Death toll in Myanmar junta’s crackdown on protests edges up to 550

Protesters gather behind a barricade during a protest against the military coup, in Monywa, Myanmar, on April 3, 2021. (Photo supplied via Reuters)
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Protesters gather behind a barricade during a protest against the military coup, in Monywa, Myanmar, on April 3, 2021. (Photo supplied via Reuters)
The grandmother of Zaw Ko Latt, who was shot dead on April 1 by security forces during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup, cries beside his coffin during his funeral in Mandalay on April 2, 2021. (AFP)
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The grandmother of Zaw Ko Latt, who was shot dead on April 1 by security forces during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup, cries beside his coffin during his funeral in Mandalay on April 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2021

Death toll in Myanmar junta’s crackdown on protests edges up to 550

Death toll in Myanmar junta’s crackdown on protests edges up to 550
  • While the military has banned social media platforms like Facebook, the junta has continued to use social media to track critics and promote its message

YANGON: Myanmar security forces have killed 550 people, including two on Friday, as the junta continued its violent attacks on protests sparked by the military overthrew an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said on Saturday.
Forty-six of the dead victims were children, the group said.
Despite the repression, opponents of the coup march every day in cities and towns across the country, often holding what they call “guerrilla rallies,” small, quick shows of defiance before security forces can respond.
People also gather at night for candle-lit vigils but the huge rallies that drew tens of thousands in the early days of defiance have largely stopped in big cities.
The authorities, who had already shut down mobile data in a bid to stifle opposition, ordered Internet providers from Friday to cut wireless broadband, depriving most customers of access.
Authorities also issued warrants for 18 show business celebrities including social media influencers and two journalists under a law against material intended to cause a member of the armed forces to mutiny or disregard their duty, state media reported late on Friday.
All of them are known to oppose military rule and one, actress Paing Phyoe Thu, said she would not be cowed.
“Whether a warrant has been issued or not, as long as I’m alive I’ll oppose the military dictatorship who are bullying and killing people. The revolution must prevail,” she said on Facebook.
Paing Phyoe Thu regularly attended rallies in the main city of Yangon in the weeks after the coup. Her husband, film director, Na Gyi, has been wanted by the authorities under the same law since February.
Her whereabouts were not immediately known and it was not clear how she was able to post her message. Social media users in Myanmar did not appear to be connected early on Saturday.
The charge can carry a prison term of three years.
State broadcaster MRTV announced the warrants with screenshots and links to each of their Facebook profiles.
While the military has banned social media platforms like Facebook, the junta has continued to use social media to track critics and promote its message.
MRTV maintains a YouTube channel and shares links to its broadcasts on Twitter, both of which are officially banned.
‘Inhuman actions’
The United States condemned the Internet shutdown.
“We hope this won’t silence the voices of the people,” a State Department spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, told a briefing
Porter said the shutdown would also have consequences for people who use the Internet to benefit from online health programs.
The security forces have arrested numerous suspected opponents of the coup.
Myanmar Now new portal reported on Friday that five women who spoke to a visiting CNN news crew on the streets of Yangon this week had been taken away by security men.
Separately, one person was shot and wounded in a raid in the second city of Mandalay on Friday night, the Mizzima news service said.
The coup has also rekindled old wars with autonomy-seeking ethnic minority forces in the north and the east.
Myanmar’s oldest insurgent group, the Karen National Union (KNU), has seen the first military air strikes on its forces in more than 20 years since announcing its support for the pro-democracy movement.
The KNU said more than 12,000 villagers had fled from their homes because of the air strikes and it called for an international embargo on arms sales to the military.
“Their inhuman actions against unarmed civilians have caused the death of many people including children and students,” the group said in a statement.
Media has reported that about 20 people were killed in air strikes in KNU territory in recent days, including nearly a dozen at a gold mine run by the group.
The KNU signed a cease-fire with the government in 2012 to end their 60-year insurgency.
Fighting has also flared in the north between the army and ethnic Kachin insurgents.
The turmoil has sent several thousand refugees fleeing into Thailand and India.


Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan

Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan
Updated 55 min 49 sec ago

Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan

Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan
  • Gloom lifted after last year’s holy month fell during strict anti-coronavirus measures
  • Faithful revel in return to communal worship as restrictions eased across Britain

LONDON: British Muslims have expressed their joy and relief at being able to worship communally in mosques after lockdown restrictions eased in time for Ramadan.
Last year, the holy month came as the UK and many parts of the world shut down amid the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Muslims were forced to stay at home during Ramadan, a month usually characterized by worshipping with others and community gatherings. Many felt isolated and disconnected from their communities and routines as thousands of people died from the virus around them.
Striking images of the Grand Mosque in Makkah bereft of pilgrims and worshippers during Ramadan 2020 sent shockwaves through Muslim communities across the world.
“The most prominent image that I can think of (during the pandemic) is seeing the completely empty Grand Mosque in Makkah, an image that resonated with Muslims around the whole world,” the CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, Rashid Mogradia, said. “I never imagined that would happen during my lifetime or ever for that matter. It was quite upsetting.
“We took life and simple things like going to the mosque for granted.”
Although the pandemic is not over and the UK has lost 127,000 people to COVID-19 since it started, Ramadan 2021 is very different to last year.
Several vaccines against the virus have been developed in record time and more than ten million people have been inoculated in the UK so far, providing some protection and reassurance to society’s most vulnerable.
Lockdown restrictions in the UK eased on March 29, two weeks before the start of Ramadan. Unlike last year, communal prayer in mosques is allowed as places of worship were not required to close during the lockdown announced in January. However, strict precautionary measures have been in place to curb the spread of the virus.
Social distancing is being enforced, face masks must be worn, individual prayer mats and shoe bags used, and people are encouraged to perform ablution at home.
Only dates and bottled water are provided for iftar instead of full meals, and the length of the taraweeh prayer has been shortened.
“Ramadan 2021 is massively different to Ramadan 2020. There is an appreciation of the fact that you can enter mosques, break your fast and pray taraweeh,” Mogradia said.
“The mosques seem to look fuller than usual. That’s probably down to the fact that everyone is bringing their prayer mats and the social distancing. I am also seeing a lot more new faces at my local mosque. Those who didn’t come to the mosque as often are now attending, and that might stem from an appreciation for being able to perform prayers in the mosque. That’s really nice,” he said.
People in the UK are still not able to mix indoors with people they do not live with or who are not in their support bubble. This means that extended family iftar gatherings, a celebrated Ramadan tradition, are off the table.
However, Muslims are able to worship as a community during Ramadan 2021 and this has returned a partial sense of normality to the holy month. It has caused a surge in optimism and people feel less isolated and lonely because they are able to pray together and break their fasts, albeit briefly, with each other in the mosque.
“This time last year we were all on lockdown and we had to worship at home. Ramadan is about communal worship: Iftars and performing prayers and taraweeh together — that is back. We are able to move around and exchange Ramadan dishes with the neighbors,” Mogradia said.
“That whole community spirit is coming back and we actually feel as though Ramadan is here. Last year, we were confined to our houses. We are grateful that we have been given this opportunity. It also makes you reflect on how many people have passed away. It’s a great blessing to be able to partake in Ramadan again,” he added.
The secretary of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques (WFCOM), Said Looch, said that mosques have been working tirelessly to ensure the safety of their congregations and that COVID-19 precautionary measures are in place.
“From the mosques’ perspective, there has been a lot more preparation compared to previous Ramadans because of the precautionary measures that need to be put in place to ensure that worshippers are safe and following guidelines and protocol set by the government. Mosques have been working really hard to accommodate their local communities and we still want people to enjoy coming to their local places of worship,” Looch said.
He said that although communal prayer is back this Ramadan, sharing big iftar meals in the traditional sense is what a lot of people are still missing.
“Normally for iftar, huge mats are laid out and people bring lots of food to the mosque and everyone sits together. Sometimes you sit with your friends and at other times you share a meal with a complete stranger and become friends,” Looch said.
He said that keeping a one-meter gap between worshippers has reduced capacity by 60-70 percent in some mosques this Ramadan, and this has led to a change in ambience.
“Normally, when we pray in congregation, there is a real sense of brotherhood because you stand shoulder to shoulder with the next person. Now, there is a lot of space between people and so there is a different atmosphere,” Looch explained.
“The mosques are open but they are not fully functioning,” he added.
Looch said that despite all the restrictions to protect worshippers, mosques are trying to make people feel comfortable.
“We hope worshippers will get a spiritual upliftment from the mosque and that they feel like they have benefitted and want to come back again.
He added that a few Muslims had told him they had been more productive spiritually during Ramadan 2020 because they could worship at their own pace.
The media and communications manager for East London Mosque & London Muslim Center, Khizar Mohammad, said that although London’s busiest mosque is open this Ramadan, taraweeh prayers will be markedly different.
“The prayer will be shorter in duration, and people will be allowed to enter the mosque 20 minutes before and will be required to leave as soon as it is over. Volunteers encourage people not to socialize outside the mosque as they usually would,” he said.
Mohammad said that the popular mosque, which sees some 7,000 worshippers descend on it from around London on the first night of Ramadan for taraweeh prayers, will only be able to accommodate about 1,600 people due to social distancing measures this year.

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Prison chaplain ‘conned’ by ‘remorseful’ London Bridge attacker 

Prison chaplain ‘conned’ by ‘remorseful’ London Bridge attacker 
Updated 22 April 2021

Prison chaplain ‘conned’ by ‘remorseful’ London Bridge attacker 

Prison chaplain ‘conned’ by ‘remorseful’ London Bridge attacker 
  • Usman Khan expressed shame over impact of his actions on UK’s Muslim community, before killing 2 in London attack
  • 2019 attack prompted review of Britain’s approach to detention, rehabilitation of convicted terrorists

LONDON: A prison chaplain who worked closely with a terrorist who attacked London Bridge has said he was “conned” by the man, who had shown remorse for his crimes and professed a desire to make a fresh start after his early release from prison. 
Usman Khan was freed in December 2018 after serving time for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange. 
Within a year of his release, he had killed two young Britons in a knife attack in central London.
Rev. Paul Foster, a prison chaplain who worked with convicts of all faiths, said while jailed, Khan had engaged positively with prison rehabilitation programs.
Giving evidence at an inquest into the deaths of Sakia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, Foster said Khan “had conversations with me about wanting to change and make a fresh start — to pay more attention to the ripple effect of his actions.” 
Foster told the court that it would have surprised him to learn that while Khan was engaging with victim awareness courses, he was also attempting to radicalize other prisoners. 
The chaplain was told by lawyers that at the time of his release, there was intelligence that Khan might commit an attack.
“That would be a surprise,” Foster answered. “If that intelligence is correct, he was obviously presenting himself in a way that was likely to deceive the likes of myself and others. I’m open to say I’m wrong, and it’s possible I’ve been conned.”
Foster said Khan had spoken “openly and emotionally” during a discussion with the victim of a crime.
During one session, Khan expressed “some shame” over the impact of his actions on the UK’s Muslim community, Foster added. 
“We were being presented with a lot of positive things about his behavior — even some of the prisoners were telling me,” Foster said.
“In one instance a chap lost his son to a murder, and Usman was the person at his door offering his condolences and asking if he could help. He appeared to show remorse for what he’d done.”
The 2018 London Bridge attack prompted discussion in the UK over the efficacy of prisoner rehabilitation programs, as well as the policy of releasing certain prisoners early.
Since then, the government has announced measures that will enforce stricter sentences on people convicted of terror offenses, as well as wider monitoring of those convicted and released.


UK parliament declares genocide in China’s Xinjiang, raises pressure on Johnson

UK parliament declares genocide in China’s Xinjiang, raises pressure on Johnson
Updated 22 April 2021

UK parliament declares genocide in China’s Xinjiang, raises pressure on Johnson

UK parliament declares genocide in China’s Xinjiang, raises pressure on Johnson
  • So far the government has imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials and introduced rules to try to prevent goods linked to the region entering the supply chain
  • Ministers say any decision on declaring a genocide is up to the courts

LONDON: Britain’s parliament called on Wednesday for the government to take action to end what lawmakers described as genocide in China’s Xinjiang region, stepping up pressure on ministers to go further in their criticism of Beijing.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government again steered clear of declaring genocide over what it says are “industrial-scale” human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang. Ministers say any decision on declaring a genocide is up to the courts.
So far the government has imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials and introduced rules to try to prevent goods linked to the region entering the supply chain, but a majority of lawmakers want ministers to go further.
Beijing denies accusations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Lawmakers backed a motion brought by Conservative lawmaker Nusrat Ghani stating Uighurs in Xinjiang were suffering crimes against humanity and genocide, and calling on government to use international law to bring it to an end.
The support for the motion is non-binding, meaning it is up to the government to decide what action, if any, to take next.
Britain’s minister for Asia, Nigel Adams, again set out to parliament the government’s position that any decision on describing the human rights abuses in Xinjiang as genocide would have to be taken by “competent” courts.
Some lawmakers fear Britain risks falling out of step with allies over China after the Biden administration endorsed a determination by its predecessor that China had committed genocide in Xinjiang.


Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador
Updated 22 April 2021

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador
  • Pakistani Taliban group claims responsibility for assault against high officials
  • China condemns attack; Balochistan home minister refuses to confirm envoy was target 

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: A blast that killed five people and injured 11 at a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta, in Balochistan, on Wednesday night was a suicide attack, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Thursday.

The Serena Hotel Quetta, located next to the Iranian consulate in the city and the provincial parliament building, had been hosting China’s ambassador to the country, Nong Rong, whilst on a visit to Balochistan.

“It was a suicide attack. The bomber detonated his vest from inside (his) car,” Ahmed said, adding that the attacker had yet to be identified. “Around 60 to 80 kilograms of explosive was used in the attack.”

The Chinese ambassador was not at the hotel during the attack, Ahmed continued. “He was staying somewhere else and he is safe.”

Zia Ullah Langau, home minister Balochistan, declined to confirm if the Chinese ambassador was the target of the assault, saying investigations were ongoing. Quetta’s police deputy inspector general, Azhar Akram, added: “Our security was on high alert, and we are assessing all aspects.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it “strongly condemns” the bombing.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group fighting to overthrow the government, claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it was carried out “on high officials, including police officers.”

Designated a terrorist group by the US, the TTP has been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mineral rich Balochistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency by local nationalists who want a larger share of the region’s resources.

The province, Pakistan’s largest but also its most impoverished, is home to the recently-expanded Gwadar deep water port, a flagship part of China’s $65 billion investment in the Pakistani section of its Belt and Road Initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project.


Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif
Updated 22 April 2021

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif
  • Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly
  • His Pakistan Muslim League party quickly hailed the ruling by the court in the eastern city of Lahore

LAHORE: A Pakistani court granted bail on Thursday to the country’s opposition leader, about seven months after he was arrested by an anti-graft body over alleged involvement in money laundering.
Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. His Pakistan Muslim League party quickly hailed the ruling by the court in the eastern city of Lahore. It described the case against him as “fake.”
Shahbaz Sharif is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who served three times as Pakistan’s prime minister. He has been living in exile in London since 2019, after he was released on bail to seek medical treatment abroad.
Nawaz Sharif hasn’t returned home since, and the government is seeking his extradition.

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