Thai police use tear gas, rubber bullets to break up protest

Thai police use tear gas, rubber bullets to break up protest
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Demonstrators clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in Bangkok, Thailand on March 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Thai police use tear gas, rubber bullets to break up protest
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A riot policeman advances toward a demonstrator after the dispersal of a rally in front of the Grand Palace Saturday on March 20, 2021 in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP)
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Updated 21 March 2021

Thai police use tear gas, rubber bullets to break up protest

Thai police use tear gas, rubber bullets to break up protest
  • The demonstrators managed to break through a barrier outside Bangkok’s Grand Palace
  • Thai police had warned in advance that the rally was illegal

BANGKOK: Scores of people were injured and arrested in the Thai capital after police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets Saturday night to break up a rally by pro-democracy protesters calling for the release of detained activists, constitutional changes and reform of the nation’s monarchy.
The rally outside Bangkok’s Grand Palace was a continuation of student-led protests that began last year and have rattled Thailand’s traditional establishment, which is fiercely opposed to change, especially with regard to the monarchy.
The rally organizers had said they planned to have demonstrators throw paper planes with messages over the palace walls.
The demonstrators, who numbered close to 1,000, managed to break through a barrier made of shipping containers outside the ceremonial palace stacked two high. Police behind the containers responded first with warnings and then by shooting water cannons and rubber bullets. Police drove the crowd back and while skirmishes continued, the crowds appeared to have dissipated by 10 p.m.
The city’s emergency medical service Erawan reported 33 people, including 13 police, were injured by rubber bullets, rocks and tear gas. At least two reporters were hit by rubber bullets. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a watchdog, reported 32 detained.
During the skirmishes, protesters tossed smoke bombs and giant firecrackers at police, and also splashed a royal portrait with paint, but failed in an attempt to set it on fire, though they did burn tires and trash at several locations.
Police Deputy Spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen said police had warned in advance that the rally was illegal. He said in addition to throwing various objects, protesters used slingshots to fire nuts and bolts at police and hit them with metal rods. He said police had used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets according to proper procedures.
The rally was called by REDEM, a faction of a broader protest movement last year that started with three core demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government, for the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the monarchy to be reformed to make it more accountable.
REDEM, which stands for Restart Democracy, claims to have no leaders and holds online voting to decide on rally dates and activities.
The movement sharpened its campaign to focus on the monarchy, and Thailand’s lese majeste law, which makes criticizing, insulting or defaming the king and some other senior royals punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The monarchy has long been treated as sacred institution in Thailand and public criticism is not only illegal, but has long been considered socially unacceptable. Many people still revere the monarchy and the military, a major power in Thai society, considers defense of the monarchy as a key priority.
As protesters last year stepped up criticism of the monarchy, the government responded by charging outspoken protesters under the lese majeste law, and over the last month, eight of them were jailed pending trial.
The movement was able to attract crowds of as many as 20,000-30,000 people in Bangkok in 2020 and had followings in major cities and universities. However, a new coronavirus outbreak late last year caused it to temporarily suspend activities, and it lost momentum.


Three students killed in US high school shooting: police

Three students killed in US high school shooting: police
Updated 13 sec ago

Three students killed in US high school shooting: police

Three students killed in US high school shooting: police
  • A second-year student was taken into custody and a handgun was seized, but there was no immediate explanation for what prompted the attack in Oxford

WASHINGTON: A 15-year-old student allegedly opened fire at a high school in rural Michigan on Tuesday, killing three other students before being taken into custody, police said.
Six others, including one teacher, were wounded in the attack, which took place shortly after noon at Oxford High School, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
A second-year student was taken into custody and a handgun was seized, but there was no immediate explanation for what prompted the attack in Oxford, a small town about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Detroit.
"There was no resistance during the arrest and the suspect has asked for a lawyer and has not made any statements as to a motive," the sheriff's office said.
"It's a very tragic situation," Undersheriff Michael McCabe told reporters.
"We have three deceased victims right now, who are all believed to be students," he said.
"We have lots of upset parents," he said.
Police said they received more than 100 911 emergency calls shortly after noon, and that the shooter unleashed 15-20 shots over about five minutes from a semi-automatic handgun with more than one magazine.
The suspect was taken into custody within five minutes of the first 911 call, they said.
President Joe Biden was informed of the shooting during a visit to Minnesota.
"My heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief," he said.
"You know, that whole community has to be just in a state of shock right now."
Elissa Slotkin, who represents the district north of Detroit in the US House of Representatives, said she was "horrified" by the shooting.
"I've been talking with Oxford leaders, parents and students and we are all praying for the health of those injured, and the well-being of all our young people, many of whom are in shock," she said in a statement.
It was the deadliest school shooting so far this year, according to Everytown For Gun Safety, a group which keeps statistics of mass shootings and lobbies for gun control.
Before Tuesday's incident, there had been 138 shootings in schools across the United States in 2021, according to figures provided by Everytown. In those incidents, 26 resulted in fatalities, though no more than two each time.
The deadliest school shootings in US history were the April 2007 attack at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, which saw 33 killed, including the shooter, followed by the December 2012 attack on the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 28 dead, including 20 children and the shooter.
In February 2018, a former student with an AR-15 assault rifle opened fire in his former high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17, in the deadliest-ever high school shooting.


French military facing growing protests in Sahel

French military facing growing protests in Sahel
Updated 01 December 2021

French military facing growing protests in Sahel

French military facing growing protests in Sahel
  • France, the former colonial power in the Sahel, has about 5,100 troops deployed across the region
  • Macron has promised that French troops will not operate in a country where Wagner paramilitaries are also active

BAMAKO: France’s military involvement in the Sahel is encountering growing opposition in the region, with protests that were once isolated to urban centers spreading to rural areas, fanned by social media and anger at insecurity.
Protesters in Burkina Faso and Niger in November hampered a large French military supply convoy traveling from Ivory Coast to Mali.
The trucks, escorted by local forces, took more than a week to get through Burkina Faso, and several people were injured during demonstrations in the northern town of Kaya.
In western Niger, two people were killed in unclear circumstances on Saturday when the convoy attempted to escape protesters.
France’s military has opened an investigation.
Experts say the affair appears to show that anti-French sentiment has spread in the Sahel, although the reasons for it are complex.
France, the former colonial power in the Sahel, has about 5,100 troops deployed across the region, helping to support countries where governments are weak and the armed forces poorly equipped.
The French military first intervened in 2013 to beat back an extremist insurgency in northern Mali.
But the rebels regrouped and two years later spilled over into Burkina Faso and Niger, two of the poorest countries in the world.
Village massacres, roadside bombs and ambushes have claimed thousands of lives and more than a million people have fled their homes.
The insurgency shows no signs of slowing. On Sunday, four Burkinabe soldiers were killed in the north of the country, bringing the toll from two weeks of raids by suspected extremists to at least 80.
A French diplomat, who declined to be named, said that many local people did not understand how extremists could make such gains when French troops are present.
The situation has contributed to conspiracy theories alleging French support for extremists, according to Bamako-based researcher Boubacar Haidara.
Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga recently accused France of training a “terrorist group” in the north of the country, in an interview with Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
The fact that such rhetoric “comes from an authority as high as the prime minister gives it credibility,” Haidara said.
Rumours proliferating on social media — which were also recounted by several protesters in Kaya — claimed the supply convoy was in fact carrying weapons for the extremists.
Yvan Guichaoua, a Sahel specialist at the University of Kent in England, told AFP that France is swimming in a “pool of hostility.”
The scale of the sentiment is difficult to measure, he noted, adding that it is nonetheless “imposing itself on the Sahel political space,” with governments forced to respond.
Not all are critical of France: Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum on Friday thanked the country for its military involvement.
A French government official, who requested anonymity, nonetheless told AFP that the situation is “worrying.”
“People are turning against those on the front line,” the official said.
Complicating the picture is French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to reduce France’s deployment in the Sahel.
He made the decision in June, after a military takeover in Mali in August 2020 that ousted the elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
But the announcement pushed Mali’s ruling military to consider hiring paramilitaries from Russian private-security firm Wagner to bridge the gap, which further raised tensions with France.
Macron has promised that French troops will not operate in a country where Wagner paramilitaries are also active.
However there are fears that a full French withdrawal would precipitate a collapse in Mali, with implications for the wider Sahel conflict — a unwelcome prospect just over four months from a French presidential election.
Anti-French sentiment has long been rife on social media in Mali. There are also periodic protests against France’s military in the country, where demonstrators fly Russian flags.
France has recently tried to respond to what it terms a Russian disinformation campaign back by erecting billboards in the capital Bamako bearing the slogan “we are together,” and issuing statements in the country’s dominant language Bambara.
A competition for loyalties is underway. “The Russians are reshuffling the deck,” said a high-ranking French army officer, who declined to be named.


Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’
Updated 01 December 2021

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’
  • Fears of a rebel march on the capital have prompted some countries to urge their citizens to leave as soon as possible

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday urged Tigrayan rebels to surrender, claiming government forces were nearing victory just one week after he vowed to lead military operations at the front.
“The youth of Tigray is perishing like leaves. Knowing it is defeated, it is being led by one who does not have a clear vision or plan,” Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in comments aired on state media.
“It should surrender today to the Ethiopian National Defence Force, to the special forces, to the militias and to the people.”
Tuesday’s footage was the latest in a series of clips showing Abiy, in uniform with soldiers, in what appeared to be the northeastern region of Afar.
The area has been the site of fierce fighting in recent weeks as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group tries to seize control of a critical highway that supplies the capital Addis Ababa.
On Sunday state media claimed the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said Tuesday such gains would be replicated to the west, in Amhara region.
“The enemy has been defeated. We scored an unthinkable victory with the eastern command in one day ... Now in the west we will repeat this victory,” he said.
The announcement last week that Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, would head to the battlefield came after the TPLF claimed to control Shewa Robit, a town just 220 km (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.
Fears of a rebel march on the capital have prompted the US, France, the UK and other countries to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, though Abiy’s government says TPLF gains are overstated and the city is secure.
A TPLF spokesman on Monday dismissed Abiy’s deployment as a “circus” involving “farcical war games.”
War broke out between the two sides in November 2020, with Abiy sending troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
The fighting has killed thousands, displaced more than 2 million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.
Diplomats led by Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, are trying to broker a ceasefire, though there has been little evident progress so far.


‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
Updated 30 November 2021

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
  • Around 7,000 people evacuated to Britain
  • Refugee describes ‘horrific’ airport scenes

LONDON: Prince William has told Afghan refugees who recently arrived in Britain that they were welcome in the country and praised their bravery after risking their lives working alongside British forces in Afghanistan.

The prince visited families housed in a hotel for refugees evacuated from Kabul this year.

He told families who had been forced to leave behind everything they knew and loved at short notice: “The most important thing is that you are safe now. You have a bright future. You couldn't be more welcome. Thank you for all you have done for us.”

The hotel, which is unnamed for security reasons, hosts around 175 refugees who are waiting on the government to find them long-term accommodation.

The prince was met with applause by the refugees on his arrival.

One Afghan, Hussain Saeedi Samangan, told the Daily Mail that he and his family’s escape from Kabul had been difficult, as were their initial experiences in their UK quarantine hotel, but said they felt very welcome in Yorkshire and were optimistic of a “bright, exciting future” in Britain.

Samangan added that he never believed Kabul would fall to the Taliban.

“It took everyone by surprise. You will have seen for yourself what it was like in the media. We had some very traumatic moments before the evacuation. But we were lucky to receive the help the British government were giving in getting us to the airport, compared to others who spent many hours at the gate. So we had a smoother path to get here.”

Asked by the prince whether he thought this generation of the Taliban would be different, he replied: “No. We know what the Taliban wants, we know they have not changed and that we couldn't trust them.”

Another Afghan, 33-year-old Kabul airport firefighter Haroom Shahab, told the royal that he and his family had to wait for 28 hours at the airport to move just 200 meters in order to get on a plane to the UK.

He described “horrific” scenes with thousands of people hurtling toward the runways, leaving the planes unable to land.

“They were running, they were desperate, in front of the oncoming aircraft. That was very hard for us,” he said. “We were trying to get out of the country because our lives have been torn to shreds. When we got to the UK we finally knew we would be safe. The Taliban are killing people without compassion, policemen and their families just gunned down. Anyone with a link to British or NATO forces or government.”

Shahab said he hoped to take up his old profession once again and become a firefighter in the UK.

Britain evacuated around 7,000 people from Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August and September this year. 

The government has pledged to continue to bring those who worked alongside British or NATO forces during the 20-year occupation into the UK from Afghanistan.


Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
Updated 30 November 2021

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
  • Passenger told that nobody else had spoken up because they were “scared because he is Muslim”
  • British Transport Police: We are aware of a social media video showing a hate incident on-board the District line

LONDON: Police are investigating video footage that emerged of a Muslim man being subjected to Islamophobic abuse on the London Underground.

The man was reciting verses from the Qur’an on Saturday when he was told by another passenger that “this is a Christian country” and his prayers were disrespecting him and others on the train.

Police are now investigating the incident, which was caught on camera, after the footage surfaced online. In the clip, no other passengers expressed any dissatisfaction with the man’s prayers.

The aggressor said: “You're not going to do it (recite the Qur’an) on public transport where I am sitting. You don't even have the decency to ask me if you can do it.”

The Muslim passenger replied: “I don’t need your permission.”

And the furious commuter then told him: “You need my permission to invade my privacy in my space.” 

The Muslim passenger responded: “You are over there and I’m over here,” to the man, who is seen sitting opposite him on the small carriage.

The man behind the camera was then told: “You have no respect for other people.” 

When the man, who was shouting, was told that nobody else on the train had a problem with his recital, the man said that the reason that nobody else was telling him to stop was that they were “too scared because you are a Muslim.”

Writing later on social media, the Muslim passenger said: “This passenger opposite me had an issue with me reading the Quran in a public space. Nobody seemed bothered but him to be frank.

“I told him to move if he was that pressed or to shut up, but he did neither. He just wanted me stop reading the Quran because he believes ‘we shouldn't be allowed to read our prayers on TfL.’”

He added: “I ignored him and continued my recitation, yet he went out of his way to follow me off the train and complain to London Underground.”

A British Transport Police spokesperson told MailOnline: “We are aware of a video posted on social media showing a hate incident on-board a District line Tube between Mile End and Monument stations. Officers are actively investigating this incident.”