Tens of thousands protest growing wave of violence in Serbia

People march during a protest against violence in Belgrade on May 19, 2023. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 19 May 2023
Follow

Tens of thousands protest growing wave of violence in Serbia

  • The rally marked the third major "Serbia against violence" protest in recent weeks
  • The demonstrators want the government to revoke the broadcasting licences of television channels promoting violent content

BELGRADE: Tens of thousands of people gathered in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Friday, amid growing concern at rising levels of violence following two mass shootings that killed 18 people this month.
The rally marked the third major “Serbia against violence” protest in recent weeks, which has brought thousands to the streets calling for the resignation of top officials.
“We are in shock, disbelief and we are angry,” protester Jelena MiHajjlovic told the crowd gathered in front of the parliament on Friday. “And a question echoes with all of us — what kind of country are we leaving for our children?“
The protests are some of the largest rallies to rock Serbia since mass demonstrations triggered the fall of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic more than two decades ago.
The demonstrators want the government to revoke the broadcasting licenses of television channels promoting violent content, and a ban on pro-government newspapers that stir tensions by targeting political dissidents.
They have also called for the resignation of the interior minister and the head of the intelligence service.
On Friday, members of the pro-European opposition stormed out of a special session of parliament, accusing the ruling party and its allies of aiming to “silence the rally” rather than address the issues raised by the demonstrators.
“We don’t want to be a part of that ... we will join the citizens in the protest,” Zoran Lutovac, the president of the Democratic Party, told reporters.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has dismissed the protests as a “political” stunt.
He scheduled a separate demonstration for his own supporters next week that he has billed as “the biggest gathering in Serbian history.”
Vucic’s close ally Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has also accused “foreign intelligence services” of stirring unrest after the shootings to destabilize Serbia.
Following the shootings, Vucic has vowed to “disarm” Serbia with an ambitious plan that would crack down on legal and illicit firearms.
Serbia has the highest level of gun ownership in Europe, with roughly 39 out of 100 people owning firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey research group.


France hosts Sudan conference a year into ‘forgotten’ war

Updated 40 min 55 sec ago
Follow

France hosts Sudan conference a year into ‘forgotten’ war

  • A total of $895 million had been pledged after separate announcements from France, Germany, the EU and the US
  • Aid workers say a year of war has led to a catastrophe, but the world has turned away from the country of 48 million

PARIS: France and its allies Monday sought to drum up hundreds of millions in aid for Sudan a year since its civil war erupted, sparking one of the world’s worst and most underfunded humanitarian crises.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and 8.5 million more have been forced to flee their homes since fighting broke out on April 15 last year between rival generals.

Sudan is experiencing “one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory,” with more people displaced inside the country than anywhere else in the world and a fast-growing hunger crisis, the United Nations says.

At the international conference in Paris, France is seeking contributions from the international community, and attention to a crisis that officials say is being crowded out of the global conversation by ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

“For a year the Sudanese people have been the victims of a terrible war,” French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said. Yet they had also suffered from “being forgotten” and “indifference.”

“This is the reason for our meetings today: to break the silence surrounding this conflict and mobilize the international community,” he said in opening remarks.

The conference, co-hosted by Germany and the European Union, was to include a ministerial meeting on political matters as well as a humanitarian meeting to raise funds for the crisis.

Aid workers say a year of war has led to a catastrophe, but the world has turned away from the country of 48 million as conflict rages between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Force.

Only five percent of the 3.8-billion-euro ($4.1 billion) target in the UN’s latest humanitarian appeal had been funded ahead of the conference this year, according to the French foreign ministry.

At its opening, a total of 840 million euros ($895 million) had been pledged after separate announcements from France, Germany, the European Union and the United States.

A diplomatic source, asking not to be named, said total donations could well top “a billion euros” by the end of the meeting.

On the fifth anniversary of a fire that ravaged the French capital’s Notre Dame cathedral, the charity Save the Children contrasted the lack of donations for Sudan with the international response to the Paris blaze.

“It is staggering that after a fire in which nobody died, donors from across the world were so moved to pledge funds to restore Notre Dame,” said its country director in Sudan, Arif Noor.

“Meanwhile, children in Sudan are left to fend for themselves as war rages around them, starvation and disease are on the increase and almost the entire country’s child population has been out of school for a year.”

Fourteen million children need humanitarian assistance to survive, Save the Children says.

Will Carter, Sudan country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, earlier said civilians in Sudan were “enduring starvation, mass sexual violence, large-scale ethnic killing, and executions.”

“Millions more are displaced, and yet the world continues to look the other way.”

An estimated 1.8 million people have fled Sudan — many to neighboring Chad, now also suffering a humanitarian crisis — and 6.7 million have been internally displaced.

The ministerial meeting, behind closed doors, notably brings together representatives from Sudan’s neighbors, as well as from Gulf nations and western powers, including the United States and Britain, along with regional organizations and the United Nations.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock lamented that mediation efforts so far had failed to stem the conflict.

“We want to work toward better coordination,” she said.

Meanwhile, actors from Sudan’s civil society, including activists, unionists and journalists, were getting together to discuss “a possible peace process, and what happens after the war,” an official said.

Laetitia Bader, at NGO Human Rights Watch, said she hoped that the conference would deliver “a very tough message” to the belligerents, including threats of sanctions.

The warring parties had blocked access for humanitarian assistance, pillaged foreign financial aid and targeted humanitarian workers in attacks, she said.

“This conference is very important, but it should not become an excuse to turn the page and forget about Sudan, again,” she added.


World leaders urge Middle East tension de-escalation

Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

World leaders urge Middle East tension de-escalation

  • Leaders urge restraint and rational decision-making to avoid further instability in the region

LONDON: World leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, and the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, emphasized on Monday the need to prevent escalation in the Middle East following Iran’s failed attack on Israel.

They urged restraint and rational decision-making to avoid further instability in the region.

EU’s Borrell says Middle East on cliff edge

The European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Monday the Middle East stood “on the edge of the cliff” and called for de-escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran.

Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night in response to a suspected Israeli attack on the Tehran’s consulate in Damascus that killed seven officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards including two senior commanders.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the April 1 airstrike on the consulate in Syria’s capital.

“We’re on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. “We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear.”

Borrell said he expected a response from Israel to the unprecedented aerial attack by Iran but hoped it would not spark further escalation.

He said there was “profound division” within the Israel’s right-wing governing coalition between hardliners seeking fierce retaliation and a “more moderate and sensible” faction.

That faction advocates for retaliation, Borrell said, “but in a way that avoids a response to the response”.

Borrell, who spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian late on Sunday, said the EU needed to have the best possible relations with Iran despite the sanctions the bloc has imposed on the Islamic Republic over its disputed nuclear energy programme and other issues.

“It’s in everyone’s interest that Iran does not become a nuclear power and that the Middle East is pacified,” he said.

UK's Cameron urges Israel restraint after Iran attack

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged Israel not to retaliate after Iran’s drone and missile attack, saying it should “think with head as well as heart” because Tehran’s strike had been a near total failure.
The strike by more than 300 missiles and drones from Iran caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down by its Iron Dome defense system and with help from the US, Britain, France and Jordan. It followed a suspected Israeli airstrike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria on April 1.
“I think they’re perfectly justified to think they should respond because they have been attacked, but we are urging them as friends to think with head as well as heart, to be smart as well as tough,” Cameron told BBC TV.
He said he was urging Israel not to escalate the tensions in the Middle East.
“In many ways this has been a double defeat for Iran. The attack was an almost total failure, and they revealed to the world that they are the malign influence in the region prepared to do this. So our hope is that there won’t be a retaliatory response,” he told Sky News.
Cameron said Britain would also work with allies to look at imposing more sanctions on Iran, and it urged Israel to return its focus on agreeing a ceasefire with Iran-backed Hamas in the Gaza war.
Macron says will do everything to avoid Middle East ‘conflagration’
President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France would help do everything to avoid an escalation in the Middle East.
“We will do everything to avoid a conflagration that is to say an escalation,” he told the BFMTV news channel.
“For several years now we have had an air base in Jordan to fight terrorism,” he said.
“Jordanian airspace was violated... We made our planes take off and we intercepted what we had to intercept.”
Experts say Israel was able to neutralize most of the missiles and drones.
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne on Sunday said he had asked the foreign ministry to summon the Iranian ambassador on Monday to express a “message of firmness.”


Philippines’ Marcos says will not hand former president Duterte to ICC over drug war

Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

Philippines’ Marcos says will not hand former president Duterte to ICC over drug war

  • Marcos also said the trilateral agreement signed between his country and the US and Japan was not directed at anyone

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said Monday he would not hand his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte to the International Criminal Court, which is investigating his deadly drug war.

Thousands of people have been killed in the anti-narcotics campaign started by Duterte in 2016 and continued under Marcos.

Asked Monday if he would hand Duterte — who has accused him of being a drug addict — to the ICC if it issued a warrant for his arrest, Marcos said “no.”

“We don’t recognize the warrant that they will send to us. That’s a no,” he said at a forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

“We are well within international law when we take the position of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the ICC in the Philippines,” Marcos said.

Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC in 2019 after the Hague-based tribunal started probing allegations of human rights abuses committed during his drug war.

It launched a formal inquiry into Duterte’s crackdown in September 2021, only to suspend it two months later after Manila said it was re-examining several hundred cases of drug operations that led to deaths at the hands of police, hitmen and vigilantes.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor later asked to reopen the inquiry, and pre-trial judges at the court eventually gave the green light in late January 2023 — a decision that Manila appealed shortly afterwards and lost.

More than 6,000 people were killed in anti-drug operations under Duterte, according to official data released by the Philippines. ICC prosecutors estimate the death toll at between 12,000 and 30,000.

Marcos has repeatedly ruled out rejoining the court and insisted it does not have jurisdiction in the country because there is a functioning judicial system.

Relations between the Marcos and Duterte families have deteriorated in the past two years.

Marcos, the son and namesake of the country’s former dictator, won the 2022 presidential election by a landslide following a massive social media misinformation campaign whitewashing his family’s history.

His vice presidential running mate Sara Duterte, the daughter of the former president, helped him win vital support from her family’s home island of Mindanao.

In recent months there has been a very public falling out between the families as they begin to shore up their rival support bases and secure key positions ahead of the mid-term elections in 2025 and presidential elections in 2028.

NO ADDITIONAL US BASES

Marcos also said the US would not be given access to more Philippine military bases.

“The answer to that is no. The Philippines has no plan to open or to establish more EDCA bases,” Marcos said in response to a question.

Manila last year announced the locations of four more military bases it is allowing the US military to use on top of the five agreed on under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, known as EDCA.

The deal allows US troops to rotate through and store defense equipment and supplies.

The four additional bases include sites near the hotly disputed South China Sea and another not far from Taiwan.

Marcos made his remarks during a forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines that was attended by members of the Philippine military and foreign diplomats.

Marcos also said the trilateral agreement signed between his country and the United States and Japan was not directed at anyone, but merely a strengthening of relations between the three.

Marcos met with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the nations’ first trilateral summit in Washington last week.

A death of a Filipino soldier in the South China Sea could be grounds to invoke a mutual defense treaty with the US, Marcos told foreign correspondents in Manila.


Australian police say Sydney knife attacker may have targeted women

Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

Australian police say Sydney knife attacker may have targeted women

  • Five of six people killed and majority of 12 injured in Saturday’s attack in Sydeny were women
  • Australian Police say suspect Joel Cauchi, 40, suffered from mental health issues in the past

SYDNEY: Australian police said on Monday the attacker who fatally stabbed six people at a busy shopping center in Sydney’s beach suburb of Bondi may have targeted women, as the country mourned the victims and hundreds of people laid flowers near the scene.

In the attack on Saturday at the Westfield Bondi Junction mall, five of the six people killed and the majority of the 12 injured were women.

“It’s obvious to me, it’s obvious to detectives that seems to be an area of interest that the offender had focused on women and avoided the men,” New South Wales State Police Commissioner Karen Webb told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“The videos speak for themselves, don’t they? That’s certainly a line for inquiry for us.”

Witnesses described how attacker Joel Cauchi, 40, wearing shorts and an Australian national rugby league jersey, ran through the mall with a knife. He was killed by Inspector Amy Scott, who confronted him solo while he was on the rampage.

Police have said Cauchi had mental health issues in the past and there was no indication ideology was a motive.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said “the gender breakdown ... was concerning” when asked on ABC Radio if it was a gender-motivated attack.

The only man who was killed during the attack was a 30-year-old security guard at the mall, Faraz Tahir, who arrived in Australia last year as a refugee from Pakistan, according to a statement from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Australia, to which he belonged.

The New South Wales government said it would give A$18 million ($12 million) for an independent coronial inquest into the attack but Premier Chris Minns ruled out any change in rules that would allow private security guards to carry firearms.

DAY OF MOURNING

Thousands of flowers and wreaths lay in a makeshift memorial outside the beachside mall in Bondi on Monday as hundreds of Sydney residents came down to pay tributes.

“It’s shocking something like this could happen so close to home,” said Wren Wyatt, who paid respects at the memorial.

“I’m still trying to get back to everyday life. I’ve taken today off to try and get my head better,” she added.

Wyatt said she was walking past the mall on Saturday when a crowd rushed past her screaming and security told her to flee.

Police said they had finished taking physical evidence at the mall and began allowing people inside to collect cars and other belongings.

Violent crimes such as Saturday’s stabbing are rare in the country of about 27 million people, which has some of the world’s toughest gun and knife laws.

The Australian national flag is flying at half-mast across the country, including at the Parliament House and Sydney’s Harbor Bridge, in honor of the victims. Sydney Opera House’s sails will be lit with a black ribbon on Monday evening.

Chinese state TV reported on Sunday that one Chinese citizen was among those who had died in the attack, without revealing the identity of the victim, adding that another Chinese citizen had been injured. 

($1 = 1.5437 Australian dollars)


In Modi’s India, opponents and journalists feel the squeeze ahead of election

Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

In Modi’s India, opponents and journalists feel the squeeze ahead of election

  • India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has brought corruption charges against many officials from its main rival
  • Under Modi’s rule, peaceful protests have been crushed with force while a once-free press is threatened

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government are increasingly wielding strong-arm tactics to subdue political opponents and critics of the ruling Hindu-nationalist party.

A decade into power, and on the cusp of securing five more years, the Modi government is reversing India’s decadeslong commitment to multiparty democracy and secularism.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has brought corruption charges against many officials from its main rival, the Congress Party, but few convictions. Dozens of politicians from other opposition parties are under investigation or in jail. And just last month, Modi’s government froze the Congress party’s bank accounts for what it said was non-payment of taxes.

The Modi administration says the country’s investigating agencies are independent and that its democratic institutions are robust, pointing to high voter turnout in recent elections that have delivered Modi’s party a clear mandate.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah, in New Delhi, India, on April 8, 2019. (AP/File)

Yet civil liberties are under attack. Peaceful protests have been crushed with force. A once free and diverse press is threatened. Violence is on the rise against the Muslim minority. And the country’s judiciary increasingly aligns with the executive branch.

To better understand how Modi is reshaping India and what is at stake in an election that begins April 19 and runs through June 1, the AP spoke with a lawyer, a journalist, and an opposition politician.

Here are their stories:

DEFENDING MODI’S CRITICS

Mihir Desai has fought for the civil liberties and human rights of India’s most disadvantaged communities, such as the poor and Muslims, for nearly four decades.

The 65-year-old lawyer from India’s financial capital Mumbai is now working on one of his – and the country’s – most high-profile cases: defending a dozen political activists, journalists and lawyers jailed in 2018 on accusations of plotting to overthrow the Modi government. The accusations, he says, are baseless – just one of the government’s all-too-frequent and audacious efforts to silence critics.

One of the defendants in the case, a Jesuit priest and longtime civil rights activist, died at age 84 after about nine months in custody. The other defendants remain in jail, charged under anti-terror laws that rarely result in convictions.

“First authorities came up with a theory that they planned to kill Modi. Now they are being accused of being terrorist sympathizers,” he said.

Lawyer Mihir Desai poses for a photograph at his office in Mumbai, India, on April 3, 2024. (AP)

The point of it all, Desai believes, is to send a message to any would-be critics.

According to digital forensics experts at US-based Arsenal Consulting, the Indian government hacked into the computers of some of the accused and planted files that were later used as evidence against them.

To Desai, this is proof that the Modi government has “weaponized” the country’s once-independent investigative agencies.

He sees threats to Indian democracy all around him. Last year, the government removed the country’s chief justice as one of three people who appoint commissioners overseeing elections; Modi and the opposition leader in parliament are the others. Now, one of Modi’s cabinet ministers has a vote in the process, giving the ruling party a 2-1 majority.

“It’s a death knell to free and fair elections,” Desai said.

A POLITICIAN’S PLIGHT IN KASHMIR

Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para, 35, was long seen as an ally in the Indian government’s interests in Kashmir. He worked with young people in the majority-Muslim, semi-autonomous region and preached to them about the benefits of embracing India and its democratic institutions – versus seeking independence, or a merger with Pakistan.

Beginning in 2018, though, Para was viewed with suspicion by the Modi government for alleged connections to anti-India separatists. Since then, he has been jailed twice: in 2019 on suspicion that he and other political opponents could stoke unrest; and in 2020 on charges of supporting militant groups — charges he denies.

The accusations stunned Para, whose People’s Democratic Party once ruled Kashmir in an alliance with Modi’s party.

But he believes the motivation was clear: “I was arrested to forcibly endorse the government’s 2019 decision,” he said, referring to a clampdown on the resistance in Kashmir after the elimination of the region’s semi-autonomous status.

Modi’s administration argues the move was necessary to fully integrate the disputed region with India and foster economic development there.

After his 2020 arrest, Para remained in jail for nearly two years, often in solitary confinement, and was subjected to “abusive interrogations,’’ according to UN experts.
“My crime was that I wanted the integration of Kashmir, not through the barrel of the gun,” said Para, who is seeking to represent Kashmir’s main city in the upcoming election.

Para sees his own plight within the larger context of the Modi government’s effort to silence perceived opponents, especially those with ties to Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India’s population.

“It is a huge ethical question … that the largest democracy in the world is not able to assimilate, or offer dignity to, the smallest pocket of its people,” he said.

The campaign to turn once-secular India into a Hindu republic may help Modi win elections in the short term, Para said, but something much bigger will be lost.

“It risks the whole idea of this country’s diversity,” he said.

A JOURNALIST FIGHTS CHARGES

In October 2020, independent journalist Sidheeq Kappan was arrested while trying to report on a government clampdown in the northern Uttar Pradesh state ruled by Modi’s party.

For days, authorities had been struggling to contain protests and outcry over a gruesome rape case. Those accused of the crime were four upper caste Hindu men, while the victim belonged to the Dalit community, the lowest rung of India’s caste hierarchy.

Kappan, a 44-year-old Muslim, was detained and jailed before he even reached the crime site, accused of intending to incite violence. After two years in jail, his case reached India’s top court in 2022. While he was quickly granted bail, the case against him is ongoing.

Kappan’s case is not unique, and he says it highlights how India is becoming increasingly unsafe for journalists. Under intense pressure from the state, many Indian news organizations have become more pliant and supportive of government policies,

“Those who have tried to be independent have come under relentless attack by the government,” he said.

Foreign journalists are banned from reporting in Kashmir, for example. Same goes for India’s northeast Manipur state, which has been embroiled in ethnic violence for almost a year.

Television news is increasingly dominated by stations touting the government’s Hindu nationalist agenda, such as a new citizenship law that excludes Muslim migrants.
 Independent TV stations have been temporarily shut down, and newspapers that run articles critical of Modi’s agenda find that any advertising from the government – an important source of revenue – quickly dries up.

Last year, the India offices of the BBC were raided on tax irregularities just days after it aired a documentary critical of Modi.

The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranks India 161st on a worldwide list of countries’ press freedoms.

Kappan said he has barely been able to report news since his arrest. The trial keeps him busy, requiring him to travel to a court hundreds of miles away every other week. The time and money required for his trial have made it difficult for him to support his wife and three children, Kappan said.

“It is affecting their education, their mental health,” he said.