Albania PM Edi Rama prepares to celebrate as third term beckons

Albania’s socialist party leader Edi Rama and wife Linda Rama wave to supporters as they leave a voting station in Surel, near Tirana, Sunday, April 25, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 27 April 2021

Albania PM Edi Rama prepares to celebrate as third term beckons

  • Rama, an artist and former basketball player in power since 2013, told supporters on social media to gather to ‘embrace victory’
  • ‘If you do the work, you get rewarded. There are no shortcuts in life,’ he wrote, quoting basketball legend Michael Jordan

TIRANA: Albania’s prime minister called on his supporters to celebrate victory on Tuesday, as almost complete election results suggested he had clinched a record third term in office.
The election commission said the Socialists were on course for 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament after Sunday’s vote, making Edi Rama the first Albanian leader to win three mandates.
With more than 95 percent of polling stations accounted for, the main opposition alliance was trailing with 59 seats, said commission chief Ilirjan Celibashi.
The conduct of the election was closely watched by diplomats from the United States and the European Union, with Albania pushing to open membership talks with the bloc.
Although the campaign was filled with bitter insults between the candidates and marred by a gunfight between rival supporters, observers said the polling day itself and the counting process had gone smoothly.
The EU on Tuesday praised the organization of the election and called on all parties to respect the outcome.
Parties regularly dispute the outcome of elections in the Balkan country of 2.8 million people — the last vote in 2017 prompted street protests and some opposition MPs boycotted parliament.
Rama, an artist and former basketball player in power since 2013, told supporters on social media to gather to “embrace victory” in the capital Tirana’s central square on Tuesday evening.
“If you do the work, you get rewarded. There are no shortcuts in life,” he wrote, quoting basketball legend Michael Jordan.
However, Lulzim Basha, leader of the main opposition Democrat Party, has insisted his alliance won the election and he is yet to concede.
During the campaign, Rama promised to accelerate the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and complete reconstruction from a 2019 earthquake that left thousands homeless.
But the focal point of the campaign was the clash of personalities between Rama, Basha and current President Ilir Meta.
Rama accused his two rivals of having no policies, only an obsession with getting rid of him. They accused him of vote-rigging and corruption.
Meta, whose wife runs a movement allied to the Democrats that performed badly in the election, had promised to quit if the Socialists won in a fair election.
On Tuesday, however, he struck a more neutral tone, urging all parties to show “maturity and composure.”
Watchdogs regularly rank Albania as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, and it is also one of the continent’s poorest.
Rama is pushing to transform it into a tourism hub with new airports and better infrastructure, but critics complain of corruption and worry about environmental damage.


China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

Updated 01 July 2022

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

  • While saying it has not provided military assistance to Russia, China vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies

WASHINGTON: The United States has not seen China evade sanctions or provide military equipment to Russia, a senior US official said on Thursday, adding that enforcement measures taken earlier in the week targeted certain Chinese companies, not the government.
The Commerce Department added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base as Moscow carries out its war in Ukraine.
US officials have warned of consequences, including sanctions, should China offer material support for Russia’s war effort, but have consistently said they have yet to detect overt Chinese military and economic backing of Moscow.
“China is not providing material support. This is normal course-of-business enforcement action against entities that have been backfilling for Russia,” a senior Biden administration official told Reuters, referring to the Commerce blacklist.
“We have not seen the PRC (People’s Republic of China) engage in systematic evasion or provide military equipment to Russia,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions and has criticized the sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow. Beijing also says that it has not provided military assistance to Russia or Ukraine, but that it would take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies.
The Commerce Department action means US suppliers need a license before they can ship items to listed companies. But the department also targeted dozens of other entities, including some in allied countries, such as the United Kingdom and Lithuania. 

 

 


Russian missile strike kills at least 17 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials

Updated 9 min 27 sec ago

Russian missile strike kills at least 17 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials

  • Three people, including a child, were killed and one wounded in the recreation center strike

Seventeen people were killed Friday in missile strikes on an apartment building and recreation center in southern Ukraine’s Odessa region, authorities said.
Fourteen were killed and 30 wounded in the strike on a nine-story apartment block, the emergency services said on Telegram.
Seven people were rescued from the rubble of the building, including three children, they said.
Three people, including a child, were killed and one wounded in the recreation center strike, the officials said.
Odessa military administration spokesman Sergiy Bratchuk said the missiles were fired by aircraft that flew in from the Black Sea.
The strikes took place in the Bilgorod-Dnistrovsky district.
They came days after a Russian strike destroyed a shopping center in Kremenchuk, in central Ukraine, killing at least 18 civilians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied Moscow’s forces were responsible.
The southern region of Odessa is a strategic flashpoint, as it is home to Ukraine’s historic port city of the same name.
On Thursday, Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, off the coast of Odessa, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war.


New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations

Updated 01 July 2022

New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations

  • The Proud Boys were last year named a terrorist group in Canada, while The Base has previously been declared a terrorist group in Britain, Canada and Australia

WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s government has declared that American far-right groups the Proud Boys and The Base are terrorist organizations.
The two groups join 18 others including the Daesh group that have been given an official terrorist designation, making it illegal in New Zealand to fund, recruit or participate in the groups, and obligating authorities to take action against them.
The US groups are not known to be active in New Zealand, although the South Pacific nation has become more attuned to threats from the far right after a white supremacist shot and killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in 2019.
The New Zealand massacre inspired other white supremacists around the world, including a white gunman who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May.
In the US, the State Department only lists foreign groups as terrorist entities. But the Proud Boys were last year named a terrorist group in Canada, while The Base has previously been declared a terrorist group in Britain, Canada and Australia.
In a 29-page explanation of the Proud Boys designation published Thursday, New Zealand authorities said the group’s involvement in the violent attack on the US Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 amounted to an act of terrorism.

Proud Boys gather in front of the Oregon state capitol on Jan. 8, 2022 during a protest in support of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. (Getty Images via AFP)

The statement said that while several militia groups were involved, it was the Proud Boys who incited crowds, coordinated attacks on law enforcement officers and led other rioters to where they could break into the building.
The statement said there are unlinked but ideologically affiliated chapters of the Proud Boys operating in Canada and Australia.
New Zealand authorities argued that before the Capitol attack, the Proud Boys had a history of using street rallies and social media to intimidate opponents and recruit young men through demonstrations of violence. It said the group had put up various smoke screens to hide its extremism.
Earlier this month, the former leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, and four others linked to the group were charged in the US with seditious conspiracy for what federal prosecutors say was a coordinated attack on the Capitol.
The indictment alleges that the Proud Boys conspired to forcibly oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power. The five are scheduled to stand trial in August in Washington, D.C.’s federal court.
Asked by media Thursday in New Zealand if the Proud Boys weren’t better known for protest actions rather than extreme violence, New Zealand Police Minister Chris Hipkins said: “Well, violent protests attempting to overthrow the government, clearly there is evidence of that.”
In making its case against The Base, New Zealand authorities said a key goal of the group was to “train a cadre of extremists capable of accelerationist violence.”
The statement said founder Rinaldo Nazzaro “has repetitively counselled members online about violence, the acquisition of weapons, and actions to accelerate the collapse of the US government and survive the consequent period of chaos and violence.”


US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

Updated 30 June 2022

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

  • Supreme Court overturns decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states sued to maintain the program

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Thursday gave a major boost to President Joe Biden’s drive to end a hard-line immigration policy begun under his predecessor Donald Trump that forced tens of thousands of migrants to stay in Mexico to await US hearings on their asylum claims.
The justices, in a 5-4 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, overturned a lower court’s decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states of Texas and Missouri sued to maintain the program.
The ruling bolsters Biden as he pursues what he calls a more “humane” approach at the southern border even as Republicans blame him for what they portray as an immigration crisis.
The justices concluded that the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals erred in finding that federal immigration law required sending migrants back to Mexico so long as there was not enough space to detain them in the United States.
“The problem is that the statute does not say anything like that,” Roberts wrote, adding that the 5th Circuit’s decision also mistakenly imposed a “significant burden” upon the US government’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico.
Trump’s administration adopted the policy, formally called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” in 2018 in response to an increase in migration along the US-Mexican border, changing longstanding US practice. It prevented certain non-Mexican migrants, including asylum seekers fearing persecution in their home countries, from being released into the United States to await immigration proceedings, instead returning them to Mexico.
Biden’s fellow Democrats and immigration advocates have criticized Trump’s policy, saying migrants stuck in Mexican border cities have faced kidnappings and other hazards.
Roberts was joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the three liberal justices in the ruling. In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito — joined by fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — said Congress never meant for the government to release immigrants and simply hope they “will show up for the hearing.”
The ruling also faulted the 5th Circuit for voiding the administration’s June 2021 decision to end Trump’s program. The 5th Circuit found that Biden’s administration had failed to properly explain its rescinding of Trump’s policy in violation of federal administrative law. But the Supreme Court found that the June 2021 decision was superseded by a new, more detailed one issued by the administration four months later.
Biden suspended the “remain in Mexico” policy in January 2021 shortly after taking office and acted to rescind it five months later. Roughly 68,000 people fell under the policy from the time it took effect in 2019 until Biden suspended it.
At issue in the case was the meaning of a provision of a 1996 US immigration law that stated that US officials “may return” certain immigrants to Mexican territory pending immigration proceedings. Texas and Missouri have said this provision must be used because the United States lacks detention space for migrants. Biden’s administration said the provision was clearly discretionary.
For migrants not posing a security risk, immigration law separately allows their release into the United States for humanitarian reasons or “significant public benefit” pending a hearing, a practice officials have followed for decades.
Kavanaugh, in a concurring opinion, said that every president since the late 1990s has allowed immigrants into the United States to await their proceedings.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, criticized the ruling, saying it “will only embolden the Biden administration’s open border policies.”
Immigrant rights groups called the ruling a victory.
“The US for generations has been a refuge for those fleeing danger and persecution,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, urging Biden’s administration to “move swiftly to permanently end every facet of the human rights disaster that is ‘remain in Mexico.’“
The number of migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border has reached record highs recently. Republicans contend that the “remain in Mexico” policy effectively deterred unlawful migration.
After a judge ruled in favor of Texas and Missouri, reinstating the program, the Supreme Court last August refused the Biden administration’s request to block that decision while it appealed. The 5th Circuit ruled in December that because the government lacks the capacity to detain all migrants eligible for admission pending a hearing, it must maintain “remain in Mexico.”
Thursday’s decision came on the final day of rulings for the court’s current nine-month term.


Huge Hindu pilgrimage begins in Indian-administered Kashmir

Updated 30 June 2022

Huge Hindu pilgrimage begins in Indian-administered Kashmir

  • Critics accuse India of using Amarnath procession to reinforce its claim over disputed region
  • Million people expected to partake in pilgrimage suspended for two years due to coronavirus

PAHALGAM, India: Thousands of chanting devotees from across India began trekking up through Himalayan passes in Indian-administered Kashmir Thursday at the start of a huge pilgrimage, accompanied by a major security operation. 

Critics accuse the Hindu nationalist government of using the annual Amarnath procession to reinforce New Delhi's claims over the disputed Muslim-majority region. 

Authorities expect around a million people to take part in a pilgrimage to the cave shrine at 3,900 meters (12,800 feet) containing a holy stalagmite over the coming 43 days. 

The procession, which sees pilgrims trek uphill for several days or be transported by donkey or helicopter did not take place for two years because of the pandemic. 

On Thursday devotees chanted religious hymns as tens of thousands of Indian soldiers guarded the twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal leading to the shrine to the Hindu god Shiva. 

Over 400 sandbag bunkers manned by armed soldiers dot the Himalayan landscape surrounding the shrine and along the routes to two base camps. 

Authorities restricted locals from visiting the two tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Sonmarg that serve as base camps during the pilgrimage. 

All traffic was being halted on the main highway to the start while convoys guarded by armed soldiers passed through, with all connecting roads blocked with coils of razor wire. 

Dilip Sharma, from the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, said he was ecstatic to be able to undertake the pilgrimage again after three years. 

"You can't imagine how happy I am at being able to pay my obeisance to the lord again. I want to thank the government of India for very good arrangements," Sharma told an AFP photographer along the trek to the shrine. 

The event used to be low-key, with a few thousand pilgrims attending, until an armed insurgency against the Indian rule of Kashmir erupted in 1989. 

Since then the religious practice -- and accompanying security mobilisation -- have grown, as has its political significance. 

The territory is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. 

Rebels have often said that the pilgrimage is not a target but have warned in the past that if the religious event was used to establish Hindu domination of the territory they would act. 

In 2017 suspected rebels attacked a bus, killing 11 pilgrims. 

On Thursday some of the pilgrims chanted a slogan equating Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a deity, an AFP videographer said. 

As an additional security measure this year, authorities assigned all pilgrims a unique radio identification tag to closely monitor their movement.