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Stephen Norris

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Turkey charges 20 Saudis over Khashoggi murder

first_imgTurkey has charged 20 suspects including two former aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the 2018 murder of Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi, prosecutors said on Wednesday.Prosecutors accuse Saudi Arabia’s deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s media czar Saud al-Qahtani of leading the operation and giving orders to a Saudi hit team. Khashoggi, 59, a commentator who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed after he entered the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018, to obtain paperwork for his wedding to Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz. Mutreb, Tubaigy and Balawi had been among 11 on trial in Riyadh, during which sources said many of those accused defended themselves by saying they were carrying out Assiri’s orders, describing him as the operation’s “ringleader”.The Turkish prosecutor said a trial in absentia would be opened against the 20 suspects but did not give a date.The prosecutor had already issued arrest warrants for the suspects, who are not in Turkey.Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic, was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials. His remains have never been found.The CIA, UN special envoy Agnes Callamard and Turkey have directly linked Crown Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.Topics : Turkey carried out its own investigation into the murder after being unhappy with Saudi explanations.The Istanbul prosecutor’s office said in a statement that Assiri and Qahtani were charged with “instigating the deliberate and monstrous killing, causing torment”.Eighteen other suspects — including intelligence operative Maher Mutreb who frequently travelled with the crown prince on foreign tours, forensic expert Salah al-Tubaigy and Fahad al-Balawi, a member of the Saudi royal guard — were also charged with “deliberately and monstrously killing, causing torment”.They face life in jail if convicted.last_img read more

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Coronavirus pandemic ‘amplifies press freedom threats’

first_imgThe coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating threats to press freedom around the world, with authoritarian states including China and Iran suppressing details of the outbreak, activists said on Tuesday.Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual press freedom rankings the pandemic was “highlighting and amplifying the many crises” already casting a shadow on press freedom.The outbreak had encouraged some regimes to “take advantage of the fact people are stunned and mobilization has weakened to impose measures that would be impossible to adopt in normal times”, RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire told AFP. ‘Chinese-style scenario’ Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been repeatedly criticized for cracking down on press freedom, rose three places to 154th but RSF said this was because of “other countries falling” rather than positive change.It said censorship of the media, especially online media, has been stepped up in Turkey and the country was “more authoritarian than ever.”Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, in 149th place, is also persevering “efforts to control the Internet, using ever more elaborate methods”, it said, citing a law that would allow the country to disconnect the Russian internet from the rest of the world.”The prospect of a Chinese-style scenario [in Russia] is alarming,” RSF said.RSF said “the closure of the national internet” is already a reality in the isolated Central Asian state of Turkmenistan where the few internet users can access only a highly censored version of the Internet, often in cafes where they have to show ID before connecting.”Almost everywhere in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, strongmen are consolidating their grip on news and information,” RSF said. ‘Information hyper-control’  Alluding to accusations that Beijing concealed the initial extent of the outbreak, it said China “maintains its system of information hyper-control, whose negative effects for the entire world have been seen during the coronavirus public health crisis”.Europe has also not been immune — Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has passed a special law on false information which was a “completely disproportionate and coercive measure”.RSF said there was a “clear correlation” between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic and a country’s ranking in the index.While Norway topped the index for the fourth year in a row, Finland was again the runner-up. North Korea took last position from Turkmenistan, and Eritrea continued to be Africa’s lowest-ranked country at number 178.The third biggest leap was by Sudan, which rose 16 places to 159th after the removal of president Omar al-Bashir.France lost two places to rank 32nd, with journalists in the country sometimes the victims of police violence at demonstrations, it said.Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index assesses factors such as media independence, self-censorship, the legal framework and transparency based on a questionnaire filled out by experts.center_img The rankings saw few major changes from last year, with Nordic countries regarded as the most free and isolated states Turkmenistan and North Korea footing the list of 180 countries.RSF accused China and Iran — in 177th and 173rd place respectively — of censoring major coronavirus outbreaks. Topics :last_img read more

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Costa Rica legalizes same-sex marriage in first for Central America

first_imgCosta Rica legalized same-sex marriage on Tuesday, becoming the first Central American country to do so, as a court ruling came into force at midnight.Planned celebrations did not take place because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a special program about LGBT rights was broadcast on public television and online as the first weddings were held.”This change will bring about a significant social and cultural transformation, allowing thousands of people to marry,” said President Carlos Alvarado in the program. Costa Rica is the eighth country in the Americas to recognize same-sex marriage — a group that includes Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, as well as Canada and the US.The move was triggered by a 2018 ruling of the Supreme Court which declared the part of the law banning gay marriage was unconstitutional.That ruling gave parliament 18 months to legislate on the matter — but it did not, so the provision was automatically annulled.”Costa Rica is celebrating today: marriage equality has become a reality in the country — the first one in Central America,” said the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) in a tweet. “We rejoice with you: congratulations to all those who worked so hard to make it happen!”Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, called it “an extraordinary moment of celebration” in a tweet posted hours before midnight.He expressed “gratitude to the work of so many activists, and of quiet reflection of the lives of those who lived without seeing this moment”.center_img Topics :last_img read more

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Oil palm smallholders suffer from falling prices, pandemic restrictions

first_imgOf the ten largest palm-oil producing provinces in the country, only West Sumatera has officially imposed province-wide large-scale social restrictions (PSBB), although this region only accounts for 1.7 percent of the nation’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.Only about 30 percent of palm oil farmers have alternative sources of income, a 2018 SPKS survey shows.About 6,000 farmers from 26 farming groups still managed to book sales of palm oil with sustainable certificates during the pandemic, said Guntur Cahyo Prabowo, manager of smallholder programs at the Jakarta branch of the non-profit Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).Through its RSPO Credit scheme, the organization has disbursed $1.5 million to 30 RSPO-certified independent smallholder groups from the sale of certified palm oil between May 2019 and May 2020.“As RSPO-certified farmers, our members received support of staple food and fertilizer,” said Zainanto Hari Widodo, a representative of the Indonesian Palm Oil Farmers Association. As 70 percent of CPO production is exported, the trade-reliant palm oil industry is taking an especially hard hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought international trade to a temporary halt.The same restrictions that have impeded manufacturing have also affected farmers, as they are unable to sell their FFB but must still pay for fertilizer and the services of middlemen.“Since many independent farmers do not have the means to ship their products to factories, they rely on middlemen to provide this service. But the restriction of activity and mobility related to COVID-19 affects them and their source of income largely because they cannot deliver their fresh fruit bunches to buyers,” said Rukaiyah Rafik, a senior adviser at the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil Farmers Forum (Fortasbi).PT Astra Agro Lestari, a subsidiary of conglomerate PT Astra International, reported earlier this month that its FFB production fell by 8.5 percent year-on-year (yoy) to 1.1 million tons in the first quarter of the year and CPO production fell by 14.6 percent yoy to 354 tons in the same period. Topics :center_img Oil palm smallholders have suffered losses during the ongoing health crisis from the falling price of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) and pandemic-related restrictions, a farmers’ union has said.During the pandemic, the price of FFB, a key component in the production of crude palm oil (CPO), fell to less than Rp 1,000 (0.71 US cents) per kilogram for independent farmers, according to Mansuetus Darto, the secretary general of the Palm Oil Farmers Union (SPKS).Farmers who have partnered with palm oil companies have seen FFB prices between Rp 1,200 and Rp 1,300 per kilogram, Mansuetus added.“A price below Rp 1,100 per kg is very difficult for farmers with more than two children, kids pursuing higher education or those with dependents to feed,” Darto said.last_img read more

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Holiday homes and battlefields: Legacies of the Korean War along DMZ

first_imgPointing to a faint North Korean mountain top in the distance, Lee, who was born and grew up in Haean, said his hometown was also used for propaganda: a 1970s government housing project combined every two homes into one to make them look larger — all of them facing north.Cheorwon county, 60 kilometers north of the 38th parallel, also changed hands after the 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice.On a nearly empty road leading to a military checkpoint stands the concrete shell of a three-story building — once the regional headquarters for the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.”Where we are standing now used to be North Korea,” said tour guide Gim Yong-sun.Before the war, she said, the building was a site for questioning and torturing those accused of anti-communist activities.Now the tank treads left at the entrance by advancing South Korean and UN forces in October 1950 serve as a reminder of the brutality of a conflict that killed millions. From North Korean party headquarters to holiday homes to cemeteries, 70 years after the Korean War began its legacies line the Demilitarized Zone that marks where the fighting came to a standstill.A few kilometers from the DMZ’s eastern end, a small stone villa stands on a cliff overlooking the white sands of Hwajinpo Beach in Goseong, South Korea.It lay in the North’s territory before the outbreak of war, when it was the summer home of its founder Kim Il Sung, grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. Barbed wire fence Hundreds of North Korean troops who never made it home lie in a field outside Paju, the only cemetery in the South for enemy combatants.Many of the graves hold multiple remains, their simple granite markers saying only the number of they contain, and just a handful are named.At Panmunjom, the truce village in the DMZ with its emblematic blue huts, their successors on both sides come face-to-face.In recent years it has seen a series of summits bringing together the North’s Kim, the South’s President Moon Jae-in, and US President Donald Trump.But the armistice has never been replaced by a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula technically still at war, and inter-Korean relations are now in the deep freeze with nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington at a deadlock.At the western end of the DMZ, barbed wire fences surround the border island of Gyodong, less than five kilometers from North Korea.Barber Ji Gwang-sik was 13 when he fled Yonpek, his North Korean hometown, at the height of the conflict.It took “less than 30 minutes” for his family to travel across on a wooden boat, Ji told AFP, but for nearly 70 years he has been unable to return — even though he can still see Yonpek from Gyodong.Now 82, he still waits for the day he will be able to return.”Only those who had the same experience understand the pain,” he said. Next to the stony steps leading up to the villa — now a museum — is a reprint of a faded 1948 black-and-white photo showing five children, among them Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il.Goseong county, along with a swathe of what is now South Korea’s Gangwon province, is north of the 38th parallel line of latitude where the US and Soviet Union divided the peninsula after Japan’s surrender ended the Second World War and its colonial rule over Korea.Surrounded by mountain ridges, the peaceful farming village of Haean was the site of some of the most fierce and bloody battles of the war, nicknamed the “Punchbowl” by a US war correspondent who said the area resembled a cocktail glass.”The South Korean and UN forces had to cross our village in order to advance northwards,” explained tour guide and villager Lee Byeong-deuk. Topics :last_img read more

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Qatar confirms first virus death among World Cup workforce

first_imgQatar has one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world with 3.3 percent of its 2.75 million population having tested positive.Most have since recovered with only 17,591 active cases reported in the latest official statistics alongside 104 deaths.”Sadly, on June 11, 2020, a 51-year-old specialist engineer employed by the contractor Conspel, tragically died after contracting COVID-19,” the Qatari organization responsible for organizing the 2022 tournament said in a statement.”He had worked on Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy projects since October 2019 and had no underlying health issues. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.” World Cup organizers in Qatar reported the first coronavirus death of a worker involved in construction of 2022 tournament venues on Thursday.A source close to the Qatari tournament organizers told AFP that 1,102 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among workers at tournament projects with 121 infections still active.First reported by the newly relaunched Doha News, a site popular among expatriates in Qatar, the victim was an engineer in his fifties who had no underlying medical conditions. Topics :center_img His nationality was not disclosed.The Qatari organizers reported the first infections among its workforce on April 15 with five cases across three stadium projects.Work continues at 2022 sites but has slowed to allow virus containment measures including screening and social distancing to be observed with Qatari officials saying preparations are nevertheless more than 80 percent complete.Organizers have removed all high-risk workers from projects on full pay, undertake temperature checks on workers twice daily, and imposed distancing rules in dining halls and staff transport to limit the virus’ spread. Construction at infrastructure to stage the tournament continued through the crisis even as Qatar halted non-essential retail and mosques, parks and restaurants closed.Qatar has begun a cautious reopening program with socially distanced worship permitted in some Mosques and non-essential retail permitted.Cafes and restaurants are due to reopen subject to strict controls from July 1.The timings of the competition, due to be held in November and December of 2022, remain unchanged by the coronavirus pandemic which has already forced the postponement of the European football championships and the Tokyo Olympics. Both will now take place in 2021.  last_img read more

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PREMIUMDefense budget could be casualty of COVID-19

first_imgLinkedin Google Facebook As it is almost certain the COVID-19 outbreak will put a squeeze on Indonesia’s defense spending, the government must confront the two-pronged challenge of rethinking its defense strategy priorities while also shifting its attention to non-traditional security threats.With the COVID-19 outbreak continuing to take a toll on the healthcare system and the economy, the Indonesian government will have to prioritize spending on relief efforts, a move that will put a strain on the defense budget and could affect the achievement of the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) target, defense analyst Curie Maharani of BINUS University told The Jakarta Post.“The reallocation of the budget for COVID-19 [response] could affect the implementation of new [defense] contracts, which in turn could increase the contract backlog. This could result in a delay to the achievement of the MEF target,&r… Topics : Indonesia defense defense-budget COVID-19 analysis Forgot Password ? Log in with your social account LOG INDon’t have an account? Register herelast_img read more

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UK signs up for Sanofi-GSK coronavirus vaccine

first_imgBoth companies voiced in a statement their commitment “to making their COVID-19 vaccine candidate affordable and available globally”.The vaccine candidate “has the potential to play a significant role in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the UK and around the world,” said GSK Vaccines President Roger Connor.Sanofi predicted regulatory approval for the vaccine “could be achieved by the first half of 2021”.UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma, quoted in the statement, hailed the progress but noted “the fact remains that there are no guarantees”. “In the meantime, it is important that we secure early access to a diverse range of promising vaccine candidates, like GSK and Sanofi, to increase our chances of finding one that works so we can protect the public and save lives.”Britain has already secured access to 90 million doses of potential coronavirus vaccines in deals with biotech firms BioNTech, Pfizer and Valneva.The deals involve 30 million doses of a vaccine being developed by US pharma giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, and 60 million doses of another created by France’s Valneva.The government in London has also said it would purchase 100 million doses of a vaccine currently being trialed by Oxford University in partnership with AstraZeneca.”This diversity of vaccine types is important because we do not yet know which, if any, of the different types of vaccine will prove to generate a safe and protective response to COVID-19,” Kate Bingham, chairwoman of the British government’s vaccine taskforce, was quoted as saying.Britain has been one of the worst affected countries in the world since the outbreak began, with more than 45,750 deaths. Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said Wednesday they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France’s Sanofi in partnership with the UK’s GSK and is subject to a “final contract”.Amid a global race to find a vaccine to halt the pandemic, Sanofi announced “ongoing discussions with the European Commission, with France and Italy on the negotiation team, and other governments to ensure global access to a novel coronavirus vaccine.”center_img Topics :last_img read more

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