In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
A small group of demonstrators hold posters reading "Degtyaryov, go to the bathhouse!!!" and "I'm, we are Sergei Furgal" in Khabarovsk, Russia, in the country's Far East, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 18 September 2021

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
  • The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region

KHABAROVSK, Russia: The handful of demonstrators gathering each evening in Khabarovsk are a shadow of the masses who took part in an unusually sustained wave of protests last year in the Russian Far Eastern city, but they are a chronic reminder of the political tensions that persist.
The demonstrators have been demanding the release of the region’s popular former governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested last year on charges of being involved in killings.
Now, his Kremlin-appointed replacement, Mikhail Degtyaryov, is on the ballot for governor in the three days of regional voting that concludes Sunday. The regional election is taking place at the same time that Russians are voting for members of the State Duma, the national parliament.
The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region, located seven time zones and 6,100 kilometers (3,800 miles) east of Moscow.
“The region really worries the Kremlin because they don’t want a repeat of those incidents (last years’ protests) of course. Khabarovsk is now under close supervision,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
Three other people are on the ballot for governor, but supporters of Furgal and others in the city of about 600,000 complain they are insignificant candidates who were allowed to run to give the appearance of a democratic and competitive race.
“Whoever posed even the smallest threat was barred from running, and they left only spoiler candidates,” said 64-year-old protester Zigmund Khudyakov.
Notably, United Russia — the country’s dominant political party and loyal backer of President Vladimir Putin — is not fielding a candidate for governor in Khabarovsk. Nor is Russia’s second-largest party, the Communists.
Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, is widely believed to be backed by the Kremlin with both advice and money.
The man who wanted to run on the Communist ticket was kept off the ballot because he was unable to get enough signatures from officials. That aspiring candidate, Pyotr Perevezentsev, told The Associated Press that municipal authorities in some districts had been told by their superiors whose nominating petitions to sign.
“People representing the presidential administration curated these elections,” he said.
Separately, Furgal’s son Anton says he was kept off the ballot for the national parliament. “There is an opinion that if my last name had been Ivanov, for example, I would likely be allowed to run,” he said.
Degtyaryov rejects such claims.
“As head of the Khabarovsk regional government, I am obligated to ensure transparent, legal, free and fair elections, and we are following all of these provisions,” he said on a recent televised question-and-answer session with residents.
The weeks of protests that arose after Sergei Furgal’s arrest in July 2020 appeared to catch authorities by surprise. Unlike in Moscow, where police usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned rallies, authorities didn’t interfere with the unauthorized demonstrations in Khabarovsk, apparently expecting them to fizzle out.
A Liberal Democratic Party member, Furgal won the 2018 regional gubernatorial election even though he had refrained from campaigning and publicly supported his Kremlin-backed rival.
His victory was a humiliating setback for United Russia, which also lost its control over the regional legislature.
While in office, Furgal earned a reputation as a “people’s governor,” cutting his own salary, ordering the sale of an expensive yacht bought by the previous administration, and offering new benefits to residents.
His arrest, which was shown on Russian TV stations, came after the Investigative Committee, the nation’s top criminal investigation agency, said he was accused of involvement in the murders of several businessmen in the region and nearby territories in 2004 and 2005. During interrogation in Moscow, Furgal denied the charges, according to the Tass news agency.
Ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a veteran politician with a reputation for outspoken comments and also a member of the Liberal Democrats, once called Furgal “the best governor the region ever had.”
Furgal’s arrest brought hundreds, and then thousands, of people into the streets of Khabarovsk in a regular Saturday protest. A year later, the rallies — albeit much smaller — continue.
Local activists say that’s because of sustained pressure from authorities interested in ensuring Degtyaryov wins the election.
Under new rules enforced by police who monitor and film the protests, the rallies are restricted to 10 people at most. Officers disperse anything larger.
The protesters say they are pressured at work and at university, with some adding that they lost their jobs after being seen at the demonstrations.
Many wear T-shirts with the face of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, while others carry signs depicting Furgal or denouncing the new governor.
“We constantly live in fear because any day we can be arrested,” said Denis Pedish, a 47-year-old education worker who says he now comes to protests with a packed bag of essentials in case he is detained.
“It’s difficult. But people have hope and faith and are actively fighting the lawlessness of the authorities and the lawlessness of the elections, which are a laughingstock for the world to see,” Pedish said.


Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
Updated 16 October 2021

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
  • Presidential and vice-presidential election is scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022

MANILA: Foreigners involved in political campaigning in the Philippines could face deportation, especially if their activity involves electioneering, immigration authorities have said, as the Southeast Asian nation prepares for next year’s presidential election.
The presidential and vice-presidential polls are scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022. Registration for candidates closed on Oct. 8, but the list of presidential hopefuls is not yet final as substitutions may take place until Nov. 15.
Among those seeking to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte, whose term will end in June, are the current vice president, and Duterte critic, Leni Robredo, former boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao, former actor and now Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa — who was the chief implementor of Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs” campaign — and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“Foreigners joining mass actions and protests including election campaigns is disrespectful to our prescribed laws and is considered a violation of their stay in the Philippines,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said earlier this week. “Those foreigners … found guilty of such acts, especially electioneering, shall be deported and blacklisted, perpetually barring them from returning to the Philippines.”
Morente said the authorities have zero tolerance for non-citizens “meddling in the internal affairs of the Philippines as a sovereign nation.
“We are sending this early reminder as we have encountered so many deportation cases of foreigners who have engaged in political activities in the past,” he added.

Political activities
In 2018, four foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country on charges of participating in political activities. Among them was Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who had lived in the Philippines for nearly three decades and who had publicly denounced Duterte’s deadly anti-drug campaign.
In 2013, Dutch activist Thomas van Beersum was deported after he was photographed shouting at a Filipino police officer as he joined a protest held during the annual presidential state of the nation address.
Another foreign national, Canadian student Kim Chatillon-Miller, was deported the same year, also for joining an anti-SONA demonstration.
Around 62 million Filipinos over the age of 18 are expected to take part in next year’s presidential vote, which will coincide with general elections.
Politicians from across the country will vie for more than 18,000 positions — at the Senate, House of Representatives, party-list groups, and the national and sub-national administration.


Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program
Updated 16 October 2021

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

ISLAMABAD: An animal sanctuary in the Pakistani capital claims to be the first in the country to introduce a dedicated trap-neuter-vaccinate-return program to deal with
stray dogs.
The initiative is aimed at using humane methods to manage thousands of free-roaming dogs in Islamabad often seen by authorities and the public as a threat due to their aggressive behavior and them carrying diseases such as rabies.
The Comprehensive Disaster Response Services Benji Project Animal Sanctuary in the city has estimated there are at least 3 million stray dogs in Pakistan, with upward of 50,000 culled each year.
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control has said that more than 80,500 cases of dog bites are reported by basic health units across Pakistan annually, and the World Health Organization estimates that up to 5,000 people die of rabies in the country
every year.
The solution adopted by authorities in most major Pakistani cities is culling of the animals either by shooting them or feeding them poisonous food.
But animal rights groups have advocated vaccination and spaying methods as a better, more humane alternative.
The CDRS Benji Project is testing out one such solution with Pakistan’s first dedicated TNVR program, aimed at reducing both the number of stray dogs and the suffering they have been subjected to for decades, while also making them safer through vaccination, and training to be less aggressive.
“We realized that TNVR is the only way that we can help in reducing, humanely, the number of dogs that roam the streets,” project director Quatrina Hosain told Arab News.
“We have no idea what kind of level of poisoning takes place or shooting takes place ... but one estimate is that it’s upward of 50,000 dogs being killed every year. And that is not the solution,” she said.
She pointed out that the sanctuary’s latest arrivals were 15 puppies brought in from Rawalpindi after their mothers were poisoned.
“It (culling) is cruel and inhumane, because they don’t differentiate between nursing mothers, pregnant dogs, and it is just a terrible thing to do. I believe that nobody wants to kill dogs, but they don’t want the dogs to multiply at the level that they are. So TNVR is the only humane way,” Hosain added.
A single female dog can deliver more than a dozen puppies a year, or more than 80 over her lifetime, according to animal rights NGO Four Paws International. Without loving homes to provide adequate shelter, food, and medical care, puppies and kittens — in Pakistan and countries around the world without adequate care for strays — are frequently left to fend for themselves.
Born under less-than-ideal conditions, most of the pups do not survive their first weeks of life — during the winter months many freeze to death, starve when their mothers are killed by traffic, are attacked and eaten by other animals, and sometimes deliberately killed by humans.
CDRS wants to change this, which is why it set up a dedicated facility just a short drive away from Islamabad’s Gulberg Greens neighborhood.
Staff at the facility said that strays were an integral part of the larger ecosystem, particularly for their scavenger roles in removing leftover food such as carcasses and agricultural and city waste. They also help reduce rat populations.
The project is so far a humble beginning, but sanctuary workers are hopeful for more support from authorities and the public. They noted that Turkey was a good example to follow.
CDRS veterinarian, Dr. Hasnain Raza, said: “TNVR was implemented in Turkey some 20 years back, and it has shown very positive results in the country, so we are trying to implement that model in Pakistan. This is a model facility for showing people that it can work, and it is worth trying.
“But we can’t do it alone. In collaboration with the public sector and the private sector, together, we can make sure that animals are cared for in Pakistan.”


Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
Updated 15 October 2021

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
  • Attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing after his client pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment released against him last week
  • Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist

NEW YORK: The lawyer for an Afghan man awaiting trial in Manhattan federal court on charges that he commanded the Taliban fighters responsible in the killing of three American soldiers said Friday it was “preposterous” to charge his client in deaths that occurred in a war the US started.
Attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing after his client, Hajji Najibullah, pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment released against him last week.
Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
But the new indictment accused him of commanding the Taliban fighters responsible for a fatal ambush of the three service members in Afghanistan in 2008.
The attack killed Matthew L. Hilton, of Livonia, Michigan; Joseph A. McKay, of Brooklyn, and Mark Palmateer, of Poughkeepsie, New York. Najibullah was also charged with playing a role in the downing of a US military helicopter later in the same year.
Gombiner said evidence will show the allegations are not true.
The lawyer said the deaths of American soldiers was an “immense tragedy.”
“Nobody disputes that,” Gombiner said.
But he said it “is preposterous” that his client should be held responsible for murder in a US courtroom for the death of “American soldiers fighting in a war commenced by the United States.”
US District Judge Katherine Polk Failla interrupted Gombiner, accusing him of having “gone off on a huge P.R. campaign.”
She added: “I want you to talk to me and not the press.”
The lawyer, however, said prosecutors were to blame for publicizing the charges through a news release “that was circulated around the world.” The lawyer noted that he refused to comment when reporters asked him about the new charges.
Assistant US Attorney David Denton told the judge that Gombiner was raising arguments “that have been raised and dismissed before, particularly as it relates to the Taliban.”
Najibullah, 45, was extradited to the United States last year to face charges including hostage taking, conspiracy and kidnapping.
The original indictment charged him with orchestrating the abduction of David Rohde, who then worked for The New York Times, and Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin, when they were on their way to interview a Taliban leader.
Both men made a dramatic escape from a Taliban-controlled compound in Pakistan’s tribal areas more than seven months after their Nov. 10, 2008, kidnapping. Their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was a third kidnapping victim. He escaped a few weeks after Ludin and Rohde.

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Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
Updated 15 October 2021

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
  • Both women were found dead in Kenya this week
  • Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes

NAIROBI: Cynthia Makokha was a 17-year-old student and volleyball player. Agnes Tirop was a 25-year-old rising athletics star, who finished fourth in the 5,000m race at the Tokyo Olympics and had won two World Championship bronze medals.
Both women were found dead in Kenya this week, and while their murders are not linked they have shone a spotlight on violence against women, which the government says has grown worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tirop was found in her bed at her home in the town of Iten, with multiple stab wounds to the neck. Police on Thursday arrested a man they described as her husband, whom they called “the main suspect.”
Makokha, who was a student at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in Nairobi, was raped, killed and then dumped in a river. She had been on her way to visit family in Western Kenya on Oct. 4 when she disappeared. Her body was found days later.
One suspect is in custody, Mumias East sub-county police commander Stephen Mwoni told Reuters.
Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes, and a third of Kenyan girls experience some form of sexual violence before turning 18, according to the Gender Violence Recovery Center at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
“I’m scared,” said 17-year-old Latifah Shaban, who shared a bunk bed with Makokha. She said Makokha often woke up at 3am, cracked the hallway door open, and used that light to study. “I’ve heard a lot of rape cases. I’m just always scared about men… it’s worse,” she said.
The school’s dorms are only a few months old, created to help protect the girls, many of whom come from vulnerable living situations, administrators said.
“As much as we are trying to ensure that the girls are safe, outside they…. are not safe,” said Claris Akinyi, the school’s principal.
Tirop’s family told Kenya Television Network that she had separated from the man suspected of killing her because she suspected he had cheated on her when she was competing in Japan.
Police say that after Tirop’s murder, they found a new athletics trophy, still carefully wrapped, in her living room.
On social media, fellow athletes and politicians shared messages of condolence, as did sportswear manufacturer Adidas and the World Athletics governing body.
“Agnes was an incredible person, a record breaking athlete and a beloved member of our family,” Adidas posted https://twitter.com/adidasrunning/status/1448344158087827457?s=20 on Twitter.
At Makokha’s school, rows of seated girls passed around tissues to wipe their tears as they remembered their fellow student. One girl untied her sweatshirt from around the waist to cry into it; another clutched a poster saying: “STOP KILLING.”


Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
Updated 15 October 2021

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
  • Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country's constitution
  • "I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems," German Chancellor said

BRUSSELS: The European Union should resolve its differences by talking to each other rather than through court decisions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, responding to a question on the dispute with Poland over the rule of law.
“We are all member states of the European Union, which means we have the duty always to try to find compromise — without giving up our principles, obviously,” Merkel told reporters after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Brussels.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country’s constitution, undermining the central tenet of the European Union and fueling talk that Poland could one day quit the 27-nation bloc.
Poland’s right-wing populist government has clashed regularly over issues ranging from LGBT rights to judicial independence with the European Commission, triggering a series of European Court of Justice cases.
“I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems,” Merkel said. “It is certainly right that, from time to time, cases have to be decided by the European Court of Justice.”
The chancellor, who will leave office once a new German coalition is formed, said she was concerned by the number of cases ending up at the EU’s top court.
De Croo said he was on the same page as Merkel
“This could become a big issue, but we could prevent it becoming a big issue if we engage ... I think that just criticizing and finger-pointing from the outside is not going to lead us anywhere,” he said.