Myanmar unity government tells ASEAN no talks until prisoners freed

Myanmar unity government tells ASEAN no talks until prisoners freed
Activists hold placards and banners during a protest to support the anti-coup movement and democracy in Myanmar ahead of the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 24, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 April 2021

Myanmar unity government tells ASEAN no talks until prisoners freed

Myanmar unity government tells ASEAN no talks until prisoners freed
  • ASEAN has been trying to find a path for Myanmar out of a bloody crisis triggered by the February coup
  • The military said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in the election

Myanmar’s pro-democracy unity government, which includes members of parliament ousted by the military coup, has told Southeast Asia’s regional bloc that it will not engage in talks until the junta releases all political prisoners.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been trying to find a path for Myanmar out of a bloody crisis triggered by the Feb. 1 coup and has called for an end to violence and talks between all sides.
But the junta has already declined to accept proposals to resolve the crisis that emerged from an ASEAN summit last weekend that was attended by Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, but no-one from the civilian side.
The pro-democracy National Unity Government (NUG), formed this month by opponents of the military, said ASEAN should be engaging with it as the legitimate representative of the people.
“Before any constructive dialogue can take place, however, there must be an unconditional release of political prisoners including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” the NUG prime minister, Minister Mahn Winn Khaing Thann, said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from any senior officials in ASEAN.
Win Myint, Suu Kyi and others have been detained since the coup, which the military launched as Suu Kyi’s government was preparing for a second term after sweeping a November election.
The military said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in the election were not being addressed by an election commission that deemed the vote fair.
Pro-democracy protests have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the coup. The military has cracked down with lethal force on the protesters, killing more than 750 people, an activist group says. Reuters is unable to confirm the casualties as the junta has clamped down on media freedoms and journalists are among the many people who have been detained.
Alarmed by the turmoil in one of its members, ASEAN held a meeting on Saturday in the Indonesian capital with the leader of the junta in a bid to press him to end the crisis.
ASEAN did not invite a representative of Suu Kyi’s ousted government.
ASEAN leaders said after the meeting they had reached a “five-point consensus” on steps to end violence and promote dialogue between the rival Myanmar sides.
The junta later said it would give “careful consideration” to ASEAN’s suggestions, which included appointing an envoy to visit Myanmar, “when the situation returns to stability” and provided that ASEAN’s recommendations facilitated the junta’s own roadmap and served the country’s interests.
Activists had earlier criticized the plan, saying it helped to legitimize the junta and fell far short of their demands.
In particular, it did not call for the release of Suu Kyi, 75, and other political prisoners. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group says more than 3,400 people have been detained for opposing the coup.
The NUG is largely made up of ousted members of parliament together with politicians representing ethnic minorities and pro-democracy protest leaders.
Protesters marched in support of the NUG in the second city of Mandalay on Wednesday, the Myanmar Now media outlet reported.
The coup has also exacerbated old conflicts between the military and ethnic minority insurgents who have been battling for years for greater autonomy in frontier regions.
Fighting has flared between the army and Karen insurgents in the east near the Thai border, and between the army and Kachin insurgents in the north, near the border with China.
Clashes have also broken out in Chin State, which is on the border with India, between anti-coup activists and security forces.
Karen insurgents captured Myanmar army posts near the Thai border on Tuesday in some of the most intense clashes since the coup which included air strikes by the military.
The military launched more air strikes in the area on Wednesday, villagers on the Thai side of the border said, but there was no immediate word on casualties.
The Karen and other ethnic minority forces based in frontier regions have supported the largely urban-based pro-democracy opponents of the junta.


London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
Updated 7 sec ago

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
  • Yasmin Chkaifi was stabbed to death Monday
  • Her ex-partner who stabbed her was also killed when a passing car struck him

LONDON: Police had named a woman who died Monday as a result of a brutal stabbing on the streets of London as Yasmin Chkaifi.

Mother-of-one Chkaifi died alongside her ex-partner, Leon McCaskre, 41, who was hit by a car.

Police have said McCaskre stabbed Chkaifi to death and was then hit by a car, killing him.

There are reports that the car hit McCaskre in an attempt to stop the attack on Chkaifi.

Police confirmed they were both from Maida Vale, London, and had previously been in a relationship.

A 26-year-old man arrested at the scene was arrested by police on suspicion of murder, but is said to be cooperating with authorities and has been released on bail.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Rawlinson, of the force’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “We are gaining a clearer idea of what happened at the scene thanks to information supplied by the public and by reviewing CCTV.

“Firstly, it is apparent that members of the public bravely tried to intervene to stop the attack and their actions were very courageous.

“We are speaking to the families of those concerned and doing all we can to support them at this terrible time.

“We can now confirm that both the deceased were previously known to each other and there are no outstanding suspects.

“A man, who was the driver of a car, has been arrested and bailed for a very serious offense and we must carry out a full investigation, looking at all the circumstances.”


Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
  • The campus, hosting mainly science departments, started classes in September 2020
  • It was completed with funding from the Saudi Development Fund worth $51 million

MUZAFFARABAD: A Saudi-funded campus of the biggest university in Pakistan-administered Kashmir is fostering science education in the region and encouraging female enrollment into the male-dominated field, as nearly half of its students are women — higher than the global average.

The multimillion-dollar King Abdullah Campus in Chhatar Kalas, 22 km from the regional capital Muzaffarabad, was financed by Saudi Arabia, which has funded several development projects in the region, helping it return to normalcy after a devastating earthquake in 2005 destroyed most of its infrastructure, including the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Built on nearly 100 hectares, the campus was completed in late 2019 and started classes in September 2020.

“King Abdullah Campus was completed with financial help from the Saudi Development Fund worth 9 billion rupees ($51 million),” Raja Abdul Qayyum Khan, director of the campus, told Arab News.

The campus now hosts most of the university’s 9,000 students and is home to its science departments, including physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, and geology, which see a high rate of female enrollment.

Globally, only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education are women, according to UNESCO data. At King Abdullah Campus, however, women constitute 47 percent of all students.

“Out of a total 5,440 students enrolled at King Abdullah Campus, there are 2,877 males and 2,563 females. That speaks volumes about girls’ participation,” Khan said. “We would like to see that ratio further increase.”

After the earthquake destruction, many students at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir had to travel far to other campuses — some even to Islamabad — to attend courses.

With social norms and safety concerns limiting women’s mobility across Pakistan, traveling alone tens of kilometers from home was nearly impossible for them.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus at Chhattar Kalas has given me, and many other girls, an advantage,” 19-year-old mathematics student Samar Qayum told Arab News, explaining that traveling long distances was a major burden for them.

“The number of female students would have gone down in this region,” she said, “but this facility has made life easier for girls.”

Boys, too, are happy.

Physics student Waqar Younis said the establishment of the campus allowed him to save on transportation and accommodation, as those were major costs for the students.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus has greatly benefited me,” he said.

In the near future, the campus is likely to become even more attractive as $8.5 million computer science labs should be ready this year.

The nine labs will be equipped with 600 computers, allowing for the study of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We are hopeful that by this year in August we may get the equipment,” Dr. Rabia Riaz, head of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, told Arab News.

“This sort of equipment and building structure is not only unavailable in Azad Kashmir but also in all of Pakistan.”

 

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Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
Updated 25 January 2022

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
  • The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial

NEW YORK: Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said on Tuesday they started a clinical trial to test a new version of their vaccine specifically designed to target the COVID-19 omicron variant, which has eluded some of the protection provided by the original two-dose vaccine regimen.
The companies plan to test the immune response generated by the omicron-based vaccine both as a three-shot regimen in unvaccinated people and as a booster shot for people who already received two doses of their original vaccine.
They are also testing a fourth dose of the current vaccine against a fourth dose of the omicron-based vaccine in people who received their third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine three to six months earlier.
The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial.
“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address omicron and new variants in the future,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement.
Pfizer has said that a two-dose regimen of the original vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against infection from the omicron variant, and that protection against hospitalizations and deaths may be waning.
Still, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a third dose of an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has provided 90 percent protection against hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Some countries have already started offering additional booster doses, but a recent study from Israel showed that while a fourth dose of an mRNA vaccine boosted antibodies, the level was not high enough to prevent infection by the omicron variant.
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Reuters in November that regulators would not likely require testing of an omicron-based vaccine on humans because it and Pfizer had already created versions of their established vaccine to target the earlier Alpha and Delta variants, with clinical trials continuing.
However, the debate appears to have shifted as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement on Friday that international regulators now preferred clinical studies to be carried out before approval of a new vaccine.
These studies should show that neutralising antibodies in the blood of participants are superior to those elicited by current vaccines. Another desired feature of an upgraded vaccine would be for it to also protect against other variants of concern, the EMA said.
The omicron variant has replaced the Delta variant as the dominant lineage in many parts of the world and omicron itself is now splitting into different subforms, one of which, BA2, is causing particular concern.


UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers
Updated 25 January 2022

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers
  • Qari Asim, appointed in 2019, criticizes ‘lack of political will’ to define the term
  • ‘From the community’s perspective it’s hugely disappointing and undermines trust and confidence in the government’

LONDON: An imam appointed by the UK government to draw up a definition of Islamophobia has said he has received no “meaningful engagement” from ministers in years.

Qari Asim, who was appointed to lead an official process to define the term in 2019, told The Independent that letters sent to ministers as recently as last month have received no reply.

His intervention came as the government has become embroiled in a controversy surrounding Islamophobia after former Minister Nusrat Ghani said she was fired because her “Muslimness” made colleagues uncomfortable.

Asim said those allegations “once again demonstrate the importance of having a definition of Islamophobia.”

He added that he had been given no office, money, staff or terms of reference to assist him in drawing up a definition of Islamophobia.

“Other than an announcement and conversations (with ministers), there hasn’t been any progress, and that shows a lack of political will to define Islamophobia,” he said.

“I’m perplexed over the reasons for lack of engagement when the government time and again say they have zero tolerance to anti-Muslim hatred.”

Asim, an imam at Makkah Mosque in the English city of Leeds, said several letters sent to successive communities secretaries have gone unanswered, some as recently as November and December 2021, addressed to Michael Gove.

Gove committed to “the importance of countering anti-Muslim hatred” in Parliament in November, alluding to Asim’s efforts and a working group set up to tackle anti-Muslim hatred. A letter sent by Asim following up on those assertions went unanswered.

“I have set out my plan on how I thought a broad-based consensus can be achieved, but there has been a lack of meaningful engagement,” he said.

“Initially I didn’t pursue it during the first year of the pandemic, because I wanted to give the government the space to deal with that, but from the community’s perspective it’s hugely disappointing and undermines trust and confidence in the government. Something needs to happen.”

Asim said the government needs to recognize that Islamophobia is a “real issue” and move forward on defining it.

“Some people don’t like the term Islamophobia because they think that it’s more about protecting the faith itself, but it’s not the case,” he added.

“The faith has been critiqued since its inception — this is about protecting people and deterring those who target people because of their faith.”


France’s Macron condemns Burkina Faso coup, says calm prevails for now

France’s Macron condemns Burkina Faso coup, says calm prevails for now
Updated 25 January 2022

France’s Macron condemns Burkina Faso coup, says calm prevails for now

France’s Macron condemns Burkina Faso coup, says calm prevails for now
  • Macron said his government was following the situation “minute by minute”

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron condemned on Tuesday a military coup in Burkina Faso, adding that the situation in the West African country had appeared calm in the last few hours.
Macron also told reporters during a trip in central France that he had been informed Burkina Faso’s ousted President Roch Kabore was “in good health” and not being threatened.
Burkina Faso’s army said on Monday that it had ousted President Roch Kabore, suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and the national assembly, and closed the country’s borders.
Macron said his government was following the situation “minute by minute.”