Enough of madness, Mahinda, form a strong opposition!

Enough of madness, Mahinda, form a strong opposition!

Oct 18, 2017

Whatever our likes and dislikes are, bringing up ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa is unavoidable when we talk about the country’s politics. It is true that we lose our cool when we remember what he had said and done. But, if we talk about politics realistically, Mahinda is an inevitable subject. Where does he stand in today’s politics?

Mahinda is a good organizer. Also, he has strong public relations. He is a leader with a big public attraction. If not, he would not have become the executive president to rule the country for nearly a decade. How does he make survival in politics today? He does politics in collaboration with a gang of jokers, thieves and deal strikers. They await a give-and-take opportunity to join the government in order to cover up the court cases against them. The only result will be that he will be distanced from the public.
A country needs a strong opposition to maintain democracy. But, Sri Lanka is without a strong opposition today. The TNA, the nominal opposition, is not active as the opposition of the entire country. Their politics is centralized, based on regional demands. The main opposition should serve as a shadow cabinet and should have the ability to take over if the regime collapses. It is impossible in our country.
In our politics, the opposition means a group that opposes everything, or a commodity that can be bought.
Where did Mahinda go wrong? He may believe it to be a matter of astrology. But, the real reason was that he did not have a strong opposition, or to say more reasonably, he had destroyed the opposition. What he did was to strike deals and pocket members of the opposition. Thereafter, he went on in his journey, believing that everything he did was correct. There was no opposition to point out his mistakes. His journey ended without ever knowing what hit him.
In regional politics too, India does not appear to have a strong opposition. Rahul Gandhi is a weak leader. The Supreme Court has taken over the role of the opposition in Pakistan. Those are not good signs for democracy.
We may like it or do not like it, but it is incumbent upon the Mahinda-led forces to play the role of the opposition. That is the bitter truth. Therefore, what he has to do now is to send the jokers, thieves and deal strikers around him on leave and form a real opposition. G.L. Peiris, Dullas Alahapperuma, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Vidura Wickremanayake have never been branded thieves or racists. But, those closest to him are thieves and racists. Without getting rid of them, he cannot form a real opposition.
Also, there are talented professionals he can depend on, such as senior doctor Anula Wijesundara, senior professor Carlo Fonseka, doctors and administrative officers. He may not be able to give leadership to convince them that patriotism is not racism, but Mahinda should not let them be overcome by racists.
Excepting a handful of racists close to him, no one close to Mahinda believes that Sri Lanka can have a ‘Sinhala only’ politics. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural country. No political journey is possible without accepting that. If Mahinda still has any reservations about that, he can recall the result of the last presidential election.
What he should do now is to form a strong opposition. That is not either easy or difficult task. If he does so, it will be good for his personal political targets as well as for the country’s future.
This entire narration is applicable to president Maithripala Sirisena and prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as well. If they think of following what Mahinda once did by pocketing members of the opposition, their political journey will be a short-lived one. That is a lesson they should learn from what Mahinda has undergone.
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Two arrested in Wattala with 137 kilos of Kerala Ganja

Two arrested in Wattala with 137 kilos of Kerala Ganja

Wednesday, October 18, 2017
The Police Narcotic Division arrested two suspects with more than 137 kilos of Kerala Ganja valued at Rs. 2 million in Wattala yesterday.
The raid was made according to a tip-off received by the Police.
Police investigations revealed that these suspects, residing in Kolonnawa and Talaimannar, have brought the Ganja from Kilinochchi.
The suspects and the Ganja will be produced before Courts.
Further investigations are underway.
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Polythene & Plastic: Use It Wisely

Polythene & Plastic: Use It Wisely

logoPolythene is being dumped hazardously in socially and environmentally sensitive places like road sides, marshy lands, low lying areas, public places, forest and wild life areas, causing numerous negative environmental impacts such as ground and surface water pollution, air pollution and even deaths (recent Meethotamulla disaster).
Waste collection and disposal play an extremely important role in a country’s cleanliness and sustainability drive, with people’s health and the conservation of resources being the responsibility of every Government.
Plastic is some kind of a superhero when it comes to making our life easier. So much of the objects in our lives are built with plastic, so it’s no surprise that the stuff gets everywhere. We don’t even care about how it will impact the environment though. Single-serve beverages and snacks in plastic packaging are an easy grab-and-go option when you’re on the go. We all know the story when we look around. And how about plastic shopping bags so you don’t have to remember to bring another bag every time you head to the store? Buy it free and throw it on the go. Approximately 20 million shopping bags and 15 million lunch sheets used in Sri Lanka daily. Wherever you dump those polythene will stay as it is for more than 1000 years and killing you slowly. But who cares?
Do we care about our Environment?
It is very sad to say right after the Dalada Perahara it became apparent that there were about 200 tons of garbage near Dalada Maligawa premises. Also it was reported that more than a million plastic bottles were collected from Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) area which were discarded by pilgrims who had travelled to Sri Pada for past few months. If we can’t protect the sacred places from garbage, how are we going to protect the other places? Even BMICH premises found to be filled with so many garbage after the recently held book fair. Is that the mentality of our so called readers?
These kinds of stupid behaviours have to be changed immediately if we want to move forward as a country.
The Government and us
The Government had planned to reduce polythene usage without even introducing an alternative. Hope the Government had conducted a feasible study before implementing this strategy. Almost everyone complaining the Government and do nothing. My opinion is banning polythene is not necessary if we have the right discipline to use it.

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90 more solar projects in the offing by CEB

90 more solar projects in the offing by CEB

  • Tender conditions revised to encourage more bids: Minister
  • TEC Report on proposal for LNG plant in Kerawalapitiya to be handed over on Friday
  • Report by Ministerial Committee on LNG supply terminal proposals to be presented to Cabinet next week

By Chathuri Dissanayake-Thursday, 19 October 2017

logoThe Power and Renewable Energy Ministry is now in the process of floating tenders for 90 projects of 1 MW solar power plants under the second phase of the Suryabala Sangramaya Program.

Approval was granted by the Government this week to go ahead with the program, where the ministry will call for tenders to purchase power from solar power generators to be connected to 17 grid substations identified by the Ceylon Electricity Board.

The bidding conditions followed in stage one of the Suriyabala Sangramamaya Progam have been revised to ensure more bids are received during the second phase. During the first phase, although 63 bids for 1 MW plants were received, less than 25 qualified for the job.

Unlike the first bid round where only one proposal per bidder was entertained for 60 projects of 1MW each, bidders can tender for any quantity of power up to 90 MW, Power and Renewable Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Daily FT.

Further, the land requirement under the selection criteria has been broadened to give more flexibility to bidders. Stage one of the project required the proposals to provide proof of ownership of a five-acre plot for the generation plant. The new condition has revised the extent to three acres.

Identifying the availability of land and ownership to be a limiting factor from stage 1 of the project, the conditions of ownership have been further relaxed to include leased land, Minister Siyambalapitiya explained.

The 17 substations listed in the second phase are different to the 20 stations listed in stage one, except for a few stations which did not receive bids earlier. Further, unlike the earlier round where only 1 MW was added to one substation, the quantity of power absorbed by the substations in the new list will differ according to capacity, giving the bidders greater flexibility, spokesperson for the Ceylon Electricity Board Sulakshana Jayawardana told Daily FT.

However, the maximum purchase price per unit of power will remain Rs. 18.37.

“We have received bids with prices quoted as low as Rs. 11, so we are confident we will receive very competitive prices this time as well. That is why we have revised the selection criteria as well.

The CEB will call for tenders for the project within the next few weeks, the Minister said, adding that the revisions in tender criteria were now being finalised.

The report of the Technical Evaluation Committee on the bids for tender on the 300 MW Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant in Kerawalapitiya is expected to be handed over tomorrow for a final decision, the Minister said. A proposal to form a JV between India and Japan to set up a 500 MW LNG plant is seen as the favoured option of the Government, despite receiving a proposal from South Korea for the same project.

However, the Ministry is yet to make a final decision on the proposals for an LNG supply terminal.

“The President has appointed a ministerial committee on the matter and the report will be presented to Cabinet next week,” Siyambalapitiya said, adding that a final decision will be given on the matter following the discussion in Cabinet.

The first report given by the Cabinet Subcommittee appointed to make recommendations on the Government policy on the usage of LNG in electricity generation and the construction of required infrastructure advised the Government to set up a Floating Regasification Storage Unit (FRSU) in order to receive and regasify liquefied natural gas before 2019 to support the move to switch to LNG, which the committee recommended.  It also recommended a floating unit due to the relatively low costs involved in setting it up compared to building a land-based gas receiving terminal and the time consumed.

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US KNEW ABOUT 1960S MASS KILLINGS OF COMMUNISTS IN INDONESIA, DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS REVEAL

US KNEW ABOUT 1960S MASS KILLINGS OF COMMUNISTS IN INDONESIA, DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS REVEAL

Image: Members of the Youth Wing of the Indonesian Communist Party (Pemuda Rakjat) are watched by soldiers as they are taken to prison in Jakarta following a crackdown on communists after an abortive coup against President Sukarno’s government earlier in the month AP.

Sri Lanka Brief18/10/2017

Declassified files have revealed new details of US government knowledge and support of an Indonesian army extermination campaign that killed several hundred thousand civilians during anti-communist hysteria in the mid-1960s.

The thousands of files from the US Embassy in Jakarta covering 1963-66 were made public Tuesday after a declassification review that began under the Obama administration. The Associated Press reviewed key documents in the collection in advance of their release.

The files fill out the picture of a devastating reign of terror by the Indonesian army and Muslim groups that has been sketched by historians and in a US State Department volume that was declassified in 2001 despite a last-minute CIA effort to block its distribution.

In 1965, Indonesia had the world’s third-largest communist party after China and the Soviet Union, with several million members, and the country’s President, the charismatic Sukarno, was vociferously socialist and anti-American.

US officials despaired of Indonesia’s apparently unstoppable drift into the communist fold and were ecstatic when conservative generals imposed martial law in Jakarta, seized state radio and set out to annihilate the country’s communist party on the pretext that it had tried to overthrow the government. Within months, the army would prevail in its power struggle with Sukarno, shifting Indonesia’s political orientation to the US and opening its huge market to American companies.

The newly released files underline the US Embassy’s and State Department’s early, detailed and ongoing knowledge of the killings and eagerness to avoid doing anything that would hinder the Indonesian army. Historians had already established that the US provided lists of senior communist party officials, radio equipment and money as part of active support for the army.

The documents also show that US officials had credible information that contradicted the Indonesian army’s lurid story that the kidnapping and killing of seven generals in an abortive coup by junior officers on 30 September 1965, which paved the way for the bloodbath, was ordered by the Indonesian communist party and Beijing.

The documents specifically mention mass killings ordered by Suharto, a general who within months would seize total power and rule Indonesia for more than three decades, and the pivotal role in carrying out the massacres by groups that today remain Indonesia’s biggest mainstream Muslim organisations: Nahdlatul Ulama, its youth wing Ansor and Muhammadiyah.

A 21 December 1965, cable from the embassy’s first secretary, Mary Vance Trent, to the State Department referred to events as a “fantastic switch which has occurred over 10 short weeks.” It also included an estimate that 100,000 people had been slaughtered.

In Bali alone, some 10,000 people had been killed by mid-December, including the parents and distant relatives of the island’s pro-communist governor, and the slaughter was continuing, the cable said. Two months later, another embassy cable cited estimates that the killings in Bali had swelled to 80,000.

A cable that was part of the 2001 State Department volume showed that by April 1966, the embassy was staggered by the scale of the murders and acknowledged, “We frankly do not know whether the real figure is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000.” Even the Indonesian government had only a “vague idea” of the true number, the cable said.

The release of the documents coincides with an upsurge in anti-communist rhetoric in Indonesia, where communism remains a frequently invoked bogeyman for conservatives despite the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly three decades ago and China’s embrace of global capitalism.

Discussion of the 1965-66 period that departs from the Suharto era’s partly fictional account of a heroic national uprising against communism is still discouraged. A landmark symposium last year that brought together ageing survivors of the bloodbath and government ministers sparked a furious backlash. And last month, an anti-communist mob led by retired generals attacked a building in central Jakarta where activists had planned to discuss the killings.

“The mass killings of 1965-66 are among the world’s worst crimes against humanity, and our country’s darkest secret,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer. “The 1965-66 survivors are all very old now, and I’m afraid that they will not see justice before they die. Hopefully with these cables coming to light, the truth can emerge and perpetrators can be held accountable.”

US Senator Tom Udall, who in 2015 introduced a resolution in the Senate urging Indonesia’s government to create a truth and reconciliation commission, said the US must also confront its role in these “terrible acts.”

Indonesia’s Muslim mass organisations are among those reluctant to face scrutiny for their role, which in the fevered atmosphere of 1965 was characterised by Islamic leaders as a holy war against atheists.

Under the direction of the army, the Muslim organisations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah were enthusiastic participants in mass murder, carrying out indiscriminate killings as well as organised executions, according to the documents. They also mention the army’s recruiting of Catholics to help with its extermination campaign in central Java.

A December 1965 cable from the US Consulate in Medan, Indonesia, reported that preachers in Muhammadiyah mosques were telling congregations that all who joined the communist party must be killed, saying they are the “lowest order of infidel, the shedding of whose blood is comparable to killing chicken.”

A detailed four-page report covering mid- to late November 1965 by the US Embassy’s political affairs officer, Edward E. Masters, discussed the spread of mass executions to several provinces and the role of youth groups in helping to solve the “main problem” of where to house and what to feed PKI prisoners. PKI is the Indonesian acronym for the country’s communist party.

“Many provinces appear to be successfully meeting this problem by executing their PKI prisoners, or killing them before they are captured, a task in which Moslem youth groups are providing assistance,” the report said. A cable from earlier in the month mentions an estimated 62,000 prisoners in the province of Central Java alone.

Ansor, the youth arm of Nahdlatul Ulama, was responsible for “brutal attacks” on communists, according to a 10 December 1965, cable, but also caused problems by doing the same to non-communists involved in personal feuds with its members.

Possibly the earliest mention of systematic bloodshed in cables to Washington is a mid-October 1965 record of conversations between the embassy’s second secretary and Bujung Nasution, a special assistant to Indonesia’s attorney general involved with intelligence matters. Like other intermediaries of the Indonesian army and its allies sent to approach the embassy, Nasution was apparently trying to assess whether the US would object to the extermination campaign.

According to Nasution, the army had already executed many cadres, but this information, he said, must be closely held because the army needed more time to break the communists.

The memo described Nasution as alarmed that reports of atrocities had been leaked to the Malaysian press. It said he warned that it was critical that Sukarno did not learn of the extent of the army’s repression, especially from the foreign media.

In response, the second secretary, Robert G. Rich, reassured Nasution.

The US government was fully aware of the sensitive nature of the current events, said Rich, and was “making every effort to avoid stimulating press speculation.”

AP.

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How the EU mocks the victims of Israel’s crimes

How the EU mocks the victims of Israel’s crimes

Ali Abunimah-18 October 2017

On Wednesday morning, Israeli forces demolished a Palestinian-owned building in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina.

As usual, the pretext was that the owners had failed to obtain a permit – something the occupation municipality almost never grants to Palestinians.
A day earlier, nine Palestinians were made homeless when Israeli forces demolished two houses in the Silwanneighborhood, using the same pretext.

The Palestinian online publication Quds tweeted this video of the demolition in progress:
جانب من عمليات الهدم التي تنفذها قوات الاحتلال في أحد منازل بلدة سلوان.
According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a local organization, among the newly homeless Palestinians are several children.
Speaking amid the ruins of his house, Omar Abu Rajab told Palestinian media that Israeli forces came early in the morning and refused to postpone the destruction despite ongoing court challenges to the demolition order.
| الاحتلال يهدم منزل المواطن عمر أبو رجب رغم من وجود قرار محكمة بعدم هدمه صباح اليوم في سلوان بالقدس المحتلة
Silwan is the target of the most extensive Israeli plan to expel Palestinians in years. The plan paves the way for Jewish settlers.
Last year was a record year for Israeli demolitions in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.
This is all part of Israel’s plan to transform the occupied Palestinian city into a Jewish theme park run by and for settlers.
“Since 1967, the government of Israel has directly engaged in the construction of 55,000 units for Israelis in East Jerusalem; in contrast, fewer than 600 units have been built for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the last of which were built 40 years ago,” Daniel Seidemann of the nonprofit group Terrestrial Jerusalem, told the Ma’an News Agency in light of Tuesday’s demolitions.

Colonization surge

This week Israel began construction of 1,600 housing units in the so-called Givat Hamatos settlement in the occupied West Bank, south of Jerusalem.
For the first time in years, Israel also gave approval for new settlement construction in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron.
And why not? Despite the UN Security Council declaring repeatedly – most recently in December – that all of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law, Israel faces no consequences for its crimes.
On Wednesday, the European Union put out a statement about Israel’s reinvigorated settlement drive, its forced expulsions of Palestinian Bedouins and its evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem.
The statement does not clearly condemn Israel’s actions. Instead, it says the EU “has requested clarifications from Israeli authorities and conveyed the expectation that they reconsider these decisions, which are detrimental to ongoing efforts towards meaningful peace talks.”
This is diplomatic speak for: we barely have the courage to even criticize you, let alone to take action.

Meek “demand”

True, the statement does repeat the EU’s lip service that “all settlement activity is illegal under international law.”
But this begs the question: What “clarifications” does the EU still require after five decades of open, aggressive Israeli colonization in the occupied West Bank and elsewhere?
On Wednesday, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that eight European states are about to take the “unprecedented” step of threatening to demand $35,000 in compensation from Israel for the structures and equipment they funded in the West Bank that Israeli forces recently confiscated.
While this move is being marketed as a bold and tough European step, it only underlines how timid the EU really is. The sum in question is a tiny fraction of the at least $74 million in European-funded aid projects that Israel has destroyed with impunity.

EU support for Israel’s crimes

The fact is that the EU is an active enabler of Israel’s crimes.
Despite a growing legal consensus that international law requires countries to ban trade with Israeli settlements outright, the EU looks away as Israel defies its weak and ineffective requirements to label such goods.
Some EU officials even declare that settlement products are “welcome” in European supermarkets.
By contrast to the decades of EU inaction over Israel’s violations, the 28-member bloc was quick to impose sanctions on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
As Israeli politicians put forward plans for ethnic cleansing and genocide, the EU refuses to condemn them. Recently, the EU even hired an Israeli genocide advocate to help with its public relations efforts.
While Israel’s biggest arms maker helps Israel evade an international ban on cluster weapons, the EU continuesto lavish it with millions of dollars of “research” funds.
That’s in addition to funding Israeli torturers.
And as Israel aims to censor and suppress the Palestine solidarity movement by smearing criticism of its crimes as anti-Semitism, the EU volunteers to help.
Thank you @naftalibennett for good chat today on EU Israel relations: education,security,innovation
Israel knows that EU statements are worthless. It knows that it can freely demolish Palestinian schools funded by European governments and the EU will do nothing in response.
Israel and Palestinians know that the real EU is not the one that regularly pretends to be “concerned” about settlements, but the one whose Tel Aviv ambassador Emanuele Giaufret warmly grips the hands of Israeli leaders like Naftali Bennett – an open supporter of apartheid who boasts about killing Arabs.
With all this complicity and more, EU statements like the one issued Wednesday should not be understood as criticism of Israel. They should be taken for what they really are: mockery of the Palestinian victims of the Israeli crimes the EU continues to incentivize and reward.
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Thousands march in Somalia after attack that killed more than 300

Thousands march in Somalia after attack that killed more than 300

Demonstrators defy police to protest against people responsible for devastating truck bomb in Mogadishu

  Somali police fire live bullets at anti al-Shabaab protesters in Mogadishu – video

Africa correspondent-Wednesday 18 October

Thousands of Somalis have demonstrated against those behind the bombing that killed more than 300 people at the weekend, defying police who opened fire to keep them away from the site of the attack.

Wearing red headbands, the crowd of mostly young men and women marched through Mogadishu amid tight security. They answered a call to unity by the mayor, Thabit Abdi, who said: “We must liberate this city, which is awash with graves.”

The attack in the heart of Mogadishu on Saturday has been blamed on al-Shabaab, the local violent Islamist group, and was one of the most lethal terrorist operations anywhere in the world in recent years.

The Somali capital has suffered scores of bombings over recent years but not on this scale.

“We are demonstrating against the terrorists that massacred our people. We entered the road by force,” said Halima Abdullahi, who lost six of her relatives in the attacks.

Mohamed Salad, a university student, called on God to punish those responsible for the bombing.
The true death toll in the attack will probably never be known. The government buried at least 160 of those killed because they could not be identified after the blast.

In the town of Dusamareb in central Somalia, residents also marched for several hours and clerics called for the war against the militants to be stepped up.

The president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, pledged to rid Somalia of al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaida, after taking power in February in an election seen as a key milestone on the battered east African country’s gradual return to stability and prosperity.


Protesters near the scene of the massive truck bomb attack in Mogadishu. Photograph: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

The bombing, which involved two vehicles, is a major setback to the government, underlining its inability to guarantee security even in the capital.

Both vehicles detonated before reaching their intended target, which investigators believe was the heavily defended compound where the United Nations, embassies and forces from the African Union are based.

One, a large truck with around 350kg of explosives concealed under agricultural produce and a tarpaulin, was set off at a checkpoint in the centre of a crowded neighbourhood of the city and ignited a petrol tanker nearby.

Al-Shabaab, which began an insurgency in 2007, has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
Analysts suggested that the organisation may not want to undermine any popular support by associating itself with such a huge loss of civilian life.

The method and type of attack – a large truck bomb – is increasingly used by the al-Qaida-linked organisation and one of two men detained by security forces in connection with the bombing has told his interrogators that it was the work of the group.

The man who drove the truck has been identified by Somali officials as a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose home town was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, including three children.

Officials said the driver was a former member of the Islamic Courts Union, a conservative Islamist movement which briefly controlled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted by a US-backed invasion by Ethiopian troops. He joined the army in 2010 but defected from his military post to join al-Shabaab around five years later.

The local businessman and tribal leader who vouched for the truck to allow it to pass checkpoints before it exploded has been arrested and is being held in jail, the Somali intelligence official said.

The smaller vehicle – a Toyota minivan – was stopped at a checkpoint several hundred metres short of its target and the driver detained. This bomb then detonated, possibly set off by remote control or by security officials, without causing casualties.

The minivan’s driver is in a prison in Mogadishu, said a senior Somali police officer, Capt Mohamed Hussein.

The explosion site in Mogadishu. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Officials described the driver as a veteran militant who had been involved in previous attacks in Mogadishu, including one on the Jazeera hotel in 2012 in which eight people died.

He has been cooperating with the investigation. Officials said the man was proud of what he had done. “He says it is for jihad,” one said.

The US involvement in Somalia intensified in the later years of the Obama administration and has increased significantly since Donald Trump became president, with greater latitude given to local commanders to order airstrikes or take part in raids.

Critics have argued this risks greater civilian casualties, which, in the tight-knit world of Somalia’s complex clan system, can prompt feuds and revenge attacks. Al-Shabaab is adept at exploiting such divisions.

Mohamed Ali, a police captain at the scene, said it was fine for the demonstrators to access the scene to express their grief.

“For some who could not see their relatives alive or dead, the only chance they have is to at least see the spot where their beloved were killed,” he told Reuters.

Demonstrators defy police to protest against people responsible for devastating truck bomb in Mogadishu

  Somali police fire live bullets at anti al-Shabaab protesters in Mogadishu – video

Africa correspondent-Wednesday 18 October

Thousands of Somalis have demonstrated against those behind the bombing that killed more than 300 people at the weekend, defying police who opened fire to keep them away from the site of the attack.

Wearing red headbands, the crowd of mostly young men and women marched through Mogadishu amid tight security. They answered a call to unity by the mayor, Thabit Abdi, who said: “We must liberate this city, which is awash with graves.”

The attack in the heart of Mogadishu on Saturday has been blamed on al-Shabaab, the local violent Islamist group, and was one of the most lethal terrorist operations anywhere in the world in recent years.

The Somali capital has suffered scores of bombings over recent years but not on this scale.

“We are demonstrating against the terrorists that massacred our people. We entered the road by force,” said Halima Abdullahi, who lost six of her relatives in the attacks.

Mohamed Salad, a university student, called on God to punish those responsible for the bombing.
The true death toll in the attack will probably never be known. The government buried at least 160 of those killed because they could not be identified after the blast.

In the town of Dusamareb in central Somalia, residents also marched for several hours and clerics called for the war against the militants to be stepped up.

The president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, pledged to rid Somalia of al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaida, after taking power in February in an election seen as a key milestone on the battered east African country’s gradual return to stability and prosperity.


Protesters near the scene of the massive truck bomb attack in Mogadishu. Photograph: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

The bombing, which involved two vehicles, is a major setback to the government, underlining its inability to guarantee security even in the capital.

Both vehicles detonated before reaching their intended target, which investigators believe was the heavily defended compound where the United Nations, embassies and forces from the African Union are based.

One, a large truck with around 350kg of explosives concealed under agricultural produce and a tarpaulin, was set off at a checkpoint in the centre of a crowded neighbourhood of the city and ignited a petrol tanker nearby.

Al-Shabaab, which began an insurgency in 2007, has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
Analysts suggested that the organisation may not want to undermine any popular support by associating itself with such a huge loss of civilian life.

The method and type of attack – a large truck bomb – is increasingly used by the al-Qaida-linked organisation and one of two men detained by security forces in connection with the bombing has told his interrogators that it was the work of the group.

The man who drove the truck has been identified by Somali officials as a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose home town was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, including three children.

Officials said the driver was a former member of the Islamic Courts Union, a conservative Islamist movement which briefly controlled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted by a US-backed invasion by Ethiopian troops. He joined the army in 2010 but defected from his military post to join al-Shabaab around five years later.

The local businessman and tribal leader who vouched for the truck to allow it to pass checkpoints before it exploded has been arrested and is being held in jail, the Somali intelligence official said.

The smaller vehicle – a Toyota minivan – was stopped at a checkpoint several hundred metres short of its target and the driver detained. This bomb then detonated, possibly set off by remote control or by security officials, without causing casualties.

The minivan’s driver is in a prison in Mogadishu, said a senior Somali police officer, Capt Mohamed Hussein.

The explosion site in Mogadishu. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Officials described the driver as a veteran militant who had been involved in previous attacks in Mogadishu, including one on the Jazeera hotel in 2012 in which eight people died.

He has been cooperating with the investigation. Officials said the man was proud of what he had done. “He says it is for jihad,” one said.

The US involvement in Somalia intensified in the later years of the Obama administration and has increased significantly since Donald Trump became president, with greater latitude given to local commanders to order airstrikes or take part in raids.

Critics have argued this risks greater civilian casualties, which, in the tight-knit world of Somalia’s complex clan system, can prompt feuds and revenge attacks. Al-Shabaab is adept at exploiting such divisions.

Mohamed Ali, a police captain at the scene, said it was fine for the demonstrators to access the scene to express their grief.

“For some who could not see their relatives alive or dead, the only chance they have is to at least see the spot where their beloved were killed,” he told Reuters.

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Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Campos resurfaces on Ellen DeGeneres show

Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Campos resurfaces on Ellen DeGeneres show

  October 18 at 5:44 AM

 The Mandalay Bay security guard who was described as “missing” in recent news reports has turned up on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where he taped his first public account of being wounded as he responded to Stephen Paddock’s deadly shooting rampage in Las Vegas.

In a segment set for broadcast on Wednesday, Jesus Campos described how he was called to check on an open door near Paddock’s suite on the 32nd floor of the hotel and casino, and how he was struck by gunfire moments before the shooter unleashed a fusillade of bullets on a crowd of concertgoers below.

“As I was walking down, I heard rapid fire, and at first I took cover,” Campos said. “I felt a burning sensation. I went to go lift my pant leg up and I saw the blood. That’s when I called it in on my radio that shots have been fired.”

Excerpts from the show were first published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Campos’s remarks didn’t deviate from what police and hotel officials have said publicly about the Oct. 1 attack, which left 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, but did offer a clear narrative about what Campos experienced that night.

The 25-year-old has been the subject of intense intrigue in the weeks since he was revealed as the first person to confront Paddock and report the shooting. Contradictory statements from police and hotel officials about when he arrived at the gunman’s room raised questions about the speed of the response from law enforcement and stoked conspiracy theories about the attack.

Police initially said Campos was shot at 9:59 p.m., several minutes before Paddock started firing from the smashed-out windows of his suite. Following pushback from Mandalay Bay’s owners, police amended the timeline, saying Campos had first arrived on the floor at 9:59 p.m. but wasn’t shot until roughly 10:05 p.m., about the time the mass shooting began. The first law enforcement officers arrived at 10:17 p.m., according to Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.

Campos drew more attention last week when, without explanation, he skipped out on previously scheduled television interviews with Fox News and four other outlets, and fell out of contact with the Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America union, which was helping him coordinate the appearances. He had posted signs outside his home reading “no trespassing” and “no media on property,” according to the Review-Journal.

Various news reports referred to him as “missing” and “vanished,” creating an air of mystery around a crucial witness to the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history. In the video, he did not explain why he chose the DeGeneres show to tell his long-awaited story as opposed to all the other shows vying for the first interview.

Tomorrow, the first people to encounter the Las Vegas shooter are here – security guard Jesus Campos and building engineer Stephen Schuck.

Campos appeared nervous as he recounted the sequence of events that led him to Paddock’s room. He was joined on the show by Stephen Schuck, a building engineer who was on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay with him during the shooting. Campos spoke softly, avoided looking at the studio audience, and leaned forward in his seat as Schuck patted him on the back during some of his responses.

Clad in a gray suit and tie, Campos said he was on the 31st floor when he got a radio call to check on a door that had been left ajar near Paddock’s room on the 32nd floor. As he climbed the stairwell, he found that another door had been jammed shut with brackets, he said.

Eventually he got onto the shooter’s floor using a different route. Schuck was sent to meet him to inspect the problem.

Around that time, Campos heard what he assumed were drilling sounds. As he walked down the hallway, he seemed to catch Paddock’s attention, he said. That’s when the gunfire started — Campos said he believed it was coming from behind Paddock’s door. “I don’t know how he was shooting but he shot out,” he said.

One of Paddock’s bullets hit Campos in the leg. Rather than using his radio to say that he was wounded, he used his cellphone, “just to clear radio traffic so they could coordinate the rest of the call,” he said.

According to Campos, a female guest came out of another room. “I told her to go back inside, it wasn’t safe,” he said.

Schuck, the building engineer, said he had just rounded the corner when he noticed Campos and started to hear the gunfire. At first he thought it was a jackhammer, he said, but knew that crews wouldn’t be working that late at night.

Campos “leaned out and he said, ‘Take cover! Take cover!’ and yelled at me,” Schuck recalled. “Within milliseconds, if he didn’t say that I would have got hit.”

Schuck described how the two of them remained pinned in the hallway as Paddock fired, saying he could “feel the pressure” of bullets flying past his head.

Both men said they were still rattled by the experience. “I’m doing better each day,” Campos said, “just healing mentally and physically.”

He thanked law enforcement officers and other first responders, and the community as a whole, for coming together “to help that night even in the darkest hour.

DeGeneres praised Campos as a “hero” and said he had saved Schuck’s life and the life of the hotel guest. She presented them both with gifts: For Schuck, tickets to meet and watch the Indianapolis Colts; for Campos, season tickets to the Oakland Raiders when they make their planned move to Las Vegas.

When DeGeneres suggested that Campos’s appearance on her show would be his only public comment on the attack, Campos nodded in agreement.

“You being shot in the leg saved so many people’s lives,” DeGeneres said. “We just wanted to celebrate you.”

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Pakistan, Afghanistan in angry tangle over chicken-wire border fence to keep out militants

Pakistan, Afghanistan in angry tangle over chicken-wire border fence to keep out militants

Location and range information is seen on a wall in the Kitton outpost along the border fence on the border with Afghanistan in North Waziristan, Pakistan October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz
OCTOBER 18, 2017
Angoor Adda, PAKISTAN (Reuters) – Pakistan is betting that a pair of nine-foot chicken wire fences topped with barbed wire will stop incursions by Islamist militants from Afghanistan, which opposes Islamabad’s plans for a barrier along the disputed frontier.
Pakistan plans to fence up most of the 2,500 km (1,500 mile) frontier despite Kabul’s protests that the barrier would divide families and friends along the Pashtun tribal belt straddling the colonial-era Durand line drawn up by the British in 1893.
Pakistan’s military estimates that it will need about 56 billion rupees ($532 million) for the project, while there are also plans to build 750 border forts and employ high-tech surveillance systems to prevent militants crossing.
In the rolling hills of the Angoor Adda village in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), three rolls of barbed wire are sandwiched in the six-foot gap between the chicken wire fences.
“(The fence) is a paradigm change. It is an epoch shift in the border control management,” said a Pakistani army officer in command of South Waziristan during a presentation to foreign media on Wednesday.

“There will not be an inch of international border (in South Waziristan) which shall not remain under our observation.”

Pakistan’s military has so far fenced off about 43 km of the frontier, starting with the most violence-prone areas in FATA, and is expected to recruit tens of thousands of new troops to man the border. It is not clear how long it will take to fence the entire boundary.
But Pakistan’s plans have also drawn criticism from across the border.

Gulab Mangal, governor of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, told Reuters the wall will create “more hatred and resentment” between two neighbours and will do neither country any good.

A view of the border fence outside the Kitton outpost on the border with Afghanistan in North Waziristan

A view of the border fence outside the Kitton outpost on the border with Afghanistan in North Waziristan, Pakistan October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz
 
“The fence will definitely create a lot of trouble for the people along the border on both sides but no wall or fence can separate these tribes,” he said.
“I urge the tribes to stand against this action.”

Pakistan has blamed Pakistani Taliban militants it says are based on Afghan soil for a spate of attacks at home over the past year, urging Kabul to eradicate “sanctuaries” for militants.

Afghanistan, in turn, accuses Islamabad of sheltering the leadership of the Afghan Taliban militants who are battling the Western-backed government in Kabul.
Both countries deny aiding militants, but relations between the two have soured in recent years. In May, the tension rose when 10 people were killed in two border villages in Baluchistan region.
The clashes occurred in so-called “divided villages”, where the Durand Line goes through the heart of the community, and where residents are now bracing for the fence to split their villages in two.
Pakistan’s previous attempts to build a fence failed about a decade ago and many doubt whether its possible to secure such a lengthy border.
But Pakistani army officials are undeterred by the scepticism and insist they will finish the job as the country’s security rests on this fence.
“By the time we are done, inshallah, we will be very sure of one thing: that nobody can cross this place,” said the Pakistani officer in charge of South Waziristan.

($1 = 105.1500 Pakistani rupees)

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China Is Getting Better at Undermining Global Human Rights

China Is Getting Better at Undermining Global Human Rights

It doesn’t help that the Trump administration doesn’t seem to mind.

Policemen escort a handcuffed man on Oct. 12, 2005 in Meishan of Sichuan Province, southwest China. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
Policemen escort a handcuffed man on Oct. 12, 2005 in Meishan of Sichuan Province, southwest China. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
No automatic alt text available.BY 

Since taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump has managed to repeatedly steer the national conversation in all sorts of directions, from the merits of NFL protests to still-unproven allegations that his presidential campaign was wiretapped by the FBI. The national dialogue often lurches from one subject to another, which means that certain key issues are often more or less ignored.

Last month, Human Rights Watch, the leading U.S.-based human rights advocacy organization, released a comprehensive 96-page report on efforts by the Chinese government to manipulate and undercut key United Nations human rights mechanisms, both to shield itself from rights criticism and to protect its friends and allies. (Disclosure: I worked for Human Rights Watch over a decade ago as a researcher and remain a fan of its work.) The reportThe Costs of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms, failed to garner much attention, perhaps in part because it was competing against a White House noise machine that is louder than any other in American history.

Whatever the reason, it’s too bad that the report didn’t get more coverage. It tells an important story. For years, Chinese officials have used an array of tools to blunt criticism of its deteriorating human rights record. Most crucially, state security agents regularly warn Chinese activists against working with or even contacting U.N. human rights officials in Geneva. Some have even been detained in order to stop them from traveling to key U.N. meetings. Other activists who have managed to get to Geneva have been punished once they return. These tactics have taken a real toll: Many Chinese activists are reluctant to work with U.N. officials, or with the international nongovernmental organizations that feed information to U.N. bodies. As a result, U.N. experts seeking to review China’s rights record face difficulty in gathering information directly from human rights defenders themselves.

At the same time, Beijing has used both its political clout and bureaucratic maneuvering to block international NGOs that might be critical of China from obtaining so-called observer status at the U.N. (This status is a form of accreditation for civil society organizations, making it easier for them to participate in U.N. confabs.) In some cases, NGOs engaged in high-quality work on issues that China considers sensitive have been blocked for years at a time, while China poses various worthless questions about their background that must be answered before an application can proceed. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, had to deal with bureaucratic blockages from China and other countries for a full four years before finally being granted accreditation in 2016.

China also looks to influence the debate within key U.N. human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council. Whenever China’s rights record comes up for debate at the Human Rights Council, China calls on friendly states to propagandize on its behalf. Because these governments know that China will return the favor when they themselves are up for review, they are only happy to oblige. In 2013, for example, the Cuban delegation to the Human Rights Council openly praised the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissent, saying that it “appreciated measures against criminal activities and encouraged China to continue defending its sovereignty.” China later returned the favor, stating that it “congratulated Cuba on its achievements in the field of human rights.” Such diplomatic horse-trading makes an apolitical, fact-based assessment of a country’s progress on human rights all the more difficult.

The Human Rights Watch report is a must-read because it gives us a sense of what a Chinese-led world order might look like: International values, including the protection and promotion of human rights, would be subverted to state interests time and time again, and only those states that completely lack diplomatic chips to cash in with states like China would face meaningful scrutiny.

And yet, none of the Chinese tactics that Human Rights Watch documents are particularly new. In essence, The Costs of International Advocacy documents the intensification of long-term trends that have been a key part of China’s approach to the U.N. human rights system for decades. Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, China has sought to zealously defend itself against human rights criticism, and it has largely succeeded. And over the past two decades, it has often — though by no means always — shielded key allies from criticism, including North Korea and pre-democratization Myanmar. And, sadly, official intimidation of Chinese activists to keep them from working with U.N. officials in Geneva is also a long-lived phenomenon.

What’s different today versus 10 or 20 years ago is the level of influence China enjoys, and the growing unwillingness of some states to push back against Chinese manipulation and intimidation. In other words, China is able to make greater and more effective use of its toolkit, at a lower reputational cost. Government officials in Washington, London, and Brussels should take note and find ways to bolster the U.N. human rights system as a whole.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the White House at least, there is no evidence that the United States government will take action to push back against China at the U.N. Instead, the Trump administration is itself taking steps to undermine both the U.N. as a whole and its human rights system in particular in ways that actually dovetail with China’s own efforts.

The fact that China often looks to resist and even subvert global human rights mechanisms should come as no surprise.

 What is surprising, and sad, is that a U.S. administration — and, indeed, many of the top leaders of one of America’s two major political parties — should similarly seek to undermine important global institutions that the United States itself helped to create. Both before and after taking office, President Trump has been unsparing in his criticism of the United Nations. In a March 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump bemoaned the “utter weakness and incompetence of the United Nations.” In December, then-President-elect Trump offered a somewhat more mixed view: He acknowledged the world body’s “great potential” but lamented that “right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time.”

Less than a year into his administration, the fights between the Trump White House and key U.N. human rights bodies have already begun, and they may well deepen in the years to come. Several U.N. mechanisms have rightly criticized Trump over his handling of immigration from Muslim countries (the so-called “Muslim ban”), his equivocal commentson the use of violence by white nationalist protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his repeated attacks on American journalists and media outlets. White House officials have largely rejected the criticisms.

Trump didn’t introduce U.N.-bashing to the GOP, of course — it has been a staple of Republican rhetoric and action for decades. In 2012, for example, Republican senators successfully led the charge against the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ensuring that the United States would not — at least for the foreseeable future — ratify a groundbreaking treaty that was based in part on the watershed 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. Earlier that same year, 34 Republican senators wrote to then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) to express their intent to vote against ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 convention that was first submitted to the Senate for ratification by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Those are but two of many international treaties that have languished in the Senate due to Republican hostility.

To be fair, not many Democrats have taken the time to stand up for the U.N. and its human rights bodies. The U.N. is often both vital and rather unlovely, as many political entities are. At least in the United States, the U.N. has a real PR problem: At times, the U.N.’s very real flaws garner more attention than its strengths, making it all the more difficult to speak out on its behalf. And then there’s the hard and fast political reality: Speaking out in support of U.N. human rights mechanisms won’t win a senator or a congresswoman many votes, especially in swing districts in Ohio or Florida or Iowa. At best, support for international institutions, including those that regularly criticize America’s human rights record, is a net neutral factor, one that won’t matter to most constituents. At worst, as Republican rhetoric has shown, it can cost a candidate at least a few much-needed votes.

It may be quite some time before China changes its approach to human rights at the U.N. But a change in the U.S. approach is achievable: If the underlying domestic politics surrounding the U.N. shift, then many political leaders will alter their approach accordingly.

If the underlying domestic politics surrounding the U.N. shift, then many political leaders will alter their approach accordingly.

In other words, if the American people can make clear their continued support for the postwar international institutions that the United States helped create, and that still, on balance, further American interests and ideals, then they will find that many GOP representatives in Washington will change their tune.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Chinese citizens have virtually no role in determining their government’s approach to key foreign-policy questions. That won’t change anytime soon: Beijing would not look favorably on domestic criticism of its efforts to weaken U.N. human rights organs.

Americans, of course, face no such restrictions. Those of us who believe in human rights as a key element of the liberal international order should use our voice and our vote to push Washington to resume its role as a stalwart defender of the U.N. human rights system. The vitality and the effectiveness — and possibly even the viability — of these U.N. rights bodies may well depend on it.

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