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India struggles to handle onion crisis – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English

India struggles to handle onion crisis – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English. (source/link)

India has become so desperate for fresh stocks of the onions it uses in spicy curries that it is trying to import them from neighbours, and is even considering airlifts to ease soaring prices.

Indians go through 15m tonnes of onions a year, using them as the base for traditional dishes such as biryani and bhaji. The country is the second-largest onion grower in the world, after China, and normally exports them.

But retail prices have quadrupled in the past three months, to as high as 100 rupees ($1.62) per kliogram, making the onions an unaffordable luxury for India’s poor.

The soaring prices could become an issue in elections scheduled for next month in five states, including the capital, New Delhi.

To ease prices, the state-run farm cooperative issued a tender this week to purchase onions from abroad.

Supplies from abroad may take weeks to arrive, however; Farm Minister Sharad Pawar proposed on Wednesday importing them by air, because sea transport takes longer.

“The state-run agencies are floating import tenders, but supplies are likely to come only after 3-4 weeks,” said Changdev Holkar, a director at the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation. “And quantity would be also miniscule compared to demand.”

‘Cheating consumers’

A new crop of onions should be harvested in two or three weeks, but heavy rains are expected in the coming days in several onion-growing states, which could have a disastrous effect on the crops.

The government blames the crisis on both bad weather and speculation by middlemen. KV Thomas, the Indian food minister, accused traders on Saturday of “cheating consumers,” urging them to sell onions at “affordable rates.”

His ruling Congress party fears a backlash from its main support base. “The sky-high prices of onions have given the opposition a potent weapon to attack the government with,” commented the Hindustan Timesnewspaper recently.

Costly onions have a history of political fallout, with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being ousted in 1998 Delhi state polls after surging onion prices soured the voter mood.

In January 1980, the late Congress leader Indira Gandhi rode back to power on the back of rising onion prices, waving huge strings of them at campaign rallies and saying that a government has no right to govern if it cannot control onion costs.

The latest onion price rise has also come in the middle of India’s most important religious festival season, an occasion for multi-day feasts and family dinners.

 

Syrian capital blacked out after blasts – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Syrian capital blacked out after blasts – Middle East – Al Jazeera English. (source)

The Syrian capital Damascus was hit by a power cut late on Wednesday, shortly after an explosion near the international airport, residents said.

“The whole city just went dark,” said a resident who lives in the centre of the city and asked to remain anonymous.

An AFP journalist in Damascus said he could see from a distance a huge fire blazing near Damascus International Airport, which is located near the affected power station.

A Damascus resident told Al Jazeera on Thursday morning that power had been restored in most of the capital.

State news agency SANA quoted Electricity Minister Imad Khamis as saying that electricity in “all provinces” had been cut off due to “a terrorist attack on the gas pipeline feeding the electricity generating stations in the southern region.”

“A terrorist attack on a gas pipeline that feeds a power station in the south has led to a power outage in the provinces, and work to repair it is in progress,” Emad Khamis said on Wednesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that reports on abuses and battlefield developments using sources from both sides of Syria’s civil war, said the explosion was caused by rebel artillery that hit a gas pipeline near the airport.

The Observatory said the rebel shelling was aimed at the town of Ghasula, a few kilometres from the airport. Rebels have been trying to push into the capital, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for four decades.

“It is likely this was a large-scale operation planned well in advance,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

In September, a similar outage was caused after a high-voltage power line was sabotaged.

 

Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Thousands of Australians were told to leave their homes as dry winds created the conditions for a firestorm in mountainous bushland outside Sydney, where firefighters have battled for days to bring dozens of wildfires under control.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales state since last Thursday, when bushfires tore through scattered communities to Sydney’s south and west, razing entire streets.

One man died after suffering a heart attack trying to protect his home.

Wednesday’s fire conditions were shaping up to be the worst so far in the state’s bushfire crisis, said Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of the rural fire service.

“If you don’t have a plan, let me give you one,” said Michael Gallacher, the state’s emergency minister. “Get into the car, drive down to the city metropolitan area and let the firefighters do what they can do to protect the community, should this turn for the worse.”

Temperatures in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney are expected to reach up to 30C, while in Sydney itself they could hit 35C. Hot, dry winds gusting up to 100km/h are also expected, posing the greatest challenge to firefighters.

“This is the day where we’ve been receiving forecasts of the worst of weather for this week and that forecast is still staying with those predictions,” Fitzsimmons told reporters, warning of extreme fire conditions.

Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Gravenor, reporting from Katoomba’s Rural Fire Service, in the Blue Mountains, said there were more than 3,500 firefighters still battling fires in the region.

There were still 60 fires burning across the state on Wednesday, with 18 out of control, our correspondent said.

Authorities ordered schools in the Blue Mountains to be closed, evacuated nursing homes and advised people living in the area to leave before conditions deteriorated.

The Blue Mountains, whose foothills extend down to western Sydney suburbs such as Penrith, are populated with a mix of farmers, small business owners and white-collar commuters who make the trip into the city every day.

Known for their spectacular escarpments, eucalyptus forests and scattered small communities, they are a popular tourist spot for Sydney residents on weekends.

 

US drone strikes condemned in rights reports – Americas – Al Jazeera English

US drone strikes condemned in rights reports – Americas – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Rights groups have demanded that the US launch an impartial investigation into its use of drone warfare and that the country publicly disclose any evidence of civilian casualties.

In independent reports published on Tuesday, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said that the US must hold to account those responsible for civilian deaths and be more transparent about its drone programme.

“As evidence emerges of civilian casualties in these strikes, it’s time for the US to stop covering its ears and starting taking action to ensure the programme is legal,” Letta Taylor, senior counterterrorism researcher at HRW told Al Jazeera.

Two recently published UN reports are to be presented to the General Assembly on Friday. Taylor said that the release of the four reports in a brief period “underscores the mounting questions about the legality” of drones.

All four reports demand that the US should provide a full legal rationale for targeted killings.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, said that while its report focuses on Pakistan, and HRW’s on Yemen, the drones programme “raises the same questions about human rights violations all over the world”.

“Both organisations are calling on the US Congress to fully investigate the cases the we have documented in our reports and other potentially unlawful deaths,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that the group hoped that the US would act immediately on their recommendations.

HRW said that the Yemeni government, which is engaged in a conflict with al-Qaeda, had been “almost as silent” as the US on the death toll caused by air raids.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said that President Barack Obama had outlined the US rational for drone strikes in a May 23 speech.

“The president spoke at length about the policy and legal rationale for how the US takes action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces. As the president emphasised, the use of lethal force, including from remotely piloted aircraft, commands the highest level of attention and care.

“Of particular note, before we take any counterterrorism strike, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”

She said the US was aware that this report had been released and were reviewing it carefully.

‘Dangerous precedent’

Through personal testimonies from eye-witnesses and relatives of drone-strike victims in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, Amnesty International’s 74-page report titled Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan reviewed 45 known drone strikes in the region between January 2012 and August this year.

It found that nine of the strikes could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions – some of which were unjustified and some of which were cases of “rescuer” or follow-up attacks on residents who had gone to the scene after an initial strike.

The bodies were charred like coal – I could not recognize the faces

Ahmad al-Sabooli, Yemeni Farmer,

In July 2012, 18 labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in multiple strikes on a village close to the Afghan border. The report indicates that the victims of the strike were not involved in fighting and did not pose a threat.

The London-based rights group added that such strikes were caused locals to live in fear, and set “a dangerous precedent that other states may seek to exploit to avoid responsibility for their own unlawful killings”.

HRW’s 97-page reportBetween a Drone and al-Qaeda’: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen, examined six US targeted killings in the country – one from 2009, and the rest between 2012 and 2013.

The strikes killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians.

None met US policy guidelines for targeted killings set out in US President Barack Obama’s speech in May, said the New York-based rights group.

“Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths,” said HRW.

A witness quoted in the report described the aftermath of one strike targeting an alleged al-Qaeda leader, but instead struck a passenger van killing 12 civilians.

“The bodies were charred like coal – I could not recognise the faces,” Ahmad al-Sabooli, a 23 year-old Yemeni farmer, said.

International law prohibits arbitrary killings and limits intentional lethal force to exceptional situations wherein in an armed conflict, only combatants and those participating in hostilities may be targeted.

Intentional lethal force is lawful only when there is, with certainty, an imminent threat to life.

 

Riot police arrest students in Cairo clash – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Riot police arrest students in Cairo clash – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.(source)

Egyptian security forces have fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of students protesting against military rule at Cairo’s al-Azhar university and, according to the Interior Ministry, arrested 55 students.

Clashes between protesters and security forces erupted when the students tried to move their protest out of campus on Sunday. Protesters were seen throwing rocks at security forces and a number of students were arrested.

The group organising the march was responding to a call by the Anti-Coup Alliance for a national uprising against the military-backed leadership that took power after President Mohamed Morsi was ousted on July 3.

Spotlight

Follow our ongoing coverage of the political crisis in Egypt

Protesters were also demanding the release of political detainees.

Similar demonstrations were held at Cairo University and in the district of Abu Hamad in el-Sharqiyah province.

A witness told Reuters news agency that police fired bird shot and tear gas to prevent protesters from marching to the site of a protest camp that was destroyed two months ago.

Al-Azhar is in the same Cairo suburb as the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the scene of a former pro-Morsi sit-in where hundreds of protesters were killed as security forces broke up the sit-in.

“Rabaa Square is completely off-limits,” a security source said. “Protesters are not allowed to move inside it.”

Al-Azhar university has long been regarded as the foremost institution in the Islamic world for religious studies, and many students there are supporters of Morsi.

The Interior Ministry told Al Jazeera that 55 students were arrested

Ahead of the new term starting on Saturday, the university warned students not to engage in political activity or they would risk classes being suspended indefinitely.

Since the start of the academic year in September Egyptian university campuses have witnessed a number of protests, mostly by supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

Protests for and against military rule have been held almost daily in various Egyptian cities since Morsi was overthrown and detained.

Hundreds of people have been killed in clashes as security forces have cracked down on Islamist-dominated sit-ins and scores of Brotherhood members have been detained.

Morsi will stand trial on November 4 with 14 other defendants over the killings of protesters outside his presidential palace in December 2012, when demonstrators took to the streets against a decree the president issued to shield his decisions from judicial oversight and a highly disputed draft constitution.

 

Race riots: A wake-up call for Russia? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English

Race riots: A wake-up call for Russia? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English. (source)

The murder of three people in Moscow has brought to the surface the increasing hatred felt towards immigrants in Russia.

The tendency to blame the migrants is misguided. If you look at the detentions after the riots, the Russian government detained 1,200 migrants … on the outskirts of Moscow … and more than 1,000 of them were documented. They had proper visas, and they were fine. So the problem is more complex than the illegal migration.

Innokenty Grekov, a programme associate on Hate Crimes at Human Rights First

Chanting “Russia for Russians”, several thousand people began rioting in Moscow after an ethnic Russian was murdered in front of his girlfriend.

The killing, blamed on a man from Azerbaijan, caused some of the worst race riots in years.

Police arrested more than 1,000 people – mostly migrants. Since then, two men, one Azeri and one Uzbek, have also been murdered.

In a recent survey, almost nine out of ten Russians said they want to limit immigration.

“The influx of labour migrants is an economic necessity. Russia does not have enough workforce. The Russian government delivers to the people, their incomes have been growing over the years and Russian residents do not seem willing to take manual hard labour … In Moscow … unemployment is zero, which means indeed that this influx of migrants is a necessity,” Maria Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, says.

But according to a Ukrainian polling institute, 86 percent of the Russians questioned feel their government should limit the influx of foreign workers. Nine percent felt there was no need; and five percent felt it was hard to say.

But when asked if the government should actively support integration, 43 percent said ‘yes’, 45 percent said ‘no’; and 12 percent said it was hard to say.

Immigration is seen by many as a threat to the stability of Russian society. The mayor of Moscow reportedly said that Moscow would be the world’s safest city if there was no immigration, which includes, he says, the arrival from internal immigrants from inside Russia.

Why are some Russian officials stoking xenophobia? What are the root causes of rising anti-immigration sentiment in Russia and what are Moscow’s plans to do something about it?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Sergey Frolov, the deputy editor-in-chief of Trud newspaper; Maria Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center; and Innokenty Grekov, a programme associate on hate crimes at Human Rights First.

“This problem has three roots. First of all the illegal immigration, the second one is the high level of bribery among the russian and especially Moscow police. And the third one is [that] the people who came here to live and to work, they don’t like to be adapted, to communicate with local people … They didn’t even try to assimilate in Russia because normally these people live in legal flats and they live in very small circles together with their relatives and their friends and they try not to communicate with the people outside. That’s why there is no understanding between each other.”

 

Thousands protest austerity cuts in Portugal – Europe – Al Jazeera English

Thousands protest austerity cuts in Portugal – Europe – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Thousands of Portugese took the streets of Portugal’s two most populated cities to demonstrate against planned cuts of pensions and salaries.

Saturday’s demonstrations are a response to the government’s decision to extend austerity measures in the 2014 budget.

In Lisbon, hundreds of buses slowly crossed the April 25th bridge in a protest organised by Portugal’s main labor group, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers. In the northern city of Porto, thousands gathered in the main square shouting anti-austerity slogans.

Portugal, currently engaged in an international aid programme, is focusing next year’s fiscal efforts on spending cuts, reducing state pensions and cutting public workers’ wages.

Unemployed teacher Sofia took part in the protest to ask for government resignation.

“I’m here to fight for more work and better wages and against this government’s austerity measures, so I want them to leave together with the Troika,” Sofia said referring to the trio of European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank in charge of handling bailouts of distressed euro zone countries.

The budget includes wage cuts for public sector workers ranging from 2.5 percent to 12 percent on monthly salaries of over 600 euros. Pension cuts should bring savings of 728 million euros.

“I am a retired civil servant and I’m suffering from the cuts. I worked and studied to earn more than 2,500 euros without any government help and now they are cutting my pension,” pensioner Maria Barreto said.

The country’s 78-billion-euro bailout formally ends in mid-2014 when Portugal should return to financing itself normally in bond markets, which it stopped doing in 2011 when its debt crisis first hit.

Seeking a better future Ricardo Pereira travelled from Torres Novas to Lisbon: “I’m here to fight for a better future for me and for the next generation and against this government’s austerity measures.”

The budget aims to slash the budget deficit to 4 percent of GDP next year from 5.9 percent in 2013. It may still face challenges from the Constitutional Court that has previously rejected some government austerity measures.

Australia bushfires destroy scores of homes – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Australia bushfires destroy scores of homes – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Firefighters in Australia are continuing to fight some of the worst bushfires to hit the country in a decade, preparing for worsening conditions.

In the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, one of the worst-hit regions in fire-ravaged New South Wales state, 300 homes have been either destroyed or damaged by the fire storm that peaked on Thursday, the Rural Fire Service announced on Saturday.

The damage toll is more than double the last count announced on Friday and will continue to rise as assessment teams and police move deeper into the destruction zone in search of survivors and victims.

Homes have been reported destroyed in other regions, but numbers are not yet available.

A 63-year-old man died of a heart attack on Thursday while protecting his home from fire at Lake Munmorah, north of Sydney. At least five others – including three fire fighters – have been treated in hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.

Arson investigations

Arson investigators are examining the origins of several of more than 100 fires that have threatened towns surrounding Sydney in recent days.

The Australian military also said it was investigating whether a major blaze was linked to an explosives training exercise.

The bushfires have been extraordinarily intense and extraordinarily early in an annual fire season which peaks during the forthcoming southern hemisphere summer which begins in December.

This year’s unusually dry winter and hotter-than-average spring have led to perfect fire conditions.

About 1,500 fire fighters have been back burning to contain blazes since winds and temperatures became milder on Friday. Several roads in fire-affected areas north, west and south of Sydney have been closed.

On Saturday, 83 fires were burning across the state including 19 uncontained blazes.

Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers described Saturday’s conditions as a “pause” before higher temperatures and increasing winds were forecast for Sunday.

“It’s just calmed down a little bit and obviously we’re bracing ourselves for these worsening conditions,” Rogers told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

“What we have is a time for the crews to anticipate the weather coming ahead and try and get as much containment as possible and prevent that fire threatening major population centres when we get worse weather,” he said.

In February 2009, bushfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria state.

 

Floods follow storm havoc in eastern India – Asia – Al Jazeera English

Floods follow storm havoc in eastern India – Asia – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Millions of people across eastern India are bracing themselves for more flooding as Cyclone Phailin’s effects continue to be felt along the coast.Emergency services are struggling to deliver aid as rising water levels sweep away roads.

Phailin menaced India for days, and while the states where the fierce storm made landfall were well prepared for its fury, the surrounding areas have been caught by surprise.

Across eastern Indian, 12 million people have been affected by heavy rain and flooding.

Al Jazeera’s Nidhi Dutt reports from eastern Midnapore, one of the worst-hit regions in West Bengal state.

 

Scores dead in Philippine earthquake – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Scores dead in Philippine earthquake – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (FULL ARTICLE)

At least 93 people have been killed and more than 100 others injured by falling buildings islands popular with tourists in the central Philippines after an earthquake measuring 7.2 hit the region, according to radio reports.

Tuesday’s earthquake was centred 56km deep below Carmen town on Bohol Island, about 400km southeast of the capital, Manila, and was felt across the region. The Philippine seismology agency reported at least 110 aftershocks.

Local radio stations also reported fatalities in nearby Cebu province, across a strait from Bohol.

Tuesday is a national holiday and that may have reduced casualties because schools and offices are closed….

 

 

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