Jewish protesters and allies block Israeli consulate in Chicago, demanding a ceasefire in Gaza

Arrested protesters chant as they await to board the transport outside the Accenture Tower in Chicago, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 14 November 2023
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Jewish protesters and allies block Israeli consulate in Chicago, demanding a ceasefire in Gaza

  • ‘We will not let a genocide happen in our name,” says Clara Belitz of IfNotNow Chicago

CHICAGO: Hundreds of Jewish peace activists and their allies converged at a major train station in downtown Chicago during rush hour Monday morning, blocking the entrance to the Israeli consulate and demanding US support for an Israel cease-fire as battles rage in northern Gaza.
Midwestern Jews and allies traveled to Chicago from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois for the demonstration, organizers said.
The Israeli consulate in Chicago is in a building connected to the Ogilvie Transportation Center, a major commuter rail station.
Over 100 protesters who had blocked escalators leading to the consulate were arrested for misdemeanor trespassing and escorted out of the building, according to Ben Lorber, who helped organize the protest led by Chicago chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and Never Again Action. That information was not confirmed by Chicago police, who could not immediately provide information on the number and reasons for arrests, and how many demonstrators participated.
The fighting was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel, whose response has led to thousands of deaths — and much destruction — across Gaza.
Advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace led a similar sit-in in New York City’s Grand Central Station on Oct. 27, where a sea of protesters filled the main concourse during evening rush hour, chanting slogans and unfurling banners demanding a cease-fire as Israel intensified its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. At least 200 demonstrators were detained by New York police officers.
And more than 300 people were arrested in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 19 for illegally demonstrating, and three people were charged with assaulting police after protesters descended on Capitol Hill to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
The Chicago rally is unique from the previous Jewish Voice demonstrations because in the Midwest, “progressive Jewish communities are far smaller and separated by distance,” according to an emailed press release from organizers.
Chicago protesters cheered Monday as police led demonstrators from the building with hands zip-tied behind their backs, many in black T-shirts that read, “Not in our name.”
“We will not let a genocide happen in our name,” said Clara Belitz of IfNotNow Chicago during an Instagram livestream of the protest. ”Our Jewish values compel us to speak out.” IfNotNow describes itself as a movement of American Jews organizing to end US support of “the Israeli government’s apartheid system.”
A spokesperson for Metra, the city’s commuter rail system, said that trains continued to run normally, but protesters blocked the southern exit and commuters were forced to leave the station through other doors.
“They shut down access to our platforms from the 500 West Madison building,” where the consulate is located, said Meg Reile, a spokesperson for Metra. “Trains continued to run throughout.”
The Israeli consulate in Chicago did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 

 


Beijing, Manila establish hotline to prevent clashes in disputed South China Sea

Updated 3 sec ago
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Beijing, Manila establish hotline to prevent clashes in disputed South China Sea

  • The territorial disputes have persisted since last year, sparking fears of a larger armed conflict that could involve the US
  • There was also a plan to set up a new communication channel between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards
MANILA: A recently signed agreement will open a direct line of communication between the presidential offices of China and the Philippines to help prevent any new confrontation from spiraling out of control in the disputed South China Sea, according to highlights of the accord seen by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
China and the Philippines have created such emergency telephone hotlines at lower levels in the past to better manage disputes, particularly in two fiercely disputed shoals where the Philippines has accused Chinese forces of increasingly hostile actions and China says Philippine ships have encroached despite repeated warnings.
The territorial disputes, however, have persisted since last year, sparking fears of a larger armed conflict that could involve the United States, which has repeatedly warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, a key Asian treaty ally, if Filipino forces come under attack in the disputed waters.
US Gen. Charles Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner in Manila on Tuesday and discussed ways to further boost defense ties, enhance the militaries’ ability to operate jointly and ensure regional ability, the Philippine military said.
During a confrontation between Chinese and Philippine forces at the Philippines-occupied Second Thomas Shoal in August 2023, the Philippine government said it was unable to reach Chinese officials through an established “maritime communication mechanism” for several hours. That emergency telephone hotline was arranged after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in January 2023.
Chinese and Philippine officials dealing with the territorial disputes held talks in Manila on July 2, following a violent confrontation at the Second Thomas Shoal in which Chinese coast guard personnel reportedly wielded knives, an axe and improvised spears and Philippine navy personnel were injured. The Chinese forces also seized seven Philippine navy rifles, said Brawner, who demanded China return the firearms and pay for damages.
Both sides “recognized the need to strengthen the bilateral maritime communication mechanism on the South China Sea” and signed an arrangement “on improving Philippines-China maritime communication mechanisms,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement after the talks in Manila, but did not provide a copy or details of the agreement.
A copy of the agreement’s highlights, seen by the AP, said it “provides several channels for communication between the Philippines and China, specifically on maritime issues, through the representatives to be designated by their leaders.”
The hotline talks could also be done “through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs counterparts, including at the foreign minister and vice foreign minister levels or through their designated representatives,” it said, and added without elaborating that Philippine officials were “in discussions with the Chinese side on the guidelines that will govern the implementation of this arrangement.”
There was also a plan to set up a new communication channel between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards “once the corresponding memorandum of understanding” between them is concluded, according to the agreement.
During the talks in Manila, China and the Philippines agreed on two other confidence-boosting steps to intensify “cooperation between their respective coast guard authorities” and the possible convening of a maritime forum between Chinese and Philippine scientists and academic leaders.
“Both sides recognized that there is a need to restore trust, rebuild confidence and create conditions conducive to productive dialogue and interaction,” the Philippine department of foreign affairs statement said. It added that China and the Philippines “affirmed their commitment to de-escalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions.”
It said that “there was substantial progress on developing measures to manage the situation at sea,” but acknowledged that “significant differences remain.”

Amnesty International slams French hijab sports ban ahead of Olympics

Updated 43 min 30 sec ago
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Amnesty International slams French hijab sports ban ahead of Olympics

  • Human rights group accuses host country of breaching international law
  • Amnesty criticizes International Olympic Committee for failing to challenge ban

LONDON: Amnesty International has accused France of breaking international human rights law by enforcing a ban on women competing at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris wearing headscarves.

In a report on the ban published on Tuesday, Amnesty also accused the International Olympic Committee of weakness by not challenging France’s “discriminatory” law.

Anna Blus, Amnesty’s women’s rights researcher in Europe, said: “Banning French athletes from competing with sports hijabs at the Olympic and Paralympic Games makes a mockery of claims that Paris 2024 is the first ‘Gender Equal Olympics’ and lays bare the racist gender discrimination that underpins access to sport in France.”

She added: “Discriminatory rules policing what women wear are a violation of Muslim women’s and girls’ human rights and have a devastating impact on their participation in sport, blocking efforts to make sports more inclusive and more accessible.”

The report details how bans on wearing headscarves in multiple sports in France, justified domestically on grounds of secularism but which is not accepted in international law, have created a situation where the Olympic host is in breach of the IOC’s own human rights rules as well as numerous human rights obligations and treaties to which France is a party.

The IOC has failed to call on France to overturn bans on headscarves at the Olympics and in other sports, claiming in a letter earlier this year that French law was outside the committee’s remit, and that “freedom of religion is interpreted in many different ways by different states.”

France is the only European country to enforce a ban on headscarves in sport, which also contradicts the rules of international sports bodies such as FIFA, the International Basketball Federation and the International Volleyball Federation.

Basketball player Helene Ba told Amnesty that the French ban “is a clear violation of the Olympic charter, values and provisions, and an infringement on our fundamental rights and freedoms … I think it’s going to be a shameful moment for France.”

She added: “Mentally it is also hard because you really feel excluded … especially if you go to the bench and the referee tells you to go to the ladders (stands). Everyone sees you … It’s a walk of shame.”

Another female athlete told Amnesty anonymously: “It is sad. It’s even shameful to be at this point in 2024, to block dreams just because of a piece of fabric.”

In a press release, Amnesty said: “For several years, French authorities have been weaponizing these concepts (of secularism) to justify the enactment of laws and policies that disproportionately impact Muslim women and girls.

“And all of this is occurring against a backdrop relentless, twenty-year campaign of harmful lawmaking and regulation of Muslim women’s and girls’ clothing in France, fueled by prejudice, racism and gendered Islamophobia.”

Foune Diawara, co-president of the football collective Hijabeuses, told Amnesty: “Our fight is not political or religious but centered on our human right to participate in sports.”

Blus said: “No policymaker should dictate what a woman can or cannot wear and no woman should be forced to choose between the sport she loves and her faith, cultural identity, or beliefs.

“It is not too late for the French authorities, sports federations and the IOC to do the right thing and to overturn all bans on athletes wearing the hijab in French sport, both at the summer Olympics and in all sport, at all levels.”


A North Korean diplomat in Cuba defected to South Korea in November, a possible blow to leader Kim

Updated 16 July 2024
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A North Korean diplomat in Cuba defected to South Korea in November, a possible blow to leader Kim

  • National Intelligence Service said media reports on the defection of a North Korean counselor of political affairs in Cuba were true
  • Ri defected before South Korea and Cuba established diplomatic ties in February

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday that a senior North Korea diplomat based in Cuba has fled to South Korea, the latest defection by members of the North’s ruling elite that likely hurt leader Kim Jong Un’s push to bolster his leadership.
The National Intelligence Service said media reports on the defection of a North Korean counselor of political affairs in Cuba were true. A brief statement by the NIS public affairs office gave no further details.
South Korea’s mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported earlier Tuesday that diplomat Ri Il Kyu fled to South Korea with his wife and children in November.
Chosun Ilbo cited Ri as telling the newspaper in an interview that he had decided to defect because of what he called disillusionment with North Korea’s political system, an unfair job evaluation by Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry, and the ministry’s disapproval of his hopes to visit Mexico to treat his neural damage. He said that hospitals in Cuba didn’t have the necessary medical equipment to treat his health problem due to international sanctions.
Other South Korean media outlets carried similar reports later Tuesday.
North Korea didn’t immediately respond to South Korea’s announcement of Ri’s defection. North Korea has previously expressed fury over some high-profile defections by accusing South Korea of kidnapping or enticing its citizens to defect. It has also described some defectors as traitors or criminals who fled to avoid punishment.
Ri defected before South Korea and Cuba established diplomatic ties in February, an event that experts say likely posed a political blow to North Korea, whose diplomatic footing is largely dependent on a small number of Cold War-era allies like Cuba.
The Chosun report said Ri had been engaged in efforts to block Cuba from opening diplomatic ties with South Korea until his defection. The report said Ri won a commendation from Kim Jong Un for his role in negotiations with Panama that led to the release of a ship detained in 2013 for allegedly carrying banned items like missiles and fighter jet parts. The report said Ri was then a third secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Cuba.
About 34,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea to avoid economic hardship and political suppression, mostly since the late 1990s. A majority of them are women from the North’s poorer northern regions. But the number of highly educated North Koreans with professional jobs escaping to South Korea has steadily increased recently.
In 2023, about 10 North Koreans categorized as members of the country’s elite group resettled in South Korea — more than in recent years, according South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Ministry officials have said that an increase in high-level defections were likely caused by North Korea’s pandemic-related economic difficulties and its pushes to reinforce state control of its people. Those who had to stay abroad longer than initially scheduled due to COVID-19 curbs were exposed to freer foreign cultures for an extended period.
“This high-level defection adds insult to injury for North Korea, as Ri was instrumental in representing Pyongyang’s interests in Havana,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“The Kim regime is no doubt taking measures to make it more difficult for diplomats overseas to defect, but increased repression is likely to further isolate Pyongyang and may actually encourage more defections,” Easley said.
Moon Seong Mook, an expert with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said news of high-level defections like Ri’s would spread to North Korean diplomats and others, potentially dealing a big blow to Kim — though it won’t likely lead to a regime collapse anytime soon.
Few North Korea monitoring groups question Kim’s grip on power. But observers say Kim is grappling with chronic economic difficulties, the influence of South Korean pop cultures and the expansion of the US-South Korean military cooperation.
The most high-profile defection in recent years happened in 2016, when Tae Yongho, then a minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, arrived in South Korea. He said that he decided to flee because he didn’t want his children to live “miserable” lives in North Korea as he also fell into “despair” over Kim’s execution of officials and his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
North Korea has called him “human scum” and accused him of embezzling government money and committing other crimes. Tae was elected to South Korea’s parliament in 2020.
In 2019, North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, Jo Song Gil, arrived in South Korea. Also in 2019, North Korea’s acting ambassador to Kuwait came to South Korea with his family.
In recent months, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have soared over North Korea’s launches of trash-carrying balloons toward South Korea and its continuation of missile tests. North Korea says its balloon campaigns were a tit-for-tat action against South Korean activists floating political leaflets via their own balloons.
On Tuesday, Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, warned South Korea of unspecified “gruesome” consequences, saying that South Korean-sent leaflets were found again in the North. She issued a similar warning on Sunday. South Korea responded to North Korea’s earlier balloon activities by suspending a 2018 tension-reduction deal with North Korea.


More than 400 injured in Bangladesh job quota rally clashes

Updated 39 min 20 sec ago
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More than 400 injured in Bangladesh job quota rally clashes

  • Violence was a sudden escalation in efforts to hinder a determined campaign that has ignored calls to return to class
  • Students have for weeks staged near-daily protests demanding the government scrap a quota system for government jobs

DHAKA: Hundreds of protesting Bangladeshi students have been injured in clashes with pro-ruling party groups, the country’s largest hospital said on Tuesday, in the wake of campus rallies against public sector job quotas.

The students have been demonstrating since early July against a quota system under which 30 percent of well-paid government jobs are reserved for the families of those who fought in the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan that resulted in Bangladesh’s independence.

The movement to reform the system started in 2018, forcing the government to issue a circular canceling the quota, but last month a high court order nullified it.

Students have been rallying since the announcement of the court’s ruling and on Monday and Tuesday morning clashed with members of the youth wing of the ruling Awami League party.

In the capital Dhaka alone, at least 234 were injured.

“A total of 234 students received treatment at our hospital following the students’ clashes on Monday,” Brig. Gen. Asaduzzaman, director of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told Arab News.

“At the moment, six of the injured students are admitted to our hospital. We have kept them under observation as some of them got head injuries ... among the injured, there are students from different educational institutions, including Dhaka University.”

The protests escalated on Sunday, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined demonstrators by saying: “If the grandchildren of freedom fighters do not receive benefits, who would get it? The grandchildren of razakars?”

The word “razakar,” a deeply offensive term in Bangladesh, means someone who collaborates with an enemy occupying force and refers to those who collaborated with the Pakistani military during the 1971 war.

“The comparison with the collaborators agitated the protesting students very much. It’s not right that all the families who don’t belong to freedom fighters’ families are all collaborators,” Mohammad Nahid Islam, coordinator of the Students Against Discrimination group, which is part of the protests, told Arab News.

“Till last week, students from 35 public universities joined the protests with us across the country ... now, the protests spread over almost all educational institutions.”

Islam said that the students did not seek the abolishment of the quota system but its reform, so that it continues to protect marginalized groups but does not disproportionately distribute public service jobs prioritizing the descendants of the 1971 fighters.

“At the moment, the third generation of the freedom fighters are enjoying the quota benefits, which is 30 percent. We are demanding the reformation of the quota system, limiting it,” he said.

“We are demanding the reform by reserving some quota for the underprivileged population. We are demanding job recruitment on the basis of merit.”


Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer

Updated 16 July 2024
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Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer

  • Zelensky said on Monday that Russia “should be” represented at a second summit on the Ukraine conflict
  • Zelensky’s apparent welcoming of Russia to talks marks a change of tone from the conference in Switzerland

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Tuesday gave a cautious reaction to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s apparent invitation to a future peace summit, saying that Russia first needs to understand what Kyiv means before attending talks.
Zelensky said on Monday that Russia “should be” represented at a second summit on the Ukraine conflict, following high-level talks last month in Switzerland that Moscow did not attend and heavily criticized.
“The first peace summit was not a peace summit at all. So perhaps it is necessary to first understand what he means,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Zvezda television channel, responding to Zelensky’s comments.
Zelensky’s apparent welcoming of Russia to talks marks a change of tone from the conference in Switzerland, ahead of which the Ukrainian leader categorically ruled out inviting Moscow.
The surprise comments from Kyiv come as Ukraine’s forces lose ground on the front line and as the United States gears up for presidential elections that could fundamentally change the dynamic of the conflict.
Leaders and top officials from more than 90 states gathered at a Swiss mountainside resort on June 15 for the two-day summit dedicated to resolving the largest European conflict since World War II.
China and Russia were markedly absent.
The Kremlin sharply criticized the gathering, saying that any discussions on ending the conflict that did not include Russia were “absurd.”
Washington said Monday that it backed Ukraine’s decision to invite Russia to a second summit, but expressed doubt about whether Moscow was ready for talks.
“When they want to invite Russia to that summit, of course, that is something we support,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told journalists.
“We’ve always supported diplomacy when Ukraine is ready, but it has never been clear that the Kremlin is ready for actual diplomacy,” he said.
Ahead of last month’s summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was open for talks and would announce a ceasefire if Kyiv effectively surrendered territory that Moscow claims as its own.
Zelensky slammed Putin’s demands as a territorial “ultimatum” reminiscent of those issued by Adolf Hitler, and Ukraine’s Western backers including the United States reacted with scorn.
However there is growing apprehension in Kyiv about how a potential Donald Trump victory in November’s US elections might affect continued American aid to Ukraine.
The Republican Party candidate has suggested he would end the conflict very quickly if he won back the presidency, a promise Kyiv fears would mean being forced to negotiate with Moscow from a weakened position.
Zelensky said on Monday he was “not worried” about the prospect of a Trump victory and that he was still counting on support from the United States, Ukraine’s biggest financial and military backer.