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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.

Chechen Dictator and Russian Nationalist NOT Taking Over Ukraine

A Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Unlikely bedfellows. Images remixed by author.

Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, highly unlikely bedfellows Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Images remixed by author.

Time and time again Russian Internet users and Russophone mass media prove that they will fall for any hoax, no matter how bizarre or unbelievable. It's not as if it is the first time someone took the fake Twitter account of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for the real thing. @KadirovRussia [ru] was started before the real Kadyrov joined Twitter and quickly gained a following. These days, however, almost everyone is aware that although Kadyrov does tweet at his own account, @rkadyrov [ru], he mainly uses it to link to his favorite social networking platform, Instagram [Global Voices report].

Nevertheless, multiple bloggers, forum users, and online media outlets were taken for a ride with a recent tweet by @KadirovRussia:

Prosvirnin and I are riding the “friendship train” to support Russians in Crimea.

Crimea is a primarily Russophone region of Ukraine currently protesting the change of power in Kiev. Crimeans are afraid that nationalist Ukrainians will infringe on their culture, and many Russians share their fear, stoked as it is my mainstream Russian media. A beach paradise not far from where the Sochi Winter Games took place, it is also home to a Russian naval base, and is currently a pressure cooker of ethnic tension between Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tartars. Not a day passes that there aren't rumors of Russia deploying troops or Kiev sending its own militia to the region. The most recent development [ru] is that armed men have occupied a regional administration building and hung Russian flags from it.

In this climate the announcement that the gruff Chechen leader has joined causes with nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin (of Sputnik & Pogrom fame), who has been vocally advocating for Crimean independence [ru] for the past several days, fell on fertile ground. Never mind that Prosvirnin harshly mocks and lambastes Kadyrov, the news was reported by several Ukrainian outlets, including Ukrainian Komsomolskaya Pravda [cache], Obozrevatel [ru], and Korrespondent [cache], with commentary noting the increasingly violent climate in Crimea. Kadyrov's alleged involvement must have been particularly troubling — it was the Chechen “Vostok” Battalion that was in the lead during Russia's 2008 armed conflict with Georgia over the breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Prosvirnin himself was amused with the confusion, writing [ru]:

Разбудили звонком с НТВ, спросив, правда ли мы с Кадыровым едем в Крым. Спросонья ступил и сказал, что они там совсем что ли ебу дались, и уже повесив трубку понял, что НАДО БЫЛО ВСЕ ПОДТВЕРДИТЬ.

Was woken up with a call from NTV, asking if its true that Kadyrov and I are going to Crimea. I was still dozy and stupidly said that they were out of their f*cking mind, but as I hung up I realized that I SHOULD HAVE CONFIRMED EVERYTHING.

He said that the news might have scared the Crimean Tartars who are currently against any talk of secession. Later he also joked [ru] that Kadyrov has agreed to take charge of the western Ukrainian province of Lviv.

Chechen “Vostok” Batallion troops at a Crimean beach, or what it might look like if they were. Images remixed by author.

Meanwhile, the real Kadyrov has actually sounded off about Ukraine [ru] on his Instagram account:

Получаем информацию, что у проживающих в этой стране соотечественников появились серьезные проблемы с сохранностью бизнеса и личной безопасностью. Мы никогда не претендовали на чужое, но и своё защитим. Следует четко осознавать, что не дадим в обиду чеченцев и других россиян, где бы они не находились.

We have received information that our countrymen living in that country are having serious problems with safety of their businesses and personal safety. We have never wanted what isn't ours, but we will protect our own. It needs to be clearly understood, that we won't let Chechens and other Russians come to harm, wherever they may be.

A troubling statement — perhaps more troubling than any fake news of rapprochement with Russian nationalists.

NASA's New Photo of North Korea

Any international readers interested in North Korea would probably come across at least once this famous photo of Korean peninsula from NASA demonstrating a stark difference in the light emission of two Koreas at nighttime. NASA finally updated a new satellite image and it is ‘even more dramatic than the monochrome NASA satellite image of old', writes North Korea Tech blog. The blog also introduces a video version of the image which shows North Korea in context with the rest of East Asia. 

Caribbean: How the Media Shapes Perception

Both Venezuela and Haiti have been facing anti-government protests. However, the international media’s escalation of the Venezuelan crisis and their complete silence when it comes to Haiti, raises some important questions about the United States’ inconsistency in upholding the values of human rights and democracy.

Kevin Edmonds calls out the mainstream media.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

February 26 2014

Bangladeshis Protest Bollywood Film ‘Gunday’ for Misrepresenting Liberation War

A new Bollywood film, “Gunday“, has people outraged in Bangladesh against the movie's mischaracterizing their country's 1971 war for independence. 

The film begins with a scene of the 1971 India-Pakistan war and ignores the events of 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. It highlights only the 13 day long India-Pakistan war which occurred at the fag end, ignoring the essential element of the nine month long Bangladesh's struggle for liberation from Pakistan, in which an estimated three million people died.

Bangladeshis took to social media networks to express their anger and demand an apology from the production company behind the film, Yash Raj.

There have been offline protests as well. Several youth groups engaged in Street Protests in capital Dhaka. The government also officially protested.

Poster of Gunday movie. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Poster for the film “Gunday”. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Twitter user Abdullah Al Nadim wrote:

Worldfriend4u questioned the film director's knowledge of history:

Saima Selim tweeted:

Zarin Tasnim Maliha complained:

Facebook user Sedative Hypnotics argued with documents the historic facts of Bangladesh's 1971 war of liberation which the film misrepresented:

৯০ হাজার পাকিস্তানী আর্মি ভারতীয় বাহিনীর কাছে আত্মসমর্পণ করে নি। করেছে বাংলাদেশ-ভারত যৌথবাহিনীর কাছে। এই কপি টা ভারতের প্রতিটা ঘরে ঘরে পৌছায় দেবার দাবি জানাই। প্রথমে ‘গুন্ডে’ মুভির পরিচালকের বাসায়।

90,000 Pakistani army prisoners did not surrender to the Indian army. They surrendered to the Bangladesh-Indian joint force. I demand that this copy of historic facts should reach every Indian house. Firstly, the documents should be sent to the “Gunday” director's home.

Mrityunjay Devrat, who is the director of the film “Children of War” based on the Bangladesh Liberation War has expressed his displeasure for the film in an interview with Bollywood Hungama, questioning the way the war was depicted:

If I am allowed to be honest, then I'd have to say that the makers of Gunday have been factually incorrect. I think it is hugely irresponsible and derogatory to use a sensitive subject such as the Bangladesh war for purely commercial purposes.

Yash Raj films has apologized in a statement on their blog for “any disrespect or hurt” that the film has caused Bangladeshis.

February 25 2014

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?

Pakistan, Stay Out of Syria's Civil War

A day after a tiny news items titled, “Saudi Arabia ‘seeking Pakistani arms for Syrian rebels” appeared in Pakistani newspapers, political blogger Ahsan Butt posts a provocative piece warning Pakistan's foreign policymakers against tiptoeing into Syria's affairs.

In “This is not our war (The Syria Edition)” on the Five Rupees Blog, Ahsan writes:

What Pakistan is doing vis-a-vis Syria is one of the dumbest things Pakistan has done in a long time, and that’s really saying something. The Syrian civil war, tragic as it is, has nothing to do with Pakistan. Pakistan has no interests in that conflict. None.

Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to provide Pakistan-made anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets. Ahsan warns:

Is it wise and advisable to wade into a sectarian civil war two thousand miles away?[...]

Just examine the trajectory of sectarian violence over the last decade.

He explains that any interference in Syria will force the Pakistani state to pay attention to rising sectarian violence in the country:

What are the possible ramifications for such a policy on sectarian violence in Pakistan? Is it likely to exacerbate and make more deadly sectarian cleavages or the opposite?

Ahsan lists four more provocative questions which you can read here.

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.

Ukrainian Revolution Rattles Russian Nationalists

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, recently released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Remarkably, it is now a fait accompli that the Ukrainian opposition has taken control of the country's political process. President Yanukovich's fall from power was in no small part due to the radical nationalists who made up the core of the street activists standing opposite Ukrainian riot police for the last three months. Nationalist parties like Svoboda, and radical organizations like the “Right Sector” (see this early YouTube video [ru] of Right Sector leader Yarosh talking about taking the fight to “Ukrainian” lands in Russia) contributed to the eventual victory of the Maidan movement, and now appear to be in a unique position to influence Ukrainian policy making.

At least this is what Russian nationalists fear — not only that the new Ukraine will look towards the West, rather than Russia, but that the Russian speaking population in Ukraine will come under attack from radicals who will attempt to “derussify” them. The prominence of Ukrainian nationalists in the opposition movement gives fodder to these fears. A Russian radio-host Ilias Mercury, for example, tweeted about statements previously made by leader of the Svoboda party Oleh Tyahnibok:

Tyahnibok declared that the Russian language in Ukraine will be made illegal. Clear?

and 

Tyahnibok declared that Russians living in Ukraine will be made “non-citizens of Ukraine.” Clear?

It doesn't matter if such policies will ever come to pass. The very thought of them scares nationalists who feel that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are also Russian.

Some Russians blame Yanukovich for this turn of events. Blogger and publicist Egor Holmogorov wrote [ru] recently that:

Судьба Януковича – великолепный урок всем мелким тиранам, предающим русских. Он мог бы сделать русский язык государственным и править опираясь на русскую половину, которая постепенно стала бы русским большинством. Он предпочел прямо противоположный путь.

Yanukovich's fate is a great lesson for petty tyrants who betray Russians. He could have made the Russian language an official state language and rule relying on the Russian half of the country, which over time would become a Russian majority. He chose an exactly opposite approach.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

In general, language appears to be a major point of contention for nationalists on both sides. In the past couple of days the new opposition controlled Rada has passed several laws, one of which was to repeal of an older law that gave Russian the status of a secondary official language in Ukraine. This led nationalist philosopher and founder of the National Democratic party Konstantin Krylov to proclaim [ru] the new regime “anti-Russian.” Krylov claims that such laws diminish political freedoms and Ukraine, and calls for new policy that would allow Ukrainians to easily acquire Russian citizenship, if they so choose.

Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom also commented on the law repeal, saying [ru] that it fits with their predictions of increased nationalism in Ukraine in the case of an opposition win. S&P also criticized Alexey Navalny for supporting the Ukrainian opposition movement, as it seems contrary to his claims of looking out for the interests of Russians. S&P also published an address to “all Ukrainian Russians,” [ru] in which they call on them to self-organize and create “Russian national organizations,” because, “that's the only way to create a European Ukraine.”

Conservative publicist and radio-show host Dmitry Olshansky, on the other hand, made a more emotional appeal [ru]:

Можно себе представить, что было бы, если бы не было 1941 года, и существовали бы те, кого убили, и их потомки, – а Рада отменила бы идиш в качестве регионального языка.

You can imagine what would happen, if there was no 1941, and all of those who had died and their descendants would now be alive – and the Rada took away the regional status of Yiddish.

Truly, Russian nationalists are vehemently against any kind of ethnic discrimination — unless, of course, they get to be in charge.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

February 23 2014

First Open Heart Surgery in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

The health international network La Chaîne de l’Espoir (The Link of Hope) reports that 7 Congolese children in critical conditions benefited from open heart surgeries [fr] on February 14 in Brazzaville, Congo. With the help of the Congo Assistance Fundation as well, Prince Béni and Maya, both suffering from cardiomyopathy were operated for several hours as told in the following report [fr]:

Elle a dix ans et ne pèse que quinze kilos. Son cœur fonctionne mal. Il l'empêche de s'alimenter et donc de grandir. La petite fille doit être opérée le plus vite possible. L'intervention dure six heures.

(Mayala) is ten years old and weighs fifteen pounds. Her heart is malfunctioning. It prevents her from getting nutrients to all her cells and therefore growing. The girl needed an operation as soon as possible. The procedure took six hours.

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

Equatorial Guinea Moves Closer to Becoming Portuguese Language Country

The door has been opened for Equatorial Guinea to enter the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) despite the orienting principles of the intergovernmental organization which pledge “the primacy of peace, Democracy, the Rule of Law, Human Rights and social justice”. 

The recommendation for the country's entry into the organization (which includes Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and Timor-Leste) was approved unanimously by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs for CPLP, who met in Maputo, Mozambique on February 20, 2014, the eve of UNESCO's International Mother Language Day.

Spanish and French are the official languages of Equatorial Guinea, and Portuguese is now closer to become the third. The country, which has been an Associate Observer of CPLP since 2006, announced a proposal in mid-February for the suspension of the death penalty. This change pleased the diplomatic front of the community as the abolition of capital punishment is one of the conditions for membership. 

However, Equatorial Guinea's “human rights record is particularly concerning”, as highlights writer David Shook in an article published on February 19, one day before CPLP's announcement: 

Under the leadership of Guinean president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, now the longest-serving head of state in Africa, Equatorial Guinea continues to rank among the most corrupt states in the world. 

Shook reports that the most important living writer of the country, Juan Tomás Avila Laurel, has been forced into hiding for his work as an activist. Malabo's security forces threatened him just this week after denying his request for permission to stage “a sit-in protesting a recent wave of police brutality”. Shook stresses:

Juan Tomás Avila Laurel’s safety is currently at risk; he faces dire conditions if captured by Guinean security forces. The international visibility of his situation is an important protection.

He also points to The Human Rights Watch “World Report for 2013“:

Corruption, poverty, and repression continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979. Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while most of the population lives in poverty. Those who question this disparity are branded “enemies.” Despite some areas of relative progress, human rights conditions remain very poor. Arbitrary detention and unfair trials continue to take place, mistreatment of detainees remains commonplace, sometimes rising to the level of torture.

All of this doesn't seem to be relevant now for the representatives of the eight governments that count Portuguese as one of the official languages. The heads of state and government will meet in Dili, Timor-Leste in July to make a decision on Equatorial Guinea's membership. 

“African money #CFA #Malabo”. Photo shared on Flickr by Kaysha (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Reacting to the latest news, the Portuguese chapter of Transparency International, the civic association and corruption watchdog “Transparência e Integridade” (Transparency and Integrity) [pt], tweeted that ”money speaks louder” in the lusophone world. 

Although the government of Portugal had rejected the country's request for membership until now, the relations between the two countries might be changing in times of economic crisis.

Lusomonitor, a website dedicated to the analysis of “lusophone issues” reported [pt] that Equatorial Guinea has injected 133 million euros into Portuguese bank Banif, “helping the Portuguese State to unravel a complicated dossier, which has hindered the fulfillment of the goals of economic and financial adjustment program with the ‘troika'”, composed by the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, civil society organizations have promised to mobilize against the accession [pt] in the coming times.

Check out past Global Voices coverage of Equatorial Guinea, including: 

07 June 2011 – Equatorial Guinea: A Language That Ignores Human Rights
08 June 2012 – Equatorial Guinea: Dictatorship Seeks Entry in Portuguese Language Community

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

Russians Eye Ukrainian Turmoil with Hope, Fear

Iron Maiden's

Heavy metal band Iron Maiden's mascot “Eddie the Head” gets a Ukrainian restyling in this meme. Anonymous image found online.

The latest development in a long running stand-off between the Ukrainian government and opposition, deadly clashes between protesters and riot police erupted near Kiev's Independence Square on Tuesday, February 18. As events unfolded, authorities halted the city subways, barricaded roads, and blocked a major opposition TV channel,  Channel 5 Ukraine [Ukr]. According to recent numbers as many as twenty-five protesters and police have died in the violence, over 200 people have been hospitalized, and over 1,000 have been otherwise injured. The numbers also include journalists and bystanders.

Russian bloggers have been carefully observing these events, so much so that many Russian Internet users have lost interest [Global Voices report] in the Sochi Winter Games in favor of protests on the Maidan. Positive commentary ranges from expressing sympathy for the protesters to demanding that Russia not meddle in Ukrainian internal affairs. At the same time pro-Kremlin bloggers and state-sponsored Russian media outlets have lambasted the protesters as extremists. 

As usual, members of the Russian opposition gave some vicarious analysis of the situation. Journalist Sergei Smirnov, formerly a member of the radical and banned National Bolshevik party, tweeted:

Seriously, 13 wounded armed cops equals urban warfare. That is, this means the opposition has several times more wounded.

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov made the same comparison, lamenting the violence [ru]:

В Киеве продолжаются уличные бои. 9 убитых. 7- гражданских и два милиционера. И все потому что Янукович цепляется за власть и не хочет объявить досрочные выборы.

Urban warfare is continuing in Kiev. 9 killed. 7 civilians and 2 policemen. And all because [President] Yanukovich is hanging on to power and doesn't want to announce snap elections.

Vladimir Milov's second in command at DemVybor party, Kirill Shulika wrote [ru]:

Виноват, естественно, Янукович со своим маниакальным желанием удержать у власти группировку донецких бандитов. Да, можно говорить о вине оппозиции, но есть президент, который просто обязан не допускать этого. А если он уже не в состоянии контролировать ситуацию, ему надо уходить.

Of course Yanukovich is to blame, with his maniacal desire to maintain power for a group of Donetsk bandits. Yes, one can also fault the opposition, but there is a president who simply cannot not allow this [violence]. And if he can no longer control the situation, he should leave.

Some Ukrainians also tweeted in Russian. Singer Oleksandra Koltsova tweeted about the much-discussed split between Ukraine's Russian speaking East and EU-oriented West:

People in the east aren't “for Yanukovich.” They've also been robbed. They are also ready to trade him in for a better candidate, but they need concrete proposals and different faces [in the opposition leadership.]

In the end, though, RuNet discussions of the Ukrainian “problem” should remain online discussions, thinks Russian writer Maxim Kantor [ru]:

Началась украинская гражданская война. [...] Россия не должна участвовать в этой войне. Сегодняшнее украинское правительство дискредитировано, и его призыв о помощи (если будет) нельзя рассматривать как призыв народа. А народ ни о чем не просил.

The Ukrainian civil war has begun. [...] Russia should not participate in this war. The current Ukrainian government has lost credibility, and its call for help (if it happens) should not be seen as the voice of the people. And the people themselves haven't asked for anything.

Vladimir Putin, who reportedly ignored a recent phone-call from President Yanukovich, seems to be on same page.

February 19 2014

Follow the Escalation of Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests Live

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

Protests in Ukraine escalated to a deadly stand-off between hundreds of thousands of citizens and government forces in the evening of February 18. Roads to the city were blocked by authorities, and the metro in Kyiv were stopped. The main opposition TV channel reported being taken off air. Fierce clashes between police and protesters around the main square continued through the night. On February 19, the Kyiv Post reported that at least 25 people are dead and more than 1,000 are injured.

In the morning of February 18, 2014, Ukraine's opposition tried to register a bill in Parliament to bring back the old version of the country's Constitution, one that significantly limits presidential powers. The move was backed by the nearly three-months-old Euromaidan movement, which has been protesting daily in several cities throughout Ukraine demanding that the government of President Viktor Yanukovych step down. 

Ahead of the session, the protesters marched to the Parliament building. When the speaker of the parliament refused to register the bill, clashes broke out between the people and the police. MPs who support President Yanukovych had left the building, while the president himself was nowhere to be found. Police and special forces then stormed Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independance Square), the protesters’ stronghold.

A screencap from Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independance Square] in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Feb. 19, 2014

A screenshot from Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independance Square] in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Feb. 19, 2014

President Yanukovych has made a statement blaming the opposition for the violence and police crackdown. Overnight negotiations between the protesters and the government failed and protesters once again reclaimed Independence Square in Kyiv on February 19.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso released a video statement regarding the latest developments in Ukraine and also tweeted:

Citizens and independent media still turning to Internet tools to cover what is happening on the ground and get the news of the atrocities happening in Ukraine to the rest of the world. Live streams of the clashes and protests from Kyiv are available on several online channels:

RFE/RL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObBHW8XQvUQ
Espreso-TV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Y_LFrMcoEm4
SpilnoTV: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/16555296
HromadskeTV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dh3_1L9XO60
UkrStreamTV: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/16573315, http://www.ustream.tv/channel/17251372

Twitter is also a popular online venue for following updates directly from Kyiv. Global Voices has compiled a list of some of the Twitter accounts with English-language coverage of current events in Ukraine:

https://twitter.com/zeitonline/lists/ukraine
https://twitter.com/ckaratnytsky/lists/ukraine
https://twitter.com/juliacreinhart/lists/ukraine-russia
https://twitter.com/zeynep/lists/ukraine
https://twitter.com/rm867/lists/ukraine-euromaidan

Euromaidan volunteer translators are busier than ever, translating as many updates from the scene of the protests. The most popular blog and Facebook page is that of Maidan Translations:

http://maidantranslations.wordpress.com/
https://www.facebook.com/EuroMaydanTranslations

Updates from the organizers of the protests, dubbed Euromaidan headquarters, can be followed on their Facebook account in English:

https://www.facebook.com/euromaidanpr

February 18 2014

“Bring All the Culprits of Ethnic Cleansing to Justice” Says a CAR Citizen of Muslim and Christian Descent

Here is Moussa Tanko–Tchaibou's take on the ethnic cleansing that is underway in his country, the Central African Republic and what should be done to stop it [fr]:

Je suis centrafricain de confession musulmane avec cette particularité illustrative de la cohésion sociale, celle d’avoir un père de confession musulmane et une mère d’origine chrétienne [..]  Alors que la maison commune est en train de bruler qu’apportent-ils comme contribution afin de mettre fin à cette situation? Rien à part se préparer pour les prochaines échéances électorales, à attiser à distance cette haine contre une certaine catégorie de population [..]  il faudrait que les choses avancent vite, car ne pas traduire les coupables de ces crimes horribles devant la cour pénale internationale laisse la porte ouverte à d’autres massacres.

I am a Central African Republic citizen who happens to be muslim. In what used to be an illustration of the social cohesion of the past in my country, my father is Muslim and my mother is Christian. [..] While the house of Central Africa is now burning, what did that they (political leaders) do to put an end to this situation? Nothing but prepare for the next elections and stir up hatred against a certain group of people [..] The world needs to move quickly (in identifying the culprits), because if we doe not bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to the International Criminal Court rapidly, we will leave the door open for other massacres to occur.

Hayes Brown unpacks why it is important to better understand the two-way atrocities in the region and whether the use of the term genocide in the media is appropriate. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch states that without prompt action, the country will be emptied of its Muslim population [fr]. 

February 17 2014

Nepal Airlines Plane Crashes Killing All 18 On Board

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Soshin Drechsler. CC BY-SA 3.0

A De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter of Nepal Airlines, similar to the aircraft involved in the accident. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Soshin Drechsler. CC BY-SA 3.0

An ill-fated Twin Otter plane crashed on 16 February 2014 killing all 18 on board in the forests of Masine in mid-western Nepal.

The wreckage of the state-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation plane which went missing after 1 p.m. Nepal Standard Time (NST) on Sunday and was found on Monday morning by local youths who had been there to play with the snow, reports Nepali online newspaper Setopati. The aircraft may have hit a mountain, which caused the crash.

Medico, a medical doctor from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), tweeted:

Sad news. What had to happen, got to know the same. All 18 aboard the Nepal Airlines Corporation plane died.

Journalist Bhabasagar Ghimire tweeted an earlier picture of the plane:

On 24 April 2010 the plane was to ferry a patient to Nepalgunj from Jumla airport.

The plane was 43 years old and was carrying 15 passengers and 3 crew members, blog Mysansar reported. Among them were a Danish national and a child. The aeroplane was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014.

Rajan Bhattarai from Germany tweeted:

The weather throughout the country was very bad on the day the plane crashed:

The ones who permitted to fly the plane in such weather should be jailed.

Although being old, the plane had had only one incident of slipping on the runway of Jumla airport on 25 June 1992. The plane was also hijacked by Congress workers 40 years ago to loot the 30 lakhs of Indian rupees (about 4,800 US dollars) that the plane was carrying, reported Mysansar.

The Nepalese aviation industry has seen a huge number of accidents in the recent years, with two fatal plane crashes each year from 2010 to 2012. The European Union has banned all airlines from Nepal to fly into the 28 European nations.

Social media was awash with the news about the crash and condolence messages. Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai tweeted:

Pyasi tweeted:

[They say] a lot of courage is needed to scale Mount Everest. Seems thousand times more courage is needed to travel in a Nepali plane.

Indeed, the air journeys in Nepali skies seem more dangerous with the recent air accidents.

Sudan: Blogger Remains in Detention for Criticizing Presidents

Sudanese blogger and activist Tajeldin Arja has been in detention since his arrest on December 24, 2013 at a joint press conference of the Sudanese and Chadian Presidents in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. Arja, a political activist from North Darfur, interrupted the speaker at the opening session and criticized the two leaders, in what Amnesty International described as an effort to “[hold] them responsible for the atrocities committed in Darfur.”

He was then arrested by security guards, as the video below clearly shows. Local and international human rights organization stated that the 26-year-old blogger is at serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Activists in Sudan have called for a solidarity sit-in before the governmental human rights commission to demand his immediate release. The sit-in will take place on Tuesday, February 18.

Chadian president Idris Deby was on an official two-day visit to Khartoum to discuss peace, security and border issues in the Darfur region with Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir. On the day before his arrest, Arja, who hails from North Darfur, announced on his Facebook account his intention to attend the presidential press conference and confront the audience whom he described as “opportunist leaders.” He called on other activists to do the same and express their “impressions” about the event and its attendees.

Arja's arrest was widely reported on after video footage of the incident — apparently taken by an anonymous attendee from a mobile phone — was uploaded on YouTube. The video shows Arja standing in the front row and shouting criticism at the two presidents. “You want to fool and deceive public opinion!”, he was heard saying to Al-Bashir and Diby. Security guards immediately seized him and can be seen escorting him outside the conference hall. “You can kill us, torture us…” were his last spoken words on the short video. News sources have reported that members of the security service at the conference confiscated the equipment of international journalists and TV channel crewmen at the event and conducted on-site search of their content in anticipation that the arrest might have been caught on camera.

Amnesty International has issued an urgent action appeal calling on Sudanese authorities to charge Arja with a recognizable criminal offense or to release him without delay, warning that he remains under serious risk of torture and other forms of mistreatment. The organization emphasized that Arja was one of the victims of their ill-fated policies surrounding the conflict in Darfur:

Tajeldin Ahmed Arja is from North Darfur. He was displaced with his family during the early years of the Darfur conflict. Since then, he has reportedly become critical of the Sudanese government and has written and blogged about the situation in Darfur.

Independent online newspaper Al-Taghyeer [ar] reported that a close relative of Arja, who was able to visit him in prison, said that the blogger was held in solitary confinement and was subjected to systematic and continuous beating and torture:

وقال المصدر للـ (التغيير الالكترونية) إن علامات الاعياء والتعذيب ظهرت بوضوح علي المعتقل الذي قال انه ظل يتعرض منذ اعتقاله “لعمليات تعذيب متواصلة توقفت قبل الزيارة بيومين”. وقال عرجة، انه وضع طوال مدة اعتقاله في “حبس إنفرادي وتم تحويله قبل ايام لسجن كوبر في معتقل جماعي”.

وابلغت السلطات اسرة عرجه انها لن تتمكن من مقابلته إلا بعد مرور خمسة عشر يوما علي مدة الزيارة الاولي.

The source has told Al-Taghyeer Online that signs of fatigue and exhaustion were visible on [Tajeldهn] Arja, who said that he has been subjected to “continuous torture since his arrest that only stopped two days before the visit”. Arja said that he was put under solitary confinement during all his detention, and was only transferred days ago to Kober Prison.

A Blow to Government Rhetoric

Blogger and activist leader Amjed Farid wrote a blog post putting Arja's arrest in the context of that state of freedom of expression in Sudan and the upcoming 2015 presidential elections:

It is not only the case of Tajeldin Arja although it is enough to make the point. Sudan government keeps a very harsh censorship on daily newspapers with three of them (Almidan, Rai Alsha’ab and Altayar) prohibited from printing for almost three years now without any official reasons (the first two are official publications of legally registered parties). Moreover, during September and October last year, the regime detained hundreds of politicians and activists from their homes and the reason was their political views and stands. The detention was the easy part of that, others hundreds were killed in the streets in cold blood for demonstrating against price raise and economic measures in September 2013.

The youth movement Sudan Change Now has called on its Facebook page [ar] for the activism community in Sudan to hold a peaceful sit-in on February 18, 2014, in front of the government-run Human Rights Commission (HRC) to demand the immediate release of Arja.

Observers have argued that Al-Bashir's failure to issue an executive order to release all political detainees renders the government's new language of open dialogue, reform and reconciliation “empty rhetoric”, as Tajeldin Arja and many other activists languish in prisons while the perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations enjoy impunity.

Will Fiji Become Australia's New Best Friend?

A visit by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to Fiji has caused much speculation about the future of Australian's relations with that Pacific islands nation. On 15 February 2014, she met with Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama who has been in charge of the military-backed government since a coup in late 2006.

Many have been left wondering what secrets their pleasant exchange might be hiding:

PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop

PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop
Fiji Ministry of Information's Facebook Photos

Her visit received a mixed reception on twitter. Ron Cato seems content with developments:

Martin John Carter definitely favours the change:

But others are antagonistic:

Greg Ross suspects a connection with Australia’s asylum seekers policies:

Keith Jackson who blogs at PNG Attitude has his own ideas about Australia’s motives:

Keith also retweeted this addition to the asylum seeker theorizing:

At Pacific Scoop, Scott MacWilliam wonders about how easily old foes might be reconciled if there are democratic elections in Fiji:

Despite all their previous rhetoric about the need for Fiji to return to democracy, would Australia (and New Zealand) accept an electoral victory by their erstwhile enemy, no matter how this is achieved?

In the event of Commodore Bainimarama making a successful transition to elected prime minister, could he make a trip to Australia, and be photographed alongside Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Bishop and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison? Would the picture be attached to an account of how Fiji has now agreed to establish a detention centre, paid for by Australia with employment for surplus to requirements Fiji military personnel?

The Fiji Labour Party opposition has election concerns as well:

As might be expected from the name, Fijileaks is very unimpressed by the thaw in relations:

At their link, they have some advice based on the foreign minister’s reported remarks:

The Gullible Her Holiness “Bishop”: “At the meeting, Commodore Bainimarama discussed the election process, and indicated he was prepared for whatever role resulted, even if he were to lose the prime ministership”.
Fijileaks Editor to Bishop: “Oh, Yeah, Dream On!”

Fijian lawyer Richard Naidu has a dream of his own:

February 15 2014

Blood on the Ice, Fury on the Tubes

Vladimir Putin sees all of your shenanigans.

Vladimir Putin sees all of your shenanigans. Image mixed by Kevin Rothrock and Andrey Tselikov.

Drama is never far behind when the Russian and the USA national hockey teams meet on the ice. The latest match-up at the Sochi Olympics, where US won 3-2 in a series of shootouts, was no different. While Americans celebrated, Russian fans were incensed by what they view as an unfair loss — late in the game the Russians scored a third goal that was nullified by the referees according to IHF rules, because one of the US goal-posts was slightly dislodged. Arguably it was this call that cost the Russians their victory.

“There was a goal! Even we saw it.” says a Russian cosmonaut. Anonymous image found online.

The goal's position was so slightly out of kilter that most people watching the game did not notice it. Confusion over the reasons for nullification quickly turned to anger and conspiracy theories, fed by the fact that the referee was an American national. The Twitter account of the liberal cable channel Rain-TV tweeted:

By the way, the referee who didn't count the third puck in the American goal, because the American goalie moved the goal-post, is also American

The implication here being that while the IOC maintains that judges “don't have nationalities,” the American referee somehow chose to overlook the Russian goal to help “his” team. In a way, the outrage has united Russians from opposite sides of the political spectrum like few other things have in the past. Pro-Kremlin MP Maria Kozhevnikova also tweeted [ru] that the American goalie moved the post himself, while opposition MP Dmitry Gudkov couldn't believe that the referee is American, calling the fact “crazy [ru].” Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom noted that in a way, the game reflects Russia's weakness on the international arena [ru] — first the Russians let Americans judge their game, and then they complain about the results, rather than questioning the entire setup.

Some chose to vent their frustration with outgoing US ambassador Michael McFaul, who was cheering the US team on Twitter. After McFaul tweeted “Victory!”, someone replied

@McFaul the American referee cheated, when he nullified the goal. Is this a national trait ?

To which McFaul responded with an exasperated “Come on man!” McFaul's defensiveness showed when he took seriously an obviously jocular tweet that was parodying the conspiracy theorists:

Ive seen it all now! RT@vdzyubenko The DC bosses and @McFaul stole our victory ))

Russia is still in the running for hockey gold, although the going will get harder now. And in the end, blaming the referee is a time honored tradition in both countries. Let's hope that Vladimir Putin, a hockey fan, doesn't take this loss as seriously as some memes imagine:

Putin over-reacts to Russia's hockey loss.

Putin over-reacts to Russia's hockey loss.

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