Swiss mull ‘burqa ban’ in vote centering on security, rights

Critics say the proposal “Yes to a ban on covering the face” is an ironic throwback to a time not long ago when violent extremism was a greater concern than global pandemic. (File/Shutterstock)
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Updated 05 March 2021

Swiss mull ‘burqa ban’ in vote centering on security, rights

  • The face-covering measure has come to be known colloquially as the “burqa ban.” It would put Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures
  • The issue strikes at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights

GENEVA: At a time when seemingly everyone in Europe is wearing masks to battle COVID-19, the Swiss go to the polls Sunday to vote on a long-laid proposal to ban face-coverings, both the niqabs and burqas worn by a few Muslim women in the country and the ski masks and bandannas used by protesters.
The issue strikes at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights.
Critics say the proposal “Yes to a ban on covering the face” is an ironic throwback to a time not long ago when violent extremism was a greater concern than global pandemic, and say it would unfairly stigmatize Muslims who wear full face-covering burqas or niqabs, which have open slits for the eyes, in Switzerland.
Proponents, including populist, right-wing movements behind the idea, say it’s needed to combat what they consider a sign of the oppression of women and to uphold a basic principle that faces should be shown in a free society like that of the rich Alpine democracy.
The issue is one of three measures on national ballots in the vote culminating Sunday — most voters in Switzerland cast ballots by mail – as part of the latest installment of regular Swiss referendums that give voters a direct say in policymaking.
Other proposals would create an “e-ID” to improve security of online transactions — an idea that has run afoul of privacy advocates — and a free-trade deal with Indonesia, which is opposed by environmentalists who have concerns about palm oil plantations on the archipelago in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The face-covering measure has come to be known colloquially as the “burqa ban.” It would put Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures. Two Swiss regions also already have such bans.
One campaign poster presented by the Swiss People’s Party — a populist, right-wing party that is the leading faction in parliament and has strongly backed the measure — features a caricatured image of the scowling eyes of a woman in a burqa above the words: “Stop Islamic Radicalism.”
A coalition of left-leaning parties have put up signs that read: “Absurd. Useless. Islamophobic.”
Support appears to have been eroding, but the vote is expected to be tight. An initial poll for public broadcaster SSR by the gfs.bern agency in January found more than half of voters backed the proposal, but a second poll published on Feb. 24 showed the figures had dipped to under half. Some remain undecided.
The Swiss government opposes the measure, arguing that it could crimp economic development: Most Muslim women who wear such veils in Switzerland are visitors from well-heeled Arabian Gulf states, who are often drawn to bucolic Swiss lakeside cities. The justice minister insists existing laws work just fine.
The measure would make it punishable by fines to cover the face in public in places like restaurants, sports stadiums, public transport or simply walking in the street — though exceptions are made for religious, security and health reasons, as well as for the Swiss traditional Carnival celebrations.
A counter-proposal would require people to show their faces if requested to do so by authorities.
It’s another indication how Switzerland is grappling with security issues and cultures and people from abroad. In the past, Swiss voters have approved a ban on the construction of minarets in the Alpine country whose flag carries the cross.
Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, a researcher who heads the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Lucerne, estimates at most a few dozen Muslim women wear full-face coverings in the country of 8.5 million people, and says the issue is really about Switzerland’s take on religion and ability to “cope with diversity.”


Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

Updated 57 min 6 sec ago

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

  • They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate
  • Bodies are normally held at accredited funeral homes for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them

MANILA: The bodies of 70 inmates from the Philippines’ largest prison were laid to rest Friday in a mass burial, weeks after their decomposing remains were discovered in a Manila funeral home.
They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate, who was accused of being involved in the killing of a journalist in early October.
Most of the deaths were due to “natural causes,” said Cecilia Villanueva, the Bureau of Corrections’ acting director for health and welfare services.
Among them was a Japanese national.
Villanueva said 127 of the 140 bodies buried so far were badly decomposed and could not be autopsied again.
The bodies began piling up in the funeral home in December 2021 after their families — most of them poor — did not claim them.
Villanueva blamed “constraints” for the failure of corrections staff to ensure the inmates were given timely burials.
Bodies are normally held at the accredited funeral home for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them.
Friday’s mass burial was the biggest ever by the Bureau of Corrections, Villanueva told reporters.
Minimum security inmates carried the 70 plywood coffins to their final resting place — cheap concrete tombs in a cemetery inside the prison complex.
The gruesome discovery at the funeral home was only the latest scandal to rock the troubled Bureau of Corrections, which runs the country’s overcrowded prison system.
Its chief Gerald Bantag is accused of ordering the killing of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa, as well as Cristito Villamor Palana, an inmate who allegedly passed on the kill order to the gunman.
After Bantag was suspended from his job as director general, a huge pit was discovered next to his former official residence inside the prison complex.
Bantag claims it was for scuba diving, not an escape tunnel for inmates.
Among the remaining bodies still at the funeral home, eight would be re-examined by Raquel Fortun, one of the country’s two forensic pathologists.
Villanueva said an average of one to two prisoners died every day inside New Bilibid Prison, where about 29,000 inmates are held in a facility designed for 6,435.
There were only five doctors to treat the prisoners, but the Bureau of Corrections was trying to hire more.
“We are doing everything we can, we try to provide health care, just as health care is provided to the public, but there are so many constraints,” Villanueva said.


Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

Updated 02 December 2022

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

  • First-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand
  • ’Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered’

CANBERRA: Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience Friday that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China.
Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s pursuit of a free trade deal with the European Union was on the agenda.
She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia.
“Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered,” Marin told the Lowy Institute international policy think tank.
“Others will also be tempted by the same dark agenda,” she added.
A free trade agreement being finalized between the European Union, which includes Finland, and Australia was an opportunity to develop resilient supply chains, she said.
“We have become far too dependent on cooperation with regimes that do not share our common values,” Marin said, using Finland’s reliance on Russian energy as an example.
“Our dependencies are becoming our weaknesses faster and in more important areas of our societies than we would like to happen,” she added.
She described trade with China as a “reality.”
“We all have worries when it comes to China and we must make sure that we don’t have that kind of critical dependencies when it comes to China,” Marin said.
“We cannot be dependent, for example, on microchips or semiconductors or any kind of critical technologies when it comes to authoritarian countries. Because if those trading routes would be cut suddenly, then we would be in trouble,” she added.
Marin later met Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at his official Sydney residence. The pair released a joint statement saying their talks “underlined the need to work together in strengthening their resilience as open and democratic societies and in fostering sustainable development.”
They prime ministers “agreed that managing complex supply chains, energy sources and investing in trustworthy critical and emerging technologies was needed to promote economic, political, social and environmental stability as well as human rights,” the statement said.
Australia, which is the most generous donor to Ukraine’s war effort outside NATO, and Finland, a country that is soon to become a NATO member and shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, demanded in the statement Moscow immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine.


Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

Updated 02 December 2022

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

  • 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting

KYIV: As many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia’s invasion in February, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
“We have official estimates from the General Staff... And they range from 10,000 ... to 13,000 dead,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine’s Channel 24 on Thursday.
Zelensky would make the official data public “when the right moment comes,” he added.
In June, as Russian forces battled to take full control of the easternmost Lugansk region, Zelensky said Ukraine was losing “60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
Both sides are suspected of minimizing their losses to avoid damaging the morale of their troops.
Top US general Mark Milley last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces likely suffering similar casualties.
Those figures — which could not be independently confirmed — are the most precise to date from the US government.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the worst fighting in Europe in decades.


US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

Updated 02 December 2022

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

  • US Treasury Department threatened sanctions against anyone dealing with those directly involved in weapons development
  • Washington’s action blocks assets of three North Korean officials in the US

WASHINGTON: The United States, Japan and South Korea have imposed fresh sanctions on North Korean individuals and entities in response to Pyongyang’s recent slew of missile tests.
Washington’s action, announced Thursday, blocks any assets of three North Korean officials in the United States, a largely symbolic step against an isolated country that has defied international pressure over its weapons programs.
The US Treasury Department also threatened sanctions against anyone who conducts transactions with Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin and Kim Su Gil, who were identified as directly involved in weapons development.
The recent North Korean missile launches, including the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to hit the US mainland, “pose grave security risks to the region and entire world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The sanctions “underscore our sustained resolve to promote accountability in response to Pyongyang’s pace, scale and scope of ballistic missile launches.”
Blinken added that the action was taken in coordination with US allies South Korea and Japan, and noted that the European Union issued similar designations of the three in April.
Tokyo and Seoul on Friday also announced new sanctions.
South Korea said it would target eight individuals, including a Taiwanese and a Singaporean national.
They have “contributed to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and evasion of (pre-existing) sanctions,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
All are already subject to US sanctions, the ministry added, and South Korea’s new restrictions are expected to “alert the domestic and international community of the risks of transactions with these entities.”
And Japan said that in response to Pyongyang’s “provocative acts,” it was freezing the assets of three North Korean groups — Korea Haegumgang Trading Corp, Korea Namgang Trading Corp. and Lazarus Group — and one person, Kim Su Il.
The United States has voiced frustration that China, North Korea’s closest ally, and Russia have blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to impose tougher sanctions.

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SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

Updated 02 December 2022

SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

WASHINGTON: The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Thursday it approved SpaceX’s bid to deploy up to 7,500 satellites, but put on hold some other decisions.
SpaceX’s Starlink, a fast-growing network of more than 3,500 satellites in low-Earth orbit, has tens of thousands of users in the United States so far, with consumers paying at least $599 for a user terminal and $110 a month for service. The FCC in 2018 approved SpaceX plans to deploy up to 4,425 first-generation satellites.
SpaceX has sought approval to operate a network of 29,988 satellites, to be known as its “second-generation” or Gen2 Starlink constellation to beam Internet to areas with little or no Internet access.
“Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide,” the FCC said in its approval order, adding it “will enable worldwide satellite broadband service, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale.”
The FCC said its decision “will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment” and protect “spectrum and orbital resources for future use.”
In August, a US appeals court upheld the 2021 decision of the FCC to approve a SpaceX plan to deploy some Starlink satellites at a lower Earth orbit than planned as part of its push to offer space-based broadband Internet.
In September, SpaceX challenged the FCC decision to deny it $885.5 million in rural broadband subsidies. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in August Starlink’s technology “has real promise” but that it could not meet the program’s requirements, citing data that showed a steady decline in speeds over the past year and casting the service’s price as too steep for consumers.