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Mexico shocked by news: Girl trapped in rubble didn’t exist

September 22, 2017 rbksa 0
Fri, 2017-09-22 08:00

MEXICO CITY: Hour after excruciating hour, Mexicans were transfixed by dramatic efforts to reach a young girl thought buried in the rubble of a school destroyed by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. She reportedly wiggled her fingers, told rescuers her name and said there were others trapped near her. Rescue workers called for tubes, pipes and other tools to reach her.
News media, officials and volunteer rescuers all repeated the story of “Frida Sofia” with a sense of urgency that made it a national drama, drawing attention away from other rescue efforts across the quake-stricken city and leaving people in Mexico and abroad glued to their television sets.
But she never existed, Mexican navy officials now say.
“We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl,” navy Assistant Secretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento said Thursday. “We never had any knowledge about that report, and we do not believe — we are sure — it was not a reality.”
Sarmiento said a camera lowered into the rubble of the Enrique Rebsamen school showed blood tracks where an injured person apparently dragged himself or herself, and the only person it could be — the only one still listed as missing — was a school employee. But it was just blood tracks — no fingers wiggling, no voice, no name. Several dead people have been removed from the rubble, and it could have been their fingers rescuers thought they saw move.
Twitter users quickly brought out the “Fake News” tag and complained that the widespread coverage had distracted attention from real rescue efforts where victims have been pulled victims from the rubble — something that hasn’t happened at the school in at least a day.
Viewers across the country hung on the round-the-clock coverage of the drama Wednesday from the only network that was permitted to enter. The military, which ran the rescue operation, spoke directly only to the network’s reporters inside the site.
The Associated Press and others reported about the search for the girl, based on interviews with rescue workers leaving the scene who believed it was true. The workers had been toiling through the night, and the change of rescuing the girl appeared to give them hope and purpose despite their exhaustion.
Reports about the trapped girl led to the donations of cranes, support beams and power tools at the school site — pleas for help quickly met based on the urgency of rescuing children. It was unclear if that affected other rescue operations going on simultaneously at a half dozen other sites across the city.
Despite all the technology brought to bear at the school, including thermal imaging devices, sensors, scanners and remote cameras, the mistake may have come down to a few over-enthusiastic rescuers who, one-by one, crawled into the bottom of shafts tunneled into the rubble looking for any signs of life.
“I don’t think there was bad faith involved,” security analyst Alejandro Hope said. “You want to believe there are children still alive down there.”
Rescuers interviewed by the AP late Wednesday at a barricade that blocked most journalists from reaching the site believed the story of the girl implicitly. Operating on little sleep and relying on donated food and tools, rescuers were emotionally wedded to the story, and the adrenaline it provided may have been the only thing keeping them going.
Rescue worker Raul Rodrigo Hernandez Ayala came out from the site Wednesday night and said that “the girl is alive, she has vital signs,” and that five more children had been located alive. “There is a basement where they found children.”
Despite the setback — and the diminishing hopes that anyone was left under the rubble — rescuers appeared unwilling to question the effort.
“It was a confusion,” said Alfredo Padilla, a volunteer rescuer at the school. “The important thing is there are signs of life and we are working on that.”
In retrospect, the story of “Frida Sofia,” had some suspicious points from the start.
Officials couldn’t locate any relatives of the missing girl, and no girl with that name attended the school. Rescuers said they were still separated from her by yards of rubble, but could somehow still hear her.
It could have political repercussions: Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno, often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, had repeated the story about the girl.
Hope noted “something similar happened in 1985,” referring to the magnitude 8.0 quake that killed 9,500 people.
Media quickly reported that a 9-year-old boy had been located in the rubble days after the Sept. 19 quake 32 years ago. Rescuers mobilized in a huge effort to find the boy, but he apparently never existed.
“That generated anger against those who had spread the story,” Hope said.

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Pakistan tells UN won’t be ‘scapegoat’ in Afghan war

September 22, 2017 rbksa 0
Shaun Tandon | AFP
Fri, 2017-09-22 04:44

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan refuses to be a “scapegoat” for Afghanistan’s bloodshed or to fight wars for others, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the United Nations on Thursday.
Addressing the UN General Assembly, Abbasi did not explicitly criticize US President Donald Trump’s new strategy on Afghanistan but made clear his displeasure with the renewed onus on Pakistan.
“Having suffered and sacrificed so much due to our role in the global counter terrorism campaign, it is especially galling for Pakistan to be blamed for the military or political stalemate in Afghanistan,” Abbasi said.
“We are not prepared to be anyone’s scapegoat,” he said.
“What Pakistan is not prepared to do is to fight the Afghan war on Pakistan’s soil. Nor can we endorse any failed strategy that will prolong and intensify the suffering of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and other regional countries,” he said.
Abbasi said that 27,000 Pakistanis have been killed by extremists since the launch of the US war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
He called for a priority on eliminating extremists, including from the Daesh group and Al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan but ultimately a political solution with the Taliban.
US and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of playing a double game, with the powerful intelligence services — not the civilian government — maintaining ties with extremists.
US forces tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 in Abbottabad, a popular resort for Pakistan’s military elite.
Trump, unveiling a new strategy last month, pledged to take a tougher line on Pakistan — making public what had long been more private US frustrations.
Trump has sent thousands more US troops into Afghanistan in a bid to defeat the Taliban, reversing his previous calls to end America’s longest-ever war.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in his own speech to the United Nations appealed to Pakistan for dialogue, saying that the neighbors can work together to eliminate extremism.
Analysts say that Islamabad’s role in Afghanistan is rooted in the security elite’s fixation on historic rival India, which has warm ties with the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.
Abbasi, who took office last month after his predecessor Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from office over a corruption scandal, used his UN address to renew Pakistan’s condemnation of India’s rule in Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two nuclear powers.
Accusing India of “massive and indiscriminate force” in Kashmir, Abbasi urged an international investigation and warned of escalation on their military frontier, the Line of Control.
“Pakistan has acted with restraint. But if India does venture across the LoC, or acts upon its doctrine of limited war against Pakistan, it will evoke a strong and matching response,” he said.
He was referring to an Indian strategic doctrine, rarely discussed openly, of a limited military response on Pakistan that is intended to stop short of triggering a nuclear reprisal.
India accuses Islamabad of training, arming and infiltrating militants into Kashmir. India considered but ultimately decided not to strike Pakistan after a bloody 2008 assault on Mumbai, which was planned by Pakistan-based extremists.

Main category: 
Afghan leader urges talks with Pakistan
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Afghanistan arms civilians to protect mosques during holy month

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N.Korea’s Kim says will make “deranged” Trump pay dearly for UN speech

September 22, 2017 rbksa 0
Christine Kim and Steve Holland | Reuters
Fri, 2017-09-22 04:48

SEOUL/NEW YORK: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blasted US President Donald Trump as “mentally deranged” on Friday and vowed to make him pay dearly for threatening to destroy his country, hours after Trump ordered fresh sanctions over Pyongyang’s weapons programs.
Tensions have risen as North Korea has resisted intense international pressure to halt its nuclear and missile programs, with Trump and Kim exchanging ever-more threatening rhetoric.
The US president said in his first address to the United Nations on Tuesday he would “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if the North threatened the United States and its allies, and called Kim a “rocket man” on a suicide mission.
Kim said the North would consider the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the United States and that Trump’s comments had confirmed his nuclear program was “the correct path.”
Pyongyang conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3 and has launched dozens of missiles this year as it accelerates a program aimed at enabling it to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.
Kim said Trump would face “results beyond his expectation,” without specifying what action North Korea would take next.
“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire,” Kim said in the rare direct statement carried by the KCNA state news agency, referring to Trump.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was asked what Kim might do and said Pyongyang could consider a hydrogen bomb test on the Pacific Ocean of an unprecedented scale, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
Ri, who was talking to reporters in New York, however said he did not know Kim’s exact thoughts, according to the report.
The escalating rhetoric came even as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for statesmanship to avoid “sleepwalking” into a war.
South Korea, Russia and China all urged calm.
However, the rhetoric was starting to rattle some in the international community. French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said France’s team would not travel to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea if its security cannot be guaranteed.
The 2018 Games are to be staged in Pyeongchang, just 80 km (50 miles) from the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, the world’s most heavily armed border.

More sanctions
In his sanctions announcement on Thursday, Trump stopped short of going after Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, China, praising as “tremendous” a move by its central bank ordering Chinese banks to stop doing business with North Korea.
The additional sanctions on Pyongyang, including on its shipping and trade networks, showed that Trump was giving more time for economic pressures to weigh on North Korea after warning about the possibility of military action on Tuesday.
Asked ahead of a lunch meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea if diplomacy was still possible, Trump nodded and said: “Why not?“
Trump said the new executive order on sanctions gives further authorities to target individual companies and institutions that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea.
It “will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind,” Trump said.
The US Treasury Department now had authority to target those that conduct “significant trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea.”
Trump did not mention Pyongyang’s oil trade.
The White House said North Korea’s energy, medical, mining, textiles, and transportation industries were among those targeted and that the US Treasury could sanction anyone who owns, controls or operates a port of entry in North Korea.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said banks doing business in North Korea would not be allowed to also operate in the United States.
“Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that going forward they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both,” Mnuchin said.
The UN Security Council has unanimously imposed nine rounds of sanctions on North Korea since 2006, the latest this month capping fuel supplies to the isolated state.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there were “some indications” that sanctions were beginning to cause fuel shortages in North Korea.
Trump’s UN address was the most direct military threat to attack North Korea and his latest expression of concern about Pyongyang’s repeated launching of missiles over Japan and underground nuclear tests.
European Union ambassadors reached initial agreement to impose more sanctions on North Korea, going beyond the latest UN measures, officials and diplomats said.

“Dangerous direction“
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met Trump on Thursday and addressed the UN General Assembly, said sanctions were needed to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table, but Seoul was not seeking North Korea’s collapse.
“All of our endeavours are to prevent war from breaking out and maintain peace,” Moon said in his speech. He warned the nuclear issue had to be managed stably so that “accidental military clashes will not destroy peace.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged North Korea not to go further in a “dangerous direction” with its nuclear program.
“There is still hope for peace and we must not give up. Negotiation is the only way out … Parties should meet each other half way, by addressing each other’s legitimate concerns,” Wang said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear “adventures” but warned “military hysteria is not just an impasse, it’s a disaster.”
The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.
The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

Main category: 
Trump orders new sanctions to tighten screws on North Korea nuclear program
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UK rejects calls to engage with Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

September 21, 2017 rbksa 0
Greg Wilcox
Fri, 2017-09-22 03:00

LONDON: The UK government has rejected calls to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, claiming the group “did not do enough to demonstrate political moderation or a commitment to democratic values when in power in Egypt.”
The remarks were part of a government response to a Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) report, issued last November, which urged Theresa May’s government to establish relations with the group.
In “Political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood” the FAC described the the group as “fundamentally non-violent” advising that the government “establish some discreet relations with formerly elected officials in exile.”
In rejecting the recommendations, the UK government issued a strong challenge to the report’s main lines of argument.
The government said that “parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism,” and that while some members of the Muslim Brotherhood had publicly reiterated their commitment to non-violence others had not.
It continued: “That association with or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered a possible indicator of extremism.”
The government response reiterated the conclusions of the secretive review of the Muslim Brotherhood carried out in 2014 by Sir John Jenkins, a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Although never made public, it is widely reported to have reached a similar conclusion.
“There is a fundamental requirement for any organization to reject violence unambiguously, confront violent extremism and commit to constitutional politics,” the government said.
A Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson declined to comment as the response related to the findings of a previous committee.

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UN sets up probe of Daesh atrocities

September 21, 2017 rbksa 0
Fri, 2017-09-22 03:00

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously decided to set up a team to collect evidence on the massacres of Iraq’s Yazidi minority and other atrocities committed by Daesh in Iraq.
Britain drafted the resolution to help bring perpetrators of Daesh war crimes to justice — a cause championed by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who was present for the vote. The Lebanese-British lawyer represents Yazidi women who were taken hostage and used as sex slaves by Daesh as it swept into Iraq’s Sinjar region in August 2014.
Clooney, sat next to Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of Daesh enslavement, as the council voted on the measure.
The United Nations has described the massacres of the Yazidis as genocide and Clooney has over the past month made high-profile appearances before the world body to demand action.
“Why is it that nothing has been done?” Clooney told a UN event in March.
“Mass graves lie unprotected and unexhumed. Witnesses are fleeing and not one ISIS militant has faced trial for international crimes anywhere in the world,” she said.
After months of pressure Iraq in August agreed to the investigation, which will “support domestic efforts to hold” IS jihadists accountable by “collecting, preserving and storing evidence” in Iraq, the resolution said.
Under the measure, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will within 60 days present to the council details on the mandate of the investigative panel that will work with their Iraqi counterparts.
The investigators will gather evidence on “war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide” for use in Iraqi courts, according to the resolution.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley described the resolution as “a major first step toward addressing the death, suffering, and injury of the victims of crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq — crimes that include genocide.”
IS fighters have been on the run in Iraq since the recapture of Mosul, Iraq’s second city in July, which had been under IS rule since 2014.
Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled the August 2014 massacre in Sinjar, and UN rights investigations have documented horrific accounts of abuse suffered by women and girls.
Around 3,000 women are believed to remain in IS captivity.
Human Rights Watch criticized the resolution as a missed opportunity by the council to address atrocities committed by Iraqi and other forces.
“No one denies the importance of tackling the widespread atrocities by ISIS in Iraq, but ignoring abuses by Iraqi and international forces is not only flawed, it’s shortsighted,” said HRW’s justice expert Balkees Jarrah.
The Iraqi government worked with Britain to draft the measure.

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MNLF ready to fight Daesh in Marawi, says Nur Misuari in conversation with Arab News

September 21, 2017 rbksa 0
Ellie Aben
Fri, 2017-09-22 03:00

DAVAO CITY: Nur Misuari, the founder and leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), has broken his silence in an exclusive conversation with Arab News, in which he rejected the charges filed against him in a Philippines anti-graft court.
In his first interaction with media since the charges were filed against him, Misuari talked exclusively to Arab News in Davao City. He claimed the case was brought against him by people out to sabotage his participation in the Mindanao peace process.
Arrest warrants were issued by the Sandiganbayan (special appellate court) on Aug. 31 for Misuari and four others in two counts of graft and two counts of malversation for the allegedly anomalous purchase of educational materials when he was the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Misuari acquired bail on Tuesday for what he termed as “trumped-up cases aimed to discredit” him, stressing he was not involved in the alleged multimillion-peso fake education projects. He said the alleged purchase took place after he was forced to end his term in office — which ran from 1996 to 2001 — and escape to Sabah, the East Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Misuari left the Philippines when he was accused of staging a rebellion against the government, and he claims there was an attempt to assassinate him at that time.
Misuari said that one of the providers of the purchased materials, to whom he referred as “Lolit,” told his lawyer, Bong Percasio, that the payment for the project was made when Farouk Hussein sat at the helm of the ARMM after Misuari left.
He stressed the need for further investigation into the case.
“The problem here is that some people play dirty. They know that it’s just a matter of time and we can probably conclude our talks with the government,” said Misuari, who was engaged by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to participate in the ongoing peace process between the government and Muslim separatists.
Misuari said he was told “these wayward elements in our society, who are serving as puppets of the former Philippine colonial government (referring to the previous administration) and who also have links with Malaysia, spoke to some people in the Office of the President.”
He quoted these elements as saying: “Misuari has to be put in a legal quagmire so he cannot assume authority here,” and added, “Some of these people are still serving as tentacles of the former government of the Philippines.”
Amid these alleged attempts to remove him from the picture, Misuari still expressed an optimistic view of the peace process under the Duterte administration.
“With this president, probably, it is a different thing,” he said. “The president, being from Mindanao, I think he understands us much better than the previous ones. The other (administrations), they were just pulling our legs, conspiring with Malaysia.”
According to Misuari, he will complete half a century as a revolutionary on March 18 next year.
“I told the president that I do hope before the end of this half-century, we can consolidate the (peace) agreement. Otherwise we just have to continue. We cannot stop halfway through,” he stated.
At the outbreak of the Marawi siege, Misuari expressed the MNLF’s readiness to deal with the Daesh-backed Maute Group. Misuari offered to deploy MNLF fighters to help defeat the terrorist group, saying they saw the Marawi crisis as an opportunity for them to show their mettle in helping the government restore peace in Mindanao.
“I told the president… there’s no need to employ tanks, bombers, cannons, mortars. We will deal with it hand-to-hand…” Misuari said, adding that he wanted to prevent the destruction of Marawi’s infrastructure.
Asked what could happen in the event that the talks fall through, he replied: “Well, the logic of failure is war.”

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Indonesia seeks bigger share of global halal tourism

September 21, 2017 rbksa 0
Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
Fri, 2017-09-22 03:00

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government is looking to boost the country’s image as a halal tourism destination for Muslims from around the world.
The drive is part of the government’s efforts to boost state coffers and meet its 5.2 percent growth target this year. President Joko Widodo promised 7 percent economic growth rate on the campaign trail in 2014. The tourism sector contributed 4.23 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016.
The Muslim travel market is one of the fastest-growing segments in the global travel industry, according to the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2017, which was released in May.
The GMTI predicted that the Muslim travel market will be worth $220 billion by 2020 and $300 billion by 2026, spurred by Muslim-friendly amenities and easy access to travel information.
Around 121 million Muslims traveled internationally during 2016 — an increase of 4 million from the previous year. It is estimated that figure will reach 156 million by 2020 — accounting for 10 percent of the global travel market.
According to the GMTI, Indonesia ranks third — after Malaysia and the UAE — out of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
“We aim to be in the No. 1 spot by 2019,” Hafizuddin Ahmad, a member of the halal tourism acceleration team at the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism, told Arab News.
The government has assigned 10 destinations across the country for halal tourism, with Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara province, West Sumatra and Aceh as the Top 3.
“We assigned those destinations in accordance with the local culture and their readiness to adapt to the concept,” said Ahmad, who is part of a Shariah supervisory body for Sofyan Hotels, a local hotel chain that follows Shariah principles in its management.
Lombok Island has already made a name for itself as a halal destination, picking up World’s Best Halal Destination and World’s Best Halal Honeymoon Destination at the World Halal Travel Awards in 2015.
But Taufan Rahmadi, who oversees projects to accelerate the growth of the island’s Mandalika area as a tourism destination, stressed that it is not just Muslim tourists that Lombok wishes to attract.
“We do not apply special zones for halal or conventional tourism. Halal tourism should not override existing, conventional tourism,” he told Arab News. “We don’t want to scare the conventional tourists away.
“Our branding is in line with the culture and our local custom, as our competitive edge, compared to Bali,” Rahmadi continued, referring to Lombok’s more famous and popular neighbor, while pointing out that Muslims account for 95 percent of Lombok’s population. He also claimed to have “often heard” complaints from tourists who could not find halal services in Bali.
Lombok saw an increase in visitors from Middle Eastern countries last year, up to 240,989 from 182,143 the previous year. But Arista Atmadjati — a tourism lecturer from Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta — said the island is hindered in its quest to attract further Muslim tourists by the fact there are still no direct flights from the GCC to Lombok.
“We are working on it. We are also working to have the runway in Lombok airport extended so that wide-body aircrafts can land,” Ahmadi said.
“Improved connectivity is a must so that Lombok can be a primary tourism destination instead of getting spillover from Bali where the tourists may have spent their money,” Atmadjati said.

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Smartphone users buzzing after KSA unblocks Internet calls

September 21, 2017 rbksa 0
Fri, 2017-09-22 03:00

RIYADH: Saudi smartphone users were calling out with joy this week after the government lifted a ban on apps that allow video and voice services.
Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha earlier this month issued a directive to unblock calling apps that have met regulatory requirements, with users able to access them from Wednesday.
The move will make the likes of FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype, Line, Telegram and Tango available to smartphone users across the Kingdom.
Mohammed Ali, a Sri Lankan national who works in Saudi Arabia as a senior accountant, said he was happy about the move.
“I tried the apps Line and YeeCall, and was able to talk to my relatives back home,” he told Arab News.
“Many of us were spending a lot on calls in order to speak to relatives and friends.”
Iffat Aabroo, another Riyadh resident, said: “WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger calling was unblocked too as I made calls using both the online apps on Thursday … the voice quality is also better.”
Zafar Hasan, a software engineer working in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that he made calls using Imo, Skype and Tango. But despite repeated attempts, Viber appeared to remain blocked in the Kingdom, he added.
According to ministry sources, online calls will be monitored following the lifting of the ban.

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Nine dead as Red Cross Rohingya aid truck crashes in Bangladesh

September 21, 2017 rbksa 0
Thu, 2017-09-21 08:33

COX BAZAR, Bangladesh: A Red Cross truck carrying aid for Rohingya Muslim refugees crashed in Bangladesh on Thursday killing at least nine people, police said.
The driver lost control of the truck, which went into a ditch near the border town of Cox’s Bazar where more than 420,000 Rohingya have fled to escape violence in Myanmar, police said.
At least 10 people were injured. The victims were mainly laborers who were to distribute the aid.
The truck was taking food and other supplies to Rohingya Muslims caught in a no-man’s-land between Myanmar and Bangladesh at the Nykhongchhari section of the border, Red Cross officials said.
“Nine people were killed including six on the spot and three in a hospital,” Yasir Arafat, deputy police chief of Bandarban border district, told AFP.
Mozaharul Huq, secretary of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, told AFP the truck was carrying rice, puffed rice, drinking water, sugar and other food items.
“The local Red Crescent Society and the International Red Cross Committee hired the truck. It was carrying the food to Rohingya refugees on the border, including those stranded in the no-man’s-land,” he said.
Aid agencies have launched a huge relief operation around Cox’s Bazar, but they say they have been taken by surprise by the scope of the influx from Myanmar.

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Germany: Anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Merkel nationalist party rises

September 21, 2017 rbksa 0
Thu, 2017-09-21 07:57

BERLIN: The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which rails against immigration and Islam, is set to become the country’s first hard-right nationalist party to clear the five-percent hurdle and enter parliament in the post-war era.
Close to France’s National Front and the UK Independence Party, the AfD is an anti-establishment party that harnesses xenophobia and popular discontent about what it labels unaccountable political and media elites.
The AfD is dominated by white men, is strongest in Germany’s poorer ex-communist east, and has flirted with far-right groups, breaking a taboo in post-Holocaust Germany.
Its leaders have sparked outrage by saying German border guards should as a last resort open fire on illegal immigrants, calling Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame” and suggesting a Turkish-born German politician be “disposed of in Anatolia”.
The AfD is shunned as a radical fringe group by all mainstream parties, but its rise further fragments the political landscape and will complicate coalition-building efforts by the likely election winner, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The AfD was founded during the eurozone debt crisis in April 2013 when it labeled the single currency “a historic mistake” and campaigned against bailouts for crisis-hit southern economies.
It narrowly missed the five-percent hurdle for entry into parliament in elections four years ago but then notched up wins in several regional votes and, in 2014, won seven seats in the European Parliament.
The right-winger Frauke Petry in 2015 toppled the AfD’s founder, economics professor Bernd Lucke, who quit the party.
The mass influx to Germany of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants in mid-2015 revived the AfD’s flagging fortunes as it angrily attacked Merkel’s open-door policy.
Like the far-right PEGIDA protest movement, the AfD accused her of “treason” and linked her immigration policies to jihadist attacks in Europe and sexual attacks by North African migrants in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015-16.
After a series of regional election wins, it now sits on the opposition benches of 13 of Germany’s 16 state assemblies.
The AfD holds that “Islam does not belong to Germany,” a country with 4.5 million Muslims, and campaigns with slogans such as “bikinis not burkas”.
It wants more law and order and promotes traditional, conservative “family values”, urging ethnic German women to have more babies.
The AfD demands the rolling back of European integration and promotes pro-market economic policies, putting it at odds with the anti-globalization National Front of France.
It disputes man-made climate change and has called the VW diesel emissions scandal a “witchhunt”.
The party wants to “return power to citizens”, including through Swiss-style referendums.
In foreign policy, like some other European protest parties, it advocates closer ties with Russia.
Poll support has dropped back from a peak of 16 percent at the height of the migrant influx to 8-12 percent now.
“The refugee issue has lost some of its immediacy,” said political scientist Hans Virchow, adding that many voters had also been turned off by inflammatory comments on German wartime guilt by far-right AfD member Bjoern Hoecke.
After new bouts of party infighting, members voted against making Petry their top election candidate, and the AfD entered the race with an unlikely duo.
One top candidate is Alice Weidel, 38, a Goldman Sachs economist who with her partner, a Sri Lankan-born woman, has adopted two children.
The other is Alexander Gauland, 76, who has repeatedly sparked outrage with racist comments, once claiming that Germans would “not want as a neighbor” a football star with a Ghana-born father.
He also recently questioned Germany’s obligation to atone for its Nazi past.
At the international level, the AfD has established contacts with France’s Marine Le Pen, UKIP and Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, while voicing support for US President Donald Trump — a stance that could become a liability.
For now the Trump election and Brexit have “acted as a vaccine against the seemingly unstoppable rise of far-right populism in Europe,” argued Joerg Forbrig from the German Marshall Fund.

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