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Call for action on crisis-hit Myanmar after school attack | News

Malaysia says Southeast Asian nations must engage with NUG, as UN Security Council prepares for debate on new resolution to end violence.

Southeast Asian nations must take a more “inclusive” approach to dealing with the violent crisis caused by Myanmar’s military coup and have a clear “endgame” in mind, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has said.

Sitting alongside representatives of Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) at a Monday press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, Saifuddin said it was necessary for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to speak to “all stakeholders” in its efforts to end the crisis.

Although ASEAN has barred the generals from its major summits, Saifuddin is currently the only foreign minister from the 10-member grouping to have met the NUG.

“There should be an inclusive and fair consultation with all stakeholders in Myanmar, including the NUG and NUCC. Then there should be a framework with a clear endgame, which includes a return to democracy in Myanmar,” Saifuddin said, referring to the government established by the elected politicians removed in the coup, and the National Unity Consultative Council, which includes the NUG, elected politicians, ethnic political parties and armed groups, and civil society.

“The Myanmar people deserve to have their true representatives at the table where regional decisions are being made,” said NUG spokesperson Htin Linn Aung, who appeared alongside Saifuddin.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis in February 2021, when the military detained elected civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power. It has cracked down hard on any opposition, describing civilian and ethnic armed groups fighting against its rule as “terrorists” and executing four political prisoners in July.

The military has effectively ignored an ASEAN-brokered five-point framework that was supposed to end the violence, and Saifuddin said the organisation, whose leaders are due to meet in two months, needed to decide whether the plan was “still relevant” or whether “it should be replaced with something better”.

“By the time we meet in November, we must ask that hard question and we must have the answer during that time,” he said.

School attacked

The press conference came amid reports that at least 13 people were killed, seven of them children, after army helicopters attacked a school in a monastery complex in central Myanmar.

“They kept shooting into the compound from the air for an hour,” school administrator Mar Mar told the Associated Press news agency. ”They didn’t stop even for one minute. All we could do at that time was chant Buddhist mantras.”

The NUG accused the military of “targeted attacks” on schools, and called for the release of 20 students and teachers it said had been arrested following the air raids.

Nearly 2,300 people have been killed by the military since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been tracking the crackdown.

A child’s backpack and school books at a school in Myanmar that was attacked by the military on Friday [Reuters via social media]

Save the Children says there were some 190 documented violent attacks on schools after the 2021 coup, compared with 10 the year before.

Amid the continuing attacks, the UN Security Council is due to consider a United Kingdom-drafted resolution — circulated on Friday — that would demand an end to all violence in Myanmar, call for an immediate end to the transfer of arms to Myanmar and threaten UN sanctions.

It would also call on the military to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, implement the ASEAN peace plan and allow for a democratic transition.

To be adopted, the resolution would need at least nine votes in favour and for none of the five permanent members to exercise their veto. Russia, which has a veto, has continued to show its support for the military with President Vladimir Putin meeting army chief Min Aung Hlaing earlier this month.

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First female premier poised to take helm of Italy government

ROME — A party with neo-fascist roots won the most votes in Italy’s national election, setting the stage Monday for talks to form the country’s first far right-led government since World War II, with Giorgia Meloni at the helm as Italy’s first female premier.

Italy’s lurch to the far right immediately shifted Europe’s geopolitics, placing Meloni’s euroskeptic Brothers of Italy in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. Italy’s left warned of “dark days” ahead and vowed to keep Italy in the heart of Europe.

Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed 45-year-old Meloni’s victory as sending a historic, nationalist message to Brussels. It followed a right-wing victory in Sweden and recent gains by the far-right in France and Spain.

Still, turnout in the Italian election Sunday was a historic low of 64%, and pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the country’s last three governments and the mash-up of parties in outgoing Premier Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

By contrast, Meloni was viewed as a new face in the merry-go-round of Italian governments and many Italians appeared to be voting for change, analysts said.

The victory of Meloni’s just 10-year-old Brothers of Italy was more about Italian dissatisfaction with the decades-long status quo than any surge in neo-fascist or far-right sentiment, said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs.

“I would say the main reason why a big chunk of (voters) … will vote for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,” she said.

The election’s sharp swing to the right, “confirms that the Italian electorate remains fickle,″ said London-based political analyst Wolfango Piccoli, noting that an estimated 30% of voters went for a different party than their choice in 2018 elections.

Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, tried to sound a unifying tone, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone. We will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people,” said. “shechose us. We will not betray it.”

Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching 26% in its biggest win in its decade-long meteoric rise. Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini winning 9% and Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8% of the vote.

The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26% support, while the populist 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in the 2018 parliamentary election — saw its share of the vote halved to 15%.

While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, Draghi remains in a caretaker role.

The elections, which took place six months early after Draghi’s government collapsed, came at a crucial time for Europe as it faces Russia’s war in Ukraine and related soaring energy costs that have hit ordinary Italians as well as industry.

A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend itself against Russia’s invasion, even as her coalition allies take a different tone.

Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both have distanced themselves from his invasion of Ukraine, Salvini has warned that EU sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry. Berlusconi has even excused Putin’s invasion as an event foisted upon him by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas.

A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with other EU nations is likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa, not Europe.

Salvini has made clear he wants the League to recapture the interior minister post, where he once imposed a tough anti-migrant policy. But he may face an internal leadership challenge, with Meloni’s party outperforming the League even in its northeastern stronghold.

On relations with the EU, analysts note that for all her euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has little room to maneuver, given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds. Italy secured 191.5 billion euros, the biggest chunk of the EU’s 750 billion-euro recovery package, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones to receive it all.

That said, Meloni has criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban as the elected leader in a democratic system.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen praised Meloni for having “resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union.”

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”

Meloni is chair of the right-wing European Conservative and Reformist group in the European Parliament, which includes her Brothers of Italy, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party, Spain’s far-right Vox and the right-wing Sweden Democrats, which just won big there on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.

“The trend that emerged two weeks ago in Sweden was confirmed in Italy,” acknowledged Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, calling Monday a “sad day for Italy, for Europe.”

“We expect dark days. We fought in every way to avoid this outcome,″ Letta said at a somber news conference. “(The Democratic Party) will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe.”

Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Rome’s Luiss University and the executive editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a consistent foreign and European policy that is bigger than individual party interests.

“Whatever Meloni might be up to will have to be moderated by her coalition partners and indeed with the established consensus of Italian foreign policy,” Christiansen said.

———

Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

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Tense Japan holds funeral for assassinated ex-leader Abe

TOKYO — A tense Japan prepared Tuesday for a rare and controversial state funeral for assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving leader in his nation’s modern history and one of the most divisive.

Tokyo was under maximum security, with angry protests opposing the funeral planned around the capital and nation. Hours before the ceremony began, dozens of people carrying bouquets of flowers queued at public flower-laying stands at nearby Kudanzaka park.

Thousands of uniformed police mobilized around the Budokan hall, where the funeral is being held, and at major train stations. Roads around the venue are closed throughout the day, and coin lockers at main stations were sealed for security. World leaders, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, were in town for the funeral.

Opponents of the state-sponsored funeral, which has its roots in prewar imperial ceremonies, say taxpayers’ money should be spent on more meaningful causes, such as addressing widening economic disparities caused by Abe’s policies.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been criticized for forcing through the costly event to honor his mentor, Abe, who was assassinated in July. There has also been a widening controversy about Abe’s and the governing party’s decades-long close ties with the ultra-conservative Unification Church, accused of raking in huge donations by brainwashing adherents. Abe’s alleged assassin reportedly told police he killed the politician because of his links to the church; he said his mother ruined his life by giving away the family’s money to the church.

Kishida says the longest-serving leader in Japan’s modern political history deserves a state funeral. The government also maintains that the ceremony is not meant to force anyone to honor Abe. Most of the nation’s 47 prefectural governments, however, plan to fly national flags at half-staff and observe a moment of silence.

Opponents say Kishida’s one-sided decision, which was made without parliamentary approval, was undemocratic, and a reminder of how prewar imperialist governments used state funerals to fan nationalism. The prewar funeral law was abolished after World War II. The only postwar state funeral for a political leader, for Shigeru Yoshida in 1967, also faced similar criticism.

“Spending our valuable tax money on a state funeral with no legal basis is an act that tramples on the constitution,” organizer Takakage Fujita said at a protest Monday.

About 1.7 billion yen ($11.8 million) is needed for the venue, security, transportation and accommodation for the guests, the government said.

A group of lawyers has filed a number of lawsuits in courts around the country to try to stop the funeral. An elderly man last week set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office in an apparent protest of the funeral.

In what some see as an attempt to further justify the honor for Abe, Kishida has launched a series of meetings with visiting foreign leaders in what he calls “funeral diplomacy.” The talks are meant to strengthen ties as Japan faces regional and global challenges, including threats from China, Russia and North Korea. He was to meet about 40 foreign leaders through Wednesday. No Group of Seven leaders are attending.

Kishida met about 10 dignitaries Monday, including Harris, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte. He will meet with his Australian and Indian counterparts separately and host a reception Tuesday.

About 4,300 people, including Japanese lawmakers and foreign and local dignitaries, are attending the funeral.

Japanese troops will line the streets around the venue, and 20 of them will act as honor guards outside of Abe’s home as his family leaves for the funeral. There will then be a 19-volley salute.

The ceremony will start when Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, enters the hall carrying an urn containing her husband’s ashes, placed in a wooden box and wrapped in white cloth. The former leader was cremated after a private funeral at a Tokyo temple days after his death.

Government, parliamentary and judicial representatives, including Kishida, will make condolence speeches, followed by Akie Abe.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party are boycotting the funeral, along with others.

Abe’s opponents recall his attempts to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities, his push for more military spending, his reactionary view of gender roles and a leadership seen as autocratic and supportive of cronyism.

Protests of the funeral have increased as more details emerged about Abe’s and LDP lawmakers’ connection to the Unification Church. The South Korea-based church has built close ties with LDP lawmakers over shared interests in conservative causes.

“The fact that the close ties between the LDP and the Unification Church may have interfered with policymaking processes is seen by the Japanese people as a greater threat to democracy than Abe’s assassination,” wrote Hosei University political science professor Jiro Yamaguchi in a recent article.

Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the church take root in Japan and is now seen as a key figure in the scandal. Opponents say holding a state funeral for Abe is equivalent to an endorsement of ruling party ties to the Unification Church.

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Giorgia Meloni is on track to winning. What’s next for Italy? | News

Rome, Italy – It was never in doubt. As pollsters had predicted throughout a chaotic election campaign, Italy is set to be led by its most hard-right government since World War II.

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, a largely peripheral figure in Italian politics up until a few years ago, emerged triumphant in Sunday’s election. The 45-year-old is now expected to become prime minister, leading a right-wing coalition that garnered more than 43 percent of the vote.

“If we are called upon to govern this nation, we will do so for all Italians, with the aim of uniting people rather than dividing them, to make them proud of being Italians, to wave the Italian flag,” Meloni said in the early hours of Monday, in a brief speech after the first projections result. “You chose us, and we will not betray you,” she said, visibly emotional.

Campaigning under the slogan of “God, family and homeland”, Meloni ran an aggressive campaign calling for the preservation of Christian identity and the “traditional” family, and of a country populated first and foremost by Italian patriots.

Critics warn that such a vision is one of exclusion and that a Meloni-led government will be one where civil rights are at risk — especially for the gay community — where access to abortion will be restricted, and where the lives of refugees and migrants, both new arrivals and those living already in Italy, will be increasingly hampered.

The far-right leader has also pledged to impose a naval block and push back “masses of illegal immigrants”, while putting Italians’ interests above everything in the European Union.

Her approach to the EU reflects years of bad blood.

The Brothers of Italy, which has its roots in neo-fascism, will form Italy’s most right-wing government since the Second World War [File: AP Photo]

Founded in 2012, Brothers of Italy seized on a growing popular discontent triggered by the eurozone’s debt crisis, for which it blamed “European bureaucrats” and financial markets. The tone is now more sober, but the substance remains the same, according to critics.

“Her international allies reflect her extreme-right political vision which will make it difficult to maintain good ties with European institutions,” said Pieri Ignazi, professor of political science at Bologna University, referring to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, France’s Marine le Pen and Spain’s Vox party that hopes to win the same success in next year’s elections. “Her position is to limit the process of integration of the European Union and give back power to each nation,” he added.

Ignazi points to the refusal last week by Meloni to join the EU parliament in condemning Hungary for democratic violations. “Such protective behaviour with Orban shows an acceptance of what he did in terms of rule of law limitations and of freedom of expression,” he said.

 

While other far-right politicians in Europe like French ultra-nationalist Eric Zemmour and Vox party leader Santiago Abascal have rushed to congratulate Meloni on her victory, more mainstream leaders have been more cautious.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he respected the “democratic choice” of the Italian people, adding that as “neighbours and friends” the two countries would continue to work together, while Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said France would keep a close eye on abortion and human rights in Italy.

The European Commission said it hoped for a constructive relationship with Italy’s next government.

The election was an unprecedented victory for the Brothers of Italy considering it polled at just 4 percent in 2018. But questions are now being asked about how the party, whose members mostly have experience only in local politics, will be able to find candidates able to fill the shoes of ministers.

“This is a party that is used to standing outside the system, which hasn’t had many occasions to grow its leadership,” said Gregory Alegi, professor of History and Politics at Luiss University. “Now that it has reached the government by skipping an intermediate step … is going to be a problem,” he said. An issue that could emerge even further at the EU level where politicians need to know how to navigate often complicated negotiations, Alegi said.

The party will essentially be learning on the job, but at the same time as Italy is preparing to go into winter amid a biting energy crisis and high inflation. The new leadership will need knowledge, Alegi said, but also the support of the EU especially as the country is receiving the biggest chunk of an EU recovery fund.

Italian newspaper frontpages reporting Meloni's victory
Italian front pages report Giorgia Meloni’s victory in the elections. The far-right, eurosceptic leader said she was ready to govern for “all Italians” [Vincenzo Pinto/AFP]

Washington is also watching closely.

Meloni has been clear over her support for Ukraine and sanctions against Moscow, but her coalition partners have openly expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Salvini, a longtime admirer of Putin, has repeatedly insisted sanctions should be reconsidered.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for his part, has struck up a personal friendship with the Russian leader, and the two have even taken holidays together. The 85-year-old said on Thursday that Putin only wanted to replace Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a government “made up of decent people”, but he met “unexpected resistance” on the ground.

“We are ready to welcome any political force able to show itself more constructive in relations with Russia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said following the elections.

Before the campaign, Meloni got her coalition partners to agree on support for Ukraine. And the relatively poor performance in the election of Salvini’s League, compared with the Brothers of Italy, has strengthened her position.

Experts say the risks for Italy in departing from its decade-long transatlantic alliance are simply too high.

“Considering Italy’s interests and interconnections there is no tactical advantage in running outside the Western alliance,” Alegi said.

“I don’t expect a U-turn in the midst of a highwayman, the political price would be too high.”

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