Rights groups urge Bangladesh not to ship Rohingya to island

Relatives of Rohingya refugees gather outside the transit camp before the start of relocation of refugees, in Ukhia on Dec. 3, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 03 December 2020

Rights groups urge Bangladesh not to ship Rohingya to island

  • Police escorted the refugees in 10 buses from Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar for the journey to Chittagong port and then on to Bhasan Char

DHAKA: Human rights groups urged Bangladesh on Thursday to stop its plan to ship thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island as officials said the first group of 400 could leave later in the day.
Police escorted the refugees in 10 buses from Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar for the journey to Chittagong port and then on to Bhasan Char – a flood-prone Bay of Bengal island that emerged from the sea 20 years ago.
Bangladesh says moving refugees who agree to go to the island will ease chronic overcrowding in its camps which are home to more than 1 million Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority who have fled neighboring Myanmar.
“The authorities should immediately halt relocation of more refugees to Bhashan Char,” Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner Saad Hammadi said in a statement.
US-based advocacy group Refugees International said the plan was “short-sighted and inhumane” while the Fortify Rights Group said the relocations may be “coerced and involuntary” and should cease immediately.
Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said the relocation was voluntary.
“They are going there happily. No one is forced. The government has taken all measures to deal with disasters, including their comfortable living and livelihood.”
A senior foreign ministry official said the refugees were being moved because there was little prospect of repatriating them to Myanmar.
Bangladeshi officials said the first 400 of 2,500 refugees would leave on Thursday evening, depending on the tide. The journey takes several hours.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017 following a military-led crackdown that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies genocide and says its forces were targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
A senior Bangladeshi official has said housing was built for 100,000 people on the island and authorities want to relocate them during the November to April dry season when the sea is calm.
The United Nations said in a statement it had been given “limited information” about the relocations and was not involved in preparations.
Omar Faruq, one Rohingya leader who had been on a government trip, said the island was “truly beautiful,” with better facilities than in the refugee camps and that he would be ready to go, but that most people did not want to go there.
“We don’t want to end up living an isolated prison-like life,” said Nurul Amin, one Rohingya refugee who was not on the list.
More than 300 refugees were brought to the island earlier this year after several months at sea in an attempt to flee Bangladesh. Rights groups say they are being held against their will and have complained of human rights violations.


Turkey, Iran, Pakistan regional freight train soon to relaunch operations— officials

Updated 45 min 47 sec ago

Turkey, Iran, Pakistan regional freight train soon to relaunch operations— officials

  • Restarting after nine years, the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad freight train will cover a distance of over 6,500 kilometers 
  • Foreign policy experts say the United State may not like the plan since it violates sanctions imposed on Iran

KARACHI: Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are finalizing details of the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) freight train that is soon to resume its operations after nine years to boost regional connectivity and increase trade among the three countries, officials told Arab News on Friday.

The prime minister’s advisor on trade and commerce, Abdul Razak Dawood, announced in a Twitter post on Tuesday that the train would become functional on March 4, which did not happen.

According to Pakistan Railway officials, the inauguration of the train has been delayed due to certain issues at its point of origin in Istanbul.

“It is not confirmed yet, but some pending details, such as train schedule and freight charges, will be finalized within a couple of days,” Pakistan Railway’s spokesperson Hamdan Nazir told Arab News. “I think they have issues with freight forwarders and will move the inauguration schedule ahead by a few more days.”

Pakistani officials in Istanbul said they were also trying to get information on the relaunch from the Turkish authorities.

“This is very much in the pipeline,” Bilal Khan Pasha, the consul general (trade and investment) at Pakistan’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul, told Arab News on phone. 

“The progress on this will be shared officially in a day or two. Only the Turkish railway authorities can give us the correct launch date.” 

The ITI train was launched on August 14, 2009 under the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) framework, but the service was closed due to security reasons. It covers more than 6,500 kilometers and it takes about 12 to 13 days to finish one side of its journey.

Pakistani officials say they have made all necessary security arrangements for the resumption of the train service.

“We are not just relying on Railway Police but also taking all security agencies onboard,” Nazir said, adding: “Obviously, the security of the train will be the responsibility of the country where it is moving.”

According to some foreign policy experts, the train link may not go down well with the United States that has imposed sanctions on Iran.

“The US has so far not said anything publicly about the project, but it will not like the train link being used to violate sanctions against Iran,” Husain Haqqani, a scholar at Washington-based Hudson Institute and former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, told Arab News. 

“There are also serious doubts that the Pakistan-Turkey-Iran freight train service is an economically viable or efficient project. It seems more symbolic and political,” he added.

However, the prime minister’s advisor on commerce not only described the train as “a testament of friendship between the three countries” in a Twitter post this week but also urged Pakistani exporters to benefit from the new route and transportation mode, implying that the project would bring major economic benefits to the country. 

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials have made it clear they are not just interested in the train for trade and commerce but also for strategic regional connectivity.

Addressing the 14th ECO Summit, which was held virtually on Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan brought up the commercial cargo train and proposed an Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan railway link to spread the benefits of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan and beyond.

“We must develop an integrated transport network to facilitate both intra-ECO trade and serve as a pathway for trade between the major economies to our east and west, north and south,” Khan said.


UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed

Updated 06 March 2021

UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed

  • Myanmar has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1
  • More than 50 protesters have been killed, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener tells UN Security Council

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations special envoy on Myanmar called on the UN Security Council to take action against the ruling junta after the killings of protesters who have continued to defy security forces at demonstrations against last month’s coup.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with daily protests and strikes that have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More than 50 protesters have been killed according to the United Nations — at least 38 on Wednesday alone. Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election, which her party won in landslide, but which the army rejected.
“How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?” Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told a closed meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council on Friday, according to a copy of her remarks seen by Reuters.
“It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results.”
A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.
The army says it has been restrained in stopping the protests, but has said it will not allow them to threaten stability.
On Saturday, in the southern town of Dawei, protesters chanted “Democracy is our cause” and “The revolution must prevail.” Protesters were also gathering in the biggest city, Yangon.
People have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands at times, vowing to continue action in a country that spent nearly half a century under military rule until democratic reforms in 2011 that were cut short by the coup.
“Political hope has begun to shine. We can’t lose the momentum of the revolution,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook. “Those who dare to fight will have victory. We deserve victory.”
At least one man was killed by security forces in protests on Friday. An official from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and his teenage nephew were also stabbed to death by military supporters, local media reported.

Outrage
The killing of protesters has drawn international outrage.
“Use of violence against the people of Myanmar must stop now,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a tweet, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and for the restoration of democracy.
The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta and independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, has called for a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions.
But in an effort to preserve council unity on Myanmar, diplomats said sanctions were unlikely to be considered anytime soon as such measures would probably be opposed by China and Russia, which have veto powers.
“All parties should exercise utmost calm and restraint,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said, according to remarks released after the UN meeting. “We don’t want to see instability, even chaos in Myanmar.”
The army took power over allegations of fraud in last year’s election which had been dismissed by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election at an unspecified date.
That plan is rejected by protesters and by a group representing lawmakers elected at the last election that has begun to issue statements in the name of a rival civilian administration.
On Friday, it listed four demands — the end of the junta, the release of the detainees, democracy and the abolition of the 2008 constitution which left significant political representation and control in the hands of the military.
Instead, it said Myanmar should have a federal constitution — an appeal to the ethnic groups in the country’s borderlands which have chafed under domination of the Bamar majority both under the military and Suu Kyi’s party.
On Friday, thousands of people rallied in the southeastern Karen state, accompanied by fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the ethnic armed groups engaged in long-running wars.
During the rally — the strongest indication yet of support for the anti-coup movement from one of the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups — KNU troops flashed the three-finger salute popularized by protesters and handed out water bottles.


Antivirus software creator charged with cheating investors

Updated 06 March 2021

Antivirus software creator charged with cheating investors

  • Authorities say that McAfee and cohorts fooled investors through social media to make over $13 million
  • McAfee and his team are accused of capitalizing on zeal over the emerging cryptocurrency market as they lied to investors

NEW YORK: Antivirus software entrepreneur John McAfee was indicted on fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges alleging that he and cohorts made over $13 million by fooling investors zealous over the emerging cryptocurrency market, authorities said Friday.
McAfee, 75, was charged in a newly unsealed indictment in Manhattan federal court along with Jimmy Gale Watson Jr., who served as an executive adviser on what prosecutors described as McAfee’s “so-called cryptocurrency team.”
Prosecutors said Watson, 40, was arrested Thursday night in Texas and would make an initial appearance Friday before a federal magistrate judge in Dallas. McAfee, authorities said, is detained in Spain on separate criminal charges filed by the US Justice Department’s tax division.
Attorney Arnold Spencer, representing Watson, said his client is a decorated former Navy Seal.
“He fought for other people’s rights and liberties, and he is entitled to and looks forward to his day in court to exercise some of those very rights,” he said in an email.
“Criminal indictments are blunt instruments, not precise scalpels,” Spencer added. “This is not the right place to debate whether cutting edge technologies like cryptocurrencies are securities, commodities, or something else.”
It was not immediately clear who might represent McAfee. There was still no lawyer listed for him in the Memphis, Tennessee, federal court where tax charges were lodged against him in October.
“McAfee and Watson exploited a widely used social media platform and enthusiasm among investors in the emerging cryptocurrency market to make millions through lies and deception,” US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement describing crimes in 2017 and 2018.
“The defendants allegedly used McAfee’s Twitter account to publish messages to hundreds of thousands of his Twitter followers touting various cryptocurrencies through false and misleading statements to conceal their true, self-interested motives,” she added.
In October, McAfee was charged in Tennessee with evading taxes after failing to report income made from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consulting work, made speaking engagements and sold the rights to his life story for a documentary.
McAfee developed early Internet security software and has been sought by authorities in the US and Belize in the past.
The Tennessee indictment said McAfee failed to file tax returns from 2014 to 2018, despite receiving “considerable income” from several sources.
In July 2019, McAfee was released from detention in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of traveling on a yacht carrying high-caliber weapons, ammunition and military-style gear, officials on the Caribbean island said at the time.


American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

Updated 06 March 2021

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

  • The 737 MAX was Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until it was grounded over a faulty flight handling system

NEW YORK: An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX jet flying to Newark, New Jersey from Miami landed safely on Friday after pilots shut down an engine during the flight, the US air safety regulator said.
The MAX returned to skies in the United States late last year after it was grounded worldwide in March 2019 following two deadly crashes.
In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said “pilots reported shutting down an engine in flight” but the plane was able to taxi to its gate on its own power, and the agency will investigate the incident.
American Airlines confirmed to AFP that the issue was related to an engine oil pressure issue and not the faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which was implicated in the crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
“All customers deplaned normally, with no reported injuries to passengers or crew,” American Airlines said.
The 737 MAX was a big hit with airlines, becoming Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until its grounding, which forced the manufacturer to revamp MCAS and implement new pilot training protocols.
The grounding plunged the American aviation giant into crisis, which was exacerbated by the global downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and airlines canceled hundreds of orders for the plane.


Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Updated 06 March 2021

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

  • Joe Biden's overall bill is aimed at battling the killer pandemic
  • It also aims to nurse the staggered economy back to health
WASHINGTON: Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal late Friday over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a nine-hour logjam that had stalled the party’s showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation.
The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
The Senate next faced votes on a pile of amendments that were likely to last overnight, mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes.
More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would ship it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and whisk it to Biden for his signature.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports the compromise on jobless payments.
The day’s lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities.
Manchin is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, and a kingmaker in a 50-50 Senate that leaves his party without a vote to spare. With Democrats also clinging to a mere 10-vote House edge, the party needs his vote but can’t tilt too far center without losing progressive support.
Aiding unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to trim some of the bill’s costs.
Biden noted Friday’s jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 workers — an unexpectedly strong showing. That’s still small compared to the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago.
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery.”
The overall bill faces a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with them.
“You could pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden.
But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans.
The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly jobless benefits — on top of regular state payments — through August. Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.
As the day began, Democrats asserted they’d reached a compromise between party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 weekly into early October.
That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, also included tax reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills.
But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top Senate Democrats and Manchin as the party tried finding a way to salvage its unemployment aid package.
The compromise announced Friday night would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 6, and includes the tax break on benefits.
Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years.
Eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.
That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and by 9 p.m. had not been formally gaveled to a close, as Senate work ground to a halt amid the unemployment benefit negotiations.
Republicans say the overall relief bill is a liberal spend-fest that ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy suggest that the twin crises are easing.
“Our country is already set for a roaring recovery,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in part citing an unexpectedly strong report on job creation. “Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.”
Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
“If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better,’” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”
Friday’s gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn’t the first delay on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced the chamber’s clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST.
Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill, designed to nail down support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs to funds for rural health care and language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states.
In another late bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to make some higher earners ineligible for the direct checks to individuals.