SUMMARIZED NEWS & ARTICLES

The war on humanity in Indian-occupied Kashmir

(By Aftab Siddiqui)

Today, India has lost its standing in the world as a secular and pluralistic democratic country. Under the rule of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the “Hindutva” extremist ideology is now the overarching policy of Narendra Modi’s government. The BJP and its ideological godparent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are making life difficult for minorities in India. And the methods they are using are not much different from how Jews and other minorities were hounded and eliminated during the Nazi-regime in Germany.

Images of Christians, Dalits, Muslims and Sikhs being targeted by RSS – trained BJP supporters during the communal violence and lynching recently in Delhi and before that in Una, Gujarat, and Indian-occupied Kashmir are a grim reminder of what one can expect from India in future. Persecution on the basis of religion and race has been taken to an art form by the Modi regime.

The BJP has also enacted special rules to expedite discriminatory policies. These rules programmatically exclude religious and other minorities from the Indian society. Take for example the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the National Register of Citizens, and the revocation of Article 370. These are just some examples of how Modi has used legislation to marginalize minorities.

AG Noorani, an Indian lawyer and constitutional expert, has described measures against Article 370 as “communal-minded majoritarian” intentions. He is right. In Indian-held Kashmir, the humanitarian crisis has never been more bleak. Kashmir is now the most militarized piece of land in the world. There are over half a million Indian soldiers stationed in the valley, while the civilian population has no freedom to exercise its basic civil rights.

Those protesting for human rights are crushed by a disproportionate military force. Then, there is the use of rape as method of torture in Kashmir. In addition, Kashmiris living on the Pakistani side of the border are also targeted by the Indian military. Under the Modi regime, violations of Line of Control (LoC) have increased manifold. In 2020 alone, over 3,000 incidents of crossfire were recorded, resulting in many civilians losing their lives.

Recently, even a convoy of the UN Military Observers, stationed on the Pakistani side, came under attack from across the border. Modi is on a mission to ensure that Muslims become a minority in Kashmir. He is driven by the concept of Hindutva, which preaches that Hindus are a supreme race.

Commitment to protect human rights is an important slogan of the new US administration and the Biden-Harris team. The plight of 12 million Kashmiris whose human rights are violated every day is a cause which the US needs to engage urgently with. This requires a multilateral approach backed by personal commitments to hold a free and fair plebiscite in Kashmir, as mandated by the UN.

History is a good teacher, but only if lessons are learnt. If the ethnic cleansing continues in India, then the day is not very far when the ruling class will begin to view “Gestapo, Ghettos and Gas Chambers” as appropriate methods against the minorities. What is planned by the BJP regime is too grim to imagine. A cry from the mountains of Kashmir is going out to the world urging them to implement their “never again” pledge to humanity, before the darkest chapter of history repeats itself.

Aftab Siddiqui is a London based South Asian analyst.

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Turkey urges India to end curbs in Kashmir

GENEVA, Associate Press of Pakistan (APP): Turkey on Monday 23rd Feb. 2021, raised the Kashmir issue at the United Nations Human Rights Council, with a call for resolving the decades-old dispute on the basis of UN resolutions and the “legitimate” expectations of Kashmiri people who are struggling for their right of self-determination.

“We reiterate our call to the Government of India to ease current restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the 47-member Council in Geneva.

“We wish for the resolution of the issue through peaceful means on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions and the legitimate expectations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” the Turkish foreign added.

The Council on Monday began its month-long, 46th session, which is being held almost entirely remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Washington, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Secretary-General of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum, welcomed Cavusoglu’s remarks about the deteriorating situation in Indian occupied Kashmir.

“This has been the consistent policy of the Erdogan administration to sensitize the world opinion to help bring parties concerned together to resolve the Kashmir dispute for the sake of peace and security not only in Kashmir but in the region of South Asia,” he said.

“The people of Jammu & Kashmir were heartened to listen to Mr. Cavusoglu explaining before the world body the principle aspect of the Kashmir issue,” Dr. Fai said.

He added that the time has come for the world powers to find a solution to the Kashmir dispute between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

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UNHCR calls for immediate rescue of Rohingya stranded at Andaman Sea

The boat left southern Bangladesh about 10 days ago and its whereabouts remain unknown as we understood that some passengers had died, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. The United Nations refugee agency has called for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees adrift in their boat in the Andaman Sea without food or water, many of them ill and suffering from extreme dehydration.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it did not know the exact location of the vessel and understood that some passengers had died.  The boat had left southern Bangladesh about 10 days ago and experienced engine failure, it said.

“Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy,” UNHCR said in a statement, offering to support governments by providing humanitarian help to those rescued. A senior Indian coast guard official said that the boat has been tracked to an area off the Andaman and Nicobar islands. At least eight people had died on the boat, according to Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a group that monitors the Rohingya crisis.

Lewa said Indian navy vessels that were close by had provided food and water to those on the boat. “But we still don’t know what they will do afterwards,” he added.  A spokesperson for India’s navy did not provide details of the situation.

‘Perilous journey’

According to UNHCR, the boat set out from the Bangladesh coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, where about a million Rohingya live in dire conditions in sprawling refugee camps.

Amnesty International said in a statement that too many lives had already been lost from countries refusing to assist Rohingya people at sea. “Another repeat of those shameful incidents must be avoided here,” said Amnesty South Asia campaigner Saad Hammadi.

“After years of limbo in Bangladesh and following the recent coup in Myanmar, Rohingya people feel they have no option but to undertake these perilous journeys.”

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Myanmar anti-coup protesters hold fresh nationwide rallies

The army seized power this month after alleging fraud in a November 8 election swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), arresting her and much of the party’s leadership. The army seized power earlier this month after alleging fraud in a November 8 election swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

There have been about three weeks of daily protests and students pledged to rally in the commercial hub of Yangon, with demonstrators urged to bring text books promoting military education so they can destroy them at the protest. Many professionals and government workers have also joined civil disobedience campaigns, with doctors due to hold a protest on Thursday as part of a so-called “white coat revolution.”

A rights group said as  728 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the protests.

Myanmar’s security forces have shown more restraint compared with earlier crackdowns against people who pushed for democracy during almost half a century of direct military rule.

Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing has said this week authorities were following a democratic path in dealing with the protests and police were using minimal force, such as rubber bullets, state media reported.

Nonetheless, three protesters and one policeman have been killed in violence at rallies.

Facebook bans Myanmar military

Facebook said it had banned the junta from using its Facebook and Instagram platforms with immediate effect.

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Afghan civilian casualties spiked after peace talks began

Since the start of peace talks in September between the Afghan government and the Taliban, civilian casualties have soared in Afghanistan despite an overall drop in civilians being killed and injured in 2020. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)’s report highlights that civilian casualties soared in the last quarter of the year despite an optimistic start.

Over the last year, UNAMA documented 8,820 casualties, 3,035 killed and 5,785 injured.

Deborah Lyons, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, described the continued loss of lives in the decades-long conflict as “devastating.”

“I am deeply concerned about the impact of women and children, who made up 43 percent of all civilian casualties,” Lyons added.

Last year, women and children made up 3,765 of the total casualties.

She urged parties on the negotiating table to end the conflict and told them “not to squander another day and not let more Afghan perish so senselessly.” UNAMA also noted with concern that in 2020, “Pro-Government Forces were responsible for more child deaths than Anti-Government Elements.”

There was a near 15 percent reduction in the number of civilian casualties recorded in 2019, which marks “the lowest number”

since 2013. However, the last quarter of 2020 marked a 45 percent rise in civilian casualties compared to the same period in 2019.

2,792 out of 8,820 casualties took place last year from October to December. In the fourth quarter, 891 Afghans were killed and 1,901 were injured in attacks.

According to UNAMA, more than 110,000 Afghans have been killed or injured amid the violence.

People had been targeted especially by the use of improvised explosive devices(IEDs). The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet brands Afghanistan as “the deadliest place in the world to be a civilian.”

The reports said women and children continued to be victims of “conflict-related sexual violence, including rape and bacha bazi” – the latter involves child sexual abuse between older men and young adolescent males or boys.

The recruitment and use of children in the conflict by the parties, mainly Taliban, continues to be a problem.

UNAMA reports “an increase in unemployment and poverty due to the Covid-19 pandemic have made children more vulner- able to recruitment and use by parties to the conflict, especially because they are forced to seek employment to support their families.”(Source: TRT World)

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Afghans are living in terror. That must change for peace

By:  Shaharzad Akbar | Shaharzad Akbar is the chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Every night, I lie awake wondering who will be next. I think of a colleague whose teenage son checks his car every morning for magnetic bombs. A husband saying goodbye to his wife as she leaves for work, wondering if today will be the day she is killed on her way to the office.

It’s now been a year since the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban. Afghans were expecting peace, but one of the most tangible changes has been an increase in targeted killings, mostly unclaimed, that have created an environment of terror and fear. There were nearly three times the number of such attacks in 2020 compared with 2019; the casualties include the deaths of 11 human rights defenders and media workers in the past five months. Some of Afghanistan’s most important gains, its activists, community leaders and scholars, are being silenced at a time when, after the U.S.-Taliban deal, Afghans had hoped for a reduction in violence and for inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations.

While the Taliban denies involvement in most targeted attacks, it benefits from the environment of fear and hopelessness around the peace process and the lack of critical voices demanding an inclusive peace. This reign of terror for Afghan civilians must end in order for a real peace process to begin. As the United States reviews its Afghanistan policy, it still has leverage  including the existing U.N. sanctions on the Taliban, the Taliban’s desire for international recognition and legitimacy, and the presence of international forces in Afghanistan  to help stop these attacks and encourage a cease-fire and an inclusive peace process.

It has been years since Afghans gathered en masse, for fear of attacks. Following the recent wave of assassinations, public debate has closed down, even in the virtual sphere. This is even more true beyond Kabul, in rural areas where conflict has been the most savage. President Biden’s team has signaled that it will withdraw its last troops  per the agreement the United States struck with the Taliban  only if the Taliban reduces violence. This is welcome but not enough. Even with overall violence levels down, targeted killings are silencing the voices needed to build pressure for peace.

The United States does not want Afghanistan to collapse into a catastrophic civil war as soon as it withdraws, after 20 years of assistance. But the narrow focus of the U.S.-Taliban deal ignored the wider needs of the peace process, including the importance of civic space and the protection of civilians. This approach should be urgently reconsidered in Biden’s review.

(Source: The Washington Post)

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Three female media workers shot dead in eastern Afghanistan

(2nd March, 2021) Local broadcaster Enikass TV said the women killed were its employees. Zalmai Latifi, director at the station, said they were gunned down in two separate attacks after leaving the network.

“They are all dead. They were going home from the office on foot when they were shot,” . Two other people, apparently passersby, were wounded in the shootings.  The three women were recent high school graduates aged between 18 and 20.

‘Contrary to teachings of Islam’

The three women dubbed popular and often emotion-laden dramas from Turkey and India into Afghanistan’s local languages of Dari and Pashtu, said the news editor of the privately-owned station Shokrullah Pasoon.

ISIS claims responsibility

The ISIS claim, posted late Tuesday, contradicted the Afghan government’s accusations against the Taliban. The militants said the three female journalists were targeted because they worked for one of the “media stations loyal to the apostate Afghan government” in Jalalabad.  ‘Source: Al Jazeera News Agency’

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‘At least 22 killed’ after President Biden orders first military strike

The attack was carried out on Iranian-backed militias

Borzou Daragahi | International Correspondent

The US early Friday launched half a dozen missiles on a Syrian site it described as depots used by Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayid al-Shuhada, two Iranian-backed Iraq militias it claimed were behind a deadly 15 February attack on an American base in northern Iraq and another 22 February attack on its embassy in Baghdad.

While the Pentagon described the airstrikes as a “proportionate military response”, the high reported death toll, if confirmed, could have unintended consequences both for the fragile Iraqi government of prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Washington-Baghdad relations.

None of those killed in the attack were Iranian, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a generally credible monitoring group based in London. So many deaths could prompt cries of revenge by the Iraqi militiamen’s comrades or extended families or tribes, possibly imperiling the moderate, pro-western Kadhimi government in Baghdad. According to SOHR, the airstrikes unfolded early morning local time, targeting a weapons shipment crossing from Syria into Iraq near the border crossing that separates near the Iraqi town of al-Qaim. US officials told reporters the military dropped seven 500-pound bombs on a cluster of buildings along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

“The airstrikes have left great human and material losses,” said a report by SOHR, specifying the destruction of three trucks loaded with ammunition. A source told Reuters that 17 people were killed in the airstrike, while a militia member told the news agency that at least one person was killed.

The US said the attack was launched in conjunction with “diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners” that may include the UK and France.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” said the Pentagon statement. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”    (Source: Independent)

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Israel’s suicide drone sales to China puts Tel Aviv in awkward bind with US

The arrests come at a bad time for Israel, with the US increasingly hawkish on China and the fourth early elections in two years to be held for the Israeli premiership at the end of the month. A group of over 20 Israelis, including former defence officials, were arrested by Israel’s secret police (ISA) for illegally selling suicide drones to China.

According to the Law For Oversight of Defense Exports, Israel’s Ministry of Defense is required to consult with the Foreign Ministry for weapons sales to any country. This allows Israel to mitigate harm to its foreign policy and international ties.

A previous attempt at selling intelligence collection drones to China was cancelled due to US pressure.

This comes nearly a month after three legal sales of the same weapon were sold to Asian nations. Within Israel, a gag order is in effect. The revelation comes from investigative journalist Richard Silverstein’s blog, which has been reporting on the details of the sale since February 11. Silverstein notes this isn’t the only time Israel has attempted defence sales to China, only to earn the United State’s ire.

Unmentioned was the relatively little regulation governing Israel’s defence industry. Israel’s historic record of arms sales shows little concern with human rights records. The most recent sale of ‘loitering’ suicide drones is the second such deal made between the two nations, with the first taking place in 1998. The ‘Kamikaze’ drones are manufactured by local defence giants Rafael and Israeli Aerospace Industries.

Suicide drones, or ‘loitering munitions as they are technically known, are a hybrid between drones and guided missiles. They are defined by being able to ‘loiter’ in the air for a long period of time, before striking a target entering a pre-defined zone or waiting for human guidance. Euphemistically described as a ‘fire-and-forget’ weapon, the Israeli Aerospace Industries’ Harop autonomously attacks any target meeting previously identified criteria, but includes a ‘man-in-the-loop’ feature that allows a human to technically prevent an attack from taking place without approval. Given the cutting-edge nature of autonomous weapon platforms, there is little in the way of international law regulating their production or sale.

Necropolitics

In his paper “The Necropolitics of Drones” Dr. Jamie Allinson says suicide drones give powerful military commanders the one weapon don’t already own. For most leadership, suicide drones are the perfect soldier. They never know reluctance or fear, and can hold a position for hours waiting for its chance to take others with it.

Allinson goes on to argue that the suicide drone and human suicide bomber cause the same level of terror rooted in the lack of warning.

To boost sales, Israeli aerospace companies have sold the story that they’re well acquainted with suicide bombings. Another trademark of Israeli defence offerings is the notion that their weapons are ‘battle-proven’.

The implications were rarely voiced. Israeli defence sale pitches don’t often admit they saw testing first and foremost on occupied Palestinians.

Bad Timing

In recent years, Israel’s defence spending has been shrinking slowly. Israel was formerly allowed to reinvest nearly a quarter of US defence spending into its own defence industries.  This came to an end after 2016, when the terms of the agreement were rebalanced by former US President Barack Obama. Coupled with a flagging economy and elected leader facing multiple charges of corruption, Israel’s security establishment seems overtaxed.

The most recent scandal has far-reaching implications on US-Israeli cooperation, particularly after the hawkish stance taken by Biden’s administration on China. This has prompted fears that Israel finds itself in an awkward bind with the new administration, even if it will only earn them a slap on the wrist.

The US maintains strict regulations for military aid sent to Israel, which make it illegal to transfer US technology, compete with US defence companies, and spend the majority of the aid on US defence products.  This comes ahead of Israel’s early elections set for the end of March, after the coalition government failed to approve a budget. This would be the fourth such election held in four years.

Suicide drones have been in the international spotlight since Azerbaijan made use of Israeli loitering munitions in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to great effect. But even their involvement was later deemed questionable. In 2017, Israeli company Aeronautics Limited was charged with fraud and violation of Azerbaijan’s export control laws. This came after Israeli members of the company “demonstrated” the effectiveness of their suicide drone with an actual strike on Armenian soldiers in the region.

The relatively small number of members also raises concerns over the growing ease with which militias and non-state actors are adopting suicide drone technology, most recently in Yemen.

It remains to be seen how Biden’s new administration will respond to news of the illegal sale with China.(Source: TRT World News)

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China boosts 2021 defence spending by 6.8% amid pandemic

Beijing will spend $210 billion on defence amid high government debt and coronavirus as ruling Communist Party sees economic growth of “over 6 percent” this year. China has increased its defence spending by 6.8 percent, a slight uptick from last year, amid high government debt and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic impact.

A national budget report issued on Friday said China would spend $210 billion on national defence in the coming year. That’s up from the 6.6 percent increase last year to $180 billion, the lowest percentage increase in at least two decades.

The military budget has dipped during periods of slower economic growth, but has also been dropping steadily from the double-digit percentage increases over years as the increasingly powerful military matures and rapid expansion of what is already the world’s second largest defence budget is no longer required. China’s top economic official also announced a healthy growth target for the nation on Friday and its plans to become a more self-reliant technology leader amid tension with Washington and Europe over trade, Hong Kong and human rights.

Second-largest defence budget : The double-digit percentage increases of years past have given China the second-largest defence budget in the world behind the US. With three million troops, the world’s largest standing military has added aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines and stealth fighters to its arsenal. The government says most of the spending increases go toward improving pay and other conditions for troops while observers say the budget omits much of China’s spending on weaponry, most of its developed domestically.

China’s military is largely engineered to maintain its threat to use force to bring Taiwan under its control, although it has also grown more assertive in the South China Sea, the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and elsewhere.

Only country to grow in 2020. The ruling Communist Party is aiming for economic growth of “over 6 percent” as it rebounds from the coronavirus, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech on Friday at China’s annual session of parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

The party is shifting from fighting the virus that emerged in central China in late 2019 back to its longer-term goals of becoming a global competitor in profitable technologies and promoting self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumer spending instead of trade and investment.

China became the only major country to grow last year, eking out a multi-decade low 2.3 percent expansion after shutting down most of its economy to fight the coronavirus.

The world’s second-largest economy grew by 6.5 percent over a year earlier in the final quarter of 2020 while the United States, Europe and Japan struggled with renewed virus outbreaks.

Taiwan’s independence: Chinese premier said that Beijing stands by the “one China” principle, which states that Taiwan is part of China. China remains committed “to promoting the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait and China’s reunification”, he told the roughly 3,000 delegates at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has increased its military activity near the island in recent months, responding to what it calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan’s main international backer and arms supplier.(Source: TRT World and Agencies)

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Shame on Indian analysts and so-called think tanks!Bad mouthing China

(By: Bhadrakumar Melkulangara)

For the first time, the full story of Hambantota Port, based on de-classified archival materials and independent research by two scholars in Johns Hopkins and Harvard… Shame on Indian analysts and so-called think tanks! This is a dangerous trend in India – badmouthing China incessantly and start believing in your own rubbish propaganda and thereupon hold seminars and conferences funded by the UGC or security and foreign policy establishment to propagate the rubbish among academics and public. For a serious country, it’s extremely important to properly study and understand an adversary. You can take a friend or ally for granted, but not some you insist regarding as an adversary-cum-rival. India will pay a heavy price for such intellectual dishonesty and dilettantism. There is one respected newspaper in South India, which is guaranteed to dish out at least 5 reports in a week to badmouth China. Who stands to lose? Chinese intellectuals? Chinese public? We are in a vicious cycle where the establishment and vested interests propagate and nurture Sinophobia. How can India ever have normal relations with China when there is such pervasive Sinophobia. See how meticulously, scientifically American scholars conduct research and study reg issues concerning China, which they consider to be the most consequential world power that they have to deal with in this century.

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US report regrets India’s fall from ranks of free nations

By : Anwar Iqbal | Dawn News Karachi

A report by a United States government-funded think-tank, Freedom House, regretted India’s fall from the ranks of free nations after the country’s status was downgraded to “partly free”, it emerged on Thursday 4 March 2021.

“Under (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all,” warned the Freedom in the World 2021 report.

Reviewing the global situation in 2021, the report regretted “the fall of India from the upper ranks of free nations” which, it warned, “could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards”.

The report pointed out that “political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, with increased pressure on human rights organisations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynching, aimed at Muslims”.

The report noted that the decline only accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019, adding that last year, the Indian government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response.

“Judicial independence has also come under strain; in one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead,” the report added. The report noted that in December 2020, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, approved a law that prohibits forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage, which critics fear will effectively restrict interfaith marriages in general. The report pointed out that Indian authorities have already arrested a number of Muslim men for allegedly forcing Hindu women to convert to Islam. The report also noted that amid the pandemic, the Indian government imposed an abrupt Covid-19 lockdown in the spring, which left millions of migrant workers in cities without work or basic resources. “Many were forced to walk across the country to their home villages, facing various forms of mistreatment along the way.”

To reverse the global shift toward authoritarian norms, the report urges democracy advocates working for freedom in their home countries to seek “robust solidarity from like-minded allies abroad”.

Rising authoritarianism, nationalism

Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State Tony Blinken referred to the report in his first major foreign policy speech on Wednesday, noting that “authoritarianism and nationalism are on the rise around the world. Governments are becoming less transparent and have lost the trust of the people”.

The chief US diplomat also referred to the post-election violence in his country in January when a crowd attacked Congress to undo the election results. “Elections are increasingly flash points for violence. Corruption is growing. And the pandemic has accelerated many of these trends,” he said. “But the erosion of democracy is not only happening in other places. It’s also happening here in the United States.”

The US score in ‘Freedom in the World’ report has dropped by 11 points over the past decade and fell by three points in 2020 alone. Secretary Blinken said that unlike its predecessor, the Biden administration was ready to encourage democracy across the world but will not use America’s military might to do so. “We will encourage others to make key reforms, overturn bad laws, fight corruption, and stop unjust practices. We will incentivise democratic behaviour,” he said.

“But we will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or by attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force. We have tried these tactics in the past. However well-intentioned, they haven’t worked.”

Military interventions, he said, had “given democracy promotion a bad name”, and had lost the confidence of the American people. “We will do things differently,” he said.

Shoring up US democracy, he said, was a foreign policy imperative of the Biden administration. “Otherwise, we play right into the hands of adversaries and competitors like Russia and China, who seize every opportunity to sow doubts about the strength of our democracy.”

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IAEA says N Korea nuclear programme cause for ‘serious concern’

(2 Mar 2021) The International Atomic Energy Agency has said North Korea’s nuclear programme is continuing despite United Nations sanctions and remains “a cause for serious concern” with negotiations on denuclearisation stalled for more than two years. “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” Rafael Grossi, the IAEA’s director-general told a news conference after a meeting with the Vienna-based agency’s board of governors. North Korea is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Grossi added that the IAEA was intensifying its readiness “to play its essential role in verifying North Korea’s nuclear programme”.

North Korea last conducted a nuclear test in 2017 and the following year said it had blown up tunnels at its main nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, claiming that was proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.  But since that self-declared moratorium, Kim Jong Un, who marks 10 years as leader in December, has called for the continued production of nuclear weapons, launched a series of smaller missiles and in January, promised to put “state defence capabilities on a much higher level” as he unveiled what appeared to be a new submarine-launched ballistic missile.

IAEA inspectors are not allowed into North Korea, but they have been monitoring activity in the country via satellites and other available information.

Grossi said there was evidence of continuing construction and that a cooling water facility at an experimental light water reactor had been tested at the end of last year, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

There were also signs that North Korea had been operating a thermal plant at the Yongbyon complex that could be used to provide heat to a nuclear fuel rod reprocessing facility, Yonhap said. Yongbyon has nuclear reactors, fuel reprocessing plants and uranium enrichment facilities that have been linked to the country’s nuclear weapons programme.

Talks on denuclearisation have stalled with the North demanding an end to sanctions and the US insisting Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons.

Independent sanctions monitors said last month that North Korea had maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes throughout 2020, helping fund its activities with some $300m stolen through cyber-hacks.

A United Nations report said Pyongyang “produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure” while continuing to seek material and technology for those programmes from abroad.

Sanctions have been in place since 2006.( SOURCE : AL JAZEERA News Agency)

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ITALIAN ambassador to DRC killed in attack on UN convoy The UN convoy was attacked near Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kanyamahoro town in a kidnapping attempt.

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, his bodyguard and a driver from the World Food Programme have been killed in an attack on their convoy in the east of the country, Italy and the United Nations said. The convoy was attacked at about 0815 GMT (1015 AM) on Monday 22 Feb.,  in an attempted kidnap near the town of Kanyamahoro, about 25 km (15 miles) north of the regional capital Goma, a spokesman for the Virunga National Park said. The deaths of the ambassador, Luca Attanasio, 43, Italian military policeman Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, and their Congolese driver, whose name has not been released, were confirmed by the Italian government in a statement. The driver was working for the UN World Food Programme, the WFP said in a statement, adding that a number of other passengers were injured.

‘Enthusiastic young diplomat’ According to the ministry website, Attanasio had been Italy’s head of mission in Kinshasa since 2017 and was made ambassador in 2019.  He was married and had three young daughters, according to his Facebook page.

“He was an enthusiastic young diplomat with a great sensitivity to social problems,” said Mauro Garofolo at the Sant’Egidio charity based in Rome.  “He closely followed our work such as our programme to help HIV/AIDS sufferers.”

Virunga, which sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, attracts thousands of tourists each year. Attanasio  attack was in the same village where two British tourists were briefly kidnapped in 2018, leading the park to close to tourists for nine months.

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NASA will build its lunar base camp on the moon’s south pole

By Georgina Torbet | January 31, 2021

When NASA ( National Aeronautics and space Administration) sends astronauts to the moon for its Artemis program, it isn’t just planning to send them for brief visits. The plan is to set up a long-term moon base, where astronauts could stay for weeks or months at a time. The agency has been considering locations for this base and has narrowed down the options to focus on the moon’s southpole.

The pole is an appealing option because it is close to many of the dark craters which are thought to contain water ice. But there is also a need to pick a spot that receives sunlight so it can power the solar panels which will provide power for the base. So the location needs to have a balance of dark and illuminated areas.

“One idea is to set up camp in an illuminated zone and traverse into these craters, which are exceptionally cold,” said NASA Goddard planetary scientist Daniel P. Moriarty, who’s involved with NASA’s South Pole site analysis and planning team, in a statement.

The south pole is a good option for this as sunlight hits it at a low angle, meaning there are still craters that remain in shadow even when there is sunlight in the area.

The other consideration when picking a location for a base camp is how easy it is to land there.

Landing on the moon is still challenging, 50 years after it was first achieved, because lunar terrain is uneven which makes it unsuited for landings. Ideally, it would be best to land on a flat region. “You want to land in the flattest area possible, since you don’t want the landing vehicle to tip over,” Moriarty said.

Finally, another issue is how to space out the habitat for the astronauts from other parts of the base camp like the landing area and solar panels. “You want to take advantage of the landforms, such as hills, that can act as barriers to minimize the impact of contamination,” said Ruthan Lewis, a biomechanical and industrial engineer, architect, and a leader on NASA’s South Pole site analysis and planning team. “So, we’re looking at distances, elevations, and slopes in our planning.” For now, scientists and engineers at NASA will continue honing in on the exact location for a future moon base.

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Indian farmers mark 100th day of protests with New Delhi road blockade

(7 March 2021) Thousands of Indian farmers have blocked a massive expressway on the edges of New Delhi to mark the 100th day of protests against agricultural laws that they say will devastate their income. Farmers on Saturday 6th March 2021, stood on tractors and waved colorful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage.

The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on January 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead and hundreds injured. But they could soon run into problems. Multiple rounds of talks between the government and farmers have failed to end the stalemate. The farmers have rejected an offer from the government to put the laws on hold for 18 months, saying they want a complete repeal. The legislation is not clear on whether the government will continue to guarantee prices for certain essential crops, a system that was introduced in the 1960s to help India shore up its food reserves and prevent shortages.

Farmers also fear that the legislation signals the government is moving away from a system in which an overwhelming majority of farmers sell only to government-sanctioned marketplaces. They worry that will leave them at the mercy of corporations that will have no legal obligation to pay them the guaranteed price anymore. (Source: AP)

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