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21 Rohingya women recount rape by Myanmar armed forces

UKHIA, BANGLADESH (AP): The newlyweds were asleep in their home in western Myanmar in June when seven soldiers charged in.

The woman, a Rohingya Muslim who agreed to be identified by her first initial, F, knew enough to be terrified. She knew the military had been attacking Rohingya villages, as part of what the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing in the mostly Buddhist nation. She heard just days before that soldiers had killed her parents and that her brother was missing.

Now they had come for her. The men bound her husband with rope, and tied her scarf around his mouth. They yanked off her jewelry and tore off her clothes. They threw her to the floor.

And then, she says, the first soldier began to rape her.

She struggled against him, but four men held her down and beat her with sticks. Her husband finally wriggled the gag out of his mouth and screamed.

And then she watched as a soldier fired a bullet into the chest of the man she had married only one month before. Another soldier slit his throat.

Her mind grew fuzzy. When the soldiers were finished, they dragged her outside and set her bamboo house ablaze.

It would be two months before she realized her misery was far from over: She was pregnant.

The Associated Press reported this story with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar's security forces has been sweeping and methodical, the Associated Press found in interviews with 29 women and girls who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

These sexual assault survivors from several refugee camps were interviewed separately and extensively. The women gave AP their names, but agreed to be publicly identified only by their first initial, citing fears they or their families would be killed by Myanmar's military.

They ranged in age from 13 to 35, came from a wide swath of villages in Myanmar's Rakhine state and described assaults between October 2016 and mid-September.

Yet there was a sickening sameness to their stories, with distinct patterns in their accounts, their assailants' uniforms and the details of the rapes themselves.

The testimonies bolster the U.N.'s contention that Myanmar's armed forces are systematically employing rape as a "calculated tool of terror" aimed at exterminating the Rohingya people. The Myanmar armed forces did not respond to multiple requests from the AP for comment, but an internal military investigation last month concluded that none of the assaults ever took place.

When journalists asked about rape allegations during a government-organized trip to Rakhine in September, Rakhine's minister for border affairs, Phone Tint, replied: "These women were claiming they were raped, but look at their appearances — do you think they are that attractive to be raped?"

Doctors and aid workers, however, say they are stunned at the sheer volume of rapes, and suspect only a fraction of women have come forward. Medecins Sans Frontieres doctors have treated 113 sexual violence survivors since August, a third of them under 18. The youngest was 9.

Each woman interviewed by the AP described attacks that involved groups of men, often coupled with other forms of extreme violence. Every woman except one said the assailants wore military-style uniforms, generally dark green or camouflage. The lone woman who described her attackers as wearing plain clothes said her neighbors recognized them from the local military outpost.

Many women said the uniforms bore various patches featuring stars or, in a couple cases, arrows. Such patches represent the different units of Myanmar's army.

Though the scale of these attacks is new, the use of sexual violence by Myanmar's security forces is not. Before she became Myanmar's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi herself said Myanmar's armed forces used rape as a weapon to intimidate ethnic nationalities.

Yet Suu Kyi's government has not only failed to condemn the recent accounts of rape, it has dismissed the accounts as lies. In Dec. 2016, the government issued a press release disputing Rohingya women's reports of sexual assaults, accompanied by an image that said "Fake Rape."

 Pic Caption: In this Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, photo, K, 25, right, cries as she recounts being gang raped by members of Myanmar's armed forces during an interview with The Associated Press in her tent in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh (AP File Photo)

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Sonia Gandhi Turns 71

Celebrations broke out outside the Congress' office as party President Sonia Gandhi turned 71 on Saturday.

Scores of Congress workers waved balloons, burst crackers even as a cultural troupe performed a traditional dance outside Sonia's 10, Janpath residence, adjacent to the party headquarters.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is set to succeed his mother next week, took a break from hectic campaigning in Gujarat to be with her.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also extended birthday wishes to the Congress president. "Birthday greetings to Congress President... I pray for her long life and good health," Modi tweeted.

Sonia is set to relinquish her post next week, after 19 years at the helm of affairs of the Congress

Source: Deccan Herald

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Beijing forces migrant workers from their homes in 'savage' demolitions

Beijing (CNN) Modern Beijing was built on the backs of low-paid migrants like Zhao Guihua.

The 50-something cook and cleaner is one of thousands of people critics say have been forced from their homes in the past two weeks as part of a drive by the municipal government to shut down what it claims is unsafe and overcrowded housing.

Now homeless, she's selling all her possessions and preparing to return to her village -- hundreds of miles away in Henan province in central China.

"Our apartment was demolished and new housing is too expensive to afford. We're not making enough money," she says, with her shoes, cups, pans, pots, a space heater and tools spread out in front of her on a cloth on the street.

"I have no choice but to go home. I thought I could make more money in Beijing than by farming at home. But now, it's time to go home."

pic 01

(Zhao Guihua is a migrant worker in Beijing who has been evicted from her home due to the city's ongoing crackdown on "unsafe" buildings.)

Zhao says government workers destroyed her home on November 26, as a part of a 40-day operation that comes in the wake of a deadly fire in Daxing, an industrial neighborhood in south Beijing, in which 19 people died. The town where the fire took place, is home to 175,000 residents, among which 120,000 are migrants, according to the town's website.

Both residential and commercial properties -- factories and warehouses -- have been earmarked for demolition, and the government has acted with breathtaking speed.

Zhao says residents in her building of several dozen small apartments were given just over a day's notice to move out. A small warning was posted at the gate on November 25, reading: "Tenants: Please clean out before November 26, 2017, at 5 p.m. or there will be consequences."

As advertised, government officials showed up the next day, she says, wielding sledgehammers. Doors were pulled off hinges. Ceilings were torn down. The power was shut off.

"The demolition crew was savage," said the building's landlord, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Yang.

"The glass shards from the demolition of the ceilings fell on a baby and hurt its arm when a family was moving out. My heart sank when I heard the baby cry," Yang said.

Anyone who hadn't cleared out by the tight deadline had their belongings either destroyed or tossed into the street. The building was made uninhabitable in a matter of hours, forcing people from their homes in Beijing's frigid winter temperatures.

Yang said he was licensed to rent out the building and had contacted local authorities to see if he could rectify any risks. He believes his building was targeted only because migrants lived there. CNN cannot verify his claims.

What happened to Zhao does not appear to be unique. There's no hard numbers on the number of people affected but Beijing officials in an interview by state news agency Xinhua said they found 25,395 sites with some sort of safety risk one week after the safety checks began. Videos on Chinese social media show ruthless evictions taking place across the city.

pic 02(A migrant worker packs his things after being evicted from his rented apartment.)

Harsh criticism

Critics have accused the government of using the Daxing fire, which broke out in the basement of a residential and manufacturing building, as an excuse to tackle a long-standing headache for the government -- Beijing's huge and growing population.

In a rare move, more than 100 prominent Chinese intellectuals circulated an open letter online, criticizing the forced evictions.

The group says that hundreds of thousands of migrants could be affected by the crackdown -- Beijing is home to 3 million migrants.

"In our view, this is a vicious incident that breaks the law and tramples on human rights and should be resolutely stopped and rectified," the group wrote.

Authorities have publicly said they plan to cut the population in downtown Beijing by 15% from 2014 levels -- about 2 million people -- as part of efforts to cap Beijing's population at 23 million by 2020.

The easiest way to meet those goals, critics say, is by targeting the poorest of the poor -- migrant workers with little money and nowhere else to go, except back to the rural poverty of their home provinces.

The municipal government has denied that the evictions are targeting migrant workers, or that they're part of the wider plan to reduce Beijing's population.

Beijing Communist Party Chief Cai Qi has said that "ongoing safety checks" should be "human-centered," and the local government has held job fairs for those who've lost their jobs where factories and warehouses have been shut down.

The Beijing government said that more than 1,800 jobs had been offered to those displaced; however, that falls far short of the total number of people who have been evicted, according to critics.

The government says it's also offering assistance for those workers who wish to leave Beijing and return to their hometown, and building subsidized rental housing -- though it gave few details on those plans.

The Beijing Work Safety Commission that initiated the cleanup drive didn't respond to a request for comment.

pic 03

(A market in south Beijing is torn down by a bulldozer days after the government issued demolition orders for thousands of structures.)

 'Low end'

In some of the first government documents on the so-called cleanup, officials referred to targeting areas with a "low-end population."

The term sparked backlash among social media users, some of whom are now using it as an irreverent badge of honor.

"What qualifies as high-end then? A great number of people have contributed their youth and dreams to the great city of Beijing. They should be remembered and respected! But not to be left homeless!" one user wrote on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

However, in response to the growing outrage, China's Internet censorship machine ramped up.

Posts including the keywords "low-end population" have been censored on social networks WeChat and Weibo, and the Beijing government has denied using this term and appears to have stopped using it in public documents.

pic 04
(A street view of a once bustling market street after buildings on one side were demolished by authorities. Remaining stores prepare to shut down.)

 Middle class sympathy

The evictions appear to have awoken some members of China's ever-expanding middle class to the plight of the average migrant worker -- the people who not only helped build Beijing, but make sure that its day-to-day needs are met.

Some complain about increased delays in package and food delivery services -- some 90% of Beijing's famed delivery drivers, who navigate the city on scooters, are migrant workers, according to Zhao Xiaomin, an analyst with Guansho Consulting.

Miao Ting, 23, a white-collar worker at an automobile company in Beijing, said that online vendors had refused to ship her orders to Beijing unless she paid double for premium delivery. She also said she'd noticed fewer tuk tuk drivers and a small grocery store in her neighborhood was shut down.

"The city is not inhabitable anymore if it continues," posted another Weibo user, grumbling about the delivery disruptions.

pic 05
(Demolition crews wield sledgehammers as they enter a residential compound to enforce an eviction.)
For the migrant workers CNN spoke to, the government's assurances fall on deaf ears and the middle-class sympathy is cold comfort.

Li, who has owned a small hardware store in south Beijing for 13 years, said the Daxing fire is clearly an excuse to force out people like him.

"The government welcomed migrant workers to come and contribute to building the city 10 years go. But now they want us to leave when they don't need us anymore," said Li.

"People are left no leeway at all. Why are they in such a rush?"

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Storm Caroline: UK braces for snow and freezing weather as Met Office warnings issued

Severe weather warnings have been issued in several regions as more snow and temperatures as low as -12C is set to hit the UK this weekend.

Snowfall is forecast to continue in parts of northwest England, the Midlands and Wales, with as much as 20cm (8in) predicted in some areas as Storm Caroline drags cold air across the country from Scandinavia.

Winter storms are due to make their way over the British Isles on Saturday, with heavier snow expected on Sunday.

Although southern areas may miss out on the worst of the weather, the Met Office has warned temperatures will still plummet to “bitterly cold” levels, dropping as low as -12C (10F) on Sunday morning.

Met Office chief meteorologist Dan Suri said; “It’s going to be a cold weekend for everybody with some hard frost at night.

“Whilst the snow on Saturday will be in the form of showers and many people will not get any, on Sunday we’re expecting more widespread snow with around 10 cm in parts of northwest England, the Midlands and Wales, with a chance of 15-20 cm in more exposed isolated areas.”

A yellow warning of snow and ice covering western parts stretching from Devon and Cornwall in the south to the far north of Scotland is in place until 6 pm on Saturday evening.

Strong winds pose the risk of blizzard conditions across northern Scotland on Saturday, where thousands of homes were left without power on Friday.

The Met Office is also warning more potentially disruptive weather could be on its way to southern areas of the country early next week.

Storm Ana, named by the Spanish weather service, is expected to move into France on Monday and may bring a spell of wet and windy weather to parts of southern England with the potential for more snow.

Source: The Independent, UK

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Japan seeks longer-range cruise missiles amid North Korea threat

Japan now has plans to acquire medium-range air-to-surface missiles, expanding its strike capability to North Korea.

The announcement by Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera comes amid regular missile tests by North Korea and increased tensions between the nations.

The missiles will be deployed on Japan's fleet of fighter jets and have a range of up to 1,000km (621 miles).

The move is likely to be controversial, as Japan limits its military to self-defence.

But conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed in recent months to loosen the country's military restrictions, imposed in the wake of World War Two.

New laws introduced by Abe will soon allow a broader interpretation of what the constitution does, and does not, permit.

At the moment, Japan's longest-range missiles can reach just 300km.

Onodera said the new missiles would be for defence purposes, with Japan still relying on the United States to strike any enemy bases.

"We are planning to introduce the JSM (Joint Strike Missile) that will be mounted on the F-35A (stealth fighter) as 'stand-off' missiles that can be fired beyond the range of enemy threats," he told a news conference.

The JSM has a range of about 500km. Japan also plans to arms its US-made F-15 fighters with the US-made Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER), which has a range of 1,000km.

Abe's move to water down the country's anti-aggression rules have faced opposition in parliament, but government officials say Japan needs an effective deterrent to North Korea, which has tested long-range ballistic missiles over Japan.

North Korea is seeking to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, raising international alarms.

Source : BBC

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Iraq has announced that its war against so-called Islamic State is over.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told a conference in Baghdad that Iraqi troops were now in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border.
The border zone contained the last few areas IS held, following its loss of the town of Rawa in November.

The Iraqi announcement comes two days after the Russian military declared it had accomplished its mission of defeating IS in neighbouring Syria.

The jihadist group had seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014 when it proclaimed a "caliphate" and imposed its rule over some 10 million people.

But it suffered a series of defeats over the past two years, losing Iraq's second city of Mosul this July and its de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria last month.

Some IS fighters are reported to have dispersed into the Syrian countryside, while others are believed to have escaped across the Turkish border.

Source: BBC

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Pope Francis Implores Trump To Respect ‘Status Quo’ On Jerusalem

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis, speaking hours before U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, on Wednesday called for the city’s “status quo” to be respected, saying new tension in the Middle East would further inflame world conflicts.

Trump is due on Wednesday to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the ancient city, senior U.S. officials said, a decision that upends decades of U.S. policy and risks fuelling further violence in the Middle East.

In an appeal at the end of his weekly general audience, Francis called for all to honour United Nations resolutions on the city, which is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

“I make a heartfelt appeal so that all commit themselves to respecting the status quo of the city, in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations,” he said.

The pope told thousands of people at his general audience: “I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days.”

He said he hoped “wisdom and prudence prevail, in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to a global panorama that is already convulsed and marked by so many and cruel conflicts.”

Before making his public comments, Francis met privately with a group of Palestinians involved in inter-religious dialogue with the Vatican.

“The Holy Land is for us Christians the land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind,” he said. He spoke of dialogue between religions “and also in civil society”.

“The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognising the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be,” he said to the group.

The pope spoke by telephone to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about the crisis on Tuesday.

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Sri Lanka accused of violating North Korean sanctions

The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington based think-tank alleged that 49 countries have violated United Nations sanctions on North Korea including Sri Lanka, China, France, Germany and India. The report was compiled after analysing North Korean procurement data published by the UN Panel of Exports for the last three and a half years.

The report further stated that 13 governments were found to be involved in military related cases of North Korean sanctions violations, including Angola, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

High Corruption among these 13 Countries

It has also come to light that the aforementioned countries named in the report score poorly on the on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International, which ranks 176 countries on a scale from 1 to 176, where a ranking of 176 is most corrupt. The aforementioned countries have an average rank of 127 in the CPI with none of them being ranked above 50.

Experts are sceptical about how effectively sanctions can rein in North Korea's nuclear program, given that the comprehensive existing restrictions haven't left too many goods or entities to sanction.

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World observes International HR Day today

The International Human Rights Day is being observed, today. It is observed every year on 10 December - the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The United Nations will initiate a year-long campaign today in Paris, France to honour the foundational human rights document, which marks its 70th anniversary next year .

Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, “human rights have been one of the three pillars of the United Nations, along with peace and development,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his message for Human Rights Day.

Mr. Guterres further noted that while human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted, the instrument has helped countless people to gain greater freedom and security, and has also helped to prevent violations, obtain justice for wrongs, and strengthen national and international human rights laws and safeguards.

Photo Credit: UN file (Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster in English. (November 1949)

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Argentina judge seeks arrest of ex-leader Cristina Fernández

A judge in Argentina says he is seeking the arrest of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over accusations she took part in a political cover-up.

Ms Fernández, who governed for eight years from December 2007, was recently elected a senator and as such enjoys parliamentary immunity.

For her to be arrested, the Senate would have to lift that immunity with a two-thirds majority vote.

She called the move a "nonsense... [which] violates the rule of law".

Senators said they would consider the judge's request once they received it.

'Criminal plan'

Federal judge Claudio Bonadio, who is seeking the arrest, alleges Ms Fernández took part in "an orchestrated criminal plan" to cover up the alleged involvement of senior Iranian officials in a 1994 bomb attack against a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires.

Judge Bonadio also ordered that Héctor Timerman, who was a foreign minister under Ms Fernández, be placed under house arrest in connection with the same case.

Two more close allies of Ms Fernández were arrested on Thursday morning. They are Carlos Zannadi, a senior legal official in the Fernández administration, and political activist Luis D'Elía.

On Thursday, Ms Fernández called a news conference to once again deny the allegations against her and to denounce the judge's investigation.

"It is a case fabricated on facts that never existed. What is happening is a nonsense, a true excess," she said.

Source : BBC
Pic Source: Al Jazeera

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'War crime': 14 UN peacekeepers killed in DR Congo attack

At least 14 UN peacekeepers and five Congolese air force members have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the "worst attack in recent history", according to the UN.

The UN said that at least 53 peacekeepers were also injured in the attack in North Kivu on Thursday night.

"I condemn this attack unequivocally," Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, said in a statement adding that deliberate attacks against UN peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime.

The attack took place at a base in Beni, North Kivu, of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). The area has been repeatedly attacked by rebels of the ADF. Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson, said the peacekeepers were mainly from Tanzania.

Maman Sidikou, the head of MONUSCO, said the mission "will take all actions to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable and brought to justice".

Guterres called the incident the "worst attack" on UN peacekeepers in the "organisation's recent history".

MONUSCO took over from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation in Congo in July 2010.Part of its mandate includes "the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders ... and to support the government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts".

Nearly 300 peacekeepers have been killed since the initial mission arrived in 1999, according to UN figures.

Source : Al Jazeera News

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Jerusalem: Israeli troops clash with Palestinian protesters in West Bank, Gaza

At least 31 people have been injured by Israeli army gunfire and rubber bullets, medics say, in Palestinian protests in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip after the United States recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

In the West Bank cities of Hebron and Al-Bireh, thousands of demonstrators rallied with chants of "Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine", according to witnesses.

Soldiers had used "riot-dispersal gear" against hundreds of rock-throwers, a military spokeswoman said.

In the Gaza Strip, dozens of protesters gathered near the border fence with Israel and threw rocks at soldiers on the other side.

Seven protesters were wounded by live fire, one was in a critical condition, the health ministry said.

Four people were wounded by live gunfire in the West Bank and another 20 were hit by rubber bullets, according to health officials.

An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

Palestinian authorities called a general strike in protest at US President Donald Trump's announcement about Jerusalem on Wednesday.

(ABC)

Pic Source: ABC Australia

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