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Khmer Rouge prison commander Duch dies at age of 77 | News

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Duch, the former Khmer Rouge commander who oversaw the mass murder of at least 14,000 Cambodians at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, died on Wednesday. He was 77.

Kaing Guek Eav, who was better known by his alias Duch, was the first senior member of the Khmer Rouge to face trial for his role in a regime blamed for at least 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

Duch died at 00:52 am (17:52 GMT on Tuesday) at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh, Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. He gave no details of the cause, but Duch had been ill in recent years.

In 2010, a United Nations tribunal found him guilty of mass murder, torture and crimes against humanity at Tuol Sleng, a former high school in Phnom Penh, which is now a museum and a moving memorial to those who died.

He was given a life sentence two years later after his appeal – that he was just a junior official following orders – was rejected.

Bou Meng, a Cambodian survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, points at a picture of Duch, in this photo taken on January 31, 2012, in Phnom Penh [Tang Chhin Sothy/ AFP]

His death is “a reminder that justice is a long and difficult” process, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which conducts research on the Khmer Rouge regime.

“Perhaps it can bring some satisfaction to the living, and the fallen can now rest in peace,” Youk told AFP news agency.

‘Smash to bits’

At Tuol Sleng, codenamed “S-21”, detainees were tortured by Khmer Rouge guards, many of them teenagers because Duch saw them as “like a blank piece of paper” and easily indoctrinated. 

The guards sought confessions to non-existent crimes and were instructed to “smash to bits” traitors and counter-revolutionaries. For the Khmer Rouge, that could mean anyone from school teachers to children, to pregnant women and “intellectuals” identified simply because they wore glasses.

Duch – himself a former maths teacher – had an obsessive eye for detail and kept his school-turned-jail meticulously organised. He maintained a huge archive of photos, confessions and other documents with which prosecutors were able to trace the harrowing final months of thousands of inmates.

“The crimes committed by the accused at S-21 are rarely matched in modern history in terms of their combined barbarity, scope, duration, premeditation and callousness,” International Co-prosecutor Bill Smith told the trial, at one point.

Duch – by the time of his trial a born-again Christian – expressed regret for his crimes.

“I would like to acknowledge my legal responsibility for all the crimes that happened at S-21, especially the torture and execution of people there,” he told the court in March 2009.

A Buddhist monk looks at pictures of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh

At S-21, new prisoners had their mugshots taken, and hundreds are now on display [File: Samrang Pring/ Reuters]

FILES - CAMBODIA - UN - KHMER ROUGE - DUCH

Skulls of those who died in Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” during Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s [File: Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP]

Duch joined the Maoist movement led by Pol Pot in 1967 and was put in charge of Tuol Sleng after the regime seized power in 1975.

In their quest to build an agrarian utopia and rewrite Cambodian history the Khmer Rouge cleared cities and forced people into the countryside where they died from disease, starvation, overwork or execution. The brutality came to an end in 1979 when Vietnamese forces overthrew the regime in 1979, but Duch slipped away from S-21 and disappeared. Many assumed he had died.

Total control

But in 1999, Nic Dunlop, a British photographer visiting a remote village near the Cambodia-Thai border recognised him, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually led to his arrest.

In an account of Duch and his atrocities, “The Lost Executioner”, Dunlop wrote that the former commander’s control in S-21 “was total”. 

“Nothing in the former schoolhouse took place without Duch’s approval,” he wrote. “Not until you walk through the empty corridors of Tuol Sleng does Stalin’s idiom that one death is a tragedy – a million a statistic, take on a terrifying potency.”

At S-21, new prisoners had their mugshots taken, and hundreds of those pictures now line the walls. 

Norng Chan Phal, one of the few people to have survived S-21, was a boy when he and his parents were sent to Duch’s prison and interrogated on suspicion of having links to Vietnam, considered an enemy by the Khmer Rouge.

His parents were tortured and killed but Chan Phal survived to give testimony at Duch’s trial in 2010.

“He was cooperative, he spoke to the court frankly. He apologised to all S-21 victims and asked them to open their hearts. He apologised to me too,” Chan Phal told Reuters.

“He apologised. But justice is not complete”.

The work of the tribunal -a hybrid court of international and Cambodian judges – was tainted by its limited scope, the age of its defendants and accusations of political meddling.

It recorded only three convictions – including Duch’s.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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‘Almost 180-degree turnaround’: More Black Americans open to jabs | Coronavirus pandemic News

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More Black people in the United States say they are open to receiving coronavirus vaccines, a new survey shows, an encouraging sign that one community leader described as “almost a 180-degree turnaround” from earlier in the pandemic.

According to the late March poll by the Associated Press news agency and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 24 percent of Black people said they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.

That is down from 41 percent in January, and is similar to the proportion of white people (26 percent) and Hispanic Americans (22 percent) who also say they do not plan to get jabs.

The findings come as US President Joe Biden’s administration works to speed up inoculations to try to outpace a recent rise in infections, after he promised that all adults would be eligible for a jab by April 19.

Public health experts had raised concerns about the need to ensure that Black and other communities of colour in the US, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, had equitable access to vaccines.

Local leaders said vaccine hesitancy was fuelled in part by decades of institutional discrimination in healthcare and other public services.

Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told AP that attitudes among Black people have taken “almost a 180-degree turnaround” as outreach campaigns have worked to combat misinformation.

Benjamin said Black physicians, faith leaders and other organisers have helped get targeted messaging to the community “in a way that wasn’t preachy”.

“They didn’t tell people, ‘You need to get vaccinated because it’s your duty.’ They basically said, ‘Listen, you need to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family,’” he said.

Mattie Pringle, a 57-year-old Black woman from South Carolina who previously had doubts about taking the vaccine, said she changed her mind after a member of her church urged her to reconsider. She got her first jab last week.

“I had to pray about it, and I felt better after that,” Pringle told AP.

Medical and public health experts have continued to urge people in the US to get vaccinated in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which has killed more than 561,000 people across the country – the highest death rate in the world.

The US, which has reported over 31 million cases to date, has authorised three vaccines for emergency use: the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs.

So far, more than 178.8 million vaccine doses have been administered countrywide, while 68.2 million people are considered fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recent surveys have shown that more Americans in general say they intend to get vaccinated than previously did.

The Pew Research Center reported in early March that 19 percent of US adults said they had already received at least one dose, while another 50 percent said they probably or definitely would get vaccinated.

“Taken together, 69 percent of the public intends to get a vaccine – or already has – up significantly from 60 percent who said they planned to get vaccinated in November,” it said.

Other recent surveys show that attitudes towards vaccines are split along political lines. A survey at Monmouth University released last month found that 36 percent of Republicans said they would avoid the vaccine compared with just six percent of Democrats.

That prompted top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, to call on former President Donald Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, experts are urging Americans to take whichever vaccine is available to protect themselves and avoid delays.

“When people come in, I always advise them to get the vaccine that’s available because you never know what vaccine is going to be available the next time,” Reham Awad, a pharmacy intern in the Chicago area, told Al Jazeera this week.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Erdogan urges end to Ukraine tension, offers Turkey’s support | Conflict News

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Turkish president says tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over Donbass conflict have to be resolved through dialogue.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the “worrying” developments in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region to come to an end after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart in Istanbul, adding Turkey was ready to provide any necessary support.

Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held talks in Istanbul on Saturday amid tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over the long-running conflict in Donbass.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Zelenskyy, Erdogan said he hoped the conflict would be resolved peacefully, through dialogue based on diplomatic customs, in line with international laws and Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“Our main goal is that the Black Sea continues to be a sea of peace, tranquility and cooperation,” Erdogan said.

Zelenskyy said the views of Kyiv and Ankara coincided regarding the threats in the region and as well as responses to those threats.

Erdogan stressed that Turkey’s cooperation with Ukraine in the defence industry, which was the main item on the meeting’s agenda, was not a move against any third countries.

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Ukraine was purchasing Turkey’s military drones.

She also said that “new generation drones will be equipped with the Ukrainian engines”.

Regional tensions

Zelenskyy’s visit to Turkey comes amid renewed tensions in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

In a visit to troops there this week, Zelenskyy said breaches of a July truce were increasing.

Separatist authorities have also accused Ukrainian forces of violating the ceasefire.

Russia has reinforced its troops along the border and warned Ukraine against trying to retake control of the separatist-controlled territory.

Kyiv rejects that it is preparing for an offensive. The Russian military buildup has raised concerns in the United States and Europe.

The Turkish and Russian presidents spoke on the phone on Friday. Among the issues discussed was Ukraine.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin expressed concern that Ukraine “recently resumed dangerous provocations on the contact line”.

Turkey is a NATO member. But Erdogan and Putin have forged a close personal relationship, sealing energy and trade deals.

They have also negotiated for opposing sides in conflicts, including Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Erdogan’s office also said he would discuss with Zelenskyy the living conditions of Crimean Tatars, who have ethnic links to Turks. Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Libya kicks off delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah receives shot on live television, urges Libyans to register online for their own vaccinations.

Libya has launched its delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive, with Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, prime minister of the country’s new unity government, getting his shot on live television.

Officially, Libya has registered a total of about 167,000 coronavirus cases, including more than 2,800 deaths, out of a population of seven million. Its healthcare system has struggled to cope during the pandemic, strained by years of political turmoil and violence.

After the vaccination of Dbeibah on Saturday at the headquarters of Libya’s Centre for Disease Control on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, Health Minister Ali al-Zenati was next to receive a jab.

Libya has so far received 200,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, alongside more than 57,600 AstraZeneca shots, the latter delivered through the COVAX programme for lower and middle-income countries.

Dbeibah urged fellow citizens to register online for their own vaccinations. He has earmarked the vaccination campaign as a policy priority, alleging that the delivery of the shots was hindered by outgoing authorities.

“The arrival of vaccines has been delayed by political, not financial, considerations,” he said.

Dbeibah’s interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Dbeibah was selected earlier this year through a United Nations-sponsored Libyan dialogue to lead the country to national elections in December.

His government replaces two warring administrations based in Tripoli and the country’s east, the latter loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Hafar. The rival authorities have given their backing to the new administration, adding to tentative hopes that Libya can exit a decade of crisis.

‘Better late than never’

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that two new variants of the coronavirus are present in Libya, which has lately been detecting about 1,000 new daily infections.

No lockdown measures are currently in place, and while masks are obligatory in public places, the measure is widely flouted.

“I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never,” shop owner Ali al-Hadi told Reuters news agency, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.

Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.

“We hope the health ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients,” said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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