Japan welcomes the extension of Yemen truce, hails Saudi role

In this file photo taken on July 6, 2022, Yemenis displaced by the conflict receive aid and supplied at a camp in Hays district in the war-ravaged western province of Hodeidah. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on July 6, 2022, Yemenis displaced by the conflict receive aid and supplied at a camp in Hays district in the war-ravaged western province of Hodeidah. (AFP)
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Updated 03 August 2022

Japan welcomes the extension of Yemen truce, hails Saudi role

Japan welcomes the extension of Yemen truce, hails Saudi role

TOKYO: The Government of Japan welcomed the extension of the truce in the republic of Yemen announced by the United Nations on August 2, 2022 (local time) and hailed Saudi Arabia’s role in achieving it.

The foreign ministry in Tokyo said in a statement that Japan highly appreciates the efforts made by all parties in Yemen and the important roles that regional countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman, have been playing in realizing the extension of the truce.

Japan reiterates its support for the efforts of Mr. Hans Grundberg, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for Yemen, to realize peace and stability in Yemen, it said.

The statement emphasized there is no military solution to the Yemeni conflict but a political solution through dialogue among the Yemeni people.

“From this perspective, the Government of Japan strongly hopes that this truce agreement will continue to be observed by all parties, roads in Taiz and other governorates will be opened, and the parties will progress in the dialogue toward realizing a permanent peace in Yemen, according to the statement.

Japan has been actively providing humanitarian assistance for Yemen, including the emergency food assistance announced on May 10, 2022, to support the truce.

The ministry said Tokyo remains committed to continue making efforts in cooperation with the United Nations and countries concerned, to realize peace and stability in Yemen.


Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada
Updated 28 November 2022

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada
  • Despite the risk of rejection, though, the surge in Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada persists

MONTREAL: Pedro Meraz says living in Colima, Mexico, was like living in a war zone, with shootings, burning cars and dismembered bodies being left outside of schools.

When his wife Rocio Gonzalez, a 28-year-old lawyer who worked with abused women, began receiving death threats from a cartel and the local authorities ignored her pleas for assistance, they knew they had to leave.

“They knew where we lived and what car we drove,” said Meraz, 41, who taught at The University of Colima, near the Pacific Coast and about 485 kilometers west of Mexico City. “Feeling that you are going to lose your life, or one of your daughters, I don’t mind starting from scratch.”

The family is part of a surge in the number of Mexicans who have requested asylum in Canada this year. Due to the relative ease of obtaining asylum in Canada compared to the US, visa-free travel between Mexico and Canada, and the threat of violence back home, more than 8,000 Mexican nationals have sought refugee status in 2022. That’s almost five times as many as last year and more than twice as many as in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions that accompanied it.

The vast majority of them are flying in to Montreal, which has many direct flights to and from Mexico.

Among them is Viviana Tapia Gonzalez, a human rights activist and mother of four from Aguascalientes, about 425 kilometers northwest of Mexico City, who said she left Mexico in January after being attacked by the military. She said her work with the families of missing and murdered women and girls made her a target.

“Death threats were constant,” she said. “I thought it was the last option I had to be safe. I work for many causes and help many people. I did not want to stop helping, but I must also protect (and) take care of myself.”

Tapia Gonzalez has been living in a Montreal women’s shelter while awaiting a decision on her asylum claim, which she fears might get rejected.

If her claim is turned down, she wouldn’t be alone.

In the first nine months of 2022, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, an independent tribunal that investigates and decides asylum cases, finalized more than 2,700 claims by Mexican asylum seekers. Of those, 1,032 were accepted, 1,256 were rejected; and the remaining 400-plus were either abandoned, withdrawn, or had other outcomes, said Christian Tessier, an IRB spokesperson.

In Canada, claimants must meet the United Nations’ definition of a “convention refugee,” meaning they are outside of their home countries and have a well-founded fear that they would be persecuted if they returned based on their race, religion, political opinions, nationality or affiliation with a social group. Otherwise, they must prove that they need protection and can’t safely return to their home countries without risking torture, cruel or unusual punishment, or death.

Despite the risk of rejection, though, the surge in Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada persists.

The Welcome Collective, a Montreal-based charitable organization that provides essential goods to new asylum seekers, said half of the group’s current clients came from Mexico — a 300 percent increase compared with earlier this year.

“They had to run away because of violence and other humanitarian reasons. To find a better place for their children,” said Flavia Leiva, the group’s volunteer and social outreach coordinator.

As for what is causing the increase in applicants, Leiva suggested that social media is playing a role.

“There have been YouTubers and some videos on TikTok talking about how easy it is to come to Canada,” she said.

At least one YouTube video that was published 10 months ago and made for a Mexican audience explains the Canadian immigration process in Spanish and has more than 4 million views.

It has been harder for Mexicans to seek asylum in the US since the start of the pandemic. A US public health rule that suspends the right to seek asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19 has fallen disproportionately hard on Mexicans. Title 42 authority has been used to expel migrants more than 2.4 million times since it was introduced in March 2020.

Further adding to Canada’s allure is that Mexicans haven’t needed a visa to travel to the country since the Canadian government lifted the requirement in late 2016.

Leiva also suggested that more Mexicans might be choosing to come to Canada instead of the US because they think it’s safer.

“In the US, they are put in cages, the conditions are not as good,” Leiva said. “People do not feel safe or protected.”

Meraz said he and his family decided that Canada would offer them the best chance to start over.

“My wife investigated the existence of international treaties to protect people who are at risk,” he said.

He referenced Canadian policies and regulations protecting women and children in addition to the country’s comparatively low crime rate.


Former Pakistan PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies

Former Pakistan PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies
Updated 27 November 2022

Former Pakistan PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies

Former Pakistan PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies
  • Khan said his PTI party was getting out of “corrupt system”
  • Announcement made in bid to create political disruption: Expert

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was trying to create more pressure on the government, experts said on Sunday, as he announced his party was quitting the country’s regional and national assemblies.

Khan was removed in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April.

The former cricket star turned politician is now in the opposition and has since held several anti-government rallies and demanded early elections, frequently claiming that his ouster was part of a US-backed “foreign conspiracy,” accusations denied by Washington and Khan’s opponents who are now in power.

The leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party on Saturday made his first public appearance since being wounded in a gun attack earlier this month, when he called off a protest march that began from the eastern city of Lahore and was set to culminate in Islamabad.

He also announced that his party was quitting the country’s regional and national assemblies, telling tens of thousands of cheering supporters that the PTI was getting out of a “corrupt system.”

The announcement was a new move taken after months of calling for early elections, which saw Khan’s narrative “getting weaker due to repetition,” said political analyst Dr. Huma Baqai.

“Economy is the main concern of all, and after mass resignations by the PTI, the situation will further deteriorate and put the government on the back foot and can force them to announce early elections,” she added.

Pakistan, faced with high inflation and dwindling foreign reserves, has been battling an economic crisis exacerbated by devastating floods that killed more than 1,700 people.

The former attorney-general of Pakistan also said the latest political development “can build pressure” on the current government.

“But they tried it in the national assembly but did not succeed. It is a matter of wits and how long the government can sustain pressure,” Anwar Mansoor Khan told Arab News.

PTI lawmakers resigned from the national assembly en masse in April, ahead of a vote to elect a new premier after Khan was removed from office.

Khan’s decision could “create a lot of problems” for the federal government and was taken because of the recent change in military leadership, senior journalist Arifa Noor told Arab News.

“He wants to increase the pressure on the new army chief to make some decision in favor of his demand of calling early elections,” Noor said.

Pakistan named Lt. Gen. Asim Munir on Thursday as chief of its army, an organization that plays a major and influential role in the governance of the nuclear-armed nation. The appointment coincided with a dispute between Khan and the military, who the former premier blamed for playing a part in his ouster.

The PTI’s mass resignation was intended to “create the possibility of political disruption,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, told Arab News.

“By doing this he maintains pressure on the government and sends a message to the army as well that they should use their influence to prevent the possible disruption,” Mehboob said.

Khan, who said he called off his protest march because he feared it would cause havoc in the country, was “running out of options,” Mehboob added.

“Threat to resign from provincial assemblies is all he could do at this time to keep the momentum of his campaign.”

But there remain uncertainties with Khan’s announcement. Political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi told Arab News that, “resignations from the assemblies would not have the same effect as a dissolution.”

“PTI’s threat of the dissolution of the KP and Punjab assemblies would need to actually happen for it to actually challenge the federal government,” Zaidi said, alluding to the PTI’s stronghold in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the coalition government Khan has in Punjab with ally the Pakistan Muslim League (Q).

The former secretary of Pakistan’s election commission Kanwar Dilshad said Khan’s announcement was incomplete, as he had not clarified whether “he will dissolve assemblies or will just resign,” adding that each would have different consequences.

“Dissolution of assemblies can bring a real constitutional crisis and force the federal government to call early elections.”

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Militants attack hotel used by officials in Somalia’s capital

Militants attack hotel used by officials in Somalia’s capital
Updated 27 November 2022

Militants attack hotel used by officials in Somalia’s capital

Militants attack hotel used by officials in Somalia’s capital
  • Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab, which controls large swathes of the country, claimed responsibility for the attack
  • The assailants stormed the Villa Rose hotel, which is close to the presidential palace, two police officers said

MOGADISHU: Militants attacked a hotel used by government officials in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Sunday evening, police and witnesses said.
Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab, which controls large swathes of the country, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that it was targeting the nearby presidential palace.
“We were shaken by a huge blast, followed by heavy exchange of gunfire,” said Ahmed Abdullahi, who lives close to the scene. “We are just indoors and listening to gunfire.”
The assailants stormed the Villa Rose hotel, which is close to the presidential palace, two police officers told Reuters. It was not immediately clear how many attackers there were, the officers said.
Some government officials at the Villa Rose were rescued after using windows to escape, said Mohammed Abdi, one of the police officers.
The state minister for the environment, Adam Aw Hirsi, wrote on Twitter that he was safe after a “terrorist explosion targeted at my residence” at the hotel, where many government officials stay.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected earlier this year, has been carrying out a military offensive against Al-Shabab.


Kidnappings, looting cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after truce

Kidnappings, looting cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after truce
Updated 27 November 2022

Kidnappings, looting cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after truce

Kidnappings, looting cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after truce

KAMPALA: Allies of Ethiopia’s federal military are looting property and carrying out mass detentions in Tigray, according to eyewitnesses and aid workers.
The accounts raise fresh concern about alleged atrocities more than three weeks after the warring parties signed a truce that diplomats and others hoped would bring an end to suffering in the embattled region that’s home to more than 5 million people.
Tigray is still largely cut off from the rest of Ethiopia, although aid deliveries into the region resumed after the Nov. 2 cease-fire deal signed in South Africa. There’s limited or no access into the region for human rights researchers, making it difficult for journalists and others to obtain information from Tigray as Ethiopian forces continue to assert control of the region.
Eritrean troops and forces from the neighboring Ethiopian region of Amhara — who have been fighting on the side of Ethiopia’s federal military in the Tigray conflict — have looted businesses, private properties, vehicles, and health clinics in Shire, a northwestern town that was captured from Tigray forces last month, two aid workers there told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.
Several young people have been kidnapped by Eritrean troops in Shire, the aid workers said. One said he saw “more than 300” youths being rounded up by Ethiopian federal troops in several waves of mass detentions after the capture of Shire, home to a large number of internally displaced people.
“There are different detention centers around the town,” said the aid worker, who also noted that Ethiopian federal troops were arresting people believed to be “associated” with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, the political party whose leaders led the war against the federal government.
Civilians accused of aiding Tigray forces are being detained in the southern town of Alamata, according to a resident there who said Amhara forces had arrested several of his friends. A former regional official said Amhara forces are also carrying out “mass” arrests in the town of Korem, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Alamata, and in surrounding rural areas.
Both the Alamata resident and the former regional official, like some others who spoke to AP, requested anonymity because of safety concerns as well as fear of reprisals.
The continuing presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray remains a sore point in the ongoing peace process, and the US has called for their withdrawal from the region.
The military spokesman and government communications minister in Ethiopia didn’t respond to a request for comment. Eritrea’s embassy in Ethiopia also didn’t respond.
Eritrea, which shares a border with Tigray, was not mentioned in the text of the cease-fire deal. The absence of Eritrea from cease-fire negotiations had raised questions about whether that country’s repressive government, which has long considered Tigray authorities a threat, would respect the agreement.
A subsequent implementation accord, signed by military commanders in Kenya, states that the Tigray forces will disband their heavy weapons “concurrently with the withdrawal of foreign and non-(federal) forces from the region.”
Yet aid officials, diplomats and others inside Tigray say Eritrean forces are still active in several areas of Tigray, hurting the peace process. Eritrean troops have been blamed for some of the conflict’s worst abuses, including gang rapes.
Tigrai Television, a regional broadcaster based in the Tigrayan capital of Mekele, reported on Nov. 19 that Eritrean soldiers killed 63 civilians, including 10 children, in an area called Egela in central Tigray. That report cited witnesses including one who said affected communities were being prevented from burying their dead.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the importance of implementing the peace deal, “including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the concurrent disarmament of the Tigray forces” in a phone call Monday, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Four youths were killed by Eritrean forces in the northwestern Tigray town of Axum on Nov. 17, a humanitarian worker told the AP. “The killings have not stopped despite the peace deal … and it is being carried out in Axum exclusively by Eritrean forces,” the humanitarian worker said.
A statement from Tigray’s communication bureau last week said Eritrea’s military “continues committing horrific atrocities in Tigray.” That statement charged that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki “is bringing more units into Tigray though (he is) expected to withdraw his troops” following the cease-fire deal.
The brutal fighting, which spilled into the Amhara and Afar regions as Tigray forces pressed toward the federal capital last year, was renewed in August in Tigray after months of lull.
Tigray is in the grip of a dire humanitarian crisis after two years of restrictions on aid. These restrictions prompted a UN panel of experts to conclude that Ethiopia’s government probably used “starvation as a method of warfare” against the region.
Ethiopian authorities have long denied targeting civilians in Tigray, saying their goal is to apprehend the region’s rebellious leaders.
Despite the African Union-led cease-fire, basic services such as phone, electricity and banking are still switched off in most parts of Tigray. The US estimates hundreds of thousands of people could have been killed in the war marked by abuses on all sides.
The cease-fire deal requires federal authorities to facilitate “unhindered humanitarian access” to Tigray. The World Food Program said Friday it had sent 96 trucks of food and fuel to Tigray since the agreement although access to parts of central and eastern Tigray remains “constrained.”
Unhindered access into Tigray has not yet been granted despite the number of trucks going into the region, with several restrictions remaining in place, an aid worker said Friday. There are limits on the amount of cash humanitarian organizations can take into Tigray, while checkpoints and military commanders impede the movements of aid workers within the region, the aid worker said.


Protests over China’s COVID-19 controls spread across country

Protests over China’s COVID-19 controls spread across country
Updated 27 November 2022

Protests over China’s COVID-19 controls spread across country

Protests over China’s COVID-19 controls spread across country
  • President Xi Jinping’s government faces mounting anger at its ‘zero-COVID’ policy
  • The ruling Communist Party faces growing complaints about the economic and human cost

BEIJING: Protests against China’s pervasive anti-virus controls that have confined millions of people to their homes spread to Shanghai and other cities after complaints they might have worsened the death toll in an apartment fire in the northwest.
Shanghai police used pepper spray against about 300 protesters, according to a witness. They gathered Saturday night to mourn the deaths of at least 10 people in an apartment fire last week in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region in the northwest.
Videos posted on social media that said they were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south and at least five other cities showed protesters tussling with police in white protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off neighborhoods. Witnesses said a protest occurred in Urumqi, but The Associated Press was unable to confirm details of other videos.
President Xi Jinping’s government faces mounting anger at its “zero-COVID” policy that has shut down access to areas throughout China in an attempt to isolate every case at a time when other governments are easing controls and trying to live with the virus.
That has kept China’s infection rate lower than the United States and other countries. But the ruling Communist Party faces growing complaints about the economic and human cost as businesses close and families are isolated for weeks with limited access to food and medicine.
Some protesters were shown in videos shouting for Xi to step down or the ruling party to give up power.
Party leaders promised last month to make restrictions less disruptive by easing quarantine and other rules but said they were sticking to “zero-COVID.” Meanwhile, an upsurge in infections that pushed daily cases above 30,000 for the first time has led local authorities to impose restrictions residents complain exceed what is allowed by the national government.
The fire deaths in Urumqi triggered an outpouring of angry questions online about whether firefighters who needed three hours to extinguish the blaze or victims trying to escape might have been obstructed by locked doors or other controls. Authorities denied that, but the disaster became a focal point for public anger about anti-disease restrictions, ruling party propaganda and censorship.
In Shanghai, protesters gathered at Middle Urumqi Road at midnight with flowers, candles and signs reading “Urumqi, November 24, those who died rest in peace,” according to a participant who would give only his family name, Zhao.
Zhao said one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper-sprayed. He said police stomped on his feet as he tried to stop them from taking his friend away. He lost his shoes and left barefoot.
According to Zhao, protesters yelled slogans including “Xi Jinping, step down, Communist Party, step down,” “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock China,” “do not want PCR (tests), want freedom” and “press freedom.”
Around 100 police stood in lines to prevent protesters from gathering or leaving, Zhao said. He said buses with more police arrived later.
Another protester, who gave only his family name, Xu, said there was a larger crowd of thousands of demonstrators, but police stood in the road and let them pass on the sidewalk.
Internet users posted videos and accounts on Chinese and foreign social media showing protests in Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu and Chongqing in the southwest and Urumqi and Korla in Xinjiang.
A video that said it was shot in Urumqi showed protesters chanting, “Remove the Communist Party! Remove Xi Jinping!”
Protests in Xinjiang are especially risky following a security crackdown against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities that has included mass detentions.
Most protesters in the videos were members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group. A Uyghur woman in Urumqi said Uyghurs were too scared to take to the streets.