‘A real blow for the junta’: Myanmar’s ethnic groups launch unprecedented armed resistance

Fighting in Myanmar between the military junta and an alliance of ethnic armed groups has intensified since late October after an unprecedented offensive in the country’s north exposed the junta’s struggles on the ground. The UN called for all sides to respect international law in a statement on Friday, saying that more than 70 civilians had already been killed and some 200,000 displaced by the upsurge in violence. 

Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, has been fighting against simultaneous offensives launched by ethnic armed groups in several regions across the country since late October.

“It’s the biggest challenge that the military junta has had to face since the coup d’état of February 1, 2021,” said Thomas Kean, a specialist on Myanmar at the International Crisis Group, an NGO that monitors global conflicts. 

Fighting erupted over the weekend in Shan, Kachin and Chin states in the country’s north as well as in Rakhine State in the west, where an informal ceasefire had been in place for almost a year until early last week. Armed groups have taken the fight to the Tatmadaw in Kayah State in the country’s east, according to Kean. At least 70 civilians, including children, have been killed since the fighting erupted in earnest on October 27, and more than 90 wounded and more than 200,000 displaced, according to a UN statement released Friday. 

Operation 1027

Dubbed “Operation 1027”, the offensive began on October 27 in northern Shan State on the Chinese border. Three armed groups – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – have joined forces under the Three Brotherhood Alliance moniker. 

Myanmar’s borderlands are home to dozens of ethnic armed groups that have fought against the military on and off since the country’s independence in 1948. Since the Tatmadaw toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup, some of these groups have been active in training the People’s Defence Forces that emerged to resist the putsch. 

“Helped by resistance groups formed after the coup, hundreds of experienced and fairly well-armed fighters managed to simultaneously attack key junta sites. They seized several towns and villages in the region, took control of military outposts and cut off important trade routes to China,” Kean said, adding that the attack had been “the junta’s biggest setback in the field for a long time”. 

Read moreMyanmar rebels’ offensive: Junta faces biggest threat since 2021 coup

Officially, the aim of the joint offensive was to crack down on the criminal activities that have proliferated in these borderlands, particularly in the Chinese-speaking region of Kokang. Kokang has been dominated since 2009 by a pro-junta militia that has grown wealthy through drug production and other kinds of illegal trafficking, including sex work and online fraud operations. The Chinese government has increasingly been pressuring governments across Southeast Asia to clamp down on the flourishing cyber-scam industry, in which gangs have held thousands of Chinese nationals captive in crowded compounds and forced them to target people across mainland China and beyond with online scams.

“Since May, Beijing has been asking the Myanmar military to step up control of its border militia, to no avail,” Kean explained. “So the Three Brotherhood Alliance has taken advantage of this junta inaction to launch its attacks under the guise of fighting crime.” It’s a way, he said, for the alliance to carry out its assault without risking a negative reaction from China.

“It was also a way to strike a diplomatic blow against the junta, a traditional ally of Beijing,” said Kyaw Win, director of the UK-based Burma Human Rights Network. Not long after the attack, Beijing had shown “its strong dissatisfaction”, deploring the Chinese casualties in Kokang. 

“And China is supposed to be building a major rail link through Kokang as part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. So it wants stability on its border,” he added. “Now, faced with this offensive, the junta no longer seems able to guarantee it.”

Chain reaction

The Three Brotherhood Alliance’s offensive in the north seems to have set off a chain reaction across the country. “These victories have, in a way, galvanised the country’s armed groups,” Kean said.

On November 6, armed groups announced that they had seized control of Kawlin, a town of 25,000 people in the Sagaing region. The next day, resistance forces said they had taken Khampat, a town in the country’s west. 

“And so the fighting gradually spread, with fronts in several regions,” Win said. “Today, according to figures put forward by the various ethnic groups, the army has lost around a hundred military posts and control of some fifty towns and villages. The ethnic groups have also managed to seize numerous weapons and vehicles.”

The campaign has not gone unanswered. By November 2, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing had promised to launch a counter-attack in the country’s north. “We will take the necessary action to counter acts of terrorism,” he warned, announcing an emergency meeting with his military leaders.

But faced with a war on many fronts, the Tatmadaw seems to be exposing its weaknesses rather than its much-vaunted military might. 

“As has often been the case since the beginning of the civil war, it retaliates with air strikes, but its mobile forces on the ground appear limited and overwhelmed,” Kean said.

The Tatmadaw has been grappling with a shortage of fighters seizing power in February 2021. In an analysis published in May, researcher Ye Myo Hein estimated that “the army currently has around 150,000 personnel, including 70,000 combat soldiers”. According to his estimates, at least 21,000 soldiers have been killed or else deserted or defected.

“What the current situation shows is that the pressure on the Burmese army is stronger than ever,” Win said. “Today, it lacks men and resources. Every day, it loses ground in the countryside and is gradually confined to the big cities like Yangon and Mandalay.”

“The Tatmadaw can now collapse,” he said, calling the international community to action. “The time is now or never to act and restore peace to Burma.” 

A turning point?

Kean was more cautious in his appraisal of the situation.

“It’s true that recent events show that the military is at a critical juncture. Until now, it had never lost so much ground or even entire towns”, he said. “But it has already shown in the past that it is capable of reversing the trend. The question over the next few weeks will be whether or not it will be able to recover the lost territory.”

Before seeing the regime “surrender”, “it is more likely that the army will redouble its efforts to regain the upper hand, and that this will lead to an increase in violence and bombing”, Kean said. “The country risks sinking into an ever more brutal spiral where civilians will pay a heavy price.” 

There is one actor, though, that could turn the tables at any moment: China. 

“Even if Beijing has so far largely let the fighting take its course in Shan State, this may not last,” Kean said. “Beijing has far more influence over events on its border than any other international actor. China can just as easily put pressure on ethnic groups as on the junta to end the fighting and bog down the conflict in a status quo.”

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

Source link

#real #blow #junta #Myanmars #ethnic #groups #launch #unprecedented #armed #resistance

Biden tells Asia-Pacific leaders US ‘not going anywhere’ as it looks to build economic ties

President Joe Biden on Thursday made America’s case to national leaders and CEOs attending the Asia-Pacific summit that the United States is committed to high standards in trade and to partnerships that will benefit economies across the Pacific.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he declared.

Fresh off his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden also told business leaders that the US was “de-risking and diversifying” but not “decoupling.” from Beijing.

But he did not mince words in suggesting the US and friends in the Pacific could offer businesses a better option than China.

He also noted that US economies had invested some $50 billion in fellow Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies in 2023, including in clean energy technologies, aviation and cybersecurity.

“This is not all kumbaya but it’s straightforward,” Biden said. “We have real differences with Beijing when it comes to maintaining a fair and level economic playing field and protecting your intellectual property. ”

Biden sought to send a clear message about American leadership as business leaders grapple with the risks of doing businesses in the midst of wars in the Middle East and Europe and a still shaky post-pandemic economy.

He was also spending time on Thursday letting Indo-Pacific leaders know that the US is committed to nurturing economic ties throughout the region.

Biden later posed for the traditional “family photo” with other leaders of APEC, the group that includes 21 economies.

Biden in his remarks to the CEOs sought to highlight his administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with the region. APEC members have invested $1.7 trillion in the US economy, supporting some 2.3 million American jobs.

US companies, in turn, have invested about $1.4 trillion in APEC economies.

Later, during talks with APEC leaders at a working lunch, Biden spoke about efforts funded by his Inflation Reduction Act to improve sustainability, climate change and clean energy infrastructure in the US.

“I encourage everyone around this table to also take strong national actions,” Biden said. “It will take all of us to meet this moment.”

The US hasn’t hosted the annual leaders’ summit — started in 1993 by President Bill Clinton — since 2011. The group met virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders did gather in Bangkok last year, but Biden skipped the summit because his granddaughter was getting married, and he sent Vice President Kamala Harris in his place.

The annual leaders’ conference brings together heads of nations and other top economic and diplomatic leaders.

Biden told those who gathered Wednesday evening at a welcome party — including Russia’s representative, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk — that today’s challenges were unlike those faced by previous APEC leaders.

Biden also sought to underscore that he was seeking to responsibly manage the United States’ strained relationship with China one day after he and Xi sat down for more than four hours of talks at bucolic Filoli Estate outside of San Francisco.

“A stable relationship between the world’s two largest economies is not merely good for the two economies but for the world,” Biden said. “A stable relationship. It’s good for everyone.”

Demonstrations in and around APEC continued on Thursday. Hours before leaders were to gather at the Moscone Center for the summit, protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war were detained by police after shutting down all traffic over a major commuting bridge heading into San Francisco.

After decades of trade built on the premise of keeping prices low, accessing new markets and maximizing profits, many companies are now finding a vulnerable global economy.

The Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts aren’t helping matters.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed frailties in their supply chains. Climate change has intensified natural disasters that can close factories.

The Israel-Hamas war and Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion have generated new financial risks, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence could change how companies operate and displace workers.

Xi too, met with American business leaders — at a $2,000-per-plate dinner Wednesday evening. It was a rare opportunity for the business leaders to hear directly from the Chinese president as they seek clarification on Beijing’s expanding security rules that could choke foreign investment.

“China is pursuing high-quality development, and the United States is revitalizing its economy,” he said, according to an English language translation.

“There is plenty of room for our cooperation, and we are fully able to help each other succeed and achieve win-win outcomes.”

He signaled that China would send the US new giant pandas, just a week after three from the Smithsonian National Zoo were returned to China, much to the dismay of Americans.

There are only four pandas left in the United States, at the Atlanta Zoo.

Biden and Xi understand that the complicated ties between the two nations have major global impacts. Their meeting Wednesday at a Northern California estate was in part an effort to show the world that while they are global economic competitors, the US and China aren’t rivals seeking conflict.

With his characteristic optimism, Biden sketched a vision of leaders who manage competition “responsibly,” adding, “That’s what the United States wants and what we intend to do.”

Xi, though, was gloomier about the state of the post-pandemic global economy. China’s economy remains in the doldrums, with prices falling due to slack demand from consumers and businesses.

“The global economy is recovering, but its momentum remains sluggish,” Xi said. “Industrial and supply chains are still under the threat of interruption, and protectionism is rising. All these are grave problems.”

White House officials said Biden has been bolstered by signs the US economy is in a stronger position than China’s and that the US was building stronger alliances throughout the Pacific.

Part of that is through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, announced during a May 2022 trip to Tokyo. It came six years after the US unilaterally withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that was signed by 12 countries.

The new framework has four major pillars: supply chains, climate, anti-corruption and trade. There won’t be any official trade deals to announce — the “framework” label allows Biden to bypass Congress on any agreements reached with the 13 countries. Work on three of the four pillars had been completed.

While US allies are still are looking to hammer out comprehensive trade agreements with Washington, Biden administration officials are underscoring that IPEF has helped the US and partners take action at a far faster clip than traditional trade deals.

“Most trade negotiations take years to complete,” said Mike Pyle, Biden’s deputy national security adviser for international economics.

“The issues that are at the cutting edge of the global economic conversation, issues like supply chains, clean energy, good government —- we have struck agreements around them in just 18 months, with a full set of IPEF partners.”


Source link

#Biden #tells #AsiaPacific #leaders #build #economic #ties

Taiwan set to dominate talks as Xi meets Biden in San Francisco

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet US counterpart Joe Biden in San Francisco on Wednesday for the two leaders’ first face-to-face meeting following a turbulent 12 months for US-China relations. Taiwan, a long-term source of disagreement between the two nations, is expected to top the agenda.

The two heads of state will meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Californian city, their first encounter since a meeting on November 14th 2022, in Bali.  

Positive momentum following the G20 summit was swiftly derailed by various spats that brought relations between the US and China to their lowest level in years.  

The US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon over its territory in February 2023, an incursion the US described as “unacceptable”.  

China said US accusations amounted to “information warfare”, and delayed a planned visit to the People’s Republic by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

A cumulation of trade tensions and sanctions also contributed to bring relations to their lowest points in decades before a flurry of high-level diplomacy, including Blinken’s eventual trip to Beijing in June, signalled ambitions on both sides to mend ties. 

Wednesday’s meeting is likely being seen as an opportunity to “calm relations, to not inflame things further in context full of difficult and tense and inflamed issues,” says Astrid Nordin, Lau Chair of Chinese International Relations at King’s College London. 

“We’re not trying to decouple from China. What we’re trying to do is change the relationship for the better,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, shortly before heading to San Francisco.

Semiconductors, climate agreements, and fentanyl trafficking are all expected to be on the agenda for the talks. “But from Beijing’s perspective, the most important issue in the US-China relationship will be over Taiwan,” Nordin says. 

Taiwan is critically important in the relationship between China and the USA because of its geostrategic location and its symbolism,” adds Steve Tsang, Director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London.  

Symbolism, geopolitics 

Taiwan will take part in this week’s APEC forum under the name “Chinese Taipei”. While the island’s democratically elected leadership maintains it is an independent country, China claims it as a province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

In the past year and a half, Taiwan has faced increased military pressure from Beijing, raising fears China intends to fulfil its ambition to “unify” Taiwan with the mainland and using force if necessary. 

Read moreMore than 100 Chinese warplanes and nine navy ships spotted around Taiwan


At the same time, the US has bolstered its support for Taiwan with a high-profile visit from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August 2022 and by increasing its capacity to buy US weapons

Taiwan matters to the US as a “symbolic issue of providing support for a democratic ally in the face of potential hostile invasion”, says Nordin. “A US president would not want to be the person who stands aside and just looks on if that happens.” 

Biden has been more outspoken than his predecessor in his rhetorical support for Taiwan and its self-governance. 

The island is also geographically significant for the US with a strategically advantageous position off the Pacific coast of China, linking in alliances with nearby Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.  

For China, the stakes are also high. Reintegration of Taiwan into the PRC is a question of national identity, unity and security. 

Historically, China considers Taiwan not only part of China but also part of its “First Island Chain” – a first line of defence off the Pacific coast, “the taking of which will not only secure China’s Eastern Seaboard but also enable the Chinese navy and air force to project power into the Pacific”, says Tsang. 

In recent years, “Xi Jinping has been more explicit than previous generations of leadership that he does not want to leave the status quo [in Taiwan] for the next generation,” says Nordin. 

‘Getting back on a normal course’

For decades, China has shown little appetite for military intervention in Taiwan, instead proposing that it be integrated into the PRC under a “one country, two systems” formula, that was used for Hong Kong. 

The US has also found ways to appease both China and Taiwan: it recognises Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan under the “One China” policy.  

At the same time it has a “robust unofficial relationship” with Taiwan and has pledged military support under the Taiwan Relations Act were the island’s security to come under threat.   

As such, forced unity with Taiwan “can only happen if China can either deter the US from interfering or defeat the US forces sent to help Taiwan defend itself”, says Tsang.  

Either scenario would mean that China had “devastated the US’s credibility in the Asian Pacific”, he adds.  

So, what hope for compromise when the two leaders meet on Wednesday? 

“Neither party will yield to the other on Taiwan,” Tsang says. “The best any US president or Chinese supreme leader can do over Taiwan is to ease tensions by making noises that enable the other side to turn the temperature down.”   

But the fact that the leaders are meeting at all is a sign of political will to reduce the heat after a tumultuous 12 months.  

“There’s been a lot of work going on over summer in preparation for this meeting and the fact that it is now culminating in face-to-face talks might be a sign that there has been some stabilisation in the US-China relationship” adds Nordin.  

Asked what he hoped to achieve at the meeting, Biden said he wanted “to get back on a normal course of corresponding; being able to pick up the phone and talk to one another if there’s a crisis; being able to make sure our military still have contact with one another”.

Despite positive noises, any agreement on a way forward in Taiwan is, Nordin says, “highly unlikely”.  

“But what there might be is a de-escalation in rhetoric and scope for both nudging closer to a stabilisation of the status quo. The absence of worsening, perhaps, is something to aspire to in this scenario.” 

Source link

#Taiwan #set #dominate #talks #meets #Biden #San #Francisco

Australia offers refuge to Tuvaluans as rising sea levels threaten Pacific archipelago

As sea levels continue to rise due to global warming, Tuvalu, a small archipelago in the Pacific, is seeing its territory disappear underwater, threatening the survival of its more than 11,000 inhabitants. A new treaty with Australia, however, will soon allow Tuvaluans to move to the largest country in Oceania, whose greenhouse gas emissions are partly responsible for the islanders’ plight.  

Canberra announced on Friday that it is offering climate refuge to Tuvaluans, unveiling the terms of a pact that would enable citizens of the 26-square kilometre archipelago – the fourth smallest state in the world – to move to Australia to “live, study and work”. 

Located near the Equator, the island nation of Tuvalu is comprised of nine reef islands and atolls that rise an average of only two metres above sea level. Due to rising sea levels driven by climate change, the low-lying land is forecast to be submerged by Pacific waters by the end of the century. 

The new pact between Australia and Tuvalu, signed by prime ministers Anthony Albanese and Kausea Natano, has been described as “groundbreaking ” by University of New South Wales professor and refugee law expert Jane McAdam. 

“It’s the first agreement to specifically deal with climate-related mobility,” McAdam said. 

Natano hailed the agreement as a ” beacon of hope” for his nation. 

According to the pact, which will have to be ratified by both countries before coming into effect, Tuvaluan refugees will have access to education and healthcare, as well as financial and family support in Australia. 

To avoid a damaging “brain drain”, the number of Tuvaluans able to move to Australia will initially be capped at 280 per year. 

Climate migrants 

Australia’s offer to host its South Pacific neighbours marks a new step towards the recognition of climate change refugees. 

In previous years, Tuvaluans and people from other Pacific islands seeking asylum in nearby countries such as New Zealand have seen their requests rejected, as climate change is not recognised as a basis for obtaining refugee status by the 1951 Refugee Convention

Even the term “climate refugee” has no legal definition and is not endorsed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) meanwhile defines “the movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a State or across an international border,” as “climate migration”.   

This could be applied to the entire Tuvaluan population which is currently threatened by the consequences of climate change. As the archipelago’s shorelines continue to recede, its inhabitants could eventually all be driven from their homes and become some of the world’s first climate migrants.  

Foretold threat 

Many have already warned against the climate challenges that Tuvaluans currently face. 

Fanny Héros, a project officer and scientific journalist in French climate action association Alofa Tuvalu, warned back in 2008 that “the inhabitants of Tuvalu will become the world’s first climate refugees“. 

In 2009, then Tuvaluan prime minister Apisai Ielemia said his archipelago was threatened by rising sea levels due in part to global warming caused by human activity, at the Copenhagen Summit. 

Tuvalu sounded the alarm once again in November 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow.  

“Climate change and sea level rise are deadly and existential threats to Tuvalu and low-lying island atoll countries,” Tuvalu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe said in a video statement, standing knee-deep in water. 

“We are sinking, but so is everyone else,” he said.  

“No matter if we feel the impacts today like in Tuvalu, or in a hundred years, we will all still feel the dire effects of this global crisis one day,” Kofe said. 

Tuvalu’s top diplomat delivered the same message again the following year, at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, as he urged the international community to act swiftly to stop the devastating effects of global warming on the archipelago. 

The Tuvaluan government announced earlier this year the creation of a digital version of its territory, “The First Digital Nation“, to raise awareness of the island nation’s plight, and to allow it to continue to exist as a state even after all of its land has been submerged.

“We want to be able to take a snapshot of what culture is today, and allow my children and grandchildren to have that same experience wherever they are in the world,” Kofe said in an interview with nonprofit organisation Long Now.

“So even if the physical territory is lost, we would never lose the knowledge, culture, and way of life that Tuvaluans have experienced and lived for many centuries,” he said. 

According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels have risen by around 23 centimetres since 1880. This increase has accelerated steadily over the past quarter-century, to the extent that sea levels are predicted to rise by an additional 30 cm by 2050, and 77 cm by 2100. 

This means that half of Tuvalu’s territory, which has already lost two coral reefs to rising sea levels, would be underwater by 2050. And by 2100, the archipelago would be wiped off the map. 

This combination picture shows at top a Tuvaluan house, perched over an empty “borrow pit” dug by US forces during World War II in order to build the airstrip on Funafuti Atoll, home to nearly half of Tuvalu’s population of more than 11,000, on February 22, 2004, and the same house flooded at high tide. © Torsten Blackwood, AFP

And yet, shrinking land mass is not the only challenge that Tuvalu faces. 

Tuvalu’s capital, Funafuti, has also witnessed severe drought, water shortages and contaminated groundwater due to rising sea levels. The difficult climate-related conditions have subsequently translated into widespread malnutrition and displacement on the archipelago. 

‘Good neighbourliness’

“Australia and Tuvalu are family. And today we are elevating our relationship to a more integrated and comprehensive partnership,” Albanese said in a tweet on social media platform X on Friday as he announced the inking of the pact baptised ‘Falepili Union’ with Natano. 

“Falepili is a Tuvaluan word for the traditional values of good neighbourliness, care and mutual respect. Put simply, it means being a good neighbour,” Albanese said. 

The two countries will work together on “climate adaptation, work arrangements and security” in a new partnership which “recognises climate change as the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of Tuvalu”, he added. 

While some lauded the new pact, others pointed out the irony as they highlighted Australia’s share of responsibility for global warming. 

“Australia helping the people of Tuvalu who are suffering from the effects of climate change. The same Australia that has undermined every international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and is behind many environmentally disastrous projects,” one user said in a tweet. 

Another quipped: “[The] bloody magnanimity of the hero [Albanese] who will throw Tuvalu a lifeline if the island succumbs to the effects of climate change, all the while continuing to sell coal and gas to countries like China and India”. 

Australia’s economic reliance on coal and gas exports has long been a point of friction with its many Pacific neighbours, who face massive economic and social costs from wilder weather and rising sea levels. 

While Australia contributed just over one percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, it is one of the world’s top exporters of coal which remains largely responsible for global warming. 

According to Geoscience Australia, the country was in 2021 the world’s largest exporter of liquid natural gas (LNG), another cause of rising global average temperatures. 

Albanese said developed nations needed to start shouldering more responsibility as developing countries bore the brunt of the climate crisis. 

Tuvalu is far from being the only island nation threatened by climate change: others such as the Maldives (Indian Ocean), Kiribati (Polynesia), the Marshall Islands and Nauru (Oceania) are also becoming increasingly vulnerable in the face of rising sea levels and multiplying natural disasters, a result of global warming. 

(with AFP)

This article has been adapted from the original in French

Source link

#Australia #offers #refuge #Tuvaluans #rising #sea #levels #threaten #Pacific #archipelago

Former Chinese PM Li Keqiang dies of heart attack

Former Premier Li Keqiang, China’s top economic official for a decade, died Friday of a heart attack. He was 68.

Li was China’s No. 2 leader from 2013-23 and an advocate for private business but was left with little authority after President Xi Jinping made himself the most powerful Chinese leader in decades and tightened control over the economy and society.

CCTV said Li had been resting in Shanghai recently and had a heart attack on Thursday. He died at 12:10 am Friday.

Li, an English-speaking economist, was considered a contender to succeed then-Communist Party leader Hu Jintao in 2013 but was passed over in favor of Xi. Reversing the Hu era’s consensus-oriented leadership, Xi centralised powers in his own hands, leaving Li and others on the party’s ruling seven-member Standing Committee with little influence.

As the top economic official, Li promised to improve conditions for entrepreneurs who generate jobs and wealth. But the ruling party under Xi increased the dominance of state industry and tightened control over tech and other industries. Foreign companies said they felt unwelcome after Xi and other leaders called for economic self-reliance, expanded an anti-spying law and raided offices of consulting firms.

Li was dropped from the Standing Committee at a party congress in October 2022 despite being two years below the informal retirement age of 70.

The same day, Xi awarded himself a third five-year term as party leader, discarding a tradition under which his predecessors stepped down after 10 years. Xi filled the top party ranks with loyalists, ending the era of consensus leadership and possibly making himself leader for life. The No. 2 slot was filled by Li Qiang, the party secretary for Shanghai, who lacked Li Keqiang’s national-level experience and later told reporters that his job was to do whatever Xi decided.

Known for easygoing style

Li Keqiang, a former vice premier, took office in 2013 as the ruling party faced growing warnings the construction and export booms that propelled the previous decade’s double-digit growth were running out of steam.

Government advisers argued Beijing had to promote growth based on domestic consumption and service industries. That would require opening more state-dominated industries and forcing state banks to lend more to entrepreneurs. Li’s predecessor, Wen Jiabao, apologized at a March 2012 news conference for not moving fast enough.

In a 2010 speech, Li acknowledged challenges including too much reliance on investment to drive economic growth, weak consumer spending and a wealth gap between prosperous eastern cities and the poor countryside, home to 800 million people.


Li was seen as a possible candidate to revive then-supreme leader Deng Xiaoping’s market-oriented reforms of the 1980s that started China’s boom. But he was known for an easygoing style, not the hard-driving impatience of Zhu Rongji, the premier in 1998-2003 who ignited the construction and export booms by forcing painful reforms that cut millions of jobs from state industry.

Li was believed to have supported the “China 2030” report released by the World Bank and a Cabinet research body in 2012 that called for dramatic changes to reduce the dominance of state industry and rely more on market forces.

Support for economic reforms

In his first annual policy address, Li in 2014 was praised for promising to pursue market-oriented reform, cut government waste, clean up air pollution and root out pervasive corruption that was undermining public faith in the ruling party.

Xi took away Li’s decision-making powers on economic matters by appointing himself to head a party commission overseeing reform.

Xi’s government pursued the anti-graft drive, imprisoning hundreds of officials including former Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang. But party leaders were ambivalent about the economy. They failed to follow through on a promised list of dozens of market-oriented changes. They increased the dominance of state-owned banks and energy and other companies.

Xi’s government opened some industries including electric car manufacturing to private and foreign competition. But it built up state-owned “national champions” and encouraged Chinese companies to use domestic suppliers instead of imports.

Borrowing by companies, households and local governments increased, pushing up debt that economists warned already was dangerously high.

Beijing finally tightened controls in 2020 on debt in real estate, one of China’s biggest industries. That triggered a collapse in economic growth, which fell to 3% in 2022, the second-lowest in three decades.

Li showed his political skills but little zeal for reform as governor and later party secretary of populous Henan province in central China in 1998-2004.

Reputation for bad luck

Li earned the nickname “Three Fires Li” and a reputation for bad luck after three fatal fires struck Henan while he was there. A Christmas Day blaze at a nightclub in 2000 killed 309 people. Other officials were punished but Li emerged unscathed.

Meanwhile, provincial leaders were trying to suppress information about the spread of AIDS by a blood-buying industry in Henan. Li’s reputation for bad luck held as China suffered a series of deadly disasters during his term.

Days after he took office, a landslide on March 29, 2013, killed at least 66 miners at a gold mine in Tibet and left 17 others missing and presumed dead. In the eastern port of Tianjin, a warehouse holding chemicals exploded August 12, 2015, killing at least 116 people.

A China Eastern Airlines jetliner plunged into the ground on March 22, 2022, killing all 132 people aboard. Authorities have yet to announce a possible cause.

Li oversaw China’s response to COVID-19, the first cases of which were detected in the central city of Wuhan. Then-unprecedented controls were imposed, shutting down most international travel for three years and access to major cities for weeks at a time.

PM during pandemic

In one of his last major official acts, Li led a Cabinet meeting that announced November 11, 2022, that anti-virus controls would be relaxed to reduce disruption after the economy shrank by 2.6% in the second quarter of the year. Two weeks later, the government announced most travel and business restrictions would end the following month.

Li was born July 1, 1955, in the eastern province of Anhui and by 1976 was ruling party secretary of a commune there.

Studying law at Peking University, he was the campus secretary of the ruling party’s Communist Youth League, an organization that launched the political careers of former party leaders Hu Jintao and Hu Yaobang. He was a member of the League’s Standing Committee, a sign he was seen as future leadership material.

After serving in a series of party posts, Li received his Ph.D. in economics in 1994 from Peking University.

Following Henan, Li served as party secretary for Liaoning province in the northeast as part of a rotation through provincial posts and at ministries in Beijing that was meant to prepare leaders. He joined the party Central Committee in 2007.


Source link

#Chinese #Keqiang #dies #heart #attack

How palm oil companies are illegally burning forests to clear land in Indonesia

Indonesian palm oil companies have been playing a dangerous game: burning forests to clear land that has already been dried out by their activities – just to cut production costs. This practice is illegal because it is a major cause of wildfires that have destroyed ecosystems and generated massive atmospheric pollution in Indonesia and nearby countries over the past few years. A group of Indonesian environmental NGOs have been investigating how palm oil companies are continuing to harm the environment with impunity. 

A number of wildfires tore through Indonesia in October 2023 – something that has become a common occurrence in recent years. On the island of Sumatra, the blazes led to the closure of several schools. For NGOs operating in Indonesia, including Greenpeace and the local organisation Pantau Gambut, the culprit is clear: palm oil companies are to blame for these fires. 

The NGOs accuse these companies of using these fires to clear the land – a cheaper and faster option than bulldozers. Then, the companies plant palm trees in the cleared land. While using fire to clear land is a traditional practice, it has been illegal in Indonesia since 2009.  

Environmental NGOs have seen a real increase in fires in Indonesia’s tropical peatlands, which are under threat by the palm oil industry.

‘It’s the cheapest method’

More than 14,000 fires were recorded in August, four times the number in July, according to Pantau Gambut, an Indonesian NGO that monitors fires in the peatlands.  

This increase in fires can be directly linked to the palm oil companies for two reasons, says Abil Salsabila, a member of Pantau Gambut:

Some of these palm oil companies start fires so they can clear the land and start a plantation there, because it is the cheapest method. 

It’s important to add that these companies drain the peatlands to water their plantations. That dries out the peatlands and makes them more vulnerable to fires overall.  Their soil is made up of organic matter that has been decomposing for thousands of years and the oxidation process from this decomposition makes them even more flammable.

Oxidation generates carbon dioxide (CO2). In case of a fire, this build-up of CO2 adds to the CO2 created by the fire. Therefore, dried-out peatlands represent between 5 and 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Satellites images and investigation on the ground 

The explosive cocktail of dried-out peatlands and clearing with fire is behind one of the biggest ecological catastrophes in southeast Asia.

In 2015, massive fires engulfed Indonesian peatlands for several weeks and generated enormous atmospheric pollution, leading to up to 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. 

Earlier this year, Malaysia said that the fires in neighbouring Indonesia were responsible for a massive decrease in air quality.

Even after the massive fires in 2015, palm oil companies are still burning land, as shown by the meticulous documentation carried out by environmental NGOs like Greenpeace Indonesia and Pantau Gambut.

Pantau Gambut monitors fires in the palm oil concessions using several tools – first, an online map that documents fires in Indonesia, satellite image analysis and on-the-ground investigation. 

The map, made by the Indonesian firm BRIN, shows where the fires have started. Out of 126,146 fires that began between July 1 and September 3, 2023, 27.5% were within palm oil concessions, according to Greenpeace Indonesia. Concessions are land granted by the government to plant oil companies to establish plantations.

This is a screengrab of a map made by the Indonesian firm BRIN, which indicates the fire hotspots in Indonesia over the past 24 hours. (Here, you can see the map from October 20, 2023). Researchers with two NGOs, Greenpeace and Pantau Gambut, have said that this data is limited because it comes from the Indonesian government. © BRIN

Pantau Gambut identified 675 fires that began in a palm oil concession belonging to PT Mekar Karya Kahuripan, in the province of West Kalimantan (the island of Borneo). The company has already been convicted of clearing land by burning it.   

A number of fires began in another palm oil concession owned by PT Waringin Agro Jaya (WAJ) in the province of South Sumatra. This company has also been found guilty of using fire to clear land in the past. In 2019, the Indonesian Supreme Court ruled that the WAJ was one of the parties responsible for the 2015 fires. 

Pantau Gambut used satellite imagery in order to identify which fires began with land clearing. For example, the image below shows part of the same concession, belonging to PT Mekar Karya Kahuripan, in 2019 and again in 2023.

This fire took place in the province of West Kalimantan (Borneo) in a protected area.

Certain zones had been cleared in 2019 (above right) but there is no trace of fire. 

In August 2023, a large swathe of land in the concession burned. You can see smoke, typical of these wildfires, above and around the region.

Alongside the burned zone, there is also a rectangle that indicates agricultural land ready to harvest.

The researchers at Pantau Gambut also carry out on-the-ground investigations to see what happened to the areas shown to have been burned in the satellite images.

The photo at the right shows plantations in 2021 on peatlands that were burned in 2015 (the zone that has been burned is marked in red).
The photo at the right shows plantations in 2021 on peatlands that were burned in 2015 (the zone that has been burned is marked in red). © Pantau Gambut

The images above show that plantations have been set up on land burned during the fires in 2015. That’s not what was supposed to happen to these lands – the palm oil companies were supposed to restore them to their natural state, at the request of the government.

‘The fact that there are still fires show that the concession owners haven’t taken any measures’

The courts have found the palm oil companies guilty of contributing to the fires in other ways as well.

Under Indonesian law, palm oil companies are responsible for any fires that start on their land or within one kilometre of their land. In July 2023, the Indonesian Supreme Court fined a palm oil company 57 million euros for burning 2,560 hectares of land in its concession between 2018 and 2019. 

Moreover, after the terrible fires in 2015, Indonesia also brought in several laws and policies to help save the peatlands and avoid fires in the concessions. Since 2017, palm oil companies found to have damaged peat lands within their concessions have to enact strategies to rehydrate the land. 

However, NGOs on the ground say that while the laws exist, they aren’t being respected. Salsabila explained: 

In reality, the law isn’t being enforced. The Ministry of the Environment will prosecute companies that break this law and some of them have been fined millions of euros but, in the end, the fines are often reduced and there is no transparency to know if the companies that were fined have paid up or not. 

For example, our researchers showed that in August and September 2023, a number of fires began in a concession that had been found responsible for fires between 2015 and 2019. 

There were also fires that began this year in a concession that belongs to PT Waringin Agro Jaya (WAJ), which was found responsible for the 2015 fires and fined 28 million euros.

The fact that there are still fires show that they haven’t taken any measures – on the contrary. 

And even if there are a bunch of fires that start in the concessions this month and it is government data that shows this, nothing is happening.

Some international corporations have stopped business with palm oil companies, because of their flagrant abuse of the environment as well as human rights. Kellogg’s became the 10th company in the world to end commercial ties with Astra Agro Lestari, the second biggest producer of palm oil in Indonesia.

Source link

#palm #oil #companies #illegally #burning #forests #clear #land #Indonesia

How Indian authorities ‘weaponised’ a New York Times report to target the press

NewsClick, a defiantly critical news site, has been in the Indian government’s sights over the past few years. But there was little to show after extensive financial probes – until the New York Times published a report which enabled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration to use the press to attack the press. 

Shortly after breakfast time on Tuesday, October 3, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta was outside his home in Gurgaon, a suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi, seeing his son off for the day when the police showed up at his place.

“Nine cops arrived at 6:30 in the morning,” recounted the renowned investigative journalist and writer in a phone interview with FRANCE 24. “I was surprised. I asked them, why have you come? They said, we want to ask you a few questions.”

True to their word, the police did have relatively few questions. But they were repeated over 12 hours at two venues, according to Guha Thakurta.  

After around two hours of questioning at his Gurgaon home, the veteran journalist was taken to the Delhi police’s Special Cell – the Indian capital’s counter-terrorism unit – and questioned again before he emerged around 6:30pm local time to a phalanx of news camera teams.

Guha Thakurta was among 46 people questioned during sweeping media raids that dominated the national news cycle, made international headlines, and sparked a series of condemnations from press freedom groups across the world.

The crackdown targeted NewsClick, an independent news site founded in 2009 known for its hard-hitting coverage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist policies. The list of those questioned included the NewsClick’s founder-editor, staff, former staffers, and freelance writers, as well as non-journalist contributors such as activists, a historian and a stand-up comedian. The police seized computers, mobile phones and documents during the raids. 

After an entire day of questioning, NewsClick’s founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha and human resources chief Amit Chakravarthy were arrested under the country’s draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), also known as the “anti-terror law” in India. The two men remain in custody while the others were released by Tuesday night. NewsClick’s New Delhi office has been shut down and put under a police seal.

Since Modi came to power in 2014, India has been nosediving in the international press freedom rankings, settling at 161 out of 180 countries on the 2023 Reporters Without Borders index. Some high-profile cases of media clampdowns make the news; many more pass unnoticed outside human rights circles.

Read moreAmid threats, Indian TV anchor battles on, but for how long?

What makes the latest raids noteworthy though is that they are linked to a New York Times report on a global network receiving funds from US tech billionaire Neville Roy Singham, allegedly to publish Chinese propaganda. NewsClick was one of the news organisations named as funding recipient. The report did not suggest the Indian news site had committed any crime.

NewsClick has denied the allegations in the report. The news site maintains that it does not publish any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity, nor does it take directions from Singham on its content. A police investigation into the site’s alleged Chinese funding is currently underway.

In its report, “A Global Web of Chinese Propaganda Leads to a U.S. Tech Mogul”, the New York Times unravelled a shadowy network allegedly propagating Chinese government talking points by funding left-leaning organisations across the globe via US NGOs. “Years of research have shown how disinformation, both homegrown and foreign-backed, influences mainstream conservative discourse. Mr. Singham’s network shows what that process looks like on the left,” noted the US daily. 

But in India, the process of press clampdowns and intimidation of the left looks very different. 

Years of assaults on liberal democratic values under the Modi administration have been propelled by a government discourse that vilifies dissenters as treasonous “anti-nationals”. 

The labelling of journalists, academics, activists and opposition figures includes vague associations, without evidence, to minor Maoist peasant uprisings in rural India. Disgraced dissenters are then booked under repressive anti-terror laws bereft of basic safeguards, according to international rights groups.

On the international stage, though, many of the violations pass unnoticed – or more precisely, unmentioned – since India is viewed in the West as a counterweight to China.

With the Ukraine war exposing splits between the so-called Global North and South, the focus in many Western capitals is on disinformation networks that lead to Moscow and Beijing. This is particularly marked as the US heads to the polls in 2024 with Donald Trump as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

But India is also heading to critical general elections next year. As Modi makes a bid for a third term, there are fears that his campaign will once again instrumentalise deteriorating ties with a neighbouring country to whip up a nationalist wave. In an ironic twist, the Modi government’s weaponisation of a report by a leading US daily – functioning under press freedoms enshrined in a mature democracy – is now threatening the very values that the West professes to uphold.

Same questions asked again – and again

The scale and planning of Tuesday’s raids sent an immediate signal across India that the state’s investigation of NewsClick – which has dragged on for more than two years without any charges – had gone up a notch.

“What happened is unprecedented. We’ve seen the police take coordinated action across the national capital region and also outside Delhi. Literally hundreds of police participated, they were summoned very early in the morning or probably late the previous night,” said Guha Thakurta.

The police’s questions appeared to show little understanding of the role of journalists in a democracy. “I was asked if I was an employee of NewsClick. I said no, I’m a consultant,” he explained.

The veteran journalist was then asked if he had covered a series of recent anti-government protests, including a farmers’ strike and demonstrations against a controversial citizenship law. “They were very polite. But the fact is, they kept asking the same set of questions. They were asked by different people, different officials, at various levels,” recounted Guha Thakurta.

Condemnations from press rights groups followed immediately, with the Press Club of India saying it was “deeply concerned” over the raids and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists calling it “an act of sheer harassment and intimidation”.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (L) speaks to writer Arundhati Roy (R) and Aproorvanand, a Delhi University professor (centre) during a protest at Press Club of India in New Delhi on October 4, 2023. © Altaf Qadri, AP

In Washington DC, a State Department spokesperson was asked if the US was aware of concerns about NewsClick’s China ties alleged by the New York Times.

“We are aware of those concerns and have seen that reporting,” Vedant Patel told reporters, adding that he could not comment on the veracity of the claims. “Separately,” he noted, “the US government strongly supports the robust role of the media globally, including social media, in a vibrant and free democracy, and we raise concerns on these matters with the Indian government, with countries around the world.”

There are no known legal proceedings in the US against Singham based on the New York Times report. In India, commentators note that even if the funding allegations against NewsClick turn out to be true, any Chinese funding of an investment by a listed US company in a business venture is legal.

Social media sites meanwhile are awash with links to news reports on Modi’s private fund, the PM CARES Fund, receiving funding from Chinese companies.

Investigating Adani and stories untouched by Indian media

The questioning of NewsClick freelancers, editorial consultants and contributors – who are not responsible for funding or financial decisions – has raised eyebrows, since many have done in-depth reporting on issues that are either ignored or superficially covered by the country’s mainstream media.

Guha Thakurta, for instance, is considered one of India’s leading, and certainly bravest, investigative journalists. A former editor of the once-prestigious policy journal Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), Guha Thakurta resigned from the post in 2017 following differences with the publisher after he co-authored an article on the Adani Group.

The conglomerate, led by Modi-ally Gautam Adani, was the subject of a high-profile investigation by US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research, which accused the group of using opaque funds to invest in its own stocks. The company denies any wrongdoing. Adani denies any improper relationship with the Indian prime minister.

Guha Thakurta was the only Indian journalist whose work was mentioned in the Hindenburg report. The 68-year-old journalist is also the author of the book, “Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis”, which investigated irregularities by the Ambani business dynasty, which also has close links to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Paranjoy [Guha Thakurta] is the only person in the Indian media doing any serious investigation of the Adani Group,” said Kavita Krishnan, a women’s rights activist and former leader of a leftist political party. “He has nothing to do with Chinese propaganda. He was questioned because he’s refusing to be a propagandist for the Indian government.”

Krishnan was under the spotlight last year when she wrote an article chastising the Indian left for supporting Modi’s neutral position on the Ukraine war. In her latest piece, published on Friday, Krishnan slammed the New York Times for failing to provide context in its coverage and ignoring her warnings that the Modi administration would use the Chinese funding allegations to crack down on NewsClick.

In its response to Krishnan’s article, published in independent Indian news site Scroll, the New York Times said it “published a thoroughly reported story showing the [Singham] network’s ties to Chinese interests. We would find it deeply troubling and unacceptable if any government were to use our reporting as an excuse to silence journalists.”

Krishnan is not mollified by the response. “The New York Times story is being weaponised by the Indian government,” explained Krishnan. “Because it’s the New York Times, the government is able to ride on its credibility to create a hysteria, a frenzy that this is evidence of journalists funded by China.”

Funding probes give way to terrorism questioning

The terrorist allegations following Tuesday’s raids are a new, disturbing twist to the Indian state’s ongoing NewsClick probes.

Since 2021, the news site has been investigated by numerous government agencies, including the finance ministry’s Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Delhi police’s Economic Offences Wing and the income tax department. 

After more than two years, none of the enforcement agencies have filed money laundering complaints or legal charges against NewsClick.

By invoking the anti-terror UAPA in its NewsClick investigations, the government has increased its capacity to legally harass and silence a small, underfunded news site, according to experts.

But in a statement released after the raids, NewsClick vowed to keep up the fight to survive. “We have full faith in the courts and the judicial process. We will fight for our journalistic freedom and our lives in accordance with the Constitution of India,” said the organisation.

‘The China connection’

As the NewsClick case looks set to go into the courts, the ruling BJP is already scoring political points off the controversy.

The politicisation started just days after the New York Times report was published, when a BJP parliamentarian claimed, without providing evidence, that China was financing NewsClick as well as the opposition Congress party.

On Tuesday, as the police were rounding up Guha Thakurta and dozens of others, the BJP was already linking NewsClick with Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi.

“Chinese Gandhi” said a BJP post on X (formerly known as Twitter) displaying overlapping circles representing the opposition party, NewsClick and China.

The instrumentalisation of the China allegations comes amid setbacks in India-China ties after Xi Jinping skipped the G20 summit hosted by New Delhi last month.

Anti-China sentiment is rising exponentially in India, according to the Pew Research Center, firing up a Hindu nationalist base that does not take kindly to signs of New Delhi’s weakness on foreign policy. In the lead-up to India’s last general elections in 2019, Indian air strikes on Pakistan just months before the vote swept Modi to a landmark victory.

Krishnan hopes the China funding allegations do not turn into an election issue ahead of the 2024 vote. “I trust that the Modi government will not succeed in using this in its favour as an election issue because everyone in India can see is that this is an unprecedented crackdown on journalism,” she said. “I think the election issue will be the crackdown on journalists, and not allegations of China funding.”

Source link

#Indian #authorities #weaponised #York #Times #report #target #press

Injury of 16-year-old Iranian girl not wearing headscarf in Tehran sparks anger

A mysterious injury suffered by a 16-year-old girl who boarded a Metro train in Iran’s capital without a headscarf has reignited anger just after the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini and the nationwide protests it sparked.

Issued on:

4 min

What happened in the few seconds after Armita Geravand entered the train on Sunday remain in question. While a friend told Iranian state television that she hit her head on the station’s platform, the soundless footage aired by the broadcaster from outside of the car is blocked by a bystander. Just seconds later, her limp body is carried off.

Geravand’s mother and father appeared in state media footage saying a blood pressure issue, a fall or perhaps both contributed to their daughter’s injury.

Activists abroad have alleged Geravand may have been pushed or attacked because she was not wearing the hijab. They demand an independent investigation by the United Nations’ fact-finding mission on Iran, citing the theocracy’s use of pressure on victims’ families and state TV’s history of airing hundreds of coerced confessions.

Geravand’s injury also comes as Iran has put its morality police – whom activists implicate in Amini’s death over her alleged loose hijab – back on the street, and as lawmakers push to enforce even stricter penalties for those flouting the required head covering.

“Girls are subjected to violence on the streets, and then their families are compelled to protect the government responsible for that violence,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

For observant Muslim women, the head covering is a sign of piety before God and modesty in front of men outside their families. In Iran, the hijab – and the all-encompassing black chador worn by some – has long been a political symbol as well, particularly after becoming mandatory in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran and neighboring Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are the only countries where the hijab remains mandatory for women.

Since Amini’s death and the large-scale protests subsided, many women in Tehran can be seen without the hijab in defiance of the law.

Geravand suffered her injury Sunday morning at the Meydan-E Shohada, or Martyrs’ Square, Metro station in southern Tehran. Rumors about how she suffered the injury quickly circulated.

By Tuesday, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, which reports on abuses in Iran’s western Kurdish region, published a photograph it said showed Geravand at the hospital, her head wrapped in bandages as she remains in a coma.

Geravand “was physically attacked by authorities in the Shohada station at Tehran Metro for what they perceived as noncompliance with the compulsory hijab,” Hengaw alleged, citing reports it said it received. “As a result, she sustained severe injuries and was transported to the hospital.”

The Associated Press has not been able to confirm the exact circumstances of what caused Geravand’s injuries.

Late Wednesday, Iranian state television aired what appeared to be nearly all the surveillance camera footage covering the 16 minutes Geravand spent inside of the Metro station before her injury. She entered at 6:52 a.m., then went down an escalator. The sole gap, about a minute and a half, occurs before she reaches the turnstile gate where she uses her Metro card. The footage includes her shopping for a snack, then walking to and waiting on the platform for the train.

In the mute footage, Geravand, whom activists describe as a taekwondo athlete, appears calm and healthy. An AP frame-by-frame analysis of the footage showed no signs of the aired video being manipulated.

At 7:08 a.m., Geravand enters the No. 134 train car – the last on the train and likely a women-only compartment. A new conductor for the train walks up as she enters, his body blocking the view of door she walks through. Within four seconds, a woman steps backwards out of the train and just a sliver of Geravand’s head can be seen as she lies on the floor of the train. Women then pull Geravand’s limp body out and run for help as the train moves off.

Iranian state TV’s report, however, did not include any footage from inside the train itself and offered no explanation on why it hadn’t been released. Most train cars on the Tehran Metro have multiple CCTV cameras, which are viewable by security personnel.

“Refusing to publish the footage only increases doubts about the official narrative,” the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said.

Emergency medical technicians took Geravand to Fajr Hospital, which is at a Iranian air force base and one of the the closest medical facilities to the station. In the time since her injury, security forces have arrested a journalist for Shargh newspaper who went to the hospital, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Shargh, a reformist newspaper, helped lead reporting surrounding Amini’s death as well.

Already, Geravand’s injury has drawn international attention, something Iran’s government has sought to dismiss. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote online: “Once again a young woman in #Iran is fighting for her life. Just because she showed her hair on the subway. It’s unbearable.”

U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Iran Abram Paley also wrote that he was “shocked and concerned about reports that Iran’s so-called morality police have assaulted 16-year-old Armita Geravand.”

Iranian authorities likely worry about this incident escalating into popular anger like in Amini’s case. Women continue to ignore the hijab law despite the growing crackdown. That includes what Shargh described as Tehran’s city government hiring of some 400 people as “hijab guards” to give verbal warnings, prevent uncovered women from entering subway cars and hand them over to police.


Source link

#Injury #16yearold #Iranian #girl #wearing #headscarf #Tehran #sparks #anger

Checkmate in Nagorno-Karabakh? How Azerbaijan got Armenia to back down

The Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh on Wednesday agreed to lay down their weapons following Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in the Armenian-majority enclave. Between Moscow’s weakening position in the Caucasus and the West’s dependence on hydrocarbons, Azerbaijan has taken advantage of a favourable international context to complete a decades-long mission to control the disputed region.

After more than 30 years of conflict, the battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh may soon conclude. Under the guise of an “anti-terrorist operation” following the death of four soldiers and two civilians, Baku continued its efforts to reassert control over Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. 

Armenian separatists – who have mostly governed the disputed territory since 1994 – promptly agreed on Wednesday to surrender their weapons following Baku’s lightning offensive, indicating they are open to talks on reintegrating the secessionist territory into Azerbaijan.

“An agreement has been reached on the withdrawal of the remaining units and servicemen of the Armenian armed forces … and on the dissolution and complete disarmament of the armed formations of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army,” the Armenian separatist authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said in a statement.

This announcement is a decisive victory for Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev who has made the reunification of his country a priority.

Separated from Armenia and attached to Azerbaijan in 1921 by Stalin, the predominantly Armenian mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has been a point of permanent tension between the two former Soviet republics since the collapse of the USSR.

Azerbaijan launched a military operation against the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region on September 19. © FRANCE24

In 1991, the territory declared itself the independent Republic of Artsakh but was never recognised by the international community. Then, in 1994, Armenia won the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, resulting in the de facto independence of the Republic of Artsakh which Azerbaijan refused to accept.

In the intervening years, the tables have turned, says Jean Radvanyi, geographer and professor emeritus at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO). Thanks to significant revenues from oil and natural gas, “Baku has taken advantage of the situation to rearm, with the support of allies such as Turkey, and the balance of power has continued to evolve”, says Radvanyi. 

This role reversal gave Azerbaijan the confidence to launch the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, which saw Baku’s forces overpower the Armenian military.

In the wake of this defeat, Armenia was forced to cede territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The ceasefire stipulated the presence of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers tasked with guaranteeing the safety of the Armenians but this measure failed to stop regular armed skirmishes on the border.

Taking advantage of a divided Armenia, Azerbaijan then launched the second phase of its plan: a war of attrition designed to cut off the enclave’s 120,000 or so Armenians. Despite the presence of the Russian peacekeepers, beginning in December 2022, Azerbaijan blockaded the Lachin corridor, a narrow mountain road that links Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.

It wasn’t until September 18 – just one day before the offensive – that Red Cross trucks carrying food and medicine gained access to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkish support and Moscow’s declining influence in the Caucasus 

In both the first and second Nagorno-Karabakh wars, Azerbaijan received support from Turkey.

On Tuesday, a Turkish defence ministry official said the country is using  “all means”, including military training and modernisation, to support its close ally Azerbaijan but it did not play a direct role in Baku’s military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Baku’s success also appears to be the result of Moscow’s weakening regional position. Russia has struggled to maintain its traditional role as policeman of the Caucasus since it launched its offensive in Ukraine in February 2022.

“Since the fall of the USSR, Russia has been the guardian of the region, maintaining a kind of status quo, but Moscow is focused on the conflict in Ukraine, which seems far from over,” says Lukas Aubin, associate researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS).

What’s more, Russia has become much more dependent on Azerbaijan. The country serves as a corridor between Iran and Russia, allowing for the transfer of military supplies for the war in Ukraine and is one of the countries that enables Russia to circumvent Western sanctions

Finally, Moscow’s support for Armenia has been steadily waning in recent years. Elected in 2018, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has edged away from Russia and turned to the West for security guarantees.

Read more‘We never deliberately attacked civilians’: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev interview

For instance, in November 2022, Pashinyan refused to sign the final declaration of the summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Azerbaijan is also a member. This signalled Armenia’s growing resentment at Moscow’s lack of support for the country.

“Pashinyan is pursuing a pro-Western policy, which was not necessarily the case at the outset, and which irritates Moscow,” says Laurent Leylekian, a South Caucasus specialist and political analyst. “Armenia ratified the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court to protect the Armenian minority in Nagorno-Karabakh.” 

This process began at the end of 2022, but ended, coincidentally, a few days after the announcement of the ICC’s arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin – at a time when Putin wanted to sully the ICC’s credibility, Armenia was legitimising it.

Since then, Pashinyan has multiplied acts of defiance towards the Russian president. In early September, Armenia announced humanitarian aid to Ukraine and undertook a joint military exercise with the United States, which began on September 11. In response, Moscow responded by summoning the Armenian ambassador and denouncing the measures as “unfriendly”.

‘It’s death or exile that awaits the Armenians’ 

A Western response is yet to materialise. But here again, the international context is working in Azerbaijan’s favour.

In January, the European Union signed a far-reaching natural gas import agreement with Baku, to reduce dependence on Russian supplies. A few months later, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, travelled to Baku to announce a new agreement to double gas imports from Azerbaijan.

In an article published in Le Monde, some fifty French lawmakers criticised a project that would once again place Europeans “in a situation of new dependence on a state with bellicose aspirations”.

“The West has always been rather hypocritical in this matter, preferring to negotiate gas and oil with Baku rather than genuinely support the Armenians”, says Radvanyi.

As Azerbaijan now enters negotiations with Armenian separatists from a position of considerable strength, the power asymmetry could spell danger for both the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia itself. 

“The (ethnic) Armenian leaders of secessionist Karabakh have long refused to acknowledge that this territory belongs to Azerbaijan,” says Radvanyi, for whom the power shift on the ground could lead to a “solution” to the long-lasting standoff over Nagorno-Karabakh. 

“I hope this solution will ensure the status of the Karabakh Armenians,” he adds.  

But other experts envisage much gloomier scenarios. “It’s death or exile that awaits the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh because it’s impossible for an Armenian to live in a country where racist anti-Armenian hatred is the raison d’être,” says Leylekian.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, an Armenian ambassador warned of “looming ethnic cleansing” in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh are trapped and they do not have a way to evacuate since Azerbaijan continues to block the only lifeline connecting with Armenia,” he said.

Another concern relates to the integrity of Armenian territory, as Nagorno-Karabakh could lose its role as a buffer zone between the two enemies of the Caucasus.

“There’s every reason to be worried. If this buffer zone were to disappear, Azerbaijan’s ambitions could be even more pronounced,” says Aubin. “Without Russian support and frank and massive support from the West, it’s hard to see the Armenian army being in a position to resist.”

In contrast with this, Azerbaijan’s presidential foreign policy advisor Hikmet Hajiyev said Wednesday that the country aimed to “peacefully reintegrate” Armenians living in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh and that it supports a “normalisation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

Source link

#Checkmate #NagornoKarabakh #Azerbaijan #Armenia

Questions swirl around Xi’s motives after a second top minister disappears in China

Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu has not been seen in public for more than two weeks. The disappearance of this top official close to President Xi Jinping comes two months after that of now-former foreign affairs minister Qin Gang, and follows the dismissal of a pair of influential military generals. For some observers, Li’s vanishing is likely linked to corruption, while others see it as a sign of intense political battles hidden from outside eyes.

Where is Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu? The top military official has not been heard from in more than two weeks, as noted by the Financial Times in an article published on Friday. 

The general last appeared in public at the third China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing on August 29. Li had not left China since a trip to Moscow and Minsk earlier that month. 

Beijing is keeping quiet about the disappearance. The only official clue emerged when Vietnamese authorities said that Li’s ministry last week cancelled his trip to Hanoi for “health reasons”. 

But sources in Washington offered a different explanation. Speaking to the Financial Times on condition of anonymity, several US officials said that Li could be the target of a corruption investigation, which could have prompted Chinese authorities to discreetly remove the defence minister from his post just six months after his appointment by President Xi.

Reuters reported on Friday that Li is under investigation by Chinese authorities, citing 10 people described as being familiar with the matter.

Beijing seems to have undertaken a summer clean-up in the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“There are signs that a vast anti-corruption campaign is ongoing targeting the PLA,” said Carlotta Rinaudo, a China specialist at the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona. 

In July, Xi himself announced the dismissal of two officials from the PLA’s Rocket Force, a military branch responsible for the development of highly strategic ballistic missiles. 

In early September, the president of the army’s military court was sacked. Beijing did not give an official reason for this “unexpected shakeup”

However, when it comes to China’s armed forces, corruption is still the chief suspect.

“PLA corruption has been a problem since China opened to the world, economically, in the 1980s”, said sinologist Marc Lanteigne of the Arctic University of Norway. “Going back 20 years, there has been scandal about generals getting rich by selling access and influence.”  

‘No one is safe’

Since he came to power in 2012, Xi has made the fight against corruption in the military’s ranks an absolute priority. “He is obsessed with fighting corruption in the PLA,”, said Rinaudo.  

“When Xi Jinping’s father was rehabilitated, it helped him land a job as a mishu. It’s a Chinese term that means literally a ‘book of secrets’ and [designates a] personal assistant who has access” to a military general’s “secrets”, she explained, referencing the purging and later return to favour of Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun.

“It was a perfect spot to see the extent of the corruption in the PLA.”

The recent clean-up – including the defence minister’s disappearance – could be the latest manifestation of Xi’s anti-corruption crusade. 

The fact that the president did not hesitate to let go of a minister he had appointed in March who “certainly is seen as a Xi loyalist”, as Lanteigne said, would appear to demonstrate the president’s determination.  

“No one is safe,” said Rinaudo. 

She said that Li’s profile also fits in well with a major corruption case in the military.

“Around 2017-2018, he worked for the equipment development department, which … is considered one of the most corrupt because of the huge amount of money they have access to,” she said. 

However, Li’s disappearance doesn’t fit neatly within the narrative of a major anti-corruption effort – China’s president has never been discreet in his fight against corruption in the military. “It’s an accomplishment he is very proud of,” said Lanteigne. 

It is possible that Xi has opted for silence because he doesn’t want to draw too much media attention to a matter that tarnishes a man who is supposed to be close to him.

“It really calls into question the control Xi Jinping has on his inner circle and his ability to pick the right person,” said Lanteigne. 

But Li’s disappearance also recalls another recent episode at the highest level of the state. In July, former foreign minister Qin Gang also disappeared – for more a month. Qin was officially sacked at the end of that month without any reason being given. The ex-minister has not reappeared since. 

After the wave of disappearances of billionaires and business leaders in recent years, it could be the turn of senior political officials. The recent silent sackings reflect major “infighting between administrations or even factions” in China’s government, said Lanteigne. The behind-the-scenes cacophony conflicts with the image of control that Xi exercises on his government. 

Anxiety, not strength 

But the political situation in China has been tense since the end of Beijing’s “zero Covid” policy, which was preceded by demonstrations “that took the government by surprise because of how strong they were”, said Lanteigne. The dismissals are “maybe a reaction to the impression of a loss of control by Xi over the situation”, he said. 

“In a way, getting rid of a loyalist is a demonstration of strength from Xi,” said Rinaudo. 

Internationally, the disappearances create an impression of anxiety rather than strength, according to both experts interviewed by FRANCE 24. US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel even poked fun at the situation, comparing it to mystery writer Agatha Christie’s novel “And Then There Were None”, in which one character after another disappears. 

“Both of these ministers are responsible for projecting power outside of the country,” said Lanteigne. “The impression that there is some internal turmoil behind this is not helping the government to demonstrate China is in a position to play an active role on the world stage.”

From a diplomatic point of view, “it’s creating some doubt about who is in charge for foreign diplomacy”, said Rinaudo. 

However, the likely isolation of the defence minister could ultimately benefit Beijing. Since 2018, Li has been on the list of people targeted by US sanctions for having sold military equipment to Russian entities that were sanctioned by the US.

“Having a defence minister on a Washington sanction list was a bad thing for [China-US] relations,” said Rinaudo. “Now that he is gone, it could ease the tensions.” 

What’s more, Li “is a hawk who was very aggressive … about China’s territorial dispute and relations with the West”, said Lanteigne. For the Arctic University professor, the appointment of his successor will be a very good indicator of Xi’s state of mind. If the new defence minister is a moderate, it could be a sign that Beijing wants to improve its relations with Washington. 

This article is a translation of the original in French. 

Source link

#Questions #swirl #Xis #motives #top #minister #disappears #China