‘Explosive’ COVID-19 riots paralyze France’s Guadeloupe

Emilie holds her burned passport in her charred home in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe island, where protests over COVID-19 restrictions erupted into rioting. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2021

‘Explosive’ COVID-19 riots paralyze France’s Guadeloupe

  • Vaccine demonstrations also sparked colonial era grievances such as inequality, poverty and exclusion felt by youths and the elderly

POINTE-A-PITRE, France: School canceled, barricades on the street and pharmacies trashed: Days of rioting against measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 have brought normal routines on France’s Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to a standstill.
Paris authorities sent elite police and counterterrorism officers to Guadeloupe over the weekend in a bid to quell the violence, the latest COVID-19-related headache in France’s overseas territories for the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Vaccination rates in France’s overseas territories, in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific, have generally been far lower than those on the mainland and there has been repeated unrest over anti-virus measures.
Protests in Guadeloupe, a territory of roughly 400,000 people, broke out after an announcement that COVID-19 jabs would be mandatory for all healthcare workers, with the demonstrations marred by clashes and looting.
Overnight Sunday, police arrested 38 people after curfew violators looted and torched shops and pharmacies, and two security forces were injured.
Macron acknowledged the gravity of the situation and urged local politicians not to mix the pressing issue of COVID-19 with colonial era grievances and also longstanding complaints the territory is economically neglected by Paris.
“We will not give in to lies, distorting of information and the exploitation by some people of this situation,” he told reporters on a visit to the northern French city of Amiens, calling the situation “very explosive.”
“We do not play with health and we will not let the health of the French be played with for the sake of political infighting,” he added.
The police reinforcements began dismantling protesters’ road barricades shortly after their arrival, according to Colonel Jean Pierre from the gendarmerie in Pointe-a-Pitre, the island’s main city.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, Overseas Territories Minister Sebastien Lecornu and Health Minister Olivier Veran will later on Monday hold an emergency meeting with Guadeloupe lawmakers to discuss the situation on the island.
The barricades had impeded traffic, forcing the closure of schools on Guadeloupe’s main island on Monday, the Education Ministry said.
The Guadeloupe prefecture said protesters fired on security forces and firefighters, adding that “organised gangs” were now also involved in the unrest.
Even though some barricades had been dismantled, “the situation remains uncertain concerning road traffic and the possibility of staff and students moving smoothly and safely seems compromised at this stage,” the local authorities said in a statement.
Thirty people will appear in court on Monday in Pointe-a-Pitre for allegedly participating in the unrest, according to local prosecutor Patrick Desjardins.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal called the situation “intolerable and unacceptable” and vowed a tough response against a “small minority” who were intimidating health workers, preventing pharmacies from opening and even using barricades to block ambulances.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew from 6:00 p.m to 5:00 a.m is currently set to last until Tuesday.
Over the weekend, Guadeloupe’s main trade union the UGTG called for continued protests.
While the demonstrations were sparked by the vaccine mandate, they also express “the depth of suffering, inequality, poverty and exclusion felt by the people, notably youths and the elderly,” said UGTG Secretary General Maite Hubert M’Toumo.
Since summer, Guadeloupe’s vaccination drive has picked up, with 90 percent of healthcare workers vaccinated, as well as nearly half the general population. In mainland France, the vaccinate rate is close to 75 percent of the population.
In the neighboring French overseas territory of Martinique meanwhile, a general strike has been called for Monday, calling for an end to obligatory vaccination for health workers but also for wage rises and other social grievances.


Deaths after blast at educational center in Afghan capital: government 

Updated 7 sec ago

Deaths after blast at educational center in Afghan capital: government 

  • An educational center called ‘Kaj’ has been attacked in the Afghan capital Kabul 
  • Attacking civilian targets proves the enemy’s inhuman cruelty, Afghan interior ministry 

KABUL: An explosion at a learning center in the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday morning has caused fatalities, the government said.
“An educational center called ‘Kaj’ has been attacked, which unfortunately has caused deaths and injuries,” interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafy Takor tweeted.
“Security teams have reached the site, the nature of the attack and the details of the casualties will be released later.
“Attacking civilian targets proves the enemy’s inhuman cruelty and lack of moral standards.”
Videos posted online and photos published by local media showed bloodied victims being carried away from the scene. 
 


Deaths after blast at educational center in Afghan capital: government

Updated 6 min 7 sec ago

Deaths after blast at educational center in Afghan capital: government

KABUL: An attack at a learning center in the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday morning has caused fatalities, the government said.
The blast happened in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, a predominantly Shiite Muslim area in western Kabul home to the minority Hazara community, the scene of some of Afghanistan’s most deadly attacks.
“An educational center called ‘Kaj’ has been attacked, which unfortunately has caused deaths and injuries,” interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafy Takor tweeted.
“Security teams have reached the site, the nature of the attack and the details of the casualties will be released later.
“Attacking civilian targets proves the enemy’s inhuman cruelty and lack of moral standards.”
Videos posted online and photos published by local media showed bloodied victims being carried away from the scene.
The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan last year brought an end of the two-decade war and a significant reduction in violence, but security has begun to deteriorate in recent months under the hard-line Islamists.
Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras have faced persecution for decades, with the Taliban accused of abuses against the group when they first ruled from 1996 to 2001 and picking up again after they swept to power last year.
They are also the frequent target of attacks by the Taliban’s enemy the Daesh group. Both consider them heretics.
Countless attacks have devastated the area, with many targeting children, women and schools.
Last year, before the return of the Taliban, at least 85 people — mainly girl students — were killed and about 300 wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in Dasht-e-Barchi.
No group claimed responsibility, but a year earlier Daesh claimed a suicide attack on an educational center in the same area that killed 24, including students.
In May 2020, the group was blamed for a bloody gun attack on a maternity ward of a hospital in the neighborhood that killed 25 people, including new mothers.
Just months ago in April two deadly bomb blasts at separate education centers in the area killed six people and wounded at least 20 others.
Education is a flashpoint issue in Afghanistan, with the Taliban blocking many girls from returning to secondary school education, while Daesh also stand against the education of women and girls.


Taiwan inducts new amphibious ship in push to bolster indigenous defense industry

Updated 10 min 16 sec ago

Taiwan inducts new amphibious ship in push to bolster indigenous defense industry

  • The 10,600-ton Yu Shan is the latest in Taiwan’s ambitious program to modernize its armed forces

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan: Taiwan’s navy took delivery on Friday of a new, domestically made amphibious warfare ship that can be used to land troops and bolster supply lines to vulnerable islands, part of President Tsai Ing-wen’s defense self-sufficiency push.
The 10,600-ton Yu Shan, named after Taiwan’s tallest mountain, is the latest development in Tsai’s ambitious program to modernize the armed forces amid increased pressure from China, which claims the island as its own.
Speaking at the delivery ceremony in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, Tsai said the ship was a testament to Taiwan’s efforts to boost production of its own warships and achieve the goal of “national defense autonomy.”
“When it comes to China’s military threats, only by strengthening our self-defense capabilities can there be true peace,” she said. “It is our constant policy and determination to implement national defense autonomy so that the military has the best equipment to defend the country.”
China carried out war games near Taiwan last month to show its anger at a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Chinese military activity has continued though at a much-reduced tempo.
Built by state-backed CSBC Corporation Taiwan, the ship is armed with a cannon for use against air and surface targets, anti-aircraft missiles and rapid-fire Phalanx close-in anti-aircraft and anti-missile guns.
CSBC Chairman Cheng Wen-lung said as well as being an amphibious warfare vessel, with space for landing craft and helicopters, it will assume the “main transport role” for the South China Sea and offshore Taiwanese islands that lie close to the Chinese coast, long considered easy targets for China in the event of war.
Though the United States is Taiwan’s most important international arms supplier, Tsai has bolstered the domestic arms industry to try to make Taiwan as self-sufficient as possible.
Although Taiwan’s air force has benefited from big-ticket items such as new and upgraded F-16s, the navy is another of Tsai’s focuses, with submarines in production and a launch in 2020 of the first of a fleet of highly maneuverable stealth corvettes.


Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Updated 30 September 2022

Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to host a Kremlin ceremony on Friday annexing four regions of Ukraine, while his Ukrainian counterpart said Putin would have to be stopped for Russia to avoid the most damaging consequences of the war.
There was a warning too from United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who said the planned annexations were a “dangerous escalation” and jeopardize prospects for peace.
Putin has doubled down on the invasion he ordered in February despite suffering a major reversal on the battlefield this month and discontent in Russia over a widely criticized “partial mobilization” of thousands more men to fight in Ukraine. Russia calls the war in Ukraine a “special operation.”
“The cost of one person in Russia wanting to continue this war is that Russian society will be left without a normal economy, a worthwhile life, or any respect for humanitarian values,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Thursday evening address.
“It can still be stopped. But to stop it we have to stop that person in Russia who wants war more than life. Your lives, citizens of Russia,” said Zelensky, who earlier spoke of Ukraine delivering a “very harsh” reaction to Russian recognition of so-called referendum results.
Moscow plans annexation of eastern and southern provinces after what Ukraine and Western countries said were sham votes staged at gunpoint in Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The territory Russia controls amounts to more than 90,000 square km, or about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total area — equal to the size of Hungary or Portugal.
Putin took the intermediary step of signing decrees on Thursday paving the way for occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally annexed into Russia. The decrees were made public by the Kremlin.
Zelensky promised a strong response to the annexations and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday where “fundamental decisions” will be taken, an official said.

CEREMONY
On the eve of the planned ceremony in the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace and a concert in Red Square, Putin said that “all mistakes” made in a call-up announced last week should be corrected, his first public acknowledgment that it had not gone smoothly.
Thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid a draft that was billed as enlisting those with military experience and required specialities but has often appeared oblivious to individuals’ service record, health, student status or even age.
Russia says the referendums, ostensibly asking people in the four regions whether they wanted to be part of Russia, were genuine and showed public support.
At Friday’s event, Putin will give a speech, meet leaders of the self-styled Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) as well as the Russian-installed leaders of the parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia that Russian forces occupy.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say whether Putin would attend the Red Square concert, as he did a similar event in 2014 after Russia proclaimed it had annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.
A stage has been set up on the Moscow square with giant video screens and billboards proclaiming the four areas part of Russia.
“Any decision to proceed with the annexation ... would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” United Nations Secretary General Guterres told reporters.
US President Joe Biden said the United States would never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s territory, denouncing the referendums. “The results were manufactured in Moscow,” Biden said at a conference of Pacific Island leaders on Thursday.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan pressed Putin in a call to take steps to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

NUCLEAR UMBRELLA
Russian government officials have said that the four regions will fall under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella once they have been formally incorporated into Russia. Putin has said he could use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory if necessary.
Washington and the European Union are set to impose additional sanctions on Russia over the annexation plan, and even some of Russia’s close traditional allies, such as Serbia and Kazakhstan, say they will not recognize the move.
What Russia is billing as a celebration comes after Moscow has faced its worst setbacks of the seven-month-old war, with its forces routed in Ukraine’s northeast Kharkiv region.
Heavy fighting continues in the four disputed regions, particularly Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Our situation (in Luhansk region) is more difficult than in the Kharkiv region. There is no effect of surprise here,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday. “They (the Armed Forces of Ukraine) are advancing. And I hope we will receive very positive news in the near future.”
Some military experts say Kyiv is poised to deliver another major defeat, gradually encircling the town of Lyman, Russia’s main remaining bastion in the northern part of Donetsk province.
“The most difficult area for us remains (Lyman). Allied forces are holding their ground. And given that reinforcements will be coming, I believe we will make a breakthrough there,” Denis Pushilin, leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Telegram.


US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

Updated 29 September 2022

US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

  • It provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country's finances stable and keep the government running
  • It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The US Senate approved $12 billion in new economic and military aid for Ukraine Thursday as part of a stopgap extension of the federal budget into December.
The measure, agreed by senators of both parties, includes $3 billion for arms, supplies and salaries for Ukraine’s military, and authorizes President Joe Biden to direct the US Defense Department to take $3.7 billion worth of its own weapons and materiel to provide Ukraine.
It also provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country’s finances stable and keep the government running, providing services to the Ukrainian people.
It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops on Friday.
“Seven months since the conflict began, it’s crystal clear that American assistance has gone a long way to helping the Ukrainian people resist Putin’s evil, vicious aggression,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“But the fight is far from over, and we must, we must, continue helping the brave, valiant Ukrainian people.”
The Ukraine aid is part of a short-term extension of the federal budget, which is to expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30 without the parties in Congress having agreed to a full-year allocation for fiscal 2022-23.
The extension, or continuing resolution, will keep the government running into December, but it has to first be approved by the House of Representatives to avoid shutting down parts of the government on Monday.