US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war
Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese families who have fled from the war in Sudan line up while waiting to board a truck to go to a Transit Centre for refugees after crossing the border at the Joda Border Crossing Point, near Renk, on February 14, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 27 February 2024
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US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

WASHINGTON: The US will appoint a new special envoy for Sudan as Washington seeks to bring an end to a war that has wrecked parts of the country and killed tens of thousands.

Former diplomat and US member of Congress Tom Perriello will assume the special envoy role, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement as the US seeks to bring increased focus to the conflict after the failure of talks so far.

Perriello said he will build on efforts of partners across Africa and the Middle East to bring an end to the war, a humanitarian crisis and atrocities.

“This appointment reflects the urgency and importance President Biden and Secretary Blinken have placed on ending this war, putting a stop to rampant atrocities against civilians, and preventing an already horrific humanitarian situation from becoming a catastrophic famine,” Perriello said.

The US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey has left his role, Blinken said in the statement.

Daniel Rubinstein will serve as interim charge d’affaires as director of the Office of Sudan Affairs, Blinken said. He will be based in Ethiopia.

War broke out in Sudan last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the Rapid Support Forces under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition toward civilian rule and elections.

The army and the RSF had shared power with civilians after the fall of former leader Omar Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

The fighting has wrecked parts of Sudan including the capital Khartoum, killed more than 13,000 people according to UN estimates, drawn warnings of famine, and created an internal displacement crisis.

The Rapid Support Forces are accused by the US of participating in an ethnic cleansing campaign in West Darfur, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The army, which has carried out a widespread airstrike campaign, is also accused of war crimes by the US.

Perriello previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as a US representative from Virginia.

Rubinstein recently led the US delegation at talks on Sudan in the Saudi city of Jeddah. Neither side maintained commitments made in the talks. The US military evacuated American government personnel from Khartoum in April last year and suspended operations at its embassy there after fighting between Sudan’s rival commanders broke out.


India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech

India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech
Updated 48 min 49 sec ago
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India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech

India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech
  • Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress party filed a complaint to the Election Commission Monday accusing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “blatantly targeting” minority Muslims in a campaign speech.
The world’s most populous country is constitutionally secular and its election code bans canvassing based on “communal feelings.”
Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population.
The prime minister usually steers away from explicit references to religion — the word “Hindu” does not appear in his Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 76-page election manifesto.
But at a weekend election rally in Rajasthan, Modi claimed a previous Congress government had said that “Muslims have the first right over the nation’s wealth.”
He said if Congress won “it will be distributed among those who have more children. It will be distributed to the infiltrators.”
“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?“
Critics said the phrases were references to Muslims.
In its complaint to the Election Commission, the Congress party said the “divisive, objectionable and malicious” comments were targeted at “a particular religious community” and amounted to “blatant and direct violations of electoral laws.”
They were “far worse than any ever made by a sitting Prime Minister in the history of India,” the complaint said.
Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters outside the Commission’s office: “We hope concrete action will be taken.”
Modi and the BJP are widely expected to coast to victory in India’s marathon elections, which began last Friday and with the results due on June 4.
Earlier this year, Modi presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram, built on the site of a centuries-old mosque razed by Hindu zealots.
The BJP has frequently invoked the temple on the campaign trail.
BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told reporters Monday that Modi was calling “a spade a spade” and his remarks resonated with what people thought.


Hamas has ‘moved goal post’ on hostage talks, says State Dept

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
Updated 8 min 31 sec ago
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Hamas has ‘moved goal post’ on hostage talks, says State Dept

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
  • Miller said the United States had received a report by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna into the UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, and is reviewing it
  • Israel has killed 34,151 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

WASHINGTON: Palestinian militant group Hamas has “moved the goal post” and changed its demands in the hostage negotiations with Israel mediated by Egypt and Qatar, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.
Speaking at a daily press briefing, Miller said the United States would continue to push for an agreement that would see hostages taken on Oct. 7 released and a pause in fighting in Gaza.
Separately, Miller said the United States had received a report by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna into the UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, and is reviewing it.

 


UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks

UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks
Updated 23 April 2024
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UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks

UK parliament passes Rwanda asylum law as Sunak vows flights will start in weeks
  • Critics say the plan to deport people to Rwanda rather than handle asylum seekers at home is inhumane
  • Other European countries, including Austria and Germany, are also looking at agreements to process asylum seekers abroad

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised on Monday to start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda within 10 to 12 weeks as the upper house of parliament finally passed required legislation, delayed for weeks by attempts to alter the plan.

Sunak said the government had booked commercial charter planes and trained staff to take migrants to Rwanda, a policy he hopes will boost his Conservative Party’s flagging fortunes before an election later this year.

The House of Lords had long refused to back the divisive legislation without additional safeguards, but eventually relented after Sunak said the government would force parliament to sit as late into Monday night as necessary to get it passed.

“No ifs, no buts. These flights are going to Rwanda,” Sunak told a news conference earlier on Monday.

Tens of thousands of migrants — many fleeing wars and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia — have reached Britain in recent years by crossing the English Channel in small boats on risky journeys organized by people-smuggling gangs.

Stopping the flow is a priority for the government, but critics say the plan to deport people to Rwanda rather than handle asylum seekers at home is inhumane. They cite concerns about the East African country’s own human rights record and the risk asylum seekers may be sent back to countries where they face danger.

Sunak’s new law states some existing UK human rights statutes will not apply to the scheme and Rwanda must be treated by British judges as a safe destination, in a bid to override a Supreme Court ruling which declared the scheme unlawful.

It also limits individuals’ options for an appeal to only exceptional cases.

Other European countries, including Austria and Germany, are also looking at agreements to process asylum seekers abroad.

The legislation returned on Monday to the House of Commons — the elected lower house — where lawmakers removed changes proposed by the Lords before the upper chamber considered it again.

Some Labour and unaffiliated peers wanted the legislation to include safeguards for Afghans who previously helped British troops and to establish a committee to monitor asylum seekers’ safety in Rwanda. But eventually the Lords let the legislation pass its final parliamentary step without any formal changes.

The legislation is expected to receive Royal Assent from King Charles later this week, and then will become law.

Speaking before the legislation was passed, Sunak said an airfield was on standby, slots were booked for flights and 500 staff were ready to escort migrants “all the way to Rwanda.”

Under the policy formulated two years ago, and agreed with Rwanda, any asylum seeker who arrives illegally in Britain will be sent to Rwanda under a scheme the government says will deter Channel crossings and smash the people smugglers’ business model.

Sunak’s team hope the pre-election pledge will help turn around his electoral fortunes, particularly among wavering Conservative voters who want to see less immigration.

He had previously said he hoped the policy would be operational by spring, without giving a precise date.

Polls suggest his Conservative Party will be badly beaten in this year’s election by Labour, which has said it will scrap the scheme if it wins power. Labour says it will pursue a deal with the European Union to return some arrivals to mainland Europe.

Even after successfully navigating parliamentary hurdles, Sunak may still face legal challenges to the law.

Charities and rights groups say they would try to stop individual deportations and the trade union which represents border force staff is promising to argue the new legislation is unlawful “within days” of the first asylum seekers being informed they will be sent to Rwanda.

“We urgently need the UK government to start treating refugees with decency and stop trying to send them away to an unsafe future in Rwanda,” Lucy Gregg, acting head of Advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said in a statement. 


US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities

US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities
Updated 11 sec ago
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US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities

US rights report on India cites abuses in Manipur, harassment of media and minorities
  • The US assessment said religious minorities in India reported discrimination including calls for violence and spread of misinformation
  • Reporters Without Borders ranked India at 161 out of 180 countries on its press freedom index in 2023, the country’s lowest position ever
  • Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population

WASHINGTON: The US State Department’s annual human rights assessment found “significant” abuses in India’s northeastern Manipur state last year and attacks on minorities, journalists and dissenting voices in the rest of the country.
Manipur has seen fierce fighting between its tribal Kuki-Zo and majority Meitei populations after a court order a year ago suggested the Kuki’s minority privileges be extended to the Meitei. More than 200 people have been killed.

Members of the media report from outside an office complex where Indian tax authorities raided BBC's office, in Mumbai on February 14, 2023. (AFP)

The State Department report said over 60,000 people were displaced between May and November in Manipur.
There was no immediate comment on the report from the Indian embassy in Washington.
In the rest of India, the State Department reported “numerous instances” in which the government and its allies “allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government.”

Security personnel stand guard on a road as a Hindu religious flag is seen on a minaret (C) of a burnt-out mosque following clashes between people supporting and opposing a contentious amendment to India's citizenship law in New Delhi on February 26, 2020. (AFP)

For example, the Income Tax Department searched the BBC’s offices in early 2023 after it released a documentary critical of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Indian government said at the time the search was not vindictive.
Reporters Without Borders ranked India at 161 out of 180 countries on its press freedom index in 2023, the country’s lowest position ever.
The US assessment said religious minorities in India reported discrimination including calls for violence and spread of misinformation.
Modi, who is favored to win a record-equaling third term in an election under way until June 1, denies abuse of minorities and says his policies aim to benefit all Indians.
Human rights groups allege the climate has deteriorated under Modi. They point to rise in hate speech, the revoking of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status, a citizenship law that the UN calls “fundamentally discriminatory” and the demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction.
While the US report hit on themes similar to recent years, political analysts say Washington is restrained in its public criticism of New Delhi because the US hopes India will act as a counterweight to an expansionist China.  


Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia
Updated 23 April 2024
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Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia
  • Protests have roiled many college campuses since Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages

NEW YORK: Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at Yale and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public on Monday as some of the most prestigious US universities sought to diffuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas.
The various actions followed the arrest last week of more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s green, as schools struggle with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining a safe and inclusive campus.
In addition to the demonstrations at the Ivy League schools, pro-Palestinian encampments have sprouted up on other campuses, including the University of Michigan, New York University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The protests have pitted students against one another, with pro-Palestinian students demanding that their schools condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel. Some Jewish students, meanwhile, say much of the criticism of Israel has veered into antisemitism and made them feel unsafe, and point out that Hamas is still holding hostages taken during the group’s Oct. 7 invasion.
Tensions remained high Monday at Columbia in New York City, where the campus gates were locked to anyone without a school ID and where protests broke out both on campus and outside.
US Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who was visiting Columbia with three other Jewish members of Congress to view the encampment, told reporters after meeting with students from the Jewish Law Students Association that there was “an enormous encampment of people” who had taken up about a third of the green.
“We saw signs indicating that Israel should be destroyed,” she said after leaving the Morningside Heights campus.
A woman inside the campus gates led about two-dozen protesters on the street outside in a chant of, ” From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! ” — a charged phrase that can mean vastly different things to different groups. Meanwhile, a small group of pro-Israel counter demonstrators protested nearby.
University President Minouche Shafik said in a message to the school community Monday that she was “deeply saddened” by what was happening on campus.
“To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” Shafik wrote, noting that faculty and staff should work remotely when possible and that students who don’t live on campus should stay away.
Protests have roiled many college campuses since Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. In response, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and non-combatants but says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.
Prahlad Iyengar, an MIT graduate student studying electrical engineering, was among about two dozen students who set up a tent encampment on the school’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus Sunday evening. They are calling for a ceasefire and are protesting what they describe as MIT’s “complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” he said.
“MIT has not even called for a ceasefire, and that’s a demand we have for sure,” Iyengar said.
He also said MIT has been sending out confusing rules about protests.
“We’re out here to demonstrate that we reserve the right to protest. It’s an essential part of living on a college campus,” Iyengar said.
On Sunday, Elie Buechler, a rabbi for the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative at Columbia, sent a WhatsApp message to nearly 300 Jewish students recommending they go home until it’s more safe for them on campus.
The latest developments came ahead of the Monday evening start of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Nicholas Baum, a 19-year-old Jewish freshman who lives in a Jewish theological seminary building two blocks from Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, said protesters over the weekend were “calling for Hamas to blow away Tel Aviv and Israel.” He said some of the protesters shouting antisemitic slurs were not students.
“Jews are scared at Columbia. It’s as simple as that. There’s been so much vilification of Zionism, and it has spilled over into the vilification of Judaism,” he said.
The protest encampment sprung up at Columbia on Wednesday, the same day that Shafik faced bruising criticism at a congressional hearing from Republicans who said she hadn’t done enough to fight antisemitism. Two other Ivy League presidents resigned months ago following widely criticized testimony they gave to the same committee.
In her statement Monday, Shafik said the Middle East conflict is terrible and that she understands that many are experiencing deep moral distress.
“But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view,” Shafik wrote.
Over the coming days, a working group of deans, school administrators and faculty will try to find a resolution to the university crisis, noted Shafik, who didn’t say when in-person classes would resume.
Several students at Columbia and its sister school, Barnard College, said they were suspended for taking part in last week’s protests, including Barnard student Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Democratic US Rep. Ilhan Omar.
At Yale, police officers arrested about 45 protesters and charged them with misdemeanor trespassing, said Officer Christian Bruckhart, a New Haven police spokesperson. All were being released on promises to appear in court later, he said.
Protesters set up tents on Beinecke Plaza on Friday and demonstrated over the weekend, calling on Yale to end any investments in defense companies that do business with Israel.
Nadine Cubeisy, a Yale student and one of the protest’s organizers, said it was disturbing that “this university that I’m going to, that I contribute to and that my friends give money to is using that money to fund violence.”
In a statement to the campus community on Sunday, Yale President Peter Salovey said university officials had spoken to the student protesters multiple times about the school’s policies and guidelines, including those regarding speech and allowing access to campus spaces.
School officials said they spoke with protesters over several hours and gave them until the end of the weekend to leave Beinecke Plaza. The said they again warned protesters Monday morning and told them that they could face arrest and discipline, including suspension, before police moved in.
A large group of demonstrators regathered after Monday’s arrests at Yale and blocked a street near campus, said Bruckhart. There were no reports of any violence or injuries.
Last week, the University of Southern California took the unusual step of canceling a planned commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian, who had publicly supported Palestinians. The university cited security concerns in a decision that was praised by some pro-Israel groups but criticized by free-speech advocates.