students

Bangladesh army out in force as PM cancels foreign trip

students

Bangladesh army out in force as PM cancels foreign trip

BY SHAFIQUL ALAM

  • - 'Shocking indictment' - Hospitals and police reported an additional 10 deaths to AFP on Saturday from clashes the previous day, with 105 other deaths reported since Tuesday.
  • 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 a foreign diplomatic tour. 
  • - 'Shocking indictment' - Hospitals and police reported an additional 10 deaths to AFP on Saturday from clashes the previous day, with 105 other deaths reported since Tuesday.
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 a foreign diplomatic tour. 
This week's violence has killed at least 115 people so far, according to an AFP count of victims reported by police and hospitals, and poses a monumental 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 widespread mayhem.
"The army has been deployed nationwide to control the law and order situation," armed forces spokesman Shahdat Hossain told AFP. 
The curfew will remain in effect until at least 10:00 am (0400 GMT) Sunday, private broadcaster Channel 24 reported.
"Hundreds of thousands of people" had battled police across the capital Dhaka on Friday, police spokesman Faruk Hossain told AFP.
"At least 150 police officers were admitted to hospital. Another 150 were given first aid treatment," he said, adding that two officers had been beaten to death.  
"The protesters torched many police booths... Many government offices were torched and vandalised."
Streets of the capital Dhaka were almost deserted at daybreak, with troops on foot and in armoured personnel carriers patrolling the sprawling megacity of 20 million. 
Hundreds of protesters defied the stay-home order in the residential neighbourhood of Rampur but were quickly dispersed by police firing rubber bullets, an AFP journalist at the scene reported.
A spokesman for Students Against Discrimination, the main organising group of the protests, told AFP that two of its leaders had been arrested since Friday. 
And a second senior official from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was arrested in the early hours of Saturday, party spokesman Sairul Islam Khan told AFP. 
Thousands of people besieged a police base in Rangpur on Friday night, a senior police official in the northern city told AFP, with three protesters killed.
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 cancelled her Spain and Brazil tours due to the prevailing situation, her press secretary Nayeemul Islam Khan told AFP.

'Frustration has been mounting'

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.
Since the first deaths on Tuesday, protesters have begun demanding Hasina leave office.
"Frustration has been mounting in Bangladesh because the country has not had a genuinely competitive national election for more than 15 years," Pierre Prakash of Crisis Group told AFP. 
"With no real alternative at the ballot box, discontented Bangladeshis have few options besides street protests to make their voices heard."

'Shocking indictment'

Hospitals and police reported an additional 10 deaths to AFP on Saturday from clashes the previous day, with 105 other deaths reported since Tuesday.
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.
Government websites remain offline and major newspapers including the Dhaka Tribune and Daily Star have been unable to update their social media platforms since Thursday. 
Bangladesh Television, the state broadcaster, also remains offline after its Dhaka headquarters was set on fire by protesters the same day. 
sa/gle/fox

Trump

Resurgent Trump to reclaim campaign stage after shock shooting

BY MICHAEL MATHES

  • Biden has paused campaigning to nurse a case of Covid, while he and his inner circle engage in political firefighting as party stalwarts warn that by remaining on the ticket Biden could lead Democrats to defeat of the White House and both chambers of Congress. 
  • Riding high after a triumphant convention that formalized Donald Trump as the Republican Party's White House nominee, the ex-president returns to the campaign trail Saturday for his first rally since narrowly escaping assassination.
  • Biden has paused campaigning to nurse a case of Covid, while he and his inner circle engage in political firefighting as party stalwarts warn that by remaining on the ticket Biden could lead Democrats to defeat of the White House and both chambers of Congress. 
Riding high after a triumphant convention that formalized Donald Trump as the Republican Party's White House nominee, the ex-president returns to the campaign trail Saturday for his first rally since narrowly escaping assassination.
As Trump descends on battleground Michigan to stump in public with his vice presidential running mate J.D. Vance for the first time, Joe Biden's campaign is grappling with an internal Democratic Party revolt from senior lawmakers and donors calling on the 81-year-president to quit the race.
Biden has paused campaigning to nurse a case of Covid, while he and his inner circle engage in political firefighting as party stalwarts warn that by remaining on the ticket Biden could lead Democrats to defeat of the White House and both chambers of Congress. 
Team Trump for its part is effervescent. This week's four-day Republican National Convention went off without a hitch, and the 78-year-old candidate's mission of demonstrating absolute control over the party and firing up his base appears accomplished.
Dozens of the most ardent supporters were already lined up late Friday outside Van Andel Arena to be the first allowed through the doors.
"I'm going in and seeing one of the strongest S.O.B.'s there is, plain and simple," Sherri Bonoite, a 75-year-old grandmother from Michigan attending her first Trump rally, told AFP.
"Even a speeding bullet couldn't stop him. And he's what this country needs."
With Saturday's 5:00 pm (2100 GMT) indoor assemblage in downtown Grand Rapids, Trump embraces a moment remarkable by any measure: striding back on stage exactly one week since a 20-year-old gunman on a rooftop sprayed an outdoor Pennsylvania rally with bullets, killing one attendee and wounding Trump.
"I had God on my side," he told the convention Thursday, as he described how a bullet narrowly missed his head and grazed his ear.

Eyes on security

Trump may not discuss details of last week's trauma, as he told the recent convention: "You'll never hear it from me a second time because it's actually too painful to tell."
Instead he will flaunt his new status as the party's flagbearer after officially accepting the nomination at the convention -- and bask in the adoring reception in store for when he walks out to a partisan crowd.
He will almost certainly dive into the aggressive rhetoric of his typical campaign speeches, in which he assails the administration over illegal immigration, inflation, crime, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, China policy and oil drilling.
All eyes however will be on the security posture, especially given how major questions remain over Secret Service lapses at the Pennsylvania event.
Trump will speak inside an enclosed 12,000-capacity sports facility that allows more complete control of a perimeter. 
Security nevertheless is expected to be extra tight around Trump in the wake of the most egregious Secret Service failure in decades.
He also makes his debut campaign appearance with vice presidential pick Vance, a US senator from Ohio who at age 39 could appeal to younger voters.
And Vance's blue-collar connection could help Trump, a billionaire businessman, win over critical swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Meanwhile Biden's campaign is lurching from crisis to crisis.
A disastrous debate performance against Trump three weeks ago sparked panic about his age and health, and whether the veteran politician has the capacity to stave off a resurgent Trump in November.
Most polls show Trump on course for an Oval Office return.
More than 30 House Democrats and four senators have now called on Biden to drop out, and several party luminaries including Barack Obama have reportedly urged the president to reconsider his decision to stay in the race.
mlm/sn 

union

Disneyland workers vote in favor of strike authorization

  • Employees at its California theme parks have not gone on strike since 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • Disneyland employees in California authorized a strike in a union-wide vote Friday, opening the door to withhold their labor from "the happiest place on Earth", the theme park's unions announced.
  • Employees at its California theme parks have not gone on strike since 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Disneyland employees in California authorized a strike in a union-wide vote Friday, opening the door to withhold their labor from "the happiest place on Earth", the theme park's unions announced.
The unions, which represent some 14,000 Disneyland Resort employees, have been in negotiations with Disney over wage increases and other benefits since April. 
Talks have stalled and tensions have grown as some employees contend Disney has engaged in anti-union practices.
Ninety-nine percent of members voted in favor of the strike authorization, according to a union statement.
It allows union leaders to decide when to call the strike, as well as its duration and terms.
This week, Disney said it was "committed" to continuing negotiations scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
If the talks go ahead as planned, the strike authorization vote gives union members new leverage in negotiations.
"A strike is always a last resort for workers, but this strong vote shows that cast members across Disneyland are ready and willing to do what it takes to stand up to Disney’s unfair labor practices and get the contract they deserve," the Disney Workers Rising Bargaining Committee said in the statement. 
"Today's overwhelming unfair labor practice strike authorization vote sends a clear message to the company: 'we are stronger together and will not be divided by scare tactics'". 
After last year's writers and actors strike paralyzed Hollywood, another major labor movement within Disney would be historic.
Employees at its California theme parks have not gone on strike since 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Disneyland employees, also known as "cast members," gathered for a protest in a parking lot outside the park in Anaheim, a suburb of Los Angeles.
The employees complained of low wages and intimidation used by managers, prompting a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
The union claims that over 500 employees have been reprimanded, threatened or warned about disciplinary action for wearing a union pin, which depicts a Mickey Mouse glove raised in the shape of a fist.
"Last week, I saw a manager telling one of the cast members to remove her badge," Disneyland employee Ginny Cristales, 44, told AFP over the phone. "He told her that it will be on her record card... She was stressed and scared."
Cristales has worked at Disneyland for the past five years, earning around $2,800 a month -- which is not enough to cover the rent for her and her four children.
"We deserve fair wages," Cristales said. "A strike is our last resort, that we're not wanting to do. But if Disney doesn't comply and give us what we need, then we're all ready."
rfo/jgc/bjt/sn/fox 

accident

North China bridge collapse kills 11, leaves over 30 missing

BY SéBASTIEN RICCI

  • State broadcaster CCTV said nearly 20 vehicles and more than 30 people remained missing after the highway bridge collapsed into the river below.
  • A bridge collapse caused by torrential rains in northern China has killed 11 people and left more than 30 missing, state media said Saturday.
  • State broadcaster CCTV said nearly 20 vehicles and more than 30 people remained missing after the highway bridge collapsed into the river below.
A bridge collapse caused by torrential rains in northern China has killed 11 people and left more than 30 missing, state media said Saturday.
The bridge over a river in Shaanxi province's Shangluo buckled at around 8:40 pm Friday (1240 GMT) "due to a sudden downpour and flash floods", state news agency Xinhua said, citing the provincial public relations department.
State broadcaster CCTV said nearly 20 vehicles and more than 30 people remained missing after the highway bridge collapsed into the river below.
All 11 confirmed victims were found inside five vehicles that had so far been recovered from the water, the broadcaster said.
Images on state TV showed a partially submerged section of the bridge with the river rushing over it.
One witness told local media that he had approached the bridge but that other drivers started "yelling at me to brake and stop the car."
"A truck in front of me didn't stop" and fell into the water, the witness, surnamed Meng, said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged "all-out efforts" to find those still missing, CCTV said.
Large portions of northern and central China have been battered since Tuesday by rains that have caused flooding and significant damage.
On Friday, state media reported at least five people dead and eight missing after the rains sparked flooding and mudslides in Shaanxi's Baoji city.
State television broadcast images of neighborhoods completely flooded by muddy water, with excavators and residents attempting to clear the damage.

Extreme weather

The semi-desert province of Gansu, which neighbours Shaanxi, and Henan in central China were also hit by heavy rains this week.
In Henan's Nanyang city, the equivalent of a year's worth of rain fell at the start of the week, according to CCTV.
And in southwestern Sichuan province, two people were reported killed and seven others missing Friday after heavy rain triggered landslides, Xinhua said.
China is enduring a summer of extreme weather, with heavy rains across the east and south coming as much of the north has sweltered in successive heat waves.
Climate change, which scientists say is exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions, is making these types of extreme weather phenomena more frequent and more intense.
In May, a highway in southern China collapsed after days of rain, leaving 48 dead.
Earlier this month, a tornado passed through a town in eastern China killing one, injuring 79 and causing significant damage.
sbr-oho/cwl

social

'Live joyfully': Poland's DJ Vika, 85, shatters senior stereotypes

BY KATARZYNA SKIBA

  • Every year since, similar seniors' parades have been held in several Polish cities, and DJ Vika's 26-year-long career in music continues to flourish. 
  • With huge headphones propped over her white hair, Polish DJ and activist Wirginia Szmyt, 85, grooves alongside a drag queen on a float at the Warsaw pride parade.
  • Every year since, similar seniors' parades have been held in several Polish cities, and DJ Vika's 26-year-long career in music continues to flourish. 
With huge headphones propped over her white hair, Polish DJ and activist Wirginia Szmyt, 85, grooves alongside a drag queen on a float at the Warsaw pride parade.
DJ Vika, as she is known, is a young-at-heart great-grandmother determined to break down stereotypes.
"Old age is not a disease," she said, each wrist adorned with a stack of bracelets as colourful as her personality. 
"This does not mean you have to be a plant and look out the window," she told AFP. 
Through her performances, Vika shows her staunch support for seniors and advocates for gender equality, LGBTQ rights and a more open-minded and accepting Poland. 
"I am for unity, for equality, for love, for tolerance, for openness," she said ahead of her Pride performance in June.
"All this allows a person to live joyfully." 

LGBTQ inspired

After retiring from a career in youth rehabilitation at a correctional facility, Vika began organising events for senior citizens, designed to "help them adjust to the 21st century". 
What began as a series of educational events, including meetings with faith leaders and politicians, went on to include parties, music, trips to the seaside and celebrations. 
"In our country there was no tradition of offering something to elderly people," she said.
"The senior was simply the person who took care of the family."
Her seniors' parades, modelled after LGBTQ pride parades, began in 2013, with the very first one drawing 14,000 participants in Poland's capital.
"I thought to myself that since there is such a perception of senior citizens -- that they are bothersome, just getting in the way, old -- then we should make a parade, to show how beautiful they are," Vika said. 
Every year since, similar seniors' parades have been held in several Polish cities, and DJ Vika's 26-year-long career in music continues to flourish. 
"If we want to fight for our rights, we have to show up," she said. 
- 'She does this for us' - 
DJ Vika has performed at pride parades, women's rights festivals and celebrations in cities such as Nice, Frankfurt and Helsinki, but one of her regular gigs is a dance night for seniors at Warsaw's Mlociny shopping mall. 
It is here, amid music that ranges from Latin hits to Eurovision contenders and her country's own 1980s "disco polo", that Vika's vibrant audience comes together for a night of dancing and fun. 
"Music fills me with life," said Vika, adding that her goal was "to bring people together".
She has built up a loyal following.
Maria Michalak, a nurse in her 60s, made an hour-long metro commute across Warsaw with her husband to attend the Mlociny mall dance.
"Compared to other such events for seniors, this is the best," she said. "Maybe they should happen even more often."
Andrzej Jan Kuspik, a 73-year-old pensioner, attends DJ Vika's sets every month that he can.
"She does this for us," he said, adding that he was so thankful that he bought Vika flowers for International Women's Day.
Although her gigs mean regular travel across Poland and abroad, Vika does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
"Every one of us has an inner child," she said.
"If this child wakes up then we can feel younger."
str/amj/bc

anniversary

Sirens in Cyprus mark 50 years since Turkish invasion

BY DANIEL CAPURRO

  • In the government-controlled south of the island, the sirens blared at 5:30 am (0230 GMT), the start time of 1974's Operation Atilla which would go on to conquer a third of Cyprus and displace around 40 percent of the population.
  • Sirens pierced the pre-dawn quiet in Cyprus on Saturday to mark 50 years since Turkish troops landed on the Mediterranean island in an invasion that has left it divided to this day.
  • In the government-controlled south of the island, the sirens blared at 5:30 am (0230 GMT), the start time of 1974's Operation Atilla which would go on to conquer a third of Cyprus and displace around 40 percent of the population.
Sirens pierced the pre-dawn quiet in Cyprus on Saturday to mark 50 years since Turkish troops landed on the Mediterranean island in an invasion that has left it divided to this day.
In the government-controlled south of the island, the sirens blared at 5:30 am (0230 GMT), the start time of 1974's Operation Atilla which would go on to conquer a third of Cyprus and displace around 40 percent of the population.
A UN-patrolled buffer zone now cuts across the island from northwest to southeast, with checkpoints and border controls separating the Greek Cypriot community in the south from the Turkish Cypriot community in the north. 
Before the anniversary, Greek Cypriot veterans of the fight against the invasion told AFP that they were pessimistic about the prospects for peace. Demetris Toumazis, who was taken to Turkey as a prisoner of war in 1974, said, "It's 50 years now and there's still no solution, and there's no hope".
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was set to visit Cyprus on Saturday evening to attend the commemorations alongside Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides.
Christodoulides was scheduled to attend a memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers in the morning, followed by a Greek Orthodox service in the village of Kokkinotrimithia, west of the divided capital Nicosia.
Mitsotakis was due to join him for an art project collecting memories of the invasion at the presidential palace, after which both leaders were set to deliver speeches.
In the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Ankara, the mood will be one of celebration, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expected to visit amid tight security to take part in anniversary events including a military parade.
The TRNC's lack of international recognition since it was declared by Turkish Cypriot leaders in 1983 means it is heavily dependent on Turkey. 
Decades of UN-backed talks have failed to reunify the island and the most recent UN envoy, the Colombian diplomat Maria Angela Holguin, wrote in an open letter in early July that there was a need to "move away" from past solutions and to "think differently".
The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2017, while April marked 20 years since Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected a UN-backed unification plan in a referendum.
The invasion was triggered by a coup in Nicosia backed by the military junta in Athens and aimed at uniting the island with Greece, something bitterly opposed by the Turkish Cypriot community which made up just under a fifth of the island's population at the time.
Cyprus had gained an uneasy independence from Britain 14 years earlier with a complex constitution designed to ensure minority rights for Turkish Cypriots.
The treaty granting it independence banned union with Greece or Turkey as well as partition and made London, Athens and Ankara guarantors of Cyprus's independence, territorial integrity and security.
Within three years, severe intercommunal violence broke out which caused Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves and first divided Nicosia in two.
bur-dcp/kir

conflict

Israelis learn Krav Maga fighting art amid Gaza War

BY JACK MOORE

  • The Israeli settlement he calls home, like all those in the occupied West Bank, is considered illegal under international law. 
  • Inside an occupied West Bank settlement, ultra-Orthodox martial arts instructor Moshe Katz oversees students role-playing events from the October 7 Hamas attacks, teaching them how to reverse the guns in a hostage scenario.
  • The Israeli settlement he calls home, like all those in the occupied West Bank, is considered illegal under international law. 
Inside an occupied West Bank settlement, ultra-Orthodox martial arts instructor Moshe Katz oversees students role-playing events from the October 7 Hamas attacks, teaching them how to reverse the guns in a hostage scenario.
"I'll take you hostage first, then you do it to me," he told a student while brandishing a blue rubber Kalashnikov during a simulation for Krav Maga, an Israeli fighting discipline. 
Switching to playing a hostage, Katz told the student to grab him by the back of the shirt.
"So now he's grabbing me here and I'm saying I'm not gonna be a victim, no way," Katz said, before seizing the barrel of the fake gun and flipping it on the would-be assailant.
"It's your turn to die today, not mine!" he yelled.
Katz, 63, has converted the basement of his house into a makeshift dojo for teaching Krav Maga.
The self-defence system, which involves an aggressive fighting style and targeted strikes to weak points such as the throat and groin, is an amalgam of various martial arts, boxing and wrestling and has been taught in Israel's military for decades. 
With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity since October 7, Katz saw an opportunity to spread his knowledge about the hand-to-hand fighting system.
"I think thousands of years of our history has proven that we need to know how to defend ourselves," said trainee Mordechai Sachs, 56, who had driven for an hour from west Jerusalem.
The Hamas-led attacks resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 whom the Israeli military says are dead. 
Israel's military offensive has killed at least 38,848 people, also mostly civilians, according to figures from the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. 

'Buying more guns'

Katz's lessons run through multiple scenarios, including fending off a stabbing attack with kitchen dishes and disarming a gunman holding up a convenience store.
The Israeli settlement he calls home, like all those in the occupied West Bank, is considered illegal under international law. 
Since the start of the Gaza war in October, violence in the occupied territory, which was already restive, has surged to levels not seen in decades. 
At least 576 Palestinians have been killed there by Israeli troops or settlers since October 7, Palestinian officials say. 
In the same time period, 16 Israelis, including soldiers, have been killed in violence with Palestinians, according to Israeli figures.
Katz said some students have stopped driving to evening Krav Maga classes due to security fears.
"They're reluctant to come at night," he said.
Numbers at his bi-weekly classes have fallen by half to fewer than 10 pupils since the war broke out, which Katz attributes to a proliferation of guns. 
The government loosened restrictions on private gun ownership in March and sales have since soared.
"I wish I could tell you that people are flocking to learn Krav Maga, but they're not," said Katz. "What I've seen is people are buying more guns." 
One trainee, Esther Cohen, turned up for class with a recently purchased gun tucked into her waistband. 
"There's some pretty violent stuff going on," said Cohen. "I don't want to be helpless."
But Katz said the extra seconds needed for drawing for a pistol could be "the difference between life and death".
Outside the West Bank, in the Israeli city of Raanana, another Krav Maga gym said its bookings had returned. 
"After the war... less training actually took place. Later, we actually saw some kind of desire of people to learn to defend themselves," said instructor Jonathan, 22, who declined to give his last name. 
For Katz, the need for Israelis to learn self-defence is straightforward: "We are the first line of defence, and we are the last line of defence."
jfx/lb/tw/srk/dcp

prisoner

Russia jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years

  • He has spent almost 16 months in detention on charges the United States government and his employer have always said are fabricated.
  • US reporter Evan Gershkovich was sentenced by a Russian court on Friday to 16 years in prison for "espionage", a verdict slammed as "despicable", "disgraceful" and a "sham" by Western governments and his employer.
  • He has spent almost 16 months in detention on charges the United States government and his employer have always said are fabricated.
US reporter Evan Gershkovich was sentenced by a Russian court on Friday to 16 years in prison for "espionage", a verdict slammed as "despicable", "disgraceful" and a "sham" by Western governments and his employer.
Gershkovich was sentenced after just three court sessions in a secretive closed-door trial in the Urals City of Yekaterinburg, the city where he was arrested while on a reporting trip in March 2023.
After the sentencing, US President Joe Biden said Gershkovich was "targeted by the Russian government because he is a journalist and an American."
"We are pushing hard for Evan's release and will continue to do so," he added in a written statement published by the White House.
Both Washington and Moscow say talks over a prisoner swap are ongoing.
Russia has previously said its policy is not to trade people before they have been convicted, suggesting Friday's sentence could pave the way for the 32-year-old journalist to finally be swapped in a deal.
US presidential candidate Donald Trump wrote on his Truth Social site: "Biden will never get him out, unless he pays a 'king’s ransom.' I will get him out for no compensation immediately following our victory on November 5th, and it will be my great honor to do so."
In court on Friday, Gershkovich did not appear to react to the sentencing, standing in a glass defendants' cage in dark trousers and a T-shirt. He waved to his journalist colleagues as he was led away. 
Judge Andrei Mineyev said Gershkovich would be sent to a "strict regime colony" -- a Russian prison camp notorious for harsh conditions and strict rules.

'Disgraceful, sham conviction'

The Wall Street Journal correspondent, who pleaded not guilty, became the first journalist in Russia to be charged with spying since the Cold War when he was detained in 2023. 
He has spent almost 16 months in detention on charges the United States government and his employer have always said are fabricated.
"This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist," the Journal's publisher Almar Latour and editor-in-chief Emma Tucker said in a statement.
Washington believes he is being held as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Russians convicted abroad.
His trial has moved rapidly since the first hearing in late June, with the prosecution and defence teams giving their final arguments on Friday.
Other similar cases in Russia have dragged on far more slowly, with several weeks or even months between hearings.
British Prime Minister Keir Starmer called the sentencing "despicable," adding that it "only serves to underscore Russia's utter contempt for media freedom."
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the case was "politically motivated" and demonstrated Russian President Vladimir "Putin's fear of the power of facts."
UN spokesman Farhan Haq shared "serious concerns," telling reporters: "Journalists should be able to perform their essential professional functions and work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals."
Russian opposition figure Yulia Navalnaya denounced Gershkovich's "unjust" conviction, writing in a social media post: "We must fight for every person serving an unjust sentence in Putin's prison and demand their immediate release."

Talks ongoing

The Kremlin has provided no public evidence for the espionage allegations, saying only that Gershkovich was caught "red-handed" spying on a tank factory in the Urals region while working for the CIA.
The prosecutor said Friday that Gershkovich acted with "careful measures of secrecy".
Tensions are running extremely high between the countries over Moscow's military offensive in Ukraine.
Moscow and Washington have both said they are open to exchanging the reporter in a deal, but neither has given clues on when that might happen. 
When asked Friday, the Kremlin refused to speculate about the prospect of a prisoner swap.
Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that talks between US and Russian special services over possible prisoner exchanges were ongoing, without naming any specific individuals. 
Putin has implied he wants to see the release of Vadim Krasikov, a Russian convicted in Germany of killing a Chechen separatist commander. German judges said it was an assassination orchestrated by Russian authorities.

'Arbitrary' detention

Among other US nationals detained in Russia are reporter Alsu Kurmasheva and ballerina Ksenia Karelina, who are both dual US-Russian citizens, and former US marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for spying.
The White House has warned US citizens still in Russia to "depart immediately" due to the risk of wrongful arrest.
The US-born son of Soviet emigres raised in New Jersey, Gershkovich had reported from Russia since 2017, still returning for reporting trips following Russia's Ukraine offensive.
In Moscow's isolated Lefortovo prison, where he was held for more than a year in pre-trial detention, he communicated with friends and family in hand-written letters that revealed he had not lost hope.
bur/giv/jgc/bjt

Trump

Trump says spoke with Zelensky, pledges to 'end the war'

BY ROBIN LEGRAND

  • Trump told the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Thursday that he would bring an end to raging international crises, saying he could "stop wars with a telephone call."
  • US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Friday he had spoken by telephone with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky, and pledged to end the European country's war with Russia.
  • Trump told the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Thursday that he would bring an end to raging international crises, saying he could "stop wars with a telephone call."
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Friday he had spoken by telephone with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky, and pledged to end the European country's war with Russia.
"I appreciate President Zelensky for reaching out because I, as your next President of the United States, will bring peace to the world and end the war that has cost so many lives and devastated countless innocent families," Trump said in a post on his Truth Social platform.
"Both sides will be able to come together and negotiate a deal that ends the violence and paves a path forward to prosperity."
The United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in military assistance for Kyiv since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 -- though a Trump victory in the November election would put Washington's continued support into question.
Zelensky confirmed the call, during which he congratulated Trump on formally becoming the Republican Party's presidential nominee, as well as wishing the 78-year-old well after an attempt on his life a week ago.
"We agreed with President Trump to discuss at a personal meeting what steps can make peace fair and truly lasting," Zelensky said in a post on X.
"I noted the vital bipartisan and bicameral American support for protecting our nation's freedom and independence," he said.

Trump-Orban meeting

Trump has repeatedly claimed he would end the war very quickly, without offering details as to how. 
Last week, the ex-president hosted at his Florida estate Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.
Trump's frequent praise for Putin and reluctance to outright criticize the Russian invasion have stirred concerns among Ukraine's allies that he would force the country into accepting partial defeat.
He has also repeatedly suggested backing away from NATO, even undermining the alliance's collective defense guarantee by saying he would encourage Russia to attack any members not who had not met their financial obligations.
Trump's running mate J.D. Vance leads the isolationist wing of congressional Republicans, who argue the United States should drop aid to Ukraine.
Vance was one of the fiercest opponents of the approval of $61 billion in new military aid for Ukraine, which was stalled by Republican lawmakers for months earlier this year -- a time in which Russia made battlefield gains.
Trump told the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Thursday that he would bring an end to raging international crises, saying he could "stop wars with a telephone call."
"I will end every single international crisis that the current administration has created, including the horrible war with Russia and Ukraine," Trump said, without elaborating on how.
Zelensky said earlier this week that he and Trump would "work together" if the Republican won the White House.
"I'm not worried about this," he told a news conference.
Zelensky declined to say whether he was worried about US President Joe Biden, who has been facing calls to drop his reelection campaign following a disastrous debate performance and questions over his health and mental acuity.
He did, however, acknowledge that "turbulence" during the US election cycle was having a "big impact" on his country.
Trump's relationship with Zelensky famously goes back to his time in the White House.
In 2019, Trump was impeached for withholding military aid to Ukraine while pressuring Zelensky to help him dig up dirt on his election rival Biden -- a race he went on to lose in 2020.
bur-acb/aha

computers

Conspiracy theories take off after global IT crash

BY ANUJ CHOPRA

  • "I read somewhere once that ww3 (World War III) would be mostly a cyber war," one user wrote on X. The IT crash also stirred up an unfounded theory that the World Economic Forum -- long a magnet for wild falsehoods -- had plotted a global cyberattack.
  • From fearmongering about a looming "World War III" to false narratives linking a cabal of global elite to a cyberattack, a torrent of online conspiracy theories took off Friday after a major IT crash.
  • "I read somewhere once that ww3 (World War III) would be mostly a cyber war," one user wrote on X. The IT crash also stirred up an unfounded theory that the World Economic Forum -- long a magnet for wild falsehoods -- had plotted a global cyberattack.
From fearmongering about a looming "World War III" to false narratives linking a cabal of global elite to a cyberattack, a torrent of online conspiracy theories took off Friday after a major IT crash.
Airlines, banks, TV channels and financial institutions were engulfed in turmoil after the crash, one of the biggest in recent years that was the result of a faulty software update to an antivirus program operating on Microsoft Windows.
The proliferation of internet-breaking conspiracy theories on social media platforms -- many of which have removed guardrails that once contained the spread of misinformation -- illustrates the new normal of information chaos after a major world event.
The outage gave way to a swirl of evidence-free posts on X, the Elon Musk-owned site formerly known as Twitter, that peddled an apocalyptic narrative: The world was under attack by a nefarious force.
"I read somewhere once that ww3 (World War III) would be mostly a cyber war," one user wrote on X.
The IT crash also stirred up an unfounded theory that the World Economic Forum -- long a magnet for wild falsehoods -- had plotted a global cyberattack.
To make that theory appear credible, many posts linked an old WEF video that warned about the possibility of a "cyberattack with Covid-like characteristics."
The video, available on the WEF's website, had cautioned that the only way to stop the exponential spread of the cyber threat would be to disconnect millions of vulnerable devices from each other and the internet.

'Sad testament'

 
The WEF has long been a target for conspiracy theorists pushing the idea of a shadowy cabal of elites working for private gain under the garb of solving global issues.
Also gaining rapid traction online were conspiratorial posts using the hashtag "cyber polygon," a reference to a global training event aimed at preparing for potential future attacks.
"The proliferation of conspiracy theories in the wake of major global events such as the outage is a sad testament to the volatile nature of the information ecosystem," Rafi Mendelsohn, vice president at the disinformation security company Cyabra, told AFP.
"What is unique to events like these is how social media platforms, forums, and messaging apps facilitate the rapid dissemination of content, allowing theories to gain traction quickly and reach a global audience."
The trend demonstrates the ability of falsehoods to mutate into viral narratives on tech platforms, which have scaled back content moderation and reinstated accounts that are known purveyors of misinformation.
During fast-developing news events, confusion now often reigns on major tech platforms, with users scrambling to obtain accurate information in what appears to be a sea of false or misleading posts that rapidly gain traction.

'Nefarious motives'

"This poses the larger question of combatting mis- and disinformation," Michael W. Mosser, executive director of the Global Disinformation Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, told AFP.
"The level of trust that is required to accept information from reputable sources has declined to such an extent that people are more willing to believe wild conspiracies that 'must be true' rather than the factual information relayed to them."
The global outage, which brought myriad aspects of daily life to a standstill and sent US stocks falling, was linked to a bug in an update to an antivirus program for Windows systems from American cybersecurity group CrowdStrike.
Assurances by the Austin-based company's chief executive, George Kurtz, that CrowdStrike had rolled out a fix and was "actively working" to resolve the crisis did little to stem the spread of online conspiracies.
"Combatting this misinformation with factual rebuttals is difficult, because the issue is so technical," Mosser said.
"Explaining that the fault was in an improperly configured system file and that a fix is in process may be accurate, but it is not believed by those who are predisposed to see nefarious motives behind failures."
burs-ac/acb

outage

Massive global IT crash hits airlines, banks, media

BY JOSEPH BOYLE WITH AFP BUREAUS

  • Air passengers crowded into airports to wait for news as dozens of flights were cancelled and operators struggled to keep services on track, after an update to a program operating on Microsoft Windows crashed systems worldwide. 
  • Airlines, banks, TV channels and financial institutions were thrown into turmoil on Friday by one of the biggest IT crashes in recent years, caused by an update to an antivirus program. 
  • Air passengers crowded into airports to wait for news as dozens of flights were cancelled and operators struggled to keep services on track, after an update to a program operating on Microsoft Windows crashed systems worldwide. 
Airlines, banks, TV channels and financial institutions were thrown into turmoil on Friday by one of the biggest IT crashes in recent years, caused by an update to an antivirus program. 
Air passengers crowded into airports to wait for news as dozens of flights were cancelled and operators struggled to keep services on track, after an update to a program operating on Microsoft Windows crashed systems worldwide. 
Microsoft said the issue began at 1900 GMT on Thursday, affecting Windows users running cybersecurity software CrowdStrike Falcon.
CrowdStrike said it had rolled out a fix for the problem and the firm's boss, George Kurtz, told US news channel CNBC he wanted to "personally apologise to every organisation, every group and every person who has been impacted".
It also said it could take a few days to return to normal.
US President Joe Biden's team was talking to CrowdStrike and those affected by the glitch "and is standing by to provide assistance as needed", the White House said in a statement.
"Our understanding is that flight operations have resumed across the country, although some congestion remains," a senior US administration official said.
Reports from the Netherlands and Britain suggested health services may have been affected by the disruption, meaning the full impact might not yet be known.
Media companies were also struggling, with Britain's Sky News saying the glitch had ended its morning news broadcasts and Australia's ABC similarly reporting major difficulties. 
Banks in Kenya and Ukraine reported issues with their digital services, supermarkets in Australia had problems with payments, mobile phone carriers were disrupted and customer services in a number of companies went down.
Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, said the outage caused "a seizure to the automotive supply chain", while courts and jail bookings were delayed in California.
"The scale of this outage is unprecedented, and will no doubt go down in history," said Junade Ali of Britain's Institution of Engineering and Technology, adding that the last incident approaching the same scale was in 2017.
Shares in CrowdStrike slumped by 11 percent in New York.

Flight chaos

From Amsterdam to Zurich, Singapore to Hong Kong, airport operators flagged technical issues that were disrupting their services. 
While some airports halted all flights, in others airline staff had to check-in passengers manually.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initially ordered all flights grounded "regardless of destination", though airlines said they were re-establishing their services and working through the backlog. 
AFP footage showed frustrated and stranded passengers in airports from Milwaukee Mitchell to New York LaGuardia.
"It's stressful. I've got family events going on this weekend. I don't know if I'm going to make it to them," said Jake Buettner, 46, trying to get to Florida from New York.
In Europe, major airports including Berlin, which had suspended all flights earlier on Friday, said departures and arrivals were gradually resuming.
Dozens of European flights were cancelled, however. Turkish Airlines said it had pulled 84 flights and Italian officials confirmed around 80 departures had been cancelled.
Across Latin America, airports were asking passengers to arrive for flights hours earlier than usual.
Chinese state media said Beijing's airports had not been affected. 

'Common cause'

Companies were left patching up their systems and trying to assess the damage, even as officials tried to tamp down panic by ruling out foul play.
CrowdStrike's Kurtz said in a statement his teams were "fully mobilised" to help affected customers and "a fix has been deployed".
But Professor Oli Buckley of Britain's Loughborough University was one of many experts who questioned the ease of rolling out a proper fix.
"While experienced users can implement the workaround, expecting millions to do so is impractical," he said. 
Other experts said the incident should prompt a widespread reconsideration of how reliant societies are on a handful of tech companies for such an array of services. 
"We need to be aware that such software can be a common cause of failure for multiple systems at the same time," said Professor John McDermid from Britain's York University.
He said infrastructure should be designed "to be resilient against such common cause problems".
burs-arp/aha

Global Edition

Tunisia president says he will seek new term in October election

  • In his announcement Friday, Saied called on "everyone preparing to sponsor (candidates) to steer off any corruption".
  • Tunisian President Kais Saied, who grabbed wide-ranging powers two years after his 2019 election, announced on Friday he will seek a new five-year term in an election set for October.
  • In his announcement Friday, Saied called on "everyone preparing to sponsor (candidates) to steer off any corruption".
Tunisian President Kais Saied, who grabbed wide-ranging powers two years after his 2019 election, announced on Friday he will seek a new five-year term in an election set for October.
"I officially announce my candidacy for the October 6 presidential election in order to keep up the fight in the battle for national liberation," Saied, who has ruled by decree since suspending parliament in July 2021, said in a video released by his office.
Speaking in the southern region of Tatouine, the 66-year-old said he was answering the "country's sacred call" which left him no choice but to run for a second term. 
Several would-be challengers to the president who had announced their candidacy are either in prison or being prosecuted.
In his announcement Friday, Saied called on "everyone preparing to sponsor (candidates) to steer off any corruption".
Lotfi Mraihi, head of the left-wing opposition party Republican People's Union, received an eight-month prison sentence earlier Friday and a lifetime ban on standing for office, Tunisian media reported. 
He had been arrested on July 3 on suspicion of corruption.
Abir Moussi, a vocal critic of Saied and head of the Free Destourian Party, has been jailed since October last year.
Her party is often described as nostalgic for the autocratic era of independence hero Habib Bourguiba and his successor Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Issam Chebbi, a leader of the main opposition National Salvation Front who was arrested in February 2023 for "plotting against the state", dropped out of the race on Thursday, his party said.
Abdellatif Mekki, a former health minister and leader of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha movement who now heads the Amal w Injaz party, also said last month he was withdrawing his candidacy.
In a hearing over the 2014 killing of a political figure, a judge barred Mekki from leaving the country and making public declarations.
Amnesty International said this week that Tunisian authorities had "stepped up their crackdown on the political opposition".
Its statement came after the arrest of an Ennahdha leader, Ajmi Ouirimi, whose party was the biggest in parliament before Saied dissolved the legislature in July 2021.
"These arrests are particularly concerning ahead of the upcoming presidential election," said Amnesty, calling for an end to the "authorities' disrespect for human rights and their crackdown against opponents".
On Sunday, Tunisian watchdog I Watch denounced "complicated procedures" and "a methodical absence of transparency" for elections in the North African country.
ezz/kir/dcp

conflict

Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike

BY SHARON ARONOWICZ

  • The Huthis fired at Tel Aviv a "new drone called 'Yafa', which is capable of bypassing the enemy's interception systems", their spokesman Yahya Saree said.
  • Israel threatened reprisals Friday after a drone claimed by Yemen's Huthi rebels penetrated its vaunted air defences and killed a civilian in a Tel Aviv apartment building near a US embassy annexe.
  • The Huthis fired at Tel Aviv a "new drone called 'Yafa', which is capable of bypassing the enemy's interception systems", their spokesman Yahya Saree said.
Israel threatened reprisals Friday after a drone claimed by Yemen's Huthi rebels penetrated its vaunted air defences and killed a civilian in a Tel Aviv apartment building near a US embassy annexe.
The attack drew condemnation from UN chief Antonio Guterres and an appeal for "maximum restraint" to avoid "further escalation in the region".
The pre-dawn strike came hours before Israel suffered another blow, a ruling by the UN's top court that its occupation of the Palestinian territories was "illegal" and needed to end as soon as possible.
The advisory opinion of The Hague-based International Court of Justice is not binding, but it comes amid mounting international condemnation of Israel's handling of its war on Hamas in Gaza.
The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas hailed the court's decision as "a victory for justice". Hamas said it puts "the international system before the imperative of immediate action to end the occupation".
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has overseen a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, insisted: "The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land."
The Huthis are one of a number of Iran-backed armed groups around the Middle East that have claimed drone and missile attacks on Israel in retaliation for the Gaza war.
The group, which controls swathes of Yemen, including much of its Red Sea coast, has previously claimed attacks on Israeli cities including Ashdod, Haifa and Eilat, but Friday's strike appears to be the first to breach Israel's sophisticated air defences.
The Huthis fired at Tel Aviv a "new drone called 'Yafa', which is capable of bypassing the enemy's interception systems", their spokesman Yahya Saree said.
An Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a "very big drone that can travel long distances" was used in the 3:12 am (0012 GMT) attack.
He said the drone was detected but due to "human error" the alarm was not raised in time, and it slammed into an apartment building.
Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel believed the drone used was Iranian-made and upgraded so it could reach Tel Aviv from Yemen -- at least 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) away.
Medical services said one civilian was killed and four people suffered "relatively minor" injuries.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant vowed revenge.
"The security system will settle the score with all who try to harm the state of Israel, or sends terrorism against it, in a decisive and surprising manner," he said in comments posted on social media platform X.

'Everything blew out'

In grainy security camera footage, the buzz of what appeared to be the drone was followed by an explosion that shook the building and set off car alarms.
The blast occurred about 100 metres (yards) from a US embassy annexe, said an AFP journalist who saw broken windows along the street lined with apartment blocks.
"It woke me up because the vibration of the sound was like a 747 (jet) coming in," said Kenneth Davis, an Israeli who was staying in a hotel opposite the building which was hit.
"And then the explosion... everything blew out in the room," he told AFPTV.
Since November, the Huthis have also carried out dozens of drone and missile attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they claim is Israeli-linked.
The United States and Britain launched a campaign of air strikes in January to deter the attacks on shipping.
The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory, where fighting raged on Friday.

WHO reports no polio cases

Residents said clashes were heard between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army, with explosions and shelling in the Tal al-Hawa district of Gaza City.
The war has destroyed much of Gaza's housing and other infrastructure, leaving virtually the entire population displaced and short of food and drinking water.
Many are living in unsanitary conditions. Health authorities in Gaza and Israel said on Thursday that poliovirus had been detected in Gaza sewage samples.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that no cases of the highly infectious disease had been discovered in Gaza so far.
burs-kir/dcp

outage

CrowdStrike crash raises questions about tech dependency

BY ALEX PIGMAN

  • The outages affected companies or individuals that use CrowdStrike on the Microsoft Windows platform: when they applied the update, the incompatible software crashed computers into a frozen state known as the "Blue Screen of Death."
  • Catastrophic computer outages caused by a software update from one company have once again exposed the dangers of global technological dependence on a handful of players, experts warned on Friday.
  • The outages affected companies or individuals that use CrowdStrike on the Microsoft Windows platform: when they applied the update, the incompatible software crashed computers into a frozen state known as the "Blue Screen of Death."
Catastrophic computer outages caused by a software update from one company have once again exposed the dangers of global technological dependence on a handful of players, experts warned on Friday.
A flawed update sent out by the little-known security firm CrowdStrike brought airlines, TV stations, and myriad other aspects of daily life to a standstill. 
The outages affected companies or individuals that use CrowdStrike on the Microsoft Windows platform: when they applied the update, the incompatible software crashed computers into a frozen state known as the "Blue Screen of Death."
"Today CrowdStrike has become a household name, but not in a good way, and this will take time to settle down," said Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities.
The breakdown quickly fueled discussions about internet giants' power over the increasingly digital world economy, with more activity now taking place in the computing "cloud" or on a few apps or platforms. 

Just 'a taste'

When those platforms have flaws -- or are deliberately attacked -- the world seems to collapse. 
In recent months, entire healthcare systems and industries have been paralyzed after hackers infiltrated their systems, leaving consumers at their wits' end and companies at a loss.
"I think we're just getting a taste of some potential effects of real reliance by the financial sector and sectors across the economy on a handful of cloud companies and other key systems," Rohit Chopra, director of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told CNBC.
"There are just a handful of big cloud companies where so much of the economy is now resting."
The world has seen a major shift to cloud computing, where companies use servers offered by big tech giants for their computing needs instead of their own infrastructure. 
Amazon, through its AWS company, is the world leader, followed by Microsoft's Azure and Google Cloud.
Friday's breakdown was caused by a malfunctioning software update fed to Microsoft Windows users by CrowdStrike, which specializes in cybersecurity for cloud-based companies. 
"We're deeply sorry for the impact we've caused to customers, travelers, and anyone affected by this," CrowdStrike CEO Kurtz said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show.
Microsoft blamed the problems on CrowdStrike, but industry insiders warned that the issue stems from entrusting the digital world to just a few key companies. 
"It's going to continue to raise issues for systems or businesses wholly dependent on Microsoft -– this issue of concentration risk," Michael Daniel, former White House cybersecurity coordinator and current head of the Cyber Threat Alliance told AFP.
"How do you balance the benefits of having everybody on the same operating system with the concentration risk that poses?"
Callie Guenther, senior manager of cyber threat research at Critical Start, warned that the shift to big players amplifies the impact of any system failure or vulnerability. 
One error, like CrowdStrike's on Friday, threatens society's smooth functioning worldwide, she said.

No contingency plan

Andrius Minkevicius, co-founder of Cyber Upgrade, a cybersecurity company, said that businesses must fight the complacency often associated with outsourcing technology to the big vendors. 
"Today, we're seeing an example of those who relied mostly on vendor-offered cyber protection without additional contingency plans and are now suffering reputational and financial damage," he said.
Experts warn that this incident will likely invite scrutiny from regulators and officials.
"CrowdStrike will probably have to let some outside people come in and examine how this happened," said Cyber Threat Alliance's Daniel. 
arp/aha

accident

40 Haitian migrants dead after voodoo ritual sets boat ablaze

BY JEAN-DANIEL SENAT

  • But "at least 40 migrants have died, and several others were injured," the IOM said.
  • At least 40 migrants have died after a boat they were traveling in caught fire off the northern coast of Haiti, a UN agency said Friday, with police saying the explosion was sparked by a voodoo ritual gone wrong.
  • But "at least 40 migrants have died, and several others were injured," the IOM said.
At least 40 migrants have died after a boat they were traveling in caught fire off the northern coast of Haiti, a UN agency said Friday, with police saying the explosion was sparked by a voodoo ritual gone wrong.
The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that the Haitian Coast Guard rescued 41 survivors, 11 of whom were hospitalized, including some for burns.
But "at least 40 migrants have died, and several others were injured," the IOM said.
The fire began when a passenger lit a candle to start a voodoo ritual, police spokesperson Arold Jean said. 
Survivors told local media that the voodoo ceremony was meant to bring luck and help the boat avoid being intercepted by the coast guard.
"This devastating event highlights the risks faced by children, women and men migrating through irregular routes," said Gregoire Goodstein, IOM's chief of mission in the country.
The boat, carrying more than 80 people, had left the port of Labadee on Wednesday en route to the Turks and Caicos Islands, a 150-mile (240-kilometer) journey, the IOM reported, citing Haiti's National Office for Migration.
"The search continues with the aim of finding other survivors," said Jean, adding that an investigation had been opened to "identify and dismantle the networks that organize these clandestine voyages."
Migration from the poorest country in the Americas has been surging for months, as thousands of people flee a spike in violence from criminal gangs that now control wide swaths of territory. 
The gangs have attacked prisons, destroyed dozens of police stations, and invaded the main airport, with the government's hold over the country tenuous.
"Haiti's socioeconomic situation is in agony," Goodstein said. "The extreme violence over the past months has only brought Haitians to resort to desperate measures even more."
Hundreds of police officers from Kenya have been deployed in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, part of an international effort to bring stability to a country riven by political, social and economic chaos. 
Newly named Prime Minister Gary Conille, a former UN official, has welcomed the Kenyan contingent and vowed to launch a police operation against the gangs.
Criminal groups control 80 percent of the capital city, with residents saying they have faced the threat of murder, rape and kidnapping for ransom.
As the pace of emigration grows, Haitian Coast Guard units in the north have observed an increasing number of departures by boat, the IOM said.
Countries including the United States, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Jamaica say they have intercepted a growing number of boats originating from Haiti.
More than 86,000 migrants have been forcibly returned to Haiti by neighboring countries this year, according to the IOM.
The country currently has nearly 600,000 internally displaced people, according to UN figures, a 60 percent increase since March.
bbk/bfm/aha/acb

diplomacy

Iran can produce fissile material for bomb in 'one or two weeks': Blinken

  • "Instead of being at least a year away from having the breakout capacity of producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon, (Iran) is now probably one or two weeks away from doing that," Blinken said.
  • Iran is capable of producing fissile material for use in a nuclear weapon within "one or two weeks," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday.
  • "Instead of being at least a year away from having the breakout capacity of producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon, (Iran) is now probably one or two weeks away from doing that," Blinken said.
Iran is capable of producing fissile material for use in a nuclear weapon within "one or two weeks," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday.
The details on Iran's capabilities emerged following the recent election of President Masoud Pezeshkian. 
He has said he wants to end Iran's isolation and favors reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers.
Blinken said, however, that "what we've seen in the last weeks and months is an Iran that's actually moving forward" with its nuclear program.
In 2018, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal, which was designed to regulate Iran's atomic activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Speaking at a security forum in Colorado, Blinken blamed the collapse of the nuclear deal for the acceleration in Iran's capabilities. 
"Instead of being at least a year away from having the breakout capacity of producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon, (Iran) is now probably one or two weeks away from doing that," Blinken said.
He added that Iran had not yet developed a nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said last month that Iran is further expanding its nuclear capacities, with Tehran informing the agency that it was installing more cascades -- or series of centrifuges used in enrichment -- at nuclear facilities in Natanz and Fordow.
According to the IAEA, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapons state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 percent -- just short of weapons-grade -- while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles, enough to build several atomic bombs, the agency says.
Following the US withdrawal, the Islamic republic has gradually broken away from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal. 
But the country's acting foreign minister Ali Bagheri told CNN earlier this week that Iran remained committed to the accord, known as the JCPOA.
"We are still a member of JCPOA. America has not yet been able to return to the JCPOA, so the goal we are pursuing is the revival of the 2015 agreement," he said. "We are not looking for a new agreement."
Bagheri said no one in Iran had talked "about a new agreement. We have an agreement (signed) in 2015."
Blinken was speaking just days after reports that the US Secret Service had increased security for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump weeks ago, after authorities learned of an alleged Iranian plot to kill him.
Tehran has denied the allegations.
lb/bfm/wd/bbk

students

Bangladesh imposes curfew, calls in military after deadly unrest

BY SHAFIQUL ALAM

  • "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. He added that the curfew would take immediate effect.
  • Bangladesh on Friday announced the imposition of a curfew and the deployment of military forces after police failed to quell days of deadly unrest that has spread throughout the country.
  • "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. He added that the curfew would take immediate effect.
Bangladesh on Friday announced the imposition of a curfew and the deployment of military forces after police failed to quell days of deadly unrest that has spread throughout the country.
This week's clashes between student demonstrators and police have killed at least 105 people, according to an AFP count of victims reported by hospitals, and pose a momentous challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's autocratic government after 15 years in office.
"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.
He added that the curfew would take immediate effect.
Police in the capital Dhaka earlier took the drastic step of banning all public gatherings for the day -- a first since protests began -- in an effort to forestall more violence. 
"We've banned all rallies, processions and public gatherings in Dhaka today," police chief Habibur Rahman told AFP, adding the move was necessary to ensure "public safety".
That however did not stop another round of confrontations between police and protesters around the sprawling megacity of 20 million people, despite an internet shutdown aimed at frustrating the organisation of rallies.
"Our protest will continue," Sarwar Tushar, who joined a march in the capital and sustained minor injuries when it was violently dispersed by police, told AFP. 
"We want the immediate resignation of Sheikh Hasina. The government is responsible for the killings."
Student protesters stormed a jail in the central Bangladeshi district of Narsingdi and freed its inmates before setting the facility on fire, a police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"I don't know the number of inmates, but it would be in the hundreds," he added.

'Shocking and unacceptable'

At least 52 people were killed in the capital on Friday, according to a list drawn up by the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and seen by AFP.
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. 
UN human rights chief Volker Turk said the attacks on student protesters were "shocking and unacceptable".
"There must be impartial, prompt and exhaustive investigations into these attacks, and those responsible held to account," he said in a statement.
The capital's police force earlier said protesters had on Thursday torched, vandalised and carried out "destructive activities" on numerous police and government offices.
Among them was the Dhaka headquarters of state broadcaster Bangladesh Television, which remains offline after hundreds of incensed students stormed the premises and set fire to a building.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruk Hossain told AFP that officers had arrested Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed, one of the top leaders of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). 
- 'Symbol of a rigged system' - 
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.
Her administration this week ordered schools and universities to close indefinitely as police stepped up efforts to bring the deteriorating law and order situation under control.
"This is an eruption of the simmering discontent of a youth population built over years," Ali Riaz, a politics professor at Illinois State University, told AFP. 
"The job quotas became the symbol of a system which is rigged and stacked against them by the regime."

'Nation-scale' internet shutdown

Students say they are determined to press on with protests despite Hasina giving a national address earlier this week on the now-offline state broadcaster seeking to calm the unrest.
Nearly half of Bangladesh's 64 districts reported clashes on Thursday, broadcaster Independent Television reported.
London-based watchdog NetBlocks said Friday that a "nation-scale" internet shutdown remained in effect a day after it was imposed.
"Metrics show connectivity flatlining at 10% of ordinary levels, raising concerns over public safety as little news flows in or out of the country," it wrote on social media platform X. 
sa/gle/sst

crime

Belarus sentences German man to death: rights group

  • Belarus is the only European country that has the death penalty, reserving it for serious crimes including murder under aggravating circumstances, terrorism and treason.
  • A German combat medic accused by Belarus of committing crimes including "terrorism" and "mercenary activity" has been sentenced to death by firing squad, a Belarusian rights group said Friday.
  • Belarus is the only European country that has the death penalty, reserving it for serious crimes including murder under aggravating circumstances, terrorism and treason.
A German combat medic accused by Belarus of committing crimes including "terrorism" and "mercenary activity" has been sentenced to death by firing squad, a Belarusian rights group said Friday.
Rico Krieger, 30, was convicted under six articles of Belarus's criminal code in a secretive trial held at the end of June, the Viasna Human Rights Centre reported.
Part of the proceedings were held behind closed doors, the exact allegations against him were not immediately clear and Belarus's official news agency did not report anything about his case.
The case may be linked to the Kalinouski Regiment, a group of Belarusian volunteer fighters that are fighting against Russia in the war in Ukraine, Viasna reported.
According to a LinkedIn profile that Viasna said belonged to Krieger, he worked as a medical worker for the German Red Cross and as an armed security officer for the US embassy in Berlin.
This was the first time someone has been tried for mercenary activity in Belarus, the group said.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in exile, said Friday she was "concerned" by the reports and was "collecting more information on his case".
Belarus is the only European country that has the death penalty, reserving it for serious crimes including murder under aggravating circumstances, terrorism and treason.
It was not immediately clear whether Krieger had appealed the sentence.
A source at the German foreign ministry told AFP that it "and the embassy in Minsk are providing the person in question with consular services and are making intensive representations to the Belarussian authorities on his behalf".
The source added that "the death penalty is a cruel and inhuman form of punishment that Germany rejects under all circumstances".

Death penalty

The Kalinouski Regiment, named after Polish-Belarusian writer Kastus Kalinouski, is one of many foreign-founded volunteer units fighting alongside the Ukrainian army.
It is considered an extremist group in Belarus, a close ally of Russia.
It is still not clear what connection Krieger may have had to the group, but Belarusian opposition media reported that he may have been linked to a unit within Kalinouski known as the "Western" battalion. 
He was convicted of six crimes, said Viasna: "unlawful acts related to firearms", "the disabling of transport or communication routes", "creation of or participation in an extremist group", "intelligence activity", "mercenary activity" and "terrorism".
Belarus is reported to have executed as many as 400 people since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, according to Amnesty International, but executions of foreign citizens are rare.
The country is run as an authoritarian regime by long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has detained thousands of dissidents and civic activists who oppose him.
In a surprise move on Wednesday, Minsk announced it would open its borders visa-free to nationals of 35 European countries for 90-day trips, in a bid to improve frosty relations with the West.
bur-cad/jc/giv

Global Edition

COP29 hosts urge fossil fuel majors to donate to climate fund

  • Azerbaijan "has also set itself a daunting task of soliciting the support of some of the least progressive countries in global climate action," he told AFP. Joe Thwaites from the Natural Resources Defense Council said making fossil fuel producers pay was "at the core of climate justice".
  • Azerbaijan said Friday it hopes to raise money from fossil fuel producers for green projects in developing countries as the petro-state prepares to host the world's most important climate summit. 
  • Azerbaijan "has also set itself a daunting task of soliciting the support of some of the least progressive countries in global climate action," he told AFP. Joe Thwaites from the Natural Resources Defense Council said making fossil fuel producers pay was "at the core of climate justice".
Azerbaijan said Friday it hopes to raise money from fossil fuel producers for green projects in developing countries as the petro-state prepares to host the world's most important climate summit. 
The proposal, announced in Baku by the hosts of November's UN COP29 climate summit, attracted immediate criticism from activists who slammed it as "greenwashing".
The "climate finance action fund" aimed to attract an initial $1 billion through voluntary contributions from oil, gas and coal producers.
The idea was still an "initial concept" and would not become operational until the start-up money had been found and 10 countries had signed on.
Azerbaijan, a gas-rich nation on the Caspian Sea, did not disclose how much it planned to contribute, or if other fossil fuel countries or companies had expressed any interest.
"We are calling all donors to join us," said COP29 president Mukhtar Babayev, a government minister and former executive at Azerbaijan's national oil and gas company.
In Baku in November, nearly 200 nations are hoping to resolve a divisive question over how much wealthy nations should pay developing countries for climate assistance.
Wealthy countries most responsible for climate change face pressure to commit more money to support poorer countries in coping with the impacts of a warming planet.
But there is strong disagreement over how much they should pay, and rich countries have pushed for large polluters like China and Saudi Arabia to also contribute.
Azerbaijan has acknowledged the lack of progress but remains optimistic that a deal can be reached when it hosts world leaders and diplomats for the marathon year-end climate talks.

'Greenwashing'

Babayev said the proposed fund was a "significant step" toward demonstrating that countries rich in fossil fuels could take the lead in addressing climate change.
Money would be channelled into climate action in developing countries and help attract private sector interest, with profits re-invested into the fund.
If realised, the fund would be based in Baku, and entail fossil fuel producers giving annual one-off sums or payments based on volume of production.
"We have heard that communities want action, not words," Babayev told reporters.
Li Shuo, an expert on climate negotiations at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said the proposal was an "empty shell" until it had actual money behind it.
Azerbaijan "has also set itself a daunting task of soliciting the support of some of the least progressive countries in global climate action," he told AFP.
Joe Thwaites from the Natural Resources Defense Council said making fossil fuel producers pay was "at the core of climate justice".
"But it's not clear that creating a new fund is necessary given the already crowded funding landscape," he said.
Friederike Roder, vice president at advocacy group Global Citizen, said fossil fuels were the main contributor to global warming and asking for voluntary donations would not be enough.  
"What's needed is a proper levy, not just some opaque voluntary mechanism," she said.
Activist group Oil Change International was more scathing: "A $1 billion voluntary climate fund that gives polluters decision-making powers is greenwashing," it said.
np-bl-chf/giv

protest

Kenya's embattled Ruto names new partial cabinet

BY ROSE TROUP BUCHANAN

  • "Consequently, I have started the process of forming a new broad-based cabinet to assist in driving the urgently needed and irreversible transformation of our country."
  • Kenya's embattled President William Ruto on Friday unveiled a new partial cabinet as he works to create a "broad-based" government, his latest bid to ease the worst crisis of his nearly two-year term in office.
  • "Consequently, I have started the process of forming a new broad-based cabinet to assist in driving the urgently needed and irreversible transformation of our country."
Kenya's embattled President William Ruto on Friday unveiled a new partial cabinet as he works to create a "broad-based" government, his latest bid to ease the worst crisis of his nearly two-year term in office.
But the main opposition coalition swiftly branded the cabinet moves as "cosmetic" and insisted it would not join a government of national unity led by Ruto.
The East African nation has been rocked by a month of sometimes deadly protests that began as peaceful rallies against controversial tax hikes but have morphed into a wider anti-government campaign calling for Ruto to go. 
In a televised address, the Kenyan leader listed 11 names for ministerial posts and the position of attorney general, just over a week after he sacked almost his entire cabinet, one of a series of measures aimed at placating the demonstrators.
"While the events of the past month have caused tremendous anxiety, concern and uncertainty, the crisis has presented us with a great opportunity, as a nation, to craft a broad-based, and inclusive citizen coalition for national transformation and progress, made up of Kenyans from all walks of life," Ruto said.
"Consequently, I have started the process of forming a new broad-based cabinet to assist in driving the urgently needed and irreversible transformation of our country."
The nominations -- which include Kenya's first female attorney general -- must be approved by parliament.
However, several of those named were members of the previous government, including Kithure Kindiki at the head of the interior ministry, which is in charge of Kenya's under-fire police force.
And the opposition Azimio coalition, led by Ruto's defeated rival in the 2022 elections Raila Odinga, said it would not join a unity government led by Ruto's Kenya Kwanza.
"This is a betrayal of the Kenyan people, particularly the Gen Z and millennials who have paid the ultimate price to rid this country of the disastrous Kenya Kwanza regime," it said in a statement.
"A cabinet reorganisation and changing of office holders will only be cosmetic."
Since late June, Ruto has undertaken a series of measures to try to contain the crisis, including scrapping the deeply unpopular tax increases and pledging cuts to what many see as lavish government spending.
But rallies led largely by Gen-Z Kenyans -- while much smaller than last month -- have continued across the country under the hashtag #RutoMustGo, with disgruntled activists also seeking action against corruption and alleged police brutality.

'Repudiate violence'

A total of 50 people have been killed and 413 injured since the demonstrations began on June 18, the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said on Tuesday.
It has also reported that 59 people have been abducted or are missing.
Rights groups have said the police -- who are frequently accused of rights abuses and acting with impunity -- used disproportionate force against the protesters.
Kenya's acting police chief Douglas Kanja on Wednesday announced a ban on demonstrations in Nairobi's central business district, but the move was suspended by a High Court the following day.
The area has been the epicentre of many of the marches and the scene of violent and sometimes deadly chaos, particularly on June 25 when protesters stormed parliament and police fired live bullets at demonstrators.
Kanja had said the decision was taken after officials received "credible intelligence that organised criminal groups are planning to take advantage of the ongoing protests".
Activists have in the past accused "goons" of hijacking their rallies and stoking the violence, with reports of widespread looting and property damage on some occasions.
The US embassy in Nairobi on Thursday issued a statement to voice its concern about the violence that has shaken a nation generally considered to be a beacon of stability in a turbulent region.
"All actors -- police and protesters alike -- should repudiate violence and be held accountable for wrongdoing," it said.
str-txw/rbu/spb