China’s Xinjiang eases some COVID-19 measures after protests

Update China’s Xinjiang eases some COVID-19 measures after protests
Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 28 November 2022

China’s Xinjiang eases some COVID-19 measures after protests

China’s Xinjiang eases some COVID-19 measures after protests
  • Demonstrators gathered over the weekend to protest China’s COVID-19 lockdowns

BEIJING: China’s western Xinjiang region eased some COVID-19 restrictions in its capital Urumqi on Monday, after a deadly fire in the city blamed on virus controls sparked protests across the country.

People in the city of four million, some of whom have been confined to their homes for weeks on end, can travel around on buses to run errands within their home districts starting Tuesday, officials said at a press conference Monday.

Certain essential businesses in “low-risk” areas could also apply to restart operations — at 50 percent capacity — while public transport and flights will start “resuming in an orderly manner,” officials said a day earlier.

Ten people were killed when a blaze ripped through a residential building in Urumqi on Thursday night, spurring crowds to take to the streets in multiple Chinese cities this weekend to protest against the country’s strict zero COVID-19 policy.

Many social media users blamed COVID-19 lockdowns in Urumqi for hampering rescue efforts, but officials have instead said private cars obstructed firefighters.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday lashed out at “forces with ulterior motives” for linking the fire with COVID-19.

But in the wake of the protests, officials on Saturday said the city “had basically reduced social transmissions to zero” and they would “restore the normal order of life for residents in low-risk areas in a staged and orderly manner.”

Officials at the press conference on Monday said Urumqi would also resume parcel delivery services — but logistics workers would have to stay in a “closed loop” at company dormitories.

China’s unrelenting zero COVID-19 push has sparked protests and hit productivity in the world’s second-largest economy, as the public grows weary of snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing campaigns.

A series of new rules announced by Beijing earlier this month appeared to signal a shift away from the strategy, easing quarantine requirements for entering the country and simplifying a system for designating high-risk areas.

But officials have instead dug in their heels, even shutting down large parts of China’s capital as national case numbers shot past the 30,000 mark in recent days to record highs.

Public anger boiled over on the weekend when hundreds gathered on university campuses and cities around the country demanding an end to the zero COVID-19 policy.

In Beijing, the city government said on Sunday afternoon it will not allow snap lockdowns of residential areas to be in place for more than 24 hours.


Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years
Updated 58 min 48 sec ago

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years
  • As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain's umbrella labour organisation the Trades Union Congress called it the "biggest day of strike action since 2011"
  • Unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet

LONDON: Half a million workers went on strike in Britain on Wednesday, calling for higher wages in the largest such walkout in over a decade, closing schools and severely disrupting transport.
As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain’s umbrella labor organization the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called it the “biggest day of strike action since 2011.”
The latest strikes come a day after more than 1.27 million took to the streets in France, increasing pressure on the French government over pension reform plans.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for pay rises to be “reasonable” and affordable” warning that big pay rises would jeopardize attempts to tame inflation.
But unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet in the face of low paid, insecure work and spiralling costs.
Teachers and train drivers were among the latest groups to act, as well as border force workers at UK air and seaports.
“The workload is always bigger and bigger and with the inflation our salary is lower and lower,” London teacher Nigel Adams, 57, told AFP as he joined thousands of teachers marching through central London.
“We’re exhausted. We’re paying the price and so are the children,” he added as protesters held up placards reading “Pay Up” and “We can’t put your kids first if you put their teachers last.”
Britain has witnessed months of strikes by tens of thousands of workers — including postal staff, lawyers, nurses and employees in the retail sector — as UK inflation raced above 11 percent, the highest level in more than 40 years.
Job center worker and union representative, Graham, who preferred not to give his last name said workers had no choice but to strike faced with soaring costs.
“Some of our members, even though they are working, still have to make visits to food banks,” he said.
“Not only are wages not keeping up, but things like fares, council tax and rents are going up. Anything we get is eaten away,” he added.
At London’s King’s Cross rail station, Kate Lewis, a 50-year-old charity worker, said she sympathized with the strikers despite her train being delayed.
“I understand. We are all in the same boat. All impacted by inflation,” she said.
Another major commuter hub in the capital, London Bridge station, was completely closed.
One train driver who gave his name as Tony, 61, said the sort of pay rises on offer were insulting, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“We worked all through Covid. We were being praised as key workers and then there is this slap in the face,” he said.
“I was leaving (home) at 3 am to go to work. People were having barbecues, you could hear the bottles. I think we deserve a pay increase that keeps up with inflation.”
Government and company bosses are standing firm over wage demands.
With thousands of schools closed for the day, Education Minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio she was “disappointed” teachers had walked out.
But union boss Mark Serwotka said the government’s position was “unsustainable.”
“It’s not feasible that they can sit back with this unprecedented amount of industrial action growing, because it’s half a million today,” he told Sky News.
“Next week, we have paramedics, and we have nurses, then will then be the firefighters,” he added, warning that unions were prepared to strike throughout the summer.
Prime Minister Sunak on Wednesday told parliament the government had given teachers the “highest pay rise in 30 years” including nine percent for newly qualified teachers.
He urged opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to say “that the strikes are wrong and we should be backing our school children“
The latest official data shows 1.6 million working days were lost from June-November last year because of strikes — the highest six-month total in more than three decades — according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A total of 467,000 working days were lost to walkouts in November alone, the highest level since 2011, the ONS added.
Alongside the strikes, unions are also staging rallies across the country against the Conservative government’s plans to legislate against public sector strike action.
Sunak has introduced a draft law requiring some frontline workers to maintain a minimum level of service during walkouts.


In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival

In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival
Updated 01 February 2023

In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival

In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival
  • Nearly half of coastal cities, districts in Indonesia are at risk of tidal flooding by 2050
  • Indonesia is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of risks posed by climate change

JAKARTA: For the past few years, Rania has been constantly living in fear of the day she and her family would have to abandon their home when everything they own falls into the ocean. 

Life and livelihood in Rania’s village, Pondok Kelapa in Bengkulu province on the western coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, have been increasingly affected by erosion. 

Environmentalists estimate that seawater has already entered 30 m into the mainland since 2011 and the pace at which it reclaims more is increasing. 

The village has been also losing its main source of livelihood, fisheries, as tidal waves destroy marine vegetation and fish habitats, leaving many men jobless and trapping the whole community in a poverty cycle. 

“Where we live is being eroded by the waves. Tidal floods are greatly affecting our lives,” Rania, 47, told Arab News. 

“We are trying our best, but some children don’t go to school. Some of them have had to leave because there’s simply not enough money.” 

Pondok Kelapa is not the only place affected, as coastal erosion and tidal flooding are threatening many more communities in the archipelagic nation of 270 million. 

A recent study by Indonesia’s biggest daily, Kompas, showed that nearly 200 out of about 500 coastal cities and districts are at risk of being submerged by 2050, as the country is one of the most vulnerable in terms of risks posed by the changing climate.

In Rania’s village of 4,300 people, women have decided to fight back. 

In 2020, she and over 20 other village women formed a group to advocate for government climate resilience assistance to build a seawall and help the community adapt to the rapidly changing conditions with proper infrastructure. 

“Because of climate change, seawater has increasingly eroded our place in Pondok Kelapa,” she said. 

“Now the women are stepping up and trying to confront this issue. Who knows, maybe the government will respond to us ladies.” 

Action is urgently needed not only in Pondok Kelapa but along the coast of the whole Bengkulu province, according to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, a non-governmental organization, which is part of the Friends of the Earth International network. 

“A number of villages are in danger of sinking because of coastal erosion and tidal flooding…These tidal floods in Bengkulu province are very hard to predict, and they have impacted the earnings of fishermen and subsequently affected their livelihood,” Dodi Faisal, who heads the forum’s advocacy in the province, told Arab News. 

“It’s very worrying. The provincial and local governments have yet to take any concrete action.” 

Masmarawati, another member of Rania’s group, said she hopes action will come soon.

“We can still survive in the village for now,” she said. 

“But what about next year? In five years? What’s going to happen to our children and grandchildren?” 


Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut
Updated 01 February 2023

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut
  • They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year

BAKHMUT: Ukrainian police staged a risky rescue mission in the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut this week to evacuate a six-year-old girl who had become separated from her pregnant mother.
Young Arina was found living with her grandparents in a run-down apartment building in Bakhmut, which has been pummelled by Russian forces in heavy fighting.
After trudging through snow to reach Arina, with artillery fire echoing in the distance, policeman Pavlo Dyachenko and two colleagues in combat gear drove Arina to the nearby city of Sloviansk to be reunited with her mother, Halyna Danylchenko.
“A shell exploded in our yard!” Arina, clutching a large white teddy bear, told her mother after they hugged.
“I heard that a shell exploded in your yard, that’s why I got so worried,” said Danylchenko, who is 24 and eight months pregnant.

They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year.
Dyachenko said there were still about 200 children living in Bakhmut. The city was home to about 70,000 people before the war but officials say only a few thousand residents now remain.
“We’re meeting the families that are still there and talk to them, trying to convince them to agree to be evacuated, either the whole family or the children. Because children must live in a peaceful environment,” he told Reuters.
He had to gently coax Arina into leaving Bakhmut, calmly explaining the dangers of remaining.
“Are there any other children you can play with here?” Dyachenko asked the young girl after finder her in Bakhmut.

“No,” she replied, and started to cry.
“You’re supposed to be in a safe place. Do you understand?,” another officer said. “Do they shoot and shell a lot here?“
Arina nodded in reply.
One of the officers then put a bright orange helmet on her head, explaining: “This is for when we go outside, so that nothing can hit your head.”
They left the building to the sound of shelling, got into a waiting van and left for safety.


Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
Updated 01 February 2023

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
  • Anis Amri killed 12 people in German Christmas market during 2016 truck rampage

LONDON: Three Tunisians linked to a terrorist who killed a dozen people in Germany in 2016 have been arrested by Italian police for facilitating illegal immigration, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The trio were arrested during nationwide raids in Italy on more than 40 premises linked to a transnational gang enabling illegal immigration.

Two of the men were subsequently placed in pre-trial detention, while the third was ordered into house arrest.

Police tied the three to Anis Amri, a Tunisian who plowed into Christmas market crowds in Berlin using a truck seven years ago, killing 12 people and injuring dozens.

After going on the run following the attack, Amri was killed in a shootout with Milan police four days later.

Authorities carried out raids on the illegal immigration gang in Ancona, Fermo, Ferrara, Catanzaro, Modena, Macerata, Siracusa and Verona.  


Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
Updated 01 February 2023

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
  • The head of Ukraine’s ruling party confirm Avakov’s home had been searched

KYIV: Former Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov said his home was searched by security officials on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a purchase of Airbus helicopters, the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported.
An Airbus helicopter crashed on Jan. 18, killing 14 people including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top ministry officials.
The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the Ukrainska Pravda report.
A top governing party official confirmed on Wednesday that security officials had raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s richest men and a former interior minister, and said the country would change during the war with Russia.
Ukrainska Pravda quoted Avakov as saying the search was related to the helicopter crash.
“They looked at Airbus contracts from six years ago,” it quoted Avakov as saying.
Avakov, 59, resigned as Ukraine’s interior minister, in July 2021. Prior to his resignation he was one of the country’s most powerful officials, serving as the interior minister for over seven years.
David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People party’s parliamentary faction, said there were also searches at Ukraine’s Tax Office and that the management team of the Customs Service would be dismissed.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging in app.