10 Killed As Riot Rocks Jail In Venezuela

 

 

Gang fighting at a jail in Venezuela left at least 10 inmates dead, an NGO reported Tuesday.

At least four grenades were detonated in clashes that began Monday evening in the northwestern state of Zulia, said the NGO, a human rights group called Una Ventana a la Libertad.

Venezuelan authorities have not said anything about a toll from the rioting, which the NGO said broke out at a jail which serves as a holding pen at a regional police headquarters.

Prisoners set fire to one wing of the facility, it said.

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It quoted local residents as saying explosions and then gunfire were heard starting late Monday, with the violence continuing overnight.

Zulia governor Omar Prieto said Monday that he is planning to close the detention center.

On December 23, an uprising at the jail left six people dead, the NGO said. One of those was shot by security forces, it added.

It said the jail holds about 1,000 inmates.

Venezuelan prisons suffer from severe overcrowding despite a 2011 plan to upgrade them.

Holding pens like the one in Zulia are full of detainees, who are not supposed to spend more than 48 hours there.

Nationwide, these facilities hold more than five times their capacity. Detainees suffer from violence, malnutrition and diseases such as tuberculosis, La Ventana a la Libertad said.

It said that in just the first half of 2019, 149 prisoners died in police holding pens, due to a variety of causes.

On May 24, a total of 29 inmates died during an attempted breakout from another such jail in the town of Acarigua in the western state of Portuguesa.

Clashes between prisoners and police left 19 officers injured in that incident.

At Least 11 Killed In Central Africa Violence

A man stand in front of a burnt down house in the PK5 district in Bangui on December 26, 2019, after clashes erupted when traders took up arms to oppose taxes levied by militia groups.  AFP

 

At least 11 people were killed in fighting between militiamen and traders in a restive district of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, two security officials and an imam said Thursday.

Between 11 and 14 people died after clashes erupted late Wednesday, the security sources said, while the imam, Awad Al Karim, said “16 bodies” had been brought to the local Ali Babolo mosque.

The fighting began after traders in a mainly Muslim district called PK5 took up arms to oppose taxes levied by militia groups, the imam said.

Bursts of automatic fire and explosions were heard on Wednesday evening and on Thursday morning, according to an AFP journalist who was in a neighbouring district.

Bili Aminou Alao, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA, said a rapid response force had been sent to the area.

“Part of the market and some vehicles have been burned,” he said.

“Between 40 and 50 shops have been burned down, as well as four or five houses,” said Patrick Bidilou Niabode, head of the CAR’s civil protection service.

Voluntary firefighters put out two fires which had been spreading in the market but were unable to tackle a blaze at two houses because of heavy gunfire, he added.

The CAR is one of the world’s poorest and most volatile countries.

It has been gripped by sporadic violence since 2014, after its then-president, Francois Bozize, was ousted in a coup.

Fierce fighting erupted between predominantly Christian and Muslim militia, prompting the intervention of former colonial power France, under a UN mandate.

Attempts to broker a lasting peace have repeatedly broken down and most the country lies in the hands of armed groups, who often fight over the country’s mineral resources.

PK5 is a powder keg district. It became a haven for many Bangui Muslims at the peak of the Christian-Muslim clashes.

In April 2018, MINUSCA, responding to appeals by local traders, launched an anti-militia operation named Sukula (“Clean-up” in the CAR language of Sango).

The operation ended bloodily with the death of about 30 people and a hundred wounded, sparking a wave of anger among local people.

The CAR’s long conflict has forced nearly a quarter of the country’s 4.7 million people to flee their homes.

The United Nations estimated in September that two thirds of the population depends on humanitarian aid to survive.

The country is ranked next-to-last after Niger on the 2018 UNDP’s Human Development Index, which compares longevity, education, and income per capita. Life expectancy is just 52.9 years.

AFP

Algerians Await Outcome Of Election Marred By Violence, Low Turnout

An Algerian woman chants slogans as she takes part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on December 12, 2019 during the presidential election. RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

 

Algerians awaited the outcome Friday of a widely unpopular presidential election marred by attacks on polling stations and the lowest turnout in the country’s history.

The election had been championed by the army as a way of restoring stability almost 10 months into a protest movement that in April ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, after two decades in office.

But on polling day Thursday, protesters defied a heavy police presence to hold a mass rally in the heart of the capital Algiers and smaller demonstrations in provincial cities.

The electoral authority said its chairman Mohamed Charfi would release the results at 11 am (1000 GMT), an announcement that could prompt tens of thousands of election opponents to pour out onto the streets in new protests.

All five of the candidates in Thursday’s vote were widely rejected by protesters as “children of the regime”.

Among them are two of the ousted leader’s former prime ministers — Abdelmajid Tebboune, 74, and Ali Benflis, 75 — and a former minister, Azzedine Mihoubi.

If none of the five hopefuls wins a majority, Algerians will be asked to return to the polls on a date still to be set between December 31 and January 9 for a second-round runoff that could trigger further unrest.

No exit polls were published but a spokesman for Tebboune said his candidate had won an outright majority.

Turnout at record low

On Thursday, a record six in 10 Algerians abstained, Charfi said, the highest rate for a multi-party election since independence from France in 1962.

Tens of thousands rallied in central Algiers, where police with water cannon and helicopters tried to disperse protesters.

“The people want independence,” demonstrators chanted after breaking through a police cordon and filling the streets outside the Central Post Office, their rallying point through more than 40 weeks of protest.

AFP reporters saw a group storming a polling station in the capital, suspending voting there for about half an hour before police pushed them out again.

Late in the afternoon, an AFP reporter saw police using baton charges to disperse remaining protesters.

After dark, witnesses reported ongoing scuffles between police and protesters in the Belouizdad neighbourhood close to the city centre.

In the mountain region of Kabylie, home to much of the country’s Berber minority and historically opposed to the central government, protesters ransacked polling stations and clashed with police, residents said.

In the city of Bejaia, two polling stations were attacked. In Tizi Ouzou, security forces fired teargas to disperse a crowd who had surrounded a government building, triggering a standoff into the night in which several people were wounded.

‘Mired in crisis’

In central Algiers, young protesters slammed those casting their ballots as “traitors of the nation”.

That earned a sharp rebuke from one man in his 80s: “I fought for the right to vote, so I’m voting for my country.”

Other voters said they had turned out because after nearly a year of turmoil it was time for a return to stability.

“I am voting because I am afraid that the country will get mired in the crisis,” said Karim, a 28-year-old civil servant.

Sid Ali, a 48-year-old merchant in Algiers, said: “I support the Hirak (protest) movement but it needs to end. I lost 70 percent of my turnover and many traders are in my situation.”

‘No to the system’

Whoever wins will struggle to be accepted by the electorate in the North African country, where many citizens see the government as inept, corrupt and unable to manage the flagging economy.

The “Hirak” street movement kicked off when Bouteflika announced in February that he would seek a fifth term in office.

Protesters have stayed on the streets ever since, demanding the total dismantling of the system that has ruled Algeria since independence.

The military high command, which long wielded power from the shadows, has been forced to take a more visible role and has pushed for the election as a way to withdraw behind the scenes again.

Demonstrators have vented their anger at army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has emerged as Algeria’s de facto strongman since Bouteflika stepped down.

A previous poll set for July was scrapped for lack of viable candidates and interim president Abdelkader Bensalah’s term technically ended five months ago.

 

AFP

Violence In DR Congo As Rebels Kill 14 Civilians In Revenge Mission

A picture of the DR Congo Flag

 

Assailants in DR Congo have killed 14 civilians in revenge for army offensives against Ugandan rebel strongholds in the east of the country, a local official said on Saturday.

The latest killings, which occurred in the night from Friday to Saturday, take the total number of those killed in revenge attacks to around 30.

 

AFP

Three Dead In Chile Violent Protest

Photo released by Aton of demonstrators lighting bonfires in Vaparaiso, Chile, on October 19, 2019.  Sebastián CISTERNAS / ATON CHILE / AFP

 

Three people died in a fire in a supermarket being ransacked in the Chilean capital early Sunday, as protests sparked by anger over social and economic conditions rocked one of Latin America’s most stable countries.

Santiago’s Mayor Karla Rubilar told reporters two people burned to death in the blaze and another later died in hospital, after the huge store controlled by US retail chain Walmart was looted.

They were the first deaths in two days of violent unrest in which protesters have set buses on fire, burned metro stations and clashed with riot police in the city of seven million — despite a curfew imposed overnight until 07:00 Sunday.

Soldiers were deployed in the streets for the first time since Chile returned to democracy in 1990, following the rightwing Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

The protests were triggered by an unpopular hike in metro fares, which President Sebastian Pinera announced Saturday he was suspending.

Pinera appealed to people taking to the streets, saying “there are good reasons to do so,” but calling on them “to demonstrate peacefully.”

“Nobody has the right to act with brutal criminal violence,” he said.

But clashes later erupted in Plaza Italia, ground zero of Friday’s violence, and outside the presidential palace.

Protesters again set buses on fire in downtown Santiago, leading to the suspension of services.

“We’re sick and tired, enough already. We’re tired of them screwing around with us. Politicians only do what they want to do, and turn their backs on all reality,” said Javiera Alarcon, a 29-year-old sociologist protesting in front of the presidential palace, which was surrounded by police and military vehicles.

AFP video showed security forces blasting a crowd with water cannon, and riot police wrestling young protesters into vans.

“Having analyzed the situation and the appalling actions that occurred today, I have made the decision to suspend freedoms and movement through a total curfew,” said Army General Javier Iturriaga, who is overseeing security during the state of emergency.

Later on Saturday, the mayors of Valparaiso region and Concepcion province also announced states of emergency.

Dozens of protesters torched a building belonging to Chile’s oldest newspaper El Mercurio in Valparaiso city on Saturday evening, while elsewhere in the port city a metro station, supermarkets and other stores were burned.

 #ChileDesperto 

The unrest was sparked by a hike in metro fares, which increased from 800 to 830 peso ($1.13 to $1.17) for peak-hour travel, after a 20-peso hike in January.

Pinera announced Saturday he was suspending the fare hike, after the entire metro system was shut down the day prior with protesters burning and vandalizing dozens of stations, leaving some completely charred.

The Santiago Metro, at 140 kilometres (90 miles), is the largest and most modern in South America and a source of great pride for Chileans.

People awoke Saturday to a ravaged city as burned-out buses, bikes and garbage littered streets.

Demonstrators shouted “enough with abuse,” while the hashtag #ChileDesperto — Chile awake — made the rounds on social media.

Pinera’s conservative government has been caught flat-footed by the worst social upheaval in decades.

It declared the state of emergency late Friday and ordered hundreds of troops into the streets.

People were infuriated by a photo of Pinera eating pizza in a restaurant with his family while the city burned.

Throughout Friday, rampaging protesters clashed with riot police in several parts of the capital while the headquarters of the ENEL Chile power company and a Banco Chile branch — both in the city center — were set on fire and heavily damaged.

The state of emergency is initially set for 15 days and restricts freedom of movement and assembly.

 Government ‘perplexed and dazed’ 

The unrest started as a fare-dodging protest mainly by students against the hike in metro ticket prices, blamed on rising oil prices and a weaker peso.

There had been several fare-dodging actions in recent days, organized on social media, but the protests escalated Friday, tapping into general discontent among many Chileans.

Chile has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000, with expected economic growth this year of 2.5 percent and just two percent inflation.

But there is an undercurrent of frustration with rising health care and utility costs, low pensions and social inequality.

The metro fare hike served to wake up a society that was averse to violence after the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990, which left more than 3,200 people dead or missing, sociologists say.

AFP

Five Killed In Kashmir As Violence Spikes

Indian flag

 

Two non-Kashmiris were shot dead by suspected militants and three alleged rebels were killed by security forces, police said Wednesday, the deadliest day in the Indian-administered Kashmir valley since New Delhi revoked its autonomy.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region had been under a strict lockdown since August 5 amid fears of unrest after the Indian government controversially abolished its semi-autonomous status.

Ahead of the autonomy decision, the head of Kashmir’s largest militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, Riyaz Naikoo, had warned that Indians in the territory would become legitimate targets if the valley’s status were changed.

“Militants shot at two apple traders from Punjab — Charanjeet and Sanjeev,” a senior police official told AFP late Wednesday, adding that one of the men died from the incident in Shopian district.

The other trader was in a critical condition in hospital, police added.

In a separate shooting earlier Wednesday, suspected militants killed a migrant labourer in the southern Rohmo village of Pulwama district, police said.

The two men’s deaths came a day after suspected militants killed a truck driver carrying apples, also in Shopian which is the valley’s biggest apple-growing district. His vehicle was set ablaze.

Authorities blocked text messaging services after the driver’s death.

New Delhi had just restored call and text services for mobile phones on Monday, following a 72-day communications blackout, although internet services remain blocked. Landlines were restored previously.

All three killed were not from Kashmir, which has been split between India and Pakistan since 1947 and has been the spark of two wars and numerous skirmishes.

New Delhi sent in tens of thousands of extra troops ahead of the autonomy move in what was already one of the world’s most heavily militarised zones.

 Explosion, gunfire 

Authorities repeatedly said during the lockdown that Kashmir was mostly peaceful.

Since August 5, protests have broken out, several civilians have died and security forces killed several militants in gun battles.

Early Wednesday, soldiers surrounded a residential area near Bijbehara town about 45 kilometres (28 miles) south of the main city of Srinagar after receiving reports about three alleged anti-India rebels.

“Three militants who all appear to be locals were killed in the operation in an exchange of fire, which was started based on intelligence about their presence in a house,” senior police officer Munir Khan told AFP.

Residents told AFP they were woken up by a loud explosion about 3:00 am local time, after which they heard gunfire that carried on intermittently for several hours.

Khan said their bodies were not retrieved from the house but that an automatic assault rifle and one pistol were found after the operation.

A witness told AFP via a mobile phone from the area that soldiers had blown up the house with explosives, sparking a fire that gutted the structure.

It was not clear if it was blown up before or after the gun fight.

An armed rebellion against Indian rule has raged in the valley since 1989, claiming tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians.

The rebels have demanded independence or to join Pakistan which, like India, claims the region.

AFP

Calm Returns To Iraq As US Condemns Violence

 

Calm prevailed in Iraq on Wednesday after a week of anti-government protests left more than 100 dead, prompting the United States to call on the country’s government to exercise “maximum restraint”.

In Baghdad — the second most populous Arab capital — normal life has gradually resumed since Tuesday.

Traffic has again clogged the main roads of the sprawling city of nine million inhabitants. Students have returned to schools, whose reopening was disrupted by the violence.

On Tuesday, security restrictions were lifted around Baghdad’s Green Zone, where government offices and embassies are based.

Iraq descended into violence last week as protests that began with demands for an end to rampant corruption and chronic unemployment escalated with calls for a complete overhaul of the political system.

The demonstrations were unprecedented because of their apparent spontaneity and independence in a deeply politicised society.

Protesters were met with tear gas and live fire. On Sunday night scenes of chaos engulfed Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of influential Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who called for the government to resign.

At least 13 demonstrators died in Sadr City, where the military recognised “excessive force outside the rules of engagement” had been used.

 ‘Tragic loss of life’ 

According to official figures, the week of violence in Baghdad and across southern Iraq killed more than 100 people, mostly protesters, with more than 6,000 others wounded.

Uncertainty over the identify of the perpetrators persists, with authorities blaming “unidentified snipers”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the violence on Tuesday.

During a call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, Pompeo said “those who violated human rights should be held accountable”, the State Department said in a statement.

“The secretary lamented the tragic loss of life over the past few days and urged the Iraqi government to exercise maximum restraint.

“Pompeo reiterated that peaceful public demonstrations are a fundamental element of all democracies, and emphasised that there is no place for violence in demonstrations, either by security forces or protesters.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also called Abdel Mahdi to express worry over the violence.

“I raised concerns about the response to recent protests – the need to respect peaceful protest & media freedoms,” he wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

Internet shutdown 

While calm has returned to the country, uninterrupted internet access has not.

Cyber-security NGO NetBlocks blamed the state for imposing “a near-total telecommunication shutdown in most regions, severely limiting press coverage and transparency around the ongoing crisis.”

For a week internet access has been progressively limited. First access to certain social media sites disappeared, followed by internet connections for telephones, computers and even virtual private network (VPN) applications.

Since Tuesday, connection has intermittently returned to Baghdad and the south of the country.

During these short reconnections, social media sites were accessible via a VPN connection, and images of protesters killed during marches began to be shared.

On Wednesday, the connection remained unreliable. Providers told customers they were unable to provide a timetable for a return to uninterrupted service, information on restrictions, or any other details.

Iraqi authorities have not commented on the restrictions, which according to NetBlocks affected three quarters of the country. In the north, the autonomous Kurdish region is unaffected.

The tentative calm returning to Baghdad comes ahead of Arbaeen, the massive pilgrimage this month that sees millions of Shiite Muslims walk to the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad.

Nearly two million came last year from neighbouring Iran, which has urged citizens to delay their travel into Iraq in light of the protest violence.

Its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday “enemies” were trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad, in an apparent allusion to the protests.

The demonstrations and accompanying violence have created a political crisis in a country torn between its two main allies — Iran and the United States.

With political rivals accusing each other of allegiance to foreign powers, President Barham Saleh called Monday for “sons of the same country” to put an end to the “discord”.

He called for a “national, all-encompassing and frank dialogue… without foreign interference.”

AFP

Hong Kong Hit By Fresh Violence As Thousands Defy Mask Ban

Hong Kong police advance on protesters during clashes the Wanchai district in Hong Kong on October 6, 2019. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP

 

Hong Kong was rocked by fresh violence on Sunday as tens of thousands hit the streets to defy a ban on face masks, sparking clashes with police, street fights and vandalism across the strife-torn city. 

Large crowds marched through torrential rain in peaceful but unsanctioned rallies on both sides of Victoria Harbour, condemning the government for deploying emergency powers to ban face masks at public gatherings.

But violence erupted as police dispersed crowds with tear gas, and then battled hardcore protesters in multiple locations — plunging the finance hub into chaos once more.

In one incident, a taxi driver was beaten bloody in the district of Sham Shui Po after he drove into a crowd that had surrounded his car.

“Two girls were hit by the car and one girl was trapped between the car and a shop,” a witness, who gave his surname as Wong, told AFP, adding the crowd managed to push the car off the wounded woman.

An AFP photographer saw volunteer medics treating both the driver and the injured women before paramedics and police arrived. Protesters smashed up the taxi.

Earlier, a crowd ransacked nearby government offices, while multiple Chinese banks and subway stations were vandalised across the city.

Protesters smash a taxi after the driver drove onto the pavement hitting two protesters along Cheung Sha Wan Road during a demonstration in Hong Kong on October 6, 2019. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

Court battle

Activists have staged three straight days of flashmob rallies and sprees of vandalism after Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam outlawed face coverings by protesters, invoking colonial-era emergency powers not used for half a century.

Pro-democracy lawmakers went to the High Court Sunday morning seeking an injunction against the ban, arguing the emergency powers bypassed the legislature and contravened the city’s mini-constitution.

But a senior judge dismissed their case.

The law allows Lam — who has record-low approval ratings — to make “any regulations whatsoever” during a time of public danger.

She warned she would use the powers to introduce new regulations if the unrest did not abate.

The ban was welcomed by government supporters and Beijing, but opponents and protesters saw it as the start of a slippery slope, tipping the international finance hub into authoritarianism.

It has done little to calm tensions or stop crowds coming out so far.

“If Carrie Lam wants to de-escalate the situation, this is not the right way,” a 19-year-old protester, who gave his first name as Corey, told AFP as he marched under a forest of umbrellas on the main island.

Two teen protesters shot

Hong Kong has been battered by 18 consecutive weekends of unrest, fanned by widespread public anger over Chinese rule and the police response to protests.

The rallies were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, which fuelled fears of an erosion of liberties promised under the 50-year “one country, two systems” model China agreed to ahead of the 1997 handover by Britain.

After Beijing and local leaders took a hard stance, the demonstrations snowballed into a wider movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability.

Lam has refused major concessions, but struggled to come up with any political solution.

The worst clashes to date erupted on Tuesday as China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule, with a teenager shot and wounded by police as he attacked an officer.

A 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded Friday when a plainclothes police officer, who was surrounded by a mob of protesters throwing petrol bombs, fired his sidearm.

Much of subway shuttered

The city’s subway system — which carries four million people daily — was shut down entirely Friday night and throughout Saturday, bringing much of the metropolis to a halt.

Major supermarket chains and malls announced they were closing, leading to long lines and panic buying.

On Sunday, more than half the stations remained shuttered, many of them in the heart of the city’s main tourist districts.

Some lines were later closed entirely as Sunday’s violence worsened.

Lam has defended her use of the emergency powers.

“We cannot allow rioters any more to destroy our treasured Hong Kong,” Lam said in a stony-faced video statement on Saturday.

But opposition lawmakers said the use of the law had deepened the crisis.

“I would say this is one of the most important constitutional cases in the history of Hong Kong,” lawmaker Dennis Kwok told reporters before Sunday’s ruling.

Protester demands include an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 2,000 people arrested and universal suffrage — all requests rejected by Lam and Beijing.

Iraq Death Toll Rises To 44 As Chaotic Protests Spike

 

Clashes intensified Friday across Iraq as protesters swarmed streets and clashed with police in an uptick in violence that has left 44 dead including six security forces in the past four days.

Security forces said “unidentified snipers” had killed four people including two police in Baghdad, and AFP journalists reported hearing rapid automatic rifle fire across the capital in what appeared to be the most chaotic day of protests yet.

Earlier on Friday, Iraq’s Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged authorities to heed the demands of demonstrators, warning the protests could escalate unless immediate and clear steps are taken.

Sistani, who is revered among Iraq’s Shiite majority, appeared to pile new pressure on Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi as he battles to quell the unrest.

In his first speech since protests began Tuesday, the premier appealed for patience from the young unemployed who have formed the mainstay of the protests, saying his not yet year-old government needs more time to implement reforms.

But despite his plea, a curfew and an internet blackout, Iraqis thronged the iconic Tahrir Square on Friday and clashed with the anti-riot police, AFP reporters said.

Security forces opened up with a barrage of gunfire and reporters said they saw several people hit by bullets, some in the head and the stomach.

“We’re not infiltrators,” protesters in the capital shouted, responding to accusations from Iraqi officials that “aggressors” were behind the protests.

Bullets whizzed through streets aimed at crowds of protesters whose numbers bulged as more trucks arrived.

Demonstrator Sayyed told AFP the protests would continue “until the government falls”.

Sistani urged the government to take “clear and practical steps” and act now “before it’s too late” to address popular grievances.

After his sermon, parliament announced that it would dedicate Saturday’s session “to examining the demands of the protesters”.

‘No Magic Solutions’ 

Protests first broke out in Baghdad on Tuesday and have since spread across the Shiite-dominated south.

They are unusual because of their apparent spontaneity and independence in a country where rallies are typically called by politicians or religious figures.

At least 44 people, including six police have been killed — 10 on Friday alone — with hundreds wounded in four days, medical and security sources said.

Medical sources say that most of those killed were hit by live rounds but do not specify who was shooting.

The Iraqi human rights commission reported wounded protesters were being arrested from hospitals, slamming a heavy-handed approach by security forces.

In the southern city of Diwaniyah, where two people were killed on Friday, AFP reporters said protesters had breached the main gate at the governor’s compound and were headed towards the main building.

Sistani voiced dismay at the mounting death toll.

“There are attacks on peaceful protesters and security forces which we reject and condemn,” he said.

Sistani’s message is a huge blow to Abdel Mahdi’s government. The top cleric has repeatedly acted as final arbiter of the politics of Iraq’s Shiite community, which dominates the government.

On Friday, Adel Mahdi asked for more time to implement his reform agenda in a country plagued by corruption and unemployment after decades of conflict.

“There are no magic solutions,” he said.

‘Lethal Force’

Riot police have unleashed water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire to clear the streets of protesters, who amassed despite curfews and an internet blackout across three-quarters of Iraq.

On Friday, Abdel Mahdi gave his full support to the security forces, insisting they were abiding by “international standards” in dealing with protesters.

As protests and clashes gained in intensity, many Baghdad shops and petrol stations remained shuttered Friday.

In a residential area near the protest site, crowds gathered to buy vegetables and fruit, with one shopkeeper saying the price of tomatoes, grapes and other greens had risen threefold.

Northern and western provinces that were ravaged in the 2014-2017 war against the Islamist State group have remained relatively quiet.

The United Nations and Amnesty International urged Iraqi authorities to respect the right of peaceful assembly.

“We are worried by reports that security forces have used live ammunition and rubber bullets in some areas, and have also fired tear gas canisters directly at protesters,” Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva.

Amnesty International’s Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf condemned the use of “lethal and unnecessary force”.

An internet blackout was a “draconian measure… to silence protests away from cameras and the world’s eyes”, she added.

Afghans Vote In Presidential Election Amid Deadly Violence

In this handout photograph taken and released by Press Office of President of Afghanistan on September 28, 2019, an Independent Election Commission (IEC) official (L) scans a finger of Afghan President and candidate Ashraf Ghani (R) with a biometric device at a polling station in Kabul. Handout / Press Office of President of Afghanistan / AFP

 

Afghans voted in presidential elections amid tight security Saturday, as Taliban insurgents determined to disrupt the process unleashed a string of attacks on polling centres across the country that killed at least five people.

The first-round vote marked the culmination of a bloody election campaign that despite a large field of candidates is seen as a close race between President Ashraf Ghani and his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive.

Authorities placed Kabul under partial lockdown, flooding streets with troops and banning trucks from entering the city in an effort to stop would-be suicide bombers targeting residents as they cast their votes.

The Taliban, who carried out multiple bombings during the two-month election season, claimed to have conducted hundreds of attacks against Afghanistan’s “fake elections”.

Officials said five security officials had been killed and 37 civilians wounded.

“The enemy carried out 68 attacks against election sites across the country… but security forces repelled most of the attacks,” acting defence minister Asadullah Khalid said.

Compared to previous elections, the initial toll appeared relatively light, though authorities in the past have suppressed information on election day only to later give much larger numbers.

Having voted at a Kabul high school, Ghani said the most important issue was finding a leader with a mandate to bring peace to the war-torn nation.

“Our roadmap (for peace) is ready, I want the people to give us permission and legitimacy so that we pursue peace,” said Ghani, who is seeking a second five-year term.

Some 9.6 million Afghans are registered to vote, but many lack faith that after 18 years of war any leader can unify the fractious country and improve basic living conditions, boost the stagnating economy or bolster security.

Observers from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said turnout appeared to be low, especially among women.

“I know there are security threats but bombs and attacks have become part of our everyday lives,” 55-year-old Mohiuddin, who only gave one name, told AFP.

“I am not afraid, we have to vote if we want to bring changes.”

Abdullah and Ghani both claimed victory in the 2014 election — a vote so tainted by fraud and violence that it led to a constitutional crisis and forced the administration of then-US president Barack Obama to push for a compromise that saw Abdullah awarded the subordinate role.

“The only request I have from the election commission is that they ensure the transparency of the election because lots of people have lost their trust,” said Afghan voter Sunawbar Mirzae, 23.

Problems Voting

Voting in Afghanistan’s fourth presidential election — the first was in 2004 — took place at nearly 5,000 polling centres across the country, and the interior ministry said it had deployed 72,000 forces to help secure these.

Many Afghans said voting went smoothly, triumphantly holding up fingers stained in indelible ink to show they had cast a ballot, but several said they had experienced problems.

“I came this early morning to cast my ballot. Unfortunately, my name was not on the list,” said Ziyarat Khan, a farmer in Nangarhar. “The whole process is messy like the last time.”

Campaigning was hampered by violence from the first day when Ghani’s running mate was targeted in a bomb-and-gun attack that left at least 20 dead.

The campaign itself was muted compared to years past, as many thought the already-twice-delayed election would be postponed again while talks between the US and the Taliban for a troop withdrawal played out.

That deal has been scuppered for now after US President Donald Trump pulled out, and Afghanistan’s next president will likely face the daunting task of trying to strike a bargain with the Taliban.

Election officials say this will be the cleanest election yet, with equipment such as biometric fingerprint readers and better training for poll workers to ensure the vote is fair.

Still, the US has expressed disquiet about the possibility of fraud and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Ghani in a phone call this week that candidates’ behaviour must be “beyond reproach to ensure the legitimacy of the outcome”.

Preliminary results are not expected until October 19. Candidates need more than 50 per cent of the vote to be declared the outright winner, or else the top two will head for a second round in November.

Over Two Dozen Killed In Fresh Papua Unrest

A building burns as fresh protests break out in Wamena on September 23, 2019. Fresh unrest broke out in Indonesia’s restive Papua region on September 23 as protesters burned down a government office and other buildings in Wamena city, according to an AFP reporter. Vina Rumbewas / AFP

 

More than two dozen people have died in riots in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, authorities said Tuesday, as thousands fled to shelters following violence that saw civilians burned alive in buildings set ablaze by protesters.

Papua, on the western half of New Guinea island, has been paralysed by weeks of protests fuelled by anger over racism, as well as fresh calls for self-rule in the impoverished territory.

Some 26 people died in Wamena city where hundreds had demonstrated and burned down a government office and other buildings on Monday, authorities said, adding that some perished in deliberately set fires.

Most victims were non-Papuans, authorities said, threatening an escalation in violence against migrants from other parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago.

A soldier and three civilians also died in the provincial capital Jayapura, where security forces and stone-throwing protesters clashed Monday.

The soldier was stabbed to death, while three students died from rubber bullet wounds, authorities said, without elaborating.

More than 70 people were injured and some 700 rounded up for questioning. Several hundred were later released.

“Some were burned, some were hacked to death… some were trapped in fires,” local military commander Chandra Dianto told AFP.

“(We’re) going to scour the debris to look for more possible victims in shops and stalls that were set on fire,” he added.

More than 4,000 residents, including mothers and their children, fled to military and police posts, government buildings and a local church to seek shelter, according to authorities.

“There are many women and elderly people, mostly migrants,” said Yudi, an Indonesian businessman and Wamena resident, who was staying at a local shelter after his wife left Papua for security reasons Tuesday.

“There are local Papuans who helped protect migrants by hiding them in their homes, but when word got out their houses were also targeted.

“Wamena is destroyed,” he added.

‘Rubber Bullets’

The majority of Papuans are Christian and ethnic Melanesian with few cultural ties to the rest of Muslim-majority Indonesia, and most previous clashes have been separatists and Indonesian security forces.

One Papua expert threw cold water on the idea that migrants may have been targeted, however.

“I doubt… that this was intentional, or at least planned,” Damien Kingsbury, a professor of international politics at Australia’s Deakin University.

“If it has happened it is more likely a by-product of burning” buildings, he added.

Monday’s protests in Wamena — mostly involving high-schoolers — were reportedly sparked by racist comments made by a teacher, but police have disputed that account as a hoax.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua, which is pushing for independence, described Monday’s violence as a “massacre” and said that 17 Papuan high school students had been gunned down by Indonesian security forces.

Neither the military nor the independence movement’s claims could be independently verified. Conflicting accounts are common in Papua.

AFP reporters in Papua said it appeared that the government had renewed a region-wide Internet service shutdown.

Jakarta has said the latest riots were meant to draw attention to Papuan independence at this week’s UN General Assembly.

A low-level separatist insurgency has simmered for decades in the former Dutch colony after Jakarta took over the mineral-rich region in the 1960s. A US-sponsored vote to stay within the archipelago was widely viewed as rigged.

Despite a push to develop its infrastructure, many Papuans say they’re treated like second-class citizens and have not received a fair share of vast mineral wealth in a region home to the world’s biggest gold mine.

Weeks of protests broke out across Papua and in other parts of Indonesia after the mid-August arrest and tear-gassing of dozens of Papuan students, who were also racially abused, in the country’s second-biggest city, Surabaya.

Prince Harry, Wife Condemn Violence Against Women In South Africa

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex gives a speech as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex listens (L), during their visit to “Justice desk”, an NGO in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town, as they begin their tour of the region on September 23, 2019.  DAVID HARRISON / AFP

 

Prince Harry on Monday spoke out against gender-based violence in South Africa as his wife Meghan hailed girls who had chosen to “stand up for what is right”.

The British royal couple visited Cape Town’s tough Nyanga township as part of a 10-day tour of southern Africa — their first official visit as a family since their son Archie was born in May.

Situated on the outskirts of a city known for it pristine beaches and rolling vineyards, the township is crippled by gang violence and the highest murder rate in the country.

After landing earlier aboard a commercial flight from London, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex surprised young girls who were in the middle of a self-defence class.

They then addressed the crowd, stressing the need to roll back gender violence and empower women.

South Africa is one of the world’s most dangerous places, particularly for women, with more than 40,000 incidents of rape were reported to the police between April 2018 and March 2019.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to crack down on perpetrators after protests flared up across the country this month.

“Touching on what your President said last week -– no man is born to cause harm to women,” said Prince Harry.

“It’s about redefining masculinity, it’s about creating your own footprints for your children to follow in, so that you can make a positive change for the future.”

Meghan, a mixed-race American who has been advocating women’s rights long before marrying Harry in 2017, congratulated girls “standing up for what’s right in the face of adversity”.

“Your commitment to stand up for what is right is energising and inspiring,” said the Duchess.

“While I’m here with my husband and as a member of the royal family, I am here as a mother, a wife, a woman of colour and your sister.”

Demonstrations in South Africa have been mounting over the rising toll of murders, rapes and abuse of women and girls, and a sense of impunity that surrounds it.

AFP