Indian opposition disrupts parliament, seeks probe into Pegasus

Indian opposition disrupts parliament, seeks probe into Pegasus
India's Congress party workers wing members are detained by security personnel as they take part in a demonstration against the Bharatiya Janata Party's led government. (AFP)
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Updated 20 July 2021

Indian opposition disrupts parliament, seeks probe into Pegasus

Indian opposition disrupts parliament, seeks probe into Pegasus
  • The government has declined to reply to questions whether India or any of its state agencies had purchased Pegasus spyware for surveillance

NEW DELHI: Indian opposition parties disrupted parliament on Tuesday, demanding an investigation into reports that the government used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to snoop on scores of journalists, activists and politicians, including the main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.
Shouting out slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the opposition members said they wanted an independent probe into the complaints of spying and the resignation of Interior Minister Amit Shah.
An investigation published on Sunday by 17 media organizations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said spyware made and licensed by the Israeli company NSO had been used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
Indian news portal The Wire reported that smartphones of politicians including Gandhi, a senior leader of the opposition Congress party, and two other lawmakers were among 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets for surveillance during 2017-19 ahead of national elections.
NSO has said its product was intended only for use by vetted government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime.
Opposition leaders said the Modi administration was spying on journalists, activists and politicians who were opposed to its policies.
“It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country,” Congress said in a statement.
It said the government had illegally accessed the conversation of many people by hacking cell phones with the Pegasus spyware.
Ashwini Vaishnaw, the minister for Electronics and Information Technology, told lawmakers on Monday there was no substance to the reports of spying.
India had a well-established procedure in which lawful interception of electronic communication was carried out by federal and state agencies for the purpose of national security, particularly in the case of a public emergency or in the interest of public safety, he said.
Indian rules ensured that “unauthorized surveillance does not occur,” he said.
News reports said the phone of Vaishnaw himself was also hacked, but it was not clear why.
The government has declined to reply to questions whether India or any of its state agencies had purchased Pegasus spyware for surveillance.


Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
Updated 07 December 2021

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time

Pakistani clock collector records passage of time
  • Gul Kakar’s collection of 18th, 19th-century timepieces range from small pocket watches to grandfather clocks

QUETTA: Bells, whistles, chimes, and gongs sound every minute. Hands tick, pendulums swing.

Welcome to the museum of Gul Kakar, a 44-year-old Balochistan Levies Force officer, who has collected thousands of ancient clocks from around the world.

Housed in his small museum in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, the collection of 18th- and 19th-century timepieces includes exhibits ranging from small pocket watches to tall free-standing wooden case grandfather clocks accumulated over two decades.

“My passion toward antique clocks started when I found two old clocks in my house, which were in my father’s possession. After repairing them, I started my search for more antique clocks,” Kakar told Arab News.

“The majority of clocks in my museum have been acquired from people in the UK, Germany, Holland, France, and the US.

“I have a rare French-made Morbier grandfather clock, which was produced in 1850, and a pocket watch manufactured in 1820. When I learnt that a French family wanted to sell these rare clocks, I contacted a friend in France who purchased them for me and sent them six years ago.”

Kakar said he had not counted how many clocks he had but reckoned there were thousands in his two-room museum, located on the city’s Joint Road. There are no guided tours, but visitors are always welcome.

“I never thought that I would be able to build a museum. With the passage of time, my antiques including all forms of old clocks started arriving and turned my place into a clock museum,” he added.

HIGHLIGHT

Gathered from around world, Kakar has never counted, calculated value of his museum contents.

In a world increasingly oriented toward technology, Kakar said his museum had become a portal to another time. He also has a number of vintage radios and old gramophones in his collection.

“When I hear the sounds of these clocks or play songs on gramophones, it gives me immense comfort and pushes me into the historical lifestyle of the people back in the 18th and 19th centuries who had used these items. I am able to recognize the chimes of all clocks.”

The models he owns are unfamiliar to Pakistani clocksmiths, so Kakar has to carry out any repairs himself.

“I service them and wind them once a week, and I’m able to repair minor issues with my clocks,” he said.

And he has recently started looking into the history of some of his exhibits.

“I know the background of some of these clocks and I am in contact with some families in England and France and have asked them to share the histories of these clocks used by their great grandfathers during the 18th and 19th centuries. I am hopeful I will get more details in the coming months,” he added.

Kakar has not attempted to calculate how much his collection is worth. “I have never sold items from my collection to anyone. If I started counting the sum, I would not be able to carry on with my enthusiasm.”


Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions
Updated 07 December 2021

Six countries including US urge Ethiopian government to cease illegal detentions

Six countries including US urge  Ethiopian government  to cease illegal detentions

WASHINGTON: Six countries including the US expressed concern on Monday over reports of widespread arrests by Ethiopia of Tigrayan citizens based on ethnicity in connection with the country’s year-old conflict, urging the government to stop acts they said likely violate international law.

The US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands cited reports by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the rights group Amnesty International on widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers with children.

The countries said they are “profoundly concerned” about the detentions of people without charges, adding that the government’s announcement of a state of emergency last month offered “no justification” for mass detentions.

“Individuals are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions. Many of these acts likely constitute violations of international law and must cease immediately,” the six countries said in a joint statement.

They urged Ethiopia’s government to allow unhindered access by international monitors.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum and Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement.

The conflict between Ethiopian’s federal government and the leadership of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation and a regional diplomatic heavyweight, was once an ally for Western security forces seeking to counter Islamist extremism. Relations have soured amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

The joint statement reiterated grave concern over human rights abuses including sexual violence and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by all sides.

“It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we denounce any and all violence against civilians, past, present and future,” the statement said.

Both sides in Ethiopia accuse each other of committing atrocities and both have denied the allegations.

The six countries in the statement called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire, reiterating calls from the United States and others for Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan forces to declare a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to enter Tigray.


UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
Updated 6 min 20 sec ago

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
  • Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday appointed US diplomat Stephanie Williams to lead mediation efforts in Libya after his special envoy quit just weeks ahead of planned elections in the war-torn country.

UN special envoy on Libya, Jan Kubis, is due to step down on Friday. Guterres had informally suggested veteran British diplomat Nicholas Kay as a replacement, but Russia said it would not support Kay, according to diplomats. The 15-member UN Security Council, operating by consensus, must approve a new appointment.

Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval. Williams was the acting special envoy on Libya after Ghassan Salame quit in March 2020 because of stress and before Kubis was approved in January 2021.

Kubis, who has been based in Geneva, said last month there was a need for the head envoy to be based in Libya's capital Tripoli and he resigned to "to create conditions for this".

Williams "will lead good offices and mediation efforts and engagements with Libyan regional and international stakeholders to pursue implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks - political, security and economic - and support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In October last year, the two major sides in Libya's civil war - the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army - agreed a ceasefire.

A UN political forum last year demanded parliamentary and presidential elections take place on Dec. 24 as part of a roadmap to end the war. However, disputes over the planned vote threaten to derail the peace process.

A first-round presidential vote is set for Dec. 24 and the parliamentary election has been delayed to January or February. However, rules for the elections have not yet been agreed. 


More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
Updated 06 December 2021

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
  • Neil Basu’s warning came during an inquiry into the 2017 bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester
  • ‘I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk,’ he said

LONDON: Britain’s highest-ranking counterterrorism police officer has warned that despite improvements in the ways agencies collaborate to prevent terror attacks, they cannot stop them all and it is inevitable that there will be more.

The comment by Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police Service came on Monday when he appeared at the inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Twenty-two people were killed, including a number of children, when 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated an explosive device at an Ariana Grande concert.

Basu, who serves as the National Police Chiefs Council lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, told the inquiry: “The horror of this makes you look very hard at, hopefully, preventing it ever happening again.”

But he added: “I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk and that means constantly trying to have a system that looks at improvement, no matter how busy we are.”

The inquiry into the attack in May 2017 is examining the activities of emergency services, including the police and intelligence agencies, in the lead-up to the attack.

Basu said the results of a joint police and MI5 review of a number of attacks that took place in 2017, including the arena bombing, were “humbling.” That review made 104 recommendations for improvements, four of which remain outstanding.

He added that cross-agency collaboration has improved since 2017 but that more work can yet be done to better align the work of agencies.

“We’re very close but we need to be closer still,” Basu said.

The inquiry also heard from Ian Fenn, the former headteacher of a Manchester school Abedi attended between 2009 and 2011. He said Abedi was not a good student and was, at times, “aggressive and rude” to teachers, and had been suspended for theft and for setting off fireworks.

However, there was “no indication,” Fenn added, that Abedi held extremist views at that time.

“He never came across as somebody who was opinionated, who was driven, that had an agenda,” he told the inquiry. “He was a typically lackluster child who drifted around.”


Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns
Updated 06 December 2021

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns
  • David Davis: ‘At worst, we could inadvertently create a British Guantanamo Bay’
  • Britain is grappling with an influx of asylum seekers and migrants via the English Channel

LONDON: Government plans to process migrants and asylum seekers in offshore facilities risk creating a “British Guantanamo Bay,” a former cabinet member has warned.

Conservative MP David Davis, who served as Brexit secretary from 2016 to 2018, said the Home Office’s plan to send people offshore for processing would create a British facility that could rival Guantanamo Bay in notoriety.

The plans, introduced as part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, would see asylum claims processed from overseas facilities and would also introduce a host of other new restrictions on who can claim asylum.

Davis described UK Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plans as deeply flawed, noting that the Home Office is unable to explain where its widely criticized offshore asylum processing facilities would even be located.

The issue has proved controversial in recent weeks. When reports emerged that Britain was in talks with Albania to establish a facility there, various Albanian politicians and diplomats angrily and publicly rebuked the idea.

Davis, who is no longer serving in the Cabinet, said that the proposed changes ignore the fact that most asylum seekers were eventually granted refugee status.

“Pushing the problem to another part of the world is just a costly way of delaying the inevitable,” he wrote in The Observer newspaper.

Davis continued: “From mountains of paperwork and chartering RAF flights, to building the required infrastructure and dealing with foreign bureaucracies, the labyrinthine logistics would involve colossal costs the British taxpayer could well do without. At worst, we could inadvertently create a British Guantanamo Bay.”

Over the course of 2021, tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Britain via the English Channel, and the controversial issue has put pressure on the Conservative government to do something to slow the arrivals.

Some 37,562 asylum applications were made in the year to September — more than double the entire amount for 2020 — with a significant proportion of claimants arriving from Iran, Iraq, and Syria. 

MPs will debate the Nationality and Borders Bill in parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.