No Tube: London subway hit by strike, day after rail walkout

More public- and private-sector unions are planning strikes as Britain faces its worst cost-of-living crisis in decades. (AP)
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Updated 19 August 2022

No Tube: London subway hit by strike, day after rail walkout

  • No subway trains were running on most of London’s Tube lines because of the strike over jobs, pay and pensions
  • Rail unions accuse Britain’s Conservative government of preventing train companies from making a better offer

LONDON: A strike by London Underground workers brought the British capital’s transit network to a grinding halt on Friday, a day after a nationwide walkout by railway staff. Another rail strike is scheduled for Saturday as the UK endures a summer of action by workers demanding pay increases to offset soaring food and energy price hikes.
No subway trains were running on most of London’s Tube lines because of the strike over jobs, pay and pensions by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, operator Transport for London said.
“It is going to be a difficult day,” said Nick Dent, TFL’s director of customer operations. “We’re advising customers not to travel on the Tube at all.”
There was also continuing disruption above ground as trains started to run again following Thursday’s strike by thousands of railway cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and other staff. Only about a fifth of trains ran during the 24-hour walkout, the latest in a series of strikes on Britain’s railways.
Rail unions accuse Britain’s Conservative government of preventing train companies — which are privately owned but heavily regulated — from making a better offer. The government denies meddling, but says rail companies need to cut costs and staffing after two years in which emergency government funding kept them afloat.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio that “it’s a kick in the teeth” to the public for unions “to turn round after we provided 16 billion pounds of support for the railways and go ‘Right, well, the next thing we’re going to do is go on strike.’”
More public- and private-sector unions are planning strikes as Britain faces its worst cost-of-living crisis in decades. Postal workers, lawyers, British Telecom staff and port workers have all announced walkouts for later this month.
Garbage collectors and recycling workers in Edinburgh, Scotland, began an 11-day strike on Thursday, warning that trash will pile up in the streets as tourists flock to the city for the Edinburgh Fringe and other arts festivals.
UK inflation hit a new 40-year high of 10.1 percent in July, and the Bank of England says it could rise to 13 percent amid a recession later this year. The average UK household fuel bill has risen more than 50 percent so far in 2022 as Russia’s war in Ukraine squeezes global oil and natural gas supplies. Another increase is due in October, when the average bill is forecast to hit 3,500 pounds ($4,300) a year.


155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

Updated 07 December 2022

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

MADRID: More than 150 people were lightly injured Wednesday when a train ran into the back of another at a station near Barcelona, the emergency services and Spain’s Renfe rail operator said Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the SEM regional emergency services said the vast majority of those hurt in the collision which occurred just before 8:00 am (0700 GMT) sustained light injuries, while five were in moderate condition.
“There was a collision between two trains at 7:50 am at the Montcada i Reixac-Manresa station, on the line heading to Barcelona, that’s to say one train ran into the back of another,” a spokesman for the state rail operator told AFP.
Rail traffic along the line was suspended in both directions and Renfe had opened an investigation into what happened, he said.
“There were 155 people affected of which 150 were lightly injured and five who were moderately hurt,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
She said 18 medical units had been deployed to the area, which lies some 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Barcelona.

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Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

Updated 07 December 2022

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

  • Raids targeted alleged members of “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement
  • Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad

FRANKFURT: German police staged nationwide raids on Wednesday and arrested 25 people suspected of belonging to a far-right “terror cell” plotting to overthrow the government and attack parliament.
Around 3,000 officers including elite anti-terror units took part in the early morning raids and searched more than 130 properties, in what German media described as one of the country’s largest police actions ever against extremists.
The raids targeted alleged members of the “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement suspected of “having made concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state,” they said.
Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad, in Austria and Italy.
The prosecutors in Karlsruhe said they had identified a further 27 people as suspected members or supporters of the terror network.
The Reichsbuerger movement includes neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.
Long dismissed as malcontents and oddballs, the Reichsbuerger have become increasingly radicalized in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.
Former soldiers are believed to be among the members of the recently established terror group, federal prosecutors said.
“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free, democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany,” they said.
The suspects were aware that their plan “could only be realized by using military means and violence against state representatives,” they added.
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann praised the dismantling of the “suspected terror cell” on Twitter, saying it showed that Germany was able to defend its democracy.
Reichsbuerger followers generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-war German Reich, or empire, as it stood under the Nazis, and several groups have declared their own states.
They typically deny the authority of police and other state institutions.
According to prosecutors, the terror cell suspects believe in Reichsbuerger and QAnon conspiracy theories and are “strongly convinced” that Germany is run by a “deep state” that needs to be toppled.
They allegedly planned to appoint one of the arrested suspects, Heinrich XIII P.R., as Germany’s new leader after the coup.
He had already sought to make contact with Russian officials to discuss Germany’s “new state order” after the coup, prosecutors said.
There was however “no indication that the contact persons responded positively to his request.”
A Russian woman named as Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of having facilitated those contacts, prosecutors added.
As part of the preparations for the coup, members of the alleged terror cell acquired weapons, organized shooting practice and tried to recruit new followers, particularly among the military and police, according to prosecutors.
Germany’s domestic intelligence service estimates that the Reichsbuerger scene consists of around 20,000 people.
Of those, more than 2,000 are deemed potentially violent.
Germany considers far-right terrorism the biggest threat to its security following a spate of attacks in recent years.
In April, police foiled a plot by a far-right group to kidnap the health minister.
The group was affiliated with the Reichsbuerger movement and the so-called “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) group that opposed the government’s coronavirus-related shutdowns.


2022: When floods battered Pakistan, Russia invaded Ukraine, protests erupted in Iran

Updated 07 December 2022

2022: When floods battered Pakistan, Russia invaded Ukraine, protests erupted in Iran

  • At UN climate talks, countries agreed to create fund to help poor nations threatened by climate disasters
  • US dollar soared, crypto imploded and Elon Musk bought Twitter which has threatened to fall apart

Sometimes, it’s what doesn’t happen that matters most.

By the evening of Feb. 25 this year, a day after Russian tanks had crossed into Ukraine in the largest military attack in Europe since World War Two, Moscow’s troops had reached the outskirts of Kyiv.

With distant artillery fire booming across the capital, Ukraine’s defense ministry urged residents to build petrol bombs to repel the invaders. President Volodymyr Zelensky filmed himself with aides on the streets of the city, vowing to defend his country’s independence.

“Tonight, they will launch an assault,” Zelensky said. “All of us must understand what awaits us. We must withstand this night.”

The assault never came – and 10 months on, Moscow’s “special military operation” is bogged down. In some places, it’s in retreat. Many in Moscow had expected Russia’s military to sweep to victory, oust Zelensky’s government and install a Russia-friendly regime.

To be sure, Russian forces remain in control of vast swathes of Ukraine’s east and south, and at least 40,000 civilians have been killed and 14 million displaced in the grinding conflict. But Ukrainian forces, reinforced by billions of dollars of Western weaponry, have regularly proven themselves savvier and more effective than the morale-sapped Russians.

It was a similar story in the United States, where Republicans and some pundits had predicted a red wave in midterm elections. The Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives, but victory there was slim with a majority of fewer than 10 seats. The party not only failed to take back the Senate, but lost several gubernatorial races. Democrats triumphed in all three secretary of state contests in presidential battleground states where their Republican rivals had denied the legitimacy of the 2020 elections.

Midterms usually deliver a loud rebuke to the party of the sitting president. This time around it was a soft tsk.

In economics, most of the world’s big central banks waited until March to begin ratcheting up interest rates. The European Central Bank did not move until July. Monetary hawks complained that the delay allowed inflation to surge. Will that prove costly in the long term? Can the Fed keep the US economy from recession?

The answers will become clearer in 2023. There are early signs that inflation may have peaked in some economies, but growth is also softening. In a few countries – looking at you, Britain – the outlook remains grim.

At United Nations climate talks in Egypt, countries agreed to create a fund to help poor nations threatened by climate disasters, but failed to agree plans to cut emissions faster. Meantime, record heatwaves in China, floods in Pakistan and Europe, and glacier collapses in India, Italy and Chile were reminders of how fast our planet’s climate is shifting.

This was also the year that protests exploded in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for wearing an “improper” head covering. Eyewitnesses said she was beaten, though Iranian authorities deny that. The protests, led mostly by women, spread through the country and across social classes. The longer they continue, the more of a threat they will pose to the 43-year-old Islamic revolution.

What else happened in 2022? The US dollar soared, crypto imploded, and Elon Musk bought Twitter (which he preceded to shake up so much it has threatened to fall apart). It was the year Latin America lurched to the left, a cease-fire finally came in Ethiopia’s civil war, and North Korea fired off missile after missile. And it was the year Britain lost a queen, gained a king and saw three Prime Ministers in Downing Street.

Finally, much of the world emerged from COVID, at least socially if not in epidemiological terms. The big exception was China, whose zero-COVID policy has sparked protests and unrest in the past few weeks.

In October, the country’s twice-a-decade Communist Party congress had seen President Xi Jinping tighten his grip on power and win a third term, a break with recent party tradition which had seen presidents serve just two terms. Could Zero-COVID rock the status quo?


Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front

Updated 06 December 2022

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front

  • The focus of fighting in Ukraine has shifted to Donbas after Kyiv's forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson
  • Zelensky appeared in a video wearing a heavy winter coat, standing next to a large sign in Ukraine's blue and yellow colours bearing the city name Sloviansk

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday visited the frontline region of Donetsk in east Ukraine, describing fighting in the area as “difficult” with Russian forces pushing to capture the industrial city of Bakhmut.
The visit came as Russian President Vladimir Putin convened his security council in the wake of the latest spate of drone attacks on military-linked facilities inside Russian territory.
The focus of fighting in Ukraine has shifted to Donbas after Kyiv’s forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson last month following a Russian retreat from the regional capital.
Zelensky appeared in a video wearing a heavy winter coat, standing next to a large sign in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors bearing the city name Sloviansk and calling for a moment of silence to commemorate killed Ukrainian soldiers.
“The east of Ukraine today is the most difficult front. And I am honored to be here now with our defending troops in Donbas. I believe that next time we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk and in Crimea as well,” Zelensky said.
Russian forces and their proxies have controlled parts of Donetsk and Lugansk since 2014, when fighting with separatists broke out and the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
“From the bottom of my heart, I congratulate you on this great holiday, the Day of the Armed Forces,” said Zelensky, who was later shown meeting soldiers and distributing awards.
In the nearby Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, its Moscow-appointed mayor said that Ukrainian shelling had killed six civilians and injured others.
The Ukrainian leader has visited several frontline regions after more than nine months of fighting, including Kherson in the south recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces, calling its recapture “the beginning of the end of the war.”
Sloviansk, which was among regions in Donetsk briefly held by Russian-backed separatists, lies some 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Bakhmut, which has become the center of fighting since Kherson’s fall.
The Kremlin said Putin met senior officials to discuss issues related to the country’s “domestic security” and that Russia was taking “necessary” measures to fend off more of what it said were Ukrainian attacks.
Officials in Russia’s Kursk region near the border with Ukraine said earlier Tuesday that a drone attack near an airfield had caused a fire at an oil storage unit.
That attack came after the defense ministry said a day earlier that Ukraine had tried to attack another airfield in Ryazan region and also the key Engels airfield in the Saratov region.
Engels is a base for the country’s strategic aircraft that Kyiv says have been used to strike Ukraine, and both sites are hundreds of kilometers away from Ukraine’s border.
The British defense ministry said that if Russia deems Ukraine to have been responsible then Moscow will “probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.”
The drone attacks come on the back of weeks of systematic Russian attacks that have crippled Ukrainian critical infrastructure like water, electricity and heating ahead of winter.
Russia on Monday fired another barrage of dozens of missiles that knocked out power and water in cities across Ukraine, the latest wave of attacks that Moscow has said Kyiv was responsible for because it refused Russian demands.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday said that Russian forces were using long-range, precision weapons to target military-linked facilities and “crush the military potential of Ukraine.”
The defense ministry also announced Tuesday it had received back from Ukraine captivity 60 Russian servicemen in their most recent exchange.
Russia’s invasion and its decision to conscript hundreds of thousands of men has set off an exodus of Russians from the country, including critical politicians and journalists.
However, neighboring Latvia announced Tuesday it was revoking the license for exiled independent TV channel Dozhd for multiple violations that included showing the Crimea peninsula annexed from Ukraine as part of Russia.
“The laws of Latvia must be respected by everyone,” Ivars Abolins, head of the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council, said on Twitter.


Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns for human rights, free speech

Updated 06 December 2022

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns for human rights, free speech

  • New criminal code was approved unanimously by Indonesian lawmakers
  • It replaces a framework that stretches back to the Dutch colonial era

JAKARTA: Indonesian lawmakers passed on Tuesday a long-awaited and controversial revision of the country’s criminal code, a sweeping overhaul that critics say is a huge setback to human rights and freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian nation. 

The new rules were approved unanimously by Indonesia’s House of Representatives, three years after a similar draft law was shelved by President Joko Widodo following large-scale protests involving tens of thousands of young people, who had argued that the law threatened their civil liberties. 

The new penal code, which also applies to foreigners in the country, restores a ban on insulting the president, state institutions or Indonesia’s national ideology known as Pancasila. 

“We have tried our best to accommodate the important issues and different opinions which were debated,” Yasonna Laoly, the minister of law and human rights, told parliament. “However, it is time for us to make a historical decision on the penal code amendment and to leave the colonial criminal code we inherited behind.” 

A revision to the criminal code, which stretches back to the Dutch colonial area, had languished for decades as lawmakers in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation struggled to adapt its native culture and norms to the penal code. 

The new criminal code must be signed by the president after ratification and will not apply immediately to allow for the drafting of implementing regulations, with a transition period set for a maximum of three years. It can also be challenged in the Constitutional Court. 

Most criticism of the new laws has largely focused on penalties around consensual sex outside of marriage, as it makes extramarital sex punishable by a year in jail and cohabitation by six months, though charges must be based on police reports lodged by their spouse, parents or children. Currently, Indonesia bans adultery but not premarital sex. 

Others have also highlighted articles critics say will curb free speech, including mandatory police permit for public protests, without which protesters can be punished for up to six months in jail. 

“This criminal code is still thick with colonial aroma, and there are many articles threatening civil liberties and limiting democratic spaces,” Tunggal Pawestri, gender rights activist and executive director of Hivos Foundation, told Arab News. 

Pawestri acknowledged that there has been some progress since the nationwide protests in 2019 when opponents of the bill said the law-making process had lacked transparency and contained articles that discriminated against minorities. 

“Even though they said were open and tried to include input from the larger civil society, we think this was not their best attempt,” Pawestri added. “We have been shouting and giving our input, but it’s almost as if they didn’t listen to us.” 

Editorials in national newspapers decried the new laws, including daily newspaper Koran Tempo, saying the code has “authoritarian” tones and could be a “disaster” in the future. 

Under the new code, disseminating the teachings of Marxism, Leninism and communism in Indonesia is punishable by up to four years in prison. There are also expanded punishments for blasphemy, as promoting atheism or any beliefs beyond Indonesia’s recognized religions is punishable by up to two years in prison. 

The blasphemy chapter is “a huge setback in protecting freedom of religion and belief in Indonesia,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. 

Robertson said the new legal provisions were “oppressive,” as they open doors to “invasions of privacy and selective enforcement that will enable police to extort bribes and officials to harass and jail political opponents. 

“In one fell swoop, Indonesia’s human rights situation has taken a drastic turn for the worse,” Robertson told Arab News. 

“Make no mistake, passage of this criminal code is the beginning of an unmitigated disaster for human rights in Indonesia. Lawmakers and the government should immediately reconsider this move, repeal this law and send it back to the drawing board.”