Putin Vows Military Support For Belarus’ Lukashenko

RUSSIA-VIRUS-HEALTH
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation via teleconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on May 11, 2020. – President Vladimir Putin on May 11, 2020 said Russia’s non-working period imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus will be lifted from May 12. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday, while urging a peaceful resolution to unrest and demonstrations that erupted after a disputed election.

EU ambassadors in the capital Minsk on Thursday denounced a crackdown on the opposition in the wake of the presidential poll, in which 65-year-old Lukashenko claimed a landslide reelection with some 80 percent of the vote.

The Belarusian strongman’s relationship with Putin had soured ahead of the August 9 ballot because Minsk refused closer integration with Russia — and even claimed Moscow had sent mercenaries across the border to organise riots.

Yet Putin on Thursday promised military backing for Belarus and said Russia had set up a reserve group of law enforcement officers to deploy if the post-vote situation deteriorated.

“It won’t be used unless the situation starts to get out of control,” Putin said, unless “extremist elements … begin setting fire to cars, houses and banks, begin seizing administrative buildings”.

But Putin also called on the authorities in Minsk and the opposition to “find a way out” of the crisis peacefully.

He conceded there were problems in Belarus, saying, “otherwise people wouldn’t take to the streets”.

The Russian leader’s calls for calm came after the European Union and ambassadors of member states in Minsk condemned a crackdown on government critics seeking new elections and Lukashenko’s resignation.

– ‘Unacceptable’ prosecution –

The opposition created a Coordination Council to oversee the peaceful transition of power after their leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania fearing reprisals.

Lukashenko ordered a criminal probe into the opposition’s attempts to “seize power” and several of the presidium’s members have been detained or summoned for questioning.

Maria Kolesnikova, an aide of Tikhanovskaya and member of the council, was summoned by investigators for questioning on Thursday. She said she invoked her right not to testify against herself.

The group’s most prominent member, Nobel Prize-winning author and outspoken government critic Svetlana Alexievich, was questioned by investigators on Wednesday and also refused to answer questions.

Two of the presidium’s members this week were sentenced to 10 days each in police detention for organising unsanctioned rallies and disobeying law enforcement orders.

“The European diplomats emphasised that prosecution of Coordination Council members on grounds presented by the authorities is unacceptable,” a joint statement said.

EU nations have also vowed to sanction individuals they say were involved in vote-rigging and the violent crackdown on protesters.

The EU ambassadors in Minsk on Thursday said that: “Belarusians are asking for an open dialogue with their own authorities about the future of their country,” urging “a peaceful and democratic process, underpinned by independent and free media and a strong civil society”.

– ‘Diplomatic war’ –

Lukashenko has dismissed calls to resign or host new elections, instead accusing Western countries and Russia of stirring political unrest.

The authoritarian leader on Thursday said the ex-Soviet country’s European neighbours had declared a “diplomatic war” and were meddling in Belarus’s internal affairs.

Last week he described demonstrators as “rats” in a video that showed him carrying an assault rifle, after more than 100,000 people took to the streets to demand he stand down.

His notorious security services rounded up nearly 7,000 participants in peaceful rallies that erupted in the days after the vote, and hundreds of detainees claimed they were abused by police in custody.

Local and international rights groups have urged the UN to investigate allegations of systematic torture at the hands of security services.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political newcomer who ran in place of her jailed husband, called for historic demonstrations and mass strikes following the election.

Workers at state-owned factories initially downed tools and joined the walk-outs in large numbers, but fewer employees have kept up participation due to pressure from the authorities, activists have said.

Industry Minister Pyotr Parkhomchik said Thursday that there were no ongoing strikes and that “all assembly lines have been restarted.”

AFP

Shiite Opposition Leader Loses Appeal Against Life Sentence In Bahrain

Bahrain’s Al-Wefaq opposition group leader Sheikh Ali Salman looks on during a rally against the upcoming parliamentary election in the village of Zinj, south of Manama. AFP

 

Bahrain’s supreme court, whose verdicts are final, on Monday upheld a life term for Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman for spying for Gulf rival Qatar, a judicial source said.

Salman, who headed the Shiite Al-Wefaq group, was convicted in November of “communicating with Qatari officials… to overthrow constitutional order”, a ruling rights groups have called a travesty.

Salman’s aides Ali al-Aswad and Hassan Sultan, who had been sentenced to life in absentia, also lost their right to appeal. Both men are former MPs and currently reside outside of Bahrain.

Qatar has repeatedly denied accusations of conspiring against Bahrain with Salman.

Bahrain and Qatar have been locked in a bitter regional dispute since June 2017, when a Saudi-led boycott of Doha was enforced over allegations it was cosying up to regional arch-rival Iran and supporting radical Islamist groups.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banned their citizens from travel to Qatar.

Ruled for more than two centuries by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, Bahrain has been hit by waves of unrest since 2011, when security forces crushed Shiite-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Bahrain’s two main opposition groups — Al-Wefaq and the secular Waad — are prohibited from representation in parliament.

Bahraini authorities accuse Shiite Iran of provoking unrest in the kingdom. Tehran denies the allegation.

Human rights groups have frequently said cases against activists in Bahrain — men and women, religious and secular — fail to meet the basic standards of fair trials.

AFP

Indians Pay Tributes To Religious Leader Who Died At 111

Crowds gather around the body of Indian spiritual leader Shivakumara Swami after his death at the age of 111 in Tumakuru, some 75km northwest of Bangalore, on January 21, 2019. STR / AFP

 

Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of an Indian town on Monday to pay their last respects to the 111-year-old head of a Hindu religious sect known as “the walking god” to his followers.

Shivakumara Swami was the head of Sree Siddaganga Mutt, a highly influential monastery which runs hundreds of schools across southern Karnataka state.

His body, wrapped in saffron robes and flower garlands, was held aloft and paraded through crowds in Tumakuru, an industrial town near Bangalore.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those to pay tribute to Swami, who died on Monday in a local hospital.

“(Swami) lived for the people, especially the poor and vulnerable. He devoted himself towards alleviating ills like poverty, hunger and social injustice,” Modi said on Twitter.

“He represents the best of our traditions of compassionate service, spirituality and protecting the rights of the underprivileged.”

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi offered his own condolences, describing the religious leader’s death as leaving “a deep spiritual void” in the country.

Swami remained a revered figure in the region even though his advanced age kept him from public appearances for several years.

The many educational institutions established by Swami’s monastery provided free shelter, food and education for poor students in Karnataka.

The state government announced three days of mourning to mark his death.

AFP

Mexico’s New Leader Opens Presidential Residence To Public

Handout photo released by Lopez Obrador’s press office of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (C), his wife Beatriz Gutierrez Muller (R) and Vice-Chairwoman of the National People’s Congress of China Shen Yueyue, December 1, 2018, during AMLO’s inauguration.  daniel Aguilar / Lopez Obrador’s Press office / AFP

On Friday night, Mexico’s presidential residence was the scene of a gala reception for the king of Spain. 

Hours later, its doors were thrown open so tens of thousands of ordinary people could stare slack-jawed at its opulent rooms.

Welcome to the new Mexico of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mexico’s new leader is an anti-establishment leftist who has made it his trademark to reject the trappings of power.

He has cut his own salary by 60 percent, put the presidential jet up for sale, eliminated the presidential security detail and forsaken the presidential residence, Los Pinos, opting to stay in his own modest home.

But he didn’t stop there.

Within hours of officially starting his six-year term at midnight on Saturday — even before taking the oath of office — Lopez Obrador, 65, had opened up the sprawling residence to the public.

In scenes reminiscent of the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in Libya, Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, huge crowds of ordinary Mexicans were suddenly meandering through the lavish rooms and leafy grounds of what had hours earlier been the country’s most heavily guarded seat of power.

The difference is that Lopez Obrador did not replace some reviled dictator in a bloody regime change: he won a democratic election to replace Enrique Pena Nieto.

But he is using Los Pinos to hammer home his message that Mexico — which had been governed by the same two parties for 89 years until his landslide victory — has been ruled by a “mafia of power” that lived like kings by stealing the nation’s resources and the hard-earned taxes of ordinary people.

‘Very ostentatious’ 

Judging by the reactions at Los Pinos — which received 85,000 visitors in the first two days — that public relations coup appears to be working.

“This is very ostentatious. I never imagined a place like this,” said Alejandra Barreto, 50, a shopkeeper from the central state of Puebla who was visiting Mexico City.

“The rooms are frankly enormous. Why would one family need all this?”

After waiting in long lines, visitors were able to stroll up a stone avenue lined with statues of the presidents who have lived at Los Pinos since 1935 and wander through the series of mansions that form the compound.

The first stop is the plush office suites used by the three most recent presidents.

Then visitors arrive at the second-story presidential bedroom, complete with a dressing room of some 30 square meters (325 square feet) and a palatial TV room.

On the first floor, there is a dining room with a 28-seat table, where Pena Nieto’s family ate daily.

In the basement, there is a private movie theater with 35 reclining leather armchairs.

‘Breaking paradigms’ 

Officially, the residence is now a cultural center.

But besides a scattering of musicians playing in the halls, there was not much culture on display the first day. The culture ministry, which now controls the complex, had no time to revamp it.

Instead, the objective appeared to be to show Mexicans just how large their leaders had been living while the rooms were still practically warm with their presence.

“This is a pharaonic situation. It’s completely unreal for any Mexican,” said Gilberto Gutierrez, 30, from the northern state of Aguascalientes and a local leader in Lopez Obrador’s party, Morena — now Mexico’s largest party, with majorities in both houses of Congress for its coalition.

With 56,000 square meters in all, Los Pinos is 14 times the size of the White House.

“It’s a place that marks the enormous distance between (Mexican leaders) and the rest of the population, and also the ostentatious way that the country’s politicians have lived,” said political analyst Hernan Gomez, who visited on the first day.

Ileana Ramirez, a 43-year-old domestic worker, agreed after sitting on the lawn at Los Pinos to watch a huge screen broadcasting Lopez Obrador’s inaugural address, in which the new president promised a “deep and radical transformation.”

“He is breaking the paradigms of everything we’ve lived our entire lives. For as long as I can remember, I’d never felt like power was in the hands of the people,” she said.

AFP

Gunmen Kill Labour Leader In Kogi

okene

Kogi State chairman of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Secondary School Science and Technology Education Board (STEB), Mr Abdulmumini Yakubu has been reported killed by gunmen.

The labour leader was allegedly murdered on Wednesday at Ozuwaya in Okene Local Government Area of the state.

He was reportedly assassinated alongside one Ibrahim Otaru who came to discuss some community issues with him while the deceased were performing ablution to observe prayers.

The incident was confirmed by the State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Williams Ayah.

Mr Ayah said police are on the trail of the gunmen and promised that they would be apprehended and brought to justice soon.

Consequently, the organised labour in the state suspended discussion with the government on the ongoing strike, following the gruesome murder of the labour leader last night.