France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Wednesday the government this week it was closing down an activist-run media outlet and a Muslim website deemed at odds with national values. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 January 2022

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law
  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would shut down "Nantes Révoltée", a local media platform, which had relayed information about the protest
  • The government has been making increasing use of powers to shut down organisations or groups

PARIS: The French government said this week it was closing down an activist-run media outlet and a Muslim website deemed at odds with “national values“
This is the latest in a series of steps that rights groups and lawyers say infringe on democratic freedoms.
Following a violent protest against the extreme right in Nantes, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would shut down “Nantes Révoltée,” a local media platform, which had relayed information about the protest.
Days earlier, he had announced plans to close the website “La Voie Droite,” which publishes Islamic religious content.
The government has been making increasing use of powers to shut down organizations or groups. In the last two years, there have been 12 such shutdowns, an uptick from seven between 2016 and 2019, according to French public records.
Before dissolving an association, the Ministry of Interior informs the concerned party, which has 15 days to reply with its counter-arguments. Then, once the decree is published, the organization can take the case to the Council of State, an administrative court.
To date, Nante Révoltée says it has not received any communication from the Ministry of Interior regarding its closure.
Of the organizations shut by decree since January 2020, seven are Muslim-related, including associations to run mosques, a humanitarian organization and anti-Islamophobia groups, the records show. Three far-right groups have been closed.
Announcing the plan to close “Nantes Révoltée” to MPs in the French parliament on Tuesday, Darmanin described it as an “ultra-left” group that had repeatedly called for violence against the state and the police in the run-up to the weekend protest, at which three people were arrested, shop windows were broken and fights broke out.
Raphael Kempf, a lawyer for Nantes Révoltée, said that a website sharing information on an event could not be held responsible for what happens there.
“We are seeing a government that is using this legal tool to attack voices that criticize them,” says Kempf, adding that the government now has enhanced powers under 2021 legislation that makes inciting violence grounds for dissolution. Previously the groups had to themselves be armed or violent.
CRITICAL VOICES
The 2021 legislation was introduced in response to violent attacks that France has seen in recent years, including the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in 2020 and the 2015 attacks on Paris that killed 130 people.
But some lawyers and campaign groups say the authorities are overreaching to muzzle critical voices and target anyone practicing a form of Islam not approved by the state.
During a TV interview on Sunday, Darmanin announced the Islamic website “La Voie Droite” would be closed using the 2021 legislation for “content inciting for hatred and calling for jihad.”
La Voie Droite denied publishing such content, saying in a statement that “when we encourage Muslims to respect the texts, it is opposed to any type of threat or legitimation of violence.”
The French Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
In another step that has alarmed some rights groups, the French government has ramped up censorship of content on the Internet deemed to be terrorist-related or justifying violence under a 2014 law. Officials say that is necessary to stem violent attacks.
Noémie Levain, a lawyer with digital rights organization La Quadrature du Net, said these powers were open to abuse.
“The decision-making process is opaque,” she said. “[The police] can designate something Muslim as problematic even if it is not violent, they can do the same with something activist that is calling to protest.”


WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis
Updated 35 min 44 sec ago

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis
  • Executive director of the UN World Food Programme David Beasley: We’ve got to get those fields (Ukraine) back operational, we’ve got to get those silos full again
  • UAE Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Mariam Al-Mheiri: Let’s keep markets open, the flow of food needs to keep flowing because if food does not flow we get famine

DUBAI: One third of the world’s food supply is wasted every year, which is why the world food crisis was one of the pressing topics discussed on the first day of panel discussions at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.

Panelist David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, said the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

“Because of this crisis, we are taking food from the hungry to give to the starving,” Beasley said.

He explained that if the port of Odessa in Ukraine doesn’t open, it will add to the complexity of the global problem. “We’ve got to get those fields back operational, we’ve got to get those silos full again.”

The WFP executive director said that failure to open the ports is a declaration of war on global food security.

When he took this job there were 80 million people close to starvation, he said. Right before COVID, it had risen to 135 million.

When the pandemic came along, the number shot up to 276 million people and has now increased to 325 million.

“Now here’s the most startling fact, out of that 276 or 325 million there are 49 million knocking on famine’s door in 43 countries, and those are the 43 countries we have got to be extremely concerned about,” he said.

The executive director of the WFP explained that if developed nations do not address the issue in the crisis-hit 43 countries it will result in famine, destabilization and mass migration.

Also participating in the talk was Mariam Al-Mheiri, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, who spoke about the responsibility of countries who are in a better position than others.

“Let’s keep markets open, the flow of food needs to keep flowing because if food does not flow we get famine,” she said. “In a way we are all somewhat to blame for where we are, one way or the other.”

She also urged nations to put in place more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by incorporating more food systems in their NDCs.

Philip Isdor Mpango, vice-president of the United Republic of Tanzania, agreed that actions on a national level are crucial to evade the global food crisis.

“We have to deal with the mega investments currently in agriculture,” he said. “We have to invest in irrigation, we have to invest in rural roads, we have to invest in smart agriculture, and we also have to deal with land allocation issues for larger scale cultivation.”

Beasley said that organizations and donor nations need to be more strategic with how they move into nations that need to improve productivity.

“Every 1 percent increase in hunger is a 2 percent increase in migration,” he said, concluding the session on the global food crisis.

WEF, held this year from May 22 to 26, is an annual meeting that allows Business, tech and political leaders from around the world to share insights and exchange expertise. This year’s conference was held in person for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.


Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023
Updated 23 May 2022

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023
  • The roadshow to Saudi Arabia is an ‘historic moment’ for the Thai tourism industry, says official 
  • Thailand will promote its luxury, health and wellness services to the Kingdom’s travelers

BANGKOK: Thailand is hoping to welcome 100,000 annual Saudi visitors by 2023, tourism officials said on Monday, as the country prepares to attract families, medical tourists and millennials from the Kingdom. 

Thai tourism officials last week held the “Amazing Thailand Roadshow to Saudi Arabia,” marking the Southeast Asian nation’s first tourism promotion campaign since the two kingdoms restored diplomatic ties in late January. 

Bilateral relations, which had stalled in the 1980s, were renewed following Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to Riyadh, which was the first senior leadership meeting between the two countries in over three decades. 

The two governments have since signed cooperation agreements to promote trade, investment and labor recruitment, with officials now set to enhance cooperation in the tourism industry. 

As part of its efforts to attract families, medical tourists and millennials from Saudi Arabia, Thailand is set to promote its luxury, health and wellness services, which officials from the Tourism Authority of Thailand identified as a “niche market.”

“In 2019, there were more than 30,000 visitors from Saudi Arabia to Thailand, and it is expected that the market will grow to 100,000 by 2023,” Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor for international marketing at the authority, told Arab News. 

Kunjara Na Ayudhya described last week’s roadshow, which had involved over 40 Thai stakeholders, as an “historic moment” for the Thai tourism industry. 

“Businesses such as hotels, tour agencies and hospitals received the booking immediately after the end of the event. It is a good sign of the growing Middle Eastern market,” Kunjara Na Ayudhya said. 

More than 2,000 Saudi tourists visited Thailand in March after Saudia launched its first direct flight between the kingdoms after bilateral ties were renewed. Kunjara Na Ayudhya said the number “has grown significantly” in recent months, adding that there were more than 4,700 Saudi travelers visiting between May 1 and 10.  

Thailand is currently the fifth most popular destination for Saudis, according to Riyadh-based online travel agency Almosafer. 

The Thai government will also expand its halal tourism promotion and is encouraging its provinces to have halal food centers, he added.  

Thai officials, in cooperation with Saudia, said they plan on inviting over 30 tourism agencies from the Kingdom to participate in next month’s 2022 Thailand Travel Mart in Phuket.

“It will be the first time that the agencies from Saudi Arabia will join the event in Thailand,” Kunjara Na Ayudhya said.


After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  
Updated 23 May 2022

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  
  • Fighting forced more than 300k people from their homes and left over 1,100 dead
  • More than 17,000 families from Marawi remain displaced, govt data shows

DAVAO CITY: Five years after pro-Daesh militants took control of Marawi in the Philippines, hundreds of displaced residents on Monday staged protests around the city in renewed calls to be allowed to return home.

The five-month battle in the predominantly Muslim city on the island of Mindanao began on May 23, 2017, leaving more than 1,100 people dead and forcing more than 300,000 from their homes. The Philippines army was able to reclaim the city on Oct. 23 that year, making it the country’s longest urban battle in modern history.

After widespread destruction in the once picturesque lakeside town, the government has in the years since led rebuilding efforts, including the reconstructions of dozens of mosques and other public infrastructure.

But some Marawi residents, locally known as Maranaos, are still unable to return home.

“Although public facilities for the people were rebuilt, the immediate concerns of the internally displaced people of returning to their homes remain unresolved,” Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Moro Consensus Group that led Monday’s protests, told Arab News, adding that Maranaos had to endure more hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 17,000 families from Marawi remain displaced as of April this year, according to government data. Most of the public is still unable to access the city’s 40-hectare area that used to be its commercial district, while thousands are still living in temporary shelters mushroomed on the outskirts of the city.

“We reiterate our demand for the Philippines government to accelerate its efforts on rebuilding the city by prioritizing the immediate, safe and dignified return of the displaced families back to their places of origin.”

The government’s inter-agency task force in charge of the city’s reconstruction, Bangon Marawi, said that there is nothing preventing Maranaos from returning to their homes.

“We have a process. They should apply for a permit and show us proof they own the lot to avoid future land conflict issues,” Felix Castro, who heads the task force, told Arab News.

“It’s unfair to claim we have prevented them. These people complaining — it seems they ignore our process. Those who managed to provide the necessary documents were already given permits and they have started their home construction.”

Yet many who left in the middle of the battle five years ago also left behind most of their belongings.

“We can’t provide proof of ownership since when we left our homes we left everything, including the important documents,” Amenodin “Ding” Cali, 56, a protester, told Arab News.

“Besides, we don’t have money to use in securing those documents they wanted from us,” Cali added, alluding to the fees associated with acquiring the government permits.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte last month signed the Marawi Compensation Act, which paves the way for the creation of a nine-member board that would process the claims of Maranaos.

Aside from resolving the issues of displacement, the government should remain alert for threats in Mindanao, said Rommel Banlaoi, a counterterrorism analyst at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“There are still personalities opposing the government and they want full separation of Mindanao. These active militants are remnants but there are new emerging leaders still aligned with Daesh,” Banlaoi said.


Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean

Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean
Updated 23 May 2022

Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean

Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean
  • Over 3,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece this year, including over 1,100 last month
  • Greece regularly blames Turkey for not taking sufficient action to curb people smugglers

ATHENS: Greece said on Monday it had prevented around 600 migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea into its territorial waters from neighboring Turkey, in the largest attempted entry this year.
A spokesman for the Greek coast guard said five sail boats and four dinghies had set off from the Turkish coast early in the morning.
“Greek patrol vessels were able to quickly locate the vessels and inform the Turkish coast guard,” the spokesman told AFP.
A coast guard statement said its boats had used “visual and sound signals” to keep the asylum seekers out of Greek territorial waters.
All the vessels either headed back or were intercepted by the Turkish coast guard, he added.
“All the incidents occurred inside Turkish territorial waters” near the Greek islands of Chios and Samos, he said.
A migration ministry source said migration flows to the Greek islands in the first four months of 2022 were nearly 30 percent higher than in the same period last year.
Over 3,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece so far this year, including over 1,100 last month, according to data from the migration ministry.
There is also heightened migrant activity on Greece’s land border with Turkey because the water levels is low on the River Evros that divides the two countries, a border official said on Monday.
According to the latest ministry statistics, from April, there are more than 2,300 asylum seekers in camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros, all near Turkey.
New camps funded by the European Union were recently completed in Samos, Leros and Kos. Others on Lesbos and Chios are to follow.
Greece regularly blames Turkey for not taking sufficient action to curb people smugglers who send out migrants in unsafe boats and dinghies from its shores, in breach of a 2016 accord with the EU.
Greece is a member of the 27-nation bloc but Turkey is not.
Greece’s tough border controls have been dogged by accusations from rights groups that the Greek coast guard has been engaging in illegally forcing migrants to return to Turkey.
Athens has always denied that its security forces engage in illegal pushbacks.
In March, Greece’s national transparency authority said a four-month investigation found no evidence of such practices.
EU border agency Frontex has also repeatedly been accused by rights groups of illegally returning migrants across EU borders.
Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri resigned last month amid an investigation by the European anti-fraud office OLAF, reportedly into alleged mismanagement.


Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies
Updated 23 May 2022

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies
  • Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India reached Sri Lanka on Monday
  • New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor two days earlier

COLOMBO: Long queues snaked around gas stations in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and its outskirts on Monday even though the island nation’s government was scrambling to deliver fuel supplies and douse any unrest as it battles a devastating economic crisis.
Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka’s minister for power and energy, said supplies of 95-octane gasoline, mostly used in cars, had been received and were being distributed across the country of 22 million people that has been struggling with fuel shortages for months.
“With the 2 cargo vessels unloaded, petrol stocks will be available for the next 6 weeks comfortably,” Wijesekera said in a tweet.
Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India had also reached Sri Lanka on Monday, the Indian High Commission (Embassy) said, two days after New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor.
Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence, as a dire shortage of foreign exchange has stalled imports and left the country short of fuel, medicines and hit by rolling power cuts.
The financial trouble has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering the tourism-reliant economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister this month.
M. Sudeera, an auto-rickshaw driver, was waiting in a two-kilometer (1.5-mile) -long queue at Kumbuke, on the outskirts of Colombo, to fill his vehicle, a popular form of public transport in the city and its suburbs.
“Last time, I spent two days in line for 3,000 rupees ($8.46) worth of fuel. With that I did a few hires but it’s barely enough to cover costs,” Sudeera said, standing beside parallel queues of auto-rickshaws, cars and motorcycles.
“Usually we run during the day and spent the night in line for fuel,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over as prime minister earlier this month, has warned of hardship worsening over the coming months, including food shortages.
Protests against the government’s handling of the crisis have continued for weeks, and erupted into violence earlier this month in which nine people were killed and over 300 injured. But the protests have been peaceful since then, although anger against the government is high.
Inflation in the island nation rose to 33.8 percent in April, compared to 21.5 percent in March, according to government data released on Monday.
Wickremesinghe’s cabinet was expanded on Monday, with eight new ministers sworn in for portfolios including agriculture, fisheries, industries, transport and highways, water supply and irrigation.