Tag Archives: asia

India exits Recession.

Advertisements

The government has forecast economic growth of 11 percent in the 2021-22 financial year, in line with the International Monetary Fund’s prediction of 11.5 percent.

India’s economy grew 0.4 percent year-on-year in the final quarter of 2020, official data showed Friday, ending its first recession since independence as easing coronavirus restrictions sparked a modest recovery.

The country has struggled to claw back lost ground after a stringent, months-long lockdown caused the labour market to collapse and the economy to contract by nearly a quarter between April and June.

India entered a “technical recession” last year for the first time since gaining independence in 1947 after registering two successive quarters of contraction. The government now estimates annual GDP will fall eight percent in 2020-21.

Advertisements

The latest figures, which fell shy of the expectations of a Bloomberg survey of economists pegging growth at 0.5 percent, will nonetheless bring some cheer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s beleaguered government.

Key sectors such as construction and manufacturing showed an improvement compared to the same quarter last year, Friday’s data revealed.

Advertisements

And in January car sales in the bellwether automobile sector increased by more than 11 percent compared to a year earlier, according to industry figures.

Restrictions have been relaxed as coronavirus infections have slowed in the country of 1.3 billion in recent weeks, allowing economic activity to resume.

But the government still faces the tough task of creating enough jobs for India’s overwhelmingly young population, as millions of migrant workers make their way back to cities, reversing a massive exodus sparked by the lockdown.

Advertisements

“We can’t say we are completely out of the woods,” Mumbai-based economist Ashutosh Datar told AFP.

“The real test would be what happens next financial year. Today’s number is not a major surprise,” he said.

The government has forecast economic growth of 11 percent in the 2021-22 financial year, in line with the International Monetary Fund’s prediction of 11.5 percent.

But experts have warned that India, whose tally of 11.1 million infections is second only to the United States, could experience another wave and be hit by new variants of the virus, as has happened in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.

Advertisements

The financial and film capital of Mumbai imposed fresh pandemic restrictions on Monday, banning religious gatherings and political rallies after infections spiked to levels last seen in October.

New Delhi is hoping that the economy will get a further boost from a massive vaccination drive that kicked off last month but which is already running behind schedule, with 12.2 million shots administered so far to health workers and other frontline staff.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Two anti-coup protesters killed hours after first death.

Advertisements

One woman received a head wound from a rubber bullet and emergency workers quickly administered first aid to her.

Myanmar’s security forces fired live rounds and rubber bullets at protesters in the country’s second-largest city on Saturday, leaving at least two dead and about 30 injured.

Advertisements

Much of the country has been in uproar since the military deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup on February 1, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets to protest against the junta.

On Saturday, hundreds of police and soldiers gathered at Yadanarbon shipyard in Mandalay, by the Irrawaddy river.

Advertisements

Their presence sparked fears among nearby residents that authorities would try to arrest workers for taking part in the anti-coup movement.

Banging pots and pans in what has become a signature gesture of defiance, protesters started yelling at the police to leave and throwing rocks at them.

But officers opened fire with live rounds, rubber bullets and slingshot balls, dispersing the alarmed protesters.

Advertisements

“Two people were killed,” said Hlaing Min Oo, the head of a Mandalay-based volunteer emergency rescue team, adding that one of the victims was a boy shot in the head.

“About 30 others were injured half of the injured people were shot with live rounds.”

The rest were wounded from rubber bullets and slingshots, he said.

Another emergency worker on the scene confirmed the two deaths.

Advertisements

“Two people died,” he told AFP, declining to be named for fear of repercussions. “One under-18 boy got shot in his head.”

Graphic video circulated on Facebook of the boy splayed on the ground and bleeding from his head as one bystander placed a hand on his chest to feel for a heartbeat.

Advertisements

‘Shooting cruelly’

Around the shipyard and its surrounding neighbourhood, empty bullet cartridges were found on the ground, as well as slingshot ammunition including metal balls.

One woman received a head wound from a rubber bullet and emergency workers quickly administered first aid to her.

A Facebook video streamed live by a resident on the scene appeared to carry non-stop sounds of gunshots.

Advertisements

“They are shooting cruelly,” said the resident, who appeared to be taking shelter on a nearby construction site.

“We have to find a safer place.”

Authorities have arrested hundreds of people since the putsch in early February, many of them civil servants who had been boycotting work as part of a civil disobedience campaign.

Police and soldiers in some cities have deployed tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to tackle demonstrators.

Advertisements

There have been isolated incidents of live rounds being fired.

An anti-coup protester who was shot in the head during a February 9 demonstration in Naypyidaw died on Friday. Her doctors had confirmed to AFP that her injury was from a live bullet.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Iran to host UN Chief ahead sanctions deadline.

Advertisements

The former president withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018, while Iran started the next year to suspend its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.

UN nuclear watchdog head Rafael Grossi was to open talks Saturday in Iran on the eve of Tehran’s deadline for US sanctions to be lifted, as President Joe Biden called for “careful diplomacy”.

The deadline, set by Iranian lawmakers, carries the threat of a suspension of some nuclear inspections, stoking international concern about a possible expulsion of UN inspectors.

Advertisements

But Iran has stressed it will not cease working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or expel its inspectors.

Iran and the IAEA have yet to release details on the visit by the UN body’s chief Grossi that runs into Sunday.

He will “meet with senior Iranian officials to find a mutually agreeable solution, compatible with Iranian law, so that the @iaeaorg can continue essential verification activities in Iran”, Grossi wrote Friday on Twitter.

Advertisements

“Looking forward to success – this is in everybody’s interest,” he added.

Iran has notified the IAEA that it will suspend “voluntary transparency measures”, notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity, if the United States has not lifted the sweeping sanctions former president Donald Trump reimposed in 2018.

The new measures are to go into effect on Tuesday.

Iran’s atomic body spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said last week that talks with Grossi will focus on how to cease “voluntary actions beyond safeguard (measures) and how to continue cooperation”.

Advertisements

‘Diplomatic back-and-forth’

The visit comes in the wake of Biden’s call on Friday for European powers to work together to curb Iran’s “destabilising” activities, a day after committing to rejoin talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Biden told the Munich Security Conference that the United States would work closely with allies in dealing with Iran after his predecessor Trump took an aggressive unilateral approach.

Advertisements

“The threat of nuclear proliferation also continues to require careful diplomacy and cooperation among us,” Biden told fellow leaders via teleconference.

“That’s why we have said we’re prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said, referring to the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany.

Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments on condition that Washington does so first by lifting the sanctions reimposed by Trump that have dealt a heavy blow to Iran’s economy.

Advertisements

Following an offer for talks by the Biden administration, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Friday that Iran would “immediately reverse” its retaliatory measures if the US lifts “all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labelled by Trump”.

The former president withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018, while Iran started the next year to suspend its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.

In an opening gesture, the Biden administration has dropped a push for more sanctions crafted by Trump, and removed restrictions on Iranian diplomats accredited to the United Nations in New York.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei on Saturday stressed that Tehran’s latest nuclear move will not prevent it from responding to any US show of goodwill, and expressed optimism regarding the ongoing diplomatic process.

Advertisements

It is “neither against our (deal) commitments nor an obstacle for proportionate and appropriate response to any US action to prove (its) goodwill,” he wrote in an op-ed on Iran daily.

“We can confidently predict that diplomatic initiatives will work well (to achieve) the desired outcome, despite diplomatic back-and-forths, which are the natural prelude to the return of all sides to commitments including the lifting of all sanctions in the near future,” he added.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Flood rocks Indonesia capital, Jakarta

Advertisements

Jakarta, a megalopolis that is home to around 30 million people, is frequently hit by floods in the rainy season.

Whole neighbourhoods of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and dozens of major roads were flooded on Saturday after torrential rains pounded the Southeast Asian city overnight.

Advertisements

More than 1,300 residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters, with parts of the capital under four to nine feet (1.2 to 2.7 metres) of water.

Images showed rescuers on rafts battling to evacuate the elderly and children from submerged houses in hard-hit southern and eastern areas of the city, and dozens of cars were seen submerged on waterlogged streets.

National rescue agency spokesman Yusuf Latif said the floods were triggered by extreme downpours.

Advertisements

“The rainfall intensity is very high due to extreme weather in Jakarta and it’s been raining since yesterday night,” Latif told AFP.

“Our top priority is children as well as infants and the elderly.”

No casualties have been reported so far, he added.

Jakarta, a megalopolis that is home to around 30 million people, is frequently hit by floods in the rainy season.

Advertisements

The city saw some of its deadliest flooding in years in January last year after downpours that also triggered landslides.

At least 67 people in Jakarta and nearby cities were killed in that disaster, with the floodwaters reaching the second floor of some buildings after rivers burst their banks.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Hushpuppi ‘linked’ to North Korean money laundering, robbery.

Advertisements

The Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI has linked Instagram celebrity, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, a.k.a Hushpuppi, to North Korean hackers said to be the biggest bank robbers in the world.

The Justice Department in a detailed statement released on Friday, February 19, alleged that Hushpuppi took part in a “North Korean-perpetrated cyber-enabled heist from a Maltese bank in February 2019.”

Advertisements

According to the statement, his role was as a collaborator with a North Korean money launderer, Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

“Alaumary agreed to plead guilty to the charge, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2020.

“Alaumary was a prolific money launderer for hackers engaged in ATM cash-out schemes, cyber-enabled bank heists, business email compromise (BEC) schemes, and other online fraud schemes. Alaumary is also being prosecuted for his involvement in a separate BEC scheme by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.

“With respect to the North Korean co-conspirators’ activities, Alaumary organized teams of co-conspirators in the United States and Canada to launder millions of dollars obtained through ATM cash-out operations, including from BankIslami and a bank in India in 2018.

“Alaumary also conspired with Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, aka “Ray Hushpuppi,” and others to launder funds from a North Korean-perpetrated cyber-enabled heist from a Maltese bank in February 2019”the statement read

Hushpuppi was arrested in Dubai in June 2020, and extradited to the US where he is being charged by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles with conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from “business email compromise” (BEC) frauds and other scams.

His trial was to have commenced late last year, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advertisements

Read the full US Justice Department statement on Hushpuppi’s alleged involvement with the three North Korean military hackers

A federal indictment unsealed today charges three North Korean computer programmers with participating in a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to conduct a series of destructive cyberattacks, to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion of money and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and companies, to create and deploy multiple malicious cryptocurrency applications, and to develop and fraudulently market a blockchain platform.

A second case unsealed today revealed that a Canadian-American citizen has agreed to plead guilty in a money laundering scheme and admitted to being a high-level money launderer for multiple criminal schemes, including ATM “cash-out” operations and a cyber-enabled bank heist orchestrated by North Korean hackers.

“As laid out in today’s indictment, North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“The Department will continue to confront malicious nation state cyber activity with our unique tools and work with our fellow agencies and the family of norms abiding nations to do the same.”

“Today’s unsealed indictment expands upon the FBI’s 2018 charges for the unprecedented cyberattacks conducted by the North Korean regime,” said the FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate.

“The ongoing targeting, compromise, and cyber-enabled theft by North Korea from global victims was met with the outstanding, persistent investigative efforts of the FBI in close collaboration with U.S. and foreign partners. By arresting facilitators, seizing funds, and charging those responsible for the hacking conspiracy, the FBI continues to impose consequences and hold North Korea accountable for its/their criminal cyber activity.”

“The scope of the criminal conduct by the North Korean hackers was extensive and long-running, and the range of crimes they have committed is staggering,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison for the Central District of California.

“The conduct detailed in the indictment are the acts of a criminal nation-state that has stopped at nothing to extract revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime.”

“This case is a particularly striking example of the growing alliance between officials within some national governments and highly sophisticated cyber-criminals,” said U.S. Secret Service Assistant Director Michael R. D’Ambrosio.

“The individuals indicted today committed a truly unprecedented range of financial and cyber-crimes: from ransomware attacks and phishing campaigns, to digital bank heists and sophisticated money laundering operations. With victims strewn across the globe, this case shows yet again that the challenge of cybercrime is, and will continue to be, a struggle that can only be won through partnerships, perseverance, and a relentless focus on holding criminals accountable.”

The hacking indictment filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles alleges that Jon Chang Hyok (???), 31; Kim Il (??), 27; and Park Jin Hyok (???), 36, were members of units of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), a military intelligence agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which engaged in criminal hacking. These North Korean military hacking units are known by multiple names in the cybersecurity community, including Lazarus Group and Advanced Persistent Threat 38 (APT38). Park was previously charged in a criminal complaint unsealed in September 2018.

The indictment alleges a broad array of criminal cyber activities undertaken by the conspiracy, in the United States and abroad, for revenge or financial gain. The schemes alleged include:

Cyberattacks on the Entertainment Industry: The destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November 2014 in retaliation for “The Interview,” a movie that depicted a fictional assassination of the DPRK’s leader; the December 2014 targeting of AMC Theatres, which was scheduled to show the film; and a 2015 intrusion into Mammoth Screen, which was producing a fictional series involving a British nuclear scientist taken prisoner in DPRK.

Cyber-Enabled Heists from Banks: Attempts from 2015 through 2019 to steal more than $1.2 billion from banks in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico, Malta, and Africa by hacking the banks’ computer networks and sending fraudulent Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) messages.

Cyber-Enabled ATM Cash-Out Thefts: Thefts through ATM cash-out schemes – referred to by the U.S. government as “FASTCash” – including the October 2018 theft of $6.1 million from BankIslami Pakistan Limited (BankIslami).

Ransomware and Cyber-Enabled Extortion: Creation of the destructive WannaCry 2.0 ransomware in May 2017, and the extortion and attempted extortion of victim companies from 2017 through 2020 involving the theft of sensitive data and deployment of other ransomware.

Creation and Deployment of Malicious Cryptocurrency Applications: Development of multiple malicious cryptocurrency applications from March 2018 through at least September 2020 – including Celas Trade Pro, WorldBit-Bot, iCryptoFx, Union Crypto Trader, Kupay Wallet, CoinGo Trade, Dorusio, CryptoNeuro Trader, and Ants2Whale – which would provide the North Korean hackers a backdoor into the victims’ computers.

Targeting of Cryptocurrency Companies and Theft of Cryptocurrency: Targeting of hundreds of cryptocurrency companies and the theft of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency, including $75 million from a Slovenian cryptocurrency company in December 2017; $24.9 million from an Indonesian cryptocurrency company in September 2018; and $11.8 million from a financial services company in New York in August 2020 in which the hackers used the malicious CryptoNeuro Trader application as a backdoor.

Spear-Phishing Campaigns: Multiple spear-phishing campaigns from March 2016 through February 2020 that targeted employees of United States cleared defense contractors, energy companies, aerospace companies, technology companies, the U.S.Department of State, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Marine Chain Token and Initial Coin Offering: Development and marketing in 2017 and 2018 of the Marine Chain Token to enable investors to purchase fractional ownership interests in marine shipping vessels, supported by a blockchain, which would allow the DPRK to secretly obtain funds from investors, control interests in marine shipping vessels, and evade U.S. sanctions.

According to the allegations contained in the hacking indictment, which was filed on Dec. 8, 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and unsealed today, the three defendants were members of units of the RGB who were at times stationed by the North Korean government in other countries, including China and Russia. While these defendants were part of RGB units that have been referred to by cybersecurity researchers as Lazarus Group and APT38, the indictment alleges that these groups engaged in a single conspiracy to cause damage, steal data and money, and otherwise further the strategic and financial interests of the DPRK government and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

Money Launderer Charged in California and Georgia

Federal prosecutors today also unsealed a charge against Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, for his role as a money launderer for the North Korean conspiracy, among other criminal schemes. Alaumary agreed to plead guilty to the charge, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2020. Alaumary was a prolific money launderer for hackers engaged in ATM cash-out schemes, cyber-enabled bank heists, business email compromise (BEC) schemes, and other online fraud schemes. Alaumary is also being prosecuted for his involvement in a separate BEC scheme by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.

With respect to the North Korean co-conspirators’ activities, Alaumary organized teams of co-conspirators in the United States and Canada to launder millions of dollars obtained through ATM cash-out operations, including from BankIslami and a bank in India in 2018. Alaumary also conspired with Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, aka “Ray Hushpuppi,” and others to launder funds from a North Korean-perpetrated cyber-enabled heist from a Maltese bank in February 2019. Last summer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles charged Abbas in a separate case alleging that he conspired to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from BEC frauds and other scams.

Accompanying Mitigation Efforts

Throughout the investigation, the FBI and the Justice Department provided specific information to victims about how they had been targeted or compromised, as well as information about the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by the hackers with the goals of remediating any intrusion and preventing future intrusions. That direct sharing of information took place in the United States and in foreign countries, often with the assistance of foreign law enforcement partners. The FBI also collaborated with certain private cybersecurity companies by sharing and analyzing information about the intrusion TTPs used by the members of the conspiracy.

In addition to the criminal charges, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Treasury, today released a joint cybersecurity advisory and malware analysis reports (MARs) regarding North Korean cryptocurrency malware. The joint cybersecurity analysis and MARs highlight the cyber threat North Korea – which is referred to by the U.S. government as HIDDEN COBRA – poses to cryptocurrency and identify malware and indicators of compromise related to the “AppleJeus” family of malware (the name given by the cybersecurity community to a family of North Korean malicious cryptocurrency applications that includes Celas Trade Pro, WorldBit-Bot, Union Crypto Trader, Kupay Wallet, CoinGo Trade, Dorusio, CryptoNeuro Trader, and Ants2Whale). The joint cybersecurity advisory and MARs collectively provide the cybersecurity community and public with information about identifying North Korean malicious cryptocurrency applications, avoiding intrusions, and remedying infections.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI also obtained seizure warrants authorizing the FBI to seize cryptocurrency stolen by the North Korean hackers from a victim in the indictment – a financial services company in New York – held at two cryptocurrency exchanges. The seizures include sums of multiple cryptocurrencies totalling approximately $1.9 million, which will ultimately be returned to the victim.

Jon, Kim, and Park are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

In relation to the case filed in Los Angeles, Alaumary has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation of Jon, Kim, and Park was led by the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, which worked closely with the FBI’s Charlotte Field Office. The U.S. Secret Service’s Los Angeles Field Office and Global Investigative Operations Center provided substantial assistance. The FBI’s Cyber Division also provided substantial assistance.

The investigations of Alaumary were conducted by the U.S. Secret Service’s Savannah Field Office, FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, and the U.S. Secret Service’s Los Angeles Field Office and Global Investigative Operations Center. The FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division also provided substantial assistance.

The case against Jon, Kim, and Park is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anil J. Antony and Khaldoun Shobaki of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section, with substantial assistance from Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Antony and Shobaki are also prosecuting the case against Alaumary, in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia and the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) provided substantial assistance. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Antony and Shobaki, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Galatzan of the Asset Forfeiture Section, also obtained the seizure warrants for cryptocurrency stolen from the financial services company in New York.

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance throughout these investigations, as did many of the FBI’s Legal Attachés, as well as foreign authorities around the world. Numerous victims cooperated and provided valuable assistance.”

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Indonesia volcano sprews red-hot lava.

Advertisements

Nearby residents were told to avoid the area within a five-kilometre radius of the crater and were warned about the lava as well as airborne volcanic material.

Indonesia’s Mount Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted on Friday, belching out fiery red lava.

The volcano, close to Indonesia’s cultural capital Yogyakarta on Java island, had already spewed lava almost two dozen times over the two last days and caused hundreds of minor volcanic quakes, according to a report by Indonesia’s geological agency.

“This morning, lava avalanches were observed seven times,” the agency said, with the lava travelling up to 700 metres to the southwest.

Advertisements

However, an official warning over the status of the volcano was unchanged at its second-highest level, where it has remained since November last year.

Nearby residents were told to avoid the area within a five-kilometre radius of the crater and were warned about the lava as well as airborne volcanic material.

Last month, the volcano spewed huge clouds of smoke and ash that billowed down its sides.

Mount Merapi’s last major eruption in 2010 killed more than 300 people and forced the evacuation of around 280,000 residents from surrounding areas.

Advertisements

That was its most powerful eruption since 1930 when around 1,300 people were killed, while another explosion in 1994 took about 60 lives.

The Southeast Asian archipelago nation has nearly 130 active volcanoes.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Kim’s wife makes first public appearance after 1-year.

Advertisements

Kim has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases, although outside experts doubt those assertions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s wife made her first public appearance in over a year, state media reported Wednesday, after speculation her absence could be coronavirus-related, or because of a potential pregnancy.

Advertisements

Ri Sol Ju, believed to be in her early 30s, joined her husband at a concert commemorating the birthday of his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il.

The anniversary celebrating the second member of the Kim dynasty to lead the now nuclear-armed North Korea is known as the Day of the Shining Star and is one of the country’s most important public holidays.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos of the couple smiling broadly and applauding the performers at the Mansudae Art Theatre in Pyongyang.

“As the General Secretary came to the auditorium of the theatre together with his wife Ri Sol Ju amid the welcome music, all the participants burst into thunderous cheers of ‘Hurrah!’” the official KCNA news agency reported.

Advertisements

None of the audience members or performers wore facemasks in the pictures.

Ri was last seen in January 2020 at an event for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Advertisements

Her extended absence prompted questions over her health, whether she might be in seclusion to avoid any risk of coronavirus infection, or pregnant — the couple are believed to have three children.

This picture taken on February 16, 2021 released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 17 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (L) watching a performance for celebrating the birth anniversary of Chairman Kim Jong Il at the Mansudae Art Theatre in Pyongyang. (Photo by STR / various sources / AFP) / – South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT /

The impoverished country has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year, to try to protect itself from the pandemic that has swept the world since first emerging in neighbouring China.

Kim has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases, although outside experts doubt those assertions.

Advertisements

Wednesday’s report and photos came a day after South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that Ri was “playing well with her kids”, and was refraining from public activities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Before her lengthy absence, Ri joined her husband on numerous “field guidance trips” and for meetings with foreign leaders, including the South’s President Moon Jae-in and China’s Xi Jinping.

“Because of Covid, no foreign leaders made visits to the North last year, nor was Kim able to make such trips that would require his wife’s attendance,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.

“It looks like Ri just focused on raising her kids, ensuring they are safe and well.”

Advertisements

A former star singer, Ri, believed to be in her early 30s, emerged into the public eye in 2012.

She is regarded as one of the most high-profile women in the isolated, deeply patriarchal nation, alongside her husband’s sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Driver, 38 others dead as bus dives into canal.

Advertisements

High-speed vehicles jostling with motorbikes, pedestrians and cyclists combine with poor infrastructure and poorly maintained vehicles to make India’s roads treacherous.

Thirty-nine people were killed Tuesday when a bus plunged into a deep canal in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, officials said, with seven others managing to swim to safety.

Advertisements

The accident happened when the bus, which was carrying more than 50 passengers, veered off a bridge and crashed into the 30-feet (9.1-metre) deep canal in Sidhi district early on Tuesday morning.

It was unclear what caused the bus to swerve, but India’s vast network of roads is poorly maintained and notoriously dangerous.

Advertisements

Local media reported the bus was completely submerged, and images showed officials in orange life jackets using rescue boats to look for survivors.

Officials said the driver and six others swam to safety. Several other people remain missing.

“The death toll in the bus accident has risen to 39,” district magistrate Ravindra Kumar Choudhary told reporters.

Advertisements

Sixteen women and a child, whose age was not released, were among the dead. Some of the men who died were on their way to an employment exam for a job at Indian Railways.

The state government has ordered an inquiry.

An initial investigation suggested the driver lost control of the privately-owned bus, reports said. The vehicle then hit the boundary of the bridge before crashing into the water.

Local officials stopped the release of water into the canal, which sped up rescue operations by divers and allowed cranes to pull the blue bus out.

Advertisements

Treacherous roads
The Times of India newspaper quoted sources saying it took three hours to lift the vehicle out.

Images showed bodies lined up on the banks of the canal as distraught relatives hugged each other and cried.

Advertisements

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office tweeted that the families of those killed in the “horrific” accident would receive 200,000 rupees ($2,750) in compensation.

Onlookers stand along a canal as rescue teams search for survivors after a bus plunged into a canal killing at least 37 passengers, in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh state on February 16, 2021. (Photo by Uma Shankar MISHRA / AFP)

“The entire state is standing with those affected,” Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said in a video message.

High-speed vehicles jostling with motorbikes, pedestrians and cyclists combine with poor infrastructure and poorly maintained vehicles to make India’s roads treacherous.

Advertisements

In 2019 more than 150,000 people died — 410 every day or 17 an hour — in almost half a million accidents, according to the government.

The United States sees nearly five times more accidents than India every year but the number of deaths in India is four times higher, according to the Times of India.

The main causes are excessive speed, not wearing helmets — sales of two-wheelers far outstrip those of cars — and not using seatbelts.

Earlier this month, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari inaugurated Road Safety Month, saying that the government aimed to halve road deaths and accidents by 2025.

Advertisements

In the same month an out-of-control dumper truck crushed 15 people to death as they slept by the roadside in the western state of Gujarat.

The dead included a baby girl, eight women and six men. The truck collided with a tractor carrying sugarcane just after midnight at a crossroads.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

COVID-19: South Korea says North Korea ‘tried to hack’ Pfizer vaccine.

Advertisements

The North is also accused of a huge, $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank, as well as the theft of $60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank.

North Korean hackers tried to break into the computer systems of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in a search for information on a coronavirus vaccine and treatment technology, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, according to reports.

Advertisements

The impoverished, nuclear-armed North has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year to try to protect itself from the virus that first emerged in neighbouring China and has gone on to sweep the world, killing more than two million people.

Leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases, although outside experts doubt those assertions.

Advertisements

And the closure has added to the pressure on its tottering economy from international sanctions imposed over its banned weapons systems, increasing the urgency for Pyongyang to find a way to deal with the disease.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service “briefed us that North Korea tried to obtain technology involving the Covid vaccine and treatment by using cyberwarfare to hack into Pfizer”, MP Ha Tae-keung told reporters after a parliamentary hearing behind closed doors.

This picture taken on February 11, 2021 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 12, 2021 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a performance celebrating the Lunar New Year in North Korea.

North Korea is known to operate an army of thousands of well-trained hackers who have attacked firms, institutions and researchers in the South and elsewhere.

Advertisements

Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, developed jointly with Germany’s BioNTech, began winning approval from authorities late last year.

It is based on technology that uses the synthetic version of a molecule called “messenger RNA” to hack into human cells and effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.

Pfizer says it expects to potentially deliver up to 2 billion doses in 2021.

The company’s South Korean office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by AFP.

Advertisements

Both it and BioNTech said in December that documents relating to their vaccine were “unlawfully accessed” during a cyberattack on a server at the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s medicine regulator.

The comments came after the Amsterdam-based EMA said it had been the victim of a hacking attack, without specifying when it took place or whether its work on Covid-19 was targeted.

Advertisements

Cyber-heists
The allegations come only a week after a confidential UN report seen by AFP said North Korea had stolen more than $300 million worth of cryptocurrencies through cyberattacks in recent months to support its weapons programmes.

Financial institutions and exchanges were hacked to generate revenue for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development, the document said, with the vast majority of the proceeds coming from two thefts late last year.

Pyongyang’s cyberwarfare abilities first came to global prominence in 2014 when it was accused of hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment as revenge for “The Interview”, a satirical film that mocked leader Kim.

Advertisements

The attack resulted in the posting of several unreleased movies as well as a vast trove of confidential documents online.

The North is also accused of a huge, $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank, as well as the theft of $60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank.

Pyongyang’s hackers were blamed for the 2017 WannaCry global ransomware cyberattack, which infected some 300,000 computers in 150 nations, encrypting user files and demanding hundreds of dollars from their owners for the keys to get them back.

Pyongyang has denied the accusations, saying it has “nothing to do with cyber-attacks”.

Advertisements

Nuclear talks between it and Washington have been stalled since a summit between Kim and then-president Donald Trump in February 2019 broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

North Korea showed off several new missiles at military parades in October and last month when Kim pledged to strengthen his nuclear arsenal.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Dozens of oil tanker blast triggers inferno on Afghanistan-Iran border.

Advertisements

Afghanistan has received waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran despite US sanctions.

Dozens of oil and gas tankers carrying millions of dollars’ worth of fuel caught fire on Saturday, creating an inferno at Afghanistan’s biggest trade crossing with Iran, officials said.

The blaze broke out in the early afternoon at Islam Qala port, 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the western city of Herat, engulfing the tankers that were parked nearby after crossing the border.

Advertisements

“There were between 200 and 300 fuel tankers there and we managed to save some, but most have been engulfed and the fire is so huge that nobody can get to within even a kilometre of it,” said Younus Qazi Zada, head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce.

“The initial estimate is of millions of dollars of losses, but we have to wait until the fire is extinguished for a proper assessment of damage.”

At least 17 people have been taken to hospital, some of them with serious burns, said Ibrahim Mohammadi, head of the Herat ambulance service.

A security forces personnel walks amidst wreckage of gas tankers after a fire accident at Islam Qala on the outskirts of Herat, in the border between Afghanistan and Iran on February 14, 2021. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI / AFP)

Jailani Farhad, the spokesman for the governor of Herat province, said dozens of tankers were ablaze.

Advertisements

“We don’t have the required facilities to contain it, so through the foreign ministry, we have asked the government of Iran to help us contain the fire,” he said.

The cause of the fire was unknown, he added.
Advertisements

Videos posted on social media show towering flames and huge clouds of thick black smoke billowing into the sky.

Around 60 percent of Herat province was without power as a result of the fire, Afghan energy company DABS said.

Islam Qala is one of the major ports in Afghanistan, through which most official trade with Iran is conducted.

Advertisements

Afghanistan has received waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran despite US sanctions.

Iran foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the border “was held open for trucks, cars and people running from the fire” towards Iran.

He added that authorities from both countries were helping to tackle the blaze.

Taking advantage of the situation, Taliban insurgents attacked a nearby security post after the blaze broke out, Farhad added.

Advertisements

Afghanistan has been hit by a surge in violence despite peace talks that started in September between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.

The rise in violence has led US President Joe Biden’s administration to launch a review of a deal signed between Washington and the Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of all American troops in the coming months.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Thai pro-democracy protesters return to street.

Advertisements

The pro-democracy movement, which kicked off last July, is calling for reforms to the unassailable monarchy, and the abolition of the royal defamation law is one of its key demands.

Thai pro-democracy protesters scaled a massive Bangkok monument Saturday, draping it in a crimson cloth and calling for the kingdom to abolish its draconian royal defamation laws.

Momentum for the youth-led movement calling for an overhaul to Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s government has slowed in recent months, due to a fresh wave of coronavirus infections in Thailand.

Advertisements

But the recent detention of four prominent leaders has spurred protesters into action, bringing hundreds back to the Democracy Monument intersection in Bangkok’s historic quarter — under the close watch of scores of riot police.

The leaders were charged under the lese majeste law, which carries penalties of up to 15 years per charge if found guilty of insulting the monarchy.

Advertisements

“I want to stress the purpose of today’s rally is to call for 112 to be abolished,” said Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, referring to the law by its penal code section.

A pro-democracy protester holding a shield stands next to a formation of riot police during an anti-government demonstration by the Grand Palace in Bangkok on February 13, 2021. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)

After rearranging flower pots around the monument to say “112”, activists draped a massive red cloth over Democracy Monument in an act of defiance.

“If the police don’t release our friends within seven days, we will stage a big protest here at the monument,” shouted rally leader Attapon Buapat.

Advertisements

As night fell, they marched to the Royal Palace but were stopped by barricades and barbed wire surrounding the area.

Scores of police in full riot gear faced off with the protesters, some of whom were wielding white shields, gas masks and helmets.

The pro-democracy movement, which kicked off last July, is calling for reforms to the unassailable monarchy, and the abolition of the royal defamation law is one of its key demands.

Their grievances with the monarchy has electrified Thai society, where frank discussion about the royals is taboo.

Advertisements

At its peak, the rallies drew tens of thousands, with demonstrators drawing inspiration from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

In November, police deployed tear gas and water cannon against protesters, using liquid laced with an irritant, and clashes left more than 40 people injured.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Breaking: UN demand Aung San Suu Kyi release.

Advertisements

UN officials and diplomats alike voiced alarm at the assault on democracy in the country and violence against protesters.

The top United Nations human rights body has called on Myanmar to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials and to refrain from using violence on people protesting against the military coup.

The 47-member Geneva forum adopted a resolution brought by Britain and the European Union (EU) unanimously without a vote, although Russia and China said afterwards that they “disassociated” themselves from the consensus.

Advertisements

Myanmar’s envoy said before the vote that the resolution was “not acceptable”.

The resolution was adopted after the UN human rights investigator for Myanmar urged the UN Security Council to consider imposing punitive sanctions, arms embargoes and travel bans in response to the coup.

Advertisements

The United States, which imposed its own sanctions on Thursday, urged other UN member states to follow suit, in its first remarks to the Human Rights Council since returning to the forum this week.

Special rapporteur Thomas Andrews said there were “growing reports and photographic evidence” that Myanmar security forces had used live ammunition against protesters since seizing power almost two weeks ago.

“Security Council resolutions dealing with similar situations have mandated sanctions, arms embargoes, and travel bans, and calling for judicial action at the International Criminal Court or ad hoc tribunals,” he told the council.

Advertisements

“All of these options should be on the table.”

The 47-member forum met at the request of Britain and the European Union to consider a resolution calling for the release of ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi, and for UN monitors to be allowed to visit. It was adopted unanimously, although Myanmar, Russia and China envoys said they “disassociated” themselves from the resolution.

Demonstrators protest in front of the Russian embassy against the military coup and demand for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar [Reuters]

“With this resolution we would like to send a strong signal to the people of Myanmar: the protection of their human rights matters to us,” said Austrian Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger on behalf of the EU.

However, the resolution’s language had been watered down somewhat in an apparent bid to get detractors on board.

Advertisements

In a letter read out to the Council earlier on Friday, some 300 elected parliamentarians called for UN investigations into the “gross human rights violations” that they said the military had committed since its coup, including arrests.

‘Draconian orders’
Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi clashed with police on Friday as hundreds of thousands joined pro-democracy demonstrations across Myanmar in defiance of the military’s call to halt mass gatherings.

Advertisements

The UN’s deputy rights chief Nada al-Nashif decried the detention of the country’s elected civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and of more than 350 others, including officials, activists, journalists, monks and students.

UN officials and diplomats alike voiced alarm at the assault on democracy in the country and violence against protesters.

“The world is watching,” al-Nashif said. “Let us be clear: the indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons against peaceful protesters is unacceptable.”

Advertisements

In addition, she lamented, “draconian orders have been issued this week to prevent peaceful assembly and free expression”.

Min Aung Hlaing, the head of Myanmar’s army, known as Tatmadaw, has justified his coup by alleging widespread voter fraud during November’s election.

Myanmar ambassador to the UN in Geneva Myint Thu said Myanmar would continue to cooperate with the United Nations and uphold international human rights treaties, adding: “We do not want to stall the nascent democratic transition in the country.”

The United States, which only re-engaged with the council this week after former president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, also harshly condemned the coup.

Advertisements

US diplomat Mark Cassayre said all those “unjustly detained” should be released, and called for “accountability for those responsible for the coup, including through targeted sanctions”.

US President Joe Biden announced this week that his administration was cutting off the military’s access to $1bn in funds, with sanctions targeting Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

China bans BBC World News.

Advertisements

China is accused of compelling Uighurs to parrot Communist propaganda and renounce Islam, of forcibly sterilising women and imposing a regime of forced labour.

China’s broadcasting regulator has banned BBC World News, accusing it of flouting guidelines over a hard-hitting report on Beijing’s treatment of the country’s Uighur minority.

Advertisements

The decision came just days after Britain’s own regulator revoked the licence of Chinese broadcaster CGTN for breaking UK law on state-backed ownership, and provoked angry accusations of censorship from London.

Thursday’s move will do little to improve relations between the two countries, which have been increasingly strained by China’s introduction of a security law in Britain’s former colony, Hong Kong.

London’s decision to offer millions of Hong Kongers a pathway to British citizenship has only further infuriated Beijing, which has accused Britain of behaving with a “colonial mentality”.

Advertisements

London has also angered Beijing by banning Chinese telecoms group Huawei from involvement in its 5G network after the United States raised spying fears.

In an overnight statement, Beijing’s National Radio and Television Administration said BBC World News reports about China were found to “seriously violate” broadcast guidelines.

That includes “the requirement that news should be truthful and fair” and not “harm China’s national interests”.

The administrator “does not permit the BBC to continue broadcasting in China, and does not accept its new annual application for broadcast”, it added.

Advertisements

‘Informed citizenry’
The BBC said it was “disappointed” with the move, which applies to mainland China, where the channel is already censored and restricted to international hotels.

“The BBC is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favour,” a BBC spokeswoman said.

Advertisements

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the ban “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom”.

“China has some of the most severe restrictions on media and internet freedoms across the globe, and this latest step will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world,” he added.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price denounced the BBC ban and called on China to allow an “informed citizenry” that can freely exchange ideas.

Advertisements

“We call on the PRC and other nations with authoritarian controls over their population to allow their full access to the internet and media,” Price told reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

On Friday, public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) — an independent but government-funded service based in the former British territory — also announced it would “suspend the relay of BBC World Service and BBC News Weekly”.

British lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, a hawk on UK-China ties, criticised Beijing’s move as “both regrettable and entirely unsurprising”.

“While this is a largely symbolic tit-for-tat retaliatory move, the deteriorating environment for journalism in China is a concern for us all,” he told AFP.

Advertisements

Witness testimony
Besides its reporting on Xinjiang, the BBC has also aired a hard-hitting documentary accusing China of covering up the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic around the city of Wuhan in late 2019.

It published its report detailing harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence against Uighur women in Chinese camps in Xinjiang on February 3.

Advertisements

The lengthy investigation based on witness testimonies reported claims of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of female detainees by police and guards in the western region.

The area is home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority and has seen a sweeping security crackdown by Chinese forces in recent years.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.

Advertisements

The Chinese foreign ministry has dismissed the BBC investigation as “false”.

Britain’s government said it showed “clearly evil acts”, and there was strong condemnation from the US State Department.

But London has resisted pressure to follow the current and former US administrations and call the treatment of the Uighurs “genocide”.

China is accused of compelling Uighurs to parrot Communist propaganda and renounce Islam, of forcibly sterilising women and imposing a regime of forced labour.

Advertisements

After initially denying the camps existed, China’s government acknowledged them, saying they were vocational training centres aimed at combating Islamic extremism.

China last week said British regulator Ofcom’s decision to pull CGTN from the airwaves was based on “ideological prejudice and political reasons”.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Tokyo olympics boss resigns over sexism row.

Advertisements

As he stepped down, Mori was praised by officials including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the International Olympic Committee.

Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori bowed to mounting pressure and resigned Friday over sexist remarks, leaving a leadership vacuum after opposition emerged to his favoured successor.

Advertisements

The controversy over Mori’s comments has been an unwanted additional headache for organisers already struggling to win over a sceptical public less than six months before the Games open.

After a two-hour meeting, Tokyo 2020 organisers said they will form a committee with a 50-50 gender mix to select Mori’s replacement.

It will be headed by Canon CEO Fujio Mitarai, 85, an appointment that may not appease critics who say key positions consistently go to an entrenched old boy network.

Mori, 83, claimed last week that women speak too much in meetings, prompting outrage from officials, sports stars and Olympic sponsors.

Advertisements

On Friday he announced he would step down, effective immediately.

“My inappropriate statement has caused a lot of chaos. I would like to express my sincere apologies,” he told Tokyo 2020’s executive board and council.

Advertisements

“What is important is to hold the Olympics. It must not be the case that my presence becomes an obstacle to that.”

Reports initially suggested Mori had selected well-known sports administrator Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, to replace him.

The transition appeared a done deal, with the former footballer describing his planned priorities in the new job to Japanese media.

Advertisements

But opposition to the selection of another octogenarian — and Mori’s control over the process — quickly mounted.

By Friday afternoon, reports said Tokyo 2020 was under pressure to reverse the appointment, and Kawabuchi subsequently turned down the job.

Selection committee
Tokyo 2020’s CEO Toshiro Muto said the new president should be chosen “as soon as possible” but set no deadline.

He said Mori’s successor needed to have some Games experience, but that gender would not be decisive.

Advertisements

“I don’t think we need to discuss the gender of the person. We will choose the most qualified person. Isn’t that what we should strive for?”

Muto said organisers had also decided to form a team to promote gender equality and would seek to increase female representation among its staff and senior executives.

Advertisements

But he declined to be drawn on any deadline for improving female representation or any specific gender balance goal, saying he hoped to see progress by a March 22 board meeting.

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori announces his resignation over sexist remarks, at a meeting with council and executive board members at the committee headquarters in Tokyo on February 12, 2021. (Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / POOL / AFP)

Mori’s resignation caps over a week of uproar after he told members of Japan’s Olympic Committee that women have difficulty speaking concisely, “which is annoying.”

He apologised but then defended his remarks and told reporters: “I don’t speak to women much.”

Advertisements

Several hundred Olympic volunteers have withdrawn in the wake of his comments and a petition calling for action against him gathered nearly 150,000 signatures.

On Friday Mori said he does not “look down on women”, and had supported the seven women on the 35-member Tokyo 2020 board.

“They hesitated to raise their hand to speak up. I even called out their name to encourage them,” he said.

Praise for Mori
As he stepped down, Mori was praised by officials including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the International Olympic Committee.

Advertisements

Mori had helped make Tokyo “the best-ever prepared Olympic city,” IOC chief Thomas Bach said in a statement.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons thanked Mori, adding that he hoped reaction to his comments would “be harnessed so that society places greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion.”

The race to fill Mori’s former post now appears wide open, with reports suggesting Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto — a former Olympic athlete and one of just two women in Japan’s cabinet — is a leading candidate.

The fallout comes with organisers already battling public doubt about holding the international event this summer.

Advertisements

Around 80 percent of Japanese polled in recent surveys back either further postponement or outright cancellation.

Organisers have tried to quell the disquiet by releasing virus rulebooks, but doubts persist with Tokyo and other regions under a Covid-19 state of emergency.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Myanmar general tell protesters to return home.

Advertisements

Images depicting the woman have been shared widely online alongside expressions of grief and fury.

Myanmar’s ruling general signalled waning patience Thursday with nationwide protests over the military’s takeover, ordering demonstrators to return to work or face “effective actions”.

Advertisements

His warning comes after a sixth consecutive day of anti-coup rallies condemning the ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and follows US President Joe Biden announcing sanctions against the generals on Wednesday.

While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, security forces earlier this week used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets, with isolated reports of live rounds being fired.

By Thursday evening, army chief General Min Aung Hlaing — who now holds legislative, judicial and executive powers — called for civil servants to return to work after days of nationwide strikes supporting the protests.

Advertisements

“Due to unscrupulous persons’ incitement, some civil service personnel have failed to perform their duties,” he said in a statement.

“Effective actions will be taken.”

Since the February 1 coup, there has been an outpouring of anger and defiance, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detained senior figures of her National League for Democracy party.

Demonstrators again marched peacefully on Thursday in Naypyidaw — the capital and military stronghold — as well as Yangon, the largest city and commercial hub, which saw tens of thousands flood into the streets.

“Don’t go to the office,” chanted a group of protesters outside Myanmar’s central bank in Yangon, part of the effort urging people to boycott work and put pressure on the junta.

Advertisements

“We aren’t doing this for a week or a month — we are determined to do this until the end when (Suu Kyi) and President U Win Myint are released,” one protesting bank employee told AFP.

Musicians take part in a protest against the military coup in Yangon on February 11, 2021. — AFP pic

Joining the protest were dozens from the ethnic Karen, Rakhine and Kachin communities — drawn from Myanmar’s roughly 130 ethnic groups, some of who have faced intense persecution from the army.

Advertisements

“Our ethnic armed groups and ethnic people have to join together to fight against the military dictatorship,” Saw Z Net, an ethnic Karen protester, told AFP.

In Shan state demonstrators in traditional costumes took their anti-coup message to the water on Lake Inle, with similar scenes unfolding in the ancient UNESCO heritage city of Bagan as hundreds marched between temples and pagodas.

US sanctions
Western nations have repeatedly denounced the coup, with the United States leading calls for the generals to relinquish power.

Advertisements

In the most significant concrete action, Biden announced Wednesday that his administration was cutting off the generals’ access to $1 billion in funds in the United States.

“I again call on the Burmese military to immediately release democratic political leaders and activists,” Biden said, as he flagged further sanctions.

“The military must relinquish power.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has also warned the bloc could impose fresh sanctions on Myanmar’s military.

Advertisements

Crackdown deepens
There were more reports of arrests Thursday, including the deputy speaker of the parliament’s lower house and a key aide to Suu Kyi, taking the number of coup-linked detentions to more than 200, according to monitor Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The NLD — whose Yangon headquarters saw a raid this week — also confirmed the arrest of the election officials in the afternoon.

Advertisements

The military justified last week’s power grab by claiming widespread voter fraud in November’s polls, which saw a landslide for Suu Kyi’s party.

It quickly moved to stack courts and political offices with loyalists as it ended a decade of civilian rule.

Fears are growing over how long the junta will tolerate the protests.

Advertisements

Live rounds were fired at a rally in Naypyidaw this week, critically wounding two people — including a woman who was shot in the head.

Images depicting the woman have been shared widely online alongside expressions of grief and fury.

The military’s clampdown on information using internet blackouts — with tech companies ordered to cut communications intermittently — has drawn widespread condemnation.

Concern grew Thursday that the junta was planning to impose a much harsher and sustained internet crackdown.

Advertisements

Tech-focused Myanmar civil society organisation MIDO tweeted that a draft cybersecurity bill had been sent to telecom companies, which would allow the military to order blackouts and website bans.

Norway-based Telenor, which had complied last week to block social media platforms where an online anti-coup campaign was proliferating, said it was reviewing the law.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Yemen: Al-Qaeda’s leader upon UN arrest lies appear in video.

Advertisements

AQAP claimed responsibility for the 2019 mass shooting at a US naval base in Florida, in which a Saudi air force officer killed three American sailors.

The leader of Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen appears to be still at large despite a United Nations report which claimed he had been under arrest for months, the SITE Intelligence Group and two local tribal leaders said Thursday after he was seen in a video released by the jihadist group.

Advertisements

Khalid Batarfi, who has been the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for about a year, talks about the storming of the US Congress last month in the video, which came out Wednesday.

The video, which opens with footage of the January 6 assault by Donald Trump supporters, belies reports that Batarfi was under arrest, said SITE, which monitors extremist organisations.

In the 20-minute video titled “America and the Painful Seizure”, Batarfi says “storming the Congress is only the tip of the iceberg of what will come to them, God willing”.

A report filed to the UN Security Council last week claimed Batarfi was arrested and his deputy, Saad Atef al-Awlaqi, killed during an “operation in Ghayda City, Al-Mahrah governorate, in October”.

Advertisements

Two local tribal leaders in the Al-Bayda governorate in central Yemen, where AQAP is active, told AFP there was a high probability the person arrested was not Batarfi but another member of the jihadist group.

“Most probably, he wasn’t arrested, and the one who was arrested was another senior leader in the group,” one of the tribal leaders said.

Advertisements

The UN report, which summarised global potential jihadist threats, did not disclose his whereabouts or reveal any further details of the October operation.

‘Global terrorist’
AQAP revealed it had appointed Batarfi, believed to be in his early 40s, as its leader in February 2020 following the death of his predecessor Qassim al-Rimi in a US air strike in Yemen.

(FILES) In this file image grab taken on June 16, 2015 from a video released by Al-Malahem Media, the media arm of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), shows Khalid Omar Batarfi (also known as Abu Meqdad al-Kindi) a spokesman for AQAP announcing in a video posted online, the death of its leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, number two in the global jihadist organisation, in a US drone strike. – The leader of Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate has been under arrest for several months, according to a United Nations report released on February 4, 2021, in what will be seen as a huge breakthrough in the fight against the global jihadist threat. The document said Khalid Batarfi, was arrested and his deputy, Saad Atef al-Awlaqi, died during an “operation in Ghayda City, in Yemen’s al-Mahrah Governorate, in October.” (Photo by – / AL-MALAHEM MEDIA / AFP)

Batarfi, who was designated a global terrorist by the US State Department in 2018, has appeared in numerous AQAP videos over recent years, according to SITE, and appeared to have been Rimi’s deputy and group spokesman.

Advertisements

Washington considers AQAP to be the worldwide jihadist network’s most dangerous branch, and has waged a long-running drone war against the leaders of the group.

AQAP claimed responsibility for the 2019 mass shooting at a US naval base in Florida, in which a Saudi air force officer killed three American sailors.

The Sunni extremist group thrived in the chaos of years of civil war between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

AQAP has carried out operations against both the Huthis and government forces as well as sporadic attacks abroad, including on the offices of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015.

Advertisements

Analysts say its abilities on the ground have dwindled, although it still inspires attacks carried out by “lone wolf” jihadists or former operatives.

Yemen has been wracked by conflict since 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition intervened after the Huthis seized control of the capital Sanaa.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Kidnapped Chinese workers freed.

Advertisements

Kidnapping for ransom which used to be common in Nigeria’s oil-producing south, has lately spread to the other parts of the country.

Nigerian police said on Tuesday they had freed three Chinese workers kidnapped last week from a gold-mining site in southwestern Osun state.

Advertisements

The Chinese were abducted and their police escort killed on February 1 following a dispute with local labourers at the mining site at the Atakumosa area of the state.

“We have rescued the three Chinese expatriates. They were freed on Sunday,” state police spokeswoman Yemisi Opalola told AFP.

Advertisements

She said the foreigners who took ill while in captivity, were being given medical care.

She said that no arrests had been made.

It was not immediately clear if a ransom was paid for their release.

Advertisements

Kidnapping for ransom which used to be common in Nigeria’s oil-producing south, has lately spread to the other parts of the country.

The victims are usually released after a ransom is paid although police rarely confirm if money changed hands.

Chinese firms are working in Nigeria on multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects that include mining, railways, airports and roads.

Their workers have been repeatedly targeted by kidnap gangs.

Advertisements

Last July, four Chinese workers were abducted from a quarry site in southern Cross River state while their police guard was killed.

They were released one month later.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Just in: Iran resumed missiles collaboration with North Korea in 2020 – UN.

Advertisements

The report’s experts monitor the multiple sanctions imposed on Pyongyang to attempt to force it to suspend its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

North Korea and Iran resumed cooperation on the development of long-range missiles in 2020, according to a UN report that also confirmed Pyongyang continues to violate various nuclear resolutions.

Advertisements

The annual report, produced by an independent panel of UN experts, was submitted to the Security Council on Monday and seen by AFP.

It said Tehran denies any such missile cooperation with North Korea.

But according to an unnamed member state, North Korea and Iran “have resumed cooperation on long-range missile development projects,” the report states.

This picture taken on February 8, 2021 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 9 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the first day of the 2nd plenary meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in North Korea. (Photo by STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP) / – South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT /

“This resumed cooperation is said to have included the transfer of critical parts, with the most recent shipment associated with this relationship taking place in 2020.”

Advertisements

The report’s experts monitor the multiple sanctions imposed on Pyongyang to attempt to force it to suspend its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

In a December 21 reply, Iran stated the “preliminary review of the information provided to us by the (experts) indicates that false information and fabricated data may have been used in investigations and analyses.”

Advertisements

In their assessment of North Korea, the experts said Pyongyang “maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

Pyongyang last year announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and development of tactical nuclear weapons.

“It produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure. It continued to seek material and technology for these programs from overseas,” the expert report states.

Advertisements

The experts also investigated cases in which North Korea acquired ships, sold fishing rights and continued to export coal in violation of sanctions.

North Korea’s border closure due to the pandemic may have hampered those shipments, however.

The experts also found that North Korea had continued to import more refined petroleum than is allowed under its 500,000-barrel limit, sometimes by using “elaborate subterfuge.”

“According to imagery, data and calculations received from a member state covering the period 1 January to 30 September, in 2020 these illicit shipments exceeded the annual aggregate 500,000-barrel cap by several times,” the report states.

Advertisements

Last year, like the year before, the US presented satellite imagery and data to show North Korea was surpassing its quotas.

China and Russia, North Korea’s main supporters, have rejected the US claims and say petroleum imports are much smaller.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Porsche reveals new plan in Malaysia

Advertisements

Porsche was making Malaysia its Southeast Asian hub and that incentives for the investment have been approved by the Ministry of Finance.

German sports car maker Porsche AG is setting up an assembly plant in Malaysia under a partnership with trading conglomerate Sime Darby Bhd’s automotive business, The Edge Weekly reported citing sources.

The newspaper reported over the weekend that the luxury car maker will be partnering Inokom Corporation, a subsidiary of Sime Darby Motors, which is Sime Darby’s automotive arm.

Inokom will construct a new plant specifically for Porsche in Kedah, in the north of Peninsular Malaysia. The Edge reported that the value of the investment could not be ascertained.

One of the sources said Porsche was making Malaysia its Southeast Asian hub and that incentives for the investment have been approved by the Ministry of Finance.

Advertisements

Another source said there have been a number of big investments entering the Malaysian automotive sector which the government has yet to declare.

Reuters has emailed Porsche and the finance ministry for comment.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Officials in search of 200 after flash flooding in India.

Advertisements

14 glaciers overlook the river in Nanda Devi national park — the topic of scientific studies because of growing fears over climate change and deforestation.

At least 200 people are missing in northern India after a piece of Himalayan glacier fell into a river, causing a torrent that buried two power plants and swept away roads and bridges, police said on Sunday.

Three bodies have been found and a desperate operation has been launched to rescue about 17 people trapped in a tunnel, the Uttarakhand state police chief said.

Advertisements

The massive burst of water tore through the Dhauliganga river valley, destroying everything in its path, videos taken by terrified residents showed.

“There was a cloud of dust as the water went by. The ground shook like an earthquake,” local inhabitant Om Agarwal told Indian TV.

Most of the missing were workers at two power plants that were battered by the deluge, caused by a huge chunk of glacier that slipped off a mountainside further upstream, said the police chief Ashok Kumar.

Advertisements

“There were 50 workers at Rishi Ganga plant and we have no information about them. Some 150 workers were at Tapovan,” he added.

This handout photo taken on February 7, 2021 and released by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) shows members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) during a rescue operation after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads, at Reni village in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Three people were confirmed dead and at least 200 were missing in northern India after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads on February 7, police said. Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) / AFP

“About 20 are trapped inside a tunnel. We are trying to reach the trapped workers.”

With the main road washed away, the tunnel was filled with mud and rocks and paramilitary rescuers had to climb down a hillside on ropes to get access to the entrance.

Hundreds of troops and paramilitaries along with military helicopters and other aircraft have been sent to the region.

Advertisements

‘Grim reminder’
Authorities emptied two dams to stop the flood waters reaching the Ganges at the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar, where authorities barred people from going near the banks of the sacred river, officials said.

Villages on hillsides overlooking the river were evacuated, but as night fell authorities said the main flood danger had passed.

Advertisements

Scores of social media users captured the disaster, with footage showing the massive burst of water tearing through a narrow valley below the power plant, leaving roads and bridges destroyed in its wake.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was monitoring the relief operation.

“India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there,” he said on Twitter.

Advertisements

14 glaciers overlook the river in Nanda Devi national park — the topic of scientific studies because of growing fears over climate change and deforestation.

“Avalanches are common phenomena in the catchment area,” M.P.S. Bisht, director of the Uttarakhand Space Application Centre, told AFP. “Huge landslides also frequently occur.”

Devastating monsoon floods in Uttarakhand in 2013 killed 6,000 people and led to calls for a review of development projects in the state, particularly in isolated areas like those around the Rishi Ganga dam.

Uma Bharti, a former water resources minister, said that she had called for a freeze on hydro electric projects in “sensitive” Himalayan areas such as the Ganges and its tributaries when in government.

Advertisements

Vimlendhu Jha, founder of Swechha, an environmental NGO, said the disaster was a “grim reminder” of the effects of climate change and the “haphazard development of roads, railways and power plants in ecologically sensitive areas.”

“Activists and locals have constantly opposed the massive river valley projects,” he added.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Just in: 3 Chinese employees ‘kidnapped’ in Nigeria mine conflict.

Advertisements

Chinese firms are working in Nigeria on multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects that include mining, railways, airports and roads.

Three Chinese employees have been abducted and their police escort killed following a dispute with local labourers at a gold-mining site in southwest Nigeria, police said Thursday.

Advertisements

The incident which happened at the Atakumosa area of Osun state on Monday was under investigation, state police spokeswoman Yemisi Opalola told AFP.

“The three Chinese nationals were abducted following a dispute with local labourers at the site,” Opalola said, adding that the police guard attached to the foreigners was killed in the incident.

Kidnapping for ransom which used to be common in Nigeria’s oil-producing south, has lately spread to the other parts of the country.

Advertisements

The victims are usually released after a ransom is paid although police rarely confirm if money changed hands.

Opalola could not immediately say if the labourers were responsible for the Chinese kidnapping, but added that an investigation had been launched.

“We have also deployed our operatives to the surrounding bushes with a view to securing the release of the Chinese.”

Chinese firms are working in Nigeria on multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects that include mining, railways, airports and roads.

Advertisements

Their workers have been repeatedly targeted by kidnap gangs for ransom.

Last July, four Chinese workers were abducted from a quarry site in southern Cross River state while their police guard was killed. They were freed after a month in captivity.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

European Union Foreign Policy Chief jets to Russia over Navalny’s controversy.

Advertisements

European diplomats say that any measures, if they come, would likely just target officials and functionaries directly involved in the clampdown

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell jets to Moscow on Thursday under pressure to confront the Kremlin over the jailing of Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protesters.

The visit — the first to Russia by a top EU envoy since 2017 — has drawn criticism from some European capitals worried Moscow will spin it as evidence Brussels is keen to return to business as normal.

But Borrell insists he will deliver “clear messages” to the Kremlin despite it blanking Western calls to release President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent Navalny, who was on Tuesday given a jail term of almost three years.

Advertisements

“It is when things are not going well that you must engage,” the former Spanish foreign minister said on Monday.

The EU’s ties with Russia have been in the doldrums since Moscow seized Crimea and began fuelling the war in Ukraine in 2014 — and there are concerns about its involvement in Belarus, Syria, Libya, central Africa and the Caucasus.

Borrell is eager to sound out his veteran counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the chances of cooperation on issues including enlisting Russia’s help in reviving the Iran nuclear deal and tackling climate change.

But it will be the jailing of Navalny and detention of thousands of demonstrators across Russia by baton-wielding security forces that dominates his visit.

Advertisements

Nonsense, says Kremlin
The EU foreign policy chief is under no illusions that he can pressure Moscow into freeing Navalny — and the Kremlin has already warned him off.

“We hope that such nonsense as linking the prospects of Russia-EU relations with the resident of a detention centre will not happen,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Advertisements

Moscow stands “ready to do everything” to develop ties with Brussels, but the Kremlin is “not ready to listen to advice” on the issue of Navalny, he said.

European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell speaks during press conference following a meeting with EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs at the EU headquarters, in Brussels, on January 25, 2021. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

The authorities have poured cold water on attempts to set up a meeting with Putin’s nemesis and Borrell will settle for talks with civil society representatives.

Back in Europe calls are growing from some nations for the EU to bulk up on sanctions it slapped on six Russian officials in October over the nerve agent poisoning that left Navalny fighting for his life in Germany.

Advertisements

EU foreign ministers last week agreed they would revisit the issue if he was not released.

“After this ruling, there will now also be talks among EU partners. Further sanctions cannot be ruled out,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert.

An EU statement said foreign ministers would discuss “possible further action” at a meeting on February 22.

Navalny himself called at the European Parliament last year — two months before his fateful return to Moscow — for sanctions to hit the oligarchs and money-men he accuses of protecting Putin’s wealth.

Advertisements

But European diplomats say that any measures, if they come, would likely just target officials and functionaries directly involved in the clampdown.

There have also been calls for Germany to halt the highly contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring Russian gas to Europe.

Advertisements

Continental powerhouse Berlin has rebuffed the clamour and Borrell insists Brussels has no power to make Germany pull the plug.

“I don’t think that it is the way to resolve the problem with Navalny,” Borrell said.

“The Russians won’t change course because we tell them we will stop Nord Stream.”

Advertisements

For Moscow the visit looks set to be used as a chance both to deflect from its own issues and show that the West still wants to talk to it regardless.

‘Not a sign of weakness’
“On the one hand, the Kremlin is eager to portray the EU as a weak actor with a lot of internal problems,” said Susan Stewart from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“On the other hand, despite official rhetoric, the Kremlin is still keen to demonstrate that western actors are interested in cooperating with Russia, since this increases its status and legitimacy.”

But with European leaders set to debate their overall approach to Russia at upcoming summits in the next few months, diplomats in Brussels insisted this was the right time to visit Moscow.

Advertisements

“There are reasons to go there to pass on messages,” one European envoy said.

“This mission is not a sign of weakness.”

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

World ‘longest internet shutdown’ in parts of Myanmar ends.

Advertisements

The conflict in Rakhine state between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, a militant group agitating for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people, has left hundreds dead or injured.

The world’s longest internet shutdown — affecting more than a million people for 19 months in one of Myanmar’s ethnic conflict zones — has come to an end, according to a mobile operator based in the region.

Advertisements

The internet in parts of Myanmar’s troubled northern states of Rakhine and Chin was suspended in June 2019 following “emergency” orders issued by the telecoms department under Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

Following Monday’s military coup, mobile operator Telenor Group confirmed it had reinstated full services in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin states on Wednesday.

Advertisements

“Telenor Group and Telenor Myanmar have been advocating for the restoration of services and emphasised that freedom of expression through access to telecoms services should be maintained for humanitarian purposes,” the company said in a statement.

On Wednesday, affected residents celebrated being reconnected to the wider world.

Khin Maung from Mrauk-U township in northern Rakhine said the internet connection was back, but slow.

Advertisements

“Now we got the internet back. So we know about the coup as well,” said Shouban in Maungdaw, who like many from the Rohingya ethnic group goes by one name.

Human Rights Watch said the internet restrictions had curtailed awareness about coronavirus health risks and information about hygiene measures last year.

The conflict in Rakhine state between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, a militant group agitating for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people, has left hundreds dead or injured.

Fighting spilled over into neighbouring Chin state, forcing thousands of ethnic Chin, who are predominantly Christian, out of their villages and into temporary camps.

Advertisements

The region has also been beset by what the United Nations has said could be genocide, after a brutal military crackdown by the government which sent about 740,000 Rohingya fleeing for neighbouring Bangladesh.

The 600,000 remaining Rohingya live under apartheid-like conditions.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy