EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

Protesters taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei’s Launglone township on April 15, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.


Indonesian Muslims protest Quran burning in Sweden

Updated 17 sec ago

Indonesian Muslims protest Quran burning in Sweden

JAKARTA: Hundreds of Indonesian Muslims marched to the heavily guarded Swedish Embassy in the country’s capital on Monday to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Waving white flags bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, more than 300 demonstrators filled a major thoroughfare in downtown Jakarta and trampled and set on fire portraits of Danish anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan along with the flags of Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Authorities blocked streets leading to the embassy, where more than 200 police and soldiers were deployed in and around the building that was barricaded with razor wire.
Earlier this month, Paludan received permission from police to stage a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, where on Jan. 21 he burned the Quran. Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a copy of the Quran near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.
It angered millions of Muslims around the world and triggered protests, including in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Protesters in Jakarta chanted “God is Great” and “Get out, Swedish embassy!”
Indonesian government has strongly condemned the burning of the Quran by Paludan and summoned Swedish Ambassador Marina Berg last week, said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah.
“This act of blasphemy has hurt and tarnished religious tolerance,” the ministry said in a statement on Jan. 22. "Freedom of expression must be exercised in a responsible manner.”
Turkey has accused the government in Stockholm, which has applied jointly with Finland to join NATO, of being too lenient toward groups it deems as terror organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups. NATO requires unanimous approval of its existing members to add new ones, but Turkey says it would only agree to admit Sweden if the country met its conditions.
Protest organizer Marwan Batubara told the crowd that Paludan was being aggressively hostile to Islam and called on Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark to punish those who desecrated the Quran and apologize to Muslims.
“It hurt us deeply and we demand that Sweden bring him to court so that such incidents don’t happen again,” he said. “Defending those who insult Islam under freedom of expression will only invite martyrs to defend Islam.”
The Swedish Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement that “the Islamophobic act committed by a far-right extremist in Sweden is strongly rejected by the Swedish government.”
“This act does not in any way reflect the opinions of the Swedish government,” the statement said.

India's top court to consider cases against block on BBC documentary on Modi

Updated 21 min 46 sec ago

India's top court to consider cases against block on BBC documentary on Modi

  • At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in 2002 riots in India's Gujarat state
  • The documentary alleges Modi had ordered police to turn a blind eye while he was CM

NEW DELHI: India's Supreme Court will consider petitions next week against a government order blocking the sharing of clips of a BBC documentary that questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership during riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat. 

The government has dismissed as a biased "propaganda piece" the film released last week, titled "India: The Modi Question", and blocked the sharing of any clips from it on social media. 

The Supreme Court will take up the petitions next week, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said in court on Monday. 

A New Delhi-based lawyer, M L Sharma, opposed the government's move in one of the petitions to the Supreme Court. 

A separate petition by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, journalist N. Ram and opposition politician Mahua Moitra focused on the order to take down social media links to the documentary. 

In a Twitter comment on the second petition, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said, "This is how they waste the precious time of the Honourable Supreme Court, where thousands of common citizens are waiting and seeking dates for justice." 

Modi, who aims for a third term in elections next year, was chief minister of Gujarat in February 2002, when a suspected Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. 

The incident sparked one of the worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed in independent India. 

In reprisal attacks across the state at least 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslim, as crowds roamed the streets for days, targeting the religious minority. But activists put the toll at more than twice that, at about 2,500. 

Modi has denied accusations that he did not do enough to stop the riots. He was exonerated in 2012 following an inquiry overseen by the Supreme Court and a petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year. 

The BBC has said the documentary was "rigorously researched" and involved a wide range of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. 


WHO says COVID-19 still an international emergency

Updated 37 min 16 sec ago

WHO says COVID-19 still an international emergency

  • WHO chief had suggested the emergency phase of the pandemic is not over

GENEVA: Three years to the day after the World Health Organization sounded the highest level of global alert over COVID-19, it said Monday the pandemic remains an international emergency.
The UN health agency’s emergency committee on Covid-19 met last Friday for a 14th time since the start of the crisis.
Following that meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “concurs with the advice offered by the committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19pandemic and determines that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC),” the organization said in a statement.
Tedros, it said, “acknowledges the committee’s views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences.”
Even prior to the meeting, the WHO chief had suggested the emergency phase of the pandemic is not over, pointing to surging numbers of deaths and warning that the global response to the crisis “remains hobbled.”
“As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, we are certainly in a much better position now than we were a year ago, when the omicron wave was at its peak, and more than 70,000 deaths were being reported to WHO each week,” he told the committee at the start of Friday’s meeting.
Tedros said the weekly death rate had dropped below 10,000 in October but had been rising again since the start of December, while the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in China had led to a spike in deaths.
In mid-January, almost 40,000 COVID-19 weekly deaths were reported — more than half of them in China — while the true toll “is certainly much higher,” he said.
The WHO first declared a so-called PHEIC as what was then called the novel coronavirus began to spread outside China on January 30, 2020.
Though declaring a PHEIC is the internationally agreed mechanism for triggering a global response to such outbreaks, it was only after Tedros described the worsening COVID-19situation as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, that many countries realized the danger.
Globally, more than 752 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported to the WHO, including more than 6.8 million deaths, though the United Nations’ health agency always stresses that the true numbers are likely much higher.


At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan's Peshawar — officials

Updated 24 min 9 sec ago

At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan's Peshawar — officials

  • The explosion occurred when worshippers were offering prayers inside the Police Lines mosque
  • Lady Reading Hospital management urges Peshawar residents to donate blood for the wounded Rehmat Mehsud

ISLAMABAD: At least 17 people were killed and dozens of others injured after a blast targeted a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, officials said on Monday, fearing an increase in the number of casualties. 

The blast occurred inside the mosque at the Police Lines in Peshawar's sensitive Red Zone area, according to Faizan Khan, a spokesman for Rescue 1122 service. Pakistan's Geo News channel reported. 

The incident took place at a time when a large number of worshippers were offering prayers inside the mosque. The injured persons were being shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). 

"So far 17 dead bodies and more than 60 injured persons have been brought to the hospital," Muhammad Asim, an LRH spokesman, told reporters in Peshawar. 

The LRH management has imposed an emergency at the hospital and requested citizens to donate blood as a large number of wounded persons were under treatment at the hospital. 

Akbar Khan, an official of the Edhi Foundation rescue service, said the blast was so powerful that it brought down the roof of the mosque.  

"Most of the people are trapped under the rubble and the number of casualties could increase," he said. 

Television footage showed several ambulances rushing to the site of the explosion, the exact nature of which has yet to be ascertained. 

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, but the Pakistani Taliban have previously claimed such attacks in Pakistan's northwest. 

Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has witnessed an uptick in militant attacks in recent months, particularly after the Pakistani Taliban ended their months-long ceasefire with the government in Islamabad in November last year. 

The group has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past one and a half decade, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members in government custody, and a reduction of Pakistani military presence in the country’s former tribal regions.


Gandhi's killer a hero to India's diehard Hindu nationalists 

Updated 30 January 2023

Gandhi's killer a hero to India's diehard Hindu nationalists 

  • Gandhi, who is celebrated the world over as an apostle of non-violent struggle, was gunned down 75 years ago
  • For generations, Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse was roundly despised as archvillain of India's freedom struggle

MEERUT: Hindu fundamentalist Ashok Sharma has devoted his life to championing the deeds of an Indian "patriot": not revered independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, but the man who shot him dead. 

Sharma is the custodian of a temple dedicated to Nathuram Godse, who 75 years ago this Monday on January 30, 1948, gunned down a figure celebrated the world over as an apostle of non-violent struggle. 

For generations, the young religious zealot – hanged the following year – was roundly despised as the archvillain of India's long struggle to free itself from British colonial rule. 

But since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi nearly a decade ago, an alternate history forged in Hindu nationalist ideology has left Sharma no longer a "lone warrior" in worshipping the assassin. 

"I was ostracised by everyone, including my family and friends... but today I command respect for being Godse's disciple," he told AFP at his shrine in the bustling city of Meerut, a couple of hours from New Delhi by car. 

"There is a wind of change in the country and people have understood that Godse was the real patriot and Gandhi a traitor." 

Sharma established his unremarkable temple complex in 2015, a year after Modi took office, after several unsuccessful attempts under previous governments that saw him briefly jailed and his property seized. 

Its inauguration was met with outrage and hand-wringing in the press, renewed in 2019 when it marked the anniversary of Gandhi's death with a staged re-enactment of the killing using an effigy that spurted fake blood. 

Now the humble shrine, featuring small ceramic busts of Godse and his chief accomplice Narayan Apte, is visited by droves of people – some out of curiosity, but most to pay their respects. 

Sharma and his followers hold daily prayers in front of the Godse idol, chanting religious sermons that accuse Gandhi of betraying the nation despite his role in mobilising the mass protests that brought India's independence. 

In their view, Gandhi failed to stop Britain's colony from being partitioned into the separate nations of India and Pakistan, thwarting it from becoming a state governed by ancient Hindu scriptures. 

"It is because of Gandhi and his ideology that India was divided and Hindus had to bow before Muslims and outsiders," said Abhishek Agarwal, like Sharma a member of the century-old radical Hindu Mahasabha group. 

School students scatter flowers on the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary in Hyderabad on January 30, 2023. (AFP)

Agarwal said that Godse was denigrated by post-independence secular politicians in a conspiracy to suppress Hindu beliefs and impose democracy, a concept he claims is alien to local historical tradition. 

"But now Gandhi is exposed and Godse's word is spreading far and wide. The secular leaders cannot stop this storm and there will be a time when Gandhi's name will be wiped out from the pious land," he told AFP. 

Godse was born in a small Indian village in 1910, the son of a postal worker, and at a very young age joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a still-prominent Hindu revivalist outfit whose members conduct paramilitary drills and prayer meetings. 

He was 37 years old when he shot Gandhi at point-blank range as the latter emerged from a multi-faith prayer meeting in New Delhi. 

At the time, authorities briefly banned the RSS -- despite its leaders claiming that Godse left the organisation before the crime -- but reversed course not long before the killer was executed alongside an accomplice. 

Today, the RSS has continued relevance as the ideological fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which it founded to champion Hindu causes in the political realm. 

Decades before he became India's leader, Prime Minister Modi's first role in public life was as an RSS cadre. 

Modi has regularly paid respect to Gandhi as one of the 20th century's most venerated figures, visiting his spiritual retreat and speaking movingly about his ideals and legacy. 

He has refrained from weighing in on efforts by nationalist activists to rehabilitate the legacy of Gandhi's assassin -- to the disappointment of Sharma and his acolytes. 

But he has also never explicitly denounced Godse or his ideology, and his government has championed the work of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an important Hindu ideologue who served as Godse's mentor and was tried alongside him but acquitted as a co-conspirator in the assassination. 

Modi has proved adept at channelling India's growing tide of Hindu nationalism after coming to power in 2014, invoking the glorious past of India's majority religion and promising to end its "persecution". 

His departure from the secular values of his predecessors has been watched with dismay by Gandhi's great-grandson Tushar, an author living in Mumbai. 

Tushar told AFP that Godse's veneration was the direct result of an ideology espoused by Modi's government that risked sowing the "seeds of our destruction". 

"For too long we've been too diplomatic and a bit generous in equating it as nationalism. It's not nationalism, it is fanaticism," he said. 

"Our hate will devour us. If we have to survive, then somewhere the venom of hate will have to be expunged."