Archive for October, 2018

Thousands flee Thai capital as prime minister says flooding likely

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

BANGKOK – Tens of thousands of Bangkok residents jammed bus stations and highways Wednesday to flee Thailand’s flood-threatened capital as the city’s governor ordered official evacuations in two swamped northern districts for the first time since the crisis began.

Floodwaters bearing down on the metropolis have killed 373 people nationwide since July, causing billions of dollars in damage and shutting down Bangkok’s second largest airport.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government had repeatedly vowed to protect the capital, which has so far mostly escaped unscathed. But official assessments have turned grim in recent days, and everywhere people are preparing for flooding that seems all but inevitable.

Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra said residents of two of the city’s 50 districts – Don Muang and Bang Phlat, both already partially submerged – should leave for safer city shelters.

“This is the first time I am using the term ‘evacuation,’ the first time I’m really asking you to leave,” Sukhumbhand said.

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Elsewhere in the city, thousands of people packed Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus terminal, trying to leave town on their own. Many appeared to be taking advantage of a government-declared five-day public holiday to avoid a possible watery siege. The holiday runs Thursday through Monday in flood-affected areas, including Bangkok.

Some waited for hours on the sidewalk outside Mo Chit because there was no space inside the terminal, the main departure point for buses to Thailand’s north.

The mass exodus included thousands of migrants from neighbouring Myanmar, workers dependent on low-paying jobs so desperate to leave they are willing to brave a return to their intensely repressive nation to do so.

Authorities were also forced to move hundreds of inmates from three prisons – many on death row – to facilities in other provinces.

Satellite maps of Bangkok showed a city almost entirely surrounded by water. Most of the vast pools of runoff now submerging a third of the country are flowing from the north toward Bangkok – southward toward the Gulf of Thailand.

“The amount of water is gigantic,” Yingluck said. “Some water must spread into Bangkok areas but we will try to make it pass through as quickly as possible.”

In the district of Sai Mai, located on the capital’s northern outskirts, waist-high water turned roads into virtual rivers and swamped gas stations and homes.

Hundreds of residents clamoured aboard packed military trucks with their belongings, desperate to leave. But help was in short supply.

“We haven’t been able to get on one (military truck) yet, we have been waiting for almost an hour,” said 71-year-old Saman Somsuk. “There aren’t many trucks.”

Others got out any way they could – in paddle boats, plastic tubs, inner tubes and rubber rafts. Several men floated down a flooded road in a makeshift boat made of empty oil barrels tied to a rectangular plank.

As fears of urban disaster set in, some residents built cement walls to protect their shops and homes.

Websites posted instructions on the proper way to stack sandbags. Many residents fortified vulnerable areas of their houses with bricks, gypsum board and plastic sheets. Walls of sandbags or cinderblocks covered the entrances of many buildings.

Concern that pumps would fail prompted a run on plastic containers in which to hoard water. Anticipating worse, one woman travelling on Bangkok’s Skytrain system carried a bag of life vests.

On Tuesday, floods breached barriers protecting the capital’s Don Muang airport, shutting it down hours later. The airport is used primarily for domestic flights, but its closure dealt a major psychological blow to efforts to protect the capital.

The country’s main international airport is still functioning normally.

Panic has gripped parts of the city as more and more of it is affected by the advancing water. Residents stocking up on food and other necessities have emptied supermarket shelves. Bottled water and toilet paper were in especially short supply.

Yingluck urged everyone in the capital to move their belongings to higher ground and warned that the city’s fate rested on three key flood barriers.

“If the three spots … remain intact, the situation will improve,” Yingluck said. However, “in the worst case, if we can’t protect all three spots, all of Bangkok will be flooded.”

A day earlier, Yingluck had warned that the floods could range from 4 inches to 5 feet (10 centimetres to 1.5 metres) deep in the capital.

Residents living near Mahasawat Canal in western Bangkok evacuated on Wednesday after a rapid overnight rise in water.

“I decided to leave because the water came in very fast,” said Jong Sonthimen, a 57-year-old factory cleaner. A boat carried her and two plastic garbage bags with her belongings to a Buddhist temple, where pickup trucks waited to take residents to a safer area.

Last week, Yingluck ordered key floodgates opened in Bangkok to help drain runoff through urban canals to the sea, but there is great concern that rising tides in the Gulf of Thailand this weekend could slow critical outflows and flood the city.


Associated Press writers Vee Intarakratug, David Thurber and Todd Pitman contributed to this report.

Yemeni women burn traditional female veils to protest regime crackdown as clashes kill 25

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

SANAA, Yemen – Hundreds of Yemeni women on Wednesday set fire to traditional female veils to protest the government’s brutal crackdown against the country’s popular uprising, as overnight clashes in the capital and another city killed 25 people, officials said.

In the capital Sanaa, the women spread a black cloth across a main street and threw their full-body veils, known as makrama, onto a pile, sprayed it with oil and set it ablaze. As the flames rose, they chanted: “Who protects Yemeni women from the crimes of the thugs?”

The women in Yemen have taken a key role in the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s authoritarian rule that erupted in March, inspired by other Arab revolutions. Their role came into the limelight earlier in October, when Yemeni woman activist Tawakkul Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with two Liberian women, for their struggle for women’s rights.

Wednesday’s protest, however, was not related to women’s rights or issues surrounding the Islamic veils – rather, the act of women burning their clothing is a symbolic Bedouin tribal gesture signifying an appeal for help to tribesmen, in this case to stop the attacks on the protesters.

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The women who burned clothing in the capital were wearing traditional veils at the time, many covered in black from head to toe.

The women’s protest came as clashes have intensified between Saleh’s forces and renegade fighters who have sided with the protesters and the opposition in demands that the president step down.

Medical and local officials said up to 25 civilians, tribal fighters and government soldiers died overnight in Sanaa and the city of Taiz despite a cease-fire announcement by Saleh late Tuesday. Scores of others were wounded.

A medical official said seven tribal fighters were among those killed in Sanaa’s Hassaba district. Another medical official said four residents and nine soldiers also died in the fighting there.

Government forces also shelled houses in Taiz – a hotbed of anti-Saleh protests – killing five people, including four members of one family, a local official said. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Saleh has clung to power in the face of more than eight months of massive near-daily protests against his rule.

As they burned their veils, Yemeni women activists handed out leaflets appealing for help and protection.

“This is a plea from the free women of Yemen; here we burn our makrama in front of the world to witness the bloody massacres carried by the tyrant Saleh,” the leaflets read.

Across town, a group of women supporters of Saleh marched Wednesday up to the U.N. office to voice their opposition to international pressure on the president to step down. The women entered the U.N. building to hand in their protest note.

During a meeting with the U.S. ambassador on Tuesday, Saleh offered to sign a U.S. and Gulf Arab-backed power transfer deal that gives him immunity from prosecution if he steps down.

The meeting with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein was Saleh’s first since he returned last month from Saudi Arabia, where he was treated after an attack on his presidential compound in June left him badly wounded.

Saleh has repeatedly backed out of the deal at the last minute and the opposition has dismissed his latest offer.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed disappointment over lack of progress, despite Saleh’s pledge to sign the power transfer accord.

“We said that the proof would be in the pudding,” Nuland said. “We haven’t yet tasted a good pudding.”

Manitoba remains murder capital

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Manitoba has maintained its unwelcome distinction as the homicide capital of Canada. 


In figures released Wednesday by Statistics Canada, Manitoba leads all other provinces in homicide rates with 45 killings in 2010, a rate of 3.6 per 100,000. The next highest was Saskatchewan at 3.3, but most were much lower. The national average is 1.6 homicides per 100,000 population. 


Stats Can’s report notes, “Homicide rates have been generally higher in the western provinces and northern territories than in the eastern part of the country for many decades.“ 


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The homicide rate actually dropped in Manitoba and across Canada, with the national average reaching its lowest point since 1966. Manitoba’s rate dropped as well: there were 57 homicides in 2009 for a chart-topping rate of 4.7 per 100,000. But even with the decrease in 2010, Manitoba still leads the country in killings. 


Among cities, Winnipeg is also high on the homicide rate list, but not number one. Thunder Bay, ON saw the highest homicide rate for the second year in a row with five killings for a rate of 4.2 per 100,000 population in 2010. Winnipeg was fourth behind Regina and Saskatoon with 22 homicides in 2010, a rate of 2.8 per 100,000. But that appears to be a short-term blip: in Winnipeg saw 32 homicides in 2009 and the city has already recorded 32 homicides so far in 2011.  


And the decade-long average shows a disturbing trend: from 2000 to 2009, Winnipeg had an average 25 homicides per year, a rate of 3.5 pre 100,000 – the second highest in the country behind Regina. 


Stats Can also notes that firearms are involved in fewer homicides nation wide than in years past, with a significant decrease in incidents of rifles and shotguns being used in killings. The vast majority of gun-related homicides involved handguns.  Overall, the agency says, “Stabbings (31%) were nearly as common in 2010 as shootings (32%). Another 22% of homicides involved beatings and 8% were by strangulation or suffocation. The remaining homicides used other means such as motor vehicles, fire and poisoning.“ 

Arab delegation says Syria’s Assad looks serious about solving crisis; 15 killed in crackdown

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

BEIRUT – Arab officials held a “frank and friendly” meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad Wednesday, the head of the delegation said at the beginning of a regional effort to resolve a bloody 7-month revolt, the most serious challenge yet to the four decade Assad dynasty.

The Arab committee is trying to start talks between Assad’s government and its opponents, but protest leaders reject any dialogue with the regime while it continues its brutal crackdown, which the U.N. says has killed more than 3,000 people since March.

Activists said at least 15 civilians were killed Wednesday in military operations across the country, 12 of them in the flashpoint central city of Homs.

The meeting in Damascus between the Arab ministerial committee and Assad came hours after tens of thousands of Syrians packed a main square in the Syrian capital, chanting, “the people want Bashar Assad.” Assad succeeded his father, and together the family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani was quoted as saying that the Arab delegation felt that the Syrian government is eager to work with the Arab committee “in order to reach a solution.”

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Sheik Hamad told reporters that the Arab committee and the Syrian government will hold another meeting on Sunday either in Syria or in Qatar.

“What is important for us is that there are no victims from any side in Syria,” Sheik Hamad told reporters. “The fighting should stop and the dialogue should begin between the Syrian brothers so that, God willing, they agree on points that fulfil people demands.”

Syria has rejected previous Arab initiatives, and it was not clear if this would be different, or if the regime was trying to gain time to try to crush the uprising.

The Arab officials’ visit follows a meeting in Cairo last week by the 22-nation Arab League, which gave Syria until the end of the month to end military operations, release detainees arrested in the crackdown, and start a dialogue with the opposition.

Human Rights Watch quoted Syrian activists as saying at least 186 protesters and residents have been killed in Syria since the Cairo meeting.

The activists said towns and villages in southern and central Syria, as well as some areas in the north and east, closed their businesses in compliance with an opposition call for a general strike.

Amateur videos showed shops closed in different parts of the country as well as counter-demonstrations to the one held in Damascus. One of the largest took place in the village of Halfaya in the central province of Hama.

A giant banner raised on an electricity pole there read: “To the Arab League. How do you want us to have a dialogue with the killer of children and women when all laws say that the killer should not be negotiated with, but put on trial?”

The Syrian government has staunchly defended its crackdown on protesters, saying it is the target of a foreign conspiracy.

Bassma Kodmani, spokeswoman for the broad-based opposition group, the Syrian National Council, said it is “impossible” to talk about a dialogue within the current security crackdown.

“And even if the right conditions for dialogue prevail, the only thing to discuss would be a roadmap for the peaceful transfer of power,” she told The Associated Press.

“Russia gives Bashar international protection, Iran gives him weapons, and Arabs give him time,” read a banner carried by protesters in northern Syria Tuesday evening. “No dialogue with the killer of children,” read another.

Human Rights Watch called on the Arab ministers to demand that the government allow independent, civilian monitors into Syria to observe the behaviour of security forces.

In a pro-government rally timed to coincide with the Arab ministers’ visit, tens of thousands of Syrians carrying white, red and black flags and posters of Assad gathered at Damascus’ Omayyad square .

The opposition says authorities regularly stage such rallies in support of the embattled leader.

Assad still has significant support among Syrians, including those who benefited financially from the regime, minority groups who fear they will be targeted if the Sunni majority takes over, and others who see no clear and safe alternative to the president. He also still has the loyalty of the bulk of the armed forces, key to his remaining in power.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other rights groups said 15 civilians were killed Wednesday in shootings by security forces nationwide, including 12 in the rebellious city of Homs. The Observatory also reported 11 soldiers were killed in Hama province when the bus they were travelling in was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also said 15 people were killed Wednesday nationwide, most of them in Homs.


Zeina Karam can be reached on 杭州桑拿按摩论坛twitter杭州龙凤/zkaram

Kenyan grenade suspect tells court he was a member of Somali militant group al-Shabab

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

NAIROBI, Kenya – A Kenyan suspect arrested after two grenade blasts this week said in court on Wednesday that he took part in one of the attacks and is a member of the al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab.

The grenade blasts came after al-Shabab warned it would attack Kenya in retaliation for its military incursion into southern Somalia. Some though, questioned whether al-Shabab was behind the attacks given that it already has demonstrated it is capable of killing dozens of people in attacks on foreign soil.

Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, 28, also known as Mohammed Seif, pleaded guilty to nine charges, including causing grievous bodily harm to two people during Monday evening’s blast at a bus stop where hundreds of blue-collar Kenyans were waiting to get a ride home.

An officer with the anti-terror police unit who brought Oliacha to court said authorities will bring more charges against him in court on Friday, including charges related to the grenade attack on a pub early Monday morning that wounded a dozen people.

The officer, who did not give his name because he is not authorized to speak with journalists, said that Oliacha is expected to plead guilty to all of those charges as well.

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Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei allowed police to continue holding the suspect for two more days to complete their investigations.

Oliacha, who was not represented by a lawyer, looked calm in court, smiling and laughing with journalists who questioned him. When asked if he had gone to train in Somalia with al-Shabab, he said: “I would not even give that information to police.”

Oliacha was arrested Tuesday night by members of an elite paramilitary wing of the Kenya police at his house in a city slum.

Monday’s two blasts came about a week after hundreds of Kenyan forces moved into neighbouring Somalia to attack al-Shabab militants who the government blames for a string of kidnappings in recent weeks, including those of four Europeans, on Kenyan soil. One of the Europeans – a quadriplegic French woman – has since died in captivity. Al-Shabab, Somalia’s most dangerous militant group, threatened to carry out terror attacks in Kenya in retaliation.

Police say Oliacha is a Kenyan and not ethnic Somali. During his arrest he was found with six guns, 13 grenades and hundreds of bullets in his house in a slum called Kayole in eastern Nairobi. Oliacha admitted to possession of the weapons in court on Wednesday.

Analysts have raised doubts as to whether al-Shabab was behind the Nairobi grenade attacks that targeted working-class Kenyans.

Given al-Qaida’s preference for large-scale attacks, the twin blasts did not bear the hallmarks of a major, well-planned terror assault. A U.S. warning also had said likely targets would include shopping malls and night clubs where foreigners congregate.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a suicide truck-bomb attack earlier this month which killed more than 100 in Somalia and the July 2010 suicide attacks in Kampala, Uganda which killed 76 people watching the World Cup final.

In July, experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against Somali and Eritrea, said the Kampala bombings “signalled a new and alarming trend, in which East African extremist groups inspired and mentored by al-Shabab, including the Muslim Youth Center in Kenya, might represent the next generation of extremist threats in East Africa and the wider region.”