL: A blast at a mosque on the outskirts of the Afghan capital during Friday prayers killed at least 12 worshippers, police said, shattering the relative calm of a three-day cease-fire.
“The death toll has jumped to 12 killed including the imam of the mosque and 15 others are wounded,” Ferdaws Framurz, the spokesman for Kabul police said, updating an earlier toll.
He said the explosion happened inside a mosque in Shakar Darah district of Kabul province.
The blast is the first major incident since a temporary truce between the Taliban and government troops came into force on Thursday.
The warring sides agreed on the truce to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, only the fourth such halt in fighting in the nearly two-decades old conflict.
Deadly violence has rocked the country in recent weeks after the US military began formally withdrawing its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan on May 1.
Last week, a series of blasts outside a girls’ school in the capital killed more than 50 people, most of them teenage girl students.


US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan

US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan
Updated 14 May 2021

US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan

US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: The United States has completed its withdrawal from Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, once the second largest military base in the country for US forces, officials said Friday.
“They have not officially handed over the base to us but I can confirm they left the base on Wednesday,” said Khoja Yaya Alawi, a spokesman for the Afghan army in Kandahar.


Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO

Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO
Updated 14 May 2021

Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO

Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO
  • Senior WHO management was informed of multiple sex abuse allegations involving at least 2 of its doctors in the Ebola epidemic in 2018
  • The US State Department had no immediate comment

LONDON: British, European and American diplomats and donors have voiced serious concerns about how the World Health Organization handled sex abuse allegations involving its own staff during an outbreak of Ebola in Congo, as reported this week by The Associated Press.
On Tuesday, the AP published an investigation documenting that senior WHO management was informed of multiple sex abuse allegations involving at least two of its doctors during the epidemic in 2018.
A notarized contract obtained by the AP showed that two WHO staffers signed off on an agreement between WHO’s Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu and a young woman he allegedly impregnated in Congo. In it, Ngandu promised to pay the young woman money, cover her pregnancy costs and buy her a plot of land. The contract was made “to protect the integrity and reputation of the organization,” Ngandu said.
“The UK has a zero tolerance approach when it comes to sexual exploitation and harassment — and that extends to all international organizations that we fund,” said Simon Manley, the UK’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva. “We are speaking with WHO and other major donors as a matter of urgency to establish the facts.” Britain is WHO’s second biggest donor, after the US
The US State Department had no immediate comment.
WHO has declined to comment on the specific allegations reported by the AP and said it is waiting for the results of a panel created last October to investigate sexual abuse during the Congo outbreak involving WHO staffers.
“What’s alarming is that WHO seems to be keeping this abuse quiet and not publicly condemning these allegations,” said Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, who has studied gender and funding issues at WHO. “There’s a lot of talk about giving WHO more money but I don’t think any government should be committing to that until we know it’s an organization we can trust.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the agency’s third-largest funder, said it expects UN agencies to conduct thorough investigations into sexual abuse as quickly as possible.
“Our role as a funder is to hold organizations that receive grants from the foundation to the highest standards of transparency and accountability, and to insist that they take steps to prevent misconduct in the future,” the foundation said.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said the ultimate responsibility for WHO’s Ebola response lies with director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The AP found that one of the doctors accused of sexual harassment, Boubacar Diallo, bragged about his relationship to Tedros, who mentioned Diallo during a speech in January 2019. The AP spoke with three women who said Diallo offered them WHO jobs in exchange for sex; Diallo denied the claims.
“I find it hard to believe Tedros would have known about these allegations and done nothing,” Gostin said. “The (director-general) must meet the highest ethical standards so we must understand what he knew and when he knew it. ... Dr. Diallo may have used his relationship with Tedros as leverage in sexual exploitation, but it would not be Tedros’ fault if he wasn’t aware of it.”
Gostin said WHO staffers who were aware of sexual misconduct claims but failed to act should be punished.
Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the European Commission, said it would “thoroughly monitor the investigations” by the AP. He said the commission is ready to review or suspend funding “for any partner who is not living up to the required high ethical and professional rules and standards.” Last year, the European Commission gave WHO about 114 million euros ($138 million).
The World Bank said it is “deeply concerned” about the new sex abuse allegations at WHO. The bank paused its negotiations with Congolese authorities for new financing to agencies, including WHO, last year when reports of general sex abuse during the Ebola outbreak surfaced.
“We review our relationship with any organization whose standards are in question,” the World Bank said in an email.


Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations

Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations
Updated 14 May 2021

Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations

Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations
  • Ramadan ended on Wednesday evening marking the start of Eid Al-Fitr celebrations by Muslims around the world
  • The holiday signals the end of the important month-long period of Islamic fasting and religious reflection

CHICAGO: Arab News reporter Kateryna Kadabashy has noted that while more than 1.8 billion Muslims around the world commemorate Ramadan and celebrate Eid in similar ways, subtle differences still exist based on local and regional traditions and cultures.

Ramadan ended on Wednesday evening marking the start of Eid Al-Fitr celebrations by Muslims around the world.

The holiday signals the end of the important month-long period of Islamic fasting and religious reflection, with many worshippers adopting different ways to enjoy the festival based on their national origins.

A Ukrainian-Palestinian journalist who reports on varied topics including Crimea, Palestine, and women’s rights, Kadabashy detailed in her story how Ukrainian Muslims in the Crimea region celebrate Eid with slightly nuanced differences reflecting local culture.

She said: “One of the stories I wrote, was about how Ukrainian Muslims celebrate Eid. And I tried to focus on Islam in general because in Ukraine it is not a very widespread religion.

“There are not a lot of Muslims, and a lot of people that are Muslims – unless they are Tartar Ukrainians or from the Crimea region – are most likely to be people that have converted to Islam or people that have become Ukrainian.

“I was wondering how they celebrated Eid, because for me all of the Eid celebrations done at home were very Levant oriented.”

Kadabashy explained how Ukrainians celebrated Eid in a slightly different way to the rest of the Islamic world.

“The way Ukrainian Muslims celebrate Eid is kind of very similar, more similar to how Ukrainians celebrate anything rather than how we celebrate Eid at home.

“I asked a (Ukrainian) woman how she celebrated Eid at home, and she liked the usual things that we do. Baking a cake, going for a picnic. Ukrainians like to celebrate anything and everything, such as having a barbecue in the park. So, they do the same things for Eid that any other Ukrainian would do for any other celebrations,” she added.

Kadabashy noted that Muslims everywhere practiced certain basic traditions of Ramadan, such as donating money and food to charitable organizations and those in need.

But she also pointed out that the types of food eaten during iftar and Eid varied, with many preferring Levant foods over traditional regional dishes.

“They also try to give a dua, or an amount of money for their children or other children on Eid,” she said.

“They still try to gather with family, loved ones, and friends. These things are kind of similar. But then all cultures gather around the holidays and all religions are not exclusive to Eid.”

In addition, she noted that Muslims around the globe sacrificed lambs or other animals during Eid and gave the meat to needy families.

  • The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast every Wednesday live on WNZK AM 690 in Greater Detroit and WDMV AM 700 in Greater Washington, DC at 8 AM EST, and streamed live on Facebook.com/ArabNews.

Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded

Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded
Updated 14 May 2021

Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded

Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded
  • Last month, Gaza’s daily coronavirus cases and deaths hit record highs
  • In the bomb-scarred territory where the unemployment rate is 50 percent, the need for personal survival often trumps the pleas of public health experts

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip’s feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing.
Then, the bombs began to fall.
This week’s violence between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has killed 103 Palestinians, including 27 children, and wounded 530 people in the impoverished territory. Israeli airstrikes have pounded apartments, blown up cars and toppled buildings.
Doctors across the crowded coastal enclave are now reallocating intensive care unit beds and scrambling to keep up with a very different health crisis: treating blast and shrapnel wounds, bandaging cuts and performing amputations.
Distraught relatives didn’t wait for ambulances, rushing the wounded by car or on foot to Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest. Exhausted doctors hurried from patient to patient, frantically bandaging shrapnel wounds to stop the bleeding. Others gathered at the hospital morgue, waiting with stretchers to remove the bodies for burial.
At the Indonesia Hospital in the northern town of Jabaliya, the clinic overflowed after bombs fell nearby. Blood was everywhere, with victims lying on the floors of hallways. Relatives crowded the ER, crying out for loved ones and cursing Israel.
“Before the military attacks, we had major shortages and could barely manage with the second (virus) wave,” said Gaza Health Ministry official Abdelatif Al-Hajj by phone as bombs thundered in the background. “Now casualties are coming from all directions, really critical casualties. I fear a total collapse.”
Gutted by years of conflict, the impoverished health care system in the territory of more than 2 million people has always been vulnerable. Bitter division between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and a nearly 14-year blockade imposed by Israel with Egypt’s help also has strangled the infrastructure. There are shortages of equipment and supplies such as blood bags, surgical lamps, anesthesia and antibiotics. Personal protection gear, breathing machines and oxygen tanks remain even scarcer.
Last month, Gaza’s daily coronavirus cases and deaths hit record highs, fueled by the spread of a variant that first appeared in Britain, relaxation of movement restrictions during Ramadan, and deepening public apathy and intransigence.
In the bomb-scarred territory where the unemployment rate is 50 percent, the need for personal survival often trumps the pleas of public health experts. While virus testing remains limited, the outbreak has infected more than 105,700 people, according to health authorities, and killed 976.
As cases climbed last year, stirring fears of a health care catastrophe, authorities set aside clinics just for COVID-19 patients. But that changed as airstrikes pummeled the territory.
Nurses at the European Hospital in the town of Khan Younis, frantically needing room for the wounded, moved dozens of virus patients in the middle of the night to a different building, said hospital director Yousef Al-Akkad. Its surgeons and specialists, who had deployed elsewhere for the virus, rushed back to treat head injuries, fractures and abdominal wounds.
If the conflict intensifies, the hospital won’t be able to care for the virus patients, Al-Akkad said.
“We have only 15 intensive care beds, and all I can do is pray,” he said, adding that because the hospital lacks surgical supplies and expertise, he’s already arranged to send one child to Egypt for reconstructive shoulder surgery. “I pray these airstrikes will stop soon.”
At Shifa, authorities also moved the wounded into its 30 beds that had been set aside for virus patients. Thursday night was the quietest this week for the ICU, as bombs had largely fallen elsewhere in Gaza. Patients with broken bones and other wounds lay amid the din of beeping monitors, intercoms and occasional shouts by doctors. A few relatives huddled around them, recounting the chaotic barrage.
“About 12 people down in one airstrike. It was 6 p.m. in the street. Some were killed, including my two cousins and young sister. It’s like this every day,” said 22-year-old Atallah Al-Masri, sitting beside his wounded brother, Ghassan.
Hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia lamented the latest series of blows to Gaza’s health system.
“The Gaza Strip is under siege for 14 years, and the health sector is exhausted. Then comes the coronavirus pandemic,” he said, adding that most of the equipment is as old as the blockade and can’t be sent out for repairs.
Now, his teams already strained by virus cases are treating bombing victims, more than half of whom are critical cases needing surgery.
“They work relentlessly,” he added
To make matters worse, Israeli airstrikes hit two health clinics north of Gaza City on Tuesday. The strikes wreaked havoc on Hala Al-Shawa Health Center, forcing employees to evacuate, and damaged the Indonesian Hospital, according to the World Health Organization. Israel, already under pressure from an International Criminal court investigation into possible war crimes during the 2014 war, reiterated this week that it warns people living in targeted areas to flee. The airstrikes nonetheless have killed civilians and inflicted damage on Gaza’s infrastructure.
The violence also has closed a few dozen health centers conducting coronavirus tests, said Sacha Bootsma, director of WHO’s Gaza office. This week, authorities conducted some 300 tests a day, compared with 3,000 before the fighting began.
The UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, ordered staff to stay home from its 22 clinics for their safety. Those now-closed centers had also administered coronavirus vaccines, a precious resource in a place that waited months to receive a limited shipment from the UN-backed COVAX program. Those doses will expire in just a few weeks and get thrown away, with “huge implications for authorities’ ability to mobilize additional vaccines in the future,” Bootsma said.
For the newly wounded, however, the virus remains an afterthought.
The last thing that Mohammad Nassar remembers before an airstrike hit was walking home with a friend on a street. When he came to, he said, “we found ourselves lying on the ground.”
Now the 31-year-old is hooked up to a tangle of tubes and monitors in the Shifa Hospital surgical ward, with a broken right arm and a shrapnel wound in his stomach.