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Violence eclipses upcoming midterm elections in Mexico | Crime News



With campaigning finished as Mexico’s midterm elections approach, many hope the bloodshed is over in what experts have described as one of the bloodiest election seasons in recent history.

According to Etellekt, a security consultancy firm, at least 89 politicians, including 35 candidates, have been killed in more than 200 days of campaigning. Separately, the firm registered 782 attacks against politicians and candidates, ranging from verbal threats and intimidation to beatings, property damage, kidnappings, attacks on family members and abuse of authority.

Of these, 75 percent were against opposition politicians and candidates of the governments where the offences were committed. Seventy-five percent of the politicians that were killed were also members of opposition parties.

“What will mark this election is the violence that arose mainly against opponents of state governments or the municipalities,” Etellekt Director Ruben Aguilar told Al Jazeera.

“It must also be said that 44 percent of the 89 fatalities were part of the opposition coalition against the federal government. In sum, what we are witnessing here is political violence, where being part of the opposition implies [you will be] at greater risk in this country.”

Trend of violence

The elections on June 6, considered the largest in the country’s history, will determine 15 of the 32 state governorships, a new lower house of Congress and thousands of mayoral and local legislator posts – more than 20,000 positions in all, according to Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE). Nearly 95 million people are eligible to vote.

Mexican President Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador, known as AMLO, will not be on the ballot, but his left-wing Morena Party and its allies are hoping to hold onto a two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies to help the president push through policies in the final three years of his term.

“These crimes are much more than just a number,” Lorenzo Cordova Councilor, president of the INE, said last week about the rise in violence. “These were people that decided to participate in politics using the democratic way … We condemn the violence and the barbarism.”

However, this is not the first time Mexico has witnessed attacks during an election campaign.

Translation: Political Violence Indicator @etellekt_Update: With the assassination of Cipriano Villanueva, candidate for councillor for … Chiapas, there are 89 politicians assassinated in #MexicanElections2021 (35 of them were hopefuls and candidates for elective positions).

During the 2018 federal election, Etellekt reported a total of 774 acts of violence and 152 political killings. In 2015, during the last midterm vote, the country also registered 61 political assassinations over nine months, according to Etellekt.

“In Mexico, since the last three federal elections, we’ve seen an increase in political violence,” said Gerardo Rodriguez, director of the department of international relations and political science at the University of the Americas Puebla.

“We normally see violence before election day, then there is a pause during the elections, and after the results are announced, we see a rise again,” he said.

Yet, despite the statistics, voters say they are not intimidated. “By exercising our right to vote, it is the best way in which we can also protect ourselves,” said Andrea Aguila, an industrial engineer in the State of Mexico, which surrounds the capital Mexico City.

“We cannot live in a country with fear and let both violence or organised crime take away our rights. Voting is our right and exercising it is the way to combat this violence,” she told Al Jazeera.

Increasing danger

Meanwhile, Lopez Obrador has blamed the rise in violence on the work of organised criminal gangs, accusing them of trying to prevent people from voting. “I want to tell the people that we should not be afraid,” AMLO said during a recent conference.

In such a scenario, “there is abstention and the mafia dominates the elections, whether it’s the organised crime, as it is called, or white-collar crime; then the best thing is to vote, nobody should be left without participating”, he said.

Rodriguez also blamed the violence on organised crime, saying these groups “seek to influence local politics at the municipal and state level to benefit from pacts of criminal political immunity, which allows them to continue operating under the protection of local governments”.

This also makes the work of political candidates increasingly difficult. “[In current times] it is more dangerous to be a politician in election times than to be a journalist in times of war,” Rodriguez said.

The International Crisis Group think-tank estimates that about 450 criminal groups operate in Mexico, but crimes are rarely resolved. Based on data analysed (PDF) by local nonprofit Impunidad Cero, from October 2017 to September 2018 only 1.3 percent of crimes ended with prosecutors filing charges and bringing the accused before a judge.

“The problem is structural in Mexico,” Rodriguez explained.

“The murders are not investigated as they should be, there are not enough experts, there is not enough capacity in the state public ministries or enough judges to lead these investigations. So we are facing that structural impunity that facilitates, that promotes, this political violence.”

Friends mourn during the wake of mayoral candidate Alma Barragan, who was killed last month while campaigning for the mayorship of the city of Moroleon, in Guanajuato state [Armando Solis/AP Photo]

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Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at age of 61 | Obituaries News




Aquino was the country’s 15th president from 2010 to 2016, and was succeeded by current president , Rodrigo Duterte.

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III died early on Thursday, after a prolonged illness, according to several news reports.

Aquino, 61, served as the country’s 15th president from 2010 to 2016, and was succeeded in office by the incumbent, Rodrigo Duterte.

According to ABS-CBN News, he was hospitalised last Thursday.

But he has been undergoing dialysis for at least five months and had recently undergone a heart operation.

It was during Aquino’s administration that Manila took on China and filed a case before the Court of Arbitration at The Hague over the South China Sea dispute.

The Philippines later won that landmark case a month after Aquino left office in 2016.

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The scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that refused to bow to Beijing | Freedom of the Press News




Hong Kong, China – The last edition of the Apple Daily, the small scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that emerged as a champion of democracy and outspoken critic of China, has rolled off the presses, four days after the newspaper celebrated its 26th anniversary.

The paper had been raided by police twice during the past 10 months on suspicion of violating the National Security Law that was imposed by Beijing almost a year ago. Since the first raid last August, founder Jimmy Lai, 73, has been in jail awaiting trial under the law.

Last week’s raid saw five top executives, including its chief editor, arrested for alleged security offences as 500 police officers swooped in on Apple’s headquarters, with another staffer – the head editorial writer – apprehended on Wednesday morning.

The final nail in the coffin, however, was Hong Kong authorities’ freeze on the bank accounts of the media group that owns the paper. The move made it impossible for the paper to pay its staff and vendors, even as readers snapped up copies to show their support.

The decision was based on “employee safety and manpower considerations”, Apple Daily said as it announced its closure on Wednesday.
“Here we say goodbye. Take care of yourselves.”

Staff members of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital clap out the final edition of a paper that began publishing in 1995 and became a thorn in Beijing’s side [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework meant to guarantee rights and liberties absent in the mainland. For most of the past 20 years, the territory has remained a bastion of press freedom in a country where media is muzzled.

“The demise of Apple Daily negates ‘one country, two systems’ and sets the stage for ‘one country, one system,’” said Willy Lam, a longtime commentator on Chinese politics and a veteran newspaper editor.

Bold, brash

Founded just two years before the handover, Apple Daily was at once a gamble and a leap of faith.

“The paper wanted to have some impact not just on Hong Kong but also to support the liberalisation of China,” Lam told Al Jazeera. “But as China has become less open to Western values, the paper has focused on defending Hong Kong values and holding Beijing to account.”

In its inaugural editorial, Apple Daily said it aimed to be a paper for the Hong Kong people.

Lai, its founder and funder, a devout Catholic who had made a fortune in the fashion business, named the paper after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. Its rhyming couplet jingle – “An Apple a day, no liars can hold sway” – caught the attention of Hong Kong readers used to more staid offerings.

It was loud. It was bold, It was flashy.

The paper grabbed attention when it splashed a surreptitiously shot photo of Deng Xiaoping – China’s then-paramount leader died in February at the age of 92 – on his deathbed on the front page.

Brashness was its selling point.

Its reporters frequently skewered public officials and needled the comfortable.

“It speaks truth to power and finds a way to do profitably,” said Lokman Tsui, assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, standing by one of the printing presses in 2009, created a hugely popular paper that supported democracy, was unafraid to speak truth to power and critical of the Communist Party in Beijing [File: Alex Hofford/EPA]
Apple Daily’s founder and funder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested in August under the national security law and the paper’s headquarters raided. He has now been jailed [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The paper catered to high brow and low. Colourful spreads of scantily-clad female models appeared in the same section of the paper as erudite columns featuring quotes in Latin and Classical Chinese. With a couple of exceptions, its ranks of columnists were the who’s who of the territory’s pro-democracy circle.

Giving people what they want

Launched at the dawn of the internet age, the daily was quick to adapt to the digital world. Its website pioneered animated news – a mix of stills, short clips and clever graphics with narration dripping with sour sarcasm. Its lifestyle channel on YouTube built a fervent following.

A decade in, the paper’s circulation peaked at 500,000 in a city of approximately six million people with a dozen dailies.

Apple Daily’s brand of advocacy journalism would soon make the paper a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. But to Lai, a rags-to-riches maverick millionaire now named Public Enemy No. 1 by Beijing, it was all about giving his customers what they would buy, even down to protest poster inserts.

In the summer of 2019, amid popular opposition to legislation that would send Hong Kong residents for trial in mainland China, the paper shorthanded “extradition to China” into the homophonic colloquial Cantonese expression of seeing someone to the grave. The expression immediately caught on and became a rallying cry in the protest movement.

“At times, we might have gone overboard but everything we did fell within the bounds of the law,” said Robert Chan, 45, who has covered mainland China for the paper for the past three years.

That is until the passage of the security law, which punishes what the authorities deem subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life sentences.

Prosecutors have used Lai’s frequent meetings with US officials in recent years, from the then-vice president on down, as “evidence” of his alleged “collusion with foreign powers”.

Staff from Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital work on the final edition of their newspaper on June 23. In its first-ever editorial, the paper said it wanted to be a publication of the Hong Kong people. It printed a million copies of its final edition [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Early last month, rumours started to circulate that Beijing wanted to see the paper be shuttered in time for the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations on July 1.

Technology reporter for a decade, Alex Tang, 37, said like most of his colleagues he had become conditioned to taking unsubstantiated gossip with a grain of salt – until the second raid and the company asset freeze.

During the past few days, some of the 800 reporters at the paper were frustrated by the lack of a definitive answer on the last publishing date and severance.

“Management said they’d hang on till the bitter end, and they’ve kept their word,” said Tang. “The company has done its best.”

Apple Daily will live on as a website on the self-governing island of Taiwan, where it ceased paper publication last month.

But in Hong Kong, China news reporter Chan said he will mourn the loss of far more than his livelihood.

“With the paper gone, so would the values it represents: pursuit of freedom and democracy,” he said.

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‘Real and present danger’: Sydney imposes new COVID curbs | Coronavirus pandemic News




Restrictions cover an estimated five million people after Delta variant-linked cases, as neighbouring New Zealand raises alert level.

People in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, have been ordered not to leave the metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to contain a number of new coronavirus cases of the Delta variant – a development that has prompted neighbouring New Zealand to raise its alert level following possible exposure from a tourist from Australia.

New South Wales (NSW) State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the stricter curbs – affecting about five million people who live and work in the city – on Wednesday.

“Clearly this is an evolving situation,” Berejiklian said at a news conference.

The new rules took effect at 4pm Sydney time (06:00 GMT) and will remain in force for a week.

“Given what has occurred the NSW government will be taking action today to limit the spread of what is a very contagious variant of COVID.”

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard described the situation as “a very real and present danger” for the city as a cluster first identified in the beach surburb of Bondi grew to 21 cases with eight confirmed on Wednesday morning.

Most of the newly confirmed cases were traced to a single event, where a mass gathering was held on Tuesday.

“This is a new and more dangerous version of the virus,” Hazzard said during the news conference.

The new restrictions include a limit on household visitors to five people, including children, Berejiklian said.

Mask wearing, which had already been reinstated on Friday, will be extended with people required to wear masks in all indoor settings outside the home and at organised outdoor events. The measures also include capacity limits on public transport and in gym classes, while singing at indoor venues, including places of worship, will not be allowed.

Authorities are also urging people to come forward for testing.

“If we adhere to the health orders today, we will have a good chance on getting on top of this outbreak,” Berejiklian told reporters.

New Zealand on alert


As of Wednesday, Australia had recorded more than 30,300 cases and 910 deaths.

The country has been among the world’s most successful in containing the pandemic, allowing it to reopen its border to New Zealand.

But the new cases are testing the travel bubble between the neighbours.

On Wednesday, New Zealand raised its pandemic alert level in Wellington to level two, which is one level short of a lockdown.

Earlier, an Australian tourist who visited the capital city over the weekend tested positive for COVID when they returned to Sydney.

“These are precautionary measures which will remain in place while we contact trace and test all of those we need to,” New Zealand’s COVID response minister Chris Hipkins said.

Under the elevated alert level, offices, schools and businesses are still allowed to open, but people are required to follow social distancing rules.

Gatherings of more than 100 people are banned, including weddings and other parties.

New Zealand has a population of five million people, and has recorded a total of 2,720 cases and 26 deaths. The country has posted a 98.2 percent recovery rate.

In Australia itself, Queensland and Victoria have both closed their borders to people from many parts of Sydney as a result of the new cases.

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