Indian police block opposition protests over price increases

Lawmakers from India's opposition Congress party march during a protest in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP)
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Lawmakers from India's opposition Congress party march during a protest in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP)
Indian police block opposition protests over price increases
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Policemen detain Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi during a protest in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 06 August 2022

Indian police block opposition protests over price increases

Lawmakers from India's opposition Congress party march during a protest in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP)
  • ”Anybody who stands against this idea of the onset of dictatorship is viciously attacked, put in jail, arrested, and beaten

NEW DELHI: Indian police detained dozens of lawmakers from the opposition Congress party, including key leader Rahul Gandhi, as they attempted to march Friday to the president’s palace and prime minister’s residence to protest soaring food and fuel prices and an increase in the goods and services tax.
Police also detained hundreds of party supporters inside it headquarters in New Delhi and elsewhere to prevent them from joining the protesting lawmakers, many of whom wore black.




Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP)

Several women protesters cooked food outside the party headquarters using wood for the fire, saying that cooking gas prices have risen beyond the means of poor and middle-class families.
In New Delhi, police began barricading the Congress party headquarters and homes of party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday after the party announced plans to organize countrywide protests against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“What we are witnessing is the death of democracy in India,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters. ”Anybody who stands against this idea of the onset of dictatorship is viciously attacked, put in jail, arrested, and beaten. The idea is that people’s issues — whether they are price rises, unemployment, or violence in society — people’s issues must not be raised. That is the sole agenda of the government.”
Police prevented the party’s efforts to hold similar marches in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, Gauhati, and some other cities, detaining party members and taking them away in buses and other vehicles.
There was no immediate police comment. The lawmakers and their supporters were expected to be released after brief detentions — a general practice by police in such protests.
“This is the worst form of vendetta politics. We will not submit! We will not be silenced! We will continue to raise our voice against injustices and failures of the Modi government,” the party said in a tweet.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the government’s handling of the economy in Parliament earlier this week and said there was zero probability of India slipping into recession.
The opposition was infuriated by the government’s decision last month to impose a tax on packed milk curd, cheese, buttermilk, packed rice, flour and wheat. The government earlier raised fuel prices.

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Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric

Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric
Updated 7 sec ago

Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric

Bombing at Kabul mosque kills 10, including prominent cleric
  • No immediate claim of responsibility for the attack
  • Several children were reported to be among the wounded
KABUL: A bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul during evening prayers on Wednesday killed at least 10 people, including a prominent cleric, and wounded at least 27, an eyewitness and police said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the latest to strike the country in the year since the Taliban seized power. Several children were reported to be among the wounded.
The Daesh group’s local affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents’ takeover last August as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal from the country. Last week, the Daesh claimed responsibility for killing a prominent Taliban cleric at his religious center in Kabul.
According to the eyewitness, a resident of the city’s Kher Khanna neighborhood where the Siddiquiya Mosque was targeted, the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber. The slain cleric was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
He added that more than 30 other people were wounded. The Italian Emergency hospital in Kabul said that at least 27 wounded civilians, including five children, were brought there from the site of the bomb blast.
Khalid Zadran, the Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Kabul police chief, confirmed an explosion inside a mosque in northern Kabul but would not provide a casualty toll or a breakdown of the dead and wounded.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also condemned the explosion and vowed that the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”
There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further. On Thursday morning, one witness to the blast who gave his name as Qyaamuddin said he believed as many as 25 people may have been killed in the blast.
“It was evening prayer time, and I was attending the prayer with others, when the explosion happened,” Qyaamuddin said. Some Afghans go by a single name.
AP journalists could see the blue-roofed, Sunni mosque from a nearby hillside. The Taliban parked police trucks and other vehicles at the mosque, while several men carried out one casket for a victim of the attack.
A US-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, froze funding to the country.
Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in western Herat province as he was trying to cross the border into Iran.
Mujahid was a former Taliban commander in the district of Balkhab in northern Sar-e-Pul province, and the only member of the minority Shiite Hazara community among the Taliban ranks.
Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no
Updated 18 August 2022

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no

Former Malaysian PM Najib’s lawyer wants out of case; court says no
  • Defense lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik says he made an error of judgment in accepting the case
  • Najib is seeking to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit 

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s top court on Thursday began hearing ex-leader Najib Razak’s appeal to overturn his jail sentence for corruption in a high-stakes legal gambit that could see him locked up or potentially launching a political comeback.
The Federal Court on Tuesday dismissed the former prime minister’s plea for a retrial, clearing the way for the hearings, which will be held until August 26.
But as the hearing started, defense lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, surprised the court by telling the panel of five judges that he wanted to be discharged from the case.
“I would like to start by tendering the following apology from the bottom of my heart. I am unable to proceed with this appeal,” Hisyam said.
“It was an error of my judgment when I accepted the case,” he said.
The court had earlier dismissed Hisyam’s request for three to four months to prepare.
Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat told the lawyer that he cannot just discharge himself and called for a break.
“You still want to discharge yourself and leave your client unrepresented? In our mind, you cannot discharge yourself. You have to carry on,” the chief justice said.
Najib, 69, and his ruling party were roundly defeated in 2018 elections following allegations of their involvement in a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB.
He and his associates were accused of stealing billions of dollars from the country’s investment vehicle and spending it on everything from high-end real estate to pricey art.
Following a lengthy High Court trial, Najib was found guilty of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust over the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.1 million) from a former 1MDB unit to his personal bank account.
He was sentenced to 12 years in jail in July 2020, and an appellate court last December rejected his appeal, prompting him to mount a final plea before the Federal Court.
Najib had been hoping the court would grant a full retrial but that request was unanimously rejected on Tuesday.
Dressed in a dark suit and white mask, Najib arrived in court Thursday and waved to around 70 supporters, who shouted “bossku,” meaning “my boss,” which has turned into a rallying cry among his defenders.
If the conviction is upheld, Najib will begin serving his jail sentence immediately, lawyers said.
An acquittal, however, could propel him into contention for his former political post, as he remains popular in Malaysia despite the scandal that plagued his administration.
He remains an elected member of parliament with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the leading party in the current government.


UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
Updated 18 August 2022

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
  • Bangladesh PM presses organization to move forward with plans
  • Scheme has failed to launch despite repeat pleas from Dhaka

DHAKA: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that the repatriation of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh is not yet possible due to the situation in Myanmar.

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has hosted and provided humanitarian support to the Rohingya Muslims who fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

Most of the refugees live in dozens of cramped settlements in Cox’s Bazar District, a coastal region in the country’s southeast. Hosting the refugees costs Bangladesh about $1.2 billion per year.

Bachelet arrived in Bangladesh on Sunday for a four-day working visit — her first to the South Asian country.

Despite multiple attempts from Bangladesh in past years to advance a UN-backed repatriation process, the organization has yet to move forward with a plan.

“The conditions are not right,” Bachelet told reporters. “Repatriation must always be conducted in a voluntary and dignified manner, only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar.”

The UN human rights chief spoke after meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who said that the Rohingya must go back home to Myanmar.

Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim told reporters that during the meeting, the prime minister had pushed for the repatriation process to finally begin.

“The Rohingyas are the nationals of Myanmar, and they have to be taken back,” he quoted Hasina as saying.

With the arrival of the Rohingya, Cox’s Bazar became the world’s largest refugee settlement. Few employment opportunities are available, sanitation is poor and access to education limited.

“The presence of Rohingyas in Bangladesh has created a number of security concerns for Bangladesh,” Prof. Delawar Hossain of the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka, told Arab News.

Security in the camps came back into focus earlier this month when two refugee community leaders were shot dead, reportedly by an insurgent group active in the Cox’s Bazar camps that has been accused of killing scores of opponents.

Reports of criminal organizations using refugees as drug traffickers have also been on the rise.

International financial support for Bangladesh’s hosting of the Rohingya has fallen since 2020, multiplying the challenges the developing country battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is already facing.  

“Any community with a number of 1.3 million people definitely is a pressure on the economy and society,” Hossain said, adding that a return to Myanmar is an “urgent need” for the Rohingya as only then will they be able to start to live normal lives.

He said: “We should do everything possible so that the repatriation starts, because this is the only solution that we have for the Rohingya crisis.”


Former Australian PM defends secret power grab

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab
Updated 17 August 2022

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab
  • Morrison’s tenure in office, from 2018 to 2022, was a period of crisis for Australia with record bushfires, floods and drought as well as the pandemic and a first-in-a-generation recession

SYDNEY: Australia’s ex-prime minister on Wednesday defended secretly appointing himself to several key ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic, rejecting accusations he created a “shadow government” and undermined the country’s democracy.

Rejecting bipartisan calls to apologize and resign from Parliament, Scott Morrison insisted he was right to take “emergency powers” over the health, treasury, finance, resources and home affairs departments, without telling the public or his Cabinet colleagues.

“I was steering the ship in the middle of the tempest,” the former Conservative leader said in a defiant first public appearance since the scandal broke, dismissing critics who were “standing on the shore after the fact.”

“Only I could really understand the weight of responsibility that was on my shoulders, and on no one else,” Morrison said, describing his moves as “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” safeguards.

Morrison’s tenure in office, from 2018 to 2022, was a period of crisis for Australia with record bushfires, floods and drought as well as the pandemic and a first-in-a-generation recession.

But revelations that any prime minister could make such an extraordinary power grab without parliamentary or public oversight have left some questioning whether the country’s democracy is also in crisis.

Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has asked the solicitor-general to present advice on whether his predecessor acted legally.

“This is fundamentally a trashing of our democratic system. A trashing of the convention and rules that have operated in Australia for 121 years,” Albanese said Wednesday. “This is unprecedented.”

The Labor leader tied Morrison’s actions to a worldwide “retreat” of democracy.

“There’s people fighting now in Ukraine to protect democracy and a sovereign nation. You have a rise of undemocratic regimes.

“Our democracy is precious. We need to defend it and strengthen it, not undermine it, which is what the former government has done.”

Morrison’s Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, said her former leader “needs to resign and he needs to leave Parliament.”

Morrison said he intended to represent his south Sydney constituency “to the best of my ability” until at least the next election in just under three years’ time.

A devout Christian, he has previously described his election as prime minister as a “miracle.”

In power, he was routinely accused of lacking honesty and transparency — an indictment that burst onto the global stage when French President Emmanuel Macron claimed he had lied over an abandoned submarine deal.

The former prime minister insists he gained “no personal advantage” from being sworn in to administer five portfolios and stressed that the arrangements were only to be used in an emergency, such as if a minister died during the pandemic.

Morrison said he only used the powers once, which was to override his resources minister and block a controversial offshore gas project — a move he conceded was separate from the pandemic.

“I’m very happy with that decision,” he said.

“And if people think I should have made a different decision and allowed that project to proceed... well, they can make that argument.”

His conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.

In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.


Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town
Updated 17 August 2022

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town
  • Quayyem Abdul Ahmadzai shot dead after fight broke out with local youths over noise complaint
  • 60 officers sent to Colmar as govt clamps down on illegal motorcycle activity

LONDON: The death of an Afghan refugee in the eastern French province of Alsace has prompted police to send reinforcements to the area, The Times reported on Wednesday.
Quayyem Abdul Ahmadzai, 27, was allegedly shot in the chest after a fight broke out in the town of Colmar.
He and two other Afghans were having a picnic when the scuffle began, after he told a teenager nearby to make less noise with his motor scooter.
Witnesses said the teenager had been revving the engine of the scooter while standing on the pavement.
After insulting the three Afghans, he left, only to return with a group of friends, at which point the fight broke out and Ahmadzai was shot, said Catherine Sorita-Minard, the state prosecutor.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced in the aftermath of the killing that 60 police officers would be seconded to the town’s standing force of around 150 officers, to “reinforce security” and “reassure the inhabitants” of Colmar. Two teenagers, aged 17 and 18, are being sought by police in connection with the shooting.
Ahmadzai, who fled to France in 2017 and was granted refugee status, lived in the neighboring town of Mulhouse and worked for the car manufacturer Peugeot.
Another Afghan living in Colmar told The Times that Ahmadzai had been forced to leave his wife and children behind in Afghanistan when he fled, and that he “was all on his own here.”
His death has gained broad coverage across France as it came in the wake of a government crackdown on antisocial behavior by youths using motorcycles, which came to a head after four children were severely injured, and a 10-year-old girl in Paris left with severe neurological damage, after a number of accidents due to illegal races and stunts.
Darmanin said so far, 338 arrests had been made in relation to the crackdown nationwide, with 203 people remanded in custody, 157 motorcycles confiscated and 5,712 fines issued.