UK police arrest 36 at anti-lockdown protests

UK police arrest 36 at anti-lockdown protests
A man is arrested during a protest against government restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus in London on March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
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Updated 21 March 2021

UK police arrest 36 at anti-lockdown protests

UK police arrest 36 at anti-lockdown protests
  • Several thousand people were estimated to have gathered for the demonstrations, which began Saturday lunchtime at Hyde Park

LONDON: London police arrested dozens of people Saturday after thousands turned out in the British capital to protest against ongoing coronavirus lockdown restrictions, with the city’s police force in the spotlight over its officer’s conduct after a series of recent incidents.
The Metropolitan Police Service said it had made 36 arrests, most for breaching months-old virus regulations that outlaw leaving home except for a limited number of reasons.
Several thousand people were estimated to have gathered for the demonstrations, which began Saturday lunchtime at Hyde Park.
After the crowd marched through central London, a group of around 100 returned to the park where police said they threw missiles at officers.
“Several were injured as a result of targeted assaults,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, who led the policing operation, said in a statement.
“It is totally unacceptable and saddening that officers enforcing regulations that are there to protect us all were the victims of violent attacks.”
England’s Covid-19 lockdown measures have been in place since early January, when Britain saw a surge in infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths.
The situation has improved markedly since then, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month outlined a gradual easing of the restrictions, with the stringent stay-at-home order set to end later this month.
Anti-lockdown demonstrations by hundreds or even thousands have occurred regularly during the pandemic, often resulting in a small number of arrests.
However, the police response to Saturday’s protests was under particular scrutiny in light of the outrage over the Met’s handling of a vigil last weekend for a woman who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by a member of the same force.
On that occasion, police scuffled with the predominantly female crowd of several hundred and physically restrained demonstrators, arresting four people.
Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who faced calls to resign in the aftermath, agreed to both internal and independent reviews into how officers responded.
But in a development likely to increase pressure on the force, The Observer newspaper revealed Sunday that Met employees faced hundreds of sexual misconduct allegations between 2012 and 2018.
According to documents the paper accessed under freedom of information laws, 119 of the 594 complaints were upheld after investigation.
The accusations probed included that an officer had had sex with a rape victim and another had assaulted a domestic abuse survivor, it said.
The rape victim complained the officer “took advantage of her vulnerability and had sex with her on two occasions,” The Observer reported, with the officer subsequently dismissed.
The Met told the paper the claims involve “a small percentage of staff” but that it takes “allegations of this nature extremely seriously.”
“If standards are proven to have fallen below what is expected, we take appropriate action to ensure both accountability and that lessons are learnt from each case,” it added.
Meanwhile, recent events have also sparked renewed debate about legal curbs on protests during the pandemic.
More than 60 lawmakers signed a letter Saturday, coordinated by rights groups Liberty and Big Brother Watch, warning that criminalizing protest “is not acceptable and is arguably not lawful.”


France’s Le Drian says waiting for Iran to make decision on nuclear deal

France’s Le Drian says waiting for Iran to make decision on nuclear deal
Updated 27 min 21 sec ago

France’s Le Drian says waiting for Iran to make decision on nuclear deal

France’s Le Drian says waiting for Iran to make decision on nuclear deal

PARIS: Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday said France was waiting for Iran to take the last-step decisions needed to breathe new life into Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
“We’re waiting for Iranian authorities to take the final difficult decisions to allow for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal,” Le Drian told a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Paris.
Former US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, prompting Tehran to start violating some of the nuclear limits.


Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues

Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues
Updated 25 June 2021

Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues

Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues
  • Officials have scrambled to compel people to get inoculated amid tepid demand for the vaccine since cases began surging this month

MOSCOW: Russia on Friday reported a record number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in Moscow, amid a surge in infections that authorities blame on the Delta variant and the slow progress of a vaccination program.
Officials have scrambled to compel people to get inoculated amid tepid demand for the vaccine since cases began surging this month.
The government coronavirus task force reported 20,393 new COVID-19 cases, including 7,916 in Moscow, the most confirmed in a single day since Jan. 24, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,409,088.
It said 601 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, with 98 in the capital, pushing the national death toll to 132,064. St. Petersburg also reported 98 deaths.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 270,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to April 2021.
Moscow’s authorities have ordered bars and restaurants from Monday to serve people only if they can present a QR-code showing they have been vaccinated, had an infection indicating immunity or recently tested negative.
As demand for the shots boomed, the Kremlin said on Friday vaccine shortages in Russia were also linked to storage difficulties, and that shortages would be resolved in the coming days.
The local health ministry in Russia’s far eastern Khabarovsk region on Friday said it had been forced to suspend vaccinations at some sites in two cities due to shortages.


‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow

‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow
Updated 25 June 2021

‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow

‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow
  • Africa is still the world’s least-affected continent after Oceania
  • Compounding Africa’s third wave are immunization hitches, the spread of more transmissible virus variants and winter temperatures

JOHANNESBURG: Africa is facing a vicious coronavirus resurgence, with unprecedented hospital admissions and fatalities pushing health facilities to the brink as the continent falls far behind in the global vaccination drive.
With just under 5.3 million reported cases and around 139,000 deaths among its nearly 1.3 billion people, Africa is still the world’s least-affected continent after Oceania, according to an AFP tally.
So far African nations have been spared disasters comparable to Brazil or India.
But the pandemic is resurging at an alarming rate in at least 12 countries, with continental cases expected to hit a record peak in around three weeks.
“The third wave is picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder,” World Health Organization Africa director Matshidiso Moeti warned Thursday. “The latest surge threatens to be Africa’s worst yet.”
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director John Nkengasong on Thursday described the third wave as “extremely brutal” and “very devastating.”
And Liberia’s President George Weah has warned the wave is “far more alarming than a year ago” as hospitals overflow in his country.
Compounding Africa’s third wave are immunization hitches, the spread of more transmissible virus variants and winter temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Delta variant, first detected in India, has so far been reported in 14 African countries, making up the bulk of new cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, according to the WHO.
Doctors in South Africa, which accounts for more than 35 percent of all cases recorded on the continent, are struggling with an unprecedented influx of patients.
Unlike past waves, this time “the hospital system is not coping,” said doctors’ association chief Angelique Coetzee.
South Africa’s average new daily infections have increased 15-fold since early April, with hospital admissions rising around 60 percent.
Namibia and Zambia are also seeing steep infection curves.
Zambia’s health ministry has reported an “unprecedented” number of Covid-19 deaths piling pressure on mortuaries while Africa CDC said the country was “overwhelmed.”
With similar trends in Uganda, Health Minister Jane Ruth Acheng blamed highly infectious variants for the new spread, “different from the second wave” with a large number of young people hospitalized.
Uganda is one of the countries facing reported oxygen shortages, although Acheng denied civil society groups’ claim that the shortfall amounts to 24.5 million liters per day.
Governments are again tightening restrictions, including a new nationwide lockdown in Uganda and a tougher curfew in 13 Kenyan counties.
At the same time the pace of vaccinations is struggling to get off the ground.
According to the WHO, about one percent of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated — the lowest ratio globally — and 90 percent of African nations will miss a target to inoculate a tenth of their populations by September.
“We are running a race behind time, the pandemic is ahead of us. We are not winning in Africa this battle against the virus,” said Africa CDC’s Nkengasong.
“It’s frightening what is going on on the continent,” he added.
A recent pledge by Western leaders to donate one billion vaccine doses to poorer countries has been widely criticized for being too slow.
Cases are “outpacing vaccinations,” Moeti said. “Africa urgently needs a million more vaccines. We need a sprint.”
Several countries have failed to administer jabs from the UN-backed Covax scheme before their use-by date because of logistical failures and vaccine hesitancy.
Malawi destroyed almost 20,000 expired AstraZeneca doses in May, while the DRC and South Sudan have returned more than two million shots to the UN to avoid a similar scenario.
Authorities in Congo-Brazzaville are concerned over the slow take-up of almost 100,000 Chinese-made vaccines expiring in July.
A surge in coronavirus cases in India, the world’s main AstraZeneca supplier, has delayed Covax deliveries to Africa.
Malawi exhausted its stocks last week, just as thousands were due for their second shot.
And hundreds of frustrated Zimbabweans protested last month after Harare’s main vaccination center ran out of jabs.
South Africa says it has secured enough Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to immunize 67 percent of its 59 million inhabitants.
But the rollout has been hit by setbacks and only 2.2 million people — health care workers and over 60s — have received a jab so far.
“The lack of vaccines in a region with high levels of poverty and inequality means many people feel they are just waiting to die,” said Amnesty International’s regional director Deprose Muchena.


Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group

Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group
Updated 25 June 2021

Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group

Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group
  • Girl, aged between 10 and 13, had been indoctrinated

MANILA: Philippine security forces have rescued the daughter of suicide bombers from the militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). 

The girl’s parents were Indonesian nationals 35-year-old Rullie Rian Zeke and his 32-year-old wife Ulfah Handayani Saleh. They were  behind the Jan. 2019 attack on a cathedral in the southern island of Jolo that killed 23 people and wounded more than 100 others.

The girl, identified as Siti Aisyah Rullie, alias Maryam Israni, was recovered in a joint operation by military and police teams in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu, shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

“She is estimated to be between 10 and 13 years of age,” Col. Alaric Delos Santos, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, told Arab News. “There is ongoing coordination with the Department and Social Services, and even with Indonesian authorities, to determine what to do with her.”

Aisyah’s parents were members of the Indonesian Daesh-linked group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah and affiliates of the ASG.

The cathedral bombing was the first suicide attack in the Philippines to involve a woman.

Aisyah was reportedly married to ASG member Rudymar Habib Jihiiran, alias Gulam, and had been indoctrinated to become a suicide bomber like her parents.

According to the military, Jihiiran is a close aide of ASG leader Radullan Sahiron.

Army 11th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said law enforcers were trying to arrest him on multiple charges of murder, but that he had managed to flee with two other militants.

Troops found Aisyah at the house serving as the group’s hideout.

Lt. Jerrica Manongdo, JTF-Sulu spokesperson, said she might have been married off to Jihiiran to have a “guardian.”

“It is a practice among the Abu Sayyaf that when a female member of the family is left behind, regardless if she is still a minor, she will be wed to another ASG member for (the) purposes of having a guardian,” he told Arab News, adding that Aisyah’s elder brother, while also a minor, was already an armed member of the Daesh-inspired Daulah Islamiyah.

Her older sister Rezky Fantasya Rullie, alias Cici, has been imprisoned in the southern Philippines. She had reportedly planned to carry out a suicide attack to avenge the death of her husband Andi Baso, an Indonesian militant who was reportedly killed in a gunfight with Philippine forces in Sulu last year.

Another brother is believed to be either in jail or was killed while fighting for Daesh in Syria. He was the only member of the family believed to have crossed into Syria as they went to Turkey in 2016 with hopes of joining the group.

They were arrested by Turkish authorities in Jan. 2017 and sent back to Indonesia. 

A year later, however, they made it to the southern Philippines and joined ASG commander Hajan Sawadjaan, who had reportedly taken over as the Daesh Philippine leader in 2017. Sawadjaan is believed to have been lethally wounded in an encounter with Philippine troops last year.


Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region

Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region
Updated 25 June 2021

Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region

Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region
  • From 2016-20, 79 of 767 suicide cases in Sindh province occurred in Tharparkar district

MITHI, Sindh: Pakistan’s southern region in the Thar Desert has seen an alarming rise in suicide cases, especially among women, with authorities linking the emerging health crisis to chronic mental illness in the impoverished district.

Between 2016 to 2020, the Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA), an arm of the provincial government, recorded 767 suicides in the southern province, of which 79 cases occurred in Tharparkar.  

Police data shows that at least 48 people — 31 of them women — have taken their lives in the district since January this year. Between June 11-16 alone, eight suicide cases were registered in the region.

This month, the SMHA carried out what it called a “psychiatric autopsy” of the district to determine the “reasons behind suicides, including why more women were committing suicide,” the authority’s chairman, Dr. Karim Khawaja, said.

“The results of the psychiatric autopsy will be available in the next few weeks,” he added. “It will reveal the real reasons for suicide cases and help in preventing suicides in Tharparkar.”

Baadal Saand, who heads the anti-suicide cell of the Tharparkar police, attributed a majority of the cases to “mental illness and depression.”

Dr. Bharat Kumar, the district’s only psychiatrist, said poverty “may be a vital reason” but the “mother reason” was psychiatric illness.

The UN Development Program’s Multidimensional Poverty Index for Pakistan reports that 87 percent of the population in the Thar Desert region lives in poverty.

“Besides psychiatric illness and depression, other reasons are lack of family support or social support, or economic issues,” Kumar said.

Khatau Jani, a senior journalist from the region, concurred that rising mental illness issues were being caused by extreme poverty.

“These are extreme poverty-hit communities,” Jani said. “What Thar needs is increased funding from both federal and provincial government poverty reduction programs.”

Climate change is also driving locals into more deprivation, as their livelihoods depend on rainfall in a drought-battered region.

A report published by the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) in early June indicated that droughts persisting since October last year had resulted in increased food insecurity in a number of Sindh districts, including Tharparkar.

“Due to consistent deficiency of rainfall since October 2020, the moderate drought has been further intensified into severe drought, especially in the southwestern Balochistan and southeastern Sindh,” the PDM said. “Drought conditions may further affect agriculture and livestock.”

Experts say modern agriculture could relieve the poverty-stricken area.

Dr. Amanullah Mahar, assistant professor at the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Sindh, recommended planting moringa trees, which flourish in arid and semi-arid environments, and whose fruit pods can be consumed as food.

“Locals would not have to wait for rains for the production of moringa,” he said.

Another option was biosaline agriculture, Mahar said, which is a means of producing plants in saline-rich soil in arid, water-scarce locations. The method has already been tested in the district.

“Recently there was a successful experiment with biosaline agriculture in Tharparkar,” he said. “It is important to expand this agriculture pattern throughout the desert.”

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