Bangladesh opposition vows to continue protests despite ‘autocratic’ crackdown

Bangladesh opposition vows to continue protests despite ‘autocratic’ crackdown
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters rally in Dhaka on Oct. 28, 2023, demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down to allow a free and fair election under a neutral government. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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Bangladesh opposition vows to continue protests despite ‘autocratic’ crackdown

Bangladesh opposition vows to continue protests despite ‘autocratic’ crackdown

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition party said on Wednesday it would continue its anti-government protests despite what a rights group called an “autocratic crackdown” ahead of a general election in January.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, whose top leadership is either jailed or in exile, has already said it will boycott the election if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not resign and allow a caretaker government to oversee the poll, to be held on Jan.7.

At least four people, including a policeman, have been killed and hundreds injured in violent protests across the country in the past few weeks, police said.

“Our peaceful and democratic protest programs will continue in spite of the government crackdown on BNP, until the fundamental voting rights of the people of Bangladesh are restored,” Abdul Moyeen Khan, a former minister and member of the BNP’s highest policymaking body, told Reuters.

Two people were injured in the capital, Dhaka, when a crude bomb exploded on Wednesday as a countrywide transport blockade called by the BNP was underway, police said.

Dozens of buses and vehicles have been set on fire over the past one month, authorities said.

“People have no civil rights, no guarantee of living in safety. In order to end this misrule and lawlessness, the ongoing movement must be accelerated and the victory of the people must be ensured,” senior BNP official Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said.

Hasina, seeking her fourth straight five-year term in office, has repeatedly ruled out handing power to a caretaker government and accused the BNP of “terrorism and hooliganism.”

BNP said four people have been killed and more than 5,330 people arrested since the election was announced on Nov. 15.

Police say they have arrested only those responsible for violence.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of targeting opposition leaders and supporters.

“The government is claiming to commit to free and fair elections with diplomatic partners while the state authorities are simultaneously filling prisons with the ruling Awami League’s political opponents,” said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Diplomatic partners should make clear that the government’s autocratic crackdown will jeopardize future economic cooperation,” the rights group said in a statement quoting Bleckner.

It said it has found evidence that security forces are responsible for using excessive force, mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings in a recent spate of election-related violence, based on interviews with 13 witnesses and an analysis of videos and police reports.

The government denies the accusations but it is under pressure from Western countries to hold free and fair elections.

Hasina’s arch rival and two-time premier, BNP leader Khaleda Zia, is effectively under house arrest on what her party calls trumped-up corruption charges.


Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands
Updated 02 March 2024
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Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands
  • After five months of boycott, Starbucks Malaysia says that it does not support Israel’s army
  • McDonald’s sues the Malaysian chapter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement

Kuala Lumpur: Leading brands in Malaysia accused of Israeli links have been reeling from falling revenues amid a local boycott of their goods, with the movement behind it vowing to continue over Israel’s war on Gaza.

Israeli airstrikes have since October killed more than 30,000 in the densely populated Palestinian enclave — a large majority women and children. More than 70,000 have been injured, while thousands of others remain missing under the rubble.

Since the outbreak of the attacks, many Malaysian citizens have backed a growing refusal to buy products from Western companies that they say are aiding Israel or facilitating its invasion of Gaza.

The latest of the brands to publicly admit the pinch in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country was the US-origin coffee chain Starbucks, with its Malaysian parent company Berjaya Foods blaming a near 40 percent drop in revenue on the boycott.

In a mid-February filing on the Malaysian stock exchange, it reported a revenue of 182.55 million ringgit ($38.47 million) for its second quarter ending Dec. 31, down from 295.32 million ringgit ($62.23 million) for the same period the year before.

In an Instagram post a week later, Starbucks Malaysia said that the boycott had led to “acts of violence and vandalism” in some of its 400 stores with some of its staff assaulted. It did not, however, give any examples or evidence.

This week, the chain issued a statement saying it has no stores in Israel and it does not provide financial support to the Israeli government or army.

“Despite false statements spreading through social media, we have no political agenda. We do not use our profits to fund any government or military operations anywhere — and never have,” the company said.

But the denial of links with Israel did not seem to satisfy Malaysian anger on social media, with users demanding that the company show a more unequivocal stand.

The coffee chain was not listed as one of the official targets by the Malaysian chapter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for economic and trade pressure in opposition to Israel.

But a few of BDS Malaysia’s Facebook posts have shared content related to the boycott of the company.

Starbucks’ developments in Malaysia followed a claimed loss of profits and job cuts by the McDonald’s franchise, with the fast-food chain seeking $1.26 million in damages from BDS Malaysia.

Some of the other popular brands BDS Malaysia has listed are Burger King, Puma, Airbnb, and McDonald’s.

While the movement’s representatives will meet McDonald’s in a Malaysian court on March 18, BDS chairman Mohd Nazari Ismail told Arab News they were not going to back down from the challenge by the business.

He said that the group was only going to end its campaign in line with the worldwide movement’s demands, which are to stop Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land, end discrimination against Palestinian citizens, and give Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes.

“We don’t plan to stop our boycott campaign of McDonald’s because it has provided food to Israeli soldiers,” Nazari said.

“We will continue to call for the boycott of Israel and companies that are complicit with the atrocities and injustice committed by Israel.”

Malaysia has no formal relations with Israel, has long been supportive of the rights of Palestinians and their struggle for a sovereign statehood, and bars Israelis from entering its territory.

In December, the Southeast Asian nation barred Israeli and Israel-bound ships from docking at its ports.


Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night
Updated 02 March 2024
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Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night
  • The unmanned lander touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way
  • As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life and carried out observations of a crater with a high-spec camera

TOKYO: Japan’s Moon lander has been put back to sleep after it surprisingly survived the freezing, two-week lunar night, the country’s space agency said, with another operation attempt scheduled for later this month.

The unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way.

As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life for two days and carried out scientific observations of a crater with a high-spec camera.

This week, the SLIM probe, which was “not designed for the harsh lunar nights,” when the temperature plunges to minus 133 degrees, produced another surprise by waking up after two weeks.

“SLIM has gone to sleep again as the sun set after 3 am (Japan Time) on March 1,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday, alongside an image of the rocky lunar surface captured by the probe.

“Although the likelihood of failure will increase due to the severe temperature cycles, we will attempt SLIM operation again when the sunlight comes back in late March,” JAXA said.

The announcement comes after the uncrewed American lander Odysseus became the first private spaceship on the Moon.

The lander sent its final image on Thursday before its power banks depleted.

SLIM, dubbed the “Moon Sniper” for its precision landing technology, touched down within its target landing zone on January 20.

The feat was a win for Japan’s space program after a string of recent failures, making the nation only the fifth to achieve a “soft landing” on the Moon, after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India.

The aim of the mission is to examine a part of the Moon’s mantle — the usually deep inner layer beneath its crust — that is believed to be accessible.

NASA is planning to return astronauts to the Moon later this decade.

The US, along with international partners, wants to eventually develop long-term habitats in the region, harvesting polar ice for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.


Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze

Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze
Updated 02 March 2024
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Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze

Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze
  • Among the dead was young university student MinHajj Khan, whose failure to escape the fire was witnessed by a friend with him at the restaurant and confirmed to AFP by his older cousin at the hospital

DHAKA: Anguished families kept vigil outside the morgue of Bangladesh’s largest hospital on Friday, waiting for the bodies of loved ones to be identified after a fire they say should never have happened.
At least 46 people were killed in Thursday night’s blaze in an upscale neighborhood of Dhaka, which broke out in a popular biryani restaurant and quickly engulfed a seven-floor commercial building.
Most of those who perished suffocated in the smoke, while the bodies of others were burned beyond recognition in the resulting inferno.
Among the dead was young university student MinHajj Khan, whose failure to escape the fire was witnessed by a friend with him at the restaurant and confirmed to AFP by his older cousin at the hospital.

BACKGROUND

Firefighters said the blaze was accidentally sparked from an improperly stored cooking gas cylinder and made much worse by the quick chain-reaction explosions of other canisters stored haphazardly around the building.

Khan’s mother had traveled to the hospital insisting his companion was mistaken, angrily sending away doctors requesting a DNA swab to check against bodies brought to the morgue.
“I won’t listen to anyone. I don’t believe any of you. I only want my son. Nothing else,” she said, declining to give her name.
“He promised to take me to Makkah for the pilgrimage. How can I go to Mak without him?“
It took fire crews two hours to control the blaze, with members of the public stepping in to carry hoses and help guide those escaping from the building to safety.
Before they arrived, many inside had rushed upstairs to the rooftop to escape the quickly spreading inferno.
Kazi Taslim Uddin said his 20-year-old son was among the dozens being treated in hospital for injuries after being forced to clamber down the side of the building.
“He tried to go to the ground floor but failed as people were rushing up the opposite way,” he told AFP.
“He grabbed some cables and tried to climb down, but they weren’t long enough,” he added.
“He jumped and got injured. The smoke also scorched his lungs.”
Firefighters said the blaze was accidentally sparked from an improperly stored cooking gas cylinder and made much worse by the quick chain-reaction explosions of other canisters stored haphazardly around the building.
Bereaved family members at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital were furious that nothing had been done to alert the public to the fire risk at the restaurant beforehand.
“It could have saved many lives,” said one man waiting to retrieve the body of a cousin who perished in the blaze who declined to identify himself.
“All these buildings are ticking time bombs. The regulators wake up only after the disaster occurs.”

 


UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
Updated 01 March 2024
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UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
  • PM: ‘In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality’

LONDON: Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”
In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”
Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, inviting support for a proscribed organization and assaulting emergency workers.
Right wing conter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.
“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.
Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.
Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.
“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.
The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”
“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.
Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7th, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”
The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.
“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.
“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.


Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh
Updated 01 March 2024
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Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh
  • The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country
  • It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday

MOGADISHU: A military court in Somalia’s northeastern semiautonomous state of Puntland sentenced to death six Moroccans believed to be foreign fighters for the Daesh group in Somalia.
The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country, the presiding judge in the Puntland region, Col. Ali Ibrahim Osman, said late Thursday.
The six men, identified as Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed Najwi, Khalid Latha, Mohamed Binu Mohamed Ahmed, Ridwan Abdulkadir Osmany, and Ahmed Hussein Ibrahim, can appeal and if they are unsuccessful they will be shot to death by firing squad.
Additionally, an Ethiopian and a Somali were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, while another Somali defendant was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday. The eight men claimed they were misled into joining the group and expressed a desire to be repatriated, Osman said.
According to Osman, the six Moroccans were accused of receiving training with Daesh at its base in the Cal-Miskaat Mountains in northeastern Somalia, which serve as a stronghold for the group.
The Moroccans were apprehended in the mountain range, located to the east of Bosaso, which is the commercial hub of the Puntland region.
The Somali branch of Daesh was established in 2015 by a group of defectors from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab group, which is the most prominent militant group in Somalia.
The group is notorious for extorting locals and primarily carries out small-scale, sporadic attacks. This marks the first time that authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland region have charged or sentenced foreigners for joining Daesh.