Myanmar’s UN envoy urges action against junta as bloodshed continues

Crimson paint, representing the blood already spilled, was splashed across the streets of Yangon in view of the historic Shwedagon Pagoda on April 10, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 10 April 2021

Myanmar’s UN envoy urges action against junta as bloodshed continues

  • Country has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February
  • More than 600 people have been killed by security forces trying to quell protesters

YANGON: Myanmar’s own ambassador to the United Nations has urged “strong action” against the junta, as reports emerged of scores killed in the military’s latest crackdown.
The country has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with protesters refusing to submit to the junta regime and continuing to demand a return to democracy.
With more than 600 people killed by security forces trying to quell the movement, the international community has increasingly raised the alarm on the crisis.
During a UN Security Council meeting on Friday, Myanmar’s ambassador pushed for more concrete action – proposing a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions against members of the military and their families.
“Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the meeting.
“Time is of the essence for us,” he said. “Please, please take action.”
An independent analyst with the International Crisis Group also warned the council that Myanmar was “at the brink of state failure.”
“The vast majority of the population does not want military rule and will do whatever it takes to prevent that outcome. Yet the military seems determined to impose its will,” said Richard Horsey.
“Its actions may be creating a situation where the country becomes ungovernable. That should be of grave concern to the region and to the broader international community.”
China and Russia wield veto power at the Security Council and generally oppose international sanctions.
However, Beijing – the top ally of Myanmar’s military – has voiced growing concern about instability, and has said it is speaking to “all parties.”
There have been reports that China has opened contact with the CRPH, a group representing the ousted civilian government.
At least 618 civilians have been killed in the military’s crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.
Efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been greatly hindered by the junta’s throttling of mobile data within the country – effectively shunting most of the population into an information blackout.
News emerged Saturday morning of more violence in the city of Bago, 65 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Yangon – the site of a day-long crackdown that forced residents into hiding in nearby villages.
AFP-verified footage shot early Friday showed protesters hiding behind sandbag barricades wielding homemade rifles, as explosions could be heard in the background.
A resident said that the military crackdown killed at least 40 protesters, and authorities refused to let rescue workers remove the bodies.
“They piled up all the dead bodies, loaded them into their army truck and drove it away,” he said, adding that authorities then proceeded to arrest people around the community.
Local media reports have put the death toll for Bago’s crackdown at far higher.
The junta had branded the victims of anti-coup unrest “violent terrorist people,” putting the total death toll since February 1 at 248, according to a spokesman Friday.
Despite the daily bloodshed, protesters have continued to take to the streets, with dawn strikes sprouting across the country Saturday.
Demonstrators are also manifesting their discontent in pointedly creative ways.
In commercial hub Yangon, crimson paint – representing the blood already spilled – was splashed across the streets in view of the historic Shwedagon Pagoda.
“Let us unite and boldly show in red that the dictatorial regime will not be allowed to rule us at all,” a student activist announced on Facebook.
Flyers with the words “They will not rule us” were scattered across Yangon neighborhoods.
In Mandalay, activists pasted the same flyers on the statue of General Aung San.
The father of Suu Kyi, he is a national hero who is widely regarded as having wrested Myanmar from under the yoke of British colonialism.
Suu Kyi is currently facing a series of charges from the junta – including accusations of corruption and for having unregistered walkie-talkies.
The military has repeatedly justified seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.


2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan

Updated 12 sec ago

2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan

BEIJING: Two tornadoes killed at least seven people in central and eastern China and left more than 200 others injured, officials and state media reported Saturday.
The Wuhan government said that six people had died and 218 were injured in the inland Chinese city. The tornado hit about 8:40 p.m. with winds of 86 kilometers (53 miles) per hour, toppling construction site sheds and snapping several trees, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the Caidian district government.
Wuhan is the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019.
About 90 minutes earlier, another tornado struck the town of Shengze about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east in Jiangsu province, Xinhua reported. The Suzhou city government, which oversees the town, said that one person was killed and 21 injured, two seriously.
Xinhua said the tornado toppled factory buildings and damaged electricity facilities in Shengze, which is near the city of Shanghai on China’s east coast.

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

Updated 5 min 35 sec ago

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

  • China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station

BEIJING: China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time in the latest advance for its space program.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration.
Plans call for a rover to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic tests before rolling down a ramp to explore an icy area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. It will join an American one that arrived at the red planet in February.
China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought back rocks from the moon late last year.
“China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for our country’s space exploration,” Xinhua said in announcing the landing on one of its social media accounts.
The US has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976. The Soviet Union landed on the planet in 1971, but the mission failed after the craft stopped transmitting information soon after touchdown.
A rover and a tiny helicopter from the American landing in February are currently exploring Mars. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade.


Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr

Updated 14 May 2021

Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr

  • Families receive food aid, new clothes as Ramadan draws to a close amid health restrictions

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char island observed their first Eid Al-Fitr on Thursday, May 13, in an “isolated state” far away from their relatives.  

Most of the people relocated to the new island facility left their friends and relatives in 34 camps at Cox’s Bazar, which is home for more than 1 million Rohingya refugees.  

Bangladesh began the relocation of refugees, 18,000 to date, to Bhasan Char, some 63 km from the mainland, at the end of last year, explaining that it would ease pressure on the congested camps at Cox’s Bazar.

“We are observing a different kind of Eid this year, far away from friends and relatives. Usually we get together with relatives on Eid days,” Rohingya refugee Abdur Rahman, 37, told Arab News. 

“On this special occasion, I am not seeing any friends and relatives around me. Sometimes I feel isolated.”

Rahman said: “Mobile phones are the only way of communication for us but it’s not always affordable.”

Another refugee, Morium Begum, 29, said her children are missing the Eid festivities in Cox’s Bazar. 

“My children used to visit their friends’ houses and Eid fairs on these days at Cox’s Bazar. But here they don’t have any friends,” Begum told Arab News. 

“Probably, the ongoing coronavirus lockdown added more to our isolation. Otherwise authorities may have allowed some Eid fairs for the children,” she added. 

Mohammad Hossain, 19, said this Eid was a new experience to him. “The congregation field is prepared with makeshift tents and decorated in a befitting manner, which created much festivity on the island,” Hossain told Arab News. “I never saw this sort of arrangement in my days at Cox’s Bazar’s refugee camps.”

On marking Eid Al-Fitr, authorities have provided special food aid to the refugees on the island. 

“A food package containing vermicelli, powdered milk, sugar, edible oil, rice, lentil, spices etc have been provided on the occasion of Eid,” Moazzam Hossain, Bangladesh’s additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News. 

“All the families received this aid according to their family size and need,” he said, adding that 5,000 new clothing items were also distributed to Rohingya children.

For maintaining social distancing and health and safety guidelines, authorities have organized three separate Eid congregations on the island. 

“Since the beginning of the Rohingya exodus in 2017, this is the first time the refugees on the island got the opportunity to celebrate the Eid festival in a comfortable environment, free from the threat of landslides, rough weather and the highly congested environment of the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps,” Hossain added. 

Emergency health services are also open during Eid, and there are eight government health officials currently serving on the island, he said.

UN and international aid agencies are yet to begin aid operations on the island.

Currently, more than 40 local NGOs are providing humanitarian support to the relocated refugees. 

“Here the refugees are fully dependent on relief support, since there is no other source (of aid) on the island,” Saiful Islam Chowdhury, chief executive of Pulse Bangladesh Society, told Arab News. 

“We made a need assessment for each of the families, and supplied aid accordingly, so that all of them can enjoy the festival,” he added.


UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown

Updated 14 May 2021

UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown

  • Johnson also said he would accelerate the provision of second doses of COVID-19 vaccines

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the spread of a new variant of coronavirus first detected in India could disrupt plans to move to eliminate most remaining lockdown measures in June, although it would not delay the next step in easing.
"We will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday, but I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress, and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June," Johnson told a Downing Street briefing on Friday.

Johnson also said he would accelerate the provision of second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s more important than ever therefore that people get the additional protection of a second dose,” he told a news conference.
“So following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, we will accelerate remaining second doses to the over 50s and those clinically vulnerable right across the country, so those doses come just eight weeks after the first dose,” he said.


Vaccinated should still mask up in high Covid areas: WHO

Updated 14 May 2021

Vaccinated should still mask up in high Covid areas: WHO

  • "Vaccines are life-saving but on their own, they are not enough," WHO told AFP in an email
  • The comment followed US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to lift mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people

GENEVA: Even after receiving Covid-19 jabs, people should wear face masks in areas where the virus is spreading, the WHO said Friday, after the US decided the vaccinated do not need masks.
“Vaccines are life-saving but on their own, they are not enough,” the World Health Organization told AFP in an email.
The comment followed a decision by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday to lift mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Almost 60 percent of US adults now have one or both doses, while cases are falling fast, down to a seven-day-average of 38,000, or 11 per 100,000.
The WHO refrained from commenting specifically on the US situation, but experts highlighted that the decision to remove Covid restrictions, including mask recommendations, should rely on more than just the vaccination rate.
“It’s about how much virus is circulating,” WHO Covid-19 lead Maria Van Kerkhove told reporters.
“It’s about the amount of vaccines and vaccinations that are rolling out, it’s about the variants... that are circulating.”
The vaccines in use against Covid-19 have been shown to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and death, and there is also increasing evidence that they provide high protection against infection and transmission of the virus.
But WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan stressed they are “not 100 percent effective against preventing infection.”
“You can have asymptomatic or mild illness or even moderate symptoms even after being vaccinated,” she said, warning that “vaccination alone is not a guarantee against infection or against being able to transmit that infection to others.”
It may be rare, but could still occur, she said.
“That’s why we need the other protective measures like the mask wearing, and the distancing and so on until countries get to the level at which a large number of people are protected and virus circulation and the transmission goes to very low levels.”
So far, she warned, “very few countries are at the point now where they can drop these measures by individuals and by governments.”
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan agreed.
Relaxing measures and taking away mask mandates, he said, “should only be done in the context of considering both the intensity and transmission in your area, and the level of vaccination coverage.”
“Even in situations where you have high vaccine coverage, if you’ve got a lot of transmission, then you wouldn’t take your mask off.”