Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

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Pro-Palestinian supporters rally on the campus of Columbia University on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (AFP)
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Two student protesters converse at the Pro-Palestine protest encampment at the Columbia University campus in New York on Monday April 22, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

  • Columbia University canceled in-person classes and police arrested dozens of students at New York University and Yale
  • Pro-Palestinian demonstrators set up encampments on other campuses around the country

NEW YORK: Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at Yale and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public on Monday as some of the most prestigious US universities sought to diffuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas.
The various actions followed the arrest last week of more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s green, as schools struggle with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining a safe and inclusive campus.
In addition to the demonstrations at the Ivy League schools, pro-Palestinian encampments have sprouted up on other campuses, including the University of Michigan, New York University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The protests have pitted students against one another, with pro-Palestinian students demanding that their schools condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel. Some Jewish students, meanwhile, say much of the criticism of Israel has veered into antisemitism and made them feel unsafe, and point out that Hamas is still holding hostages taken during the group’s Oct. 7 invasion.
Tensions remained high Monday at Columbia in New York City, where the campus gates were locked to anyone without a school ID and where protests broke out both on campus and outside.
US Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who was visiting Columbia with three other Jewish members of Congress to view the encampment, told reporters after meeting with students from the Jewish Law Students Association that there was “an enormous encampment of people” who had taken up about a third of the green.
“We saw signs indicating that Israel should be destroyed,” she said after leaving the Morningside Heights campus.
A woman inside the campus gates led about two-dozen protesters on the street outside in a chant of, ” From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! ” — a charged phrase that can mean vastly different things to different groups. Meanwhile, a small group of pro-Israel counter demonstrators protested nearby.
University President Minouche Shafik said in a message to the school community Monday that she was “deeply saddened” by what was happening on campus.
“To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” Shafik wrote, noting that faculty and staff should work remotely when possible and that students who don’t live on campus should stay away.
Protests have roiled many college campuses since Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. In response, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and non-combatants but says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.
Prahlad Iyengar, an MIT graduate student studying electrical engineering, was among about two dozen students who set up a tent encampment on the school’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus Sunday evening. They are calling for a ceasefire and are protesting what they describe as MIT’s “complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” he said.
“MIT has not even called for a ceasefire, and that’s a demand we have for sure,” Iyengar said.
He also said MIT has been sending out confusing rules about protests.
“We’re out here to demonstrate that we reserve the right to protest. It’s an essential part of living on a college campus,” Iyengar said.
On Sunday, Elie Buechler, a rabbi for the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative at Columbia, sent a WhatsApp message to nearly 300 Jewish students recommending they go home until it’s more safe for them on campus.
The latest developments came ahead of the Monday evening start of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Nicholas Baum, a 19-year-old Jewish freshman who lives in a Jewish theological seminary building two blocks from Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, said protesters over the weekend were “calling for Hamas to blow away Tel Aviv and Israel.” He said some of the protesters shouting antisemitic slurs were not students.
“Jews are scared at Columbia. It’s as simple as that. There’s been so much vilification of Zionism, and it has spilled over into the vilification of Judaism,” he said.
The protest encampment sprung up at Columbia on Wednesday, the same day that Shafik faced bruising criticism at a congressional hearing from Republicans who said she hadn’t done enough to fight antisemitism. Two other Ivy League presidents resigned months ago following widely criticized testimony they gave to the same committee.
In her statement Monday, Shafik said the Middle East conflict is terrible and that she understands that many are experiencing deep moral distress.
“But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view,” Shafik wrote.
Over the coming days, a working group of deans, school administrators and faculty will try to find a resolution to the university crisis, noted Shafik, who didn’t say when in-person classes would resume.
Several students at Columbia and its sister school, Barnard College, said they were suspended for taking part in last week’s protests, including Barnard student Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Democratic US Rep. Ilhan Omar.
At Yale, police officers arrested about 45 protesters and charged them with misdemeanor trespassing, said Officer Christian Bruckhart, a New Haven police spokesperson. All were being released on promises to appear in court later, he said.
Protesters set up tents on Beinecke Plaza on Friday and demonstrated over the weekend, calling on Yale to end any investments in defense companies that do business with Israel.
Nadine Cubeisy, a Yale student and one of the protest’s organizers, said it was disturbing that “this university that I’m going to, that I contribute to and that my friends give money to is using that money to fund violence.”
In a statement to the campus community on Sunday, Yale President Peter Salovey said university officials had spoken to the student protesters multiple times about the school’s policies and guidelines, including those regarding speech and allowing access to campus spaces.
School officials said they spoke with protesters over several hours and gave them until the end of the weekend to leave Beinecke Plaza. The said they again warned protesters Monday morning and told them that they could face arrest and discipline, including suspension, before police moved in.
A large group of demonstrators regathered after Monday’s arrests at Yale and blocked a street near campus, said Bruckhart. There were no reports of any violence or injuries.
Last week, the University of Southern California took the unusual step of canceling a planned commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian, who had publicly supported Palestinians. The university cited security concerns in a decision that was praised by some pro-Israel groups but criticized by free-speech advocates.


India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

Updated 24 May 2024
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India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

  • Indian central bank has announced record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates
  • Surplus fund can help the new government bring down fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of GDP or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: India’s incoming government will be greeted with a $25 billion cheque from the central bank, giving it the option to either boost spending or narrow the fiscal deficit quicker, both of which will be cheered by investors.
On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to the government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates, leading to a decline in bond yields and a rise in equity markets.
The surplus fund can help the new government, which will take charge after the current elections, bring down its fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus, Citi Research’s Samiran Chakraborty said.
“The bond markets would likely hope that the government follows the deficit reduction route, while the equity markets would likely prefer the government taking the expenditure increase one,” said Chakraborty.
During the election campaigns, the opposition Congress promised annual cash handouts of 100,000 rupees ($1,202.07) to poor women and unemployed youth. The party’s star campaigner Rahul Gandhi also promised debt waiver for farmers.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has avoided promising any new major welfare measures.
“Despite higher revenue from the RBI dividend, we doubt the government would opt for more populist expenditure in its budget, if the government is BJP-led,” said Shreya Sodhani, an economist at Barclays.
“The current government has not shown a disposition toward populist spending even in an election year.”
The BJP-led government resisted the temptation of spending trillions of rupees on schemes for the poor in its last budget before the election while raising spending on infrastructure to 11.11 trillion rupees, more than three time the sum spent in 2019.
QUICKER FISCAL CONSOLIDATION
The new government will likely present the final budget in July, leaving the administration with only eight months to spend funds allocated to them.
Government spending has been slow so far in the year, with the start of elections from April. Tax collections, meanwhile, have been strong due to buoyancy in the economy.
India collected a record 2.10 trillion rupees in goods and services taxes in April, the first month of the financial year, ensuring the government is on track to meet its planned fiscal goal of 5.1 percent of GDP this year.
This could mean the government will lean toward using the bumper dividend for fiscal consolidation.
There is scope for a slight reduction in the targeted fiscal deficit for the current year, said Ashima Goyal, a professor and an external member of the country’s monetary policy committee, who expects the government to comfortably achieve the targeted fiscal deficit of 4.5 percent by 2025/26.
India’s fiscal deficit ballooned to 9.2 percent during the pandemic but the government has steadily brought this down.
But bringing down the deficit by 130 basis points from 5.8 percent in 2023/24 was seen as challenging and dependent on one-off revenue from either privatization or auction of telecom spectrum.
($1 = 83.1900 Indian rupees)


Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan

Updated 24 May 2024
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Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan

YEREVAN: Armenia has returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it had seized decades ago, officials in Yerevan and Baku confirmed Friday, in a key step toward normalizing ties between the historic rivals.
The two ex-Soviet countries in the Caucasus fought two wars in the 1990s and in 2020 for control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan recaptured it last year in a lightning offensive, ending three decades of Armenian separatist rule and prompting more than 100,000 locals to flee into Armenia.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had agreed in March to return the four abandoned villages seized by his country in the 1990s, as part of efforts to secure a lasting peace agreement between the countries.
On May 16, they agreed on the demarcation of 12.7 kilometers (almost seven miles) of their border that returned the villages of Baghanis Ayrum, Ashaghi Askipara, Kheyrimli and GhizilHajjili to Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s security service confirmed Friday that its border guards had “officially” taken up new positions reflecting the border deal and ceded the villages to Azerbaijan’s control.
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev meanwhile announced that his country’s border guards had taken control of the four settlements.
Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move could cut them off from the rest of the country and accuse Pashinyan of unilaterally giving away territory without any guarantees in return.
The premier’s move has sparked weeks of anti-government protests in Armenia, with thousands of demonstrators led by charismatic cleric Bagrat Galstanyan demanding Pashinyan’s resignation.
A fresh anti-government protest is scheduled for Sunday.
Pashinyan last week described the deal as a “very important milestone for further strengthening Armenia’s sovereignty and independence.”
The territory is of strategic importance for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.


EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas

Updated 24 May 2024
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EU’s Borrell says recognizing Palestine is not a gift to Hamas

MADRID: European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday said that recognizing a Palestinian state was not a gift to Hamas.
Ireland, Norway and Spain said on Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, to help secure a halt to Israel’s Gaza offensive after the Hamas attack on Oct.7 and revive peace talks that stalled a decade ago.
“Recognizing the Palestinian state is not a gift to Hamas, quite the contrary,” he said. “The Palestinian authority is not Hamas, on the contrary they are deeply confronted.”
He added the EU already talked, financed and met the Palestinian authority.
“Every time someone makes the decision to support a Palestinian state, ... the reaction of Israel is to transform it in an antisemitic attack,” he added.


Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up

Updated 24 May 2024
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Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up

  • China and the Philippines are enduring a bitter diplomatic dispute over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea
  • Coastguard says the post will be used to gather data

MANILLA: The Philippines said Friday it had opened a coast guard post in the country’s far north to boost security following China’s “military build-up” near Taiwan over the past two years.
The outpost “shall gather essential maritime data and intelligence, enabling the (Philippine Coast Guard) to respond effectively to threats such as illicit trade, trafficking, piracy, and foreign intrusions,” National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said in a statement.
“In 2022, the area around Itbayat witnessed a military build-up as China responded to political developments between Taiwan and the United States,” Ano said, announcing the opening of the station on the Philippines’ northernmost inhabited island.
“Securing peace, stability, and freedom of navigation along the Luzon Strait is crucial for ensuring Philippine national security and economic prosperity,” he added.
Itbayat is located around 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Taiwan’s south coast.
China and the Philippines are enduring a bitter diplomatic dispute over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.
China has built artificial islands and military installations in waters close to the Philippines.
China’s efforts to enforce its claims have in recent years including water cannon attacks by China Coast Guard vessels that damaged Philippine government boats and injured several crew members.
Itbayat is just outside the area designated by a vaguely defined map of dashes that China uses to claim most of the South China Sea.
Ano made no reference to war games that China began on Thursday in which it encircled Taiwan with warplanes and naval vessels.


Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Updated 24 May 2024
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Russia says Daesh behind deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Moscow: Russia on Friday admitted for the first time that Daesh coordinated the deadly concert hall attack in Moscow in March.
“In the course of the investigation... it has been established that the preparations, the financing, the attack, and the retreat of the terrorists were coordinated via the Internet by members of Khorasan Province (IS-K),” a branch of Daesh active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of FSB, was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

At least sixty people have been killed after gunmen stormed a concert hall near Moscow in March, one of the deadliest attacks on Russia in decades.

Gunmen opened fire at a rock concert leaving dead and wounded before a major fire spread through the theater, Moscow’s mayor and Russian news agencies reported.

Putin has called the attack back in March as “a bloody, barbaric terrorist act” and said Russian authorities captured the four suspects as they were trying to escape to Ukraine through a “window” prepared for them on the Ukrainian side of the border.


Russian media broadcast videos that apparently showed the detention and interrogation of the suspects, including one who told the cameras he was approached by an unidentified assistant to an Islamic preacher via a messaging app and paid to take part in the raid.


Putin didn’t mention Daesh, known as Daesh in Arabic, in his speech to the nation, and Kyiv accused him and other Russian politicians of falsely linking Ukraine to the assault to stoke fervor for Russia’s fight in Ukraine, which recently entered its third year.


US intelligence officials said they had confirmed the Daesh affiliate’s claim.
“ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack. There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
 The US shared information with Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow, and issued a public warning to Americans in Russia, Watson said.


The raid was a major embarrassment for the Russian leader and happened just days after he cemented his grip on the country for another six years in a vote that followed the harshest crackdown on dissent since the Soviet times.
Some commentators on Russian social media questioned how authorities, who have relentlessly suppressed any opposition activities and muzzled independent media, failed to prevent the attack despite the US warnings.


Daesh, which fought against Russia during its intervention in the Syrian civil war, has long targeted Russia. In a statement posted by the group’s Aamaq news agency, the Daesh Afghanistan affiliate said that it had attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk.