UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year

Global conflicts killed three times as many children and twice as many women in 2023 than in the previous year, as overall civilian fatalities swelled 72 percent, the UN said Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 June 2024
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UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year

  • Warring parties were increasingly “pushing beyond boundaries of what is acceptable — and legal,” UN rights chief Volker Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
  • “Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric“

GENEVA: Global conflicts killed three times as many children and twice as many women in 2023 than in the previous year, as overall civilian fatalities swelled 72 percent, the UN said Tuesday.
Warring parties were increasingly “pushing beyond boundaries of what is acceptable — and legal,” United Nations rights chief Volker Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
They are showing “utter contempt for the other, trampling human rights at their core,” he said. “Killings and injuries of civilians have become a daily occurrence. Destruction of vital infrastructure a daily occurrence.”
“Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric.”
The UN rights chief said his office had gathered data indicating that last year, “the number of civilian deaths in armed conflict soared by 72 percent.”
“Horrifyingly, the data indicates that the proportion of women killed in 2023 doubled and that of children tripled, compared to the year prior,” he said.
In the Gaza Strip, Turk said he was “appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law by parties to the conflict” and “unconscionable death and suffering.”
Since the war erupted after Hamas’s unprecedented attack inside Israel on October 7, he said “more than 120,000 people in Gaza, overwhelmingly women and children, have been killed or injured ... as a result of the intensive Israeli offensives.”
“Since Israel escalated its operations into Rafah in early May, almost one million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced yet again, while aid delivery and humanitarian access deteriorated further,” he said.
Turk also pointed to a range of other conflicts, including in Ukraine, the Democratic republic of Congo and Syria.
And in Sudan, in the grips of a more than year-long civil war, he warned the country “is being destroyed in front of our eyes by two warring parties and affiliated groups ... (who have) flagrantly cast aside the rights of their own people.”
Such devastation comes as funding to help the growing numbers of people in need is dwindling.
“As of the end of May 2024, the gap between humanitarian funding requirements and available resources stands at $40.8 billion,” Turk said.
“Appeals are funded at an average of 16.1 percent only,” he said.
“Contrast this with the almost $2.5 trillion in global military expenditure in 2023, a 6.8 percent increase in real terms from 2022,” Turk said, stressing that “this was the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009.”
“In addition to inflicting unbearable human suffering, war comes with a hefty price tag,” he said.


Bangladesh soldiers out in force as PM cancels foreign trip

Updated 3 sec ago
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Bangladesh soldiers out in force as PM cancels foreign trip

  • Police fire was the cause of more than half of the deaths reported so far this week, based on descriptions given to AFP by hospital staff
DHAKA: Soldiers were out in force Saturday in cities around Bangladesh after another day of lethal clashes between student protesters and police prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to cancel foreign visits.
This week’s violence has killed at least 105 people so far, according to an AFP count of victims reported by hospitals, and poses a significant challenge to Hasina’s autocratic government after 15 years in office.
A government curfew went into effect at midnight and the premier’s office asked the military to deploy troops after police again failed to subdue mayhem.
“The government has decided to impose a curfew and deploy the military in aid of the civilian authorities,” Hasina’s press secretary Nayeemul Islam Khan told AFP.
Streets of the capital Dhaka were almost deserted at daybreak, with troops on foot and in armored personnel carriers patrolling the sprawling megacity of 20 million.
Several rickshaw drivers downtown who ignored the curfew were told by police to return home.
The curfew will remain in effect until 10:00 am (0400 GMT) Sunday, private broadcaster Channel 24 reported.
Hasina had been due to leave the country on Sunday for a planned diplomatic tour but abandoned her plans after a week of escalating violence.
“She has canceled her Spain and Brazil tours due to the prevailing situation, her press secretary Nayeemul Islam Khan told AFP.
Near-daily marches this month have called for an end to a quota system that reserves more than half of civil service posts for specific groups, including children of veterans from the country’s 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
Critics say the scheme benefits children of pro-government groups that back Hasina, 76, who has ruled the country since 2009 and won her fourth consecutive election in January after a vote without genuine opposition.
Hasina’s government is accused by rights groups of misusing state institutions to entrench its hold on power and stamp out dissent, including by the extrajudicial killing of opposition activists.
Police fire was the cause of more than half of the deaths reported so far this week, based on descriptions given to AFP by hospital staff.
“The rising death toll is a shocking indictment of the absolute intolerance shown by the Bangladeshi authorities to protest and dissent,” Babu Ram Pant of Amnesty International said in a statement.
Authorities imposed a nationwide Internet shutdown on Thursday which remains in effect, severely hampering communication in and out of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh imposes nationwide curfew as deadly protests over government jobs escalate

Updated 20 July 2024
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Bangladesh imposes nationwide curfew as deadly protests over government jobs escalate

  • The protests, which began weeks ago but escalated sharply this week, represent the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
  • The chaos has highlighted cracks in Bangladesh’s governance and economy, the frustration of young graduates who face a lack of good jobs

DHAKA: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government late Friday announced a nationwide curfew across Bangladesh and ordered the deployment of military forces to maintain order following days of deadly clashes over the allocation of government jobs.
The announcement was made by Obaidul Quader, the general secretary of the ruling Awami League party, and came after police and security officials fired on protesters earlier Friday and banned all gatherings in the capital. Several people were killed, media reports said.
Quader said the military was deployed to help the civilian administration keep order.
The protests, which began weeks ago but escalated sharply this week, represent the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since she won a fourth consecutive term in office after elections in January. Main opposition groups boycotted those polls.
There were varying reports of the number of people killed Friday, with Independent Television reporting 17 dead and Somoy TV reporting 30. An Associated Press reporter saw 23 bodies at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, but it was not immediately clear whether they had all died on Friday.
A death toll of 22 people was reported on Thursday, in what had so far been the bloodiest day of demonstrations, according to local media, as protesting students attempted to impose a “complete shutdown” of the country.
Authorities could not be reached immediately to confirm figures for the deaths.
The chaos has highlighted cracks in Bangladesh’s governance and economy and the frustration of young graduates who face a lack of good jobs.
The government has deployed police and paramilitary forces across the capital to lock down campuses and break up protests. On Wednesday, universities including the country’s largest suspended classes and closed dormitories, and on Friday police in Dhaka said they were banning all gatherings and demonstrations in the capital.
An Associated Press reporter saw border guard officials fire at a crowd of more than 1,000 protesters who had gathered outside the head office of state-run Bangladesh Television, which was attacked and set on fire by protesters the previous day.
The border guards shot at the crowd with rifles and sound grenades, while police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Bullets littered the streets, which were also marked by smears of blood.
Internet services and mobile data were widely disrupted on Thursday night and remained down on Friday in the capital, Dhaka. Social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp were also not loading. It coincided with a widespread Internet outage on Friday that disrupted flights, banks, media outlets and companies around the world, but the disruptions in Bangladesh were substantially greater than seen elsewhere.
A statement from the country’s Telecommunication Regulatory Commission said they were unable to ensure service after their data center was attacked Thursday by demonstrators, who set fire to some equipment. The Associated Press was not able to independently verify this.
Student protesters said they will extend their calls to impose a shutdown on Friday as well, and urged mosques across the country to hold funeral prayers for those who have been killed. Major universities have said they will close their doors until tensions ease.
The protesters are demanding an end to a quota system that reserves up to 30 percent of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971 against Pakistan.
They argue the system is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose Awami League party led the independence movement, and they want it replaced with a merit-based system.
But Hasina has defended the quota system, saying that veterans deserve the highest respect for their contributions to the war regardless of their political affiliation.
The Bangladeshi leader is credited for bringing stable growth to Bangladesh, but rising inflation — thanks in part to the global upheaval sparked by the war in Ukraine — has triggered labor unrest and dissatisfaction with the government.
Even though job opportunities have grown in some parts of the private sector, many people prefer government jobs because they are seen as more stable and lucrative. But there aren’t enough to go around — each year, some 400,000 graduates compete for around 3,000 jobs in the civil service exam.
“What is unfolding in Bangladesh is deeply unsettling for a generation that only asked for a fair opportunity in public service recruitment,” said Saad Hammadi, a freedom of speech advocate with the Canada-based Balsillie School of International Affairs. “That a peaceful protest against a state policy would slip into the peak of lawlessness shows the government’s lack of farsightedness and inefficient policy governance,” Hammadi said.
“The Internet shutdown makes matters worse. Local news sites are inaccessible, and people in the country are left incommunicado with the rest of the world all in the pretext of conducting sweeping operations by the state that have often resulted in serious human rights violations,” he added in an email.
Bangladesh has previously shut down Internet services in areas affected by protests, using it as a measure to suppress dissent by opposition parties. Internet watchdog Access Now said it recorded three shutdowns in the country in 2023 — all of which overlapped with opposition rallies and were limited in scope to one city or district. That came after six shutdowns in 2022.
CIVICUS, a nonprofit that tracks civic freedoms around the world, last year downgraded Bangladesh to “closed,” the worst rating that it could assign, along with China and Venezuela, following a crackdown on the country’s opposition members and supporters ahead of its national election.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has backed the protesting students and vowed to organize its own demonstrations, and many of their supporters have joined in the students’ demonstrations. On Friday, police fired tear gas at a few hundred BNP supporters, and arrested senior BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi.
The Awami League and the BNP have often accused each other of fueling political chaos and violence, most recently ahead of the country’s national election, which was marred by a crackdown on several opposition figures while Hasina’s government accused the party of attempting to disrupt the vote.
Hasina’s government had earlier halted the job quotas following mass student protests in 2018, but last month, Bangladesh’s High Court nullified that decision and reinstated the quotas after relatives of the 1971 veterans filed petitions, triggering the latest demonstrations.
The Supreme Court has suspended that ruling pending an appeal hearing, and said in a statement it will take up the issue on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Hasina urged protesters in a televised address to “wait with patience” for the court verdict, saying that she believes they “will get justice” and “will not be disappointed.”


Pakistan arrests ‘close associate’ of Osama Bin Laden

Security personnel stand guard in Karachi on July 16, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2024
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Pakistan arrests ‘close associate’ of Osama Bin Laden

  • US troops backed by NATO toppled the Taliban’s first regime in 2001 for refusing to hand over Al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks

LAHORE, Pakistan: Pakistani authorities said Friday they had arrested a “close associate” of Al-Qaeda founder and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Osama Bin Laden.
Counter-terrorism officials in the most populous province of Punjab swooped in on Amin Ul-Haq in the city of Gujrat, accusing him of planning “sabotage activities” and seeking to “target important installations” in the country.
“The arrest of Amin Ul-Haq is a major victory in the ongoing efforts to combat terrorism in Pakistan and worldwide,” a statement from Punjab’s Counter Terrorism Department said.
He was listed by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations as an associate of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, the head of Punjab’s counter-terrorism department, Usman Akram Gonadal, said in a press conference.
“He resurfaced after the withdrawal of western NATO forces (from Afghanistan). He visited Afghanistan in August and he began his efforts to reorganize Al-Qaeda.”
US troops backed by NATO toppled the Taliban’s first regime in 2001 for refusing to hand over Al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks.
Bin Laden was later discovered living in Pakistan and shot dead in a nighttime US operation in 2011.
The Taliban took back power in Afghanistan in 2021, kicking out the foreign-backed government after two decades of fighting US and NATO troops.
Militancy has since surged along Pakistan’s border, with Islamabad accusing Kabul’s rulers of failing to root out groups taking shelter on Afghan soil while preparing assaults on Pakistan.
The Taliban government insists it will not allow foreign militant outfits to operate from Afghanistan, but Islamabad-Kabul relations have soured over the issue.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has announced a sweeping new military campaign to control the violence.
 

 


Blinken points to wider pledges to support Ukraine in case US backs away under Trump

Updated 20 July 2024
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Blinken points to wider pledges to support Ukraine in case US backs away under Trump

  • Blinken for the first time directly addressed the possibility that Donald Trump would back away from US commitments to Ukraine if he becomes president again
  • Concerns among Ukraine and its supporters that the country could lose vital US support have increased as Trump’s campaign surges and Biden’s falters

ASPEN, Colorado: Ukraine is on its way to being able to “stand on its own feet” militarily, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday, noting that more than 20 other countries have pledged to maintain their own military and financial aid to the country even if the US were to withdraw its support under a different president.
Blinken for the first time directly addressed the possibility that former President Donald Trump could win the November election and back away from commitments to Ukraine. The US, under President Joe Biden, has been the most important supporter of Ukraine’s more than two-year battle against invading Russian forces.
Trump’s public comments have varied between criticizing US backing for Ukraine’s defense and supporting it, while his running mate, Sen. JD Vance, has been a leader of Republican efforts to block what have been billions in US military and financial assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in 2022.
Concerns among Ukraine and its supporters that the country could lose vital US support have increased as Trump’s campaign surges and Biden’s falters.
Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on the phone Friday.
“I noted the vital bipartisan and bicameral American support for protecting our nation’s freedom and independence,” Zelensky wrote on X, saying they agreed “to discuss at a personal meeting what steps can make peace fair and truly lasting.”
Trump said on his social media platform that he appreciated Zelensky’s outreach and promised to “end the war that has cost so many lives and devastated countless innocent families.”
Blinken said Friday that any new administration would have to take into account strong bipartisan backing in Congress for Ukraine in the interests of countering Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to expand Moscow’s territory and influence.
“Every administration has an opportunity, of course, to set its own policy. We can’t lock in the future,” Blinken said, speaking to an audience of US policymakers and others at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
But he pointed to the security agreements that the United States and more than 20 other allies — including some NATO partners, Japan and the European Union — signed at a NATO summit in Washington this month.
“Were we to renege on that ... I suppose that’s possible, but happily we’ve got another 20 some-odd countries that are doing the same thing,” Blinken said.
Ukraine itself was on a trajectory to ensure it “stands on its own feet militarily, economically, democratically,” Blinken said.


Trump says he had ‘very good call’ with Ukraine’s Zelensky, pledges to end war

Updated 20 July 2024
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Trump says he had ‘very good call’ with Ukraine’s Zelensky, pledges to end war

  • “Both sides will be able to come together and negotiate a deal that ends the violence and paves a path forward to prosperity,” Trump said in his Truth Social post
  • In his post on X, Zelensky said he congratulated Trump on becoming the Republican nominee and condemned the assassination attempt on him last week

WASHINGTON: US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in a post on Truth Social that he had a “very good call” on Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and pledged to end the war pitting Kyiv against Moscow through negotiations.
Zelensky also reported his conversation with Trump and expressed thanks for US military assistance. But he made no reference in a post on social media platform X to efforts to end the 28-month-old conflict.
Trump has said he will end the war in Ukraine before he even takes office in January should he win the Nov. 5 election. He has also said that had he been in office when the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, the war would not have taken place.
In his Truth Social post, Trump said that as president he “will bring peace to the world and end the war that has cost so many lives.”
“Both sides will be able to come together and negotiate a deal that ends the violence and paves a path forward to prosperity,” Trump said.

Though Trump has put forward few tangible policy proposals, he told Reuters in an interview last year that Ukraine might have to cede some territory to reach a peace agreement.
In his post, Zelensky said he congratulated Trump on becoming the Republican nominee and condemned the assassination attempt on him last week.
“I wished him strength and absolute safety in the future,” Zelensky said.
“I noted the vital bipartisan and bicameral American support for protecting our nation’s freedom and independence.”

Ukraine, he said, “will always be grateful to the United States for its help in strengthening our ability to resist Russian terror. Russian attacks on our cities and villages continue every day.”
Zelensky rejects any negotiations with Russia on ending the conflict as long as Russian troops remain in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president has proposed a peace plan, showcased again at a “world summit” last month to which Russia was not invited, that calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops and the restoration of Ukraine’s 1991 post-Soviet borders.
Russian troops occupy about 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. Moscow’s forces have made incremental gains in the east of the country along the 1,000-km (600-mile) front since capturing the key city of Avdiivka in February.