Archive for February, 2017

Beijing’s Shadow Looms Over Hong Kong Elections

February 28, 2017

Pressure from mainland China urges electors to support specific candidate

“The election is becoming more of a typical Chinese election, where the winner is known before the ballots are even cast.”

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Hong Kong will elect its new leader on March the 26th. Although many Hong Kongers would like everyone to have a vote, the system to elect a new chief executive is a far cry from universal suffrage. Graphic: Sharon Shi for The Wall Street Journal

Updated Feb. 28, 2017 9:09 a.m. ET

HONG KONG—Michael Tien, one of nearly 1,200 electors who will select Hong Kong’s equivalent of governor in March, said he received an unusual request recently.

A caller claiming to represent the interests of Beijing asked Mr. Tien to ditch the candidate he supported and back another: Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official, Carrie Lam. Mr. Tien, a dapper Hong Kong city councilman and businessman, said he worried that refusing could lead to retribution by authorities in mainland China.

The acquaintance who called him “was a person deeply connected in China, whom I cannot name for obvious reasons,” said the 66-year-old Mr. Tien. “I was surprised by the boldness of the call, since I have been so public about supporting another candidate.” Mr. Tien said he was unpersuaded.

Other electors and candidates in the race have also acknowledged the existence of calls or pressure from Chinese individuals claiming government backing and urging them to support Ms. Lam. The electors have until March 1 to publicly nominate a list of finalists who will contend in a March 26 ballot.

Carrie Lam, a candidate for the next chief executive of Hong Kong, faces a group of pro-democracy protesters calling for real universal suffrage.

Carrie Lam, a candidate for the next chief executive of Hong Kong, faces a group of pro-democracy protesters calling for real universal suffrage. PHOTO: ALEX HOFFORD/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

On paper, Hong Kong, a former British colony, is a semiautonomous region of China with substantial leeway to elect its leaders. In practice, China’s thumb is on the scales, encroachment that has some here worried that other hallmarks of autonomy could be eroded as well.

While political analysts say China has influenced elections in the past, including indicating preferences for candidates, the influence has deepened recently, with pressure to pick certain candidates more widespread and beginning earlier in the process.

“What’s going on now is even more outrageous than what happened in the past,” said Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The election is becoming more of a typical Chinese election, where the winner is known before the ballots are even cast.”

The China Liaison Office, the central government’s headquarters in Hong Kong, denied allegations that Beijing is working behind the scenes to influence the vote.

Chinese authorities already approve the candidates, who are nominated and then selected by an electoral committee stacked with pro-Beijing members.

Across China, Chinese President Xi Jinping is tightening political control ahead of a Communist Party congress later this year that is expected to further cement his leadership. For Hong Kong, that means having a leader in place who can avoid disturbances like the pro-democracy protests that paralyzed the city in 2014, China experts say.

Until January, Mr. Tien’s candidate, Regina Ip, was thought by many in Hong Kong to be Beijing’s favorite. Though unpopular in Hong Kong, the 66-year-old former security secretary burnished her pro-China credentials trying to pass an authoritarian anti-sedition law in 2003. The move brought a half million protesters to the streets, and the law fizzled.

In January, Mr. Tien and others said the phone calls began, urging them to get behind Ms. Lam, who had recently entered the race. Ms. Lam, who had been the second-highest ranking Hong Kong official after current Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, showed her loyalty to Beijing by leading a government response to the 2014 pro-democracy protests.

John Tsang, Hong Kong's former financial secretary, is considered the underdog candidate in the coming election.

John Tsang, Hong Kong’s former financial secretary, is considered the underdog candidate in the coming election.PHOTO: ANTHONY KWAN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Beijing approved Ms. Lam’s candidacy in days while others waited weeks, creating a buzz around Ms. Lam’s bid.

Ms. Ip told local media she was getting phone calls with offers of government jobs if she dropped out of the race, offers she said she refused. She declined to comment.

The Lam campaign rejects the notion that the race is already decided. Though not acknowledging direct support, campaign official Bernard Chan says encouragement from Beijing is only one element in the race. Mr. Chan is organizing Lam campaign rallies to build her popularity, which he says can influence the decisions of the electors.

“If this is a done deal, then why am I working so hard?” he asked.

One reason: Beijing could change its mind. In the last election, Chinese authorities appeared to support one candidate, only to push for Mr. Leung late in the race, according to political analysts. This time, Mr. Leung had been expected to run for a second term but bowed out—under pressure from Beijing, analysts say. Mr. Leung has denied Beijing influence and said his decision was personal.

The underdog candidate is John Tsang, a popular, mustachioed former finance secretary who went to high school and university in the U.S. Hong Kongers applaud him for openly supporting the city in a recent soccer match against a Beijing team, as other politicians declined to commit.

Polls show Mr. Tsang is more popular than Ms. Lam. The same polls show locals expect Ms. Lam to win because she has Beijing’s support.

But Mr. Tsang is no stranger in Beijing, either, having worked with Chinese authorities as a Hong Kong official for years. He recently suggested he would consider the controversial anti-sedition law sought by Beijing, a pro-China gesture. Observers have made much of the fact that Mr. Xi singled out Mr. Tsang for a handshake during a 2015 political meeting.

At a crowded Tsang campaign rally recently, supporter Gordon Poon pushed into the news mob and declared: “I support John Tsang because he is the only candidate not totally controlled by China.”

“How can you be sure he is not?” a nearby reporter asked, turning her camera to him.

Write to John Lyons at


Hungary PM calls ‘ethnic homogeneity’ a key to success — “Life has proven that too much mixing causes trouble.”

February 28, 2017


© AFP/File | Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, seen February 10, 2017, said of his comments that “ethnic homogeneity” is good, “One can say such things now…as life has proven that too much mixing causes trouble”

BUDAPEST (AFP) – Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Tuesday that “ethnic homogeneity” was vital for the country’s economic success, in a fresh tirade against importing workers to solve labour shortages.Addressing the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Budapest, Orban said that improving competitiveness was not the only way to bolster economic growth and “enhance the value” of the “homeland”.

“How to do this? First, by preserving ethnic homogeneity. One can say such things now, which you would have been executed for during the past few years, as life has proven that too much mixing causes trouble,” he said.

Hungary’s population, like those of many European nations, has a mix of ethnic backgrounds, but Orban said this diversity “is within a certain band ethnically… within one civilisation”.

Orban, an admirer of US President Donald Trump, has called the wave of mostly Muslim migrants into Europe since 2015 a threat to the continent’s cultural and religious heritage, and has built border fences to try to keep them out.

Hungary’s government “cannot risk changing the fundamental ethnic character of the country,” he said.

“That would not enhance the value of the country but downgrade it instead, and toss it into chaos.”

He also claimed that limited diversity was culturally important because “the problem of parallel societies is undesirable,” an allusion to worries that societies unable to integrate migrants can increase crime levels and terrorism.

Hungary, an EU member with a record-low unemployment rate of just above four percent, is facing an acute shortage of workers, with many employers saying they are struggling to fill vacancies.

But Orban warned against a recourse to so-called “guest worker” programmes, saying he would support them only on an ad hoc basis for short-term contracts.

“I would not like to see the country drift toward a situation where lower-skilled work would only be carried out by foreigners,” he said.

“We ourselves have to do the work required to keep our country going, from scrubbing toilets to nuclear science,” he said.

Nigeria needs the world’s assistance in responding to the Boko Haram crisis — World’s forgotten humanitarian crisis

February 28, 2017

By Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija
Tehran Times

February 27, 2017

Some 250 delegates have gathered in the Norwegian capital Oslo on Friday to draw attention to the world’s forgotten humanitarian crisis — that of northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, where Boko Haram once dominated and have left destruction in their wake

Beleaguered region

The humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria is one of the most underreported disasters in the world — only recently have people turned their attentions to this beleaguered region. Over the last seven years, Boko Haram, one of the most brutal terrorist groups the world has ever seen, has caused untold loss of life and liberty across northeastern Nigeria and parts of Niger, Chad and Cameroon in and around the Lake Chad Region.

Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, the epicenter of the insurgency, estimates that the destruction caused by Boko Haram in Borno alone amounts to about $6 billion. At the height of the insurgency, Boko Haram sowed its destruction across the entire northern Nigeria, hitting targets as far away as the country’s capital Abuja, some 430 miles from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

The Nigerian government has been unwavering in its determination to bring a speedy resolution to the insurgency. President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently made it clear, as a presidential candidate in early 2015 and as elected president since May 2015, that one of his foremost priorities is defeating the terrorists. And the Nigerian military has relentlessly taken the battle to the enemy’s strongholds, routing it, reclaiming lost territory, and liberating tens of thousands of people. Now well on the back foot, Boko Haram has mostly resorted to suicide bombings on mosques and motor-parks and other soft targets.
A new set of challenges

The admirable successes of the military have produced a new set of challenges: how to deal with the flood of civilians uprooted and traumatized by the insurgency. In Nigeria alone, 26 million people have been affected, including host communities where refuge has been sought and given. With voluntary returns to date, the current number of recorded internally displaced persons (IDPs) stands at 1.9 million, only a fraction of the total number affected by the humanitarian crisis. Clearly, it would be a mistake to talk of this as an IDP or refugee crisis alone. Relief efforts are currently, understandably, focusing on those in greatest need, but the impact of the insurgency and the ensuing humanitarian crisis is much more widely felt.

For its part, the Nigerian government is making budgetary provision through its ministries, departments and agencies, for just over half of the 14 million in need in the six most affected states in 2017. The goal is to deliver life-saving assistance and to advance the recovery and rebuilding process. But these are difficult financial times for the country.

Nigeria hopes world powers will supplement the government’s efforts to fix the destruction Boko Haram left behind.

We cannot do this alone. Meeting the needs as set out in the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria will cost $1.054 billion and currently, less than 10 percent of the plan has been funded, thus highlighting the need for rigorous resource mobilization in order to meet targets. We anticipate that this pledging conference will go some way to closing the funding gap.

We are optimistic that this conference, apart from helping closing the funding gap, will also provide a platform to forge the enduring friendships and partnerships required to navigate the challenging months and years ahead.

The highlight of the conference will be the increased political will and attention, as well as pledges by the governments and donor agencies attending — pledges that, when redeemed, will augment the efforts of the Nigerian government. When the throng of foreign ministers, diplomats, donors, activists and civil society organizations make their way from Oslo back to their various bases this weekend, it will be with the firm belief that we have succeeded in taking the first bold step in pulling the world’s forgotten crisis out of the shadows. And that by doing so we are preventing a protracted crisis, and helping avert a nightmare scenario that would make Boko Haram’s brutality seem insignificant in comparison.

(Source: Newsweek)


Hunting Boko Haram, Nigeria’s Army Is Accused of Massacring Civilians

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — A wheelbarrow saved his life.

Sprawled across it, Babagana felt every bump, moaning in pain from four bullet wounds. Covered in his blood, his pregnant wife helped roll him across the Nigerian countryside to a hospital.

Somehow, Babagana survived the makeshift ambulance ride. More than 80 men from his village had been shot to death, he said, all of them forced to strip to the waist and lie face down. The gunmen then burned their small farming village before speeding away.

The attack fit the pattern of rampages by Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has killed poor people in this region for years. But Babagana and multiple witnesses to the attack in June, as well as another one days before in a neighboring village, say the radicals were not to blame this time.

Instead, they say, the massacres were carried out by the Nigerian military.

“They told us they were here to help us,” said a resident, Falmata, 20, adding that soldiers in uniform shouted for villagers to point out the Boko Haram members among them. When none were identified, the killings began, she and other witnesses said.


Iraqi Officers Find Islamic State Members Hidden Among Refugees Fleeing Mosul

February 28, 2017

SOUTH OF MOSUL, Iraq — A few hundred men who had scurried across front lines in a refugee exodus from Mosul sat on the ground in neat rows before an Iraqi intelligence officer who scanned the crowd for hidden militants.

The officer pulled a teenager onto a raised platform and asked the group if he belonged to Islamic State (IS). Muffled groans were followed by nods and muttered comments.

The youth was then dragged off to a pickup truck and his arms tied behind his back. He confessed to a three-month membership in IS and spending a week in a training camp, but said he had only been a cook and never carried a weapon.

As growing numbers of residents flee fighting between insurgents and Iraqi military forces seeking to recapture the IS-held western half of Iraq’s second largest city, security units have been transporting civilians to government-run camps and weeding out IS infiltrators.

Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest a person suspected of belonging to Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq February 26, 2017. Picture taken February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Just over a week into the offensive on the militants’ last urban bastion in Iraq, some 14,000 inhabitants have slipped out of the city, trekking through stony desert. Most are women, children and elderly but there are also hundreds of young men who must pass screening by the security forces.

All are hungry and thirsty after three months under a virtual siege of western districts by Iraqi forces. Some have been wounded in the crossfire of a battle that could deal a hammer blow to Islamic State’s territorial ambitions.

Up to 400,000 people may have to leave their homes during the new U.S.-backed offensive launched this month after Iraqi forces finished clearing districts east of the Tigris River that cleaves the city in Iraq’s far north.

The intelligence officer, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said he had extracted seven suspected Islamic State members on Sunday, the first day of mass displacement from western Mosul. Reuters saw four more in detention on Monday.

“The fighters don’t come out,” he said. Those who were loyal to the jihadist movement but played a less public, mainly non-combatant role are more likely to try to slip through the dragnet, the intelligence officer added.

Security forces keep on hand some local Mosul inhabitants they refer to as “sources” to help them identify suspects.


Most Islamic State militants are killed in battle, though Iraqi forces have captured alive a handful over the past week including a few from former Soviet republics and China.

The intelligence officer said he had learned to pinpoint IS associates from how they behaved with him.

“You can tell because they are afraid. Those who are not Daesh are also afraid but it’s different from the fear of those who are with Daesh,” he said, without elaborating, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

The Iraqi military considers the screening process to be effective so far, but gives no figures.

Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest a person suspected of belonging to Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq February 26, 2017. Picture taken February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

“We have a mechanism. We have names and sources but even so we don’t know all of them. But there are people who cooperate; most of them are cooperative,” the intelligence officer said.

Some of those held in groups for interrogation were clearly motivated to expose IS supporters in their midst by the repression and brutality of Islamic State’s rule in Mosul.

“People are cooperative because two years is a long time to be under constant pressure,” the intelligence officer said.

“When you ask who among you is with Daesh, there are people who will point them out and say they did such and such. Like these guys, this morning I brought them one and asked if they knew him. Two of them got up and said he is Daesh.”

A U.S. intelligence official who asked not to be named said some Islamic State combatants had escaped Mosul as well as the Syrian city of Raqqa amidst the chaos of combat, but U.S.-backed forces’ encirclement of both cities had reduced the risk of militants making their way out to carry out attacks elsewhere.


People arrive at the initial screening site behind front lines just south of Mosul caked in dust, some carried on stretchers or the backs of others.

The first thing they ask for is usually a cigarette. Smoking was forbidden under the Islamic State regime, but many people still risked lashes for a few puffs.

Supplies of most commodities have run out and prices have skyrocketed in west Mosul since Iraqi forces cut off the last road westward to IS-controlled territory in Syria three months ago. Many families have subsisted on little more than bread.

An elderly man waiting for security screening said people had died in their homes from hunger. “There was nothing to buy. You have money but what can you do, eat money?” he said.

The journey out of western Mosul is treacherous and disorienting. Families are often separated and unsure when they will see each other again or where they will ultimately end up.

Civilians say Islamic State has targeted them with mortars and snipers along the route, which takes at least an hour of walking and another half hour piled into military trucks.

A 16-year-old shepherd lost part of his flock last week when a mortar crashed into it. He slaughtered the wounded animals and sold the meat to Iraqi policemen securing the area.

This week, families were squatting in a ditch in the open desert waiting for trucks to carry them the rest of the way.

A few women seized the opportunity to swap their black niqab veils for colourful headscarves, which show their faces and so were banned by Islamic State.

The teenage cook exposed as an IS supporter, clad in a blue tracksuit and barely old enough to grow a beard, was sitting later in the bed of a truck as three other men with pillow cases over their heads were tossed in.

When the intelligence officer began to ask him more questions, the youth’s eyes welled up.

“Don’t cry,” the officer advised with a hint of tenderness before the vehicle took off, kicking up a cloud of dust.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Mosul and John Walcott in Washington; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Germany Summons Turkish Ambassador Over Journalist’s Arrest — Angela Merkel in an awkward position

February 28, 2017

BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says the Turkish ambassador has been summoned to hear Berlin’s concerns over the arrest of a Die Welt newspaper journalist.

Deniz Yucel, who has both Turkish and German citizenship, was detained in Turkey on Feb. 14 following his reports about a hacker attack on the email account of the country’s energy minister.

He was ordered jailed Monday pending a trial on charges of terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred.

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Deniz Yücel

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters Tuesday his office pressed the ambassador for consular access to Yucel.

Gabriel says Germany is doing “everything to ensure Deniz Yucel is freed as soon as possible and so that there is a good resolution for Deniz Yucel, for the freedom of the press and opinion, but also for the German-Turkish relationship.”



Journalist for German newspaper arrested in Turkey

Deniz Yücel jailed pending trial on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting the public to violence

Yücel supporters wave flags and hold signs
Protestors wave flags and hold signs during a motorcade on the occasion of the solidarity for Deniz Yücel in Berlin. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Turkish authorities have arrested a reporter for a prominent German newspaper on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting the public to violence, according to a court witness.

Authorities initially detained Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for Die Welt newspaper, on 14 February after he reported on emails that a leftist hacker collective had purportedly obtained from the private account of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and the son-in-law of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

On Monday, an Istanbul court ordered Yücel, a dual citizen of Turkey and Germany, to be jailed pending trial, a witness at the court told Reuters. He is the first German reporter to be held in a widespread crackdown that has followed last year’s failed 15 July coup in Turkey and has frequently targeted the media.

More than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended from Turkey’s police, military, civil service and private sector since the failed coup and tens of thousands arrested. Ankara says the measures are necessary given the security threats it faces.

But Turkey’s allies, including Germany, fear Erdoğan is using the purges as a pretext to curtail dissent. Relations between the Nato allies have been strained by the coup but Germany desperately needs Turkey for its part in a deal to control the flow of migrants into Europe.

Yücel’s arrest could also put the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, into an awkward position less than seven months before what promises to be a tightly contested election in September. Merkel criticised the move as “bitter and disappointing” and called it “disproportionate”.

She said: “The German government expects that the Turkish judiciary, in its treatment of the Yücel case, takes account of the high value of freedom of the press for every democratic society. We will continue to insist on a fair and legal treatment of Deniz Yücel and hope that he will soon regain his freedom.”

Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, was even more harsh in his assessment of the case, saying it showed in “glaring light” the differences in the two countries in evaluating freedom of press and freedom of opinion.

Iraqi forces disperse demonstration with gunfire, tear gas after Prime Minister stoned– Protesters chant in support of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr

February 28, 2017


© AFP | The demonstration began as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Wasit University and later moved to the provincial council headquarters

KUT (IRAQ) (AFP) – Three people were wounded by gunfire as Iraqi forces dispersed a demonstration Tuesday by students who threw stones at the premier during a visit to Kut, officials and witnesses said.A student said demonstrators were wounded when security forces fired to disperse them in the city south of Baghdad. An officer and a doctor confirmed that people were hit by gunfire but did not say who was responsible.

The demonstration began as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Wasit University and later moved to the provincial council headquarters when he changed venues, witnesses and an AFP journalist said.

“We received around 70 (injured). Most of them left and three wounded by gunfire and 19 suffering from poisoning as a result of tear gas remain,” said Ahmed al-Quraishi, a doctor at a local hospital.

Mohammed Anayid, a student, said “security forces fired to disperse the protesters, which resulted in the wounding of a number of demonstrators”.

Second Lieutenant Ali al-Sarrai, a member of the security forces tasked with protecting the university, said protesters threw “stones and water bottles and shoes” at Abadi.

His guards then fired in the air and targeted demonstrators with tear gas, said Sarrai who also confirmed that three people were shot.

The students were protesting against “the lack of services and the spread of corruption in the government”, said Ali al-Aboudi, who took part in the demonstration.

Some protesters threw stones at Abadi’s convoy, Aboudi said.

A police captain said 20 protesters were arrested.

Abadi called for “universities to keep away from political conflicts”, a statement from his office said.

Image may contain: 1 person, beard, hat and closeup

Muqtada Al Sadr

Video posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting a slogan often used by supporters of populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has repeatedly called for protests against corruption in the Iraqi government.

Sadr issued a statement apologising to Abadi and stating that the premier was not personally involved in corruption.

The injuries at the protest in Kut came after seven people — five demonstrators and two security personnel — were killed in clashes between Iraqi forces and protesters in central Baghdad on February 11.


 (After February 11 bloodshed)

Protesters carry a man overcome by tear gas after supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr tried to approach the heavily fortified Green Zone during a protest at Tahrir Square in Baghdad,Iraq February 11, 2017.. REUTERS /Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud

May 2016:

© Ahmad al-Rubaye, AFP | Supporters of Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr flee the smoke grenades fired by security forces during clashes near Baghdad’s fortified “Green Zone” on May 20, 2016

UN official calls for urgent action by the Government of Myanmar to end the suffering of the Rohingya people — Myanmar accuses UN envoy of bias

February 28, 2017

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Yanghee Lee. UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré

27 February 2017 – Concluding a four-day visit to parts of Bangladesh where she met with members of Myanmar’s Rohingya community who fled the violence there following attacks on a border post in early October and the ensuing military operations, a United Nations expert called for urgent action by the Government of Myanmar to end the suffering of the Rohingya population in the country.

“The magnitude of violence that these families have witnessed and experienced is far more extensive than I had originally speculated,” highlighted Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

She recounted several allegations of horrific attacks including the slitting of some people’s throats, indiscriminate shootings, houses being set alight with people tied up inside and very young children being thrown into the fire, as well as gang rapes and other sexual violence.

Earlier this month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a flash report, based on its interviews with the people who fled Myanmar, in which it documented mass gang-rape, killings, including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country’s security forces.

In addition to the alleged human rights violations occurring within the context of the security operations that followed the 9 October attacks, Ms. Lee also highlighted today how the Government of Myanmar appears to have taken, and continues to take, actions which discriminate against the Rohingya and make their lives even more difficult.


“I urge the Government of Myanmar to immediately cease the discrimination that the community continues to face, to act now to prevent any further serious rights violations and to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into those already alleged to have occurred,” said the UN rights expert.

“We all owe it to those I have met and their fellow community members to do everything in our power to ensure this is done and to give the Rohingya people reason to hope again,” she added.

During her mission to Bangladesh, Ms. Lee visited the capital Dhaka and the town of Cox’s Bazar, located near its border with Myanmar, where many members of the Rohingya community had fled to. Ms. Lee will present her full report to the UN Human Rights Council on 13 March.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


Myanmar accuses UN envoy of bias over Rohingya violence

YANGON: The Myanmar government has hit out at UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee’s latest comments on people who have fled Rakhine state, saying it disagrees with her statements and finds them “unfortunate”.

Responding to Channel NewsAsia’s queries, Myanmar Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Aye Aye Soe said Ms Lee appeared to be defending the rights of only one group of people and to appease this group in the community, without referring to the Rohingyas.

Ms Aye Aye Soe said this shows Ms Lee’s “bias” as she was not speaking for both Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities affected by the Oct 9 attacks in Maungdaw, Rakhine.

After making a four-day visit to Bangladesh camps housing Rohingyas, Ms Yanghee Lee said what she heard during her interactions with the Rohingyas “was worse than I had anticipated. The magnitude of violence that these families witnessed and experienced was far more extensive than I had originally speculated.”

Ms Lee recounted a number of experiences told to her by Rohingyas who fled Myanmar, such as one of a mother who assumed her son had been brought out of a burning house, only to realise he was still inside.

Another account told of how a woman lost sight in both eyes because of a fire allegedly caused by security personnel. “There was not a single account I heard which was not harrowing,” said Ms Lee.

Ms Aye Aye Soe said the UN Special Rapporteur appeared to have a “twisted” interpretation of the situation in Rakhine, making it sound worse than it is.

The attacks against three border posts in northern Rakhine state in October led to a lockdown and security operations in Maungdaw which lasted about four months.

According to the UN, the operations forced over 70,000 Rohingyas to flee, leaving over 20,000 newly displaced Rohingyas still within the Maungdaw district. The incident also led to a number of allegations of atrocities such as summary killings, rape and destruction of Rohingya properties.

The UN Special Rapporteur also pointed out that the Oct 9 attacks appeared to have given the security forces “the perfect cover to amplify and accelerate actions they had previously carried out through policies, rules and laws – with the apparent objective of expelling the Rohingya population from Myanmar altogether.”

Based on Ms Lee’s latest comments, the UN envoy’s report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Mar 13, “will not be fair”, said Ms Aye Aye Soe.

The Myanmar government-appointed 13-member Rakhine Investigation Commission, led by Vice President Myint Swe, hopes to visit Bangladesh next week, said Ms Aye Aye Soe. The commission members are “willing to investigate” and hope to get a “wider picture” by speaking with the Rohingyas who have fled Rakhine after the Oct 9 attacks.

She pointed out that the commission wants to get the “truth” and will study the degree of the violations committed if there are any. She added that the government will take necessary actions if violations are determined to have taken place.

China Gloats as Trump Squanders U.S. Soft Power

February 28, 2017

Beijing sees ideological shift in Washington as something of a godsend

Philippine protesters burn a portrait of U.S. President Donald Trump during a Feb. 4 rally at the U.S. Embassy in Manila to mark the 1899 Filipino-American War.

Philippine protesters burn a portrait of U.S. President Donald Trump during a Feb. 4 rally at the U.S. Embassy in Manila to mark the 1899 Filipino-American War. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Updated Feb. 28, 2017 9:55 a.m. ET

SHANGHAI—When the White House barred reporters from several media organizations, including the New York Times and CNN, from a briefing last week, Xinhua News Agency issued an urgent bulletin.

China is often excoriated in the West for its harsh treatment of the media: It ranks almost at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index, a notch above Syria.

So, to Chinese propagandists, the widely criticized White House move was a cause for glee—and another example of Donald Trump playing into China’s hands.

For almost seven decades, the U.S. has championed a liberal order in the Asia-Pacific—free trade, open borders and open societies. The system has scored some of its greatest triumphs in the region; from South Korea to Indonesia, growing prosperity begat democracy that, in turn, helped to secure an enduring peace.

Today, America’s ideological shift, part of a populist backlash to globalization, threatens to undermine Washington’s position in a region it transformed.

To the extent that the Trump White House closes the country’s borders to immigrants, raises the specter of trade tariffs, or impedes the operations of a free press—even when those restrictions have no equivalence in the repression that Chinese journalists suffer—it creates an opportunity for Beijing.

This is a soft-power battle. For China, the prize is greater influence—in time, pre-eminence—in Asia, and Mr. Trump is a godsend.

Increasingly, the image makers around Chinese President Xi Jinping are defining him in contrast to his U.S. counterpart: an optimist where Mr. Trump takes a dark view of the U.S. and its place in the world; an internationalist to his “America First” nationalism.

Mr. Xi speaks of an Asian “community of common destiny,” and he backs the slogan with generous infusions of cash.

His signature project, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, is to provide trading infrastructure across the Eurasian landmass, as well as maritime routes to Europe—ports, energy pipelines, electricity grids and telecommunications networks.

China is building connectivity with its neighbors; Mr. Trump wants to erect a Mexican border wall.

The Nation, a Thai newspaper, said the White House attempt to restrict immigration from seven mainly-Muslim countries heralded “an era of unprecedented, globe-sweeping intolerance,” with potential consequences for Southeast Asia, a region that encompasses Indonesia and Malaysia, two Muslim-majority nations.

A sharply worded editorial in the paper warned that the new U.S. president would “make America ugly again.”

Apart from Japan, which feels most threatened by China’s rise and has gone all out to court the new White House, the most enthusiastic support for Mr. Trump in the region has come from its authoritarians like Cambodian strongman Hun Sen.

They calculate that Mr. Trump won’t push democracy or lecture them about media freedoms and other civil liberties.

In much of the rest of Asia—the more liberal parts—the notion of American exceptionalism is fraying.

U.S. friends and allies are already playing Washington off against Beijing, extracting what they can from both sides while trying at all cost to avoid getting entangled in their strategic rivalry.

The prime exponent of this diplomacy is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who in the final months of the Obama presidency solemnly declared, on a visit to Beijing, that it was time to “say goodbye” to America. He was promptly rewarded with promises of Chinese loans and investment worth $24 billion.

In reality, says Chito Sta. Romana, Manila’s incoming ambassador to Beijing, the Philippine president doesn’t intend to cast aside his country’s main security backer. Rather, he is trying to navigate between the two great powers to “maximize gains.”

For Washington, rather than a sudden parting of the ways, this could become a drawn-out estrangement.

A number of its Asian partners are growing more distant as they weigh the benefits of security cooperation with the U.S. against the economic advantages that flow from China.

Thailand is drifting away. So is Malaysia. South Korea, home to some 28,500 U.S. troops, agonizes over whether it can afford to offend China by installing a U.S. missile-defense system against North Korea that Beijing sees a threat to its own security.

In Australia, meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s tetchy phone call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has intensified a debate over how to strike a balance between loyalty to the U.S. and commitment to a Chinese trading partner that takes the lion’s share of its iron-ore exports, while filling its universities with fee-paying students.

Gradually, China is finding itself in a position to fill a vacuum in its neighborhood as American traditional values recede.

Geoff Raby, a former Australian ambassador to Beijing, argues that Mr. Trump is tipping the regional balance further in China’s favor. Mr. Xi, he says, “is like the cat that’s got the cream.”

Write to Andrew Browne at

US, Russia set to clash over Syria sanctions

February 28, 2017


© AFP/File / by Carole LANDRY | Rebels ride a motorcycle past a destroyed building in the northwestern Syrian border town of al-Bab on February 25, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – Russia and the United States were headed for a clash at the UN Security Council on Tuesday as Moscow prepared to veto a draft resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria.

The council will vote on a text drafted by the United States, Britain and France that would put 11 Syrians and 10 entities linked to chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 on a UN blacklist.

Russia has vowed to use its veto to block the measure, which would mark the seventh time that Moscow has resorted to its veto power to shield its Damascus ally.

“In terms of sanctions against the Syrian leadership, I think that now they are completely inappropriate,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday at a press conference in Kyrgyzstan.

“This would not help the negotiation process but would only interfere or undermine confidence,” Putin said, adding that Russia “will not support any new sanctions in relation to Syria.”

The vote scheduled for 11:30 am (1630 GMT) would mark the first major council action by the new US administration of President Donald Trump, who is seeking warmer ties with Russia.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the three countries were united in the view that those responsible for chemical weapons use must be held accountable.

Support for the resolution will send a “strong, clear message… that the international community means business on preventing the use of these abhorrent weapons,” Rycroft said.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley was in Washington on Monday to join Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a White House lunch.

“How much longer is Russia going to continue to babysit and make excuses for the Syrian regime?” she said on Friday following a closed-door council meeting on Syria.

“People have died by being suffocated to death. That’s barbaric.”

The vote would see the Trump administration joining old allies France and Britain to confront Russia over its support for Syria.

“We are very pleased that the new American administration has confirmed it shares completely our view on this and so we are ready to move forward,” said French Ambassador Francois Delattre.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said Friday that Moscow would veto the measure because it was “one-sided” and based on “insufficient proof.”

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the war that has killed 310,000 people since March 2011.

– Punishing those behind chlorine attacks –

The vote comes as UN-brokered talks in Geneva to end the war in Syria were struggling to get off the ground while government air strikes continued, despite a ceasefire.

The draft resolution follows a UN-led investigation which concluded in October that the Syrian air force had dropped chlorine barrel-bombs from helicopters on three opposition-held villages in 2014 and 2015.

The joint panel of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also found that Islamic State jihadists used mustard gas in an attack in 2015.

Under the measure, 11 Syrians, mostly military officials, and 10 entities linked to chemical weapons development would be placed on a UN sanctions blacklist, hit by a global travel ban and assets freeze.

The draft resolution would also ban the sale, supply or transfer of helicopters and related materiel, including spare parts, to the Syrian armed forces or the government.

The UN-OPCW panel had identified the Syrian air force units who dropped chlorine barrel-bombs on the villages of Qmenas, Talmenes and Sarmin in 2014 and 2015.

The head of Syrian air force intelligence, Major General Jamil Hassan, and Major General Saji Jamil Darwish, the commander of Syrian air force operations during the attacks on the villages, are among those on the proposed blacklist.

The United States last month imposed sanctions on 18 senior Syrian military officers and officials over the use of chemical weapons.

Chlorine use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013 under pressure from Russia.

by Carole LANDRY

Ukraine ceasefire myth — Minsk ceasefire exists in name only — Observers fear growing violence to come in the spring

February 28, 2017

The latest Ukraine ceasefire pledge remains unfulfilled as observers fear worse violence to come in the spring. Children are terrified of going to school due to constant shelling.

Image may contain: 1 person, ocean, sky, outdoor and nature

Alexander Hug, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)  (picture-alliance/dpa/OSCE)

A new attempt to enforce the two-year-old Minsk ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was announced at the Munich Security Conference – but along the contact line between Ukrainian government troops and the Russian-backed separatists, the only change between the “start date” of February 20 and the day before was an increased number of violations.

A few days later, one of the unarmed civilian teams from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) there to monitor implementation of the accord was fired at and had one of their observation drones stolen by “Russian-speaking” soldiers. That same day, OSCE monitors spread out along the line of contact reported almost 3,000 ceasefire violations – an incredibly high number but nowhere near that of 31 January, which saw some 11,000 violations within just 24 hours.

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In short,the Minsk ceasefire exists in name only, with endless iterations of “recommitments” to the deal rendered meaningless by the incessant shelling.

The deputy head of the OSCE monitoring mission, Alexander Hug, expressed exasperation with statements recycling the accord while it’s being disrespected daily on the ground, as his teams diligently record. “It’s very confusing to have a ‘ceasefire’ within a ‘ceasefire’ next to a ‘ceasefire’ above a ‘ceasefire’ under a ‘ceasefire’ around a ‘ceasefire’,” he said in Brussels, in between meetings with officials from NATO and the European Union.

Extremely dire humanitarian conditions are worsening, officials say, adding that some villages having been deprived of winter heating for three years now, with children terrified to go to school due to constant shelling. Hug says the “population of eastern Ukraine doesn’t understand any longer why this thing doesn’t end despite these commitments of leaders.”


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Fresh fighting is severely impacting civilians in & around Donetsk, Eastern 


Those leaders include more than just the Ukrainian government and the rebels that signed an original but failed protocol under the auspices of the OSCE in 2014. The French and German governments joined the Russian and Ukrainian leaders in reviving the Minsk plan in February 2015. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this month in Munich that she’s still “ready to devote a lot of time and energy to this, and to keep working at it even in the face of disappointments.”

Europe takes its eye off the Donbass ball

But Nick Witney of the European Council on Foreign Relations suggests Merkel and her French counterpart Francois Hollandemay be too distracted by election campaigns and domestic challenges to put the necessary time into Ukraine.

“In some ways it’s right and inevitable that Europe is taking care of their own business for the next months,” Witney told DW. “2017 is a year of existential threat for the EU and it has to deal with that first – Putin knows this.”

Witney doesn’t believe Putin necessarily wants to seize more land from Ukraine after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, but simply to keep the chaos churning in the disputed Donbass region so Kyiv and the west are off-balance. What’s happening in Washington doesn’t help, he explained, with administration appointees holding one view on Russia and the president a different one.Though the U.S. State Department did issue a condemnation of the shooting incident against the OSCE monitors, President Trump has also hinted he’s looking at ways to ease sanctions against the Kremlin.

“It’s a bit of a poker game with the new Trump administration,” Witney said. “No one knows what will happen in the end. With regard to sanctions: If Trump lifts them, the EU will not be able to hold on to them. We got used to the idea that the EU should control its neighborhood, but we are in fact rather powerless and in the hands of Trump and[Russian President Vladimir] Putin. What we can and should do is not ease an inch and hold our policy line.”

Putin ups ante with Donbass recognition

But Putin has played a daring card in that poker game, announcing Moscow would recognize new travel documents issued by the separatist administrations in eastern Ukraine,a move widely decried as a blatant violation of Minsk.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini raised that issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic. “We believe the decree is not in keeping with the spirit of the Minsk agreement,” Kocijancic told DW. “It’s also quite clear that the travel documents issued are not recognized within the EU. We remain unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity.” Since then, the rebels have announced they’ll also start using the Russian ruble rather than Ukraine’s hryvnia, beginning March 1.

EU: “crucial” for ceasefire to take effect

Kocijancic voiced the European Union’s support for the OSCE mission, condemning the February 24 incident targeting the monitors and the seizure of their drone. “We call for full unhindered and safe access for the monitoring mission,” she added. “It’s crucial that this ceasefire is implemented; we’ve seen too many that haven’t been respected.”

Hug doesn’t sound hopeful after three years of watching the willful neglect of Minsk’s conditions.

While at the time of this discussion with DW there was a slight drop in the number of ceasefire violations, Hug says there will only be stable cessation of hostilities when both parties fulfill their obligations to equally pull back heavy equipment and personnel from the line of contact to create a weapons-free security zone of a minimum 50 km (31 miles) across.

If that doesn’t happen, Hug warned, there’s the risk that the next flare-up will be even more extreme than the one in late January.

“The problem is that the underlying cause has not changed,” he explained, adding that the weapons are still there. “We see it every day: this ‘relative calm’ will not be used by the sides to enjoy the spring sun, it will be used to rotate, to resupply ammunition, to train and to reinforce their positions so the tense situation will even be made more tense now.”

Hug warned the international community is just “taping up a very ugly wound” while the infection that causes it goes untreated.