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February 27 2014

Uruguayan President José Mujica Rejects “Foreign Interference” in Venezuela

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The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and his Uruguayan counterpart, José Mujica, in 2013. Photo published by Secretaría de Comunicación on Flickr under Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Uruguayan president José Mujica declared his opposition to any “foreign interference” in the current volatile situation in Venezuela, where the government and the opposition are involved in a bitter conflict. In an interview with TV channel Telesur, the head of state expressed his solidarity with the government and people of Venezuela and urged respect for the Venezuelan Constitution.

“Today I want to express the wish that within the framework of the Venezuelan Constitution, which, if respected, is ample – possibly the most ample in Latin America – a peaceful solution to the conflict can be found,” said Mujica, adding that “the weakest end up paying the price” in violent conflicts.

He ended his statement with a call to avoid external intervention in the conflict, appealing to reason as a way to mediate tensions: “Staying prudent in tense moments is a recommendation that should be kept in mind. Again, I emphasize my hope that no one will interfere with events in Venezuela.”

The official Twitter account of the Presidential Secretary of Communication [es] posted a summary of President Mujica's interview on the channel Telesur:

Mujica reaffirms his solidarity with the government, institutions, and people of Venezuela.

On February 14, the National Political Bureau of the Broad Front, Uruguay's governing party, released a statement [es] against the violent situation in Venezuela, calling it “an attempt [by radical sectors of the political opposition] to destabilize the constitutional government.” The Broad Front urged the nations of Latin America to remain strong and alert.

On February 17, the National Executive Committee of the Movement of Popular Participation (MPP) also voiced their opinion [es] on the situation in Venezuela, showing their concern about the conflicts taking place in its sister nation. The members of the MPP expressed their solidarity with the people and government of Venezuela, reaffirming their confidence in a peaceful and democratic solution to the unstable situation, placing the responsibility on the most conservative sectors of the Venezuelan right. They also emphasized their solidarity with the victims of the conflicts and their families.

The protests began in the state of Táchira on February 4, initiating a surge of violence that spread to other cities, including the capital. The conflicts have left at least 13 dead [es] and hundreds injured and detained.

For his part, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro blamed right-wing groups for the incidents and called on his backers to show their support of the government.

Colombian journalist Javier Arana [es] voiced his appreciation for the Uruguayan president's diplomatic speech:

‘Pepe’ Mujica, the renowned president of Uruguay, admired for his tact and peaceful overtures, very diplomatic in face of the violence in Venezuela.

Communications strategist Jorge Ruiz Crespo [es] also shared his opinion on Mujica's speech:

Careful, people: the violence in Venezuela is objectionable, but they need to solve it themselves. Be careful, Latin America…

Elisa Escovar (@elisaescovar [es]) commented:

Pepe Mujica is the most honest guy on this continent: the only one who has spoken out in support of Venezuela.

Mujica's statement against foreign interference in Venezuela gave rise to questions and criticism of the presence of Cuba in that country. User @Rerr1 [es] commented with irony:

Mujica says that foreign interference in Venezuela would be a coup, maybe he's referring to the Cuban helicopters and elite squads?

Simon José Antonio (@BolivarOfficial) [es] stated categorically:

President Pepe Mujica rejects “any foreign interference” in Venezuela. He only accepts interference from Cuba.

February 26 2014

Jamaican Dancehall Deported from Dominica

“You're not welcome here”. That's the message the Dominican government is sending to Jamaican dancehall artiste Tommy Lee (real name Leroy Russell), who has been prevented from entering the island, where he was scheduled to host a concert. Lee is known for his Gothic Dancehall style, which bases itself on dark subject matter. The move is the latest of several high profile immigration controversies in the Caribbean, several of which have involved Jamaican citizens. In this instance, the issues of censorship and free speech were also being widely debated on social media.

According to the Dominican authorities, Tommy Lee was considered a security threat:

‘Pursuant to advice received, government had concerns for public safety. The decision to deny entry was intended as a preemptive action and also to provide an opportunity to exhaust all efforts to clarify information received,’ the statement said.

Many religious leaders were opposed to Lee's performance, citing what they considered to be dangerous lyrics:

The Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC) had been calling for a boycott of the concert here, featuring Sparta, whom it claims glorifies Satan during his performances.

A spokesman for the group, Bishop Michael Daniel, speaking on the state-owned DBS radio Monday, said he was pleased that the concert did not occur as had been planned.

He said while the churches played no role in the detention of Sparta, their prayers had been answered. 

On Instagram, Lee himself posted video of his supporters in Dominica outside the police station:

Some Dominicans tweeted to show that they did not support their government's actions:

Tyrone Christopher argued that Tommy Lee's rights must be protected, whether you like his music or not:

Some Twitter users referred to the controversial Shanique Myrie case and the Caribbean Court of Justice's involvement:

On the other hand, some netizens seemed glad that Tommy Lee was denied entry:

This Twitter user was amazed – and a tad amused – that the Dominican government was getting criticized for banning Tommy Lee…

…while these were bemused by the government's justification for their action:

Some argued that Tommy Lee was ultimately to blame for his deportation:

Others were confused as to how Tommy Lee was allowed to leave Jamaica in the first place – and why he would want to go to Dominica knowing that protests against his concert were already happening:

Lahore Brigade Working To Solve Civic Problems

The first meetup of the Lahore Brigade members took place on Sunday, 23 February, in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The brigade consists of civic hackers – software developers, designers, urban mappers who will be working to solve civic problems in Pakistan. Code for Pakistan and Technology for People Initiative partnered to launch the Lahore Brigade.

Code For Pakistan blog reports:

All the attendees introduced themselves and also proposed potential solutions to civic problems, pertaining to the areas of health, transportation, education, and governance. Some of the participants expressed interest in some of the projects that had been created at the Lahore Civic Hackathon. The ideas were all captured, followed by a rigorous discussion of them. A couple of Brigade Project Mentors were also present and they, like everyone else, expressed their interest in certain ideas. 6 promising project ideas or areas were agreed upon by the group.

Here is a collection of Tweets on the first meetup. According to the Appjuice, the group will be meeting every two weeks.

February 25 2014

Iran Watches Ukraine With Envy and Dismay

Ukraine protests

Ukraine's protest, as covered by Iran's Farda News


Ukraine's protests and change of power in Kiev were covered with enthusiasm in Iran's media. While Iranian officials saw a Western plot led by the United States and Europe, Iranians who once staged mass protests against their own regime were reminded of a revolution that eluded them.

Iran's minister of justice said Ukraine can't be compared to Iran, but many Iranians draw parallels to Green Movement protests after the presidential election in 2009.

Iranian blogger Abgosht writes [fa] that there are several reasons why Ukraine (and Tunisia) where able to accomplish what Iranians failed to do:

The short and useful answer is that the red line for Ukraine's and Tunisia's [opposition] movement leaders was democracy, while the Iranian ones would maintain the regime's [establishment] framework… their people are not traitors, their police and security forces are good people, ours are thugs who believe national interests take priority over individual ones.

On Twitter, Sarah makes fun of the head of the Iranian military forces, Hassan Firoozabadi who said that “Ukraine's revolution was escaping from independence toward dependency.”

She tweeted [fa] quoting Iranian writer, Ebrahim Nabavi:

I don't know why Iranian officials, more than the citizens of Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon seem to be so preoccupied with these countries’ independence.

Free Democratic Iran tweeted, quoting a headline from the very conservative Iranian newspaper, Keyhan:

@_Cafe tweeted with irony:

We are ahead of Ukraine. That's why I need anti-filtering software to be able to write these few words on the internet.

Nima Akbarpour tweeted [fa]:

Ukraine's situation reminds me of Zapata's movie where the revolutionaries conquer power and then follow the same path.

Madagascar Still Awaiting a New Prime Minister, Government

A full month since President-elect Hery Rajaonarimampianina took position as the new head of state in Madagascar, there are still no indication who the new prime minister will be and what government he/she will assemble. Ma-Laza argues that the main issue is not really the identity of the prime minister but what he/she will bring to the table [fr]: 

 Un  technicien hors pair,  rassembleur, capable de mener à bien la politique générale du Président de la République. Ce Premier ministre ne  devrait appartenir à aucune mouvance politique, en principe.Mais il n’est ni contre Rajoelina, ni contre Ravalomanana. Bref, c’est un oiseau rare qui inspire aux bailleurs de fonds la confiance. Cette personne existe-t-elle ?  

(The prime minister should be) a person with outstanding technical know-how, a uniter who is able to carry out the policy of the President of the Republic. In theory, the Prime Minister should not belong to any political movement. He will not be against Rajoelina, nor against Ravalomanana (the two last presidents). In short, he will have to be that rare person who will inspire the trust of the investors. The question is:  does this person even exist?

Show Me an ‘Animal-Driven Constitution', Demands Zambian President

As questions began to emerge over Zambian President Michael Sata's commitment to following through on a campaign promise for a new constitution, the leader stunned with a comment mocking calls for a “people-driven” constitution by asking if any country had ever passed an animal-driven one.

During a swearing in ceremony of constitution office holders, the only time Sata publicly addresses the nation on television, he said:

And for all of you here, ask the most learned woman here, [acting Chief Justice] Madam [Lombe] Chibesakunda. You are always saying people-driven constitution, people-driven constitution. Madam, where do you have an animal-driven constitution? […] Have you ever seen an animal-driven constitution, which country because everybody is talking of people driven constitution, so once you produce the animal driven one, let’s ask Mr Phiri, once you produce the animal driven constitution, we compare the two constitutions, what we have and then we shall look at that.

As an opposition party, Zambia’s now-ruling party the Patriotic Front defeated the then-ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 2011 with a promise that when elected into office in elections later that year, it would pass a new constitution within 90 days of taking office.

A few weeks into office, President Sata appointed a technical committee to look into the previous constitutional making processes to come up with a new document. The promised landmark difference with the previous processes was to be that the draft constitution was going to be simultaneously released to both the government and the public and a referendum held.

People holding a banner demanding that President Sata releases the draft constitution. Picture used with permission of The Zambian Voice.

People holding a banner demanding that President Sata releases the draft constitution. Photo used with permission of The Zambian Voice.

With shifting deadlines and the constitution making process running into two years, the government changed its approach and asked the technical committee to only print ten copies of the draft constitution, which the cabinet was to study first. The draft constitution was later leaked via Zambian Watchdog and is now known as the “eleventh copy”.

Some started to cast doubt on Sata’s commitment to enacting a new constitution when he said that the country did not need a fresh document altogether but only amendments to certain clauses. At another time, Sata said the current constitution was still good because six elections had been held under it.

Nyalubinge Ngwende on his Brutal Journal blog wrote:

[…W]hen it comes to the constitution, President Sata will not fool us. The building of roads, universities, more schools and health facilities come to mean nothing if the citizens are enslaved by political tyranny that refuses to hand them a constitution meant to unleash their full liberties and broaden opportunities for citizens, regardless of their geographical position on the global map. 

 A people driven constitution is our choice and not that of PF! 

Ngwende goes on to explain what is meant by a people-driven constitution in a country where Cabinet with the President as the head has a played a bigger role in the enactment of constitutions by excluding clauses that people had recommended and infusing those favouring the rulers:

When civil society activists are talking of a people driven constitution, they mean a good document that will stand the test of time; with statutes that meet the aspirations of the people and one that the people themselves will agree to.

Joining a chorus of other opposition politicians and civil society organisations, MMD President Nevers Mumba commented:

I think that God has allowed him to lose his way because I can’t imagine a President making such comments. What Zambians are saying is that look, we want a better constitution in which we participate in its formulation […] For him to make such comments shows arrogance of the highest level. I appeal to the President to be presidential about this matter. We are determined to have a new constitution, with or without him anyway.

Sata ordered government officials not to respond to the constitution debate. However, his Justice Minister and PF Secretary General Wynter Kabimba during a visit to Malawi probably gave away the biggest fear his government had in the draft document—50 percent plus one threshold for election to the office of the president and a presidential running mate for the office of vice president. Kabimba said:

There are all these demands about 50 percent plus one constitutional provision, running mate constitutional provision without taking into account that where these provisions obtain they have caused more problems than the solutions they should have brought about to society.

We can learn from others. We don’t have to make the same mistakes that others have made in order to do the right thing.

February 24 2014

Al Qaeda Calls for Jihad in Bangladesh

Screenshot of a video by Ayman al-Zawahiri

Screenshot of a video by Ayman al-Zawahiri

Global militant organization Al Qaeda has called for jihad in Bangladesh via a video released online. The audio message was circulated in a video featuring the leader of the organization, Ayman al-Zawahiri, calling for followers to resist what he called anti-Islamic conspiracies and launch an “intifada” (uprising) in Bangladesh.

He invited Muslims in Bangladesh:

To confront this crusader onslaught against Islam, which is being orchestrated by the leading criminals in the subcontinent and the West against Islam, the Prophet of Islam and the Islamic creed, so that they may turn you into slaves of a despotic and disbelieving system.

Here is a transcription of the video message (PDF).

The entire clip lasting 28 minutes and 58 seconds, titled “Bangladesh: Massacre Behind a Wall of Silence”, features the message from al-Zawahiri along with his image as well as others, such as the Hifazat's rally in May last year. Aaron Y. Zelin, who runs the site Jihadology, reported in an interview to EuroBDNewsOnline.com that he is certain that this voice is of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) tracked the source of the message and arrested Rasel Bin Sattar Khan for circulating the controversial message from Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri. He is an admin of controversial Facebook page Basherkella and some other militant blogs [bn] believed to be run by extremist operatives. He confessed [bn] that he started spreading this video in Bangladesh, which was first uploaded in a Pakistani website.

Recently in Bangladesh, religious extremist organizations like Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and Hefazat-e-Islam have engaged in a lot of violence. Some netizens have speculated that the call for jihad in Bangladesh is somehow related.

Diaspora legal practitioner Rayhan Rashid (@rayhanrashid) tweeted:

Jamaat, who once worked fought against the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, had always denied their involvement with militants. However, Mofaqkharul Taufique wrote that Jamaat can no longer deny the truth given this video:

এ বার ভিডিও-বার্তায় প্রকাশ্যেই জামাত-নেতাদের পাশে দাঁড়ালেন আল কায়েদার শীর্ষ নেতা আয়মান আল জাওয়াহিরি। এর পরেও কি কেউ বলবেন যে জমাত জঙ্গী সংগঠন নয় ?

In this video message, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has openly supported Jamaat. Can anyone deny that Jamaat is not a militant organization?

Jamaat and Hefazot both have officially denied any involvement with Al Qaeda.

Activists of Hefajat-e Islam march through as part of its Dhaka siege programme to press home its 13-point demand, near Buriganga Bridge-1. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/5/2013)

Activists of Hefajat-e Islam march as part of its Dhaka siege programme to press home its 13-point demand that includes the arrest of atheist bloggers. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/5/2013)

Dr. Imran H. Sarker, a blogger and the spokesperson for the Shahbag movement activists, a movement that supports the death penalty for liberation war criminals, wanted to hear reactions from other political parties:

এক ভিডিও বার্তায় জামাত- হেফাজতের আন্দোলনকে সমর্থন করে ধর্মের নামে মানুষ হত্যার কথিত জিহাদের ডাক দিয়েছে আল-কায়েদা প্রধান আয়মান আল জাওয়াহিরি।

জোটবদ্ধ রাজনৈতিক দলগুলোর প্রতিক্রিয়া কি? যুদ্ধাপরাধী, সন্ত্রাসী সংগঠন জামাত-শিবির, হেফাজত কে নিষিদ্ধ করতে আর কতো অপেক্ষা?

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for jihad (killing humans for religion) supporting the cause of Hefazot/Jamaat.

What are the reactions of different political parties and alliances? How long will it take to ban anti-liberation and militant organizations like Jamaat, Hefazot?

Abdullah Al Mamun, a reader on Bangla daily Prothom Alo, commented:

এটি বাংলাদেশ নামক রাষ্টের প্রতি সরাসরি হুমকি বা হস্তক্ষেপ। এসব হুমকি আমাদের সবাইকে ভাবিয়ে তুলছে।

This is a direct threat against Bangladesh as a country. This has worried all of us.

Journalist Anjan Roy, however, called for verifying this video:

বাংলাদেশে প্রতিরোধ গড়ে তোলার আহ্বান জাওয়াহিরি- এই ভিডিওটি এখন আলোচনায়, প্রথমত দরকার ভিডিওটির তথ্য সত্যতা যাচাই। সত্য হলেও বিন্দুমাত্র শংকার নাই- আমরা শত্রু এলে অস্ত্র হাতে লড়তে জানি। এটা আফগানিস্তান না, পাকিস্তান না। এটা বাংলাদেশ- আল কায়দাকে কায়দা করতে দেয়ার জন্য আমাদের পিতা আর ভাইয়েরা যুদ্ধ করেন নি। আমাদের মা আর বোনরাও জানেন কিভাবে অনুপ্রেরণা দিতে হয় প্রিয়জনকে যুদ্ধে যাবার।

Al-Zawahiri called for resistance in Bangladesh – this video is a source of a hot debate. First we need to determine whether the video is credible or genuine. We need not worry even if this is true. This is not Afghanistan or Pakistan. We Bengalis know how to fight. Our fathers and brothers did not fight the independence war to let Al Qaeda reign. Our loved ones know how to prepare ourselves for fight.

A K M Wahiduzzaman wrote that this video has another purpose – to spark debate in the political arena:

দেশে-বিদেশে যখন এই বিচার বহির্ভূত হত্যাকাণ্ডের তীব্র সমালোচনা হচ্ছে, এমন কী সভ্যদেশগুলো যখন এই হত্যাকারী বাহিনীর সদস্যদের প্রশিক্ষণ কর্মসূচি বাতিল করছে। তখন ‘বিডি নিউজ ২৪’ গত ১৪ জানুয়ারি আল শাহাব মিডিয়ার তৈরি এবং জিহাদোলজি ডট নেট সাইটে প্রকাশিত একটি ভিডিও বার্তা নিয়ে মাঠ গরম করে বিচার বহির্ভূত হত্যাকাণ্ডের বৈধতা দেবার পাশাপাশি জঙ্গী ইস্যু দিয়ে পশ্চিমাদের মন গলানোর চেষ্টা করছে।

আরে গর্ধবের দল, ওটা সত্যি হলে আরো একমাস আগেই পশ্চিমা মিডিয়া এবং আল জাজিরা লিড নিউজ করতো।

When there are talks in the country about extrajudicial killings of security forces, even some countries have cancelled training for these security forces amidst the controversy. At this very moment, a video released by the Jihadology.net site and made by Al Shahab media is being highlighted by BDNews24.net to harp on militancy issues.

If this was real, international media and Al Jazeera would have made it top news a month ago.

The government is investigating the threat by Al Qaeda, but State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal does not see it as a big threat. Security Analyst Major (Retired) Abdur Rashid said in an interview with BBC Bangla that Bangladesh should not take it lightly:

আল কায়েদার শক্তি কমে গেলেও ভাবাদর্শগতভাবে বাংলাদেশে তাদের অনুসারী আছে। তারা উজ্জীবিত হয়ে আল-কায়েদার সহায়তায় কোন নাশকতা করতে পারে। এ আশংকাকে আমি উড়িয়ে দিচ্ছি না।

Although Al Qaeda has been weakened, a number of dedicated followers of them exists in Bangladesh. We cannot rule out any violent activity by them after the support of Al Qaeda.

Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a retired air force official and a security analyst, commented in an op-ed in the Daily Star:

Those of us who dream of a democratic state, a multi-religious, multi-cultural society, an educated, healthy and prosperous nation, the Zawahiri message, even if it is a hoax, is a stark reminder that we have an enemy at the gate, and only together we can defeat it. We as a nation need to close ranks on the minimum agenda, and on the question of fighting religious extremism there is no other option but a national consensus.

A Day to Strengthen Portugal's Open Data Community

A typical rabelo boat from Porto carrying the open data flag for the #OpenDataDay. Banner by Transparência Hackday.

A typical rabelo boat from Porto carrying the open data flag for the #OpenDataDay. Banner by Ana Carvalho / Transparência Hackday.

[Disclosure: The author of this post was one of the organizers of the event.]

Pro-transparency and tech for citizenship enthusiasts from different cities in Portugal joined in the global Open Data Day celebration with a gathering in Porto hosted by the Transparência Hackday collective on February 22, 2014.

Designers, programmers, hackers, communicators and public servants dedicated a Saturday afternoon to sharing their experience with transparency issues as well as to opening some data to the public.

Hands-on tasks included the Local Open Data Census by Open Knowledge Foundation, which aimed at putting together data sets at the local level, from transport timetables to annual budgets and air quality:

We know there is huge variability in how much local data is available not just across countries but within countries, with some cities and municipalities making major open data efforts, while in others there’s little or no progress visible. If we can find out what open data is out there, we can encourage more cities to open up key information, helping businesses and citizens understand their cities and making life easier.

By the end of the day, the cities of Coimbra and Porto had quite a full range of information available in a collaborative document that will be used to update the Open Knowledge instance for Portugal once it has been setup by the international organization.

A different group took on the yogurt cataloging challenge launched by Open Food Facts, a free, open and crowdsourced food products database. The idea behind “What's in my yogurt?” project was to gather nutrition facts, ingredients and other dairy data from as many countries of the world as possible in just one day. So did the Portuguese

Data ‘visualinspiration’

The cherry on top for this fourth anniversary of the International Open Data Day was the presentation of the designer and researcher Pedro Cruz from the University of Coimbra of his work on data visualization.

The association for cultural intervention Maus Hábitos (Bad Habits) opened its door for the open data venue.

The association for cultural intervention Maus Hábitos (Bad Habits) in Porto opened its door for the venue of the #OpenDataDay in Portugal.

The journey started with Pedro's data visualization of the evolution of the decline of the maritime empires of the 19th and 20th centuries by land extension. In the timeline of events, British, Portuguese, French and Spanish empires dissolute in a fluid way as “some kind of soft bodies”. Other works by him include the traffic of Lisbon condensed in one day – or portrayed as a metaphor of living organisms with circulatory problems – as well as text analysis, public transport exploration, and much more.

“An ecosystem of corporate politicians“ - interactive visualization at pmcruz.com/eco.

“An ecosystem of corporate politicians“ – interactive visualization at pmcruz.com/eco.

But his most recent deed, the interactive visualization ”An ecosystem of corporate politicians” – on the relationships between members of Portuguese governments and companies for the period of 1975 to 2013 – was the one sparking more debate.

The powerful visualization shows the companies where ministers and secretaries of state have had positions and allows for the exploration of what appears to be a parasite ecosystem, given the form of the designed organisms:

Data is approached as an ecosystem, where each set of interdependent relations are regulated by physical conditions—each politician has a sequence of companies to visit, chasing them and jumping between them, in order to restart the sequence each time it is completed.

The data was collected from a study on politics and business carried out for the documentary “Donos de Por­tu­gal” (Owners of Portugal).

Getting to know the community

Improve Coimbra was another project from the third main city of Portugal that participants had the chance to meet on #OpenDataDay in Porto. Alike the organizer in Porto, Transparência Hackday, Improve Coimbra promotes monthly meetings that anyone can join to help solve the problems of the city. In little more than one year of activities, Improve has already created several websites and mobile apps for the citizens of Coimbra, such as a platform for crowdsourcing home rents, a map of cafes with available wifi, and Burocracia which makes the minutes of Coimbra's city government assembly available and easy to search. 

Also the northern municipality of Alfândega da Fé was represented in this #OpenDataDay. Ranked in second place in the Index of Municipal Transparency [pt] launched in October 2013 by the watchdog Transparência e Integrigade, Associação Cívica (TIAC), this small municipality of the region of Trás-os-Montes, with less than 6,000 inhabitants, has been showing positive signs of willingness to open local governmental data

That was the ultimate aim of the event, after all, to encourage governmental data openness, and thus the #OpenData in Portugal has grown a bit stronger with more grassroots organizations and individuals dialoguing with each other and the world.

You can check out the agenda of the #OpenDataDay in a pad available in Transparencia Hackday's blog, and read more about the global event in the official website [all links in Portuguese]. 

Brief Summary of the Situation in Venezuela for the Curious or Poorly Informed

The protests are being carried out in many parts of the country and are lacking in center and direction, having being called through social media networks. Among the protesters themselves, there are many diverse opinions about the opposition political parties, so it’s possible to find many expressions of support and also rejection at the same time.

In the case of Caracas the middle class and college students are the primary actors in the demonstrations. On the other hand, in other states, many popular sectors have joined the protests. In Caracas the majority of the demands are political, including calls for the freedom of the detainees and the resignation of the president [Maduro], while in other cities social demands are incorporated, with protests against inflation, scarcity and lack of proper public services.

Human rights defender, sociologist and journalist Rafael Uzcátegui (@fanzinero) [es] writes a “brief summary of Venezuela’s situation for curious people and/or the poorly informed,” originally published in Spanish [es] but now translated into English.

The Venezuela I'll Always Remember

Caracas

Caracas, Venezuela. Image by flickr user danielito311. Used with Creative Commons licence (BY-NC 2.0).

Back then in Peru, terror and fear was part of our daily lives.

I had just graduated from law school in Lima. It was late 1993 and my beloved Peru was recovering from 12 years of internal conflict which had claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas was coming and I decided it was time for my first journey abroad to visit a dear aunt. 

My mother's elder sister moved to Venezuela in the late 1950s. She got married in Caracas and settled there with her husband and two sons. After my younger cousin died in a car accident, my mother and her sister strengthened their bond and never let distance deter them from staying in touch.

When I stepped foot outside Simón Bolívar International Airport [es] in Maiquetía, I was instantly struck by how different everything looked, compared with Lima.

Caracas was a shiny modern city, with high-rises, highways, flyovers, and recently repaved roads.

All the cars looked like they had just rolled off the factory assembly line, glossy and splendid. New cars was something we were just starting to get used to in Peru, after out-of-control hyperinflation [es] had made all of us billionaires with little purchasing power.

The road signs looked like they had been painted the day before.

I could feel progress everywhere I looked, and this was just on the way from the airport to my aunt's house. Rain welcomed me on this adventure, something we Limeans are not used to at all.

The next day I started my tour of the city. I didn't feel like a total outsider. My generation grew up watching Venezuelan soap operas on TV, so some popular areas were familiar to me: Chacao, Chacaíto, the Virgen of Chiquingirá. So was the rhythmic speaking that I noticed was following me everywhere, after a few days.

During a visit to one museum, I saw a guy looking at a list of battles fought by Simón Bolívar, the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia. There were the names of the battles with no indication of the where they'd been fought, and I stood by next to this tourist and started with a lesson learnt long ago at school: Carabobo, Venezuela; Boyacá, Bogotá, Pichincha, Ecuador; and Junín and Ayacucho, Perú (country of yours truly).

On that trip, during a visit to a beach whose name I have forgotten, my toes first felt the waters of the Atlantic, I owe that to Venezuela too.

But what impressed me above all was the freedom people had, simply living their lives. We could enter any building and there was no military officer waiting to check our bags and belongings. There were no metal detectors or special machines that we had to pass through at the entrance of shopping centers or museums or anywhere for that matter.

I even walked in front of government buildings and ministries, as if that was the most normal thing to do. No one stopped me from being there, no one checked my documents, and no one made me feel like there was something to fear.

That is why I have been overwhelmed with sadness, as the recent stories and images have been trickling out of Venezuela.

Venezuelans are suffering. Venezuelans are crying. Venezuelans are mourning.

Protesters are rallying for liberty and demanding their rights be respected. Young people are dying in the streets, as police and government supporters battle protesters. Brothers are fighting brothers. 

I prefer to remember the Venezuela I knew in 1993. Joyous Caribbean music mingling with traditional Christmas songs wherever I went. Smiling faces greeting me, people welcoming me with kind words open arms, upon learning that I was Peruvian. 

Venezuela, you will always be in my heart.

Gabriela Garcia Calderon is a Peruvian lawyer specialized in Arbitration and Civil Law. She comes from a family connected to the media in Peru. Gabriela has been a member of Global Voices since November 2007.

February 23 2014

Indian Blogger Exposes Fuel Pump Cheating With Viral Video

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

In India, where fraud at gas pumps is commonplace and many complaints remain unresolved, a blogger's viral Facebook video has helped shed light on the problem.

Kiruba Shankar, a digital entrepreneur, author, teacher, farmer and long-time blogger in Chennai, India, explained how he first discovered the fraudulent practice:

I just caught the staff red-handed at Bharath Petroleum fuel station on Mount Road. They tried stealing Rs.700 worth of petrol. I paid Rs.2000 for the fuel and as the meter reached Rs.1300, one of the guys tried distracting me by asking me for my car number. Immediately, his accomplice manning the fuel pump stopped the pump and quickly reset the meter. As soon as the guy asked me for the number, I smelled a rat and saw the pump just when the guy was resetting it.

This incident took place in the Bharath Petroleum's Mount Road outlet in Chennai. Kiruba uploaded the video to Facebook, and the one-minute, 44-second-long video went viral with more than 6,000 shares and 3,000 likes. Many people shared their similar experiences in the comments section and local media started reporting on it.

Rajesh Murugesan, a commenter on the video, said:

Hey guys why blame only Bharat Petroleum, it happens with all petrol bunks. our Indian officer's just need to fill their pockets and are not worried about others. These officer's to be punished or teased in public.

Yashwanth Vee, another commenter, wrote:

It is a good thing that you came out and posted this on a social network. Hope the responsible person sees this video and takes some kind of action.

Kiruba posted updates on how the authorities reacted:

The social media outrage coupled with the coverage in national dailies has brought this incident right up to the CMD and top management of Bharath Petroleum.

They requested Mr.Kshitij Midha, Area Sales Manager for South Chennai to meet me in person. He is incharge of overseeing 35 fuel stations, including the one where the incident took place. [...]

The BPCL official did an investigation with the owner and staff at Ashwini Automobiles (the franchisee who runs the fuel station). After cross examining, they did find the two men guilty and they have been fired from their jobs. [...]

BPCL has the official complaint numbers displayed in all petrol pumps but most of the customers don’t take the extra effort to lodge a complaint. He encouraged people to complain which will keep the staff grounded.

Blogger Shushant Kulkarni from Pune advised how not to get cheated in a petrol station:

You might be getting fooled if you are not paying close attention. [...] I have noticed this a lot many times, have gotten first hand experience getting cheated a couple of times :), but eventually learned the pattern. You have experienced these or may be you are not paying attention to these.

The Allrounder blog also has similar tips to share. Vinaya Naidu at Lighthouse Insights blog lauded the role of social media in exposing malpractice in the society:

A rampant malpractice at most fuel stations in the country, one that needs to be tackled in these times of high fuel prices. It is interesting to observe how social media can play an important role in eliminating this, if leveraged fruitfully as Kiruba did.

Census Could Worsen Conflict in Myanmar

Shan minority group in Myanmar. Photo from  Flickr page of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Shan minority group in Myanmar. Photo from Flickr page of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Myanmar’s nationwide census scheduled from March 23 to April 10 threatens to inflame more ethnic and religious conflicts in the country over some ‘antagonistic and divisive’ issues included in the questionnaire. Myanmar’s last census was held more than 30 years ago.

The census, supported by the UN, aims to determine Myanmar’s key demographic and socio-economic statistics in order to ascertain the country’s particular development needs. But questions about ethnicity or tribal identification have become controversial after the government listed 135 ethnic groups and sub-groups on the questionnaire. Critics reminded the government that the listing is a colonial legacy which must be revamped. Several ethnic groups have complained about being lumped with other minorities while others claimed they were dropped from the listing.

The government is urged to reclassify the listing based on consultation with ethnic communities. And while the government is doing this, some groups wanted the census delayed for another month.

In Myanmar, majority are Burmans. An estimated 40 percent of the population is considered an ethnic minority, with Shan composing the biggest minority group.

The common complaint of many groups is the inaccurate categorization of ethnic groups. For example, the Palaung (Ta’aung) tribe questioned their inclusion as a Shan race:

We, Ta’aung, settled down in this land before the Shan…We are not the same with other races. We live in mountainous area and have a different culture and language.

Kyaw Thu, head of the civil society consortium Paung Ku, thinks questions on ethnicity and religion should be dropped because they are no longer necessary:

If development is the priority, the data of headcounts—the numbers of people and the age group—is enough to conduct economic projects.

Tun Myint Kyaw, local coordinator in Mon State for the European Union-funded Rule of Law Project, also urged the removal of some controversial questions in the census:

If [the Ministry of Immigration and Population] has a plan to omit the ethnicity and religion category from the national identity card, why would they still include in the census data collection?

Khun Jar of the Kachin Peace Network explained how inaccurate ethnic categorization can cause trouble; and he also warned about the danger of conducting census in some remote areas where armed conflicts are still taking place:

If the government accepts 135 ethnic groups only, it can cause harm to the peace process because ethnic groups can get into armed conflicts if disagreements arise among them

We can’t anticipate who will conduct the census in remote areas and places where there is no ceasefire. In some places there are no schools. Teachers are normally used to collect data on the population. So with no schools, it will not be easy to collect population figures at the refugee camps.

Thet Ko from Minority Affair proposed the drafting of a new listing based on the principle of democratic consultation:

The list of ethnics should be compiled again after consulting with ethnic groups through a democratic procedure.

Some ethnic groups are worried that they might lose political representation if the proposed census will adopt the official listing of ethnic groups in the country. Ethnic minister positions in local parliaments are automatically given to ethnic groups with more than 0.01 percent of the population in the area.

The government is accused of deliberately bloating the number of ethnic subgroups to deny representation to some tribes.

But in the case of the Rohingyas, the government refuses to recognize them as citizens. Kyaw Min of the Democracy and Human Rights Party is appealing for the recognition of Rohingyas, who are mostly Muslims:

Every human race has its own identity. We have our identity already…This is not just now—we have had it for a long time. But we have found that there is discrimination in the country, which ignores our demand that our identity be recognized.

One concern about the inclusion of religion in the census is the destabilization it might generate. In particular, the census might confirm that Myanmar has a growing number of Muslims which could provoke Buddhist extremist groups to cause trouble in many villages.

Worried about the threat, the International Crisis Group, is proposing to limit census questions on age, sex and marital status:

…the coming census, consisting of 41 questions, is overly complicated and fraught with danger. Myanmar is one of the most diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue, in a context where ethnic communities have long believed that the government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes

A poorly timed census that enters into controversial areas of ethnicity and religion in an ill-conceived way will further complicate the situation.

Meanwhile, the Burma Partnership fears the census might undermine the national reconciliation process:

Yet the lack of transparency and consultation is a damning indictment of the UN’s – and donors’ – role in the census, while the accusations of inaccuracy and divisiveness only serve to further undermine the credibility of these parties. Moreover, there are real fears about the logistics of collecting the data, both in terms of authorities using the correct forms and accessing remote areas or conflict zones, which would have implications for the accuracy of data recorded

It is clear that this census represents a Pandora’s Box of potential ethnic tensions and conflict. At a time when the Burma government claims to be striving to secure a sustainable peace deal with the armed ethnic groups and cementing political reforms before the 2015 national elections, the timing and nature of the census is strange, to say the least. It risks jeopardizing national reconciliation, undermining the peace process, and exacerbating inter-communal violence.

Apparently, some ethnic groups are cynical of the census process that they chose to conduct a census on their own.

February 22 2014

Ukraine's President Yanukovych Ousted and Parliament Reshuffled

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

After a violent crackdown on anti-government Euromaidan protesters left 70 to 100 people dead this week, Ukraine's parliament has voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and release his political rival ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. 

Yanukovych was not in the capital Kyiv at the time, having fled and denounced the events as a coup. 

The legislature's vote was met with celebrations from people within the Euromaidan movement, which has protested for three months against the government led by Yanukovych after he backed out of a deal with the European Union in November 2013. 

Following the turmoil on 20 February when security forces shot at protesters, a deal [uk] was originally struck between the opposition and Yanukovych that would end the violence in the country, but would also see him remain president until new elections that were to be held by end of year, according to this agreement. The deal also included a return to the 2004 version of the country's constitution, which limits presidential powers, early presidential elections in 2004, and the creation of an international commission for investigating the events in Kyiv. The agreement was brokered by three European foreign ministers.

On the evening of February 21, the leaders of the parliamentary opposition came to Kyiv's Maidan (Independence Square) – the stronghold of the protesters – to present the signed agreement to the people. They arrived just as Maidan was mourning the unprecedented loss of lives which occurred the day before. Despite risks, hundreds of thousands had gathered on the square, including some of the police officers who had deflected to the side of the protesters. They blamed the president for the escalation of violence and the use of firearms.

When the protesters heard that Yanukovych would remain in power at least until the next elections, they booed the parliament representatives. A regular member of the Maidan self-defense unit (the “sotnyk”) took to the stage and gave a very emotional speech calling on the president to resign by the next morning or Maidan would go into the offensive (video).

His call received overwhelming support from the gathered crowd, and that support was echoed by the leader of the Right Sector movement, a right-wing opposition group, albeit in a more restrained manner. Well-known journalist Dmytro Gnap also got on stage, blaming the leaders of the opposition leaders for betraying the Euromaidan movement and outlining possible options of Yanukovych's resignation.

Social media users, like @RainFromUkraine, reacted similarly:

Cracked voice of a sotnyk was the voice of all Ukrainians.

Afterwards, one of the opposition leaders, former world boxing champion turned politician Vitaliy Klychko, got on stage and apologized to the protesters for entering into an agreement with Yanukovych and “shaking his hand“.

Shortly after these events, news spread that Yanukovych was leaving Kyiv for the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Later in the evening, however, social media activists have identified a private jet that allegedly belonged to the President leaving Ukraine via a flight tracking site FlightRadar24. As the plane was flying towards Sochi, many believed Yanukovych was fleeing to Russia.

However, the jet did not land there but went further towards the United Arab Emirates, with Yanuckovych allegedly on board. Whether Yanukovyh has really left Ukraine, however, remains unconfirmed.

In the morning, the Maidan self-defense movement announced that they were guarding Parliament and other government buildings, while government security forces had completely abandoned the government block in Kyiv. Twitter user Pedrodon tweeted this image of the events:

A journalist from Brussels, @Balliauw, also added this image:

Government forces and private security personnel had also abandoned Yanukovych's notoriously lavish residence Mezhygirya. Maidan self-defense members encircled the residence to prevent looting and destruction, but allowed journalists and other citizens free entry (photos). Hundreds of Ukrainians have visited the place, which was off limits to regular citizens for years.

In the meantime, journalists discovered piles of partially destroyed records of large-scale corruption schemes.

RL/RFE reporter Irtsia Stelmakh [uk] tweeted several photos of the residence:

Here it is, Mezhygirya.

Journalist Oksana Kovalenko tweeted:

Found documents in the water near the dock.

While many Ukrainians were having a tour of Mezhygirya, MPs assembled in Parliament and began voting on a number of crucial decisions, including the return to a parliamentary-presidential republic (with limited presidential powers), choosing a new speaker of parliament, and several other key government positions.

In the midst of these events, one of the pro-government channels released a video statement [uk] by President Yanukovych, who allegedly recorded the statement in Kharkiv, the second largest city in the northeast of the country. In the statement, the president accused his opponents of a state coup, referred to protesters as “bandits”, and stressed that he was doing all in his power to prevent bloodshed.

He also added that he was not planning to leave the country.

A screencap of President Yanukovych' address released on Feb. 22, 2014

A screencap of President Yanukovych’ address released on Feb. 22, 2014

While MPs in parliament were hastily leaving the pro-presidential political party Party of Regions, several pro-presidential and pro-Russian MPs and regional authorities quickly called an assembly in Kharkiv. The move caused widespread concern that separatist or federalist statements would be adopted and appeals for Russia to deploy its troops in Ukraine would be made.

However, the assembly only called for self-organizing to maintain order in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine and for friendly relations with Russia. In support of the event, a mass rally by Party of Regions supporters was organized in Kharkiv. While some participated genuinely, there were media reports of pressure on state employees and others [uk] to participate in the rally.

At the same time, a large rally in support of Euromaidan also took place in Kharkiv [video]. Twitter users @ShkvarkiUA tweeted from the city center:

East and West are UNITED! FREEDOM TO THE PEOPLE! – shouts Kharkiv.

Kharkiv Euromaidan activists also demanded the removal of their separatist mayor and governor. Closer to the evening, reports emerged [uk] that both officials were leaving for Russia, as State Security Service of Ukraine opened a criminal investigation into their separatist claims.

Later that evening, the parliament in Kyiv voted to oust President Yanukovych and called early presidential elections for May. The MPs also supported the release of former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed by Yanukovych in 2011.

Needless to say, the reaction of many Ukrainians was celebratory. Kyiv-based journalist and photographer Bogdana Shevchenko tweeted:

CONGRATULATIONS EVERYONE!!!! #євромайдан #янукович

User Olia Riabuha tweeted:

Thank you everyone who fought for justice! Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Today we won!

Reactions from the international community followed. British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted:

Polish Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Radosław Sikorski also added:

As of 7 p.m. local time on 22 February 2014, the whereabouts of Yanukovych remain unknown.

February 21 2014

Congratulating The New Prime Minister of Nepal

Nepal’s Parliament has elected Mr. Sushil Koirala (75), the president of the party Nepali Congress, as the new Nepali Prime Minister. Nepali diaspora blogger Indra congratulates the new Prime Minister and thinks that “the gift Mr. Koirala has for empowering others with his humility and sincerity will go a long way”.

Social Media Rallies to Help Comatose Pakistani Student in US


Screenshot of Facebook page supporting Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, a 21-year-old Pakistani exchange student in the US, has been in a coma since 13 November 2013 when a deer collided with the car he and his friends were riding in outside of the city of Minneapolis. At a local hospital after the accident, Bajwa went into cardiac arrest. Doctors were able to resuscitate him, but he suffered brain damage and has been comatose ever since. 

Just as Bajwa was fighting for his life, another battle was brewing. Bajwa's student visa was set to expire on 28 February, and Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota, where he was transferred after the accident, was making plans to deport him to a Pakistani hospital, saying its hands were legally tied. His family feared Bajwa wouldn't survive the flight. 

A student of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Bajwa was also only insured for one semester for the student exchange program with a cap of 100,000 US dollars, not enough to cover the expensive costs of an extended stay in an American hospital.    

As the visa expiration date neared, support on social media for Bajwa began to pour in, and an online campaign to raise funds and to pressure the US to allow the student to stay for treatment quickly spread throughout the web. Finally, after Pakistan’s Ambassador in the US Jalil Abbas Jilani became involved, Bajwa's brother announced on 20 February that US authorities had agreed to extend the student's visa.  

Social media takes up the cause 

Bajwa's medical costs exceeded 350,000 dollars in mid-February and continued to climb. The hospital agreed to absorb the costs and not dip into the insurance money, but warned (before the visa was extended) that it would cease paying on 28 February. Essentia Health also said it would pay the medical evacuation costs, though it threatened to pull the coverage if the family didn't sign off on returning Bajwa to Pakistan, according to his brother Shahraiz Bajwa.  

With the family unable to fund Bajwa's extensive treatment once the hospital pulled its financial support, his brother launched an online fundraising campaign on website gofundme.com, which has collected to date more than 132,000 US dollars of its 300,000-dollar goal.

On Facebook, groups such as “Support For Shahzaib Bajwa“ helped to spread the word about the need for donations. “Inshallah God will help you guys more. People show that humanity still exists in its full context,” one user, Mubarik Hasan, wrote. Other users, A Facebook user like Mohammad Jibran Nasir published statuses urging friends to help.

The peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India, Aman ki Asha, shared a plea on Facebook from someone who had met Bajwa:

From an Indian about a Pakistani: “I request you from the core of my heart if you could help this lovely guy. I met him on my last visit to Pakistan and I've great memories of the time spent with him. I request you to pl help him out of the situation in which he and his family is.”

Meanwhile, an online petition was created on change.org to demand the extension of Bajwa's visa; it has so far received more than 8,000 signatures. Bajwa's family was not hopeful about the quality of treatment he would receive in Pakistan, and his mother feared signing off on the medical flight would be sending her son to his death. 

On the petition, Ivy Vainio from Minnesota wrote:

Shahzaib needs the best medical care that he can receive right now and he will get it where he is at currently. He is one of the most wonderful young men that I have met. Caring and loving to all. Please renew his visa so that he can stay and get the best treatment available to him.

Richard Mienke argued: 

I would rather see such a brilliant student and decent human being be taken care of until full recovery is attained and then give him the means to continue his degree here in the United States. It is not a question of citizenship, it is a question of humanity and doing the right thing. Period.

On Twitter, users pushed the campaign even further with tweets and retweets. Professor of International Relations, Earth and Environment at Boston University Adil Najam wrote:   

Pakistani journalist, artist and documentary filmmaker Beena Sarwar also requested the US extend Bajwa's visa: 

Political analyst and senior TV anchor Nasim Zehra wanted people to show generosity: 

Slow recovery ahead

Bajwa, who suffered severe facial fractures, will eventually need reconstructive surgery. He remains comatose, but can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs.

Doctors at the Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center say that it will take at least a few years to determine his chances of complete recovery. With his visa renewed, officials are now making plans to move Bajwa to a long-term facility in the area. 

Thumbnail image: Screenshot of Facebook page praying for early recovery of Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

‘Central African Republic's Most Pressing Need Is Security for its People’

Mme Beatrice Epaye via Centrafrique Press blog -Domaine public

Béatrice Epaye via the CAR Press blog – Public domain

Béatrice Epaye is a former member of Parliament and today a member of the Central African Republic's National Transition Council (CNT), the body tasked with selecting a transitional president who will lead the war-torn country until the next presidential elections. When an uprising plunged the country into crisis in late 2012, the previous President-elect François Bozizé was removed by the Séléka rebels.

The terrible religious conflict continues still in the Central African Republic (CAR). On February 19, heavy fighting erupted near the airport in the capital Bangui. Anti-Balaka groups tried to block the evacuation of Muslims and disrupted a visit by a top United Nations (UN) aid official.  

Epaye agreed to answer our questions on the current situation in the Central African Republic and the steps which need to be taken to avoid a human catastrophe in her country. In addition to her role on the National Transition Council, she is the president of the “La Voix du Coeur” (Voice of the Heart) Centre, which is currently a place of welcome and support for street children in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. She also sits on the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa's parliament (CEMAC) in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, where she represents the Council.

Global Voices (GV): What's the latest situation in your area? 

Béatrice Epaye (BE): Je suis une habitante de Bangui la capitale de la RCA, une ville meurtrie par le conflit. Tous les jours, de chez moi, j'entends des coups de feux venus de certains quartiers de Bangui. Ma maison comme beaucoup d’autres accueillent des proches venus de quartiers plus fragiles. Les gens fuient et beaucoup se sont regroupés dans des lieux qu'ils estiment sécurisés : Aéroport, Mosquées, Églises, dans des familles, en brousse dans la périphérie de Bangui ou en République Démocratique du Congo de l'autre côté du fleuve Oubangui.

De même, le Centre « Voix du Cœur » que j’ai fondé est devenu un lieu de regroupement pour les enfants de la rue en détresse. Là chrétiens et musulmans se côtoient, s’entraident.

Béatrice Epaye (BE): I live in Bangui the capital of the CAR, a town battered by conflict. Every day from my own home I hear shots coming from different areas of Bangui. Like many others, my house welcomes friends who come from the most fragile areas. People are fleeing and many gather together in areas which they feel are more secure: the airport, mosques, churches, with families, in the bush on the edge of Bangui, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side of the Ubangi River.

Likewise, the Voice of the Heart Centre which I founded has become a gathering place for distressed street children. Christians and Muslims come together and help each other.

GV: How do you manage the uncertainties? What are the most pressing needs so far?

BE: Effectivement c'est une situation difficile et précaire pour tout le monde : à tout moment le pire peut se produire! Quand on sent le danger, on cherche un abri.

Le plus difficile pour les familles et sur les sites des déplacés, c'est de ne pas avoir à manger ni avoir la possibilité de se soigner. Les salaires ne sont pas payés depuis 4 mois, et l'aide humanitaire n'est pas suffisante, ou même parfois inexistante. Dans leurs fuites les populations ont laissé derrière elles le nécessaire pour le quotidien et manquent du minimum pour la survie. Ensuite les enfants ne vont pas à l'école… on en est à un tel point que je ne peux pas le décrire.

BE: It's really a very difficult and precarious situation for everyone: the worst can happen at any moment! When we sense danger we look for shelter.

The most difficult thing for the families, and at the internally displaced persons sites, is having nothing to eat and no possibility of taking care of yourself. Salaries haven't been paid in four months, and humanitarian aid is not sufficient and sometimes even non-existent. As they fled, populations left behind things necessary for daily life and don't have the minimum needed to survive. Then children aren't going to school… we've reached such a point that I can't even describe it.

GV: How has the violence between Christians and Muslims increased so quickly in a country that isn't known for religious conflicts?

BE: Effectivement, le pays n'a jamais connu de conflits religieux. Les deux communautés ont toujours vécu ensemble en cohésion. Les familles s'échangent les repas lors des fêtes de Pâques, de la Tabaski, du Ramadan, de Noël et lors des mariages religieux. Lors du coup d’État nous avons vu parmi les rebelles des étrangers, engagés comme mercenaires. Depuis le début de leur progression ils ont utilisé les communautés musulmanes avec un discours de libérateurs des musulmans face aux mécréants qui les maltraitent. Ils ont pu enrôler beaucoup de jeunes qui les ont aidé à s'attaquer aux biens de l’église et faire les exactions que nous avons tous connues. Jusqu’à maintenant, nous avons toujours recherché à vivre en harmonie entre Centrafricains, avec nos différences de confessions ; comme nation, nous avons aussi accueilli beaucoup de personnes et de familles venant des pays voisins.

Cependant, il y a l'attitude de certains agents de l’État face à des concitoyens ou des résidents qu’ils supposent musulmans. Ceux-ci sont freinés dans leur démarche pour un papier administratif ou pour passer un barrage des forces de l'ordre. De même, les populations du nord-est de la RCA proches du Tchad et du Soudan (Darfour), vivant à plus de 1000 KM de la capitale, et majoritairement musulmanes, bénéficient peu du soutien de l’Etat parce que l’administration et les services publics sont quasi inexistants dans cette région, ce qui peut amener les habitants à se sentir laissés pour compte. Ces populations sont plus liées aux populations frontalières des autres pays voisins, ce qui est normal et parlent ensemble la même langue, ont une culture proche, mais ils sont alors perçus comme étrangers et eux-mêmes se sentent loin de la majorité chrétienne du pays. Au cœur du conflit que nous vivons, en ce moment, la grande majorité silencieuse des Centrafricains refusent la violence et beaucoup ont eu a agir pour protéger ou sauver la vie d’autres, souvent d’une autre communauté religieuse qu’eux.

BE: The country has never really known religious conflict. The two communities have always lived together with cohesion. Families exchange meals at Easter, Tabaski, Ramadan, Christmas and at religious marriages. When the revolution happened, we saw foreigners amongst the rebels, taken on as mercenaries. Since they started to advance they've made use of Muslim communities by making speeches about freeing Muslims from infidels who have treated them badly. They were able to recruit many young people who have helped them attack church property and carry out abuses which we've all experienced. Until now, we've always sought a harmonious life between Central Africans with our different faiths. As a nation we've also welcomed many people and families from neighbouring countries.

However, there is an attitude which certain public officials have concerning fellow citizens or residents who they believe to be Muslim. The movement of these people is slowed down by checking administrative documents or going through a security checkpoint. In the same way, populations in the northeast of the CAR close to Chad and Sudan (Darfour), who live more than 1,000 km from the capital and the majority of whom are Muslims, receive little benefit from state aid because the administration and public services are almost non-existent in this region, which can lead to local residents feeling overlooked. These populations are more closely linked to border populations from other neighbouring countries, which is normal, they speak the same language together, have cultural similarities, but then they are seen as foreigners and themselves feel a long way from the country's Christian majority. At the heart of the conflict which we're living in at the moment is the large Christian silent majority refuses violence and many have had to act to protect or save other people's lives, often from a different religious community to their own.

GV: You say that it's critical that the communities talk to each other and have a dialogue in order to solve problems. In your opinion, what conditions are needed in order to set up this dialogue? How can the international community help in this area?

BE: J'estime que parallèlement à la sécurisation du pays il faut commencer la réconciliation entre les communautés.

Tout d'abord, rassurer la communauté musulmane qui est en train de quitter le pays, elle fait partie prenante de la RCA. Il s'agit de réfuter toute idée soit de les chasser, soit de scission du pays. Il faut éliminer dans les mentalités la confusion systématique entre Seleka et musulman.

Inviter à ouvrir un processus de dialogue politique entre toutes les parties prenantes aux conflits, mais aussi avec les acteurs non-armés afin de lancer un processus de réconciliation nationale à même d'apaiser aujourd'hui les populations désemparées et leur redonner confiance dans l'avenir.

Dès la rentrée scolaire, qu'on commence à mettre en place un programme sur le vivre ensemble pour les enfants, et aussi l'élargir dans les quartiers et villages.

Il faut renforcer la sensibilisation déjà initiée par la plate-forme inter-religieuse dans les Églises, les Mosquées et autres Temples, ainsi que d'autres initiatives locales qui concourent à la paix”. Il est vrai que l'idée d'organiser des élections fait partie des priorités de la Communauté internationale, mais cette idée fait certainement peur à la communauté musulmane centrafricaine. C'est pourquoi il serait souhaitable que parallèlement au processus électoral, soit amorcé un programme de réconciliation nationale, une démarche qui assure à chacun qu’il sera reconnu comme centrafricain à part entière.

BE: I believe that parallel to securing the country we have to start the reconciliation process between communities.

First of all, we must reassure the Muslim community, which is in the process of leaving the country, that they are a stakeholder in the CAR. We have to refute any idea of banishing them or splitting the country. We have to eliminate the systematic confusion in people's minds between Seleka and Muslim.

We must encourage the opening of a political dialogue between all parties taking part in the conflict, but also key players who are not fighting, in order to start a national reconciliation process to give comfort to helpless populations and give them back confidence in the future.

Once the new school year begins we must set up a children's program about living together and also extend this to urban areas and villages.

We have to support the raising of public awareness, which has already been initiated by the inter-religious platform in churches, mosques, and other temples, just like other local initiatives which lead to peace. It's true that the idea of organising elections is amongst the priorities of the international community, but this idea also scares the Central African Muslim community. That's why it would be desirable to launch a national reconciliation program alongside the electoral process, an approach which assures everyone that they will be recognised as fully Central African.

GV: What are the other pressing needs for Central Africa at the moment? What solutions can be put forward?

BE: Le besoin le plus pressant pour la RCA c'est d'abord la sécurité pour son peuple. L'idéal serait que les familles rentrent chez elles avant les premières pluies du mois de février, que l'aide humanitaire arrive aux habitants partout où on peut les trouver (alimentation, eau potable, soins, couchages, produits d'hygiène, vêtements…). Ce serait aussi le paiement des salaires aux fonctionnaires.

BE: The CAR's most pressing need is security for its people. Ideally, families would be able to return to their homes before the first rains in February and humanitarian aid would arrive for local people wherever they are (food, drinking water, medical supplies, sleeping bags, hygiene products, clothes..). Also, public officials would have their salaries paid.

Russian Politicians Stick to Their Guns as Ukraine Burns

Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns

February 19, 2014. Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns as violence intensifies. Photo CC 3.0.

As the political situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, and reports of fatalities grow, Russian politicians have been voicing their opinions on the crisis. Somewhat predictably, opinions on who is to blame for the worst political violence to grip Europe this century were sharply divided between government and opposition figures. Several members of Russia's ruling United Russia party sharply criticised the protesters and the West for the disturbances.

Deputy Alexey Pushkov, head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, blamed Western pressure on Ukraine's government. Referencing the 2004 ‘Orange Revolution,’ Pushkov tweeted:

With their pressure on Ukraine's authorities, and attempts to pass off chaos as democracy, the West has opened the path to radicals, and now in Kiev there's Orange anarchy.

Deputy Robert Shlegel, who has long been an outspoken critic of American policy, sarcastically tweeted [ru] about US President Barack Obama's call for the Ukrainian army to exercise “restraint.”

Obama making demands of Ukraine's army. :-O Barack Husseinovich! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, once again you're digging yourself a hole with your colonial worldview.

Another prominent United Russia deputy, Sergey Zheleznyak, went on Facebook to voice his full support [ru] for the Ukrainian government's violent crackdown.

Совершенно очевидно, что с бандитами, взявшими в руки оружие, не может быть никакого перемирия, это не политическая сила, с которой имеет смысл вести переговоры, а преступники, которых нужно срочно выявлять, арестовывать и привлекать к уголовной ответственности! При вооруженном сопротивления преступников, угрожающих жизни и здоровью – уничтожать их без сожаления!

It's perfectly obvious that there can't be any sort of reconciliation with bandits who have taken up arms. This isn't a political force, with whom there's sense in holding discussions, these are criminals who need to be identified, arrested and brought to criminal responsibility! During an armed confrontation, criminals who threaten life and limb need to be eliminated without pity!

Russia's more liberal-minded politicians were less critical of the protesters. Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of the opposition party ‘A Just Russia,’ wrote rather ambivalently in his LiveJournal [ru].

я полностью поддерживаю право народа на восстание, считаю события в Киеве именно народным восстанием, но скорблю, что причиной этого восстания является манипуляция общественным мнением со стороны недобросовестных политиков со всех сторон. Преследуемая людьми цель – ложная, и люди со временем это поймут, но много позже, когда пролитой кровью воспользуются проходимцы.

I fully support the right of the people to rise up. I consider the events in Kiev such a people's uprising, but regret that the reason for this uprising is the manipulation of public opinion on the part of cynical politicians on both sides. The goal people are striving for is a lie and people in time they will get this, but only much later, only after the schemers have exploited the bloodbath.

Fellow party-member Dmitry Gudkov, one of the most outspoken oppositionists sitting in the Duma, was more openly critical of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych has to quickly announce early presidential elections and carry out constitutional reforms or prepare himself for a meeting with Gaddafi.

United Russia has thrown its full support behind Yanukovych and is unlikely to be swayed in its opinion by mountaining casualties, which it blames ultimately on a combination of Western interference and far-right elements. Similarly, for Russia's opposition politicians, the bloodshed in Ukraine is a clear example of the dangers of corruption and an unwillingness for reform. For Russia's politicians, the battle lines over Ukraine have already been drawn, and now there can be no compromise. 

February 20 2014

#Euromaidan Protests Spread Throughout Ukraine After Explosion of Violence

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

Euromaidan protests in Ukraine took a turn for the worse on February 18, 2014, as special Berkut police forces began their most violent crackdown yet on citizens and political opposition supporters in Kyiv. Instead of quelling protesters, the protests quickly strengthened and even spread to new towns and regions in the country. The government announced de facto martial law, with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claiming that the military now had the right to search, detain and even fire on civilians.

Earlier in the day, opposition representatives attempted to deliver a request to Parliament that would limit presidential power and were denied access to the building to do so. Soon after hearing this news, protesters moved in on the Parliament building. The situation then gravely escalated when police forces violently cracked down on protesters around 8 pm, with devastating results. The following morning, several independent and international news outlets reported that the several-hour-long aggressive police action resulted in 25 deaths and at least 1,000 people injured, but casualties are still being counted. One journalist reported that at least 40 people had been burned alive in the Trade Union building in Kyiv alone.

As this was happening, news of the crackdown traveled quickly through social media and other channels, with people following the events live throughout Ukraine and the world through several live streams. Newly angered protesters marched once again on what has been the main protest site since November 2013, Independence Square, but also took to the streets in several other cities and towns in Ukraine's 24 administrative regions. The images and information users on Twitter and other social networks were sharing, like the one below from @slava_slav, angered citizens throughout the country and incited more protests:

Trade Union Building on Independence Square [in Kyiv]

Ukraine's most popular online community of IT developers joined other Ukrainians in presenting their position on the February 18 events. The founder of the community, Max Ischenko, wrote:

Вчера украинская власть наконец-то приняла решение. Обьявила открытую войну гражданам Украины. Рубикон пройден.
Всего два выхода для честных ребят: перестать быть гражданами Украины, променяв кафкианскую реальность на нормальный мир или же остаться гражданами, приняв навязанную войну. Третий, трусливый вариант, не рассматриваем — это default route.
Голыми руками на БТР идти не надо, это не наши методы. Программисты лучше действуют головой. Я за ненасильственное сопротивление.

Yesterday, Ukrainian authorities finally made a decision. Open war against Ukrainian citizens was announced. The Rubicon has been crossed.

Honest men have only two solutions: stop being a citizen of Ukraine, changing the Kafka-esque reality to a normal world or to remain a citizen and accept the imposed war. The third one, a cowardly choice, is not considered – this is a default route.

There is no need to go against armoured personnel empty-handed, it is not our way. Developers work better by using their heads. I am for non-violent resistance.

After receiving information of the murders in Kyiv, many protests throughout other regions have been refueled, and some have now newly joined the protests. The most radical demonstrations of civil resistance, other than in Kyiv, now come from the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, which was active in the Euromaidan movement from its inception. During the night between February 18 and February 19, several government organizations fell into the control of protesters, such as the local Security Service of Ukraine in Lvyv and the Regional State Administration.

In Lviv, there is no possibility to telephone the police, as they have simply stopped responding. The majority of police stations in the region have been defeated and taken over by protesters. Information has also been circulating both on and offline that police stations in the city had been looted and fire arms stolen. Ukrainian news agency ZIK reported in a tweet:

In Lviv all weapons missing from police stations: In Lviv from the police offices some number of weapons were stolen

In the morning of February 19, Ivan Franko Lviv National University students and professors announced that they would go on strike indefinitely and asked other universities to do the same. In the meantime, students have been doing their best to organize self-defense units to protect citizens and museums from looting and violence. Young Twitter user @yostap from Lvyv said:

The creation of the student self-defense unit and strike committee has been announced.

In Uzhorod, the Regional State Administration is now occupied by the protesters, with many citizens expressing relief that their town has awoken to join what many are calling a revolution. Twitter user @mikekomar tweeted a photo of the building when it had just been occupied by the protesters:

@ukrpravda_news Zakarpatska RSA [Regional State Administration] was taking by storm, and it is now in the nation's hands! Finally, Uzhgorod has awoken! Photo [taken at] 12:35

The same has happened in a few other regional capitals. In Lutsk, a city in another western Ukrainian region, for example, the Regional State Administration is now also in the hands of Euromaidan protesters. Local users on Twitter, like @deep_monday, tweeted images and updates as they happened:

MIA [Ministry of Internal Affairs] and RSA [Regional State Administration] are defeated, everything is in flames, Bashkalenko [Volyn Region Governor Alexander Bashkalenko] was beat. We have the feeling this is not happening to us

What many feel is the cruelest news over these two days has come from Khmelnytskyi. At the Security Service of Ukraine building in this city, an elderly woman was killed and two others were injured. They were a part of the protest group that had come to that building after hearing what happened in Kyiv. Someone opened fire from the Security Service of Ukraine building. According to witnesses, the woman was unarmed and was kneeling in front of the building. The terrible image of this killing was shared by many online, including the official Twitter feed of one of the Maidan movement organizations, Will of the Nation:

Khmenytskyi. SSU is killing theirs nation.

The Ukrainian Democratic Alliance added:

Our activists have said that the shooting came from the building of the Khmelnytskyi SSU [Security Service of Ukraine]. A woman was killed. There are a few injured.

Eastern parts of Ukraine also are no longer peaceful. In Poltava, a protest was held in the city center. A Twitter account represented as Poltava Svoboda (Poltava Freedom) tweeted this image of the protests there:

Poltava. The amount of people [joining the protest] is rising.

People are once again joining forces to try to help the Euromaidan movement in any way they can. Some are collecting and bringing warm clothes and medication, while others are buying and preparing food for their fellow protesters. Food has now become more important than ever at the protest sites in Kyiv, as the Trade Union Building, where most of the food collected for the protesters had been stored over the past weeks, was burned during the February 18 police attacks, leaving protesters with no food at all.

In Kyiv and Lviv, people have also been donating blood and more donors are needed. Information about this is also being spread through social networks and a new hashtag #ядонор (#Iamadonor) can be seen along with the now standard #Euromaidan. Twitter user Ana Toliivna from Lvyv was among those who donated and called for others to do the same:

#Iamadonor RT @euromaidanlviv: On Pekarska street 65 it is possible to donate blood for those affected [at] #Euromaidan #Lvyv

People are also collecting money for those affected by the latest escalation of events. Even those with very little to give are offering what they can in support of the protests. Ukrainian author and journalist Dmitry Gordon shared this image of an elderly woman showing undeniable support of the protests in her country:

This old woman brought half of her monthly pension for those affected at Euromaidan.

Is Indian Anti-Corruption Leader Arvind Kejriwal's Resignation Clever or Crazy?

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal briefing the journalists. Image by Sarika Gulati. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2014)

Arvind Kejriwal briefing the journalists. Image by Sarika Gulati. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2014)

After a remarkable victory for anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man's Party, abbreviated AAP) in December's Delhi Assembly election, bringing an end to Indian National Congress’ 15-year-rule there, Kejriwal has resigned from his position as chief minister after only 49 days in office.  

As the capital of India waits for its new administrator, speculations are rife about what Kejriwal's resignation bodes for the general elections later this year and how AAP will perform compared to the established political bigwigs.

Some years back, somebody with a really good sense of humour decided to christen India's common man as the “mango” man. The logic is easy to understand. “Aam” in Hindi means “common”, but it could also mean “mango”, depending upon the context. Mango man or mango people has now become a part of popular political jargon in the country, referring to the common people in India.

India's “mango” people were considerably excited when the AAP managed to garner the maximum number of votes during the Delhi elections. However, Arvind Kejriwal's decision to quit from his job has surprised many and raised a number of speculations. His style of governance was unorthodox and publicity stunts like a 33-hour protest against the Delhi police ensured his frequent presence in the news.

Kejriwal had announced that he would resign from his position unless the Delhi Legislative Assembly passed the anti-corruption bill that would introduce the appointment of an anti-corruption ombudsman, the “Lokpal.” The bill would enable official enquiries into corruption complaints involving high-ranking officials. However, following the introduction of the bill in the state assembly, there was a huge uproar from the opposition and the bill could not be passed.

Kejriwal has defended his decision saying that it was one based on principle, but several supporters are disappointed.

In Facebook and Twitter, this particular statement is being shared by several critical citizens who think it is a case of sour grapes for Kejriwal.

In his resignation letter, Kejriwal has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which represents 32 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly, of getting support from billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Kejriwal's AAP had recently filed a police case against Ambani on charges of corruption.

The now ex-chief minister claims that the passage of the anti-corruption bill would have brought even more politicians under the scanner, which is why opposing parties ensured that the bill would stall in Delhi's Assembly. Kejriwal may have made a name for himself as India's foremost troublemaker, but many others, like Anand Pradhan, believe that Kejriwal has “shown the way” towards honest politics:

Amrita Roy commented on a post by Aparna Wanchoo in Youth Ki Awaaz blog:

Well at least he stood by his word! Sure there were issues related to the 49 days his government was in power. Sure he doesn’t know how to deal with parliamentary anarchy. But he stood by what he has always preached. He is one of the very few people who walked the talk. If he hadn’t resigned after the vote against tabling the Lokpal Bill, both Congress and BJP would have called him opportunist. They would have definitely said that Kejriwal wants the power of the seat of the CM and hence isn’t resigning even after his pet agenda was rejected. Now that he has resigned, both these parties have resorted to declaring that he can’t govern. Either way he would be attacked. The only thing that is in his control is to stand by his word. And he did just that.

Kejriwal's move may actually prove to be a strategically potent move for the general elections this year. The AAP has already announced its main candidates for the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, this year.

The run up to the 2014 general elections has begun and the AAP is taking on the big guns in the Indian political scene. Going by the mood, India's mango people definitely seem to have a chance, and they're supporting the one party which, to say the least, appears to be the most honest of the lot.

Searching for Blame in Deadly South Korean Building Collapse

Ten college students were killed and 105 injured in a building collapse in South Korea on February 17, 2014. In a country where the dreadful memories of the Sampoong disaster, which claimed over 500 lives, and other deadly collapses are still fresh among adults, online venues have been flooded with concerns over the repeated safety lapses and discussions on who or what to blame for incidents such as these.

The accident occurred as heavy snow caved in the roof of a building where 500 freshmen from the Pusan University of Foreign Studies were staying for two days of orientation events before embarking on their very first semester there.

Some initial media reports pointed to fingers at the student council for organizing the event [ko] without the university's supervision and specifically, for choosing that location, or at the Mother Nature. Unusually heavy snow [ko] far exceeding the region's average precipitation hit the city of Gyeongju for several consecutive days, and the sheer weight of the snow is reported to have put so much pressure on the facility's steel panels that they snapped.

However, as investigation progressed, many seemed to reach the conclusion that this may have been a preventable manmade disaster after all. The collapsed building Manua Ocean Resort was built rather hastily in only two and a half months [ko], and since construction finished in 2009, it had never had a single regular safety check-up [ko].

It is not like the building was shelled; it collapsed only because of the heaping piles of snow. The first ones to blame are the ones who built that building and who are in charge of the building's maintenance. Why do some people keep talking about how the college had a shortage of funds so the student council had to choose a cheaper location for the orientation?

How do such things keep happening, despite all the money spent [to enhance] the construction sector, and even after we had a department store and a bridge collapse? 

Collapse of the Sampoong Department StoreHwaseong Sealand disasterIncheon Bar fire [ko], Taean Seaside bootcamp disaster… All those manmade disasters, have we learnt nothing from them? This Gyeongju Mauna resort disaster – as a person who has children, I feel so miserable and also furious.

There is a similar pattern between the Gyeongju resort facility collapse and the recent mass credit card data breach: our society's “risk-taking” culture. They are all focused on starting new things, but don't pay as much attention to possible risks ahead nor give extra care to maintenance.

This is a photo from the Gyeongju Mauna Report collapse scene, shared by a net user of online community site ‘I Love Soccer'.

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