Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Islands of Greenglade Prime’

Corsican nationalists protest ahead of French leader’s visit

February 03, 2018

CORSICA, France (AP) — Corsica’s nationalist leaders are demonstrating along with unions and students ahead of a visit next week by French President Emmanuel Macron. The newly elected leaders on the French Mediterranean island hope that Saturday’s march will spur on fresh talks with the French government about demands including equal status for the Corsican language and the release of Corsican prisoners held in mainland prisons.

In December, Corsican nationalists swept the election for a new regional assembly, crushing Macron’s young centrist movement and traditional parties. The nationalists want more autonomy from Paris but unlike some in Spain’s nearby Catalonia, they aren’t seeking full independence — yet.

They also want protections for locals buying real estate on the destination that the French refer to as the “Island of Beauty,” which is famed as Napoleon’s birthplace.


1 body recovered, 36 feared dead in Philippine mall fire

December 24, 2017

DAVAO, Philippines (AP) — Philippine firefighters recovered one body from a burning shopping mall Sunday and there was “zero” chances of survival for 36 other trapped people inside the four-story building in southern Davao city, an official said.

Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said firefighters told distraught relatives of the 36 trapped employees of a business outsourcing company at the top floor of the NCCC Mall that nobody could survive the extreme heat and thick black smoke.

“They were told that the chances of survival are zero,” she said, adding that one of those trapped may be a Chinese or a South Korean, based on the name. It is unclear when firefighters can break into most areas of the mall, where the blaze was put under control Sunday morning although smoke continued to billow from the building. The firefighters won’t stop until all those reported missing are found, Duterte-Carpio said.

Investigators will determine the cause of the fire and the prospects of criminal lawsuits against the mall owners and officials would depend on the outcome of the investigation, said the mayor, who is the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte, the mayor and Roman Catholic Church officials went to the site and met with relatives of the trapped office employees late Saturday and asked them to pray. The president was photographed wiping his eyes with a handkerchief, his head bowed, at an emotional moment with the relatives.

The mall’s marketing manager, Janna Abdullah Mutalib, said the fire started Saturday morning at the third floor where clothes, appliances and furniture are sold, after a storm hit Davao and flooded parts of the city. Except for a grocery at the ground floor and the business outsourcing company at the top floor, the shopping areas were still closed to the public when the fire started mid-morning, preventing a bigger tragedy amid the peak Christmas shopping season.

Duterte served as Davao mayor for many years before being elected to the presidency last year. It’s been a difficult year for the tough-talking, 72-year-old leader, who faced his most serious crisis when hundreds of pro-Islamic State group extremists laid siege on Marawi city, also in the southern third of the Philippines. He declared martial law in the south to deal with the insurrection, which troops crushed in October.

The storm that blew out of the southern Philippines Sunday reportedly left more than 120 people dead with 160 others still missing.

Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines contributed to this report.

Philippine Congress votes to extend martial law in south

December 13, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine Congress voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in the south by a year after the military warned that terrorist threats continue to lurk despite the defeat of a disastrous pro-Islamic State group siege.

A majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives — with 240 approving and 27 opposing — voted to extend martial law across the Mindanao region through the end of 2018. The vote followed warnings by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other officials that pro-IS militants were trying to recover from their defeat in southern Marawi city and were plotting new attacks.

“The rebellion has not stopped, it has just moved to another place,” Lorenzana told the senators and House members in a joint session. Opponents argued that extending martial law in the south is unconstitutional and expressed fears that such a move can be a prelude for Duterte to declare martial law throughout the Philippines.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who heads the main opposition Liberal Party, rejected the martial law extension without a clear constitutional basis. “We will be in danger of becoming the monsters that we seek to defeat, those who have no regard for law, order or respect for the constitution,” he said.

The Marawi violence left more than 1,100 combatants and noncombatants dead, displaced about half a million people and turned mosque-studded Marawi’s central business and residential districts into a smoldering war zone.

The uprising, which began on May 23, prompted Duterte to declare martial law and reinforced fears that the Islamic State group was taking steps to gain a foothold in Asia and elsewhere as it faced battle setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

Some gunmen and commanders managed to escape during the fighting and are now recruiting new militants, while extremist groups in other southern provinces, including the brutal Abu Sayyaf group, continue to pose threats, according to the military.

Filipinos remain hypersensitive to threats to democracy and civil liberties more than three decades after they ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a 1986 “people power” revolt that became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide.


Philippine President Vows to Correct Historical Injustice Against Muslims

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed on Monday to correct “historical injustice” against minorities in his country as the government seeks to reestablish a peace process in the southern areas.

Muslims have been waging a rebellion seeking autonomy or independence in the mainly Catholic southern areas of Philippines, since the 1970’s. They regard the areas as their ancestral homeland, however the conflict resulted in the death of more than 120,000 persons in several areas of the southern region of Mindanao.

Duterte made the remarks at a gathering hosted by the country’s main Muslim guerrilla group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and attended by several Christians and Muslim factions and tribal groups.

Duterte takes pride in having Muslim ancestry and warned that the region could see worse violence if the issue is not resolved.

“What is at stake here is the preservation of the Filipino republic and to correct historical injustice,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Duterte as saying.

In 2014, MILF, which includes 10,000 members, signed a peace deal that gave Muslim minority self-rule over parts of Mindanao, but the Filipino Congress didn’t approve the proposed law to implement the pact.

Duterte added that during the decades when the Philippines was under Spanish and then US colonial rule, Christian majority had taken control of vast parts of Mindanao, thus marginalizing native Muslims and other tribes.

He warned that the situation could aggravate if ISIS militants fled to the Philippines after losing their strongholds in the Middle East.

The President also indicated that he called the Congress to a special session where Muslim leaders could explain their plans to the legislators, adding that such a deal should include everyone and must be accepted by all groups in Mindanao.

MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Yusop Jikiri also attended the assembly, as well as archbishop of Cotabato and Mindanao’s highest Catholic Church official, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo.

In his speech, Murad said the government and the Moro groups must unite together to fight a common enemy, the violent extremists.

“We feel the obligation to assert for the enactment of the basic law not because it will win us votes but because it presents us a rare opportunity to be part of peacemaking,” Murad said.

Director of the government’s coordinating committee overseeing the peace accord Carlos Sol also said: “The importance here is that there is coexistence between Christians, Muslims and Lumads [tribal people]”.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the gathering at the MILF headquarters.

MILF previously announced that half a million had registered to attend the assembly which was secured by unarmed MILF fighters accompanied by armed government soldiers and policemen.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.



Global climate talks begin in Germany with Fiji at the helm

November 06, 2017

BONN, Germany (AP) — Diplomats and activists have gathered in Germany for two-week talks on implementing the Paris agreement to fight climate change. Environmental groups staged protests in the western city of Bonn and at a nearby coal mine ahead of the meeting to highlight Germany’s continued use of heavily polluting fossil fuels.

The 23rd conference of the parties, or COP23, will be opened Monday by Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe ‘Frank’ Bainimarama. The Pacific island nation is already suffering the impacts of global warming. Negotiators will focus on thrashing out some of the technical details of the 2015 Paris accord, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

While President Donald Trump has expressed skepticism, a recent U.S. government report concluded there’s strong evidence that man-made climate change is taking place.


Dozens of men describe rape, torture by Sri Lanka government

November 08, 2017

LONDON (AP) — One of the men tortured in Sri Lanka said he was held for 21 days in a small dank room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down. Another man described being abducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a “torture room” equipped with ropes, iron rods, a bench and buckets of water. There were blood splatters on the wall.

A third man described the prisoners as growing accustomed to the sound of screaming. “It made us really scared the first day but then we got used to it because we heard screaming all the time.” Raped, branded or beaten repeatedly, more than 50 men from the Tamil ethnic minority seeking political asylum in Europe say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current government. The previously unpublished accounts conjure images of the country’s bloody civil war that ended in 2009 — not the palm-fringed paradise portrayed by the government.

One by one, the men agreed to tell their stories to The Associated Press and to have the extensive scars on their legs, chests and groins photographed in July and August. The AP reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and conducted interviews with 20 men. The strangers say they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group on the losing side of the civil war. Although combat ended 8 years ago, the torture and abuse occurred from early 2016 to as recently as July this year.

Sri Lankan authorities deny the allegations. Piers Pigou, a South African human rights investigator who has interviewed torture survivors for the past 40 years in the world’s most dire countries, says the sheer scale of brutality is nothing like he has heard before.

“The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.” Most of the men say they were blindfolded as they were driven to detention sites. They said the majority of their captors identified themselves as members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes. Some, however, said it appeared their captors and interrogators were soldiers based on the types of uniforms and insignia they were wearing. One man reported seeing army uniforms hanging on a clothes line and many of the men wearing army boots.

In an interview last week in Colombo, Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake denied the torture allegations. “The army was not involved — and as for that matter — I’m sure that police also were not involved,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to do that now.”

The Sri Lankan government minister in charge of the police agreed to an interview with the AP last month but did not follow through. Despite its denials that widespread torture still persists among its security forces, Sri Lanka has repeatedly failed to investigate war crimes allegations stemming from its 26-year civil war.

That conflict was between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority, and the Sinhalese-dominated government. The Tigers, as they were known, were designated as a terrorist organization after a wave of suicide bombings. The government’s forces, however, were also accused of targeting civilians, which is considered a war crime under international law.

At the end of August, human rights groups in South America filed lawsuits against Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil and other South American nations. He is accused of overseeing military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people at the end of the war. Other high ranking officials — often shielded by diplomatic immunity — have also been accused.

Upon the ambassador’s return to Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena vowed that neither Jayasuriya the ambassador nor any other “war hero” would face prosecution for such allegations — a pledge that rights groups said illustrates the government’s refusal to investigate its own soldiers accused of war crimes.

Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s international profile is on the rise. In May, the European Union restored the special trade status that Sri Lanka lost in 2010 after the European Commission found that the country had failed to implement key international conventions. Sri Lanka is also paid to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions and was recently asked to sit on a U.N. leadership committee trying to combat sexual abuse. An AP investigation earlier this year found that 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers participated in a child sex ring in Haiti that persisted for three years — and no one was ever prosecuted.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, one of the U.N.’s top diplomats who has pushed for accountability in Sri Lanka, was aghast at the AP’s accounts of the 52 tortured men. “While the U.N. is unable to confirm this until we mount an investigation, clearly the reports are horrifying and merit a much closer inspection from our part, especially if they occurred in 2016 and 2017,” said Zeid, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The International Truth and Justice Project has gathered testimony from more than 60 Sri Lankans across Europe — 52 of whom were part of the AP’s investigation. The group has been lobbying governments and international organizations to get justice for victims.

The non-governmental organization assigned the men witness numbers to protect their identities. The men agreed to share their stories on condition of anonymity out of fear that they or their families in Sri Lanka could face reprisals.

The men said they were accused of working with the Tamil Tigers, but the government insisted in its interview with the AP that the rebel group is no longer a threat. Nearly all of the men were branded with tiger stripes meant to symbolize the rebel group that fought against the Sinhalese-dominated government for an independent Tamil homeland. One man had nearly 10 thick scars across his back.

Most of the men say they were sexually abused or raped, sometimes with sticks wrapped in barbed wire. Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka and rape carries a significant social stigma. Still, the victims said they felt obligated to tell their stories.

“I want the world to know what is happening in Sri Lanka,” a 22-year-old known as Witness #205 told the AP during an interview in July. “The war against Tamils hasn’t stopped.”


Unlike most of the victims, Witness #249 admits to having been a member of the Tigers nearly a decade ago, joining up when their ranks had been depleted in the final stages of the war. He walks with a limp, caused when a piece of shrapnel left in his leg from a battle in which nine of his friends were blown up.

After the war, he returned to the family farm, helping his father. Last year, he married his high school sweetheart, and began collecting donations for victims of the war.

Soon after his wedding in 2016, he said, he was snatched off the streets, arriving at a torture room hours later.

“They heated up iron rods and burned my back with stripes,” he told the AP, closing his eyes and rocking back and forth. “On another occasion, they put chili powder in a bag and put the bag over my head until I passed out. They … raped me.”

His father eventually bribed the security officers to free him. He was hospitalized for 10 days after his release. Most of the men said their families paid an average bribe of 500,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (around $3,250) and up to $20,000 to be smuggled into Europe — hefty sums that sometimes forced their families to sell parcels of land.

Many of the other victims said they had never worked for the Tamil Tigers. But all told similar tales: they were abducted at home or off the streets by men in white or green vans, they were tortured for days or weeks or months, a family member often secured their release through a bribe, and they made their way to Europe using smugglers.

“I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye to my wife before I fled for England.”

Now, after all he has endured, Witness #249 relates to the tragic characters in the works of his beloved Shakespeare: broken and cursed.

Last year, Sri Lankan authorities were called to Geneva to testify before the U.N. Committee against Torture. When questioned about allegations of continued use of torture against suspects in police custody and impunity for alleged perpetrators, Sri Lanka’s Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya said the country’s constitution prohibited torture and that strengthening human rights was a cornerstone of its current agenda. He also said “strict action” would be taken against perpetrators of human rights violations.

But advocates say that hasn’t happened.

“Unless those responsible for these crimes are tackled head on and held accountable, this will not end,” said Frances Harrison, project manager for the International Truth and Justice Project.

Many Tamils contend that the government continues to target them as part of a larger plan to destroy their culture. Tamils, who speak a different language and are largely Hindu, unlike the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority, say they have been treated like second-class citizens.

More than 100,000 people were estimated to have died in the war, including at least up to 40,000 civilians in its final months, according to U.N. estimates. Sri Lankan authorities have denied targeting civilians and dispute the toll. Rights groups say both sides committed war crimes.

Witness #205, who reported that he was held for 21 days and tortured, said he was accused of belonging to the Tamil Tiger rebel group.

He, like the majority of the other victims, said one of his captors identified himself as a member of Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department.

“These survivors are the walking wounded of an invisible war in which rape has become the ultimate covert weapon,” said Harrison.


Many of the victims meet each week at a London church for English classes and counselling sessions.

In July, a new member of the group stepped forward revealing at least 60 cigarette burns on his legs and chest. At 19, he was the youngest victim of the group and trembled when speaking of his sexual abuse.

“What’s striking is that I’m seeing men who are younger and younger, meaning that they would have had very little to do with the war,” said Dr. Charmian Goldwyn, who has seen nearly 200 Tamils who say they were tortured. Some of the cases occurred before 2015 but she has also seen men who have described more recent abuse.

She assesses their mental and physical health and often testifies in their asylum hearings. She said the branding and scars often make it easier to prove torture for an asylum claim but it becomes more difficult to prove sexual abuse.

Gary Anandasangaree, a Tamil lawmaker in the Canadian government, said there is a large degree of distrust from asylum seekers who fear for the families they left behind. He said one group who sought asylum in Canada had telephone calls to their families intercepted. The families in Sri Lanka were then questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department, he said.

“The reports of recent torture are not surprising,” he said. “I heard similar stories on a visit last year.”

Though the men are relieved to be in Europe, asylum can take years, and even if granted it isn’t necessarily permanent. Britain, like many countries, is buckling under pressure from anti-immigration groups.

For a 34-year-old taxi driver known as Witness #199, the fear of being rejected for asylum is crippling.

In 2014 while still in Sri Lanka, he visited his wife in the hospital after she gave birth to a son. With the war behind him and a new life ahead, he was overjoyed to be starting a family in his homeland — where he finally felt safe.

“After leaving the hospital, a man standing next to a white van started calling my name,” he said. “I wasn’t scared at that point so I just got in.”

The men asked him to pay a bribe and when he told them he couldn’t, they released him on the condition he pay in two weeks, he said.

“My uncle said the men would keep coming back to ask for money so he advised that it would be best if I left the country.”

He fled to Switzerland, but was rejected for asylum eight months later.

Back home, he said, he was visiting friends when he was abducted again.

This time, he was held 23 days, branded with iron rods and raped after a group of men entered his cell and forced him to drink a bottle of alcohol, he said. Some forced him to perform oral sex on them and beat him when he refused. He lost consciousness. When he woke up, he was naked, covered in semen and bleeding from his rectum.

Seeing the bottle left in his cell, he broke it and tried to slash his wrists.

Two days later, he was released and made his way to the UK.

Within days of arriving and applying for asylum, he tried to kill himself again, this time by drinking bleach.

He hasn’t seen his baby boy since he was born.


Some have cast doubt on the men’s stories, saying that the marks could have been caused during the war or even that the men could have inflicted the injuries themselves to gain sympathy on asylum applications — an assertion that that medical and academic experts say is not credible.

Witness #203 said he was forced to join the Tigers as a child soldier at 16. He was studying to be a teacher when he found himself on the battlefield. For four months, he was tasked with collecting the body parts of fallen fighters killed in the extensive shelling soldiers so they could be buried.

Then, last year — seven years after the war ended — he said he was abducted in a white van and driven for two hours.

From his location, he believes he could have been taken to the notorious Joseph Camp, a military installation in the north of Sri Lanka that has been the source of numerous torture claims over the years.

For 11 days, he says men stripped him, touched his genitals and forced him to touch theirs. The 12th day was worse.

“I was put on a bench face down with my hands tied under it and my feet tied to it,” he told the AP.

After refusing to sign a confession written in Sinhalese, the majority’s language, he said his torturers threw a rag soaked in petrol into a bag and shoved the bag onto his head. He passed out. When he awoke he was in a torture room.

It was there that the soles of his feet were thrashed and his back was beaten with a metal pipe. His captors then heated up long metal rods so they could brand him with the marks of a tiger.

He was released on the 13th day after his father paid a bribe and found a Muslim trafficker to arrange for a fake passport for passage to the U.K. In the same month after he arrived, he tried to hang himself with a wire rope. More than a dozen of the victims have tried to kill themselves.

“From all of the beatings, especially on the soles of my feet, the pain had taken over. But what haunted me the most is all of the sexual torture that went on.”

Many of the men said they signed false confessions after the torture.

The road to recovery will be no easy journey for the men, admits Caroline Roemmele, who supervises some of their counselling.

A cocktail of anti-depressants, sleeping pills and pain medication brings comfort to some. Others find solace in telling their stories even though each word awakens memories of their traumas.

“It’s a long process,” said Roemmele. “But the human race wouldn’t have survived if we couldn’t survive trauma.”

Associated Press writer Katy Daigle contributed to this report from Colombo, Sri Lanka.


Philippine military pushes to defeat last Marawi fighters

October 17, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — Gunfire rang out sporadically and explosions thudded as Philippine soldiers fought Tuesday to gain control of the last pocket of Marawi controlled by Islamic militants as President Rodrigo Duterte declared the southern city liberated from “terrorist influence.”

The military, boosted by the deaths of two key militant leaders in a gunbattle the day before, hopes the current fighting is the final phase of defeating a dwindling band of fighters who are now trapped in an area the army says is about 2 hectares (5 acres).

Duterte visited the battle-scarred city on Tuesday where to cheers from rain-drenched troops he announced its liberation in a short speech from a stage at a ruined school campus about a kilometer from the fighting.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi city liberated from the terrorist influence,” he said. To the side of stage of the stage, a large banner displayed photos of the slain militant leaders. Military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano told The Associated Press that Duterte’s statement means the threat from the militants, who’ve occupied parts of the lakeside city for five months, is substantially over.

“They’re leaderless and they have no more organization,” he said. “There are still skirmishes.” According to military spokesman Restituto Padilla, there are 20 to 30 militants left in Marawi, including six to eight foreign fighters. They have about 20 hostages, including women and children, he said. As many as 80 buildings will need to be swept for explosives.

Marawi, a mosque-studded center of Islamic faith in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, has been devastated by the siege laid by the Islamic State group-allied militants who overran the city on May 23. More than 1,000 people have been killed, including about 800 militants.

The surprise occupation of the city and the involvement of foreign fighters set off alarms in Southeast Asia and the West. Analysts said parts of the southern Philippines were at risk of becoming a new base for IS as it lost territory to international forces in Iraq and Syria.

Philippine flags hung on Tuesday from pockmarked buildings and houses in Marawi, their roofs either blasted away or riddled with gunshot holes. Soldiers stood guard in front of some buildings and at intersections where battle debris has been shoveled to the side.

The Philippine government on Monday confirmed an Associated Press report that two key figures behind the siege, Isnilon Hapilon, who is listed among the FBI’s most-wanted terror suspects, and Omarkhayam Maute, were killed in a gunbattle.

A top Malaysian militant, Mahmud bin Ahmad, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Handzalah and is a close associate of Hapilon, has not been found and was among the remaining militants being hunted by troops.

At a public hall converted into an evacuation center just outside Marawi, there was joy among evacuees at news of the two men’s deaths and hopes of a return to some form of normality. Evacuees chatted about the news and looked at Facebook posts showing pictures of the dead Hapilon and Maute.

“We’re very happy because they have lost their leaders. I hope that all of them will be wiped out,” said Seima Munting, a 40-year-old mother of four who is among 750 people living at the hall in Balo-i township.

“My brother told me that finally we can return home, but when? When can we finally return home? What will we return to? Do we still have a house? Do we have jobs?” she said.


Tag Cloud