Thai soldiers on alert as Myanmar border clashes enter second day

Thai soldiers on alert as Myanmar border clashes enter second day
Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) soldiers collect weapons after they captured an army outpost, near Myawaddy, Karen state, Myanmar, Mar. 11, 2024. (AP Photo)
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Updated 10 April 2024
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Thai soldiers on alert as Myanmar border clashes enter second day

Thai soldiers on alert as Myanmar border clashes enter second day
  • Thai soldiers took up positions underneath the friendship bridge linking Mae Sot with Myanmar trade hub Myawaddy
  • Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) soldiers said they had seized a military base around 10 km west of Myawaddy

MAE SOT, Thailand: Thai armored cars patrolled the town of Mae Sot Wednesday as the deep boom of artillery thundered across the border in Myanmar, where the junta and an ethnic armed group fought for a second day near a vital trade hub.
Hundreds queued to enter Thailand at the immigration checkpoint in Mae Sot, many fleeing the newest round of fighting to test the junta’s hold on power.
Thai soldiers took up positions underneath the friendship bridge linking the town with Myanmar trade hub Myawaddy, the silhouettes of their counterparts from the Myanmar army visible across the sparse 200 meters (220 yards) of dirt and dried river dividing the nations.
Above the soldiers, hundreds walked across the friendship bridge and into the safety of the kingdom.
“I’m scared, so I decided to cross to the Thai side,” Khu, 49, from Myawaddy, told AFP as she clutched her pet dog to her chest.
She said she had obtained a visa to remain in Thailand for seven days but did not want to return until the fighting stopped.
A Thai soldier, beginning his watch and who declined to give his name, said the sounds of conflict were the most intense he had heard in fifteen years on the border with Myanmar’s conflict-riven Karen state.
Jafal Sweardik, 14, had just crossed over with his family from near Myawaddy, where he said the sounds of artillery and gunfire had cast a shadow over Eid Al-Fitr festivities at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
“It was horrible, very scary,” he told AFP, adding he was looking forward to being reunited with family on the Thai side to share an Eid feast of curry and rice.
The number of people passing Thai immigration from Myanmar had increased to around 4,000 per day in recent days, an immigration official told AFP, up from the usual number of around 1,900.
He said authorities were reinforcing the number of immigration officials to address the possibility that arrivals would rise further in the coming days.
The clashes come with the junta reeling from a series of defeats in the north and west of Myanmar, leading some of its opponents to believe it can one day be toppled.
Fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU) said Saturday they had seized a military base around 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Myawaddy, and that more than 600 soldiers, police, and their families had surrendered.
KNU fighters had clashed again with the military around Myawaddy on Wednesday, a KNU spokesman Padoh Saw Taw Nee confirmed to AFP.
The junta has not responded to requests for comment on the KNU claim of the surrenders at the Thingannyinaung base.
More than $1.1 billion worth of trade passed through Myawaddy in the 12 months to April, according to the junta’s commerce ministry — a vital source of revenue for the cash-strapped military.
Residents told AFP fighting started around Myawaddy on Tuesday, sending people fleeing across the border, but that KNU fighters did not appear to have entered the town.
“There was fighting the whole of last night and in the morning as well,” a resident told AFP on Wednesday, requesting anonymity for security reasons, as they hid in a basement.
“We can hear artillery sounds and explosions from our place. Planes are flying over,” they said.
“My mother and other siblings fled to Mae Sot this morning. I’m now guarding our house with my uncle.”
A truck driver on the road to Myawaddy in Myanmar said he had heard planes flying and the sound of artillery fire on Wednesday.
He said other drivers told him that authorities in the town had blocked traffic from entering from the Myanmar side.
In neighboring Thailand, one Mae Sot resident told AFP they saw eight Thai military vehicles heading toward the border on Tuesday night.
“Many people have entered Mae Sot from the other side [Myanmar],” they said.
“I saw many online posts looking for a place to stay.”
Thailand shares a 2,400-kilometer (1,490-mile) border with Myanmar, with the clashes coming as the Thai foreign minister said Tuesday the kingdom was prepared to accept 100,000 people fleeing.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and high-level Thai officials met earlier to discuss the border issue.


Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short

Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short
Updated 14 sec ago
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Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short

Trump holds rally in Wisconsin city where his promises of new jobs fell short
  • Still, Trump has a solid base of support, with many voters willing to move past Foxconn and some officials publicly saying they are happy that any jobs at all were created

RACINE, Wisconsin: Donald Trump holds a rally in Racine, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, where he will slam Democratic President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy, even as a major local factory that Trump broke ground on six years ago has proven to be a flop.
The Republican former president was in this largely working-class, lakeside city in 2018 to celebrate what was expected to be a $10 billion investment by Taiwanese technology group Foxconn. During his 2017 to 2021 term, Trump touted the facility, designed to produce TVs, as an example of how his “America First” policies had rejuvenated American manufacturing.
But while Foxconn originally forecast 13,000 new jobs at the factory, the company now expects to create only about 1,500 positions. Vacant fields west of downtown Racine, threaded by empty roadways, serve as a local symbol of unmet promises.
The company, which did not respond to a request for comment, previously said that it changed its plans due to a reduction in projected demand for the factory’s products.
“I think people look at it as a joke,” said Nancy Anderson, a 67-year-old retired teacher, while having breakfast at a local cafe.
Trump is expected to speak to supporters at a lakeside park at 3 p.m. local time (2000 GMT). Among the topics he will address, according to the campaign, is how high inflation under Biden has hurt Wisconsin residents.
Foxconn’s underwhelming debut has opened up a line of attack for local and national Democrats who say Trump failed to live up to his economic promises. They are hoping that message resonates in Wisconsin, one of just a handful of states expected to be competitive in the Nov. 5 election.
According to an average of surveys maintained by polling website FiveThirtyEight, Trump leads Biden in Wisconsin by 0.2 percentage points, despite having lost the state in 2020.
The two candidates are competing furiously for every vote. Biden was in Racine last month to tout the construction of a $3.3 billion Microsoft data center in a location where Foxconn was supposed to build part of its manufacturing campus.
“Foxconn turned out to be just that — a con,” Biden told supporters at Gateway Technical College’s Sturtevant campus.
Still, Trump has a solid base of support, with many voters willing to move past Foxconn and some officials publicly saying they are happy that any jobs at all were created.
Anthony Eckman, a 28-year-old who is unemployed, said he was disappointed when a warehouse position he planned to apply for at Foxconn failed to materialize.
But he said his personal finances have worsened under Biden, and he will likely vote for Trump this year, despite sitting out the last election.
“I wish we had better candidates this year, but Biden showed no signs of improving this country in my opinion,” Eckman said. “I think I’m gonna be voting for Trump this year.”
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Racine is about 40 miles south of Milwaukee, and it is considered politically competitive even by Wisconsin standards. Trump beat the Democratic nominee in both 2016 and 2020 by about 4 percentage points, while former Democratic President Barack Obama narrowly won the county in 2008 and 2012.
Last week, Trump called Milwaukee, where the Republican National Convention will take place next month, a “horrible city” during a meeting with Republicans in the US House of Representatives.
His campaign said he was referring to violent crime and alleged election security issues in the city when he made that comment.


Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
Updated 18 June 2024
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Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour

Billionaire UK political donor switches allegiance to back Labour
  • Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government

LONDON: Billionaire John Caudwell, one of the governing Conservative Party’s biggest donors before Britain’s last national election in 2019, said on Tuesday he would instead be backing Keir Starmer’s Labour Party at the upcoming July 4 vote.
“I can declare publicly that I will vote for Labour, and I encourage everybody to do the same,” Caudwell said in a statement.
“We need a very strong Labour Government that can take extremely bold decisions and you can rest assured that I will be doing my best to influence them wherever I can, in putting the great back in Britain.”
Opinion polls consistently put Labour on course for a victory that would end 14 years of Conservative government. A poll published by Ipsos on Tuesday estimated Labour could win 453 seats to the Conservatives’ 115, giving them a huge parliamentary majority of 256.
Caudwell made nearly 1.5 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) in 2006 when he sold his mobile phone retailer Phones 4u.
He said he had been despairing about the Conservatives’ performance in government for “many years.”
Previously, in an interview with Reuters, Caudwell had expressed frustration at the Conservatives but described Labour as untested.
On Tuesday he cited current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s handling of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic — when he was finance minister — and what he said was a lowering of ethical standards under former leader Boris Johnson. He described Liz Truss’s brief spell in charge, which spooked financial markets, as a “debacle.”
Caudwell said he liked the focus on accelerating economic growth in Labour’s manifesto: “As I have always said, the government must be much more commercially minded to grow GDP in order to finance the public services that benefit all of society without increasing taxes.”
Labour leader Starmer welcomed the endorsement.
“I’m delighted that John, someone with such a successful track-record in business, has today thrown his support behind the changed Labour Party that I lead,” he said.
“The message is clear: business backs change and economic stability with Labour, and rejects 5 more years of chaos and decline with the Tories.”


Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
Updated 18 June 2024
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Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia

Macron calls for lifting of barricades in New Caledonia
  • Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday called on residents of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia to dismantle barricades after weeks of unrest, adding the situation remained “unacceptable.”
In a public appeal, Macron called for “the firm and definitive lifting of all blockades” and “the condemnation of violence.”
New Caledonia, which is located between Australia and Fiji, has been ruled from Paris since the 19th century but many indigenous Kanaks want greater autonomy or independence.
Riots broke out in mid-May after anger over voting reform spilled into weeks of deadly protests.
French authorities insist Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, is back under their control, although barricades remain and pro-independence demonstrators have said they are determined to stay in the streets.
In a sign of a slow return to normality after five weeks of unrest, schools reopened on Monday, as did Noumea’s international airport.
Last week Macron announced that the controversial voting reform would be “suspended” in light of upcoming snap parliamentary polls in France.
In the letter published by local media in New Caledonia, Macron called for dialogue and patience.
Caledonian pro-independence movements had already considered reform dead given Macron’s call for snap elections.
Macron has called the snap parliamentary elections three years early in a dramatic gamble to shake up politics in France after the far right trounced his centrist camp in EU elections.
With the first round of voting set to take place on June 30, polls have underlined fears that his alliance risks being squeezed by new coalitions on the left and right.

 


Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
Updated 18 June 2024
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Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes

Kenya police arrest demonstrators as hundreds protest tax hikes
  • Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators

NAIROBI: Kenyan police fired tear gas and arrested at least a dozen demonstrators on Tuesday as hundreds of people gathered near parliament to protest tax hikes, according to journalists at the scene.
The East African economic powerhouse has struggled with a cost-of-living crisis, which critics say will only worsen under the levies laid out in a bill due to be debated in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Kenya’s government on Tuesday walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

BACKGROUND

Kenya’s government has walked back plans to impose multiple tax hikes, the presidency said, announcing amendments to the controversial bill.

“The Finance Bill has been amended to remove the proposed 16 per cent VAT on bread, transportation of sugar, financial services, foreign exchange transactions as well as the 2.5 per cent Motor Vehicle Tax,” the presidency said in a statement.
The new taxes contained in the finance bill were expected to help the cash-strapped administration generate some 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion) to boost revenue and cut government borrowing.
In addition to the proposed motor vehicle tax, the amendments will also do away with increased taxes on financial and mobile services.
“We are going to end up with a product in parliament that came from the executive and has been interrogated by the legislature. Through public participation, the people of Kenya have had a say,” President William Ruto told his party’s lawmakers.
Parliament must pass the final version of the bill before June 30.
Tax hikes last year led to several opposition protests which sometimes degenerated into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
Hundreds of black-clad protesters marched toward parliament in Nairobi’s business district, but were kept back by police officers lobbing tear gas at the crowds.
“I am tired. The prices of everything have gone up. Life is no longer affordable,” said 29-year-old Rara Eisa.
Eisa, who said she had never protested before Tuesday, described the hikes as oppressive.
“They are not lenient in any way,” she said.
Student Paloma Njoroge, 22, who was protesting, rejected pro-government claims that the demonstrations amounted to “social media activism that yields nothing.”
“I have my bottle of water and running shoes. They have to feel our disgust,” she said.
Dubbed “Occupy Parliament,” news of the protest was shared online after an activist leaked MPs’ contact details, urging people to bombard them with calls and messages to shoot down a bill proposing the new hikes.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission urged police to “stop the arrests.”
“Our constitution grants us the right to protest. Still, if the arrests persist, we won’t be deterred,” KHRC said on X, formerly Twitter.
Ruto came to power in 2022 on a promise to revive the economy and put money in the pockets of the downtrodden, but his policies have sparked widespread discontent.
Last year’s tax hikes led to opposition protests, sometimes degenerating into deadly street clashes between police and demonstrators.
While Kenya is among the most dynamic economies in East Africa, roughly a third of the 51.5 million population lives in poverty.

 


Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
Updated 18 June 2024
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Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says

Australia lacks ‘political will’ to repatriate women and kids from Syrian camps, court says
  • Federal judges reject case presented by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on the government to bring citizens home
  • The judgment means they might wait years to be released from what home affairs minister has acknowledged is a ‘dangerous and damaging detention’

SYDNEY: About 40 Australian women and children could be stuck in Syrian detention camps for years, after a court on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge calling for their government to bring them home.
Federal court judges rejected the case, brought by Save the Children, on the grounds that there is no legal obligation on Australian authorities to bring its citizens home.
However, they noted in their ruling that if the federal government had “the political will” to repatriate the 10 women and 30 children from Syria “it would be a relatively straightforward exercise.”
Instead, the judgment means they might wait years to be released from what Australia’s home affairs minister has acknowledged is a “dangerous and damaging detention,” The Guardian newspaper reported.
They are the wives, widows and children of slain or jailed Daesh fighters. None of them have been charged with any crimes or face arrest but they have been held in Al-Roj and Al-Hol camps for years. The Red Cross said several of the children were born inside the camps and know no life outside of them. They live in “dire” conditions; illness and malnutrition are rife and security is “extremely volatile.”
Chief Justice Debra Mortimer, and justices Geoffrey Kennett and Christopher Horan, accepted evidence that many countries, including Australia, have successfully repatriated citizens from the detention camps, with assistance from Kurdish authorities.
“If the Commonwealth has the political will to bring the … women and children back to Australia, on the evidence before the court, it would be a relatively straightforward exercise,” they said, adding that it had been “amply proven” that authorities had the “means” to end the detention of the women and children.
“But that is distinct from a finding that the Commonwealth exercises control over them and their custody,” they said.
Mat Tinkler, the CEO of Save the Children Australia, said: “Our commitment to helping bring the remaining children back to Australia, where they belong, remains unshakable regardless of today’s outcome.
“These are innocent Australian kids who have experienced immense trauma and suffering but are left to languish in desert camps, where they are rapidly losing hope.
“What I find difficult to comprehend is that the Australian government could end their suffering right now by bringing them home and providing the chance for a real life but our political leaders are choosing not to act.”