Month: November 2019

Hong Kong’s Young and Elderly Come Together

Retirees and secondary-school children came together Saturday in Hong Kong to protest what they see as China’s creeping interference in Hong Kong since the territory was returned to China by Britain in 1997.

“I have seen so much police brutality and unlawful arrests,” said a 71-year-old woman in Hong Kong’s Central district, who only gave her name as Ponn.  “This is not the Hong Kong I know.”  

The young and the elderly listened to pro-democracy activists in the city’s Chater Garden, one of several planned weekend rallies.

The demonstrations in Hong Kong have become increasingly violent over the months as protesters vented their frustrations.  

The mood in Hong Kong has changed, however, since local elections last week gave pro-democracy politicians a big win.

Some of the demonstrators Saturday carried American flags, in support of newly signed bi-partisan U.S. legislation supporting pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.    

Carrie Lam has called for the current mood to be maintained, but she has refused to give in to protesters’ demands, including free elections for her position and an independent investigation into alleged police brutality.



Taliban-Planted Bomb Kills Afghan Army General

Officials in southern Afghanistan say a bomb explosion Saturday killed a senior military commander and wounded at least four other people, including a local journalist.

The Taliban swiftly took responsibility for the attack in Helmand province where most of the districts are either controlled or hotly contested by the insurgent group.

The provincial police spokesman told VOA that Gen. Zahir Gul Muqbil, the commander of an army border unit, was heading to the volatile Marjah district along with a group of journalists to visit an ongoing counterinsurgency operation when the convoy struck a roadside bomb.

Mohammad Zaman Hamdard said the slain general was directing the military operation. He added three security personnel and a reporter with Afghanistan’s mainstream Shamshad TV, were among the wounded. The journalist, Sardar Mohamad Sarwary, is said to have received multiple injures.

A Taliban statement said the attack also killed Muqbil’s two guards, though insurgent claims are often inflated.

Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province and a major opium-poppy producing region.

International media watchdogs list Afghanistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.


Iraqi Protests Continue Despite Prime Minister’s Resignation Announcement

Iraqi protesters burned tires on three bridges Saturday in the southern city of Nasiriyah, despite the prime minister’s announcement that he will step down from office.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Friday he will submit his resignation to the country’s parliament, following weeks of deadly protests.

The people responsible for the killings must be brought to justice, Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission said in a statement Saturday.

“Firearms and live ammunition must only be used as a last resort,” the International Committee of the Red Cross warned in a statement.

Abdul-Mahdi’s announcement Friday came after Iraq’s top Shiite cleric called for a change in leadership in the country. At least 400 people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded since anti-government protests began October 1.
“I will submit to parliament an official memorandum resigning from the current prime ministry,” the Abdul-Mahdi said, in response to the cleric’s call. He did not specify when he will step down.
The move triggered celebrations by protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, however demonstrators said they would continue their sit-in at the square

Iraq’s parliament is set to hold an emergency session on Sunday to discuss the crisis.
Earlier on Friday, during his weekly sermon, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani urged Iraq’s parliament to reconsider its support for Abdul-Mahdi’s government, amid the rising violence.

Violence continued on Friday with medical officials saying at least three protesters were shot by security forces in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

On Thursday, Iraqi security forces used live ammunition against mostly unarmed demonstrators in Nasiriyah, killing at least 40 people in one of the bloodiest days since anti-government protests began last month, security and medical officials said.
At least 25 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when security forces opened fire on protesters who had blocked key roads and bridges in the city.

Baghdad said it had sent military troops to restore order across southern Iraq, where protests have grown increasingly violent. Demonstrators have occupied buildings and bridges and have clashed with security forces, who have used tear gas and live ammunition almost daily since protests began.

Amnesty International denounced the violence in Nasiriyah, calling it a bloodbath.

In Baghdad, security forces shot and killed four people Thursday and wounded at least another 22 as protesters tried to cross the Ahrar Bridge, which leads to the Green Zone, the heavily fortified seat of Iraq’s government.

The demonstrators are demanding an end to government corruption and what they perceive as increasing Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.



London Attacker Had Been Convicted on Terrorism Charges

British security officials said police are not looking for any more suspects in the stabbing attack in London Friday that killed two people and left three victims in the hospital.

London police were called to Fishmongers’ Hall, at the north end of London Bridge, in the early afternoon where Cambridge University was holding a symposium on prisoner rehabilitation entitled “Learning Together.”

The BBC reports that the suspect, 28-year-old Usman Khan, who had been convicted in 2012 on terrorism offenses and was released on probation in December 2018, attended the event and began his blitz inside the building before moving onto London Bridge, where he was confronted and killed after stabbing several people.

Police say the knife-welding Khan was wearing a fake suicide device when he began his attack.

A number of civilians apparently fought Khan, tackling him and snatching the knife away from him.

Amateur video posted on Twitter shows police converging on the London Bridge struggle and an individual being dragged off by police. Police then shot Khan dead at close range.

A police officer patrols around the site of the deadly stabbings at London Bridge, in London, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. UK…
A police officer patrols the site of the deadly stabbings at London Bridge, in London, Nov. 30, 2019.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of London’s Metropolitan Police told reporters the incident has been deemed a terrorist attack.

British media, citing unnamed government sources, said Khan had links to Islamic extremist groups. Officials would not confirm the information. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, said: “It is a mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early, and it is very important that we get out of that habit.”

He tweeted earlier that anyone responsible for the attack will be “hunted down and will be brought to justice.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the incident. Speaking outside Scotland Yard, the mayor appealed to Londoners to remain united in the face of terrorism. He said, “Those who seek to attack us and divide us will never succeed.”

The mayor also praised the “breathtaking heroism” of the civilians and the first responders who ran toward danger “not knowing what confronted them,” calling them “the very best of our humanity.”


Facebook Places Label on User’s Post Under Singapore ‘Fake News’ Law

Facebook said Saturday it had issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the request of the Singapore government, but called for a measured approach to the implementation of a new “fake news” law in the city-state.

“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” said the notice, which is visible only to Singapore users.

The correction label was embedded at the bottom of the original post without any alterations to the text.

Singapore requests notice

The Singapore government said Friday it had instructed Facebook “to publish a correction notice” on a Nov. 23 post that contained accusations about the arrest of a supposed whistleblower and election rigging.

Singapore, which is expected to call a general elections within months, said the allegations were “false” and “scurrilous” and initially ordered user Alex Tan, who runs the States Times Review blog, to issue the correction notice on the post.

Tan, who does not live in Singapore and says he is an Australian citizen, refused, and authorities said he is now under investigation. Reuters could not immediately reach Tan for comment.

“As required by Singapore law, Facebook applied a label to these posts, which were determined by the Singapore government to contain false information,” a spokesman for Facebook said in an emailed statement. “As it is early days of the law coming into effect, we hope the Singapore government’s assurances that it will not impact free expression will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation.”

Some Singapore users however said that they could not see the correction notice. Facebook could not immediately explain why the notice was unavailable to some users.

Blocked content

Facebook often blocks content that governments allege violate local laws, with nearly 18,000 cases globally in the year to June, according to the company’s “transparency report.”

Two years in the making and implemented only last month, Singapore’s law is the first to demand that Facebook publish corrections when directed to do so by the government.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an association of internet and technology companies, called the law the “most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date,” while rights groups have said it could undermine internet freedoms, not just in Singapore, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

In the only other case under the law, which covers statements that are communicated in the country even if they originate elsewhere, opposition political figure Brad Bowyer swiftly complied with a correction request.

The penalties range from prison terms of as much as 10 years or fines up to S$1 million ($733,192).


Poland’s Leaders Want New Top Auditor to Go Amid Scandal

Poland’s government is calling for the resignation of the head of the audit office amid a swelling scandal over his contacts and dealings.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday he has read a classified report on the dealings and financial status of Marian Banas and expects him to resign. The right-wing ruling party also said its powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, wants Banas to go.

Banas insisted the allegations were “lies” and continues in his job. Under the constitution, he cannot be fired.

Government critics say the stalemate exposes the chaos that the ruling Law and Justice party has brought to the state, with policies of ignoring the constitution and undermining judicial independence and the democratic system of checks and balances.

Banas, a former finance minister and tax administration head, was nominated and praised as “crystal clean” by the ruling party and approved by parliament as head of the Supreme Audit Office in August.

But recent media reports said a house that he owned in the southern city of Krakow was rented at the time to an apparent sex business; the reports he was required to make as a state official of his financial status were incomplete; and his former subordinates at the finance ministry claimed sales tax that was not due.

The state Anti-Corruption Office on Friday notified prosecutors of irregularities in Banas’ financial reports, alleging he has failed to list all of his property and real estate.

Banas denies allegations

Banas said he “categorically” denied the allegations and declared he was ready to give all needed explanations.

Morawiecki said if Banas won’t resign, the government has a Plan B, which he did not disclose.

Opposition parties warned they would not help Law and Justice, which won power in 2015, end the impasse it had built.

They claimed the ruling party had failed to properly vet Banas for the sensitive job, while being quick to punish and discredit various judges who had criticized the party’s policies and defended judicial independence.


Chinese Ambassador Visits Huawei Exec Under House Arrest in Canada

China’s ambassador to Canada on Friday called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to “correct its mistake” of detaining Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last year on a US extradition warrant.

Ambassador Cong Peiwu issued the statement after visiting Meng at her mansion in Vancouver, where she is under house arrest pending an extradition trial scheduled to start in January.

Cong said that he stressed to Meng that Beijing is “determined to protect the just and legitimate rights and interests of its citizens and enterprises, and will continue to urge the Canadian side to correct its mistake and take measures to solve the issue as soon as possible.”

“We expect (Meng) to go back to China safe and sound at an early date,” he said.

Meng’s arrest last December during a layover at Vancouver’s international airport triggered an escalating diplomatic row between Canada and China.

Within days, China detained two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — in apparent retaliation, and subsequently blocked billions of dollars worth of Canadian canola and meat shipments, before restoring imports of the country’s beef and pork earlier this month.

Canada, meanwhile, enlisted the support of allies such as Britain, France, Germany, the United States and NATO to press for the release of its two citizens.

When he met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at a G20 meeting in Japan last weekend, Canada’s new foreign minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, called their release an “absolute priority.”

But Cong, who was posted to Ottawa in September, told Canadian media that Meng’s release was a “precondition” for improved relations.

Canada has previously declared the arrests of Spavor and Kovrig “arbitrary.” Others have gone further, tarring it as “hostage diplomacy.”

The pair, held in isolation until June when they were formally charged with allegedly stealing Chinese state secrets and moved to a detention center, have been permitted only one 30-minute consular visit per-month.

Describing their harsh detention conditions, The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing unnamed sources, reported that Kovrig’s jailers at one point seized his reading glasses.

Since being granted bail soon after her arrest, Meng has been required to wear an electronic monitoring anklet and abide by a curfew, but she is free to roam within Vancouver city limits under the gaze of a security escort.

Her father, Huawei founder Ren Zengfei, told CNN that she’s “like a small ant caught between the collision of two giant powers.”

He described her spending time in Vancouver enjoying painting and studying, adding that her mother and husband routinely travel to Canada to care for her.


Somali Refugee Leads US Pediatric Clinic that Gave Her a Healthy Outlook

Anisa Ibrahim was six years old when she came to the United States as a Somali refugee in 1993. The family settled in Seattle, in the northwestern state of Washington, where the girl and her four siblings got health care at the Harborview Medical Center Pediatric Clinic.

Now a pediatrician herself, Ibrahim is medical director of the clinic, overseeing a dozen other doctors whose patients, like hers, include many immigrants.

When she got the promotion in September, “it felt like everything that I had been working for had come to fruition and my story had really, really come full circle,” Ibrahim, 32, told VOA’s Somali Service in a phone interview. “I really thought back [on] everyone and everything that made this moment possible for me.”

Among those Ibrahim credits is the doctor who treated her in childhood, after her family had moved from a Kenyan refugee camp where they’d sought relief from Somalia’s civil war in 1992.

She had told her pediatrician, Elinor Graham, that she wanted to follow in that profession. Graham’s response “really stuck with me,” said Ibrahim, repeating the words she’d heard long ago: ” ‘You know, Anisa, I want you to become a pediatrician as well. And when you do, I want you to work here so I can retire.’ ”

Ibrahim studied at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, graduating in 2013. She did a residency at Seattle Children’s Hospital and joined Harborview as a general pediatrician in 2016.

Along the way, she married and had two daughters. She also encountered doubters.

“Going to medical school, going to residencies, there are always people who discourage you … simply because of how you look, simply because of your race, your religion, your nationality,” Ibrahim said. “But, you know, most recently I’ve just been overwhelmed with the amount of support I’ve gotten from everyone.”

Communication and trust

One of her backers is Brian Johnston, Harborview’s chief of pediatrics.

Along with providing medical skills, Ibrahim — part of a diverse staff — is able to telegraph acceptance to immigrant families that might identify with her, Johnston said.  And that can lead to better care.

“When there is concordance between a health care provider and a patient in terms of their race, ethnicity or culture, the communication can be improved, the trust is improved and the patient’s adherence to the plan that is formulated is improved,” Johnston said. “So having a diverse workforce among our positions improves our ability to deliver good health care to a diverse population.”

At Harborview, Ibrahim, who also serves as president of the Somali Health Board, works closely with immigrants and refugees. In her official bio, she describes herself as “committed to caring for low-income, socially vulnerable populations” with limited English skills.

“I can say I know life is tough in a refugee camp,” the doctor told K5 News (KING-TV Seattle) last month. “I know life is tough settling into a new country and not speaking English and not knowing where the grocery store is and being isolated from the rest of your family.”

‘Powerful’ role model

Not only does Ibrahim work to improve the health and conditions of children who are in the same position she was, but she also hopes to combat any negative perceptions about newcomers.

“We are in a very polarizing time where there is negative rhetoric about immigrants. That’s really being used to dehumanize human beings, to demonize people for wanting what other people would want: safety, an education, a good life for their children,” she said.  

“It’s really, really important for people to go back to … a humanistic approach and not a political approach because this is not a political issue. It is about giving people opportunities,” said Ibrahim, a U.S. citizen. “So I think [through] my story, I want people to know that every single individual, every single human being, is capable of achieving great things.”

Johnston said Ibrahim is, indeed, a source of inspiration.

“We are a pediatric clinic that serves a large immigrant population, and for those kids, it’s really powerful to have a role model in a leadership position who looks like them: a woman, a woman of color, a woman who shares their experience in terms of forced migration, being a refugee in a new country,” Johnston said. “I think it sends a message to those kids that this career, even leadership in this career, is open to people of their experience and their background.”

Last week in a Twitter post, Ibrahim suggested she’s making a positive impact, as her own pediatrician once did.

“Today my 11-year-old patient told me that she wanted to be a doctor and a scientist [to] do research. She then said, ‘You can’t do both, I need to pick.’ Her eyes lit up when I said, ‘No you don’t, you can do both!’ Made my day.”


Spain: Sunbathers Help Migrants Arriving to Beach by Boat

Sunbathers have assisted two dozen exhausted migrants who arrived by boat to a beach in Spain’s Canary Islands.
The boat landed early Friday at a beach in San Bartolome de Tirajana on the island of Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s seven Canary Islands located off the northwest coast of Africa.
Television images showed bathers giving the migrants water and food and wrapping them in towels.
Emergency services said the Spanish Red Cross later looked after the migrants _ 12 men, eight women and three children _ six of whom were treated at a local hospital. None were reported to be in serious condition.
Private Spanish news agency Europa Press said the North African and sub Saharan migrants had been aboard the boat for several days.


Gas Station Srike Paralyzes Country as Crisis Deepens

Angry motorists blocked roads with their vehicles in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon on Friday, creating traffic jams to protest a strike by owners of gas stations demanding an increase in gasoline prices as the local currency drops and the nation slides deeper into a financial crisis.

The road closures around Lebanon came as President Michel Aoun headed a meeting of the country’s top economic officials to discuss the rapidly deteriorating economic and financial situation in the country.

Nationwide protests that began Oct. 17 over widespread corruption and mismanagement have worsened Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crises since the 1975-90 civil war ended, as did the resignation of the government late last month. Although Hariri resigned his government on Oct. 29, Aoun has not yet set a date for binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new premier.

The protests were initially sparked by new taxes but quickly evolved into calls for the entire political elite to step aside.

Friday’s meeting was attended by the ministers of economy and finance as well as the Central Bank’s chief and the head of the banking association as well as the economic adviser of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Lebanon is one of the world’s highest indebted countries and the country’s banking sector has imposed unprecedented capital control amid a widespread shortage of dollars. People have not been allowed in recent weeks to withdraw as much as they want from their bank accounts.

The price of the dollar has dropped 40 percent on the black market after it was stable at 1,507 pounds to the dollar since 1997.

During the meeting, Aoun put forward some suggestions to come out of the crisis and it was decided that the central bank governor would take needed measures regarding coordination with banks to issue circulars to preserve stability, said a statement read by Salim Sfeir, the chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon.

“The meeting discussed financial and banking conditions that the country is passing through that has begun to negatively affect most sectors,” the statement said adding that Lebanon will remain committed to its free market economy.

The shortage of liquidity has led to drops in businesses and over the past months scores of institutions have closed and thousands of employees were either laid off or had their salaries cut.

Gas stations began an open-ended strike Thursday as owners are demanding that they be allowed to hike prices saying they are losing money because of the shortage of dollars in the market.

In Beirut and several areas across the country, motorists parked their cars in the middle of the road, saying they ran out of petrol. In other areas angry protesters blocked roads to express their anger against closure of gas stations.


Politicians, meanwhile, have failed to agree on the shape and form of a new government. Hariri had insisted on heading a government of technocrats, while his opponents, including the militant Hezbollah, want a Cabinet made up of both experts and politicians.

U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said he met Friday with central bank governor Riad Salameh and discussed with him measures “urgently needed to stop the further deepening” of the economic crisis and to increase the ability of the banking sector to cope with the pressures.

“Formation of a credible and competent government that can regain the trust of the people and of the international partners of #Lebanon is the priority,” Kubis tweeted.