Hundreds protest southern China COVID-19 lockdowns

Hundreds protest southern China COVID-19 lockdowns
Under the policy, thousands of residents can be locked down over just one positive case in their housing complex. (File/AP)
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Updated 15 November 2022

Hundreds protest southern China COVID-19 lockdowns

Hundreds protest southern China COVID-19 lockdowns
  • City officials launched mandatory mass testing in nine districts last week

BEIJING: Protesters in southern China clashed with police in a rare display of public opposition to anti-COVID measures, videos posted online showed, after lockdowns in the area were extended over a surge in infections.
Videos circulating on social media since Monday night and verified by AFP showed hundreds taking to the street in the industrial metropolis of Guangzhou, some tearing down cordons intended to keep locked-down residents from leaving their homes.
A few scuffled with officials in hazmat suits.
“No more testing,” protesters chanted, with some throwing debris at police.
Another video shows a man trying to swim across a waterway that separates the affected district of Haizhu from the neighboring area, with passers-by suggesting the man was trying to escape the lockdown.
The district of more than 1.8 million residents has been the source of the bulk of Guangzhou’s COVID-19 cases.
Officials announced the first snap lockdown there in late October, targeting dozens of residential neighborhoods.
And on Monday, a lockdown order covering nearly two-thirds of the district was extended until Wednesday night.
City officials launched mandatory mass testing in nine districts last week, as daily case numbers rose above 1,000.
The megacity of more than 18 million people reported nearly 2,300 cases on Tuesday, most of them asymptomatic.
China is the only major economy sticking to a zero-Covid strategy to stamp out virus clusters as they emerge, but swift and harsh lockdowns have battered the economy.
Under the policy, thousands of residents can be locked down over just one positive case in their housing complex.
But a torrent of lockdown-related scandals — where residents have complained of inadequate conditions, food shortages and delayed emergency medical care — have chipped away at public confidence in the policy.
Dozens of people took to the streets in southern tech hub Shenzhen in September after officials announced a snap lockdown over a handful of COVID cases.
And earlier this year, a gruelling two-month lockdown in Shanghai — the world’s third most populous city with more than 25 million residents — saw widespread food shortages, deaths due to lack of access to medical care, and scattered protests.
On Friday the government announced some relaxation of the measures, cutting quarantine times for inbound travelers and scrapping the requirement to identify and isolate “secondary close contacts” — those who may have come into contact with infected people.

War-crimes warrant for Putin could complicate Ukraine peace

War-crimes warrant for Putin could complicate Ukraine peace
Updated 11 sec ago

War-crimes warrant for Putin could complicate Ukraine peace

War-crimes warrant for Putin could complicate Ukraine peace
THE HAGUE: An international arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin raises the prospect of the man whose country invaded Ukraine facing justice, but it complicates efforts to end that war in peace talks.
Both justice and peace appear to be only remote possibilities today, and the conflicting relationship between the two is a quandary at the heart of a March 17 decision by the International Criminal Court to seek the Russian leader's arrest.
Judges in The Hague found “reasonable grounds to believe” that Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights were responsible for war crimes, specifically the unlawful deportation and unlawful transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
As unlikely as Putin sitting in a Hague courtroom seems now, other leaders have faced justice in international courts.
Former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, a driving force behind the Balkan wars of the 1990s, went on trial for war crimes, including genocide, at a United Nations tribunal in The Hague after he lost power. He died in his cell in 2006 before a verdict could be reached.
Serbia, which wants European Union membership but has maintained close ties to Russia, is one of the countries that has criticized the ICC's action. The warrants “will have bad political consequences” and create “a great reluctance to talk about peace (and) about truce” in Ukraine, populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said.
Others see consequences for Putin, and for anyone judged guilty of war crimes, as the primary desired outcome of international action.
“There will be no escape for the perpetrator and his henchmen," European Union leader Ursula von der Leyen said Friday in a speech to mark the one-year anniversary of the liberation of Bucha, the Ukraine town that saw some of the worst atrocities in the war. “War criminals will be held accountable for their deeds.”
Hungary did not join the other 26 EU members in signing a resolution in support of the ICC warrant for Putin. The government's chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said Hungarian authorities would not arrest Putin if he were to enter the country..
He called the warrants “not the most fortunate because they lead toward escalation and not toward peace.”
Putin appears to have a strong grip on power, and some analysts suspect the the warrant hanging over him could provide an incentive to prolong the fighting.
“The arrest warrant for Putin might undermine efforts to reach a peace deal in Ukraine,” Daniel Krcmaric, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, said in emailed comments to The Associated Press.
One potential way of easing the way to peace talks could be for the United Nations Security Council to call on the International Criminal Court to suspend the Ukraine investigation for a year, which is allowed under Article 16 of the Rome Statute treaty that created the court.
But that appears unlikely, said Krcmaric, whose book “The Justice Dilemma,” deals with the tension between seeking justice and pursuing a negotiated end to conflicts.
“The Western democracies would have to worry about public opinion costs if they made the morally questionable decision to trade justice for peace in such an explicit fashion,” he said, adding that Ukraine also is unlikely to support such a move.
Russia immediately rejected the warrants. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow doesn’t recognize the ICC and considers its decisions “legally void.” And Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, which is chaired by Putin, suggested the ICC headquarters on the Netherlands' coastline could become a target for a Russian missile strike.
Alexander Baunov, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment, observed in a commentary that the arrest warrant for Putin amounted to “an invitation to the Russian elite to abandon Putin” that could erode his support.
While welcoming the warrants for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, rights groups also urged the international community not to forget the pursuit of justice in other conflicts.
“The ICC warrant for Putin reflects an evolving and multifaceted justice effort that is needed elsewhere in the world,” Human Rights Watch associate international justice director Balkees Jarrah said in a statement. “Similar justice initiatives are needed elsewhere to ensure that the rights of victims globally — whether in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, or Palestine — are respected.”

Bulgaria votes for fifth time in two years under Ukraine shadow

Bulgaria votes for fifth time in two years under Ukraine shadow
Updated 02 April 2023

Bulgaria votes for fifth time in two years under Ukraine shadow

Bulgaria votes for fifth time in two years under Ukraine shadow

SOFIA: Bulgarians vote on Sunday in their fifth general election in two years, a record in the European Union, amid deep divisions over the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of its neighbor has deepened the political crisis that has engulfed Bulgaria since 2020, the worst instability since the fall of Communism.
The poor Balkan nation of 6.5 million people is a member of the EU and NATO. But it is historically and culturally close to Russia.
The country witnessed massive anti-corruption rallies three years ago but, contrary to protesters’ hopes of a clean-up in public life, the demonstrations triggered a series of elections.
Conservative prime minister Boyko Borisov, whose decade in office was tainted by allegations of graft, lost power in 2021.
But the country’s political parties have struggled since to form stable coalitions, leading to a deeply fragmented parliament and series of interim governments.
“What if the results are the same as in previous legislative elections?” asked Silvia Radoeva, a 42-year-old care worker.
“It’s high time that politicians united to deal with everyday problems,” Radoeva told AFP, citing “crazy prices, poverty and deplorable medical care.”

“Faced with war and inflation, (Bulgarian) society is crying out for a solution,” Parvan Simeonov, a political analyst with Gallup International, told AFP.
The fight against corruption has taken a back seat, leaving many 2020 protesters disillusioned.
The main players in Sunday’s ballot are the same as in recent elections.
The latest polls put Borisov’s GERB party neck-and-neck with the reformist We Continue the Change (PP), led by Harvard-educated Kiril Petkov, who was briefly premier in 2022.
Both have around 25 percent support.
This time, the PP has joined forces with a small right-wing coalition called Democratic Bulgaria.
“We find the same pattern as in other central European countries — a former leader who clings on and the other parties who refuse to ally with him, without having much else in common,” said Lukas Macek, associate researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute for Central and Eastern Europe.
Macek sees no end to this “worrying spiral of elections” unless Borisov withdraws.

“I fear the influence of pro-Russian parties in the next parliament,” Ognian Peychev, a 60-year-old engineer, told AFP at a recent protest against the war in Ukraine.
The ultra-nationalist Vazrazhdane party, which defends the Kremlin’s war, stands to gain some 13 percent of the votes, according to polls, up from the 10 percent it won at the last general election in October.
The Socialist BSP, the successor of Bulgaria’s Communist Party, has also sided with Moscow and objects to sending weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Many in Bulgaria still look to the east, revering Russia as the country that ended five centuries of Ottoman rule in 1878.
“Both Petkov and Borisov are too aggressively critical of Russia,” said Mariana Valkova, a 62-year-old entrepreneur who used to work in what was then the Soviet Union.
“I’d rather there wasn’t a government and (President Rumen) Radev remained in charge.”
Pro-Russian Radev, who has appointed interim cabinets between the string of inconclusive elections, has denounced Petkov and his allies as “war mongers.”
He has also spoken out against sending arms to Ukraine.
At the same time, Bulgaria’s munitions factories have been running at full capacity making ammunition to be exported to Kyiv via third countries.
Polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) on Sunday.
The first exit polls are expected after polls close at 8:00 p.m. (1700 GMT).

Recognition of Arab American Heritage month growing but still far from complete in US

Recognition of Arab American Heritage month growing but still far from complete in US
Updated 02 April 2023

Recognition of Arab American Heritage month growing but still far from complete in US

Recognition of Arab American Heritage month growing but still far from complete in US
  • Biden said that despite the contribution made to the nation, many Arabs continue to face racism and discrimination
  • For many years, Arabs in only a few states celebrated Arab American Heritage Month individually and during different months of the year

Chicago: US President Joe Biden this week issued a lengthy statement recognizing April as Arab American Heritage Month, noting on Friday that “the Arab American story is the American story” and should be recognized formally by all Americans.

Biden said that Arab Americans, like all of the nation’s ethnic groups, had contributed to defining America as a country welcoming of immigrants and the cultures they brought with them, serving in the US military and in every profession.

However, Biden said that despite the contribution made to the nation, many Arabs continue to face racism and discrimination.

“This month, we join together to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Arab Americans to our nation and recommit ourselves to the timeless work of making sure that all people have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Biden said during a briefing on March 31.

“Sadly, we also recognize that, even as Arab Americans enrich our nation, many continue to face prejudice, bigotry, and violence — a stain on our collective conscience. Hate must have no safe harbor in this country. We must affirm that sentiment again and again. That is why, on my first day in office, I issued the proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States, which harmed the Arab American community. I also signed an executive order charging the federal government with advancing equity for historically underserved communities, including Arab Americans. I was proud to host a first-of-its-kind United We Stand Summit at the White House and announce new measures to help communities prevent and respond to hate-based threats, bullying and harassment.”

Biden established an interagency group to “coordinate” the federal government’s efforts to fight antisemitism and Islamophobia, and is exploring ways to include Arabs in the 2030 US Census drive, leaning toward adding to the census questionnaire the phrase “MENA” (Middle East and North Africa) rather than the word “Arab.”

For many years, Arabs in only a few states such as Michigan, Illinois, California, Washington D.C., Arizona and Texas celebrated Arab American Heritage Month individually and during different months of the year.

That changed in 2017 when Arab American leaders launched a coordinated effort to designate one month, April, as Arab American Heritage Month. In 2018, Illinois became the first state to pass a law officially recognizing April as Arab American Heritage Month.

Since then, 44 other states have approved proclamations recognizing April as Arab American Heritage Month and Arab contributions to American society.

In 2022, the recognition of April as Arab American Heritage Month received a major boost when Biden became the first US president to recognize it as an official national commemoration.

“We have seen a steady progression, first to bring Arab Americans together to recognize one month to celebrate our rich cultural heritage, and we have seen many Americans and elected officials support this important designation,” said American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Illinois President Hassan Nijem who was instrumental in getting the law passed in 2018.

“Last year, President Biden recognized April nationally as Arab Heritage Month and it has been followed by proclamations and declarations from members of Congress, state governors and legislatures in 45 states. We still have a way to go, but the recognition of the contributions of Arab Americans to the richness of this country is undeniable.”

Several Biden administration officials and department heads issued statements affirming April as Arab American Heritage Month. On April 1, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking for the Biden administration, issued a proclamation honoring Arab American Heritage Month.

Last year, President Biden became the first US president to declare April as National Arab American Heritage Month, in recognition of the contributions of Arab Americans to the United States that are as old as America itself. Americans of Arab heritage have advanced the nation’s achievements in diplomacy, science, technology, as well as in art and culture,” Blinken said.

“Arab Americans have also been at the forefront of the fight for civil rights and social justice. We mark National Arab American Heritage Month by celebrating the rich culture and heritage of Arab Americans and honoring the contributions to this country, including proudly here at the Department of State.”

The Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison joined the DNC’s Ethnic Council Chairman James Zogby, also the president of the Arab American Institute, in issuing a statement saluting Arab culture during April Arab American Heritage month.

“This Arab American Heritage Month, we celebrate the culture, contributions, and achievements of Arab Americans across our country. This vibrant and diverse community, with roots in 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and numerous cultural and religious traditions, represents the best of who we are,” a statement released on Saturday by the DNC read.

“President Biden understands that, and it is why the Biden-Harris administration recognized April as National Arab American Heritage Month for the first time nationally in 2021. On behalf of the Democratic Party, we’re proud to celebrate and support Arab Americans for the tremendous impact they have on our party and country.”

From schools to government agencies and public organizations, Americans are celebrating Arab American Heritage Month. The New York City Public Schools, for example, listed a variety of ways in which classrooms and students can learn more about Arab American history.

The Arab American National Museum located in Dearborn, Michigan, is offering a “virtual tour” of Arab American history.

Google Classrooms and “1001 Inventions” have partnered to provide digital access to interactive stories about lesser-known pioneer men and women, primarily from the Arab world, to help spark young people’s interest in science while promoting diversity and inclusion in their own online exhibition.

Several Arab American leaders said that the celebrations were muted slightly in deference to the observance of Ramadan, the important Islamic religious commemoration observed by Muslims during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar by fasting from sunrise to sunset, and in prayer and through community reflection.

In a show of unity with Muslims, many Christian-owned restaurants limit their business hours until after the sunset iftar, and temper public celebrations.

“In Illinois, we will be hosting events at the end of the month of April Arab American Heritage Month as an act of respect,” Nijem said, noting that Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who annually recognizes the achievements of the region’s ethnic groups, will host a special Arab American Heritage gathering on May 1 at her offices in Chicago.

The Arab Chamber also has several events planned for the last week of April after Ramadan concludes, Nijem said.

War has killed 262 Ukrainian athletes, sports minister says

War has killed 262 Ukrainian athletes, sports minister says
Updated 02 April 2023

War has killed 262 Ukrainian athletes, sports minister says

War has killed 262 Ukrainian athletes, sports minister says
  • Ukraine has said its athletes won’t be allowed to compete in qualifying events for the 2024 Olympic Games if they have to compete against Russians

Russia’s war against Ukraine has claimed the lives of 262 Ukrainian athletes and destroyed 363 sports facilities, the country’s sports minister, Vadym Guttsait, said on Saturday.
Meeting the visiting president of the International Federation of Gymnastics, Morinari Watanabe, Guttsait said no athletes from Russia should be allowed at the Olympics or other sports competitions.
“They all support this war and attend events held in support of this war,” Huttsait said, according to a transcript on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s website.
The International Olympic Committee has recommended the gradual return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competition as neutrals. It has not decided on their participation in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Ukraine said on Friday its athletes will not be allowed to take part in qualifying events for the 2024 Games if they have to compete against Russians, a decision the IOC has criticized.
Reuters could not independently verify the number of Ukrainian athletes killed or how many facilities have been destroyed.
In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022, a number of Ukrainian national-level athletes have taken up arms voluntarily to defend their country.
Among those killed this year alone have been figure skater Dmytro Sharpar, who died in combat near Bakhmut, and Volodymyr Androshchuk, a 22-year-old decathlon champion and future Olympic hopeful.

Finns vote as far right aims to unseat PM Sanna Marin

Finns vote as far right aims to unseat PM Sanna Marin
Updated 02 April 2023

Finns vote as far right aims to unseat PM Sanna Marin

Finns vote as far right aims to unseat PM Sanna Marin
  • Marin's Social Democratic Party (SDP) was in third place with 18.7 percent, behind center-right National Coalition (19.8 %), and the nationalist euroskeptic Finns Party (19.5 %)

HELSINKI: Finland votes Sunday in legislative elections that could see the country take a dramatic turn to the right, as center-right and anti-immigration parties vie to unseat Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
After the breakthrough by nationalists in neighboring Sweden and the far right’s victory in Italy last year, Finland could become the latest country to join the nationalist wave in Europe.
The vote comes just days ahead of Finland’s formal accession to the NATO defense alliance, made possible after Turkiye ratified the country’s membership bid on Thursday.
“The polls show that the more right-wing political trend in Finland is gaining strength,” Juho Rahkonen from the E2 research institute told AFP.
Traditionally, the biggest of the eight main parties in parliament gets the first chance to build a government, and since the 1990s that party has always claimed the prime minister’s office.
“We are aiming to win this election and continue our work for a more sustainable future,” Marin told reporters at the sidelines of her final campaign event in Helsinki.
The latest survey published Thursday by public broadcaster Yle showed the center-right National Coalition holding a thin lead at 19.8 percent, with the nationalist euroskeptic Finns Party in second place at 19.5 percent.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by Marin, who took office in 2019 as the world’s youngest prime minister at age 34, was in third place with 18.7 percent.
“We have had a great campaign. We have the best candidates all over Finland and we are first in the polls, so I’m optimistic,” National Coalition leader Petteri Orpo told AFP at a campaign rally on Saturday.
While Marin ranks as Finland’s most popular prime minister this century in polls, she is struggling to convert her popularity into SDP seats in parliament.
“Although she is exceptionally popular, she also arouses opposition. The political divide has been reinforced,” Rahkonen said.
While some view her as a strong leader who deftly navigated the Covid-19 pandemic and the NATO membership process, others see the rising public debt on her watch and scandals over video clips of her partying as signs of her inexperience.
Finland’s debt-to-GDP ratio has risen from 64 percent in 2019 to 73 percent, which Orpo’s National Coalition wants to address by cutting spending by six billion euros ($6.5 billion).
Marin has defended her track record and accused the National Coalition of wanting to “take from the poor to give to the rich.”

A top spot for the far-right Finns Party, and a far-right prime minister, would be a first in Finland, with its leader Riikka Purra poised to top her party’s record score.
Her euroskeptic party wants a hard line on immigration, pointing to neighboring Sweden’s problems with gang violence as a cautionary tale.
“The biggest issue at the moment is the growing juvenile delinquency,” she told AFP on Saturday, claiming that “most of these street gangs and young criminals in the streets are migrants.”
Support for the populist party has surged since last summer, spurred by the “rise in energy prices and the general decline in purchasing power” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rahkonen said.
While the party served in a center-right government in 2015, it later split into two factions, one hard-line and the other moderate, with only the hard-liners still in parliament.
The Finns Party sees an EU exit as its long-term goal and wants to postpone Finland’s target of carbon neutrality for 2035.

Negotiations to build a government are expected to be thorny.
Marin has ruled out forming a government with what she calls the “openly racist” Finns Party, while Orpo has said he will keep his options open, despite clashing with the Finns Party on immigration, the EU and climate policy.
This gives him a central role in forming the next government, as both the Finns Party and the SDP would likely need him to obtain a majority.
Voting stations open at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) and close at 8:00 p.m. (1700 GMT), when the results of advance voting will be published. About 40 percent of voters have cast their ballots in advance.