Myanmar frees hundreds of political prisoners after ASEAN pressure

ICMD, Oct 19, 2021: Myanmar's military government has freed hundreds of political prisoners from the notorious Insein prison, including Aung San Suu Kyi's party spokesman and a famous comedian Zarganar, local media reported. Minutes after military ruler Min Aung Hlaing's speech on October 18, state television announced more than 5,600 people arrested or wanted over their roles in anti-coup protests would be freed in an amnesty on humanitarian grounds. The release was described by some activists as a ploy by the ruling military to try to rebuild its international reputation after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took the rare step of excluding the junta chief from its summit. U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews on Twitter welcomed the release but said it was "outrageous" that they were detained in the first place. "The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure," he said. The junta has released prisoners several times since the February coup.

Train riders in US held up phones as woman was raped, police say

ICMD, Oct 19, 2021: A man charged with raping a woman on a commuter train just outside of the US city of Philadelphia harassed her for more than 40 minutes while multiple people held up their phones to seemingly record the assault without intervening, authorities said. More than two dozen train stops passed as the man harassed, groped and eventually raped the woman, the police chief for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Septa) said at a news conference on Monday. Police do not believe a single witness on the train dialed 911. They are investigating whether some bystanders filmed the assault. Both the man and woman got on the train at the same stop on Wednesday night in North Philadelphia. Officers pulled the man off of the woman at the last stop. They responded within about three minutes of a 911 call from a transportation authority employee, authorities said. “What we want is everyone to be angry and disgusted and to be resolute about making the system safer,” the Septa Police Chief, Thomas J Nestel III, said at the news conference. Arrest records show Fiston Ngoy, 35, was charged with rape and related offenses. The affidavit of arrest for Ngoy detailed times of the assault, including that during those 40 minutes the woman appears to repeatedly push Ngoy away. Nestel would not give an approximate number of witnesses and it was unclear from the affidavit how many passengers were present for those 40 minutes. Authorities have not released the surveillance video. “I can tell you that people were holding their phone up in the direction of this woman being attacked,” he said.

Afghan Taliban to announce secondary school for girls: Unicef deputy chief

ICMD, Oct, 16, 2021: A senior UN official said on Friday the Taliban told him they will announce “very soon” that all Afghan girls will be allowed to attend secondary schools. Unicef Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi, who visited Kabul last week, told reporters at UN headquarters that five of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces — Balkh, Jawzjan and Samangan in the northwest, Kunduz in the northeast and Urozgan in the southwest — are already allowing girls to attend secondary school. He said the Taliban’s education minister told him they are working on “a framework” to allow all girls to continue their schooling beyond the sixth grade, which should be published “between a month and two”. “As I speak to you today, millions of girls of secondary school age are missing out on education for the 27th consecutive day,” Abdi said. “We are urging them not to wait. Any day that we wait — it’s a day lost for those girls that are out of school.”

IS claims deadly suicide attack on Shia mosque in Afghanistan's Kandahar

ICMD, Oct 16, 2021: The militant Islamic State group on Saturday claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a Shia mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar that killed at least 41 people and injured scores more. The Friday assault came just a week after another IS-claimed attack on Shia worshippers at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz that killed more than 60 people. In a statement released on its Telegram channels, the group said two Islamic State suicide bombers carried out separate attacks on different parts of the mosque in Kandahar — the spiritual heartland of the Taliban — while worshippers prayed inside. The group, a bitter rival of the Taliban, which swept back to power in Afghanistan in August as the United States and its allies withdrew, regards Shia Muslims as heretics. _ Courtesy AFP

Myanmar military chief to be excluded from ASEAN summit

ICMD, Oct 16, 2021: Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Friday agreed to not invite Myanmar's military chief to a leaders summit this month because of slow progress on restoring peace in the country, according to multiple diplomatic sources. "Min Aung Hlaing will not be invited to ASEAN," said a Yangon-based ASEAN diplomat. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing's exclusion from the region's highest-level meeting highlights the growing pressure on the Myanmar military government, which has been reluctant to cooperate with the international community to settle unrest in the country since it took power on Feb. 1. According to the sources, foreign ministers from the 10-member bloc discussed the issue in a virtual meeting, in which Myanmar's military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin also participated. "The participation of Myanmar at the summits should not be represented at the political level until Myanmar restores its democracy through an inclusive process," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi tweeted after the meeting, It was not clear who would represent Myanmar at the summit, but a source said the country would be represented only by a "nonpolitical figure." ASEAN will hold the summit and related meetings from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28, which also involves the annual East Asia Summit, a regional meeting with the bloc's partners including the U.S. and China. The meetings are slated to discuss issues including security, trade and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Friday's decision comes amid a lack of progress in the "five-point consensus" road map for a peaceful resolution to the Myanmar crisis, which the members agreed on at an April leaders meeting in Jakarta. In August, ASEAN appointed Brunei's second foreign minister, Erywan Yusof, as its special envoy to Myanmar, tasked with mediating the political unrest. But Erywan has not visited Myanmar yet, although he had planned to do so earlier this week. During last foreign ministers' meeting held on Oct. 4, Malaysia and some countries raised the issue of not inviting Min Aung Hlaing to the summit. The bloc was "deep in discussions" about it, Erywan told reporters after that meeting. Meanwhile, Myanmar's foreign ministry said on Thursday that the military government was "committed to constructively cooperating in the implementation of five-point consensus." It stated the military government was not able to accommodate the special envoy's visit because Erywan had insisted on meetings with "some specific individuals," which appeared to mean the elected leaders ousted on Feb. 1, including Aung San Suu Kyi. The military government is also under pressure from international human rights groups. In an open letter to ASEAN leaders this week, the democracy group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights called for the exclusion of Min Aung Hlaing from the meeting, citing the military's "blatant disregard" for the five-point consensus. "It is time for ASEAN to act decisively," reads the letter, which goes on to say that this begins by denying the military government "the legitimacy it craves, and which has been rejected constantly by the people of Myanmar." Before Friday's ASEAN meeting, the governments of several countries including the U.K., the U.S. and Norway issued a joint statement, calling on Myanmar to "engage constructively with the ASEAN special envoy to also implement other aspects of the five-point consensus swiftly and completely." According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group, 1,178 people have been killed by the military as of Friday since Feb. 1. -- AN

North Korea vows to build invincible military to cope with US hostility

ICMD, Oct 12, 2021: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reviewed powerful missiles developed to launch nuclear strikes on the US mainland, as he vowed to build an “invincible” military to cope with what he called persistent US hostility, state media reported on Tuesday. In an apparent continued effort to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, Kim also used his speech at a rare exhibition of weapons systems on Monday to stress that his military might isn’t targeted at South Korea and that there shouldn’t be another war pitting Korean people against each other. “The US has frequently signalled it’s not hostile to our state, but there is no action-based evidence to make us believe that they are not hostile,” Kim said on Monday, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. “The US is continuing to create tensions in the region with its wrong judgments and actions.” Calling the United States a “source” of instability in the Korean Peninsula, Kim said his country’s most important objective is possessing an “invincible military capability” that no one can dare challenge.

Yemen: Five killed in explosion targetting governor of Aden

ICMD, Oct 10, 2021: A car bomb targetting the governor’s convoy shook Yemen’s southern port city of Aden on Sunday killing at least four people, security and military sources said. Governor Ahmed Lamlas and agriculture minister Salem Al Suqatri, both members of a southern separatist group, survived a “terrorist assassination attempt”, the state news agency said. At least four soldiers in the convoy were killed, a security source said. A military spokesman of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) said at least five people were injured including three civilians, one of them a child. A body covered with a blanket lay on the street next to a charred vehicle in Al Tawahi district, which houses the STC headquarters. Firefighters and police were deployed to the area. Lamlas is secretary general of the STC. Riyadh had brokered a deal to end the power struggle, including forming a new cabinet that includes STC members, but tensions have simmered. Instability in the south complicates United Nations-led peace efforts to end the war in Yemen which has killed tens of thousands of people and left 80 per cent of the population reliant on aid. -- KT

16 parachuters killed and six injured in Russian plane crash

ICMD, Oct 10, 2021: A plane carrying a group of parachute jumpers crashed in the Russian region of Tatarstan on Sunday, killing 16 people and injuring six, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said. The aircraft, which came down near the city of Menzelinsky, had been carrying 20 parachutists and two crew members. Six people were in a serious condition, the health ministry said. A Let L-410 Turbolet twin-engine short-range transport aircraft, the plane was owned by an aeroclub in the city of Menzelinsk, the TASS news agency reported. Cosmonauts use the area for training and the aeroclub has hosted local, European and world championships, the club's director Ravil Nurmukhametov was quoted by TASS as saying.

Afghans who reach UK after takeover of Taliban want to go back home

ICMD, Oct 10, 2021: Afghans who recently arrived in the UK after fleeing the Taliban takeover have asked to be sent back, casting doubt over the success of Operation Warm Welcome, the government’s Afghan resettlement programme. It was launched by Boris Johnson on 29 August to help Afghan refugees arriving in the UK by providing support so they could “rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into their local communities”. However, a widespread lack of housing means hotels have been commandeered as emergency temporary accommodation for 7,000 Afghan refugees, with Home Office officials admitting that some will be held in them for months. Already some refugees have had enough. One doctor, who has been working with the newly arrived Afghans for weeks but who requested anonymity, said: “I’ve had a few patients telling me they want to go home. One guy, who was 67, kept saying: ‘I can’t take this any more. I have to get out of this [hotel] room.’ ” The GP, an Afghan who fled the country in 2000 when the Taliban were previously in power, added: “Another said: ‘I just want my freedom from the hotel.’ I had to put him on medication, and his wife, because they were so upset.” There are also concerns over healthcare for those held in hotels following the evacuation from Kabul airport, with one charity describing confusion over access to local GPs. One council leader described the government’s programme as a “shocking failure”. Councillor Danny Thorpe of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, south-east London, said the lack of organised government support when 700 Afghans arrived in the borough in August was “unforgivable”. “This was one of the most shocking failures of government that I ever encountered,” he said. The Gaurdian

Afghan blast toll crosses 60

ICMD, Oct 9, 2021: Mourners from Afghanistan’s Shia community buried their dead on Saturday after a suicide attack on a mosque killed over 60 people, in the bloodiest assault since U.S. forces’ withdrawal. A gravedigger in the Shiite cemetery overlooking the northern city of Kunduz told AFP they had handled 62 bodies, and local reports suggested the final toll could be up to 100. Scores more victims were also wounded in Friday's blast, which was claimed by the Islamic State group and appeared designed to further destabilise Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover. The regional branch of the sectarian IS, known as Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), has repeatedly targeted Shiites in Afghanistan. It is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals. IS-K said the attack was carried out by a Uyghur Muslim suicide bomber who had "detonated an explosive vest amid a crowd" of Shiite worshippers.

216,000 children were victims of French clergy sex abuse since 1950, reveals report

ICMD, Oct 5, 2021: An independent inquiry into alleged sex abuse of minors by French Catholic priests, deacons and other clergy has found some 216,000 victims of paedophilia from 1950 to 2020, a “massive phenomenon” that was covered up for decades by a “veil of silence.” The landmark report, released on Tuesday after two and a half years of investigations, follows widespread outrage over a string of paedophilia claims and prosecutions against Church officials worldwide. When lay members of the Church such as teachers at Catholic schools are included, the number of child abuse victims climbs to 330,000 over the seven-decade period. Read more: Some 3,000 paedophiles in French Catholic Church since 1950: probe “Until the early 2000s the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims,” the president of the independent commission, Jean-Marc Sauve, said at a press conference. The commission was established by Catholic bishops in France at the end of 2018 to shed light on abuses and restore public confidence in the Church at a time of dwindling congregations. It has worked independently from the Church. Sauve denounced the “systemic character” of efforts to shield clergy from paedophilia claims. The report, at nearly 2,500 pages, found that the “vast majority” of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a wide variety of social backgrounds. “The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” the report said. “You are a disgrace to our humanity,” Francois Devaux, who set up victims' association La Parole Liberee, told church representatives at the public presentation of the report, before Sauve took the floor. “In this hell, there have been abominable mass crimes ... but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children,” Devaux said, also accusing the Church of cowardice. How to prevent abuse The commission issued 45 recommendations about how to prevent abuse. These included training priests and other clerics, revising Canon Law the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church and fostering policies to recognise and compensate victims, Sauv said. Last year, Preynat was convicted of sexually abusing minors and given a five-year prison sentence. He acknowledged abusing more than 75 boys for decades. Devaux told The Associated Press that with this report, the French church for the first time is going to the root of this systemic problem. The deviant institution must reform itself, he added. He said the number of victims the report identified is a minimum. “Some victims did not dare to speak out or trust the commission, he said, expressing concerns that the church in France still hasn't understood and has sought to minimise its responsibilities. The church must not only acknowledge events but also compensate victims, Devaux said. It is indispensable that the church redresses the harm caused by all these crimes, and (financial) compensation is the first step. The Preynat case led to the resignation last year of the former archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who has been accused of failing to report the abuses to civil authorities when he learned about them in the 2010s. France's highest court ruled earlier this year that Barbarin did not cover up the case. -- Courtesy Intl news agencies