Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

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Anti-coup protesters run as one of them discharges a fire extinguisher to counter the impact of tear gas fired by riot policemen in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 3, 2021. (AP Photo)
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UN envoy Christine Schraner Burgener arrives at the Parliament Building in Naypyitaw, Myanmar on March 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)
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Updated 06 March 2021

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

  • 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: Security forces in Myanmar again used force Saturday to disperse anti-coup protesters, a day after the UN special envoy urged the Security Council to take action to quell junta violence that this week left about 50 peaceful demonstrators dead and scores injured.
Fresh protests were reported Saturday morning in the biggest city of Yangon, where stun grenades and tear gas were used against protesters. On Wednesday, 18 people were reported killed there.
Protests were also reported in Myitkyina, the capital of the northern state of Kachin, Myeik, in the country’s far south where police fired tear gas at students, and Dawei in the southeast where tear gas was also used. Other places included Kyaikto, in the eastern state of Mon, Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state in eastern Myanmar, and Myingyan, a city where one protester was killed on Wednesday.
The escalation of violence has put pressure on the world community to act to restrain the junta, which seized power on Feb. 1 by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party led a return to civilian rule with a landslide election victory in 2015, and with an even greater margin of votes last year. It would have taken a second five-year term of office last month, but instead she and President Win Myint and other members of her government were placed in military detention.
Large protests have occurred daily across many cities and towns. Security forces responded with greater use of lethal force and mass arrests. At least 18 protesters were shot and killed last Sunday and 38 on Wednesday, according to the UN Human Rights Office. More than 1,000 have been arrested, the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.
UN special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener said in her briefing to Friday’s closed Security Council meeting that council unity and “robust” action are critical “in pushing for a stop to the violence and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic institutions.”
“We must denounce the actions by the military,” she said. “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.”
She reiterated an earlier appeal to the international community not to “lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime that has been forcefully imposed and nothing but chaos has since followed.”
The Security Council took no immediate action. Council diplomats said Britain circulated a draft presidential statement for consideration, a step below a legally binding resolution.
Any kind of coordinated action at the UN will be difficult because two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, are likely to veto it.
Schraner Burgener earlier this week warned Myanmar’s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge, strong measures.”
“And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived those sanctions in the past,’” she said. When she warned that Myanmar would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies urged immediate protection for all Red Cross volunteers and health workers.
The statement came after video from a surveillance camera that was circulated widely on social media showed members of an ambulance crew in Yangon being savagely beaten after they were taken into custody by police on Wednesday.
“We express profound sadness that Myanmar Red Cross volunteers have been injured while on duty providing lifesaving first aid treatment to wounded people, in line with fundamental principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. Red Cross volunteers should never be targeted,” the federation said.

Protester in Atlanta sets self on fire outside Israeli consulate

Police stand guard in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
Updated 02 December 2023

Protester in Atlanta sets self on fire outside Israeli consulate

  • The United States has seen an uptick in Anti-Semitic, anti-Arab and Islamophobic threats and violence since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza in October

WASHINGTON: A protester outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta was in critical condition Friday after setting themself on fire, in what police said was likely an “extreme” political statement.
“A Palestinian flag was reported at the location and was part of the protest,” said Darin Schierbaum, police chief of the southern US city.
He said the incident was “likely an extreme act of political protest.”
A security guard was also injured after trying to stop the protester, according to emergency first responders.
“Both individuals sustained burns,” Atlanta Fire Chief Roderick Smith told journalists.
He did not specify the age or gender of the protester.
“The security guard noticed that the individual was attempting to set themselves afire” shortly after the protester arrived outside the consulate building around noon (1700 GMT), Smith said.
The guard “immediately attempted but failed to stop the individual.”
The guard was burned on his wrist and leg, Smith said, while the protester was in critical condition with “full thickness” burns to their body. Both were taken to the hospital, he added.
“We actually have dedicated patrols that are occurring at this location and other Jewish and Muslim communities in the city,” Schierbaum added.
The United States has seen an uptick in Anti-Semitic, anti-Arab and Islamophobic threats and violence since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza in October.
Earlier this week a US man was charged with attempted murder over the shooting of three men of Palestinian descent in Vermont, and a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy was stabbed to death in Illinois in October.


Philippines builds new coast guard station on island in South China Sea

Updated 01 December 2023

Philippines builds new coast guard station on island in South China Sea

THITU ISLAND: The Philippines inaugurated a new coast guard monitoring base Friday on an island occupied by Filipino forces in the disputed South China Sea and plans to expand joint patrols with the US and Australia to counter China’s “pure bullying” in the strategic waterway, a Philippine security official said.
High-seas faceoffs between Chinese and Philippine ships have intensified this year in the contested waters, fueling fears of a larger conflict that could involve the US. The US has repeatedly warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
China has accused the US of meddling in an Asian dispute and sowing discord in the region.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano and other Philippine officials flew to Thitu Island on an air force plane on Friday and led a ceremony to open the newly constructed, two-story center that will have radar, ship-tracking and other monitoring equipment to monitor China’s actions in the hotly disputed waters and other problems, including sea accidents.
“It’s no longer gray zone. It’s pure bullying,” Ano told reporters after the seaside ceremony, describing the actions of Chinese ships as openly flouting international law.
Dwarfed by China’s military might, the Philippines decided this year to allow an expansion of the US military presence in its local camps under a 2014 defense pact.
It also recently launched joint sea and air patrols with the United States and Australia in a new deterrence strategy that puts the two allied powers on a collision course with Beijing.
Ano said the separate joint patrols involving the US and Australia would continue and could expand to include other nations like Japan once a security agreement being negotiated by Tokyo and Manila was concluded.
“We’re open to like-minded countries to join as observers or participants,” Ano said.

How does climate change affect farming and food security?

Updated 01 December 2023

How does climate change affect farming and food security?

  • As fossil fuel emissions heat the planet, they are driving extreme weather from heavy rains and droughts to heatwaves
  • Such events can affect crops, ruin farmland and make it harder for farmers to work, threatening everyone’s access to food

LONDON: As impacts from prolonged droughts to extreme heat worsen, climate change is threatening the world’s ability to produce enough nutritious food and ensure everyone has access to it. 

At COP28 in Dubai, more than 130 country leaders on Friday called for global and national food systems to be rethought to address climate change — the first such official recognition at a UN climate summit of growing worries about food security and planet-heating emissions from agriculture. 

Here’s how global food systems and climate change affect each other, and what might be done about rising risks: 

How is climate change threatening food security? 

As fossil fuel emissions heat the planet, they are driving more extreme weather — from heavy rains and droughts to heatwaves — as well as gradual sea level rise. All can affect crops, ruin farmland and make it harder for farmers to work. 

A warming climate also is bringing crop diseases and pests into new locations or making infestations more severe, ruining more harvests and reducing yields. 

Such problems, combined with other pressures on food systems — from growing conflict to crop export restrictions by food-producing countries and speculation in markets — mean food is becoming less affordable and more people are going hungry. 

The UN World Food Programme estimates that 333 million people face “acute” food insecurity in 2023 in the 78 countries where it works — a huge boost from about 200 million prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Alex Flores walks on a dry area of Lake Titicaca, Latin America's largest freshwater basin, as it is edging towards record low levels, on Cojata Island, Bolivia on October 26, 2023. (REUTERS/File)

Crop failures are not a new phenomenon, with surpluses in some regions long making up for shortfalls in others, but scientists fear stronger climate impacts could drive simultaneous failures across major global “breadbaskets,” resulting in a swift rise in global hunger. 

What is being done to address these threats? 

Around the world, many farmers are adapting to climate extremes in a variety of ways, from digging irrigation ponds to trap floodwater and store it for dry times, to adopting new climate-smart seeds and bringing back hardy traditional crops. 

But some challenges — such as more frequent and extreme heatwaves that can make it difficult for farmers to work outside — are harder to counter. 

Money to help small-scale farmers — who supply about a third of the world’s food — adapt to climate risks is also falling dramatically short. 

In 2021, they received only about $2 billion, or 0.3 percent of total international climate finance from public and private sources, according to Amsterdam-based think-tank Climate Focus. 

With little outside help available, many such farmers — who have contributed little to the emissions heating up the planet — are paying the costs of climate adaptation themselves. 

The Climate Focus survey of 13 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America found nearly 440 million small-scale farmer households now spend about $368 billion annually on adaptation costs, or about $838 each per year. 

Analysts say efforts to shore up global food security also need to reach well beyond farms, to try to rein in speculators in food markets, discourage export clampdowns and revamp increasingly overwhelmed humanitarian aid systems. 

Can we find ways to grow more food to make up for the losses? 

Expanding the amount of land being farmed — or boosting the use of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and developing new crop varieties — have long been accepted ways to grow more food. 

But agricultural land expansion often comes at the expense of forests and other natural ecosystems that are critical to conserve because their vegetation absorbs and stores climate-heating carbon dioxide emissions in order to grow, helping to curb climate change. 

For example nearly 20 percent of the vast Amazon rainforest has now been lost, largely to soybean farming and cattle ranching. 

Scientists fear additional deforestation could over time turn the forest into a dry savanna, imperiling rainfall for agriculture across South America — and sabotaging the world’s climate and biodiversity protection goals. 

Efforts to intensify the amount of food grown on a set land area have shown some success but often require large amounts of expensive fossil fuel-based fertilizers. 

In recent years, however, more environmentally friendly farming methods are gaining new adherents, from the United States to India. 

But food analysts say the best way to increase global supplies is not to grow more but to reduce the huge amount of food wasted each year. 

While the world produces enough food for everyone, about a third of it is lost or wasted along the supply chain from field to fork, according to the United Nations, which says the average person wastes 74 kg (163 lb) of food each year. 

US to press for extending Gaza truce: White House

Updated 01 December 2023

US to press for extending Gaza truce: White House

  • “We continue to work with Israel, Egypt, and Qatar on efforts to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said
  • President Joe Biden and his national security team “will continue to remain deeply engaged as we look to free the remaining hostages"

WASHINGTON: The United States will continue to press for extending a truce in Gaza, the White House said Friday, as intense fighting erupted once again in the Israel-Hamas war.
“We continue to work with Israel, Egypt, and Qatar on efforts to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said.
Under the truce which lasted a week, Hamas militants released 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners. More humanitarian aid was also delivered into war-devastated Gaza.
But the prospects of reestablishing a truce were being stymied because “Hamas has so far failed to produce a list of hostages that would enable a further extension of the pause,” the NSC spokesperson said.
President Joe Biden and his national security team “will continue to remain deeply engaged as we look to free the remaining hostages,” the NSC spokesperson said.
On Thursday, Washington’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, also called for a truce extension while meeting Israeli and Palestinian officials during a visit to the region.
The fighting began on October 7 when Hamas militants broke through Gaza’s militarized border into Israel.
During the unprecedented attack, Hamas killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped around 240, according to Israeli authorities.
In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and unleashed an air and ground military campaign in Gaza that the Hamas authorities who run Gaza say has killed almost 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.

UK operation underway to relocate Afghans from Pakistan

Updated 01 December 2023

UK operation underway to relocate Afghans from Pakistan

  • Around 1,500 have been flown to Britain from Islamabad since start of Operation Lazurite in October
  • At least 4,000 eligible people still in Pakistan or trapped in Afghanistan; UK aims to conclude operation by end-2023

LONDON: The UK has begun a mission to bring thousands of Afghans who worked with British forces to Britain from Pakistan.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told The Independent that the UK owed the 1,500 Afghans already relocated as part of the mission “an enormous debt,” and that it was “great” to have brought them to the country “at last.”

Operation Lazurite began in early October when the government decided to relocate all Afghans in Pakistan eligible to come to the UK, after The Independent found 3,000 such people stranded in hotels in Islamabad at British taxpayers’ expense.

This happened after the UK stopped funding hotels in Britain for Afghans coming to Britain in November 2022, and instead required them to find somewhere in the country to live themselves before they could be relocated.

On Sept. 26, then-Foreign Secretary James Cleverly laid the ground for the start of the operation after meeting Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-Ul-Haq Kakar in London, during which he praised “Pakistan’s support in hosting and facilitating (the) exit of Afghan nationals.”

Around 1,300 Afghans eligible to come to the UK remain in Islamabad, and around 2,700 more remain trapped in Afghanistan or are staying in other parts of Pakistan. The British Ministry of Defence plans to conclude the operation by the end of 2023.

Heappey told The Independent that the UK “know(s) who worked for us, therefore we know who is eligible. There are very, very few eligibility decisions left really to be taken. We know who we’ve got to bring out, both from Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

He added: “We are working at the best speed we can to get people here. We are really grateful to councils and communities across the country who are assisting us in that and to the Pakistan government for their continued support.

“We owe these people an enormous debt. They are not here illegally, quite the reverse. They are here because they did great work for and with the British Armed Forces during their time in Afghanistan. It’s great at last to be able to welcome them to their new permanent homes in the UK.”

So far, 1,100 of the Afghans relocated to the UK are at the Garats Hay army base near Loughborough, which is only intended to house people for a few days.

Several have now been there for a number of weeks. Other bases across the UK have also taken in Afghans on the scheme.

Around 700 houses have been earmarked for longer-term settlement, with 500 of those to be guaranteed for families for up to three years. The MoD is also working with local councils and private landlords.

Heappey said: “The properties offered are taken from stock that is not currently being used by service families, to avoid impact on our (MoD) people.

“Where there is not suitable service family accommodation to fit the needs of ARAP (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) families, alternative accommodation will be procured.”