Myanmar foes of army woo ethnic allies with new constitution

Myanmar foes of army woo ethnic allies with new constitution
The committee announced Wednesday night on social media that it has revoked the 2008 constitution. (AFP PHOTO / KAREN INFORMATION CENTER)
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Updated 31 March 2021

Myanmar foes of army woo ethnic allies with new constitution

Myanmar foes of army woo ethnic allies with new constitution

YANGON, Myanmar: Opponents of Myanmar’s military government late Wednesday posed a major political challenge to the ruling junta, declaring the country’s 2008 constitution void and putting forward an interim charter to replace it.
The moves, while more symbolic than practical, could help woo the armed militias maintained by the country's ethnic minorities to ally themselves with the mass protest movement against the military's seizure of power in February.
The actions was taken by the CRPH, an underground, self-styled alternative government established by elected lawmakers who were not allowed to take their seats in when the army staged its Feb. 1 coup ousting the government of Aung San Suu Kyi. CRPH stand for Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the national Parliament.
The committee announced Wednesday night on social media that it has revoked the 2008 constitution, which was implemented under army rule and ensures the military retains major influence in government, including veto power over constitutional change by automatically being granted a quarter of the seats in Parliament. The army claimed its Feb. 1 seizure of power was carried out according to constitutional rules.
The CRPH also presented a “Federal Democracy Charter” to serve as an interim constitution. In addition to seeking to put an end to the country’s long history of military dictatorship, it is also meant to work towards meeting the longstanding demands of the country's many and myriad ethnic minority groups for greater autonomy in the areas of their populations.
The issue has great current political significance because the protest movement against military rule has been seeking an alliance with the ethnic minority armed groups to boost pressure on the junta. It would like them to form a federal army as a counterweight to the government armed forces.
Largely peaceful demonstrators in the cities and towns of Myanmar have been facing police and soldiers armed with war weapons that they have used freely. At least 536 protesters and bystanders have been killed since the coup, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which counts those it can document and says the actual toll is likely much higher.
The CRPH has sought to be recognized as Myanmar’s sole legitimate government body. Foreign governments and international organization have not yet granted it formal status, but some acknowledge it as a stakeholder that must at least be consulted.
The junta has declared it an illegal body guilty of treason.
Myanmar’s junta announced earlier Wednesday it is implementing a unilateral one-month ceasefire, but made an exception for actions that disrupt the government’s security and administrative operations -- a clear reference to the movement that has held daily nationwide protests against its seizure of power in February.
The movement against military rule focuses on civil disobedience, calling on employees in the public and private sectors to stop work that supports the machinery of governing.
The announcement came after a flurry of combat with at least two of the armed ethnic minority organizations that maintain a strong presence in their respective areas along the borders. Even in times of peace, relations have been strained and ceasefires fragile.
There was no immediate reaction to the ceasefire announcement from the ethnic minority forces. Several of the major groups -- including the Kachin in the north, the Karen in the east and the Rakhines’ Arakan Army in western Myanmar -- have publicly denounced the coup and have said they will defend protesters in the territory they control.
The Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization, attacked a police station in Kachin state’s Shwegu township before dawn Wednesday, according to local news outlets The 74 Media and Bhamo Platform. The attackers were reported to have seized weapons and supplies and wounded one police officer.
The Kachin have staged a series of attacks on government forces in their territory since the coup, saying the latest round of fighting was triggered by government assaults on four Kachin outposts. After one Kachin assault in mid-March, the military retaliated with a helicopter attack on a Kachin base.
Wednesday’s Kachin attack came after fresh conflict in eastern Myanmar, where Karen guerrillas seized an army outpost Saturday. Myanmar’s military followed with airstrikes through Wednesday that killed at least 13 villagers and drove thousands more across the border into Thailand, according to the Free Burma Rangers, an established humanitarian group that provides medical assistance to the area’s villagers.
The conflict in eastern Myanmar spread the crisis to neighboring Thailand, where an estimated 3,000 Karen took temporary shelter. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said they quickly went back across the border voluntarily and were not forced by Thailand. Thai authorities said Wednesday that only about 200 remained in the country and were preparing to go back.
Protests continued in Myanmar’s cities against the military takeover.
Demonstrators marched through at least one area of Yangon despite reduced numbers in the face of the ever-climbing death toll. The mainly young protesters in the city’s Hlaing suburb stopped to honor a protester killed in an earlier confrontation with security forces.
In another development, an outside visitor was able to see Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time since she was detained during the coup. She spoke by video link with one of her lawyers, Min Min Soe, according to the online news site The Irrawaddy.
Suu Kyi, who is thought to be held somewhere in the capital Naypyitaw, has been detained on several minor criminal charges, and the army said it is investigating more serious allegations of corruption against her. Her supporters dismiss the legal actions as politically motivated, aimed at discrediting her and preventing her from returning to the political arena, where she is the country’s most popular figure.
“She is in good health,” said Suu Kyi’s lawyer, according to the report. “she even urged us to stay healthy. She was smiling and looked relaxed,”
An unconfirmed report late Wednesday by the online news service Khit Thit Media said the government has filed six serious new charges against her, including treason and corruption, but as of Wednesday night there was no official announcement to that effect.


Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
Updated 10 sec ago

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
  • Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges
  • Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai

KIGALI: A Rwandan court on Monday found Paul Rusesabagina, a one-time hotel manager portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood film about the 1994 genocide, guilty of being part of a group responsible for terrorist attacks.

“They should be found guilty for being part of this terror group — MRCD-FLN,” judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said of 20 defendants including Rusesabagina. “They attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling.”

The case has had a high profile since Rusesabagina, 67, was arrested last year on arrival from Dubai after what he described as a kidnapping by Rwandan authorities.

Since being portrayed by actor Don Cheadle as the hero of the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” Rusesabagina emerged as a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame, based in the United States. He had denied all the charges against him, while his supporters called the trial a sham and proof of Kagame’s ruthless treatment of political opponents.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges, including terrorism, arson, taking hostages and forming an armed rebel group which he directed from abroad. After the announcement of the initial verdict, one of the defendants became ill, causing a short recess which delayed verdicts on other charges and sentencing.

Rusesabagina became a global celebrity after the film, which depicted him risking his life to shelter hundreds as the boss of a luxury hotel in the Rwandan capital Kigali during the 100-day genocide when Hutu ethnic extremists killed more than 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority.

Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Rusesabagina used his fame to highlight what he described as rights violations by the government of Kagame, a Tutsi rebel commander who took power after his forces captured Kigali and halted the genocide.

Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai. His supporters say he was kidnapped; the Rwandan government suggested he was tricked into boarding a private plane. Human Rights Watch said at the time that his arrest amounted to an enforced disappearance, which it called a serious violation of international law.


Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
Updated 20 min 41 sec ago

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
  • Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war from 1954 to 1962
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday asked for “forgiveness” on behalf of his country for abandoning Algerians who fought alongside France in their country’s war of independence.
Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war that pitted Algerian independence fighters against their French colonial masters from 1954 to 1962.
At the end of the war, the loyalist fighters known as “harkis” were left to fend for themselves, despite earlier promises that France would look after them.

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’
Updated 20 September 2021

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’
  • The gunman was identified as a student at the university
  • Gunman’s social media account posting indicated his actions had nothing to do with politics or religion but were motivated by hatred

MOSCOW: A student opened fire at a university in the Russian city of Perm on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding several, law enforcement said.

The gunman was himself killed after the shootings at Perm State University, around 1,300km east of Moscow, Natalia Pechishcheva, a university spokesperson, said.

“He was liquidated,” she said. Footage from the scene showed his prone body on the ground outside.

Earlier media footage from the scene showed students jumping from first-floor windows to escape the building, landing heavily on the ground before running to safety.

Students built barricades out of chairs to stop the shooter from entering their classrooms, they said.

The gunman was identified as a student at the university, the Investigative Committee, that handles probes into major crimes, said.

“There were about 60 people in the classroom. We closed the door and barricaded it with chairs,” student Semyon Karyakin said.

Local media identified the gunman as an 18-year-old student who had earlier posted a social media photo of himself posing with a rifle, helmet and ammunition.

“I’ve thought about this for a long time, it’s been years and I realized the time had come to do what I dreamt of,” he said on a social media account attributed to him that was later taken down.

He indicated his actions had nothing to do with politics or religion but were motivated by hatred.

Russia has strict restrictions on civilian firearm ownership, but some categories of guns are available for purchase for hunting, self-defense or sport, once would-be owners have passed tests and met other requirements.

The shootings were the latest in a series.

Earlier this year a lone teenage gunman opened fire at a school in the city of Kazan in May, killing nine people and wounding many more.

That was Russia’s deadliest school shooting since 2018 when a student at a college in Russian-annexed Crimea killed 20 people before turning his gun on himself.

Russia raised the legal age for buying firearms from 18 to 21 after the Kazan shooting, but the new law has yet to come into force.


Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
Updated 20 September 2021

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
  • Up to a hundred public schools in areas considered ‘minimal risk’ for coronavirus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial

MANILA: The Philippines will reopen up to 120 schools for limited in-person classes for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in a pilot approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, officials said Monday.
While nearly every country in the world has already partially or fully reopened schools for face-to-face lessons, the Philippines has kept them closed since March 2020.
“We have to pilot face-to-face (classes) because this is not just an issue for education, it’s an issue for the children’s mental health,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
“It’s also an issue for the economy because we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”
Under guidelines approved by Duterte Monday, up to a hundred public schools in areas considered “minimal risk” for virus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial.
Twenty private schools can also participate.
Classrooms will be open to children in kindergarten to grade three, and senior high school, but the number of students and hours spent in face-to-face lessons limited.
Schools wanting to take part will be assessed for their preparedness and need approval from local governments to reopen. Written consent from parents will be required.
“If the pilot class is safe, if it is effective, then we will gradually increase it,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Duterte rejected previous proposals for a pilot reopening of schools for fear children could catch Covid-19 and infect elderly relatives.
But there have been growing calls from the UN’s children fund and many teachers for a return to in-person learning amid concerns the prolonged closure was exacerbating an education crisis in the country.
It is not clear when the pilot will begin or which schools will be included.
A “blended learning” program, which involves online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media, will continue.
France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the decision was “long overdue.”
Fifteen-year-olds in the Philippines were at or near the bottom in reading, mathematics and science, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Most students attend public schools where large class sizes, outdated teaching methods, lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as toilets, and poverty have been blamed for youngsters lagging behind.


Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
Updated 20 September 2021

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
  • Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Monday reported its lowest rise in daily COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks as some lockdown restrictions were eased in Sydney, the state capital, amid higher vaccination levels.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 935 new cases had been detected in the state, the lowest daily tally since Aug. 27, and down from 1,083 on Sunday. The state reported four more deaths.
“We’re feeling more positive than we have in a couple of weeks ... but I don’t want any of us to sit back and think the worst is behind us,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, warning of more deaths in the days ahead.
“Because we have seen the accumulation of so many cases, we know that October is going to be very challenging for our hospital system.”
Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, forcing officials there to abandon a COVID-zero target and shift to rapid vaccinations to ease curbs.
As the vaccine rollout gathers speed, with 53 percent of NSW’s adult population fully vaccinated, some restrictions were relaxed on Monday in 12 of the worst-hit suburbs in Sydney’s west. Time limits for outdoor exercise were lifted, while fully vaccinated people can gather outside in groups of five.
Neighboring Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, logged one new death and 567 new infections, its biggest daily rise this year, a day after revealing its roadmap back to freedom when vaccinations reach 70 percent, expected around Oct. 26.
So far, 44 percent of people in the state have been fully vaccinated, below the national average of 47 percent.
Meanwhile, several workers protested outside a union office in Melbourne against Victoria’s mandatory vaccination rule in the construction sector, local media reported.
The New Zealand Breakers basketball team, which play in Australia’s National Basketball League, released guard Tai Webster on Monday after he decided not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Australia has largely lived in COVID-zero for much of the pandemic, recording 1,167 deaths and some 87,000 cases. About 56,000 cases have been registered since mid-June when the first Delta infection was detected in Sydney.
While NSW and Victoria bear the brunt of the Delta outbreak, most other states with little or no community transmission fear opening up too soon could overwhelm their hospital systems.