Indonesian rescuers scramble to save Rohingya refugees from capsized boat

Indonesian rescuers scramble to save Rohingya refugees from capsized boat
An Indonesian search and rescue ship located the capsized wooden boat carrying Rohingya refugees as they stand on the craft's hull for safety on March 21, 2024. (Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency)
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Updated 21 March 2024
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Indonesian rescuers scramble to save Rohingya refugees from capsized boat

Indonesian rescuers scramble to save Rohingya refugees from capsized boat
  • Wooden vessel believed to have been carrying at least 75 Rohingya refugees
  • Over 500 Rohingya died at sea in 2023, the highest figure in 9 years

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities and fishermen rescued at least 69 Rohingya refugees on Thursday after their vessel capsized a day earlier in the waters off Aceh province. 
The Search and Rescue Agency in Banda Aceh sent a ship to locate a capsized wooden boat on Wednesday evening following information from local fishermen who spotted the craft that morning. 
The search-and-rescue team finally found the boat and survivors on Thursday morning, after initial difficulties locating the vessel in the choppy waters off the coast of Aceh. 
“We managed to find the victims at 9 a.m., with the boat capsized and all of its passengers standing on top of the boat’s hull. And then we moved to evacuate the victims,” said Ibnu Harris Al-Hussain, head of Banda Aceh’s Search and Rescue Agency.
“We managed to find 69 people who are alive.” 
The group comprises 42 men, 18 women and nine children, who have since been handed over to immigration officials. 
It was unclear how many refugees were aboard the small craft when it capsized on Wednesday, but six survivors were initially rescued by local fishermen. 
The mostly Muslim Rohingya, referred to by the UN as the “world’s most persecuted minority,” have faced decades of persecution in Myanmar. More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017, following a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military, which the UN said amounted to genocide. 
Thousands have been trying to flee the squalid and overcrowded camps in Bangladesh to Southeast Asian countries, with Indonesia seeing a sharp rise in refugee numbers since November. 
Indonesia has a history of taking in refugees on humanitarian grounds when they arrive on the country’s shores, despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. But the latest surge of Rohingya arrivals prompted a backlash on social media and some pushback from Acehnese people.
Last year, about 569 Rohingya — out of nearly 4,500 people — died or went missing trying to relocate to another country through deadly sea crossings, often on rickety boats, the highest figure in nine years. 


Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
Updated 7 sec ago
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Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
  • Philippines has blamed Chinese fishermen for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard
  • There was no immediate response from China

MANILA: The Philippines blamed Chinese fishermen on Monday for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard in the South China Sea and urged an international inquiry into the amount of environmental damage in the area.
The Philippine coast guard presented surveillance photographs of Chinese fishermen harvesting large numbers of giant clams for a number of years in a lagoon at Scarborough Shoal, but said signs of such activities stopped in March 2019.
Parts of the surrounding coral appeared to be badly scarred, in what the coast guard said was apparently a futile search by the Chinese for more clams. The lagoon is a prominent fishing area which Filipinos call Bajo de Masinloc and the Chinese calll Huangyan Dao off the northwestern Philippines.
“Those were the last remaining giant clams that we saw in Bajo de Masinloc,” Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said at a news conference.
“We are alarmed and worried about the situation that’s happening there,” National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said. He said China should allow an independent inquiry by experts from the United Nations and environmental groups.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Beijing has repeatedly asserted its sovereignty over much of the busy South China Sea. The territorial disputes involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Indonesian navy has also been involved in skirmishes with the Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels in the Natuna waters in the margins of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has adopted a policy of publicizing China’s increasingly assertive actions in the contested waters to gain international support, and the news conference was its latest effort to condemn China’s stewardship of Scarborough Shoal.
China effectively seized the shoal in 2012 after a standoff that ended when Philippine government ships withdrew based on what Manila said was a deal brokered by American officials to ease the dangerous confrontation. China reneged on its promise to remove its ships and has since surrounded the shoal with coast guard and suspected militia ships, according to Philippine officials.
Since then, the Chinese coast guard has had a series of skirmishes with Philippine patrol ships and fishing boats, which have been prevented from entering the lagoon, ringed by mostly submerged coral outcrops. Three weeks ago, Chinese ships fired powerful water cannons that damaged Philippine coast guard and fisheries vessels.
“They’re preventing us from getting into the lagoon,” Malaya said. “We can ask third-party environmental groups or even the United Nations to do a fact-finding mission to determine the environmental situation.”
The Philippines has brought its territorial disputes with China to international arbitration and largely won. The 2016 ruling invalidated China’s expansive claims to much of the South China Sea, a key global trade route, on historical grounds and cited Chinese government actions that resulted in environmental damage in the offshore region.
China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling and continues to defy it.
The territorial hostilities have sparked fears of a larger conflict that could involve the US, which has warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its long-time treaty ally, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.


UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds
Updated 9 min 46 sec ago
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UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

LONDON: Britain’s infected blood scandal that has killed 3,000 people and left thousands more suffering with hepatitis or HIV was no accident, a public inquiry found on Monday, blaming a catalogue of failures by government and doctors.
Inquiry chair Brian Langstaff said more than 30,000 people received infected blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s from Britain’s state-funded National Health Service, destroying lives, dreams and families.
The use of infected blood, despite the known risks, has resulted in thousands of victims in the United States, France, Canada and other countries, in part after US prisoners and other high-risk groups were paid to provide blood.
In Britain around 1,250 people with bleeding disorders were infected with HIV, including about 380 children, the inquiry found.
Three quarters of them died.
“This disaster was not an accident,” Langstaff said. “The infections happened because those in authority — doctors, the blood services and successive governments — did not put patient safety first.”
He said proper compensation must now be paid.
The government, which in 2015 said it was “something that never should have happened”, agreed in 2022 to pay an interim 100,000 pounds ($126,990) to those affected.
The infected blood and blood products, some of which were imported from the United States, were used for transfusions, which were not always clinically needed, and as treatments for bleeding disorders like haemophilia.
Haemophiliacs received Factor 8 concentrates, often imported from the United States or Austria, which carried a higher risk of causing hepatitis.
Some of the concentrates were infected with HIV in the 1980s, the inquiry said, but authorities failed to switch to safer alternatives and they decided in July 1983, a year after risks were apparent, not to suspend their importation.
Systemic failures resulted in between 80 and 100 people becoming infected with HIV by transfusion, it said, and about 26,800 were infected with Hepatitis C, often from receiving blood after childbirth or an operation.
Both groups were failed by doctors’ complacency about Hepatitis C and being slow to respond to the risks of AIDS, it said, compounded by an absence of meaningful apology or redress.
He said patients were exposed to risks despite it being well known that blood could cause severe infection, in the case of hepatitis since the end of World War Two.
Treatment practices that could have reduced the risks were not adopted, he said, noting blood was collected from prisoners, who had a higher prevalence of hepatitis, until 1984.
Some of the victims were further betrayed by being used in medical trials without their knowledge or consent, he said.
“It will be astonishing to anyone who reads this report that these events could have happened in the UK,” Langstaff said.
The British inquiry, which started in 2018, does not have the power to recommend prosecutions. ($1 = 0.7875 pounds)


Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in

Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in
Updated 20 May 2024
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Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in

Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in
  • Protests erupted last week, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who is allowed to participate in elections
  • Pro-independence political parties say they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks

SYDNEY/PARIS: A thousand police arrived in New Caledonia from France and streets were relatively calm after a week of unrest, the French High Commission said on Monday, but roads were blocked by protesters and the airport remained shut, stranding tourists.
Blockades of roads would continue, Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), the activist group organising the protests in the French-ruled Pacific island, said in a statement, urging protesters to use a peaceful approach.
Road blocks were making it a challenge to get food supplies to stores in several areas or to provide secure travel for medical staff, New Caledonia government officials said, adding, however, that there were no shortages of supplies or staff.
Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said "the situation there is deeply concerning", after a night of fire and looting.
France's top official in the territory, Louis Le Franc, said on Sunday a police operation to regain control of the road from capital Noumea to the international airport would take several days. Gendarmes had dismantled 76 road blocks, the High Commission said on Monday.
Airline Aircalin said the airport would remained closed until Thursday.
Protests erupted last week, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who is allowed to participate in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.
Six people have been killed and the unrest has left a trail of burnt businesses and cars and looted shops, with road barricades restricting access to medicine and food. The business chamber said 150 companies had been looted and burnt.

EVACUATIONS AWAITED
Pro-independence political parties say they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks.
"We need strong actions [from the government] to calm the situation ... this is a political, not a security issue," said Dominique Fochi, secretary general of the pro-independence Caledonian Union.
Shares of Australian nickel miners were on the rise as underlying prices surged by 7% over the weekend due to unrest in New Caledonia, a key global supplier of the metal.
Australia's Albanese earlier told ABC radio his country was awaiting approval from French authorities to send an evacuation flight to pick up tourists stranded in New Caledonia hotels.
Around 300 Australians have registered with consular officials in the French territory, which lies in the southwest Pacific, some 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Australia.
There were around 3,200 people waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia as commercial flights were cancelled due to the unrest that broke out last week, the local government said.
New Zealand defence aircraft were on standby and also awaiting the French go-ahead to repatriate nationals, its Foreign Minister Winston Peters wrote in a post on X on Sunday.


Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat

Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat
Updated 20 May 2024
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Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat

Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat
  • World’s largest election began on April 19 amid high summer temperatures and more days of heatwaves than usual predicted
  • Two senior citizens collapsed at polling station in Mumbai temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius and humidity of 71 percent 

MUMBAI/BHUBANESWAR: Indians began voting early on Monday in the fifth phase of mammoth general elections, with thousands queuing at polling stations to beat the scorching heat in the financial capital of Mumbai and the sprawling states of Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

The world’s largest election began on April 19, amid high summer temperatures, with the weather office predicting more days of heatwaves than usual through the season.

Votes will be counted on June 4, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to win a rare third consecutive term.

“Given the hot and humid conditions, there could have been fans and better arrangements for the ill and those with disabilities,” said Sangeeta Rege, 46, a director at a health research organization.

She was speaking after two senior citizens collapsed at her polling station in Mumbai temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) and humidity of 71 percent that made it difficult for many, especially the elderly, to set foot outdoors.

Nearly a billion people are eligible to vote in India’s elections, but after poor initial turnout in early phases, more exercised the franchise to take the average of the first four rounds to 66.95 percent, with 69 percent voting in the May 13 fourth phase.

Monday’s phase has the fewest constituencies going to the polls, with 89.5 million voters set to pick representatives for 49 seats.

High-profile candidates in the fray on Monday include trade minister Piyush Goyal, standing from one of six seats in Mumbai, and defense minister Rajnath Singh from Lucknow, both cities where there has been poor voter turnout in the past.

On Sunday, the Election Commission specifically urged residents of both cities “to erase the stigma” of urban apathy.

“At the core of our vision for Mumbai is – better infrastructure and more ‘ease of living,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while campaigning in the city last week.

GANDHI FAMILY BASTIONS

Two boroughs of the opposition Congress party’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are also going to the polls in the large politically crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Family scion Rahul Gandhi is contesting the seat of Raebareli, in addition to Wayanad in the south, which has already voted.

Smriti Irani, minister for women and child development, is contesting from Amethi, where she defeated Rahul Gandhi in 2019, to take a seat his family held almost continuously for the last four decades.

Other keenly watched contests in the state include Kaiserganj, where the BJP is fielding the son of a former wrestling federation chief, although the father has been charged with sexually harassing female wrestlers.

Poor voter turnout became a concern for the ruling BJP initially, and analysts believe the low numbers cast doubts on the landslide victory the party and its allies sought.

But long queues snaked out of polling booths in Mumbai and Bolangir in the eastern state of Odisha after the weather department forecast maximum temperatures to rise between 2 degrees and 4 degrees Celsius.

The election aimed “to ensure stability and security ... plus development of my city and country which ... is happening at a rapid rate,” said Mumbai homemaker Jaya Roy Chowdhury, 48.

“The BJP has not fielded the right candidate for the Lok Sabha, but we are voting ... with Modi in mind,” said 55-year-old Odisha farmer Girish Mishra, referring to the lower house of parliament.

Modi, accused by opponents of targeting minority Muslims to please hard-line voters, resolved in a television interview aired after the fourth phase to “not do Hindu-Muslim (in politics).”

He has repeatedly accused the Congress of plans to extend welfare benefits to Muslims at the expense of disadvantaged tribal groups and Hindu castes, a claim the opposition party has denied.


London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition

London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition
Updated 1 min 22 sec ago
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London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition

London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition
  • Ruling sets the stage for an appeal process likely to further drag out a years-long legal saga

LONDON: A British court has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal against an order that he be extradited to the US on espionage charges.

Two High Court judges on Monday said Assange has grounds to challenge the UK government’s extradition order.

The ruling sets the stage for an appeal process likely to further drag out a years-long legal saga. Assange faces 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago. The Australian computer expert has spent the last five years in a British high-security prison after taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said prosecutors had failed to guarantee that Assange, who is an Australian citizen and claims protections as a journalist for publishing US classified information, could rely on press protections of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

“The real issue is whether an adequate assurance has been provided to remove the real risk identified by the court,” Fitzgerald said. “It is submitted that no adequate assurance has been made.”

The hearing in the High Court in London could end with Assange being sent to the US to face espionage charges, or could provide him another chance to appeal his extradition.

The outcome will depend on how much weight judges give to assurances US officials have provided that Assange’s rights won’t be trampled if he goes on trial.

Assange, 52, has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege that Assange encouraged and helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published.

Assange’s lawyers have argued he was a journalist who exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sending him to the US, they said, would expose him to a politically motivated prosecution and risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”

The US government says Assange’s actions went way beyond those of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.

In March, two judges rejected the bulk of Assange’s arguments but said he could take his case to the Court of Appeal unless the US guaranteed he would not face the death penalty if extradited and would have the same free speech protections as a US citizen.

The court said that if Assange couldn’t rely on the First Amendment then it was arguable his extradition would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which also provides free speech and media protections.

The US provided those reassurances, but Assange’s legal team and supporters argue they are not good enough to rely on to send him to the US federal court system because the First Amendment promises fall short. The US said Assange could seek to rely on the amendment but it would be up to a judge to decide whether he could.

Attorney James Lewis, representing the US, said Assange’s conduct was “simply unprotected” by the First Amendment.

“No one, neither US citizens nor foreign citizens, are entitled to rely on the First Amendment in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defense information giving the names of innocent sources, to their grave and imminent risk of harm,” Lewis said.

The WikiLeaks founder, who has spent the past five years in a British prison, was not in court to hear his fate being debated. He did not attend for health reasons, Fitzgerald said.

Commuters emerging from a Tube stop near the courthouse couldn’t miss a large sign bearing Assange’s photo and the words, “Publishing is not a crime. War crimes are.” Scores of supporters gathered outside the neo-Gothic Royal Courts of Justice chanting “Free Julian Assange” and “Press freedom, Assange freedom.”

Some held a large white banner aimed at President Joe Biden, exhorting: “Let him go Joe.”

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said any sentence would likely be much shorter.

Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, which includes seven years spent inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London from 2012 until 2019. He has spent the past five years in a British high-security prison.

If Assange prevails Monday, it would set the stage for an appeal process likely to extend what has already been a long legal saga.

If the court accepts the word of the US, it would mark the end of Assange’s legal challenges in the UK, though it’s unclear what would immediately follow.

His legal team is prepared to ask the European Court of Human Rights to intervene. But his supporters fear Assange could be transferred before the court in Strasbourg, France, could halt his removal.

Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson may also postpone issuing a decision.

If Assange loses in court, he still may have another shot at freedom.

Biden said last month that he was considering a request from Australia to drop the case and let Assange return to his home country.

Officials provided no other details but Stella Assange said it was “a good sign” and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the comment was encouraging.