Indonesia capital move to remote Borneo sparks rights concerns

Indonesia capital move to remote Borneo sparks rights concerns
Motorists are stuck in the morning rush hour traffic in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 26 January 2022

Indonesia capital move to remote Borneo sparks rights concerns

Indonesia capital move to remote Borneo sparks rights concerns
  • New city named Nusantara, which means ‘archipelago’ in old Javanese
  • Relocation to ease burden on traffic-clogged, polluted and sinking Jakarta

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government recently signed a law to move ahead with its plan to relocate the capital from Jakarta to a jungle site in East Kalimantan on Borneo island, but the massive $32 million project is raising concerns among the region’s indigenous communities.

The potential change in capital city has been under discussion for decades, since Jakarta, a megacity of 10 million people, faces chronic traffic congestion, regular flooding and heavy pollution. It is also one of the world’s fastest sinking cities, with its northern suburbs falling at an estimated 25 centimeters per year. It is estimated that one-third of Jakarta could be submerged by 2050.

However, rights groups have warned that the new state capital law aimed at easing the burden on Jakarta was rushed without consultation.

Pradarma Rupang of environmental group Mining Advocacy Network, or JATAM, said the government has long ignored a number of critical issues in the new capital region in Borneo, including access to clean water. He added that local residents have until now largely depended on rainwater.

“This capital policy was taken without a scientific study,” he said. “The process has been reckless, lacking in participation, and was not based on dialogue with the people.

“The indigenous population is not at all visible in the new state capital law. While on the ground, the existence of the indigenous population is very clear,” Erasmus Cahyadi, deputy secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, told Arab News.  

According to the alliance’s data, at least 20,000 people from 21 indigenous groups live in the area that has been designated for the new city.

The law permitting the start of construction was passed by the Indonesian parliament last week. It covers how the new city’s development will be funded and governed. Planning Minister Suharso Monoarfa announced at the time that new capital will be called Nusantara, which translates to “archipelago” in old Javanese.  

“The new capital has a central function and is a symbol of the identity of the nation, as well as a new center of economic gravity,” the minister said during a parliamentary session.

In constructing a purpose-built capital, Indonesia will be following a path that two other Southeast Asian nations — Malaysia and Myanmar — have taken over the past two decades.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo formally launched the relocation project in 2019, in what has been widely viewed as an attempt to seal his legacy before the end of his second and final term in office until 2024. The new state capital law was approved last week, paving the way for construction to begin.

The megaproject also aims to redistribute wealth across Indonesia. Java, the island on which Jakarta is located, is home to about 60 percent of the country’s population and more than half of economic activity. While the current capital is set to remain Indonesia’s commercial and financial hub, its administration will move to the new city, about 2,000 kilometers northeast of Jakarta. The relocation process is scheduled for completion by 2045.

The government has said that initial planning had been carried out by clearing 56,180 hectares of land to build roads, the presidential palace, government offices and Parliament.

The region surrounding the Nusantara site is known for its deep jungles and various endangered animal species, including orangutans. Concerns over the future of wildlife on Borneo have grown since the plan to move the capital city was made public. Indigenous communities living nearby have also raised concerns over the impacts of construction.

Riri Al-Kahfi, a 29-year-old who lives in East Kalimantan’s seaport city of Balikpapan, where the new city will be located, told Arab News there are growing fears over the survival of local cultures.

“Our hope is that the massive development for the new capital won’t wipe away the culture and diversity in Kalimantan, especially in the regions close to the new capital city,” she said, but added that the city’s construction could help equitable economic development in Indonesia.

“We hope that the positive impact will be felt by the local communities, maybe through empowering local youth and giving them opportunities in the new capital city.”


US announces easing visa, family remittance restrictions for Cuba

A vintage car passes by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, October 30, 2020. Picture taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS)
A vintage car passes by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, October 30, 2020. Picture taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 sec ago

US announces easing visa, family remittance restrictions for Cuba

A vintage car passes by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, October 30, 2020. Picture taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS)
  • To boost the flow of remittances, the US government will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non family remittances to “support independent Cuban entrepreneurs”

WASHINGTON: The United States said Monday it is easing restrictions imposed during former president Donald Trump’s administration on travel to Cuba and sending of family remittances between the United States and the communist island.
“The Cuban people are confronting an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and our policy will continue to focus on empowering the Cuban people to help them create a future free from repression and economic suffering,” the State Department said.
The loosening of the embargo on Cuba will see increased visa processing, including at the Havana consulate, but with most visas still handled at the US embassy in Guyana.
The statement said it will “facilitate educational connections” between the two countries, as well as support for professional research including “support for expanded Internet access and remittance process companies.”
To boost the flow of remittances, the US government will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non family remittances to “support independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”
Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, denounced the lifting of some restrictions, saying that the Cuban regime “continues its ruthless persecution of countless Cubans from all walks of life” following unprecedented street protests last year.
The easing of travel “risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons,” he said in a statement. “Those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial. For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed.”
The thaw comes in the wake of a series of mysterious illnesses suffered by US personnel and family members in Cuba in what has become to be known as “Havana Syndrome.”
US officials say they have yet to determine exactly what happened in the incidents but a senior official told reporters that there is an “appropriate security posture.”


Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis

Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis
Updated 51 min 54 sec ago

Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis

Sri Lanka proposes privatizing national airline amid crisis
  • President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister last Thursday in a bid to quell the island nation’s political and economic crisis

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s new prime minister on Monday proposed privatizing the country’s loss-making national airline as part of reforms aimed at solving the country worst economic crisis in decades.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a message to the people that he plans to propose a special relief budget that will take the place of the development-oriented budget earlier approved for this year, He said it would channel funds previously allocated for infrastructure development to public welfare.
He said the country’s financial health is so poor that the government has been forced to print money to pay the salaries of government workers and buy other goods and services.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister last Thursday in a bid to quell the island nation’s political and economic crisis.
The president’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down as prime minister on May 9 amid violence that left nine people dead and more than 200 wounded. Protesters have demanded the powerful Rajapaksa family resign to take responsibility for leading the country into the economic crisis.
For months, Sri Lankans have been forced to wait in long lines to purchase scarce imported essentials such as medicines, fuel, cooking gas and food because of a severe shortage of foreign currency. Government revenues have also plunged.
Wickremesinghe said Sri Lankan Airlines lost about $123 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which ended in March, and its aggregate losses exceeded $1 billion as of March 2021.
“Even if we privatize Sri Lankan Airlines, this is a loss that we must bear. You must be aware that this is a loss that must be borne even by the poor people of this country who have never stepped on an airplane,” Wickremesinghe said.
Sri Lankan Airlines was managed by Emirates Airlines from 1998 to 2008.
Sri Lanka is nearly bankrupt and has suspended repayment of about $7 billion in foreign loans due this year out of $25 billion to be repaid by 2026. The country’s total foreign debt is $51 billion. The finance ministry says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves.
Wickremesinghe said about $75 billion is needed urgently to help provide people with essential items, but the country’s treasury is struggling to find even $1 billion.
Shortages of medicines are so acute that it is difficult to buy anti-rabies medicines and drugs to treat heart disease, he said.
“I have no desire to hide the truth and to lie to the public. Although these facts are unpleasant and terrifying, this is the true situation. For a short period, our future will be even more difficult than the tough times that we have passed,” Wickremesinghe said.
“We will face considerable challenges and adversity. However, this period will not be long,” he said, adding that countries with which he has spoken have pledged to help in the next few months.
Wickremesinghe is struggling to form a new Cabinet, with many parties reluctant to join his government. They say Wickremesinghe’s appointment goes against tradition and the people’s will because he was defeated in 2020 elections and joined Parliament only through a seat allocated to his party.
However, parties have said they will support positive measures by Wickremesinghe to improve the economy while they remain in the opposition.
The main opposition United People’s Force party has introduced a no-confidence motion against the president for “not having properly exercised, performed and discharged the powers of the president under the constitution.”
The motion, to be taken up Tuesday, accuses Rajapaksa of being responsible for the economic crisis by introducing untimely tax cuts and prohibiting the use of agrochemicals, which resulted in crop failures.
Passage of the motion would not legally bind Rajapaksa to quit, but his refusal to do so could intensify anti-government protests and rock negotiations with other countries on economic aid. A challenge of Wickremesinghe’s appointment could also endanger the negotiations, which he leads.


Somalia’s foreign partners hail peaceful election of president

Newly elected Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves after he was sworn-in, in Mogadishu, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Newly elected Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves after he was sworn-in, in Mogadishu, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Somalia’s foreign partners hail peaceful election of president

Newly elected Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waves after he was sworn-in, in Mogadishu, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Somalia’s international partners had repeatedly warned the election delays were a dangerous distraction from the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists, who have been trying to overthrow the government for over a decade

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s international partners on Monday welcomed the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who takes office after months of political instability and faces crises including a violent insurgency and devastating drought.
Residents in Mogadishu raced through the streets banging metal cans and fired guns into the air in celebration as the result of the marathon poll was announced around midnight.
Many hope the vote — which concluded peacefully but was dogged by claims of irregularities — will draw a line under a political crisis that has lasted well over a year.
Outgoing President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended in February 2021 without an election and the protracted tussle for power that followed turned violent at times and caused divisions at the highest levels of government.
Somalia’s international partners had repeatedly warned the election delays were a dangerous distraction from the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists, who have been trying to overthrow the government for over a decade.
On Monday, the UK’s minister for Africa congratulated Mohamud, who ruled Somalia between 2012 and 2017, and is the first president to win a second term in the troubled Horn of Africa nation.
The UK “looks forward to continuing its close work to support on building stability, tackling Al-Shabab and supporting those affected by the devastating drought,” Minister Vicky Ford tweeted.
Mohamud has promised to transform Somalia into “a peaceful country that is at peace with the world.”
The East African regional bloc IGAD said Mohamud’s victory was “a clear testimony of the trust and confidence that the people of Somalia have in his leadership qualities.”

 


Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple

Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple
Updated 16 May 2022

Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple

Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple
  • Devotees at scaled-down event commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 40,000 would gather at Borobudur each year for the festivities

JAKARTA: Indonesian Buddhists on Monday marked the religious holiday of Vesak at the faith’s largest temple in the world, as celebrations returned to the holy site after two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 1,000 people, mostly dressed in all-white, attended a ceremony at Borobudur temple in Central Java to mark this year’s event, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha.

Monday’s celebrations mark the first time in two years that a public procession of this scale has been held again at the 9th-century temple, following restrictions imposed to curb coronavirus transmissions.

Prior to the public health outbreak, more than 40,000 Buddhist devotees from across the country and abroad would gather at Borobudur each year to celebrate Vesak.

“Naturally, as Buddhist devotees we are very happy we can celebrate the holy day of Vesak at Borobudur Temple, because the temple is the world’s biggest mandala,” Tanto Soegito Harsono, lead organizer of the event and regional leader of the country’s biggest Buddhist organization WALUBI, told Arab News.

Mandala, which is Sanskrit for circle or center, is a significant spiritual symbol in Buddhism.

“Let us realize the teachings of the Buddha in our daily lives,” Harsono said, alluding to the event’s theme.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, is also home to sizable Buddhist, Christian and other religious minorities. Centuries ago, this part of central Java was ruled by Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, whose cultural legacies remain through scattered temples and statues across the region.

In this year’s scaled-down celebrations, organizers say participants are capped at around 1,200 for the day’s ceremony, during which health protocols are mandatory.

Borobudur, made up of platforms that form a pyramid shape and topped with several stupas and Buddha statues, is also hosting a festival in the evening, which will see participants releasing 2,022 lit lanterns into the evening sky above the temple.

Christina, a 20-year-old college student visiting from Tangerang, a city near the capital Jakarta, had taken part in Vesak Day celebrations twice previously. She hopes this year will mark the return of the annual festivities in Borobudur.

“This year I get to participate as WALUBI’s marching band member during the procession,” Christina told Arab News.

“Celebrating Vesak in Borobudur is very meaningful for me.”


Chinese teachers leave Pakistan after deadly bombing at university

A security guard walks after a blast near a passenger van (not pictured) at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University o
A security guard walks after a blast near a passenger van (not pictured) at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University o
Updated 16 May 2022

Chinese teachers leave Pakistan after deadly bombing at university

A security guard walks after a blast near a passenger van (not pictured) at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University o
  • Four were killed in a suicide bombing at Karachi University’s Confucius Institute last month
  • Chinese nationals have frequently been targeted by separatists from Balochistan

KARACHI: Chinese teachers have left Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, a university official has confirmed, weeks after a targeted suicide blast killed their colleagues. 

Three Chinese language teachers and their Pakistani driver were killed in late April when a blast that also injured several others ripped through their van near Karachi University’s Confucius Institute. The attack was later claimed by the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army. 

Chinese nationals have frequently been targeted by separatists from Balochistan, where Beijing is involved in mega infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. 

Academic activities were suspended at the university following the attack last month, and all Chinese teachers were moved outside the campus. 

“On Sunday, all remaining 12 teachers at the institute left along with the remains of the deceased teachers for China,” Dr. Nadir Uddin, the Pakistani director of the Confucius Institute, told Arab News. 

“The institute has not been closed. It will go on, and academic activities here may soon be resumed through other methods.”

Launched in 2013, the Confucius Institute is a Chinese government-run body that offers language and cultural programs overseas conducted by Karachi University and the Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu. The institute’s Chinese director was among those killed in the bombing last month. 

Another Karachi university official said the Chinese teachers may not return. 

“The return of Chinese teachers is unlikely,” the official told Arab News on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press. 

“The administration has decided to resume academic activities in distance learning mode, in which teachers in China will teach Mandarin online.”

The Chinese Consulate in Karachi did not immediately respond to Arab News’ queries for this story. 

The bombing at the Confucius Institute was the first major attack on Chinese nationals in Pakistan since last year when a suicide bomber blew up a passenger bus. That incident killed 13 people, including nine Chinese workers employed at the Dasu Hydropower Project in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor framework that is central to China’s initiative to forge new “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

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