Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins

A victim of a police brutality, who was shot by Swazi Special Police Unit's Operation Service Support Unit (OSSU), is carried away on a stretcher in Mbabane on Oct. 20, 2021. (AFP)
A victim of a police brutality, who was shot by Swazi Special Police Unit's Operation Service Support Unit (OSSU), is carried away on a stretcher in Mbabane on Oct. 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 22 October 2021

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins
  • At least 30 health workers were treated for gunshot injuries, the nurses’ union said
  • At least 30 people have died since June in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history

MANZINI, Eswatini: Africa’s last absolute monarchy Eswatini on Thursday banned protests as regional mediators landed in the kingdom amid rumbling pro-democracy demonstrations.
A demonstrator died in hospital on Thursday from gunshot wounds suffered the day before when security forces opened fire on a protest, according to unions.
At least 30 health workers were treated for gunshot injuries, the nurses’ union said.
Railways workers led new protests on Thursday in the kingdom formerly known as Swaziland.
“Due to the spate of violent cases during protests, I have stopped all city and town municipals from issuing permits to hold protests,” Public Works Minister Prince Simelane told a news conference.
Internet access was limited, with Facebook completely shut off for a second day.
“Images that are coming from Eswatini are very disturbing indeed, and we can see that the political temperature is very hot,” Jeff Radebe, head of the mediators sent to the country by the 16-nation Southern African Development Community, told South Africa’s public broadcaster.
The Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union said in a statement that nurses and other workers who had converged on a public park in Mbabane, “were met with unprecedented show of force by the police and the army.”
“They were brutally dispersed and scattered all over the capital. As they were running, they were shot with live ammunition.”
The 30 injured were among more than 80 reported hurt on Wednesday in pro-democracy protests that have flared nationwide.
Radebe said the kingdom’s “issues are very complex,” and the team was “going there with an open mind, ensuring that we hear all views, so that at the end of the day the people of Eswatini... come up with a lasting solution.”
The latest flare-up in demonstrations has run for more than two weeks, spearheaded by students, civil servants and transport workers.
King Mswati III is Africa’s last absolute monarch, who enjoys flaunting his wealth and showering his 15 wives with lavish gifts.
Yet he rules over one of the poorest countries in the world, where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty and a quarter of adults have HIV.

In a statement, the Communist Party of Swaziland said the situation at the largest government hospital in Mbabane on Wednesday resembled a “war zone.”
Hospital floors were “drenched in blood,” said the party, adding that police “invaded the hospital, shooting even nurses as they attended to the injured, worsening the situation.”
The nurse’s union said security forces kept shooting at nurses into the evening, even as they were traveling to work night shifts at hospitals.
“Clearly these blood-thirsty imbeciles, brood of vipers are hell-bent to kill nurses and the nation in defense of an ailing government,” the union said, calling on members not to treat any injured soldiers or police.
Five high-school students arrested during protests were arraigned on terrorism charges on Thursday for their role in the democracy push. Prosecutors accused them of burning down a police post.
At least 30 people have died since June in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history.
 


UK: omicron spreading quickly; time to work from home again

UK: omicron spreading quickly; time to work from home again
Updated 16 sec ago

UK: omicron spreading quickly; time to work from home again

UK: omicron spreading quickly; time to work from home again
  • Johnson said beginning next Monday, people should work from home if possible

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tighter restrictions Wednesday to stem the spread of the omicron variant, urging people in England to again work from home and mandating COVID-19 passes for entrance into nightclubs and large events.
Johnson said it was time to impose stricter measures to prevent a spike of hospitalizations and deaths as the new coronavirus variant spreads rapidly in the community.
“It has become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,” he said in a press conference. “Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of omicron could currently be between two and three days.”
Johnson said 568 cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed so far across the UK, and “the true number is certain to be much higher.”
He said while there wasn’t yet comprehensive data on how dangerous omicron is, rising hospitalization rates in South Africa, where the variant was first detected, suggested it has the potential to cause harm.
Scientists at the UK Health Security Agency said they expected the omicron variant to become the dominant strain in Britain in the next two to four weeks. The agency said so far most cases were located in London and southeast England.
The tighter restrictions will buy the government time to put booster jabs into more arms. Officials have set the target of offering booster shots to all adults by the end of January.
Johnson said beginning next Monday, people should work from home if possible. Starting on Friday, the legal requirement to wear a face mask will be widened to most indoor public places in England, including cinemas. Next week, having a COVID-19 pass showing a person has had both vaccine doses will be mandatory to enter nightclubs and places with large crowds.
Live music venues and nightclubs, which have long resisted vaccine passports, called the news devastating for an industry that’s just finding its feet again after prolonged periods of closure and restrictions. The blow is particularly hard ahead of the crucial Christmas and New Year period, they said.
The British government reported another 51,342 confirmed daily cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 161 more people dying. Overall Britain has seen over 146,000 deaths in the pandemic, the second-worst death toll in Europe after Russia.
The announcement came as Johnson and his government faced increasing pressure to explain reports that Downing Street staff enjoyed a Christmas party that breached the country’s coronavirus rules last winter, when cases of the delta variant soared and people were banned from holding most social gatherings. Johnson on Wednesday ordered an inquiry and said he was “furious” about the situation.
The revelations have angered many in Britain, with critics saying they heavily undermine the authority of Johnson’s Conservative government in imposing virus restrictions.


French police probe alleged Islamophobia by teacher at Catholic school

French police probe alleged Islamophobia by teacher at Catholic school
Updated 08 December 2021

French police probe alleged Islamophobia by teacher at Catholic school

French police probe alleged Islamophobia by teacher at Catholic school
  • He allegedly told student Muslims in Catholic schools are a problem and suggested he change his religion
  • 20% of students at Joseph-Wresinski d’Angers Catholic School are Muslim

LONDON: A teacher at a school in France has been suspended from his job and is being investigated by police following accusations made by a Muslim student of bigotry relating to his religion.

A student at the Joseph-Wresinski d’Angers Catholic School in the city of Angers lodged a formal complaint with local police, claiming that a teacher said Muslim students are a problem and suggested he “change his religion” during a discussion about French history, the Daily Mail reported. Police have launched an investigation into the student’s complaint, a local prosecutor said.

The teacher, who has not yet been named, lodged a complaint a day after the student, alleging “physical and verbal violence.”

According to the student, the incident began when the teacher digressed during a discussion about Catholic schools of the past.

He allegedly said: “Catholic schools should have continued to only accept Catholic students.” A student pointed at a Muslim classmate and responded: “But Catholic schools aren’t just reserved for Catholics.”

According to the Muslim student’s testimony, the teacher then said “that’s the problem,” adding: “Well, he could always change his religion.”

The student was said to be angry at the teacher’s response and stormed out of the room while shouting “racist.” For this the teacher lodged his complaint, saying the student pushed past him and yelled.

The teacher admitted to “inviting Muslims to join us and become Catholic,” but said the remark was intended as humor but “did not go down well with the class.”

Anthony Bélangé, director of the school, said 20 percent of his students are Muslim, and normally everyone at the school lives together “very peacefully.”

He added: “Conflicts between staff and students can happen, but the complaints have taken this to a new level.

“This is quite an emotionally charged situation and I’ve asked the students in the class to write a factual testimony of the events, which will be sent to the investigation team.”

France is home to around 5 million Muslims, the largest such population of any EU member state.


HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’

HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’
Updated 08 December 2021

HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’

HRW slams anti-immigration bill as ‘perhaps the most draconian in UK history’
  • It ‘seeks to dismantle core tenets of the international refugee regime, one which the UK helped establish’

LONDON: A bill being debated by British MPs would cause “more suffering” and “less protection” for asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch warned on Wednesday.

“Perhaps the most draconian immigration bill in the United Kingdom’s history is moving swiftly through parliament, currently in its final days of scrutiny in the Commons,” HRW said in a statement.

The Nationality and Borders Bill would see London introduce new measures that would crack down on a range of methods that asylum seekers use to enter the UK, including by introducing offshore processing for asylum seekers and introducing pushbacks at sea.

The bill “seeks to dismantle core tenets of the international refugee regime, one which the UK helped establish,” HRW said.

“It would see vulnerable Afghans and other asylum seekers being criminalized and imprisoned for up to four years; pushed back at sea; sent abroad for offshore asylum processing, and afforded lesser rights as refugees simply for exercising their basic right to seek asylum in the UK.”

The recent exodus of NATO allies from Afghanistan, HRW said, is an example of how these new rules are not fit for purpose.

“Less than two weeks ago, at least 27 people died after their boat capsized crossing the English Channel. Among those rescued and brought safely to British shores was an Afghan soldier who had served alongside British forces in Afghanistan and his family,” the rights group added.

“Under the proposed law, refugees like this Afghan soldier would face the prospect of being pushed back at sea or taken to an offshore detention site … Many Afghans are at imminent risk and don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if they’ll get a place under the UK’s resettlement scheme, forcing them to hastily flee by boat or on foot.

“Under this bill, they would face pushbacks and, if lucky enough to arrive, criminalization, and discriminatory treatment in the asylum system.”


UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower

UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower
Updated 08 December 2021

UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower

UK’s Afghan evacuation email hotline still broken, says whistleblower
  • More than 5,000 emails from desperate Afghans sat in inbox at any given time
  • Inquiry into Britain’s handling of evacuation continues

LONDON: An error in the UK Foreign Office’s IT systems which prevented staff from opening emails sent by desperate Afghans hoping for evacuation has still not been fixed, a whistleblower has revealed.

During the emergency evacuation of British citizens and their Afghan allies, officials from different parts of the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office were restricted from opening some emails because they were using separate computer systems.

In damning testimony former civil servant Raphael Marshall said officials trying to assist were “visibly appalled by our chaotic system.”

Marshall said there were usually more than 5,000 unread messages in the inbox at any given moment, with desperate subject lines such as: “Please save my children.”

It has emerged that the issue — related to the merger of the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office — has not yet been resolved.

An employee working in the FCDO told the Daily Mail: “To this day, the FCDO and DFID IT systems are not synchronized. In some instances we cannot send emails or messages to our ex-DFID counterparts and have to do it instead using our personal phones.

“We run two different softwares, on which the majority of our work is done. They are not compatible with each other. On email, it is common for our messages not to go through because of security limitations.”

They warned that if a “major crisis” happened, the office would be hampered by the same issue.

A parliamentary inquiry into the UK’s chaotic evacuation efforts during the fall of Kabul is continuing.

The British government said it had evacuated 18,000 people from Afghanistan — 15,000 during the initial wave of airlifts, and a further 3,000 since the Taliban consolidated full control of Afghanistan’s capital.


London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official

London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official
Updated 08 December 2021

London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official

London’s handling of Kabul evacuation ‘unforgivable,’ says ex-official
  • ‘The entire operation was to manage the political fallout rather than to manage the crisis’
  • Government spokesperson: ‘This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations’

LONDON: An anonymous official from the UK’s Foreign Office has described the government’s handling of the Kabul evacuation as “unforgivable.”

The senior civil servant, who remains anonymous, told the BBC program “Newsnight” that the way the evacuation was handled caused “huge amounts of trauma and suffering … and most probably lives (were) also lost.”

In August, British forces evacuated around 15,000 Afghan allies and their families from Kabul as the Western-backed government fell to the Taliban.

“The entire operation was to manage the political fallout of what was happening, rather than to actually manage the crisis and that, for me, was the most upsetting and most difficult aspect of it,” she said.

Her condemnation comes as the British government faces a parliamentary inquiry that has exposed damning information about the evacuation operation and its failings.

Former Foreign Office official Raphael Marshall told MPs that hundreds of thousands of emails went unread during the evacuation of Britons and their allies — an account corroborated by the BBC’s source.

She said: “You had dozens of people reading harrowing horrific bits of information in emails and knowing full well that nothing was going to be done with any of it, other than a report at the end of the day to say the email had been read.”

The official, who has decades of experience working in diplomacy, said the evacuation was the worst operation she had witnessed in her career.

The government told the BBC that 1,000 Foreign Office staff worked tirelessly alongside others to carry out the evacuation.

“This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. They are still working to help others leave,” a spokesperson said.

“Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but our commitment to them is enduring, and since the end of the operation we have helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”