UN chief calls for accountability by Mali, military ‘partners’

UN chief calls for accountability by Mali, military ‘partners’
Above, a Malian soldier patrols the riverbank in Konna. There have been growing concerns over human rights violations by the West African country’s military in its battle with militants. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 01 April 2022

UN chief calls for accountability by Mali, military ‘partners’

UN chief calls for accountability by Mali, military ‘partners’
  • Concerns grow over human rights violations by the West African country’s military in its battle with militants

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN secretary-general has called for Mali and its “bilateral partners” to respect their international obligations as concerns grow over human rights violations by the West African country’s military in its battle with militants.
While acknowledging “widespread attacks by extremists,” Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council that Mali’s counter-terrorism efforts also had “disastrous consequences for the civilian population” in a confidential report obtained Thursday by AFP.
“I emphasize the duty of the State to do everything in its power to promote accountability and ensure that its military operations, including those carried out with its bilateral partners, are carried out in accordance with its international obligations,” the UN chief said.
The term “bilateral partners” is believed to be an implicit reference to mercenaries allegedly deployed in the country by the Russian Wagner Group, reputedly close to the Kremlin.
“Some of the operations carried out by the national security forces to counter the violent activities of these extremist groups — apparently alongside foreign security personnel — have been the subject of allegations of serious human rights violations,” Guterres said.
The secretary-general’s report specifically cites the late-January execution of “at least 20 people” in the country’s Bandiagara region, and civilian deaths attributed to a February airstrike carried out by the military.
His report is the first submitted to the Security Council since a mid-February announcement that French and European military missions previously assisting in Mali’s years-long fight with a bloody militant insurgency were being withdrawn.
The Malian government has denied using Wagner mercenaries, admitting only to the presence of Russian “instructors” under a bilateral cooperation agreement concluded with Moscow that saw two combat helicopters delivered on Thursday.


Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest
Updated 13 sec ago

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest
  • If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms

ALMATY: Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Saturday dropped plans to curtail the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province following a rare public protest in the northwestern region, his office said.
Friday’s rally was called to protest constitutional reform plans that would have changed the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic home to the Karakalpak people — an ethnic minority group with its own language, Uzbek authorities said.
Police dispersed the protesters after some of them tried to storm local government buildings in the region’s capital, Nukus, following a march and a rally at the city’s central market, local and government officials said.
Mirziyoyev later issued a decree proclaiming a state of emergency in Karakalpakstan for a month “in order to ensure the security of citizens, defend their rights and freedoms and restore the rule of law and order” in the region.
Under the current Uzbek constitution, Karakalpakstan is described as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan that has the right to secede by holding a referendum.
The new version of the constitution — on which Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum in the coming months — would no longer mention Karakalpakstan’s sovereignty or right for secession.
But in a swift reaction to the protest, Mirziyoyev said on Saturday during a visit to Karakalpakstan that the changes regarding its status must be dropped from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.
Karakalpakstan’s government said in a statement earlier on Saturday that police had detained the leaders of Friday’s protest, and several other protesters who had put up resistance.
The changes concerning Karakalpakstan were part of a broader constitutional reform proposed by Mirziyoyev, which also includes strengthening civil rights and extending the presidential term to seven years from five.
If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms.

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Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash
Updated 02 July 2022

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash
  • From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river

MANAUS: In Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, tons of stinking trash fill the canals and streams, giving one the feeling that they’re visiting a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

On the west side of the city, in a poor neighborhood where homes have been erected on stilts, a worker uses an excavator to scoop up a bucket-load of bottles, pieces of plastic and even home appliances that have been tossed in the water.

Not far from the city’s main port, municipal workers wearing orange uniforms gather garbage from a boat and pile it onto a big barge floating on the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon River’s main tributaries.

With the rising water levels signaling an end to the rainy season, the mounds of trash are often intermingled with leaves and tree branches.

Each day, nearly 30 tons of debris is plucked from the water. In some areas, the water is almost completely covered.

The massive influx of trash to Manaus’s waterways occurs around this time every year, but city authorities believe the situation has gotten worse in recent weeks.

From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river.

“The people who live on the water’s edge throw garbage straight into the streams... few people put it in the trash,” says Antonino Pereira, a 54-year-old Manaus resident who complains that the stench is unbearable.

According to the city’s undersecretary of sanitation, Jose Reboucas, if the population was more aware of the costs associated with littering, the city could save $190,000 per month.

“The awareness of the population will be very beneficial for our city and especially for our environment,” he said.

The Amazonian region is also facing a major threat from deforestation, with more than 3,750 square kilometers of jungle chopped down since the beginning of the year.


Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned

Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned
Updated 02 July 2022

Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned

Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned
  • Norwegian police said they arrested two people
  • The handful of activists then placed a burning Koran in the middle of a small intersection

OSLO: The leader of a Norwegian anti-Islamic group was in a spectacular car chase and collision on Saturday, minutes after burning a Qur’an on the outskirts of Oslo.
Norwegian police said they arrested two people, including the driver of a car accused of deliberately ramming the SUV of Lars Thorsen, leader of the radical group “Stop the Islamization of Norway” (Sian).
The five passengers in the SUV were slightly injured, with one requiring hospital treatment, police said.
A video posted on Facebook showed Thorsen and other activists first drive to Mortensrud, a suburb of Oslo with a large Muslim community.
The handful of activists then placed a burning Qur’an in the middle of a small intersection, initially managing to push back local people who tried to put out the flames.
An angry crowd gathered, including one woman who grabbed the charred book before climbing into a grey Mercedes.
The SUV of the anti-Islam activists, painted in camouflage livery, then left the scene. But seconds later, it was overtaken by the Mercedes, which first hit it lightly and eventually hit it at speed, overturning the vehicle.
The whole episode was filmed by someone in a following car.
The incident came a week after a gunman killed two people and wounded 21 others in central Oslo.
Norway’s domestic intelligence service has described the attack as an act of terrorism.
Scandinavian far-right anti-Islam activists have made a specialty of burning Qur’ans in neighborhoods with large Muslim populations in recent years.


Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience

Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience
Updated 02 July 2022

Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience

Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience
  • “Honored to meet @Pontifex yesterday,” Musk tweeted
  • Musk’s tweet followed one of a street scene in Venice

ROME: Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose $44 billion bid to buy Twitter remains in limbo, used the social media platform to announce he had met with Pope Francis.
“Honored to meet @Pontifex yesterday,” Musk tweeted of the Friday afternoon audience, alongside a photo showing Musk, Francis and four of Musk’s teenage children.
The Vatican didn’t announce the audience or provide any information about what was discussed. Musk’s tweet followed one of a street scene in Venice, suggesting he might have had other stops on his tour.
Francis frequently meets with high-profile figures in strictly private audiences that are held in a reception room of the Vatican hotel where he lives. A common talking point he uses when meeting with corporate CEOs is to appeal for them to use wealth and technology to help the poorest while caring for God’s creation.
On June 21, Twitter’s board recommended shareholders approve Musk’s proposed purchase, though shares of Twitter remain far below his offering price, signaling considerable doubt that the sale will actually happen.


Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact
Updated 02 July 2022

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact
  • Indonesia-UAE trade pact erases majority of existing tariffs
  • Wide-ranging pact is Indonesia’s first with a Gulf country

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have said they are hopeful of increasing the country’s exports to the Middle East after the signing of a new wide-ranging economic pact with the UAE.

Indonesia’s Trade Minister Zulfikli Hasan and UAE Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq Al-Marri signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in Abu Dhabi on Friday, after talks aimed at eliminating tariffs and boosting investment between the two countries were launched last September.

Bilateral trade volume reached almost $4 billion in 2021, according to data from Indonesia’s Trade Ministry, showcasing an increase of nearly 38 percent from the previous year, when it was worth $2.9 billion. The agreement is Indonesia’s first with a Gulf country and the UAE’s first with a Southeast Asian nation.

The new pact is expected to boost Indonesian exports to the UAE by 54 percent, or about $844 million, over the next 10 years after the deal comes into force, as the pact erases about 94 percent of existing tariffs. Indonesia’s main exports to the UAE include jewelry, palm oil, and motorized vehicles.

“This agreement will be Indonesia’s entryway to the UAE, which is a hub to increase exports to non-traditional export destinations in the Gulf, Middle East,” Hasan said in a statement issued on Friday.

The pact also includes chapters on tourism, intellectual property rights, and mutual recognition of each country’s halal certification.

Full text of the deal was not immediately published, and the agreement still needs to be ratified by Indonesia’s House of Representatives, which could take several months. Indonesia has signed similar deals with Australia in 2019 and South Korea in 2020.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who witnessed the signing with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan as part of the former’s visit to Abu Dhabi, also expressed appreciation of the two countries’ improving relations.

“Amid the challenging situation that we face now, we continue to work together to boost relations between our two countries,” Widodo said, as quoted in a statement issued by his office on Friday.

Diana Dewi, chairwoman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chapter in Jakarta, said the new deal could be helpful for Indonesian business players.

“This agreement will be an entry point for Indonesian businesses to increase exports to the UAE,” Dewi told Arab News.

“UAE is also a hub to enter the European market,” she added.

The wide-ranging agreement could bring new prospects for Indonesia, Bhima Yudhistira, president of the Jakarta-based Center of Economic and Law Studies, told Arab News.

“(The) UAE is an important export hub to the Middle East and North Africa. The UAE’s developments in the automotive sector are quite prospective and would require spare parts and components from Indonesia,” Yudhistira said.

But it also offers new challenges for Southeast Asia’s largest economy, he added.

“It’s a challenge to break through the UAE market with regards to the quality and product competition because the UAE market is a high-income group.”