UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil
Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers joins other union members on strike at a picket line outside Euston railway station in London on Aug. 20, 2022. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 01 October 2022

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil
  • Only about 11% of train services were expected to operate across the UK on Saturday
  • Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday

LONDON: Trains in Britain all but ground to a halt Saturday as coordinated strikes by rail workers added to a week of turmoil caused by soaring energy prices and unfunded tax cuts that roiled financial markets.
Only about 11 percent of train services were expected to operate across the UK on Saturday, according to Network Rail. Unions said they called the latest in a series of one-day strikes to demand that wage increases keep pace with inflation that is expected to peak at around 11 percent this month.
Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday as the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine pushes gas and electricity prices higher. Household bills are expected to rise by about 20 percent, even after the government stepped in to cap prices.
Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has been in office less than a month, cited the cost-of-living crisis as the reason she moved swiftly to introduce a controversial economic stimulus program, which includes 45 billion pounds ($48 billion) of unfunded tax cuts.
Concern that the plans would push government debt to unsustainable levels sent the pound tumbling to a record low against the dollar this week and forced the Bank of England to intervene in the bond market.
“We need to get things done in this country more quickly,” Truss said in an unapologetic column for The Sun newspaper published Saturday. “So I am going to do things differently. It involves difficult decisions and does involve disruption in the short term.”
Many workers aren’t convinced.
Four labor unions have called three, 24-hour strikes over the next eight days, ensuring service disruptions for much of the week.
The timing is of particular concern for runners and fans trying to get to the capital for Sunday’s London Marathon, with is expected to attract 42,000 competitors.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, said the strikes were designed to target the annual conference of Truss’s Conservative Party, which begins Sunday in Birmingham, England.
“We don’t want to inconvenience the public, and we’re really sorry that that’s happening,’’ Lynch said. “But the government has brought this dispute on. They (put) the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”
Lynch urged Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to take “urgent steps to allow a negotiated settlement.” The union said the latest figures showed railway bosses benefiting from government tax cuts.
As a result of the strike, there will be no service between London and major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle on Saturday. Lingering disruptions are likely to effect service on Sunday morning as well.
Runners and spectators traveling to London for the marathon, which begins at 9:30 a.m., have been warned they are likely to be frustrated by the strike.
“It is particularly disheartening that this weekend’s strike will hit the plans of thousands of runners who have trained for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon,’’ said Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group. “That will also punish the many charities, large and small, who depend on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our community.”

India, Central Asian countries discuss concerns over ‘terrorist acts’ in Afghanistan

Ajit Doval. (AFP)
Ajit Doval. (AFP)
Updated 06 December 2022

India, Central Asian countries discuss concerns over ‘terrorist acts’ in Afghanistan

Ajit Doval. (AFP)
  • Security chiefs say ‘collective response’ essential
  • Afghanistan an ‘important issue,’ India’s national security adviser says

NEW DELHI: India and four Central Asian nations said on Tuesday that Afghanistan should not be used for “any terrorist acts," following an inaugural security meeting focused on countering terrorism and maintaining stability in the region.

India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval hosted his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in New Delhi, which followed an India-Central Asia leadership summit led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January.

Afghanistan was top of the agenda on Tuesday — similar to the summit focus earlier this year — as officials raised concerns about the developing situation in the crisis-torn nation.

“Afghanistan is an important issue concerning us all,” Doval said. “We meet at a time when great churns in international relations and uncertainty about the future.”

India has no diplomatic ties with Afghanistan and closed its embassy in Kabul in August last year after US-led forces left the country and the Taliban took over.

New Delhi had spent billions of dollars on infrastructure and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan after the previous Taliban regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001.

A joint declaration issued after Tuesday’s talks “emphasized that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing any terrorist acts.”

India and the Central Asian countries, which in this meeting had not included Turkmenistan, also pointed to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and called for action to provide humanitarian assistance for its people.

Their security chiefs also discussed connectivity to enhance trade and improve closer interaction. In addition, a “collective and coordinated response” to address the issue of “terrorist propaganda, recruitment and fundraising efforts” was essential, the statement reads.

The United Nations said last month that organized crime and terrorist organizations “are thriving once again” in Afghanistan. There have been several high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months claimed by the regional branch of Daesh, including a suicide blast outside the Russian embassy in September and an attack on the Pakistan embassy last week.

The regional meeting was an opportunity for India to “work together and engage” with the Central Asian nations to ensure that “sources of financing groups are curtailed and that “the Taliban government in Kabul is under pressure to perform on this issue,” Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.

“What is happening in Afghanistan and the persistence of terrorism, terror groups there pose a long-term challenge to the region and India therefore is trying to work out modus vivendi for Central Asian countries to see if a common policy response can be initiated.”



Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson

Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson
Updated 06 December 2022

Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson

Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson
  • Regime in Tehran “from Ali Khamenei down, top to bottom” wants to “scare and silence” PMOI operatives behind ongoing protests rocking the country

LONDON: A fire at the London office of an Iranian opposition group is proof the regime in Iran is “terrified” of its opponents both inside and outside the country, according to a spokesperson for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran Organization.

The blaze started in a shed next to the PMOI offices in Cricklewood, northwest London, during the early hours of Monday morning, police confirmed.

The London Fire Brigade also said it sent three engines after being called to a fire at 2:15 a.m. with firefighters finding the ground-floor bin room destroyed. The service said that no injuries were reported.

Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Tony Bellis ruled out the fire being a targeted attack or caused by terror-related motives, but did say the incident was being investigated with the help of the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command “due to the location of the incident and the organization based at the adjacent premises.”

However, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, of which the PMOI is a member, issued a statement accusing the Iranian regime of being behind the attack.

Hossein Abedini, the deputy director of the UK office of the Parliament in exile of the NCRI, said: “State terrorism is in the DNA of the clerical regime.”

He added: “With the rise and continuation of the nationwide uprising of the Iranian people to overthrow the mullahs, which has continued for 80 days despite brutal repression, the clerical regime has resorted to more terrorism and threats against the Iranian opposition to compensate for its critical situation and to boost the morale to its demoralized forces.”

Aware that the PMOI is the most organized and efficient opposition force within Iran and runs highly effective campaigns abroad, the regime in Tehran “from Ali Khamenei down, top to bottom” wants to “scare and silence” PMOI operatives behind ongoing protests rocking the country, spokeswoman Laila Jazaeri told Arab News.

“They are definitely terrified, because Khamenei has no solutions (to the unrest) inside Iran,” she said. “They are using live ammunition, (we’ve seen) 700 deaths, 30,000 arrests, only in the past five days 13 people were executed including a woman.”

She added that the regime also fears a new generation of Iranian protesters active in this year’s unrest who have “no fear” and are “not going to go back home until the regime is gone.”

The fire comes shortly after the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, recently said security services had foiled more than a dozen planned attacks by Tehran on people who are considered “enemies of the regime” based in the UK.

“The (Iranian) regime hasn’t been able to suppress the protests inside the country, and now it is exporting its terrorism and suppression outside Iranian borders,” Jazaeri said, adding that she had been warned by police about threats to her own safety.

The NCRI’s Abedini said it was time that governments and authorities pushed for Iranian embassies to be shut down.

“The time has come for a decisive response. It is time for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to be proscribed as a terrorist entity in its entirety and the embassies of the clerical regime, which are the centers of terror and espionage, be closed immediately,” he added.

Jazaeri, echoing Abedini’s statement, told Arab News that the PMOI in the UK had been pushing for the closure of Tehran’s embassy in London.

“We’ve been putting pressure on (authorities) for the shutting down of the Iranian Embassy, trying to tell them that it is merely an espionage house, where they recruit terrorists and carry out money-laundering. It should be closed down,” she said.

The London-based Persian-language TV channel Iran International is also under increased police protection after receiving threats, which it blames on Tehran, for its coverage of the protests sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

* With AFP

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns
Updated 06 December 2022

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns
  • New criminal code was approved unanimously by Indonesian lawmakers
  • It replaces a framework that stretches back to the Dutch colonial era

JAKARTA: Indonesian lawmakers passed on Tuesday a long-awaited revision of the country’s criminal code, a sweeping overhaul that critics say is a huge setback to human rights and freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian nation. 

The new rules were approved unanimously by Indonesia’s House of Representatives, three years after a similar draft law was shelved by President Joko Widodo following large-scale protests involving tens of thousands of young people, who had argued that the law threatened their civil liberties. 

The new penal code, which also applies to foreigners in the country, restores a ban on insulting the president, state institutions or Indonesia’s national ideology known as Pancasila. 

“We have tried our best to accommodate the important issues and different opinions which were debated,” Yasonna Laoly, the minister of law and human rights, told parliament. “However, it is time for us to make a historical decision on the penal code amendment and to leave the colonial criminal code we inherited behind.”

A revision to the criminal code, which stretches back to the Dutch colonial area, had languished for decades as lawmakers in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation struggled to adapt its native culture and norms to the penal code. 

The new criminal code must be signed by the president after ratification and will not apply immediately to allow for the drafting of implementing regulations, with a transition period set for a maximum of three years. It can also be challenged in the Constitutional Court. 

The new laws, critics say, will curb free speech, including mandatory police permit for public protests, without which protesters can be punished for up to six months in jail. 

“This criminal code is still thick with colonial aroma, and there are many articles threatening civil liberties and limiting democratic spaces,” Tunggal Pawestri, gender rights activist and executive director of Hivos Foundation, told Arab News. 

Pawestri acknowledged that there has been some progress since the nationwide protests in 2019, when opponents of the bill said the law-making process had lacked transparency and contained articles that discriminated against minorities. 

“Even though they said they were open and tried to include input from the larger civil society, we think this was not their best attempt,” Pawestri added. “We have been shouting and giving our input, but it’s almost as if they didn’t listen to us.” 

Editorials in national newspapers decried the new laws, including daily newspaper Koran Tempo, saying the code has “authoritarian” tones and could be a “disaster” in the future. 

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said the new legal provisions were “oppressive,” as they open doors to “invasions of privacy and selective enforcement that will enable police to extort bribes and officials to harass and jail political opponents. 

“In one fell swoop, Indonesia’s human rights situation has taken a drastic turn for the worse,” Robertson told Arab News. 

“Make no mistake, passage of this criminal code is the beginning of an unmitigated disaster for human rights in Indonesia. Lawmakers and the government should immediately reconsider this move, repeal this law and send it back to the drawing board.”

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front
Updated 06 December 2022

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front
  • The focus of fighting in Ukraine has shifted to Donbas after Kyiv's forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson
  • Zelensky appeared in a video wearing a heavy winter coat, standing next to a large sign in Ukraine's blue and yellow colours bearing the city name Sloviansk

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday visited the frontline region of Donetsk in east Ukraine, describing fighting in the area as “difficult” with Russian forces pushing to capture the industrial city of Bakhmut.
The visit came as Russian President Vladimir Putin convened his security council in the wake of the latest spate of drone attacks on military-linked facilities inside Russian territory.
The focus of fighting in Ukraine has shifted to Donbas after Kyiv’s forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson last month following a Russian retreat from the regional capital.
Zelensky appeared in a video wearing a heavy winter coat, standing next to a large sign in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors bearing the city name Sloviansk and calling for a moment of silence to commemorate killed Ukrainian soldiers.
“The east of Ukraine today is the most difficult front. And I am honored to be here now with our defending troops in Donbas. I believe that next time we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk and in Crimea as well,” Zelensky said.
Russian forces and their proxies have controlled parts of Donetsk and Lugansk since 2014, when fighting with separatists broke out and the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
“From the bottom of my heart, I congratulate you on this great holiday, the Day of the Armed Forces,” said Zelensky, who was later shown meeting soldiers and distributing awards.
In the nearby Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, its Moscow-appointed mayor said that Ukrainian shelling had killed six civilians and injured others.
The Ukrainian leader has visited several frontline regions after more than nine months of fighting, including Kherson in the south recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces, calling its recapture “the beginning of the end of the war.”
Sloviansk, which was among regions in Donetsk briefly held by Russian-backed separatists, lies some 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Bakhmut, which has become the center of fighting since Kherson’s fall.
The Kremlin said Putin met senior officials to discuss issues related to the country’s “domestic security” and that Russia was taking “necessary” measures to fend off more of what it said were Ukrainian attacks.
Officials in Russia’s Kursk region near the border with Ukraine said earlier Tuesday that a drone attack near an airfield had caused a fire at an oil storage unit.
That attack came after the defense ministry said a day earlier that Ukraine had tried to attack another airfield in Ryazan region and also the key Engels airfield in the Saratov region.
Engels is a base for the country’s strategic aircraft that Kyiv says have been used to strike Ukraine, and both sites are hundreds of kilometers away from Ukraine’s border.
The British defense ministry said that if Russia deems Ukraine to have been responsible then Moscow will “probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.”
The drone attacks come on the back of weeks of systematic Russian attacks that have crippled Ukrainian critical infrastructure like water, electricity and heating ahead of winter.
Russia on Monday fired another barrage of dozens of missiles that knocked out power and water in cities across Ukraine, the latest wave of attacks that Moscow has said Kyiv was responsible for because it refused Russian demands.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday said that Russian forces were using long-range, precision weapons to target military-linked facilities and “crush the military potential of Ukraine.”
The defense ministry also announced Tuesday it had received back from Ukraine captivity 60 Russian servicemen in their most recent exchange.
Russia’s invasion and its decision to conscript hundreds of thousands of men has set off an exodus of Russians from the country, including critical politicians and journalists.
However, neighboring Latvia announced Tuesday it was revoking the license for exiled independent TV channel Dozhd for multiple violations that included showing the Crimea peninsula annexed from Ukraine as part of Russia.
“The laws of Latvia must be respected by everyone,” Ivars Abolins, head of the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council, said on Twitter.

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs
Updated 06 December 2022

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

BEJING: Students protested against a lockdown at a university in eastern China, highlighting continued anger as huge numbers of people across the country still face restrictions despite the government easing its zero-Covid policy.
Some Chinese cities have begun tentatively rolling back mass testing and curbs on movement following nationwide anti-lockdown demonstrations last week.
But analysts at Japanese firm Nomura on Monday calculated that 53 cities — home to nearly a third of China’s population — still had some restrictions in place.
China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother the rallies, deploying a heavy police presence while boosting online censorship and surveillance.
Videos published on social media Tuesday and geolocated by AFP show a crowd of students at Nanjing Tech University on Monday night shouting demands to leave the campus.
“Your power is given to you by students, not by yourselves,” one person can be heard shouting in the footage. “Serve the students!“
A third-year student who asked to remain anonymous confirmed the protest took place, a day after the school announced it would seal off the campus for five days because of just one Covid case.
Chinese universities have restricted movement for months, with many requiring students to apply for permission to leave the campus and banning visitors.
The Nanjing Tech student told AFP her peers were unhappy about poor communication from the university and worried they would be blocked from traveling home for the winter holidays.
In the footage, the crowd can be seen arguing with university representatives and shouting for school leaders to step down.
“If you touch us you will become the second Foxconn!” one protester yells in reference to violent demonstrations last month in central China at a factory run by the Taiwanese tech giant that supplies Apple.
Other clips showed a police car arriving on the scene and university officials promising students they would compile their complaints in a file.
The Nanjing protest comes days after people took to the streets in multiple Chinese cities urging an end to the zero-Covid policy, with some even calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.
Hundreds gathered at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua and Peking universities at the end of last month as well as on campuses in the cities of Xi’an, Guangzhou and Wuhan.

Authorities have cracked down on subsequent efforts to protest while appearing to answer some demands by easing a number of restrictions.
On Tuesday Beijing said offices and commercial buildings including supermarkets would no longer require visitors to show proof of a negative test.
Major businesses and organizers of large-scale events will be allowed to devise their own testing requirements, authorities said.
Xie Shangguang, a 22-year-old student in Beijing, welcomed the changes as “good news” and told AFP he felt the capital was “coming back to life.”
“I have the impression that it will gradually ease up,” he said. “You can’t let everything go at once, or block everything at once, you have to proceed step by step.”
Another Beijing resident, 28-year-old Wu Siqi, also said the loosening should be incremental.
“You can’t just suddenly tell people they don’t need to do anything,” she said.
A host of other cities including Shanghai have dialled down mass testing mandates in recent days.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, officials began telling people to stay home if they have symptoms — a sharp about-turn from the previous approach of dragging all positive cases to central quarantine facilities.