Monthly archive for ‘ January, 2019 ’

Post-election riots in Malawi

10th January 2019 | Closed

Malawi’s ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate, Bingu wa Mutharika was declared the winner of the presidential election, triggering the unrest.

Supporters of opposition candidate Gwanda Chakuamba went on a rampage after police had prevented them from attending a rally at which Mr Chakuamba was to make an address.

Clashes flared in three of Blantyre’s townships as groups of youths set up roadblocks and UDF offices were torched in Chitawira.

Mr Chakuamaba has rejected the result announced by the electoral commission, and instead claimed victory for himself.

International observers including European Union monitors have cited “serious shortcomings” in the preparation of the voters list and biased media coverage.

The electoral commission placed Mr Mutharika as the winning candidate, with just over a third of the ballots, followed by John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party and Mr Chakuamba in third place with 800,000 of the three million votes cast.

“We don’t agree with the figures. Gwanda should have over one million votes,” Ian Nankhuni, secretary general of Mr Chakuamba’s coalition, said.

Mr Mutharika is to take over from previous UDF president Bakili Muluzi, who is stepping down after two terms in office.

The results of parliamentary elections were also announced.

Mr Tembo’s Malawi Congress Party won 60 seats, ahead of the UDF which gained 49.

Independent candidates picked up another 38 seats, while Mr Chakuamba’s seven-party Mgwirizano Coalition trailed with 16 seats.

Malawi, wedged between Mozambique and Zambia in Africa’s southeast, has been devastated by poverty and the rampant AIDS crisis, which has brought life expectancy down to 36 years.


Paris roof collapse inquiry ordered

10th January 2019 | Closed

Wu Xin, 32, and Liu Jianfang, 30, were part of an eight-member group travelling from Shanghai to Mexico via Paris.

A 30 metre section of the roof collapsed just before 7am (1400 AEST) on Sunday, with tonnes of concrete, steel and glass crashing down on travellers and airport employees at the airport’s futuristic Terminal 2E.

A section of the glass-encased walkway caved in, falling onto service vehicles parked below.

The new terminal was inaugurated only last June, amid delays caused by security concerns and trade union accusations that management was rushing the completion deadlines for the building.

Laurent Vibert, a spokesman for the fire service, described the scene as “a disaster zone, like an earthquake”.

Police officers were direct witnesses to the disaster as it struck.

They were on the scene, having spotted dust coming from a crack in the roof about 25 minutes before if collapsed and were trying to cordon off the area.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed his “deepest sympathies” for the families of the victims and was joined by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who will go to Charles de Gaulle on Monday, in calling for an immediate investigation.

Prosecutors launched an inquiry to find out who or what was responsible for the casualties.

Paris Airport Authority president Pierre Graff said an administrative probe is being launched.

“ADP is absolutely open about this. I want the truth to be known as quickly as possible. We want to know and understand,” he said.

Paul Andreu, the architect who designed the terminal was expected back in Paris on Monday after learning about the accident during a visit to China, Mr Graff added.

“The architect and engineers are stunned,” he said.

The investigation is expected to focus on faults in the terminal design or possible short-cuts taken in the construction.

The opening of the terminal, the latest addition to the burgeoning Paris hub, was delayed for a week last June after fire officials and engineers ruled that safety norms had not been met – an overhead light had lost its fittings and crashed down during an inspection tour.

Management at ADP, a state-owned body which runs Paris airports, subsequently blamed the delay on the workforce, prompting an angry reaction from the CGT union, which accused Air France management and ADP of setting an unrealistic deadline for the opening.


South Africa welcomes Aristide

10th January 2019 | Closed

South African President Thabo Mbeki greeted Aristide with a hug after he stepped off a presidential jet at Johannesburg International Airport.

“We want to welcome President Aristide, his wife and children. Welcome indeed to the African continent. Welcome to South Africa,” Mbeki said.

Aristide, who was accompanied by his wife Mildred and two daughters, showed his appreciation, saying “Thank you, Africa” in Zulu, before stating that he planned to return to his home country.

“Today, we are welcomed in Africa, our mother country, our temporary home until we are back in Haiti,” said Aristide who arrived from Jamaica, his previous stop in exile.

“Of course, the Haitian situation must be normalised, peace must be restored and democratic order,” said Aristide.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said the former priest’s stay was open-ended.

Aristide left Haiti for the Central African Republic on February 29 amid a popular revolt against his rule, and last month travelled on to Jamaica.

He has claimed that the United States and France forced him to resign but the two governments maintain that Aristide left voluntarily to avoid a bloodbath in Haiti.

South Africa is supporting calls for a United Nations-led probe into the circumstances leading to Aristide’s departure and has suggested that he may have been a victim of the US policy of forced regime change.

Aristide was first elected in 1990, ousted in a coup less than a year later only to return to power with US military backing in 1994.

The former leader will be housed in a government residence in Pretoria as a guest of the South African state.


Labor Party ‘would ratify Kyoto’

10th January 2019 | Closed

The Federal Opposition’s environment spokesman says the Labor Party will ratify the international Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions if it wins the next election, following Russia’s decision to sign.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday promised to speed up Russia’s ratification of the protocol after winning support from the European Union for his country to join the World Trade Organisation.

It means that more than six years after it was first proposed, the agreement, stalled because industrialised nations including the United States and Australia refused to sign, could come into force.

Labor’s federal environment spokesman Kelvin Thomson says a continued refusal to ratify the protocal will leave Australia isolated.

“A Labor government would certainly ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and we would introduce an emissions trading regime compatable with the international trading regime, so Australian business does not lose out of the opportunities which come with that.

“And so Australia can meet targets of containing and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.”

A spokesman for the federal environment minister, David Kemp, says Australia will not sign the Kyoto Protocol “because it is not in the country’s best interests”.

He says “whatever Russia wants to do is Russia’s business”.

But an independent policy research centre, the Australia Institute, says it is likely Australia could face international trade sanctions if it does not ratify the Protocol aimed at reducing climate change.

The Institute’s chief executive, Clive Hamilton, says nations which have signed the agreement are placing additional production costs on their companies which must adhere to the agreement.

He says those nations are likely to place tariffs on goods produced in countries which have refused to sign.

“What we’ll see is Europe and Japan protecting their companies which do have an obligation to reduce their emissions from Australian companies which will effectively be free riding because the Australian government will not be requiring them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”


Civilian convoy attacked in Iraq

10th January 2019 | Closed

Two of the three vehicles in the convoy appeared to have collided after being targeted by gunshots on a main highway, and two bodies could be seen in the wreckage.

Some witnesses and police said three Westerners had been dragged from their four-wheel drive cars and their fate was unknown.

Others said armed foreigners left the vehicles and commandeered a passing car at gunpoint to make their escape.

However, Police Captain Saadun Aziz reportedly said those killed were Iraqis, one travelling in the convoy and another was a civilian motorist who had been driving past when the assault took place.

After the attack, a crowd of cheering Iraqis climbed on top of the cars, jumping up and down before setting two of the wrecks alight.

Convoys carrying foreigners have regularly been attacked in Iraq.

The latest ambush comes one month before the scheduled hand over of power from coalition authority to an interim Iraqi government.

Nominated prime minister-to-be, Iyad Allawi, has said security will be his main priority when Iraqi sovereignty resumes on July 1st.

Iraqi Governing Council spokesman Hamid Kifaey, said Defence Minister Ali Allawi and Interior Minister Samir Sumaiyadah would stay on in their posts after the transfer.

However, disagreement is brewing over the choice for Iraq’s presidency.

US administrator Paul Bremer and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are said to favour Adnan Pachachi, a veteran politician pre-dating the Saddam regime, for the largely ceremonial office.

But members of the Governing Council have instead thrown their support behind Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, an engineer based in Saudi Arabia.


Lawyer calls for Guantanamo disclosure

10th January 2019 | Closed

The lawyer for Australian terror suspect David Hicks says Australia must press for the immediate release of videotapes of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The Pentagon is holding an unidentified number of tapes showing the actions of a United States military squad assigned to subdue disobedient prisoners at the US military base in Cuba.

Former cellmates have said they saw Mr Hicks being beaten by American forces in Afghanistan and Cuba, and a former British detainee alleges he saw the other Australian being held, Mamdouh Habib, collapse after being deprived of sleep.

Mr Hicks’ Adelaide-based lawyer, Stephen Kenny, says the Australian government must ask for any tapes of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay.

“Also I am calling on them to ask the American Government to hand over the video tapes of David Hicks being beaten in Afghanistan, I think that is the very least they can do.

“But really what I am asking for is the Australian Government to realise that the American government are not providing free and fair trials for David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib and the Australian Government should ask for them to be sent home so that they can be dealt with in accordance with Australian and international law.”

Mr Hicks and Mr Habib have been detained without charge for more than two years.

The Greens Senator Bob Brown says the Foreign Affairs office has told him it will explore the possibility of him being able to visit the Australian detainees.

“If the reports about them being beaten and abused are wrong, then there should be no concern about a visit from me or indeed any other Australian who has their interests in mind.

“There is no good reason why an Australian government working with a friendly government like the United States should not be able to provide for a visit from a visiting parliamentarian to two Australians who have been locked up for two years without charge and without conviction.”

Mr Kenny says a visit by Mr Brown would be welcome.

Meanwhile, the Federal Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd is calling for an independant medical examination of the two Australian detainees to be carried out.

The Prime Minister, John Howard says he is suspicious of the allegations of abuse.


‘Body of murdered hostage released’

10th January 2019 | Closed

The head of CRI operations in Iraq Maurizio Scelli told reporters that the country’s Ulema Committee of Sunni Muslim leaders had come into possession of the body and handed it over to the Red Cross.

He admitted that the condition of the body “prevented immediate identification” but said that if it proved to be that of 36-year-old Fabrizio Quattrocchi, shot last month, “it offers hope that three other Italians held in Iraq will be released”.

All four were working as private security guards when they were taken captive at the start of April by a group calling itself the Falanges of Mohammed.

The surviving hostages are thought to be held in captivity near the flashpoint city of Fallujah.

“I will continue working to ensure a positive outcome to this affair,” said Mr Scelli.

“I’m firmly convinced that we must leave no stone unturned. We must continue our work and now we have been given an extra sign.”

Mr Scelli attributed much of the progress to the “atmosphere of trust” established between the Red Cross and the Ulema Committee, which is helping the international organization work towards securing the hostages’ release.

“Relations have been increasingly close, particularly following our work together to set up humanitarian convoys and fly Iraqi children in need of medical care to Italy,” said Mr Scelli.

The Red Cross has led four humanitarian convoys to Fallujah, bringing water, food and medical assistance.

Relatives of the remaining hostages Salvatore Stefio, 34, Umberto Cupertino, 35, and Maurizio Agliana, 37, expressed tentative hope at the news.

“After so many days without any news, we now have the first sign that we’re moving towards a positive outcome to these events,” said Stefio’s cousin Giuseppe, on behalf of the hostage’s parents.

Sources at the public prosecutor’s office in Rome confirmed that DNA testing would be required to identify the remains.


Iraqi women raped at Abu Ghraib: reports

10th January 2019 | Closed

However coalition spokesman Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt said the prisons department is unaware of any such reports at Abu Ghraib, and the reports have not been confirmed.

The International Occupation Watch Centre, an NGO that gathers information on human rights abuses under coalition rule, said one former detainee has told of the alleged rape of her cellmate.

“She claimed she had been raped 17 times in one day by Iraqi police in the presence of American soldiers,” said Iman Khamas, head of the IOWC, adding the victim had allegedly been rendered unconscious for 58 hours.

And another group, the Iraq-based Union of Detainees and Prisoners, has told of a mother of four, arrested in December, who killed herself after being raped by US guards in front of her husband at Abu Ghraib.

According to the group’s head Daham al-Mohammed, the woman’s sister who helped in the suicide told of how the woman had been taken into a cell where she saw her husband attached to bars. A US soldier reportedly held her by the hair to force her to look at her husband while he stripped her, then raped her.

A former male prisoner, Amer Abu Durayid, 30, who was released on May 13, reported seeing women taken into a room. “They had to pass in front of our tent and cried out, ‘Find a way to kill us’,” he said.

Human rights groups say in a conservative society like Iraq, women are made to feel that rape dishonours the whole family and would prefer to die.

Mr Khamas, Mr Mohammed and Baghdad University professor Hoda Nuaimi all separately said three young rural women from the Sunni Muslim region of Al-Anbar had been killed by their families after leaving Abu Ghraib pregnant.

Most of the women arrested by coalition forces are accused of holding senior positions in Saddam Hussein’s Baath party or assisting the insurgency against the occupation forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says about 30 women were housed in the prison in October. According to prison management, there were five at the beginning of May.


Israel ‘eases’ Gaza raids

10th January 2019 | Closed

Israeli military sources said Operation Rainbow, launched early Tuesday in Rafah is continuing and that the withdrawal of forces from Tal al-Sultan was merely a “redeployment.”

The international community, including the US, has widely condemned the operation.

Up to eight more Palestinians were killed Thursday, including Khalid Abu Anza, the local head of the armed wing of the radical movement Hamas.

Five were killed in air strikes in the Jenaina neighbourhood of Rafah and the Brazil quarter of the neighbouring refugee camp. Two others were reportedly shot by troops in Tal al-Sultan.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the killing of civilians and demolishing of homes by Israeli forces.

The US abstained from the Security Council vote, a signal it is hardening its line as it usually vetoes anti-Israel resolutions.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched the raid on Tuesday.

Israel has expressed regret for the civilian deaths but has vowed to continue the operation. Military sources said they arrested 60 Palestinians, many of whom were armed activists.

Israel is aiming to destroy tunnels linking Rafah with Egypt, which it says are used to smuggle weapons.

But UN officials say the operation has left more than 1,000 people homeless.

The US issued a statement saying the raids have worsened the situation in the region.

“While we believe that Israel has the right to act to defend itself and its citizens, we do not see that its operations in Gaza in the last few days serve the purposes of peace and security,” it said.

Britain also condemned the raids.

“This sort of action is actually escalating the conflict rather than producing circumstances in which negotiated settlement could occur,” said minister for Parliament relations, Peter Hain.

Meanwhile, an Israeli court has convicted prominent Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti of masterminding an attack that killed five people.

But it cleared him of involvement in attacks in which more than 20 other people were killed. He will be sentenced on June 6.


Pinochet stripped of immunity

10th January 2019 | Closed

The decision by the full Santiago Appeals Court came after a 14-9 vote in favour of the rule.

Pinochet, 88, has enjoyed immunity given to him by lawmakers as an ex-president, after ruling Chile with an iron fist from 1973 to 1990 after gaining power after the military overthrew elected Socialist president Salvador Allende.

Government records show that more than 3,000 people were murdered or disappeared while in custody, presumed killed.

Pinochet can now be prosecuted over his role in Operation Condor, in which Latin American military governments coordinated elimination of their opponents.

“Obviously we are going to appeal,” said Pinochet’s lawyer Ambrosio Rodriguez.

“We want the Supreme Court to establish the rule of law.”

Charges have been brought against other Chilean Condor participants, who used international military intelligence, communications and aircraft to track down suspected opponents in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s and 80s, kill them and move the bodies across borders.

“We receive this with deep surprise but also with deep pride,” said chief prosecution lawyer Francisco Bravo. “This ruling makes the relatives of the victims and the whole of Chilean society again trust Chile’s justice.”

Pinochet was placed under house arrest for six weeks in early 2001, but in July 2002 was declared mentally unfit by Chile’s Supreme Court to stand trial on murder and kidnapping charges.

But last November he appeared in an interview with a Miami-based Spanish language television station, saying he sees himself as a “good angel” and denying participating in murders.

His lucid appearance was apparently a factor in persuading the judges that Pinochet is fit to stand trial.