After Kenya vote drama, secessionist talk enters mainstream

Wed, 2017-11-08 03:00

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

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Protesters slam UK policy on Israel at Balfour ‘celebration’ event

Wed, 2017-11-08 21:01

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

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Lift up your hearts, not your cell phones, pope tells priests, bishops

Wed, 2017-11-08 20:51

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

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Liberation of Marawi City from Maute group has not ended threat of violent extremism in the Philippines.

Wed, 2017-11-08 20:48

MANILA: A regional security expert on Wednesday said the liberation of Marawi City from the Daesh-backed Maute group has not ended the threat of violent extremism in the Philippines.
Sidney Jones, director of the Indonesia-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said this as she warned of grave consequences if the Philippine government fails to efficiently rebuild Marawi which suffered massive devastation from the five months of battle between government troops and the Maute group.
Jones also raised the possibility that children of militants killed in the Marawi siege could be the next generation of fighters. She said that there is “ongoing radicalization taking place on a very quiet, below-the-radar-screen level” among youth in Mindanao, particularly those directly affected by the Marawi crisis.
“One of the things particularly to think about are (the) children and younger siblings of people who were killed,” Jones said in a forum with foreign correspondents.
She pointed out that the government placed the number of slain terrorists at 800 to 900. The question, however, is “how do you know that all (these) people killed are really terrorists?” She that it was never clear how the determination was made to say that they are indeed militants.
The fact that the number of terrorist casualties kept going up, whereas the number of civilians stayed at 47 from the start of the siege in May all the way till the end, just “doesn’t make sense,” Jones stressed. That leaves the children and young siblings of these slain militants very vulnerable to recruitment and involvement in radical organizations, she added.
Jones thus said it is important to identify the families and children of the so-called 800 terrorists killed in Marawi, where are they, and what programs can be put in place for them.
According to the IPAC director, the problem with the children and siblings of the slain militants “could be exacerbated if there’s a failure to rebuild Marawi very quickly or efficiently.”
Jones notes that many displaced residents are not angry at the destruction of their homes, but are also unhappy at the conditions in evacuation centers — a situation that can be exploited by extremists.
“And as I say, watch the reconstruction of Marawi and watch what happens … in terms of resentment in evacuation centers if people don’t go home quickly,” she continued.
“Reconstruction of Marawi, how it’s conducted will be key,” Jones emphasized.
While saying that she doesn’t think there’s a likelihood that militants could take over another city, Jones said that revenge bombings in Manila, Zamboanga, or Cotabato can come next after the government declared victory against Daesh-backed militants in Marawi.
“We’re more likely to see bombing attacks in urban areas to say we’re (militants) still here,” Jones said.
She added there’s also a possibility of attacks on Philippine embassies elsewhere, and the rise of a new Maranao movement that will take a more Islamist stance, as well as eruption of clan wars against the Mautes. Basilan could also revert to kidnappings under Furuji Indama.
Another thing to pay attention to, she said, was the presence of Indonesians and Malaysians in Marawi
“It is important to note how far back the links between Mindanao-based Indonesian extremists actually go. There’s a long, complex history with lots of different groups … just because Marawi is liberated doesn’t mean an end to that,” Jones said.
“The ideology that supports violent extremism isn’t going away any time soon,” she further said.
Asked about the announcement made by Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Ronald Dela Rosa that Malaysian jihadist Muhammad Amin Baco has replaced Isnilon Hapilon as the new Daesh emir in Southeast Asia, Jones said: “It looks like he jumped to (that) conclusion.”
Jones stressed “there’s no way” that Baco is Daesh’s new emir in Southeast Asia.
She said there may have been information from captured Indonesian Muhammad Ilham Syahputra that Baco was there when Hapilon and the Maute brothers were killed, and he (Baco) may have temporarily assumed leadership of the stragglers in Marawi. “But you can’t extrapolate from that to saying that somebody is emir,” Jones emphasized.
“I’m not sure what the basis was on which the police chief made that statement,” Jones said, adding: “I don’t think we have any evidence to support that.”

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US tourist, 20, falls to death from Myanmar temple

Wed, 2017-11-08 14:50

YANGON: A 20-year-old American tourist fell to her death while trying to view the sunset from a 20-foot pagoda in Myanmar’s ancient former capital of Bagan, the government said Wednesday.
The traveler, identified as Kassandra Braun, “accidentally fell from the Bagan pagoda…while looking for the sunset at 4:30 p.m. on November 7,” said the Home Affairs ministry.
She died on the way to hospital in Mandalay, the statement said.
Myanmar has tried in vain to keep tourists from scaling Bagan’s temples to watch sunsets fall over its vast plain of more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments.
In 2016 authorities tried to restrict the daily ritual to five main temples, citing the need to preserve the temples and protect tourists’ safety.
But travelers continue to scamper up many of Bagan’s smaller structures, including the 20-foot Wuttanathaw pagoda from which Braun fell.
Bagan is among Myanmar’s most venerated religious sites and a top attraction for its growing tourism industry.
Major renovations were launched after an August 2016 earthquake damaged hundreds of pagodas.

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Desperate Rohingya use plastic rafts to flee Myanmar

Wed, 2017-11-08 12:46

SHAH PORIR DWIP, Bangladesh: Dozens of Rohingya refugees floated into Bangladesh on Wednesday on a raft fashioned from plastic jerrycans, as the persecuted Muslim minority continue to flee violence in Myanmar in droves, officials said.
Bangladesh border guards spotted the makeshift raft overloaded with more than 50 passengers as it drifted toward the coastal village of Shah Porir Dwip village.
Local border guard commander S.M. Ariful Islam told AFP the 52 refugees tied plastic jerrycans together to float across the Naf River separating the two countries.
Islam said those fleeing ethnic violence in Myanmar were still desperate enough to make the dangerous crossing, with other daring escapes recorded in recent days.
At least 16 Rohingya refugees were found floating across the same river in a plastic drum sawn in half, local police said.
“A lot of them arrived today on rafts made from plastic jerrycans,” local community policeman Abdul Jabbar told AFP on Tuesday.
“It was a dangerous attempt to cross the Naf on such a flimsy device. It could easily have gone wrong, causing deaths.”
Many families stuck on the bank were unable to pay the exorbitant fees charged by boatmen and were resorting to increasingly desperate measures to escape.
Nur Shahin, who crossed in the half drum, said he could not afford what the boatmen were asking to get his family across the river to safety.
“We thought this was the only way to save our lives,” Shahin told AFP.
An estimated 611,000 people have fled Myanmar since late August, when the military launched a massive crackdown in Rakhine State in response to attacks by Rohingya militants.
Many crossed by land, hiking through mountains and miles of paddy fields to reach Bangladesh, but many also came by river and open sea.
Authorities have cracked down on boat arrivals in recent weeks as border guards alleged that drug traffickers were using the exodus to smuggle methamphetamine pills aboard the craft.
The UN estimates the majority of Rohingya once living in Rakhine State — estimated at around 1 million — had fled a campaign of violence its likened to ethnic cleansing.
“If you do the mathematics, you’ll see the vast majority have actually left, which is a great concern for us,” UNHCR assistant commissioner Volker Turk told AFP at the weekend.

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UK aid minister facing sack over undisclosed meetings with Israelis: Sun newspaper

Wed, 2017-11-08 10:41

LONDON: Britain’s aid minister Priti Patel’s future was in doubt on Wednesday after the Sun newspaper reported she had held two further undisclosed meeting with Israeli politicians.
Development Secretary Patel apologized to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday for failing to report she had met senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a private holiday.
She had failed to follow the usual procedures that ministers inform Britain’s Foreign Office before conducting official business overseas and said she regretted suggesting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had been aware of her trip.
On Wednesday, the Sun said Patel had also met Israel’s Foreign Ministry’ Director General Yuval Rotem in New York and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in London but had not informed May about either meeting despite giving her assurances there had been no other undisclosed talks.
May’s Downing Street office could not be reached for a comment and there was no comment from Britain’s Department for International Development.
If Patel is removed, she would be the second of May’s cabinet to be forced out in a week after Defense Secretary Michael Fallon resigned amid a broader parliamentary sexual harassment scandal.

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Trump lands in China for talks on trade, North Korea

Wed, 2017-11-08 09:44

BEIJING: US President Donald Trump arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a state visit focused on trade and the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Air Force One touched down at the capital’s international airport, with Chinese President Xi Jinping having prepared an extravagant “state visit-plus” for Trump, who is on the third leg of an Asian tour that has taken him to Japan and South Korea.

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Mexico earthquake reconstruction will cost $2.5bn: Pena Nieto

Wed, 2017-11-08 07:29

MEXICO CITY: Reconstruction in central and southern Mexico following two deadly earthquakes in September that killed 465 people will require a $2.5 billion investment, President Enrique Pena Nieto announced Tuesday.
Speaking at a public event, the president said the quakes partially or totally damaged 184,000 homes, while 14,000 businesses and 16,000 schools were also affected.
It is “a reconstruction that the government estimates will demand an investment of 48 billion pesos (around $2.5 billion). One tenth of these resources will be provided by the private sector,” he said.
Tuesday marks two months since an 8.2-magnitude earthquake — the strongest in Mexico in a century — swept over the states Chiapas and Oaxaca, leaving 96 dead.
On September 19, the 32nd anniversary of a devastating tremor which killed over 10,000 people in 1985, Mexico City suffered another quake, this time with magnitude of 7.1, leaving 369 people dead.
The earthquakes caused widespread damage to assets like roads, hospitals and cultural heritage sites.
Pena Nieto said most of the resources for reconstruction will come from public funds. Private donations will not be handled by the government, which will instead coordinate them in order to avoid duplicating reconstruction projects.

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Sydney school crash driver ‘deeply sorry’ for tragedy

Wed, 2017-11-08 07:06

SYDNEY: Distraught children laid floral tributes at a Sydney school Wednesday after two eight-year-old boys were killed by a car that smashed into their classroom, as the driver expressed her deep sorrow over the tragedy.
The incident unfolded at the Banksia Road Public School on Tuesday when the car plowed into a wooden classroom building with 24 students inside.
Two boys bore the brunt of the impact and died, while three young girls are fighting for their lives, leaving the community in shock.
The 52-year-old woman driver, Maha Al-Shennag, has been charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death and with negligent driving.
Police have indicated the crash was being treated as non-intentional.
Her lawyer Nick Hanna told the Sydney Daily Telegraph she was “deeply sorry for the loss and hurt suffered by the children, the school, the families and the community.”
“Her thoughts and prayers are with all those affected,” he added.
Al-Shennag, reportedly a widowed mother-of-four who was dropping off a child at the school, has had her license suspended. She was bailed to appear in court on November 29.
The school opted to open as usual on Wednesday, with counsellors on hand to support returning children, many in tears as tributes, flowers and teddy bears were left at the school gates.
“I cannot begin to comprehend the sadness being felt by the parents and families of the two young boys who have died in the tragic accident at Banksia Road Public School,” New South Wales state Education Minister Rob Stokes said.
“My thoughts and prayers are with their families and the entire school community.”
A local shopkeeper, who did not want to be named, said she knew the dead boys.
“They would come into our shop wanting lollies and playing games,” she told AFP.
“It has affected every single person we know. As a shop owner, and customers coming in and out, everyone is talking about it, it is really, really devastating.”
Ambulance workers said they arrived to “a scene of carnage” with one father describing lifting the car off a dying boy.
He said another badly injured classmate, who later died, lay a few feet away.
“He was saying ‘I want my mum’. She wouldn’t have got to see him before he died.”

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