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Advocates demand Facebook end ‘blatant’ Palestinian censorship | Censorship News

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Rights groups demand answers amid widespread reports of Palestinian users and content being censored on social media.

Rights groups and Palestine advocates are demanding answers from Facebook after multiple reports that the social media giant has censored Palestinian content on its platforms, especially during the recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and occupied East Jerusalem.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday, dozens of organisations said they were “angered and disturbed by the recent censorship of Palestinian users and their supporters on your platforms”.

Earlier this month, Palestinian social media users reported that their posts on Facebook and Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – in solidarity with families facing forced expulsions from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah had been blocked, hidden or deleted.

“At this moment, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are often Palestinian protestors’ and residents’ only tools to share information to keep each other safe in the face of repression by the Israeli government and police, and during attacks on civilians,” reads the letter.

“This blatant censorship of Palestinian political content is putting these activists further at risk.”

The letter’s signatories – including 7amleh, Adalah Justice Project, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Jewish Voice for Peace – demanded that Facebook explain how it applies its policies, provide data on all removals, and allow independent researchers to review the removals.

It also asked the company to review its relationship with the Israeli government.

Facebook did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Wednesday.

Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh had previously accused social media companies including Facebook, Twitter and TikTok of collaborating with the Israeli government to censor posts documenting Israeli rights violations against Palestinians.

Israeli media outlets reported on May 14 that Israeli Justice Minister Benny Gantz had urged Facebook and TikTok executives in a meeting to act against “disinformation and incitement” on their platforms.

Earlier this month, Instagram said a technical bug had affected millions of stories around the world, when asked about the problems with the posts. But that explanation was rejected by Palestinian digital rights experts.

‘Significant increase’

In a report last week, 7amleh said it had documented more than 500 reports of Palestinian digital rights violations between May 6 and 19, which it described as “a significant increase in the censorship of Palestinian political speech and narrative online”.

On Tuesday, The Associated Press news agency also reported that 17 journalists in Gaza said their WhatsApp accounts had been blocked since Friday, when a ceasefire came into effect to end 10 days of Israeli bombardments of the Palestinian territory and rockets fired towards Israel.

By midday on Monday, only four journalists – working for Al Jazeera – confirmed their accounts had been restored, the news agency said.

The letter to Facebook comes a day after US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wrote letters to executives of Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, asking for more information about the removal of posts and what each company’s decision-making process entails.

“With reporting in the mainstream media often ignoring and silencing Palestinian voices, social media has become a crucial source for information, pictures and videos documenting the injustices that Palestinians face,” she wrote.

“Palestinians often have nowhere else to turn to make their voices heard other than social media.”

Tlaib also questioned what she said was “a disturbing double-standard” in which pro-Palestinian posts were censored or restricted, while “extremist Israeli groups are allowed to coordinate violent mob attacks on Palestinians”.

The New York Times reported on May 19 that extremist Jewish Israelis had formed at least 100 new WhatsApp groups “for the express purpose of committing violence against Palestinians” amid recent tensions and protests over Israeli violence in East Jerusalem and Gaza.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy

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PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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US pulls antimissile batteries from Middle East: Report | Joe Biden News

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As tensions ease with Iran, Biden administration moves to put US forces on more normal footing, Wall Street Journal reports.

The Biden administration is withdrawing Patriot antimissile batteries from four Middle East countries as the US reduces its military footprint in the region amid a reduction in tensions with Iran, a US news outlet reported on Friday.

The Pentagon is pulling about eight Patriot antimissile batteries from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system from Saudi Arabia that had been deployed by the previous Trump administration, the Wall Street Journal reported citing unnamed US officials.

The redeployment includes hundreds of US troops who operate the systems and began earlier this month following a June 2 phone call in which US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the shift, according to the Journal.

The withdrawal of anti-missile batteries marks a return to a more normal level of defence in the region where the US continues to maintain tens of thousands of troops even as it has reduced forces deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Journal reported.

“We still have our bases in the countries of our Gulf partners, they aren’t shutting down, there is still substantial presence, substantial posture in the region,” a senior defence official told the Journal.

The US deployed Patriot antimissile batteries and troops to Saudi Arabia after Iranian drone attacks hit Saudi oil facilities and to Iraq in 2020 after a spate of missile and rocket attacks on US forces by Iran and Iranian-backed militias.

The US military acknowledged that more than 109 US troops had suffered concussions and other brain injuries in an Iranian ballistic missile attack on the Ain al-Assad military base in Iraq following the US air strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

President Joe Biden, who took over from former President Donald Trump in January, has sought to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East and US diplomats have been engaged in indirect talks with Iran on reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

US and Iranian diplomats engaged in a sixth round of talks in Vienna earlier this month as Iran considers rejoining the 2015 agreement prohibiting it from obtaining nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from punishing US economic sanctions.

Trump had unilaterally withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement and instituted a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran that Biden officials have said failed to achieve goals and had the effect of accelerating Iran’s nuclear development.

Iranians were voting on Friday for a new president to replace outgoing President Hassan Rouhani who had championed the nuclear agreement with the US in 2015.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Venezuela’s Maduro expresses desire for foreign aid, Biden deal | Business and Economy News

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Seated on a gilded Louis XVI chair in his office at Miraflores, a sprawling, neo-Baroque palace in northwest Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro projects unflappable confidence.

The country, he says in an 85-minute interview with Bloomberg Television, has broken free of “irrational, extremist, cruel” U.S. oppression. Russia, China, Iran and Cuba are allies, his domestic opposition is impotent. If Venezuela suffers from a bad image, it’s because of a well-funded campaign to demonize him and his socialist government.

The bombast is predictable. But in between his denunciations of Yankee imperialism, Maduro, who’s been allowing dollars to circulate and private enterprise to flourish, is making a public plea and aiming it directly at Joe Biden. The message: It’s time for a deal.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is starved for capital and desperate to regain access to global debt and commodity markets after two decades of anti-capitalist transformation and four years of crippling U.S. sanctions. The country is in default, its infrastructure crumbling and life for millions a struggle for survival.

“If Venezuela can’t produce oil and sell it, can’t produce and sell its gold, can’t produce and sell its bauxite, can’t produce iron, etcetera, and can’t earn revenue in the international market, how is it supposed to pay the holders of Venezuelan bonds?” Maduro, 58, says, his palms upturned in appeal. “This world has to change. This situation has to change.”

In fact, much has changed since Donald Trump put the sanctions on Caracas and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as president. His explicit goal, to drive Maduro from office, failed. Today, Guaido is marginalized, Venezuelans are suffering more than ever and Maduro remains firmly in power. “I’m here in this presidential palace!” he notes.

There has, however, been little of the one thing urgently needed to end the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian disaster: compromise — from Maduro, from his opposition, from Washington.

Maduro hopes a deal to relieve the sanctions will open the floodgates to foreign investment, create jobs and reduce misery. It might even assure his legacy as the torchbearer of Chavismo, Venezuela’s peculiar brand of left-wing nationalism.

“Venezuela is going to become the land of opportunities,” he says. “I’m inviting U.S. investors so they don’t get left behind.”

Over the past few months, Democrats including Gregory Meeks, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Chris Murphy, have argued that the U.S. should reconsider its policy. Maduro, who these days rarely leaves Miraflores or the military base where he sleeps, has been waiting for a sign that the Biden administration is ready to negotiate.

“There hasn’t been a single positive sign,” he says. “None.”

A sudden turnabout seems unlikely. With broad support from Congress, the Trump administration cited Venezuela for human-rights violations, rigged elections, drug-trafficking, corruption and currency manipulation. The sanctions it placed on Maduro, his wife, dozens of officials and state-owned companies remain in place. While Biden’s policy of restoring democracy with “free and fair elections” is notably different from Trump’s, the U.S. still considers Guaido Venezuela’s rightful leader.

Maduro has been giving a bit of ground. In recent weeks, he moved six executives — five of them U.S. citizens — from prison to house arrest, gave the political opposition two of five seats on the council responsible for national elections and allowed the World Food Program to enter the country.

Although Maduro is seeking better relations with Washington, he has built close ties with Russia, Iran and China [File: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg

The opposition, while fragmented, is talking about participating in the next round of elections in November. Norway is trying to facilitate talks between the two sides. Henrique Capriles, a key leader who lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential vote, says it’s time for winner-take-all politics to end.

“There are people on Maduro’s side who also have noticed that the existential conflict isn’t good for their positions, because there’s no way the country is going to recover economically,” he says, taking time out from a visit to the impoverished Valles del Tuy region outside Caracas. “I imagine the government is under heavy internal pressure.”

Venezuela’s economy was already a shambles by the time Maduro took office. His predecessor, Hugo Chavez, overspent wildly and created huge inefficiencies with a byzantine program of price controls, subsidies and the nationalization of hundreds of companies.

“When Chavez came into power, there were four steps you had to take to export a container of chocolate,” Jorge Redmond, chief executive officer of family-run Chocolates El Rey, explains at his sales office in the Caracas neighborhood of La Urbina. “Today there are 90 steps, and there are 19 ministries involved.”

Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela is now among the poorest. Inflation has been running at about 2,300% a year. By some estimates, the economy has shrunk by 80% in nine years — the deepest depression in modern history.

Signs of decay are everywhere. At the foreign ministry in downtown Caracas, most of the lights are turned off and signs on the bathroom doors say, “No Water.” Employees at the central bank bring their own toilet paper.

Throughout the country, blackouts are daily occurrences. In Caracas, the subway barely works and gangs rule the barrios. Some 5.4 million Venezuelans, a fifth of the population, have fled abroad, causing strains across the continent. The border with Colombia is a lawless no-man’s land. Cuba, of all places, has provided humanitarian aid.

Sanctions on Venezuela date back to the presidency of George W. Bush. In 2017, the Trump administration barred access to U.S. financial markets, and it subsequently banned trading in Venezuelan debt and doing business with the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA.

The offensive was brutally effective, accelerating the economic collapse. Last year, Venezuelan oil production slid to 410,000 barrels a day, the lowest in more than a century. According to the government, 99% of the country’s export revenue has been wiped out.

Juan Guaido during a Bloomberg Television interview in Caracas on June 8 [File: Gaby Ora/Bloomberg]

All along, Maduro was working back channels, trying to start negotiations with the U.S. He sent his foreign minister to a meeting at Trump Tower in New York and her brother, then the communications minister, to one in Mexico City.

Maduro says he almost had a one-on-one with Trump himself at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018. The White House, he recalls, had called to make arrangements, only to break off contact. Maduro blames it on the foreign-policy hawks in Trump’s orbit, many of them in thrall to Venezuelan expats in Florida.

“The pressures were unbearable for him,” he says. “Had we met, history might be different.”

A onetime bus driver and union leader, Maduro has proven the consummate survivor. He defeated rivals to cement control of the United Sociality Party after Chavez died in 2013, withstood attacks in 2018 and 2019, and outlasted Trump.

Guaido, who worked closely with the U.S. campaign to oust Maduro, has been forced to shift strategy from regime change to negotiations.

“I support any effort that delivers a free and fair election,” Guaido says in his makeshift offices in Eastern Caracas, surrounded by unofficial, state-by-state counts of Covid-19 cases. “Venezuela is worn out, not just the democratic alternative but the dictatorship, the whole country.”

If Maduro feels the heat, he doesn’t show it. Several times a week, often for as long as 90 minutes, he appears on state TV to blast the “economic blockade” and pledge his servitude to the people’s power. The populist theatrics drive home a carefully scripted narrative: Venezuela’s sovereignty, dignity and right to self-determination are being trampled by the immoral abuse of financial power.

During the interview, Maduro insists he won’t budge if the U.S. continues to hold a proverbial gun to his head. Any demands for changes in domestic policy are “game over.”

“We would turn into a colony, we would turn into a protectorate,” he says. “No country in the world — no country, and even less Venezuela — is willing to kneel down and betray its legacy.”

The reality, as every Venezuelan knows, is Maduro has already been forced to make major concessions. Guided by Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and her adviser, Patricio Rivera, a former Ecuadoran economy minister, he eliminated price controls, pared subsidies, dropped restrictions on imports, allowed the bolivar to float freely against the dollar and created incentives for private investment.

Rural areas continue to suffer, but in Caracas the impact has been dramatic. Customers no longer have to pay with stacks of banknotes and the supermarket aisles, far from being bare, are often piled high.

Maduro even passed a law full of guarantees for private investors.

Henrique Capriles speaks to residents in the Valles del Tuy region of Venezuela on June 8 [File: Gabriela Ora/Bloomberg]

The reforms are so orthodox, they could be mistaken for an International Monetary Fund stabilization program, hardly the stuff of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. Maduro responds that they’re tools of a “war economy.” Sure, dollarization has been “a useful escape valve” for consumers and businesses, but it and the other reluctant nods to capitalism are temporary.

“Sooner rather than later, the bolivar will once again occupy a strong and preponderant role in the economic and commercial life of the country,” he says.

It wasn’t so long ago that the U.S. saw Venezuela as a strategic ally. Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp. had major holdings in the country’s oil industry and refineries in Texas and Louisiana were retooled to process heavy crude from the Orinoco Belt. Wealthy Venezuelans traveled to Miami so frequently, they talked about it like a second home.

All that changed when Chavez was elected in 1998. He expropriated billions of dollars in U.S. oil assets and built alliances with socialists in Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Maduro has gone further, embracing Washington’s most threatening enemies. He describes the relationship with Russia as “extraordinary” and sends a birthday card to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It’s a taunt to Biden: Keep mistreating Venezuela and you’ll be dealing with another Castro, not a leader who still holds out hope for a win-win deal.

Guests at the VIP Lounge at Simon Bolivar International Airport were reminded of Venezuela’s new friendships. Three clocks mounted in a vertical row showed the time in Caracas, Moscow and Beijing.

Asked in the interview what they signify, Maduro replies that the “world of the future is in Asia.” But an idea crosses his mind. Perhaps, he says, there should be clocks for New Delhi, Madrid and New York, too.

The following afternoon, there are indeed six clocks on the lounge wall. In this country, Maduro is still all-powerful.

Except for one thing: Like so much else in Venezuela, the clocks don’t work.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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