India police: 3 police, 3 rebels killed in Kashmir fighting

India police: 3 police, 3 rebels killed in Kashmir fighting
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A policeman showers flower petals on the coffin of a colleague during a wreath laying ceremony in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo)
India police: 3 police, 3 rebels killed in Kashmir fighting
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Police arrive near the site of a shootout in Srinagar on Feb. 19, 2021 after unidentified gunmen killed two police personnel. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2021

India police: 3 police, 3 rebels killed in Kashmir fighting

India police: 3 police, 3 rebels killed in Kashmir fighting
  • The violence came a day after diplomats from more than 20 countries stationed in India’s capital concluded a two-day visit to the region
  • Many Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country

SRINAGAR, India: Anti-India rebels in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed two police officers in an attack Friday in the disputed region’s main city, officials said. Elsewhere in the Himalayan region, three suspected rebels and a policeman were killed in two gunbattles.
The violence came a day after diplomats from more than 20 countries stationed in India’s capital concluded a two-day visit to the region.
Police said militants sprayed bullets at two policemen near a police station in Srinagar city. Both died later at a hospital.
A short video of the attack circulated on social media shows a man in a pheran, a Kashmiri tunic worn during the winter, taking out what appears to be an automatic rifle and shooting at the policemen. He then quickly runs away.
Police and soldiers searched the area and later detained a young man for questioning.
No rebel group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a separate incident, a gunfight erupted shortly after scores of counterinsurgency police and soldiers launched an operation late Thursday in a village in southern Shopian district following a tip that three militants were there, Inspector-General Vijay Kumar said.
All three were killed in an exchange of gunfire early Friday, Kumar said. He said police recovered two rifles and a pistol.
Residents said government forces used explosives to blast a civilian house during the fighting, a common tactic by Indian troops in Kashmir.
In another gunbattle, militants killed a policeman and injured another in western Beerwah area early Friday, Kumar said.
Both India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Many Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
New Delhi describes the Kashmir militancy as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.


Taliban capture Afghanistan’s main Tajikistan border crossing

Taliban capture Afghanistan’s main Tajikistan border crossing
Updated 22 June 2021

Taliban capture Afghanistan’s main Tajikistan border crossing

Taliban capture Afghanistan’s main Tajikistan border crossing
  • The taking of Shir Khan Bandar is the most significant gain for the Taliban since the US began the final stage of its troop withdrawal in May
  • The Pentagon said that it will complete its full withdrawal by Sept. 11, but the pace of the pullout could be slowed given the Taliban’s gains

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan: The Taliban captured Afghanistan’s main border crossing with Tajikistan Tuesday, officials said, with security forces abandoning their posts and some fleeing across the frontier.
The taking of the far north Shir Khan Bandar, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Kunduz city, is the most significant gain for the Taliban since the US began the final stage of its troop withdrawal in May, with peace talks between the insurgents and Kabul deadlocked.
“Unfortunately this morning, and after an hour of fighting, the Taliban captured Shir Khan port and the town and all the border check posts with Tajikistan,” Kunduz provincial council member Khaliddin Hakmi told AFP.
Separately, an army officer said: “We were forced to leave all check posts... and some of our soldiers crossed the border into Tajikistan.
“By the morning, they (Taliban fighters) were everywhere; hundreds of them,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the insurgents had seized the border post, on the south bank of the Pyanj River.
“Our Mujahideen are in full control of Shir Khan Bandar and all the border crossings with Tajikistan in Kunduz,” he told AFP.
Since early May, the Taliban have launched major offensives targeting government forces across the rugged countryside, and claim to have seized at least 87 of the country’s 421 districts.
Many of their claims are disputed by the government, and independent verification is difficult — especially in areas that frequently change hands.
Shir Khan Bandar is marked by a 700-meter US-funded bridge that opened to great fanfare in 2007 with the aim of boosting trade between the Central Asian neighbors.
It is a sprawling dry port capable of handling up to 1,000 vehicles a day.
“There were 150 trucks loaded with goods in Shir Khan Bandar when it fell and we don’t know what’s happened to them,” said Massoud Wahdat, a spokesman for the Kunduz provincial chamber of commerce and industries.
“It would be a huge financial loss.”
The capture of Shir Khan Bandar, a key trade route to Central Asia, was a “significant blow” to the government, said Afghan security analyst Atiqullah Amarkhail.
“The failure to effectively defend this important port may be indicative that the government is struggling to maintain the initiative on the battlegrounds,” he said.
Fierce fighting has raged across Kunduz province over the past few days, with the Taliban and Afghan forces engaged in battles Monday on the outskirts of Kunduz city itself.
The Taliban have briefly held the city twice before — in September 2015, and again a year later.
With a significant population of Pashtun, Kunduz had been a stronghold of the Taliban even before they seized power in the 1990s.
The city’s location makes it a key transit point for economic and trade exchanges with Tajikistan and beyond.
Analyst Amarkhail said recent losses, many without a fight, showed that there was “chaos and panic” among government forces.
But even when Afghan forces do take on the Taliban on the battleground they are suffering. Last week at least 20 members of the country’s top commando unit were killed in Dawlat Abad, also in the north.
The top UN official in Kabul warned the international community Tuesday about the Taliban’s gains in an address to the UN Security Council.
“Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” Deborah Lyons, head of United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, said.
Afghan government forces, however, said they would soon launch a massive offensive to retake lost territory.
“The central command is in full control and all security forces and the military resources have been mobilized against the enemy,” General Ajmal Shinwari, spokesman for the security forces, told reporters.
“You will soon witness our advances across the country.”
The Pentagon said on Monday that it will complete its full withdrawal by September 11, but the pace of the pullout could be slowed given the Taliban’s gains.
“We want to maintain the flexibility to do that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

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Why has Spain pardoned 9 Catalan separatists?

Why has Spain pardoned 9 Catalan separatists?
Updated 22 June 2021

Why has Spain pardoned 9 Catalan separatists?

Why has Spain pardoned 9 Catalan separatists?
  • In October 2017 the government of Catalonia pushed through with a referendum on independence despite repeated warnings from the country’s highest courts

BARCELONA: Spain’s government granted pardons on Tuesday to the nine imprisoned instigators of an illegal 2017 secession bid for Catalonia in a bold move to defuse the festering political crisis in the nation’s affluent northeastern corner.
The decision by the left-wing government, however, has angered many in Spain, even some of Catalonia’s most fervent separatists who say the pardons don’t go far enough.
Separatist sentiment skyrocketed in Catalonia over the past two decades, fueled by the global recession and an increasingly polarized political climate. Many Catalans, despite being comparatively wealthy and enjoying a large degree of self-rule, felt they paid too much in taxes and were ignored by central authorities.
In October 2017 the government of Catalonia pushed through with a referendum on independence despite repeated warnings from the country’s highest courts that a vote on national sovereignty by a region violated the Constitution.
Most unionist voters boycotted the vote, while 2 million of 5.3 million potential voters cast ballots for secession despite a violent police crackdown that injured hundreds.
The Catalan Parliament declared independence on Oct. 27, but it failed to garner any international support.
While the regional president at the time, Carles Puigdemont, and some associates fled the country, a dozen leaders of the secession bid were arrested. In 2019, Spain’s Supreme Court found the 12 guilty of a varying mix of crimes, including sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience.
Nine were given lengthy prison sentences, while three were fined and did not do jail time.
Former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras received the heaviest sentence of 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds.
Eight more, including former members of the Catalan Cabinet, Carme Forcadell, ex-speaker of the Catalan parliament, and Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, two leaders of separatist grassroots groups, received sentences ranging from nine to 12 years.
They are now expected to go free after having spent three-and-a-half years behind bars, although they will likely remain banned from holding public office for years.
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has weathered harsh criticism in recent weeks while his government prepared the pardons, both from Spain’s conservatives and far-right parties, as well as a large sector of the public.
But the decision is widely backed in Catalonia, where even many unionists hope it can help mend bridges. Important business leaders and Catholic bishops have also voiced their support.
In two regional elections since the failed secession bid the separatists have maintained their hold on power as the political battle lines have become entrenched. Roughly half support parties in favor of secession; the other half vote for parties that want to remain in Spain.
Spain’s government hopes that the freeing of the separatists can convince those Catalans who only recently joined the separatist camp to consider coming back into the fold.
Sánchez will also likely need the votes of some Catalan separatists in the national Parliament in Madrid to keep his minority government afloat over the next two years.
While celebrating the liberty of their cohorts, the separatist movement is far from satisfied. Its politicians are pushing for not just being spared the punishment but a full amnesty for all of those in trouble for helping organize the 2017 breakaway attempt. That would clear up their criminal records and allow them to participate in politics.
They also don’t renounce their dream of founding a new state.
But the protest held on Tuesday when Sánchez visited Barcelona to announce that he would sign the pardons was very subdued. Compared to the tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in recent years, a few hundred turned out to jeer Sánchez.
The pardons come after Junqueras recently acknowledged for the first time that the 2017 referendum was not considered legitimate by a part of Catalonia’s society. That is in stark contrast to the position maintained by Puigdemont, who says that the referendum and independence declaration remain valid.
WHAT ABOUT PUIGDEMONT?
The act of grace by Spain does not include Puigdemont and the handful of other high-profile separatists who fled to Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland, where they have avoided Spain’s extradition requests.
The government has insisted that they must return home to face justice.
Puigdemont and two former Catalan Cabinet members won seats to the European Parliament in 2019. Their immunity as parliament members was stripped by the chamber, which would allow Spain to again pursue their extradition. But a European court temporarily restored their extraordinary legal coverage recently while it considers their appeal.
So Puigdemont’s future, as ever, is uncertain.


Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia

Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia
Updated 22 June 2021

Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia

Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia
  • Fighting has flared across Myanmar since the February coup as people form ‘defense forces’ to battle a brutal military crackdown

YANGON: Four protesters and at least two officers were killed as Myanmar soldiers battled an anti-junta civilian militia with small arms and grenades in the country’s second city Tuesday, authorities and military sources said.
Fighting has flared across Myanmar since the February coup as people form “defense forces” to battle a brutal military crackdown on dissent, but clashes have largely been restricted to rural areas.
Acting on a tip-off, security forces raided a house in Mandalay’s Chan Mya Tharsi township on Tuesday morning, the junta’s information team said in a statement, and were met with small arms fire and grenades.
Two officers were killed during the raid, military sources said, and at least ten were wounded.
Four “terrorists” were killed and eight arrested in possession of homemade mines, hand grenades and small arms, a junta spokesman said in a statement.
“We could hear artillery shooting even though our house is far from that place,” a Mandalay resident said.
Another four members of the self-defense group were killed when the car they were attempting to flee in crashed, the spokesman said, without providing details.
The United States’ embassy in Yangon said on Twitter it was “tracking reports of ongoing fighting in Mandalay... We are disturbed by the military escalation and urgently call for a cessation of violence.”
The mass uprising against the military putsch that toppled the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has been met with a brutal crackdown that has killed more than 870 civilians, according to a local monitoring group.
As well as the rise of local self-defense forces, analysts believe hundreds of anti-coup protesters from Myanmar’s towns and cities have trekked into insurgent-held areas to receive military training.
But part-time fighters know the odds are stacked against them in any confrontation with Myanmar’s military — one of Southeast Asia’s most battle-hardened and brutal.


Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
  • Hong Kong court approves bail for 24 year-old pro-democracy activist who has been jailed for four months.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s High Court on Tuesday approved bail for a pro-democracy activist who is among 47 charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on its freest city last year, the city’s public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Owen Chow, 24, who has been in jail for nearly four months, was ordered to pay HK$50,000 and follow a list of bail conditions, including not threatening national security, reporting to police every day and surrendering all travel documents, according to RTHK.
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial.
Foreign diplomats and rights groups are closely watching proceedings as concerns rise over the vanishing space for dissent in the former British colony, which has taken a rapid authoritarian turn since the law was imposed in June 2020.
The case offers insight into how the security law drafted by Beijing clashes with Hong Kong’s common-law traditions and could see activists held in custody for months until their trial begins.
In contrast with past practice, the new law puts onus on defendants in the global financial hub to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.
Wong and the other charged activists are accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll in July 2020 that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.


Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
Updated 22 June 2021

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
  • President Rodrigo Duterte is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric
  • The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to order the arrest of Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination and told them to leave the country if they would not cooperate with the efforts to contain the pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric, said in televised remarks Monday night that he has become exasperated with people who refuse to get immunized then help spread the coronavirus.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said.
“If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want or somewhere, to America,” he said, adding he would order village leaders to compile a list of defiant residents.
A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte’s threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.
Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination campaign saddled with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March.
Duterte blamed the problems on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind.
The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.