Sri Lanka lifts short-lived social media ban as protesters defy curfew

People attend a protest against Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a residential area after the government imposed a curfew following a clash between police and protestors in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 3, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 April 2022
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Sri Lanka lifts short-lived social media ban as protesters defy curfew

  • Curfew in effect until Monday morning after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared state of emergency on Friday

COLOMBO: Ordinary citizens and the opposition in Sri Lanka on Sunday defied a weekend curfew to demand President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation over his handling of the economic crisis, as authorities lifted a short-lived social media shutdown intended to contain growing public dissent.

The South Asian country is facing severe shortages of essential supplies, including food and fuel, along with sharp price increases and crippling power cuts in its worst downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

A nationwide curfew is in effect until Monday morning since Rajapaksa imposed a state of emergency on Friday after protests outside his residence in the capital Colombo turned violent.

Authorities on Saturday night blocked access to online platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram in an attempt to prevent more protests blaming the government’s handling of the crisis, as calls mounted for Rajapaksa to resign.

The restrictions have done little to deter people in the country of 22 million, with internet users using virtual private networks to circumvent the social media blackout and small crowds holding peaceful demonstrations across Colombo despite the curfew.

“People’s rights are being suppressed in an undemocratic manner to protect just one family and their cronies,” Mayantha Dissanayake, an MP from the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party who went on a march on Sunday, told Arab News.

“There was a big citizens’ protest planned for today, so the government made all their moves to stop it. But we decided to get on the streets as a group of MPs from the opposition despite the curfew.”

Constitutional lawyer Gehan Gunatilleke said the imposed restrictions are infringing on people’s rights to freedom of expression.

“Every restriction … has to be legitimately in the interests of national security or public order,” Gunatilleke said in a tweet.

“The government cannot restrict the fundamental rights of the people for collateral purposes, such as preventing people from peacefully protesting.”

There has been at least one reported incident of authorities firing tear gas at protesters as soldiers with assault rifles and police manned checkpoints in major cities.

The government had lifted the block on social media platforms by Sunday afternoon after Sri Lankans online managed to trend #GoHomeGota and #GoHomeRajapaksas in countries like Singapore by using VPNs.

Minister of Information and Mass Media Dulles Alahapperuma was not available for comment, despite Arab News’ repeated attempts to reach him.

“The ban was turned around because there was major opposition in the country at large and from within the government,” Dr. Paikyasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, told Arab News.

“It was also clear that the immediate purpose of the ban pertaining to today’s demonstration no longer applies.”

The island nation is struggling with huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves. The country’s inability to pay for imports has led to shortages of basic supplies, and people have been queueing in long lines for gas, while power cuts have increased due to a lack of fuel to operate power plants.

As spontaneous, citizen-led protests erupted throughout the country in the past few weeks, things took a violent turn when police used water cannons and tear gas on citizens engaged in a demonstration outside the president’s home on Friday and arrested 53 people.


Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

Updated 5 sec ago
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Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

  • More than 100 people killed, thousands injured in clashes between police and students
  • Police on ‘highest alert’ as curfew remains in place after hearing

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Sunday scrapped most of the quotas on government jobs that have sparked student-led protests in which at least 114 people have been killed in the South Asian country, local media reported.
The court’s Appellate Division dismissed a lower court order that had reinstated the quotas, directing that 93 percent of government jobs will be open to candidates on merit, without quotas, the reports said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had scrapped the quota system in 2018, but the lower court reinstated it last month, sparking the protests and an ensuring government crackdown.


Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

Updated 21 July 2024
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Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that his country was ready to build a Cyprus naval base “if necessary,” 50 years after Turkish forces invaded the now-divided island.
“If necessary, we can construct a base and naval structures in the north” of the divided island, the official Anadolu news agency reported him as saying.
“We also have the sea,” Erdogan said he flew back to Turkiye after visiting northern Cyprus on Saturday to mark 50 years since Turkiye’s invasion.
He also accused rival Greece of wanting to establish a naval base of its own on Cyprus, on whose future both sides remain as divided as ever.
In 1983, Turkiye installed what it calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which no other country has recognized four decades after it was proclaimed by Turkish Cypriot leaders.
As Greek Cypriots mourned those killed and still missing since the 1974 convulsion of violence, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said Saturday that reunification was the only option.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 still divided after Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected a UN plan to end their differences with Turkish Cypriots.
But on the other side of the UN-patrolled buffer zone that separates the two communities, Erdogan on Saturday rejected the federal model championed by the United Nations, saying he saw no point in relaunching talks on such a plan.
“Frankly, we do not think it is possible to start a new negotiation process without establishing an equation whereby both parties sit down as equals and leave the table as equals,” Erdogan said.
The last round of UN-backed talks to reunify the island collapsed in 2017.
“We are constructing on the island the building of the presidency of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the parliament building. They are constructing a military base, we are building a political base,” Erdogan added.
He also hailed the “precious” presence during Saturday’s visit of the leader of Turkiye’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, saying it demonstrated the “unity” of Turkiye’s population with regards to Cyprus.


Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

Updated 21 July 2024
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Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

  • Scores of teachers lost their jobs after Taliban suspended secondary schools for girls
  • While female teachers cannot teach boys, women are also restricted from many workplaces

KABUL: Najiba’s life as an educator came to a halt after the Taliban imposed a ban on girls’ education almost three years ago, a controversial policy that also forced many Afghan teachers out of the classroom.

When secondary schools for girls were suspended in September 2021 — a month after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan — it resulted in about 1.1 million girls being denied access to formal education and scores of female teachers losing their jobs, as the new policies only allowed them to teach in girls’ primary schools.

“We had this fear but didn’t know it would happen so soon. It was the hardest thing to know that I wouldn’t be able to teach anymore,” Najiba, an English teacher in Kabul, told Arab News.

“The change happened so suddenly and so quickly that it was difficult for me to cope with it. I developed very serious levels of stress and depression as a result of losing my job and my profession.”

For the 37-year-old who used to teach at a local high school, the consequences on her mental health were “irreversible” not just for her, but also for her family, as she was forced to stay at home most of the time.

“I feel I am becoming illiterate because I don’t study. I miss my students and colleagues every day and every moment. I feel lonely most of the time at home,” she said.  

When the policy went into force, all female teachers from secondary and high schools were reassigned to elementary schools “where there was a shortage of teachers,” an official from the Afghan Ministry of Education told Arab News, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

“In addition, some of them were assigned to mixed schools, where boys and girls study in different shifts, to teach in the girls’ shift. The rest are staying at home,” the official said.

“The ministry’s plan is that only female teachers will teach in girls’ schools and male teachers will be transferred to boys’ schools. This has been successfully implemented in Kabul and other provinces.”

A year after their takeover, the Taliban had eliminated 14,000 government jobs held by women, the majority of which were teaching positions, according to a report published by the US government’s oversight authority on Afghanistan’s reconstruction known as SIGAR.  

Yet despite the increasing uncertainty over the future of education for girls in Afghanistan, Najiba is still holding out hope.

“I really hope and pray something good happens and girls’ schools reopen so we can go back to where we belong, in the classroom and school. Nothing else will make us happy and help us get back to our normal condition,” she said.

For Khaperai, who used to teach at a secondary school in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern Nangarhar province, the Taliban’s policies were taking a toll on her mental health and financial situation.

The 42-year-old has tried to no avail to get transferred to a primary school as there are no vacancies in her area.  

“And I couldn’t leave my family. The change in my condition has not only impacted me psychologically but has posed economic challenges as well,” she told Arab News, adding that her husband has also lost his job due to the ongoing economic crisis.

“I was supporting my children’s education with my salary but since the last few months, our salaries have decreased. We only receive 5,000 afghanis ($70) in our accounts now. It’s not sufficient to support myself and my children. I don’t know what I will do.”

With women also restricted from many workplaces under the Taliban, Khaperai found herself with no other alternative.

“I can’t do any other job. Women have very few work opportunities under the Taliban, making it almost impossible for female heads of the family to support their families,” she said.

“I can only hope for a positive change. I can’t do anything else. No one seems to listen to us or care about us. We are left to the mercy of God.”


Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

Updated 21 July 2024
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Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

  • Violent student protests in Bangladesh have killed at least 114 people as per news reports
  • Nationwide protests are biggest challenge to Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh government 

DHAKA: Bangladesh extended a curfew on Sunday to control violent student-led protests that have killed at least 114 people, as authorities braced for a Supreme Court hearing later in the day on government job quotas that sparked the anger.

Soldiers have been on patrol on the streets of capital Dhaka, the center of the demonstrations that spiralled into clashes between protesters and security forces.

Internet and text message services in Bangladesh have been suspended since Thursday, cutting the nation off as police cracked down on protesters who defied a ban on public gatherings.

A curfew ordered late on Friday has been extended to 3 p.m. (0900 GMT) on Sunday, until after the Supreme Court hearing, and will continue for an “uncertain time” following a two-hour break for people to gather supplies, local media reported.

Universities and colleges have also been closed since Wednesday.

Nationwide unrest broke out following student anger against quotas for government jobs that included reserving 30 percent for the families of those who fought for independence from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had scrapped the quota system in 2018, but a court reinstated it last month.

The Supreme Court suspended the decision after a government appeal and will hear the case on Sunday after agreeing to bring forward a hearing scheduled for Aug. 7.

The demonstrations — the biggest since Hasina was re-elected for a fourth successive term this year — have also been fueled by high unemployment among young people, who make up nearly a fifth of the population.

The US State Department on Saturday raised its travel advisory for Bangladesh to level four, urging American citizens to not travel to the South Asian country.


EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

Updated 21 July 2024
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EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

  • The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The top UN court’s ruling that Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestinian land was “illegal” is “largely consistent with EU positions,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Saturday.
The sweeping opinion on Friday by The Hague-based International Court of Justice — which called for the occupation to end as soon as possible — was immediately slammed as a “decision of lies” by Israel.
But the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that the bloc had taken “good note” of the court’s ruling and urged further backing for the court’s opinion.
“In a world of constant and increasing violations of international law, it is our moral duty to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all ICJ decisions in a consistent manner, irrespective of the subject in question,” Josep Borrell said.
He added in a statement that the opinion “will need to be analyzed more thoroughly, including in view of its implications for EU policy.”
The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks, as well as increased tensions in the West Bank.
Its intervention is likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza, as will the EU’s backing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ruling.
“The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank), he said in a statement.
In June 1967, Israel seized the then-Jordan-annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in a crushing six-day war against its Arab neighbors.
It then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained the Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.