Myanmar court defers verdicts in Suu Kyi trial to Dec. 6

 Detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw. (AFP file photo)
Detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 30 November 2021

Myanmar court defers verdicts in Suu Kyi trial to Dec. 6

 Detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw. (AFP file photo)
  • Suu Kyi now appears most weekdays at the junta courtroom, with her legal team saying last month the hectic schedule was taking a toll on the 76-year-old’s health

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: A court in military-ruled Myanmar deferred on Tuesday verdicts in the trial of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Dec. 6, a source familiar with the proceedings said.
The court had been due to rule on charges of incitement and violations of a law on natural disasters, accusations that Suu Kyi has rejected.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not give a reason for the deferral.
The Nobel laureate has been detained since the generals ousted her government in the early hours of February 1, ending the Southeast Asian country’s brief democratic interlude.
More than 1,200 people have been killed and over 10,000 arrested in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
Suu Kyi faces three years in prison if found guilty of incitement against the military — although analysts say it is unlikely she will be taken away to jail on Tuesday.
Journalists have been barred from proceedings in the special court in the military-built capital Naypyidaw and Suu Kyi’s lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media.
The courtroom will remain off-limits to reporters for the verdict, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun recently said.
Days after the coup Suu Kyi was hit with obscure charges for possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies, and for violating coronavirus restrictions during elections her National League for Democracy (NLD) won in 2020.
The junta has since added a slew of other indictments, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud.
Suu Kyi now appears most weekdays at the junta courtroom, with her legal team saying last month the hectic schedule was taking a toll on the 76-year-old’s health.
Suu Kyi’s long spells of house arrest under a previous junta were spent at her family’s colonial-era mansion in Yangon, where she would appear before thousands gathered on the other side of her garden fence.
Min Aung Hlaing’s regime has confined her to an undisclosed location in the capital, with her link to the outside world limited to brief pre-trial meetings with her lawyers.
At her first court appearance, she used them to send a message of defiance, vowing the NLD would endure and asking the party faithful to remain united.
But in October her team were hit with a gag order after they relayed vivid testimony from deposed president Win Myint describing how he rejected a military offer to resign to save himself during the coup.
In recent weeks the trials of other ranking members of Suu Kyi’s NLD have wrapped up, with the junta doling out harsh sentences.
A former chief minister was sentenced to 75 years in jail earlier this month, while a close Suu Kyi aide was jailed for 20.


Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU
Updated 19 January 2022

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU
  • The men were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn

FOSSALTA DI PIAVE, Italy: Police in Italy and Albania have arrested more than 20 people accused of cashing in several hundred million euros to smuggle hundreds of refugees and migrants into the EU from Turkey on rented yachts and other leisure vessels, authorities said on Wednesday.

Two brothers who are Iraqi citizens are accused of masterminding a smuggling ring that mostly involved people fleeing Iraq and Syria. The men were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn.

The suspects, identified as Alaa Qasim Rahima, 38, and Omar Qasim Rahima, 30, are accused of running a ring that helped bring Syrians from Turkey to the EU using a network of associates in various countries.

They are believed to be part of a wider ring with as many as 80 members that allegedly organized at least 30 smuggling operations that transported at least 1,100 people by boat from Turkey to Europe.


Wounds of war cast pall on Ethiopia’s epiphany festival

Wounds of war cast pall on Ethiopia’s epiphany festival
Updated 19 January 2022

Wounds of war cast pall on Ethiopia’s epiphany festival

Wounds of war cast pall on Ethiopia’s epiphany festival
  • A former seat of the royal empire in Amhara region, Gondar has long been premier spot to mark Timkat

GONDAR, Ethiopia: Growing up, Arega Tekeba’s fondest memories involved the feasts his father would prepare for Ethiopia’s Orthodox epiphany festival Timkat — the way he would lead their family in song while roasting a freshly slaughtered sheep. But those memories are now acutely painful.

Arega’s father, an ethnic Amhara militiaman, was shot dead last year while battling ethnic Tigrayan rebels, joining thousands of others killed in the 14-month war ravaging Africa’s second-most populous country.

Wary of spending this year’s Timkat with grieving relatives, Arega instead celebrated alone on Wednesday in the northern city of Gondar, where residents said thoughts of the war dead cast a pall over a typically joyous occasion.

A former seat of the royal empire in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, Gondar has long been the premier spot to mark Timkat, which commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.

Donning sparkling white tunics and dresses, worshippers march in a raucous parade each year that culminates in an all-night prayer session, then leap the next morning into 17th-century stone baths filled with holy water. This week, though, the festivities were stained with signs of the war’s toll: Gondar’s hospitals teemed with wounded combatants, while families like Arega’s confronted the absence of the deceased.

“There are people who lost more relatives than me. I know one house where six or seven people are dead,” Arega, also a militia fighter, said.

“It’s the memories that make us sad, even more than the deaths.”

Ethiopia’s war broke out in November 2020 following months of mounting rancor between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the former ruling party of the northernmost Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

After several twists and turns on the battlefield, a government offensive has turned the tide yet again, with the rebels retreating into Tigray.

Foreign powers now hope the two sides can reach a deal to end fighting that has displaced millions and, according to UN estimates, driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation.

The US this week sent its top Africa diplomat and its regional special envoy to Addis Ababa, eyeing what it terms an “opening for peace.”

But any push by Abiy for reconciliation would encounter stiff resistance in Gondar, where combatants, politicians and ordinary residents celebrating Timkat told AFP that the TPLF, officially a terrorist group, must now be destroyed.

The mere idea of talks is “an insult for the Amhara people,” said Demoz Kassie Mekonnen, a senior official in the National Movement of Amhara, an opposition party.


Indonesian militant linked to Bali bombings jailed for 15 years

Indonesian militant linked to Bali bombings jailed for 15 years
Updated 19 January 2022

Indonesian militant linked to Bali bombings jailed for 15 years

Indonesian militant linked to Bali bombings jailed for 15 years
  • Zulkarnaen sentenced on terrorism charges after being labeled a ‘key asset’ for radical group
  • Extremist leader with ties to Al-Qaeda arrested in December 2020 after evading capture for 18 years

JAKARTA: A former commander of a militant group linked to the 2002 Bali bombings was sentenced to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges by an Indonesian court on Wednesday.

Arif Sunarso, known as Zulkarnaen, was a commander of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, a Southeast Asian group with ties to Al-Qaeda.

The group was blamed for bomb attacks on two nightclubs that killed 202 people on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali in 2002.

Zulkarnaen was arrested in December 2020 after evading capture for 18 years.

In its verdict on Wednesday, the East Jakarta District Court said the 58-year-old was “proven guilty of committing terrorism and is sentenced to 15 years behind bars.”

Zulkarnaen was convicted of withholding information and sheltering another militant. The sentencing did not relate directly to the 2002 attacks.

Indonesian prosecutors had demanded a life sentence for Zulkarnaen, describing him as a “key asset” for JI due to his experience in training militants in Afghanistan and the Philippines.

Zulkarnaen became the group’s operations chief following the arrest of his predecessor, Encep Nurjaman, known as Hambali, in Thailand in 2003.

During his trial, which began last September, Zulkarnaen said that he had led JI’s military wing but was not involved in the Bali bombings.

Asludin Hatjani, Zulkarnaen’s defense lawyer, told Arab News that he believed the sentence was disproportionately severe.

“Based on the evidence presented in the trial, the 15-year sentence is too long,” Hatjani said. “In the verdict, (Zulkarnaen) was not convicted because of the Bali bombing case, but rather his involvement as a member of JI, because JI is an illegal organization.”

However, Thiolina Marpaung, a survivor of the 2002 attack, said the verdict came as a disappointment.

“He should have been given life in prison,” Marpaung said. “He spent 18 years as a fugitive and didn’t surrender of his own accord. That means he still had bad intentions.”

Nasir Abbas, a former senior member of JI who is working with the Indonesian government on deradicalization programs, said it was important that Zulkarnaen be deradicalized as he was still a respected figure among JI militants. “It’s important to deradicalize him before he is allowed to mingle with other terrorism convicts or general prisoners,” Abbas told Arab News.
Noor Huda Ismail, a former member of the militant group Darul Islam and now an expert on militancy and deradicalization, said Zulkarnaen’s case demonstrates JI’s vast network and its determination to protect key members. 

"JI threat will not go away with this verdict," he added.


Pakistani capital on high alert after deadly militant attack

Pakistani capital on high alert after deadly militant attack
Updated 19 January 2022

Pakistani capital on high alert after deadly militant attack

Pakistani capital on high alert after deadly militant attack
  • On late Monday, two militants on a motorbike opened fire, killing a police officer and injuring two others in the center of Islamabad
  • Militants often target security forces in Pakistan, but the country’s capital has been largely peaceful in recent years

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has put the federal capital Islamabad on high alert after a recent militant attack in which an officer was killed and two others injured, police said on Wednesday.

Militants often target security forces in Pakistan, but the country’s capital has been largely peaceful in recent years.

On late Monday, two militants on a motorbike opened fire on police officials who were patrolling the city. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who on Tuesday attended the funeral of the officer killed in the attack, said both militants were killed during the shootout.

The minister did not share more details about the incident, but the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan issued a statement claiming responsibility for the assault.

Inspector Naeem Iqbal, a spokesperson for the Islamabad Police, told Arab News on Wednesday that the Pakistani capital “has been put on high alert after the terrorist attack.”

“A comprehensive strategy has been devised to avoid recurrence of the attacks on police officials,” he said, adding that 55 police have been killed in the city in different militant attacks in the past seven years.

“The overall law and order in the federal capital is under control,” Iqbal said. “We are implementing snap-checking and carrying out combing operations in different areas of the city to apprehend the criminals.”

The TTP, which are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic law. In December, the group declared an end to a month-long ceasefire, accusing the Pakistani government of breaching terms including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.
Earlier this month, the head of the Pakistani army’s media wing said armed operations against the group had been relaunched since the end of the ceasefire.

Khawaja Khalid Farooq, a former chief of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority, told Arab News that the militants are now trying to show their strength after talks with the government had failed.

“They have adopted a hit-and-run approach to target Islamabad police to create a scare in the federal capital,” he said, adding that different militant groups have joined their hands lately to target security forces across the country.

He expressed doubt over the possibility of any major attacks but said militants were still a challenge for the country’s security apparatus.

“Militant groups in Pakistan have weakened over the years in the wake of military operations, but we should acknowledge that their sleeper cells still exist to carry out sporadic terror activities,” Farooq said.

“Regular operations against the militants based on intelligence information can help deal with the challenge.”

Security analyst retired Gen. Ejaz Awan said the Islamabad attack was an isolated incident.

“This is neither a trend nor a fresh wave of militancy in Pakistan,” he told Arab News. “People should not panic. Our vigilant and brave security forces have already broken the backbone of the militants.”

Best known in the West for attempting to kill Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who went on to win the Nobel Prize for her work promoting girls’ education, the TTP have killed thousands of military personnel and civilians over the years in bombings and suicide attacks.

Among their attacks was a 2014 assault on a military-run school in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which killed 149 people, including 132 children.

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Spain’s COVID infection rate drops for second straight day

Spain’s COVID infection rate drops for second straight day
Updated 19 January 2022

Spain’s COVID infection rate drops for second straight day

Spain’s COVID infection rate drops for second straight day
  • The rate as measured over the preceding 14 days fell to 3,286 cases per 100,000 people from Tuesday's 3,306
  • Tuesday's drop was the first since Nov. 2, when the rate was below 50

MADRID: Spain’s COVID-19 infection rate fell for the second day in a row on Wednesday after 11 weeks of surges to record highs, raising hope among health authorities that the frenetic spread of the omicron variant may be slowing.
The rate as measured over the preceding 14 days fell to 3,286 cases per 100,000 people from Tuesday’s 3,306 and Wednesday’s record 3,397 cases, Health Minister Carolina Darias told a news conference.
Tuesday’s drop was the first since Nov. 2, when the rate was below 50.
“It’s important to see whether the decline consolidates in the coming days, which, if confirmed, would indicate that we’ve reached the peak of this wave or are at least very, very close,” Darias said.
She added that the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus accounted for between 70 percent and 90 percent of infections across Spain’s regions.
Despite the long surge in cases since November, hospital admissions and deaths remain well below those seen in earlier waves of the pandemic, thanks in large part to Spain’s high vaccination rate — 80.5 percent of its 47 million population.
Darias reiterated her call for Spaniards to take booster shots, which she said markedly improve protection against the omicron and Delta variants.
So far in the pandemic, Spain has registered more than 8.5 million infections and over 91,000 deaths.