Myanmar’s junta leader ‘confirmed’ to attend ASEAN meeting

Myanmar’s junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing will attend a special meeting of Southeast Asian leaders next week. (AFP)
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Updated 17 April 2021

Myanmar’s junta leader ‘confirmed’ to attend ASEAN meeting

  • ASEAN meeting in Jakarta is expected to address the ongoing crisis in post-coup Myanmar

YANGON: Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing is set to join Southeast Asian leaders at a special summit in Jakarta next week, the Thai foreign ministry said Saturday, in what will be the coup leader’s first official trip since the military deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since the February 1 coup, Myanmar has been in turmoil – with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets to demand a return to democracy.

The junta has sought to quell the anti-coup movement with lethal force, killing more than 720 people and detaining some 3,100 activists, journalists and dissidents, according to a local monitoring group.

The international community has largely condemned the junta for its use of force against unarmed civilians – deploying targeted sanctions against top military brass, their families and army-linked businesses.

But regional leaders have sought to open communications with the regime, and on Saturday Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed a summit in Jakarta over Myanmar’s situation will include Min Aung Hlaing.

“Several leaders have confirmed their attendance including Myanmar’s MAH (Min Aung Hlaing),” said spokesman Tanee Sangrat in a message to reporters.

The meeting of the 10-country bloc of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is expected to address the ongoing crisis in post-coup Myanmar, and will be on April 24 in Jakarta.

The junta has consistently justified the putsch by alleging widespread fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party had won in a landslide.

The military said it will hand back power to a civilian administration after elections are held in about a year – though they recently extended the timeline to a two-year period.

News of the junta leader’s attendance comes the same day the country’s prisons are set to release more than 23,000 prisoners nationwide.

Myanmar typically grants an annual amnesty to thousands of prisoners to mark its traditional Buddhist New Year holiday – which in previous years have been joyous affairs with city-wide water fights.

But this year, anti-coup activists have used the holiday as an opportunity to protest the growing death toll and mass arrests.

A prison official told AFP on condition of anonymity that jails across the country will start freeing more than 23,000 people.

“We will release more than 800 prisoners from Insein prison” in commercial hub Yangon, he added, declining to elaborate.

In February, the junta released a similar number of prisoners, with some rights groups at the time fearing the move was to free up space for opponents of the military as well as cause chaos in communities.

On Wednesday a rebel group executed a man who had been freed in that amnesty, who it said had subsequently raped and killed a five-year-old girl.

Just before Armed Forces Day, the regime also freed around 900 jailed demonstrators.

But since the February 1 coup, more than 3,100 people – the bulk of them anti-coup protesters and activists – have been detained, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The junta has issued nightly arrest warrants on state-run media, targeting celebrities, influencers, journalists and prominent activists with large social media followings.

By Friday night, they totaled 380.

Some 80 doctors have also been named as wanted fugitives for attempting to “deteriorate peace and stability.”

Myanmar’s health care workers have been at the forefront of a nationwide civil disobedience movement, refusing to return to work under a military regime. Their absence has left many of the country’s hospitals unstaffed during the pandemic.

Children orphaned by COVID-19 facing uncertain future in India

Updated 22 min 35 sec ago

Children orphaned by COVID-19 facing uncertain future in India

  • Officials, NGOs warn thousands of vulnerable to exploitation, neglect

NEW DELHI: Despite Indian government assurances to provide free food and education to children orphaned by the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, a majority continue to face an uncertain future after losing one or both parents amid the second wave of the pandemic.

In a recent report, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said that 3,621 ophans had lost both parents to the disease, while more than 26,000 had lost one parent.

“We are still in the process of compiling data, but looking at the initial figure, it looks grim,” an NCPCR official told Arab News.

“The challenge is to reach out to them and extend all support,” he added.

Shainza Sadat, 12, lost her mother to COVID-19 in the third week of April in the capital city, New Delhi, after her family failed to find hospital bed space.

“Life is difficult now in my mother’s absence,” Sadat told Arab News, adding: “Everything is established. Our main support system has gone.”

Her father Anwar said that since his wife’s death, “the family was without an anchor.”

He added: “The pandemic has jolted us. It’s not easy to raise a 12-year-old daughter single-handedly without her mother’s support.”

The second wave of the pandemic across India earlier this year claimed more than 300,000 lives and wreaked havoc across towns and villages in the country of 1.3 billion people.

After losing their father to COVID-19 late last year, Shatrudhan Kumar, 13, and his seven-year-old brother, from the Jehanabad district in the eastern state of Bihar, also lost their mother to the disease in April.


The Bihar government has registered 48 cases of children losing both parents and 1,400 cases of single parent deaths to COVID-19.

“I want to study, but now it’s a challenge to live without any support,” Kumar told Arab News.

“We are living with our relatives, but how long can we depend on them?”

The Bihar government has registered 48 cases of children losing both parents and 1,400 cases of single parent deaths to COVID-19.

“We are providing RS1,500 ($20) per month to each child who has lost their parents besides free education and free rations for the family,” Raj Kumar, director of Bihar’s social work department, told Arab News.

He added that a “widow is also getting $6 every month and free rations for the family.”

However, Bihar-based child rights NGO center, DIRECT, questioned the figures claimed by the government, and is now seeking “higher compensation for the victims.”

“I believe the figure of the children without a single parent or any parents must be double of what the government is saying,” Suresh Kumar, director of the NGO, told Arab News.

“The situation is bleak in rural areas. There are children whose parents have died due to COVID-19, but they don’t have proof to show that they lost their parents to the virus,” Kumar said, adding: “As a result, they are not getting the benefits announced by the government.”

On May 29, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced welfare measures for children who had lost their parents to COVID-19. Part of the measures requires the government to take care of children’s education, with a $14,000 corpus created for each child, which they can avail after turning 23.

However, officials and NGOs worry that children left without parents now face the double threat of neglect and vulnerability to exploitation and human trafficking.

Sonal Kapoor of NGO Protsahan, based in the capital, questioned the government’s narrative of supporting “orphans of the pandemic” while “ignoring the larger question.”

According to Kapoor, who works for vulnerable children facing rights violations, an overwhelming majority of orphaned children are being forced into child labor.

“Among the children in distress cases that have erupted and we are working to support, fewer than 5 percent are children who have lost parents, but the remaining 95 percent are facing severe cases of child labor, child hunger and even sexual exploitation within families,” Kapoor told Arab News.

“In the last three months, the 48 slum communities where we work in Delhi have seen an escalation in cases of child labor and using children — both girls and boys — for transactional sex by parents in exchange for food,” she said, adding: “Children have been pushed into child labor to supplement their family income and there is no saying if they will go back to school even if the pandemic ends.”

Kapoor said that adoption or institutional support was not a feasible option, as India’s adoption rate is low, with just 3,351 children being adopted last year despite thousands being orphaned.

“Every orphan child does not have to end up in a child care institute. A simple semblance of extended family with limited resources is any day better than life for a child in a shelter home,” Kapoor added.

Citing an example of two children who had lost both their parents to COVID-19 last month, Kapoor said that they were left in the care of elderly grandparents, where “the poor grandmother is working overtime to meet the requirements of the teens.

“As an NGO, we support such families so that children grow under the patronage of their kith and kin,” she said.

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

Updated 14 June 2021

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

  • Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed "Freedom Day"
  • Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to "ease off the accelerator"

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-week delay to the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England due to a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant.
The delay comes as a blow to Johnson’s plans to fully reopen the UK economy on June 21 after months of gradually easing restrictions since March.
Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed “Freedom Day,” which was set to mark an end to all social distancing restrictions and the reopening of nightclubs.
But Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to “ease off the accelerator” and focus instead on ramping up vaccinations.
“On the evidence I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks and won’t need to go beyond July 19,” Johnson told a press briefing.
Health policy is devolved in the four nations that make up the UK, handled separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland, which was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28, is also expected to announce a delay to its reopening.
In England, most current rules — including limits on the number of people who can meet in pubs and restaurants — will remain in place until July 19, although restrictions on the number of guests allowed at weddings will be lifted.
Large scale pilot events, such as Euro 2020 football matches, will also go ahead as planned.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for 96 percent of UK cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.
Total reported cases are now at their highest since February — around 8,000 new infections a day.
The Delta variant is believed to be around 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, southeast England.
That strain forced the country to go into another three-month lockdown in January.
Nevertheless hospital admissions and deaths remain low, thanks in large part to Britain’s rapid vaccination rollout.
More than 55 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.
Newspapers have hinted at dissent within Johnson’s cabinet over the delay, with The Times citing an unnamed minister as saying it was “a very odd decision.”
Johnson accepted that “we cannot simply eliminate Covid, we must learn to live with it,” but added that “once the adults of this country have been overwhelmingly vaccinated... we will be in a far stronger position to... live with this disease.”
The government hopes that two thirds of all adults will have received two shots by July 19.
A study released Monday found that two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine stopped the need for in-patient treatment in 96 percent of cases of the new variant.
With a double dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, the rate was 92 percent.
The government had hoped to allow crowds to return unrestricted to pubs and clubs next week, with the hard-hit hospitality industry warning it is on its last legs.
Trade association UKHospitality estimated that a month’s delay in lifting the restrictions would cost the sector around £3 billion ($4.23 billion) in sales.
“A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably,” said its chief executive Kate Nicholls.

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.

France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

Updated 14 June 2021

France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

  • General Francois Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected

PARIS: France’s chief of staff of the armed forces, General Francois Lecointre, is stepping down to retire and will be replaced by General Thierry Burkhard, the French Presidency said in a statement on Sunday.
Burkhard was up to now army’s chief of land staff. Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected.
The announcement comes after President Emmanuel Macron announced a drawdown in Mali which will take several months of planning.