Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands his resignation

Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands his resignation
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Armenian police officers detain a supporter of opposition Dashnaktsutyun party during a rally to demand the resignation of prime minister Nikol Pashinyan on Feb. 23, 2021. (AFP)
Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands his resignation
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A supporter of opposition Dashnaktsutyun party takes part in a rally to demand the resignation of Armenian prime minister, who, according to his opponents, mishandled last year's war with Azerbaijan, in central Yerevan, on February 23, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2021

Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands his resignation

Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands his resignation
  • Nikol Pashinyan has faced protests and calls to resign
  • Kremlin concerned by growing political tensions in Armenia

YEREVAN: Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan defied calls to resign and accused the military of an attempted coup on Thursday, as divisions over his handling of last year’s war with Azerbaijan brought thousands to the streets.

Hours after the general staff of Armenia’s military made a shock call for his government to step down, Pashinyan rallied some 20,000 supporters in the centre of the capital Yerevan against what he said was an attempt to oust him.

The opposition gathered some 10,000 of its own supporters not far away, then began putting up tents and building barricades outside parliament as it vowed to hold round-the-clock demonstrations.

There were no signs of any military action against Pashinyan, who ordered his armed forces to stand behind the government.

“I am ordering all generals, officers and soldiers: do your job of protecting the country’s borders and territorial integrity,” he said during the rally.

The army “must obey the people and elected authorities,” Pashinyan said.

The defence ministry also issued a statement declaring that “attempts to involve (the military) in political processes are unacceptable.”

Pashinyan said he was ready to start talks with the opposition, but also threatened to arrest any opponents who “go beyond political statements.”

The prime minister has been under intense pressure over his handling of the conflict for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, but has ignored repeated calls to resign for losing swathes of territory to Azerbaijan.

After backing the prime minister for months, the military’s general staff on Thursday joined calls for him to step down, saying in a statement that he and his cabinet “are not capable of taking adequate decisions.”

Pashinyan hit back with an accusation that top brass were mounting an “attempted military coup" and ordered the firing of the chief of the general staff Onik Gasparyan.

Pashinyan then led supporters through the streets of the capital, surrounded by his family, ministers and security detail, as marchers chanted “Nikol Prime Minister!”

He attempted to downplay the military statement, saying it had been an “emotional reaction" to his firing the previous day of the deputy chief of the general staff, Tigran Khachatryan.

Khachatryan had ridiculed claims by Pashinyan that Iskander missiles supplied by Russia -- Armenia’s main military ally -- had failed to hit targets during the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

But Armenia’s opposition urged him to heed the demand.

“We call on Nikol Pashinyan not to lead the country towards civil war and to avoid bloodshed. Pashinyan has one last chance to avoid turmoil,” Prosperous Armenia, the country’s largest opposition party, said in a statement.

Prosperous Armenia and another opposition party, Bright Armenia, called for the holding of an extraordinary session of parliament, which is controlled by Pashinyan’s allies.

Their supporters had gathered outside parliament in the early evening, blocking traffic, erecting tents and making barricades out of rubbish bins.

“We will bring tents, stoves, everything we need. We are staying here. The lawmakers can either come or we will bring them to parliament,” said Ishkhan Saghatelyan of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, also known as Dashnaktsutyun.

President Armen Sarkisian, whose role is largely symbolic, said he was taking urgent steps to try to defuse the crisis, while Armenia’s Apostolic Church called for all sides to hold talks “for the sake of our homeland and people.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Pashinyan and “called on all parties to show restraint,” the Kremlin’s spokesman said.

The European Union’s spokesman said it was following developments closely and called for the armed forces to “maintain neutrality in political matters” in line with Armenia’s Constitution.

Pashinyan has faced fierce criticism since he signed a peace deal brokered by Russia that ended the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region that broke from Azerbaijan’s control during a war in the early 1990s.

Fresh fighting erupted over the region in late September with Azerbaijani forces backed by ally Turkey making steady gains.

After six weeks of clashes and bombardments that claimed some 6,000 lives, a ceasefire agreement was signed that handed over significant territory to Azerbaijan and allowed for the deployment of Russian peacekeepers.

The agreement was seen as a national humiliation for many in Armenia, though Pashinyan has said he had no choice but to agree or see his country’s forces suffer even bigger losses.


Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
Updated 17 sec ago

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
  • Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall
  • Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction
JOHANNESBURG: Tropical Storm Ana has killed at least 86 people across southern and eastern Africa, with recovery operations still ongoing as another storm threatened more severe weather.
Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall. The country declared a state of disaster on Thursday night, reporting a rise in the death toll from Ana to 48, with people killed by landslides and collapsing buildings or washed away.
Ana then made landfall in Mozambique on Jan. 24, where 18 have been reported dead, before moving inland to Malawi, where it triggered massive power cuts. Malawi’s death toll rose to 20 on Thursday.
Across all three nations, Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction, according to the United Nations.
“This latest storm...is a blunt reminder that the climate crisis is very much a reality,” said Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Representative in Mozambique.
The region has been repeatedly struck by severe storms and cyclones in recent years, destroying homes, infrastructure and crops and displacing large numbers of people.
In some cases, communities still recovering are hit again, compounding the impacts. Experts say storms are becoming stronger and more frequent as waters warm due to climate change, with rising sea levels also making low-lying coastal areas vulnerable.
Another storm, dubbed Batsirai, is now traveling toward Africa’s east coast.
Meteo France on Friday described Batsirai as a small system that presented no immediate threat to a group of islands to the east of Madagascar, including the French territory of Reunion, because it was still days away.
However, it said the evolution of Batsirai’s intensity and trajectory remained uncertain. Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology warned Batsirai still had the potential to evolve into a severe tropical storm.

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
Updated 28 January 2022

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
  • Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang

BEIJING: China has agreed to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a report in the South China Morning Post which cited unnamed sources.
Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture and forced labor. The United States has accused China of genocide.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims and has described its policies as necessary to combat religious extremism.
UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet has been pursuing negotiations with China on a visit since September 2018.
China’s foreign ministry, China’s mission to the United Nations in New York, and the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The South China Morning Post report on Thursday cited sources saying that the approval for a visit after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, which run Feb. 4-20, was granted on the condition the trip should be “friendly” and not framed as an investigation.
As in 2008, the Olympics have again cast a spotlight on China’s human rights record, which critics say has worsened since then, leading Washington to call Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims genocide and prompting a diplomatic boycott from the United States and other countries.
“No one, especially the world’s leading human rights diplomat, should be fooled by the Chinese government’s efforts to distract attention away from its crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters in an emailed statement on Friday. 


3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
Updated 28 January 2022

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
  • The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members who have sued 3M, alleging its earplugs products were defective

FLORIDA, US: A federal jury on Thursday awarded $110 million to two US Army veterans who said combat earplugs sold by 3M Co. to the military caused them to suffer hearing damage, the largest verdict yet to result from hundreds of thousands of lawsuits over the product.
Jurors in Pensacola, Florida, sided with US Army veterans Ronald Sloan and William Wayman, who alleged that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2’s design was defective, lawyers for the plaintiffs’ said.
The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members and others who have sued 3M claiming they suffered hearing damage as a result of using the earplugs in what has become the largest federal mass tort litigation in US history.
Sloan and Wayman were each awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $40 million in punitive damages, the lawyers said. Each won more than the previously largest verdict in the litigation of $22.5 million.
“Juries continue to find that 3M’s earplugs were defective and that they are responsible for causing irreparable hearing damage to those who served our country,” plaintiffs’ lawyers Bryan Aylstock, Shelley Hutson and Christopher Seeger said in a joint statement.
3M in a statement said it was disappointed and would appeal. It noted it won the last two trials involving the earplugs and said its conduct was consistent with its “long-time commitment to keeping our US military safe.”
Aearo Technologies, which 3M bought in 2008, developed the product. Plaintiffs allege the company hid design flaws, fudged test results and failed to provide instructions for the proper use of the earplugs.
The trial was the 11th so far to reach a verdict. Plaintiffs in six trials, including Thursday’s, have won more than $160 million combined. Juries sided with 3M in the five others.
Five more trials are scheduled this year. 


Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order
Updated 28 January 2022

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order

Burkina Faso’s junta leader promises security, order
  • Mutinous soldiers ousted democratically elected President Kabore on Monday
  • Kabore's government was chided for failing to stem jihadist violence

OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso’s new military leader said he was going to bring security and order back to the conflict-ridden nation and unite the country, but warned that betrayal wouldn’t be tolerated by the new regime.
Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, leader of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, spoke Thursday evening in his first public address to the nation since seizing power from President Roch Marc Christian Kabore earlier this week.
“I warn all those who will be guided only by their selfish interests that I will be uncompromising with the acts of betrayal of the aspirations of our people,” he said in an address aired on Burkina Faso’s state broadcaster.
Speaking from the presidential palace, Damiba said the country was facing an unprecedented crisis and the junta’s priority would be to restore security by renewing the will to fight among its soldiers and by listening to people to form a path forward.
“In its history, our country has rarely been confronted with adversity. But more than six years now our people have been living under the yoke of an enemy that succeeded,” said Damiba. “The task before us is immense. Fortunately, it is not only mine, it is all of ours. It will require great individual and collective efforts and certainly sacrifices on our part.”
Mutinous soldiers ousted democratically elected President Kabore on Monday after months of growing frustration at his government’s inability to stem jihadist violence that has spread across the country, killing thousands including security forces. Kabore has not been heard from since he was detained by the military and resigned, though the junta has said he is in a safe place.
Since taking over, the junta has spent the last few days trying to shore up support from religious and community leaders, security forces and unions. On Thursday it met with the labor union in the presidential palace and explained its motives for the coup, saying it would correct the previous regime’s flaws, said Moussa Diallo, the secretary general for the union who was at the meeting.
While Damiba said he had no problem with the unions, he also issued a veiled threat, ordering citizens not to speak out against the regime, said Diallo.
The international community has condemned the coup, despite widespread local support.
The US State Department in a statement expressed deep concern about the dissolution of the government, suspension of the constitution and the detention of government leaders. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on coup leaders to lay down their arms. He reiterated the UN’s “full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order” in Burkina Faso and support for the people in their efforts “to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The West African regional economic bloc, known as ECOWAS, has also condemned the coup and will be holding a summit Friday to discuss the mutiny.
Damiba on Thursday also called on the international community not to turn its back on Burkina Faso.
“In these particularly difficult times for our country, Burkina Faso needs its partners more than ever. This is why I call on the international community to support our country so that it can emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible and resume its march toward development,” he said.


Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
Updated 28 January 2022

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review

Study faults US military on civilian casualties; Pentagon plans review
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months

WASHINGTON: A study by the RAND Corporation think-tank released on Thursday faulted the US military for “considerable weaknesses” and inconsistencies in its review of allegations of civilian casualties, and the Pentagon announced a broad review.
The US military is under intense scrutiny over its procedures to guard against civilian casualties following a high-profile, mistaken drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.
Not only did the US military botch the targeting but, in the strike’s initial aftermath, the Pentagon’s assessment concluded that it killed Daesh militants preparing a bombing attack against US troops.
The independent RAND study, which was required by congressional legislation, concluded systemic weaknesses at the Department of Defense (DoD) were causing it to fall short of its duties on civilian casualties.
“DoD is not adequately organized, trained, or equipped to fulfill its current responsibilities for addressing civilian harm,” the report concluded.
In conflicts, the US military often has limited access to targeted areas before or after strikes, relying on intelligence gathered remotely from sources like drone surveillance and satellite imagery.
RAND found the US military sometimes compounds this problem by failing to adequately talk to people from outside the US government or armed forces who might have access to information on the ground.
However, a 2018 Joint Staff review found that 58 percent of civilian casualties identified between 2015 and 2017 came from external sources, RAND said.
“We found that DoD’s current approach to assessing, investigating, and responding to civilian harm has considerable weaknesses in key areas and is inconsistent across theaters,” the report found.
The report also noted that investigating civilian casualties often falls to junior personnel “who do not receive formal training.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Thursday asking for the creation of a plan on civilian harm “mitigation and response” in the coming months and the creation of civilian protection center of excellence later this year.
A senior US defense official, briefing reporters on Austin’s decision, said incorporating information from sources outside the US government and US military would be key to the reforms.
“We tend to rely heavily on what is in our own data findings, and I think we need to build a system and also an expectation that other sources of information ... are built into this and have credibility,” the official said.
“That’s not something that we do consistently well, and that’s something that we intend to change.”