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UN warns of ‘mass deaths’ in Myanmar after 100,000 flee fighting | ASEAN News

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A United Nations rights expert has warned of “mass deaths from starvation, disease and exposure” in eastern Myanmar after “brutal, indiscriminate attacks” by the military forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in Kayah State.

In a statement on Wednesday, Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, called for urgent international action, saying attacks by the military – which took power after a February coup – were “threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children” in Kayah or Karenni state.

“Let me blunt,” Andrews said.  “Mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure, on a scale we have not yet seen since the February 1 coup, could occur in Kayah State absent immediate action.”

The plea came hours after the UN office in Myanmar said the violence in Kayah had displaced an estimated 100,000 people, who were now seeking safety in forests, host communities and southern parts of neighbouring Shan state.

Those fleeing and those in locations affected by the bombing and artillery fire were in dire need of food, water, shelter, fuel and access to healthcare, the UN office said in a statement.

“This crisis could push people across international borders seeking safety,” it warned, calling for all parties to “take the necessary measures and precautions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure”.

This picture taken on June 1, 2021 shows people taking refuge in a jungle area in Demoso, Kayah state, after they fled from fighting between the Myanmar military and members of the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) [Stringer/ AFP]
This picture taken on June 3, 2021 shows people taking refuge in a jungle area in Demoso, Kayah state [Stringer/ AFP]

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military takeover, with daily protests across the country and fighting in border areas between the military and armed ethnic minority groups. Human rights groups say security forces have killed at least 849 people since the coup and detained 5,800 others.

People living in Kayah told Al Jazeera the military has launched indiscriminate air attacks and shelling in civilian areas after fighting broke out on May 21 between the security forces and a civilian resistance group calling itself the Karenni People’s Defense Force (KPDF).

There have been several deaths, including that of a 14-year-old boy who was shot dead in Loikaw township and a young man who was shot in the head with his hands tied behind his back. The military has repeatedly attacked churches in the predominantly Christian area, in one instance killing four people who were among 300 villagers sheltering at a Catholic church in Loikaw.

‘Painfully slow progress’ on ASEAN plan

Security forces have also attacked and threatened humanitarian workers, while Andrews said he had received reports that soldiers were “stopping aid from reaching these desperate people” by setting up military blockades and laying landmines on public roads.

“Any pressure or leverage UN member states can put on the junta must now be exerted so that junta leader Min Aung Hlaing will immediately:  (1): open access roads and allow lifesaving aid to reach those in need, and (2) stop terrorizing the population by ceasing the aerial bombardment, shelling, and shooting of civilians.”

Andrews said the military’s attacks against civilians in Kayah was the “latest in a series throughout Myanmar causing massive displacement and humanitarian suffering, including in Mutraw in Karen State, Mindat in Chin State, and Bago City, among other areas”.

“Now more than ever, the international community must cut off access to the resources the junta relies on to continue these brutal attacks against the people of Myanmar,” he added.

Myanmar’s military has so far ignored international criticism of its violent crackdown and showed little sign of heeding a “Five-Point Consensus” agreed between Min Aung Hlaing and Southeast Asian leaders in April. The agreement – reached at a special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – called for an end to violence, political talks and the naming of a regional special envoy.

On Monday, ASEAN foreign ministers met a Myanmar military envoy in China’s Chongqing and expressed concern over the army’s “painfully slow” progress on implementing the consensus. Wunna Maung Lwin, the military’s foreign minister, however, told the meeting: “The only way to ensure the democratic system that is disciplined and genuine” was through a military drafted five-point programme announced in the wake of February’s coup.

That plan has little similarities with the ASEAN consensus, and includes the establishment of a new elections commission – the military has claimed without evidence that the November 2020 election was fraudulent – measures against the COVID-19 pandemic as well as efforts for economic recovery.

China, meanwhile, has backed the ASEAN plan.

In a statement, the Chinese foreign ministry said Wang met Wunna Maung Lwin and called for the implementation of the “Five-Point Consensus” and an end to “all kinds of violence” in Myanmar.

“We encourage all parties in Myanmar to engage in political dialogue within the constitutional and legal framework and restart the process of democratic transformation,” Wang said in the statement.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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

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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.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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

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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.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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River Nile dam: Egypt new African allies

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Recent years have seen a dramatic re-engagement with Africa, especially the Nile Basin countries.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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