Category: Global-news


  • US tightens travel rules to Cuba, blacklists many businesses

    The Associated Press
    Wed, 2017-11-08 03:00

    WASHINGTON: Americans seeking to visit Cuba must navigate a complicated maze of travel, commerce and financial restrictions unveiled Wednesday by the Trump administration, part of a new policy to further isolate the island’s communist government.
    Now off-limits to US citizens are dozens of Cuban hotels, shops, tour companies and other businesses included on a lengthy American blacklist of entities that have links to Cuba’s military, intelligence or security services. And most Americans will once again be required to travel as part of heavily regulated, organized tour groups run by US companies, rather than voyaging to Cuba on their own.
    The stricter rules mark a return to the tougher US stance toward Cuba that existed before former President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored diplomatic relations in 2015. They come as President Donald Trump tries to show he’s taking action to prevent US dollars from helping prop up the Cuban government.
    Still, the policy is only a partial rollback of Obama’s changes. Cruise ship visits and direct commercial flights between the countries will still be permitted. Embassies in Washington and Havana stay open.
    The rules are designed to steer US economic activity away from Cuba’s military, intelligence and security services, which dominate much of the economy through state-controlled corporations. The goal is to encourage financial support for Cuba’s growing private sector, said senior Trump administration officials, who briefed reporters on a conference call on condition they not be quoted by name.
    To that end, the Treasury Department said it is expanding and simplifying a license that allows some US exports to Cuba despite the embargo. They include tools and equipment to build or renovate privately owned buildings.
    “We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
    Trump announced his new policy in June during a speech in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to Castro’s government. The administration took several months to finalize the details of the new rules, which will take effect Thursday.
    The new policy maintains several categories of travel to Cuba that are permitted despite the embargo, which carries on decades after the Cold War’s end. Americans can still travel on educational and “people to people” trips as well as visits designed to support the Cuban people by patronizing privately owned small businesses that have popped up across the island in recent years.
    But those traveling to support Cuba’s people must have a daylong schedule of activities designed to expose them to Cubans and steer dollars toward citizens, such as renting rooms in private homes. Those on organized, “people to people” or educational visits must be accompanied by a representative of the US-based group organizing the trip.
    There was no immediate reaction from Cuba’s government. But the rules were quickly denounced by travel groups and proponents of closer US ties to the island.
    “Cuba is still open for business,” said Charel van Dam of the Cuba Travel Network. “It is still possible for people to travel, but I think these announcements will serve mainly as something to scare off people who want to visit.”
    Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, a vocal advocate of improved US-Cuban relations, noted the announcement came as Trump was in China pushing more US business engagement with another communist-run country. “The hypocrisy of the White House ideologues is glaring,” Leahy said.
    The rules come amid deep strains in the US-Cuba relationship stemming from invisible, unexplained attacks that have harmed more than two dozen US government personnel in Havana since 2016. The attacks led the Trump administration to order most of its diplomats to leave Cuba in September and issue a sweeping travel warning urging Americans to stay away.
    Officials insisted that the new, tougher rules had no connection to the attacks. The US first complained to Cuba’s government about the attacks in February, four months before Trump announced his broader policy intentions.
    Some exceptions will accommodate Americans who already plan to visit Cuba. Those who booked “people to people” trips before Trump’s June announcement will be exempt, along with Americans who organized education trips before the rules start on Thursday. Business deals already reached with entities on the prohibited list will be allowed to proceed.
    It’s unclear how aggressively the US will police the new rules. Officials said they would use information obtained from several US agencies to catch violators, who could be subject to penalties and criminal prosecution.
    The blacklist bars business with the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, which runs Old Havana.
    It also targets a new cargo port and special trade zone outside the city of Mariel that has been the focus of Cuba’s efforts to draw foreign investment in manufacturing and distribution.
    Blacklisted hotels include the Manzana Kempinski, which opened with great fanfare this year as Cuba’s first to meet the international five-star standard.
    The overall impact on American business with Cuba will likely be limited. Trade is sparse. Many American travelers already stay at hotels not on the no-go list, and the company that imports most American food products to Cuba is similarly unaffected.
    Bringing home limited quantities of rum and Cuban cigars is still allowed, officials said.

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  • UK aid minister Patel resigns over secret Israel meetings

    Thu, 2009-11-12 06:00

    LONDON: Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel quit on Wednesday over unauthorized meetings in Israel, becoming the latest Cabinet member caught up in a whirlwind of scandals rocking Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.
    The issue has raised fresh questions about the UK government’s impartiality in mediating conflict in the Middle East, according to the Palestinian ambassador in London.
    A total of 14 previously undisclosed engagements between Patel and Israeli representatives, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cast doubt on the UK’s integrity as a peace broker, Ambassador Manuel Hassassian told Arab News.
    “The consequences of (Patel’s) act will definitely now make the Palestinians question the intentions of the British government,” he told Arab News.
    Aside from Patel failing to disclose to the public her contact with Israeli officials, Hassassian said the unevenness of her trip spoke volumes about the British government’s priorities.
    “She did not even meet with any of the Palestinian authorities,” he said, accusing Downing Street of “not playing a fair hand” in its approach to the two sides.
    “I question the sincerity of this government (when it comes to) a two-state solution,” he added.
    The scandal came to a head on Wednesday when it was revealed that Patel had visited a field hospital run by the Israeli Army in the occupied Golan Heights.
    While Israel seized the region from Syria in the 1967 War, the British government does not recognize the Jewish state’s claim to the territory, which has been condemned as illegal by the UN. British diplomats are not normally permitted to travel there under official Israeli auspices.
    Following her visit to the disputed territory, Patel suggested that British aid money be allocated to a humanitarian project there managed by the Israeli Defense Forces.
    Number 10 was forced to deny knowledge of the plan.
    Prime Minister Theresa May summoned Patel back from Kenya to answer questions about the unofficial trip.
    By the time Patel’s flight landed on Wednesday afternoon, analysts and pundits were already debating her most likely replacements.
    Revelations about Patel’s meetings, 12 of which took place during a family trip to Israel, raise serious questions about May’s ability to maintain discipline in her Cabinet, said Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University, London.
    “There probably should have been someone from the embassy involved … If you’re talking about serious matters with implications for the foreign policy of the United Kingdom, you can’t have (these meetings) on the side,” he said.
    The incident comes just a week after the resignation of Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who had been mired in allegations of sexual harassment. Fallon was known as a staunch ally of Prime Minister May.
    Mekelberg joined a chorus of voices who questioned whether May’s government would be able to survive another resignation. “The balance within the government is so delicate right now,” he added. “The prime minister is in dire straits.”
    The diplomatic debacle comes as the British government is already under fire for hosting Netanyahu as guest of honor at an event marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration last week.
    Hassassian has said that the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain officially lent its support to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was the first step in dispossessing the Palestinian people of their land.

    Main category: 
    UK minister Priti Patel apologizes for undisclosed meeting with Israeli PM
    UK aid minister facing sack over undisclosed meetings with Israelis: Sun newspaper
    UK minister faces resignation calls over aid to Israeli army row

  • Working group could help solve Rohingya refugee crisis

    Shehab Sumon
    Thu, 2017-11-09 03:00

    DHAKA: The formation of a joint working group will be an important step in managing the Rohingya refugee crisis, hopes Asaduzzaman Khan, home affairs minister of Bangladesh.
    Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in their home territory of Rakhine state in Myanmar.
    Khan met his counterpart Lt. General Kyaw Swe and the state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar at the end of October. He said in an exclusive interview with Arab News that the repatriation process of Rohingya refugees will be governed by a working group comprising an equal number of representatives from Bangladesh and Myanmar.
    Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmud Ali is also scheduled to visit Myanmar on November 20 where he will discuss the group. Both sides have agreed to finalize the terms of reference by Nov. 30 to proceed with the proposed repatriation plan, Khan said.
    The International Organization for Migration estimates that around 625,000 Rohingya Refugees have entered Bangladesh since the violence escalated in Rakhine State on August 25.
    The violence targeting Rohingyas, which the UN describes as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” has put the Myanmar government under pressure from the international community.
    Khan urged that international community play its due role in addressing the issue. “I think that if the international community shifts eyes from the Rohingya issue, they [Myanmar] will not take any steps on repatriation of the Rohingyas. The international community needs to keep up the pressure in this regard.”
    Several news reports published recently suggest that Myanmar will accept only 150 Rohingyas per day after due scrutiny; however, Khan could not verify that, saying no such proposal was formally shared with Bangladesh.
    Khan said Dhaka’s stance on refugee repatriation was made clear during his meeting with Myanmar officials.
    “Repatriation will have to be based on the decision by the Joint Working Group, the Annan Commission Report (which recommended scrapping restrictions on movement by the Rohingya), and the five points mentioned by our Prime Minister,” he said.
    Both countries agreed on “ten points regarding the repatriation process which included the full implementation of the Annan Commission’s report and taking initiatives to stop the Rohingya exodus toward Bangladesh,” claimed Khan, while adding that Myanmar later issued a separate statement and excluded the “agreed” points.
    “As they excluded full implementation of Annan Commission issue, I asked the Bangladeshi ambassador not to sign the joint statement.”
    Khan expressed hope that the issue of joint statement will be resolved soon. “We are still working on it,” he said.
    Bangladesh has been affected by the Rohingya refugee issue for the past four decades. Rohingyas are confined to Rakhine State and have very little scope of trade and livelihood, which makes their life very difficult. The minister said he also discussed this aspect with Suu Kyi and found her “very positive in this regard.”
    “At one point Suu Kyi said she was thinking of making some villages for the Rohingyas which would include all the living facilities for rehabilitation.”
    Khan added: “I told Suu Kyi that if the Rohingyas stay in Bangladesh for longer, it will be a problem for both Bangladesh and Myanmar. Suu Kyi assured me that she has started working on the implementation of Annan Commission report which recommended the repatriation of Rohingyas.”

    Main category: 
    Bangladesh, Myanmar consider repatriation of Rohingya refugees
    Bangladeshi PM urged to put pressure on world community to stop Myanmar atrocities on Rohingyas
    Bangladesh imposes mobile phone ban on Rohingya refugees

  • Indonesian counterterrorism agents to investigate Marawi siege suspects

    Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
    Thu, 2017-11-09 03:00

    JAKARTA: Indonesia has sent five special counterterrorism agents to the Philippines on Tuesday to investigate the two Indonesians arrested last week in connection with the siege of Marawi by the Daesh-backed Maute group.
    Indonesian National Police spokesman Inspector General Setyo Wasisto said the five-member delegation from Densus 88, the counterterrorism squad, will coordinate with its Philippine counterparts to seek access to Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, the Indonesian militant who fought alongside the Maute group in Marawi and was arrested on Nov. 1, and Minhati Madrais, the wife of slain Maute group leader Omarkhayam Maute who was arrested on Sunday in Iligan city, northern Mindanao.
    “We want to gain more information from them regarding their roles, especially Ilham Syahputra. He was reported dead in May but now, apparently, he is still alive,” Wasisto told Arab News.
    Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the director for protection of Indonesian nationals abroad, said representatives from the Indonesian Embassy in Manila had been granted access to Syahputra and were verifying his nationality using a biometric facial recognition system.
    “It’s going to take a while to verify. We can’t identify him using his fingerprints as the skin on his fingertips is damaged,” Iqbal told Arab News.
    He said that Jakarta received information from Manila earlier this year that a passport bearing Syahputra’s identity was found next to a militant’s body which led to the belief that he was dead.
    “According to the Philippines authority, he entered the Philippines in January but never left. So it is unlikely that he would have a new identity or a new passport, otherwise he would have been recorded to have applied for a new one in our embassy,” Iqbal said.
    He added that embassy officials had also been granted access to Madrais and were checking if she had applied for Philippines citizenship since her Indonesian passport expired in January.
    The siege of Marawi ended when leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute were shot dead as troops launched an assault to rescue hostages.
    Wasisto said the police, Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) and the immigration office were continuing to monitor the possible returns of Indonesians who fought alongside Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and with the Maute group in the Philippines.
    He said the authorities maintained a watchlist of individuals who went to Syria or the Philippines and were suspected to have fought as foreign militants there.
    “The problem is that we can’t prosecute them with our counterterrorism law, since it lacks the provisions to criminalize those who act and support terrorism acitivities abroad. Maybe, though, we can still prosecute them under other laws,” Wasisto said.
    Lawmakers are in the process of amending the law and a proposed provision has been debated which would strip those who commit terror acts abroad of their Indonesian citizenship.
    Irfan Idris, a senior official in charge of the deradicalization program at BNPT, told Arab News that those returnees would be ”enrolled in a socialization program.”
    In September, the BNPT released a 12-minute video featuring testimonies of eight Indonesians, out of 18, who returned from Syria after escaping Daesh in June. In the video, the returnees recount their horror and disappointment during their stay in Raqqa for two years, which they said was a stark contrast to the promises they had been made.
    “We continue to receive information from various channels about the movement of Indonesian nationals in Syria,” Iqbal said. “We have not had new returnees from Turkey for some time and we haven’t received information of an outflux of Indonesians from Raqqa lately.”

    Main category: 
    Militant involved in Jakarta bombing arrested in Marawi
    Indonesia, Philippines make arrests linked to city siege
    Liberation of Marawi City from Maute group has not ended threat of violent extremism in the Philippines.

  • Mattis heads to NATO for key talks on ME, Afghan crisis

    Wed, 2017-11-08 06:01

    BRUSSELS: With Daesh crumbling in Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan mired in crisis and Russia looming large, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has plenty of pressing issues to tackle with NATO allies this week.
    The Pentagon chief arrived at the alliance’s Brussels headquarters Wednesday for two days of talks with fellow NATO defense ministers and a separate meeting with partners from the coalition fighting Daesh in the Middle East, where the militants continue to lose territory.
    The North Korean nuclear crisis and efforts to revamp NATO to help it better combat the rising threat from Russia will also be high on the agenda.
    As he flew to Europe, Mattis told reporters that coalition partners are looking to the US for a clear plan about what follows the physical defeat of Daesh.
    “Maybe three-quarters of the questions I am getting asked now is (about) going forward. It’s not about are we going to be able to stop ISIS (Daesh), are we going to be able to overcome ISIS. They are now saying: ‘What’s next? How is it looking?’” Mattis said.
    Following back-to-back losses, including of their Syrian and Iraqi strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul, Daesh are down to defending their last holdouts along the Euphrates River valley.
    America’s military involvement in Syria has until now been focused solely on fighting Daesh, but with the militants on the ropes, Washington must articulate its longer-term interests and what role, if any, US forces will play in Syria.
    Mattis supports a UN-backed effort in Geneva, which has run in parallel to a Russian and Iranian-led process, to reach a diplomatic solution.
    America has armed and trained Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters who are battling Daesh on the ground, but the weapons provided to the Kurdish YPG are a source of huge angst for NATO ally Turkey, which views the group as terrorists.
    Mattis declined to say whether the US would be asking for those weapons back, though Washington has previously said it keeps tabs on the equipment. Mattis will meet his Turkish counterpart at NATO to discuss ongoing concerns.
    NATO has been in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in late 2001 to dislodge the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
    Despite a 16-year war and hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in Afghan institutions and security forces, the country remains beset by corruption and an ongoing security crisis that is killing thousands of local soldiers and civilians each year.
    NATO will boost its training mission to the local troops from around 13,000 troops to around 16,000, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.
    According to diplomatic sources, the US would contribute around 2,800 troops, while other NATO allies and partner countries would supply around 700 more.
    On North Korea, Mattis said he has received calls from EU leaders concerned about the recent escalation in tensions, following Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test — and its most powerful to date.
    He arrives in Brussels from Helsinki, where he attended a forum called the Northern Group, a little-known meeting of northern European nations focusing on the continent’s military and security challenges, particularly from Russia.
    Moscow frequently sends warplanes into the skies around the Baltics and Europe remains anxious about Russia’s military intentions, especially after the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
    Mattis’s initial visits to Europe and NATO were overshadowed by doubts among allies, nervous about President Donald Trump’s campaign statements that he thought NATO was “obsolete.”

    Main category: 
    NATO looks to Mattis for Afghanistan plan
    US defense chief Mattis says a decision is closer on strategy for Afghanistan
    NATO vows ‘unity’ at Trump defense chief’s debut

  • Gunmen kill 11 traders in central Nigeria

    Wed, 2017-11-08 15:08

    JOS, Nigeria: Gunmen have killed at least 11 traders in central Nigeria, police said Wednesday, in the latest violence in the region, which has been hit by decades of ethnic and sectarian strife.
    The traders were returning from a rural market in the Riyom district of Plateau state when they were ambushed by “unknown assailants” on Tuesday, said police spokesman Tyopev Terna.
    “Eleven people who were returning from a weekly village market in Makera village were shot dead at about 7:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) yesterday,” he told AFP.
    Four other traders were injured in the attack, which happened some 30 km south of the state capital, Jos, he added.
    An investigation has been launched to establish the motive for the attack and to identify the victims, who are believed to be from the Fulani ethnic group.
    Plateau state lies in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt that separates the predominantly Muslim north from the largely Christian south.
    It has long been a hotbed of ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions between indigenous Christian farming communities and the Muslim settler Hausa/Fulani cattle herders.
    Tensions typically boil over into tit-for-tat violence over access to land and resources, and the struggle for political control.
    Nura Abdullahi, head of cattle herders union in Plateau, said: “We don’t have an idea who the victims were and whether the attack was ethnically motivated or the work of bandits who abound in the area. “It is too early to draw any conclusion.”
    Riyom district has been hit by waves of violence between farmers and herders.
    Last month, two people were killed in Jol village in the area after a young herder’s body was found nearby. The cattle drivers were blamed.
    At least 29 were killed in an attack targeting people sheltered in a rural primary school in nearby Bassa district.
    The attack was apparently in revenge for the death of six Fulani herders who were killed by unidentified assailants in the area.

    Main category: 
    Fulani herdsmen kill eight in central Nigeria
    36 dead in northern Nigeria violence

  • Tension escalates as Catalan strike demands leaders’ release

    Wed, 2017-11-08 15:28

    BARCELONA: Protesters blocked roads and train lines across Catalonia on Wednesday, provoking commuter anger in a strike called by a pro-independence union after separatist leaders were detained in Madrid over their divisive secession drive.
    More than 50 routes including major motorways were cut, causing widespread disruption in the region, which has been plunged into uncertainty over its now-deposed government’s bid to split from Spain.
    The crisis has shaken a EU still getting to grips with Britain’s decision to leave the bloc, and raised fears of social unrest and prolonged disruption to the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy.
    Huge banners were draped across at least one tunnel in Barcelona, blocking entry, and activists also cut off main roads linking the region of 7.5 million people to France and to the Spanish capital.
    “Warning. Big problems at the heart of the commuter train system due to an invasion of people and objects on the tracks,” Rodalies de Catalunya, which manages commuter trains in the region, said on Twitter.
    At one protest in Sitges, southwest of Barcelona, demonstrators set up banners, deckchairs and a table-top game of chess as long queues of motorists formed.
    But the walkout appeared to be less followed than a general strike on Oct. 3 that followed the banned referendum, in which 90 percent voted to break from Spain.
    During that strike most shops and tourist attractions closed down in Barcelona while most remained open on Wednesday, though activists were blocking access to the Sagrada Familia basilica.
    Lawmakers in Catalonia, a region with its own language and culture accounting for a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP), declared independence from Spain on Oct. 27.
    Madrid responded by revoking the region’s autonomy, dismissing its government and Parliament, and organizing new regional elections for next month as it tries to stem the fallout from Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades.
    A judge in Madrid last week ordered eight separatist politicians to be remanded in custody for their secession drive.
    Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium facing extradition to Spain, on Tuesday criticized the EU for backing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the crisis.
    “Will you accept the result of the Catalan referendum or will you continue to help Mr. Rajoy in his coup d’etat?” Puigdemont said in Brussels.
    Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Wednesday denied that his government was “in crisis” over Puigdemont’s presence, which risks reigniting communal tensions in Belgium.
    “There is a political crisis in Spain and not in Belgium,” Michel told Parliament, after Flemish separatist members of his coalition government spoke out in support of Puigdemont.
    More than 2,000 businesses have moved their headquarters out of the region as the turmoil drags on.
    Wednesday’s walkout was called by the pro-independence CSC union but lacked support from Spain’s two largest unions.
    Waving pro-independence banners and Catalan flags, demonstrators called for the release of sacked government officials and separatist lobbyists.
    Local police, who now take their orders directly from Madrid after Spain suspended Catalan autonomy, removed some protesters who sat in rows across roads and blocked a main Barcelona bus station.
    Authorities said high-speed train links with France were disrupted, with a Barcelona-Lyon train forced to turn back, but commuter trains were running as normal.
    A central government source in Barcelona said participation in the strike was “negligible.”
    “There are only transport problems making it difficult for people to get to work,” the source told AFP.
    Reacting to the closure of the main AP-7 motorway linking Catalonia with France, one Twitter user said “30 idiots are imposing their craziness on all the others, this is VIOLENCE, it’s an IMPOSITION, it’s ILLEGAL, and the passivity of the (police) is OUTRAGEOUS.”
    New elections will be held in Catalonia on Dec. 21 and Rajoy called on Wednesday for “massive participation” in the vote.

    Main category: 
    Axed Catalan leader slams EU for ‘helping’ Spanish PM
    ‘Independent’ Catalonia wakes up under Madrid’s control
    Europe must speak up for Catalan separatists, says Puidgemont

  • After Kenya vote drama, secessionist talk enters mainstream

    Wed, 2017-11-08 03:00

    JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: During Kenya’s election upheaval, a few protesters displayed images of the flag of the “People’s Republic of Kenya,” a notional breakaway state. Some posted online images of Kenya divided into two nations along ethnic lines, reflecting a growing sense of marginalization in some opposition strongholds despite some progress in allocating more rights and resources to aggrieved communities.
    In another new challenge, Mombasa Gov. Hassan Joho, another governor and more than a dozen lawmakers have revived old calls for coastal counties to secede, alleging discrimination by the national government since Kenya’s independence from British rule in 1963. Critics have dismissed the call as political posturing in the wake of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s disputed election win on Oct. 26, but the rhetoric highlights the skepticism of some Kenyans about the unity of one of Africa’s most influential nations.
    However unlikely, secession is “an idea that was extremely marginal, and now it’s gone mainstream,” said Abdullahi Boru, a political analyst in Kenya.
    Recent independence bids in Spain’s Catalonia region and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish area ran up against the power of the state, and the bloodshed that accompanied the path to statehood in African nations, including Eritrea and South Sudan, is a measure of the toll of some secessionist bids.
    Separatists in Kenya are likely to encounter immense political pressures, legal obstacles and a possible crackdown by security forces even if they can organize effectively. Meanwhile, Kenyan officials note, even counties where opposition thrives continue to work with the capital, Nairobi, on development and other projects spurred by a 2010 constitution that seeks to give local areas more clout and funding.
    Secession is a rallying cry in the camp of opposition leader Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo who boycotted the October election after challenging the victory of Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, in an August vote nullified by the Supreme Court because of flaws. Odinga has said he is forming a peaceful “resistance movement.”
    The October election is also being challenged in court. Odinga says yet another vote should be held within 90 days, capitalizing on the frustration of supporters who say Kikuyus and their Kalenjin allies have dominated the country for too long.
    “Let them divide Kenya into two” if another election is not held, said Veronica Akoth, an Odinga supporter in the western city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold. Some Kisumu protesters have chanted, “Kisumu si Kenya,” which means “Kisumu is not Kenya” in Swahili.
    The slogan is a variation on “The Coast is not Kenya,” a saying that maintains coastal communities are different from the rest of the East African nation, partly because of their history as a territory under the authority of Zanzibar’s sultanate.
    Joho, the governor of Mombasa County that includes the major Indian Ocean port of the same name, belongs to an opposition coalition formed by Odinga. He and his allies have indicated that their secession campaign would be lengthy, requiring consultations with community leaders. However, the governors of four out of six coastal counties have not joined Joho’s call.
    Secessionist violence plagued Kenya shortly after independence, when security forces fought Somali insurgents seeking to join with neighboring Somalia. In the late 1990s, opposition leader Mwai Kibaki suggested secession for central Kenya after an election period marred by violence. Kibaki was elected president in 2002 and became a staunch advocate of the Kenyan state.
    “At the core of the call for secession is the failure by successive governments to address the issues of historical land injustices, exclusion from development, etc. Historically, presidents in Kenya often rewarded those loyal to them with development and those who showed any signs or forms of dissent with exclusion,” Natasha Kimani, an analyst at the Chatham House research center in Britain, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
    The idea of secession, however, is unlikely to take root because Kenyans have largely embraced decentralization, seeing it “as a way to bring resources and services closer to the people,” Kimani said. She cited development successes in “marginalized areas” such as Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera and Lamu.
    Kenya’s election turmoil, including violence that left dozens dead, created a “very polarized and ethnically divided environment that we haven’t seen for quite a long time,” said John Tomaszewski, regional director for Africa at the Washington-based International Republican Institute. But he doubted that secession can succeed in the near term, saying: “I don’t see that we’re at a stage yet where something like this could be carried out.”

    Main category: 
    Kenyan president is declared winner of troubled election
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  • Protesters slam UK policy on Israel at Balfour ‘celebration’ event

    Wed, 2017-11-08 21:01

    LONDON: With chants, speeches and banner-waving, pro-Palestine protesters lambasted the UK government’s Middle East policies outside the Royal Albert Hall in London, where a “celebration” of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration was being held.
    As the UK’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel finds herself in hot water over an unofficial trip to Israel last summer, the British government’s historic support of the Jewish state was the subject of much criticism from protesters at the demonstration on Tuesday evening.
    “Britain has been the cause of a catastrophe for the Palestinian people for 100 years now and we should say no to it,” said Lara Jamil, who attended the protest with the Revolutionary Communist Group, one of the organizations coordinating the action.
    The rally outside Royal Albert Hall was in protest against a concert celebrating the centenary of the the Balfour Declaration. The 67-word statement issued in 1917 lent official British support to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
    “People have come to celebrate the dispossession of another people’s lands,” said Damian, a lorry driver and pro-Palestine activist. “They’re going to be in there singing, dancing, drinking wine,” he said, shaking his head.
    Wearing traditional keffiyeh scarfs and waving flags, demonstrators chanted into bullhorns under the watchful eye of a dozen police officers, some of whom took pictures of the demonstrators.
    Protester Jillian Brown said that the British government should pressure Israel to stop human rights abuses in Palestine. The public should hold the UK government responsible, she added, and “know where their MPs are and what they’re doing.” The, reference, she clarified, centered on Patel, who is facing calls to resign after it emerged this week that she had met with high-ranking officials on an undisclosed trip to Israel.
    But a handful of counter-protesters, waving Star of David flags, said the UK’s support for Israel was worthy of celebration. “I’m sticking up for Israel and I’m sticking up for the British government who made the right decision to issue the Balfour Declaration,” explained Jonathan Fitter, who stood facing the pro-Palestine group with an Israeli banner.
    Many of the pro-Israel protesters said they supported a two-state solution. “I want a Jewish state with security and I want to see a Palestinian state as well, without violence,” said Sue Hadden. The Balfour Declaration, she said, was the first step toward Jewish self-determination. “I think it’s really important to celebrate that,” she added.
    But some protesters on the Palestinian side pointed out that the British government had not fulfilled the entirety of the Balfour Declaration, which called for upholding the rights of the local non-Jewish population.
    “They more than fulfilled half their promise even though they had no right to promise it, and they completely neglected the second half of the promise,” said Hilary Wise, a retired university lecturer who works with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. “The Palestinians have been suffering ever since, there has been increasing, cumulative dispossession.”
    Aspersions were cast by some passersby as the protesters chanted “Freedom for Palestine” into the bullhorn. “Rot in hell! You lost,” said a man, running his finger threateningly across his throat, as he crossed the protest and continued down the street.

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    UK aid minister facing sack over undisclosed meetings with Israelis: Sun newspaper
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  • Lift up your hearts, not your cell phones, pope tells priests, bishops

    Wed, 2017-11-08 20:51

    VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Wednesday chastised priests and bishops who take pictures with their cell phones during Masses, saying they should focus on God instead.
    “The priest says ‘lift up your hearts.’ He does not say, ‘lift up your cell phones to take pictures,’” Francis told tens of thousands of people at his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square, referring to a communion prayer in the Roman Catholic Mass.
    In his improvised remarks, he called using cell phones during Mass “a very ugly thing,” adding: “It’s so sad when I’m celebrating mass here or inside the basilica and I see lots of phones held up — not just by the faithful, but also by priests and bishops! Please!“
    “The Mass is not a show ... so remember, no cell phones!” he said, prompting laughter and applause from the crowd.
    In February, he told youngsters to get off their cell phones during family meals, warning that the death of face-to-face conversations can have dire consequences for society, even resulting in wars.
    He has called the Internet, social media and text messages “a gift of God” if used wisely, but has also tried to persuade today’s youth to swap their smartphones for pocket-sized Bibles.
    Francis, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, has regularly urged the faithful to be more spiritual and his priests and bishops to be more humble.
    Shortly after his election in 2013, he said it pained him to see priests driving flashy cars and eager to use the latest smartphone.
    The pope is driven around in a simple blue Ford Focus and is not known to have ever used a cell phone in public since his election.
    The 80-year old Argentine pontiff is no stranger to the world of social media, boasting over 14 million followers on his English-language Twitter account alone, and often posing for selfies with enthusiastic young pilgrims.

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