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Photo of drowned father and daughter highlights migrants' perils

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Ramírez and his nearly two-year-old daughter Valeria was found on the bank of the Rio Grande [Julia Le Duc/The Associated Press]

The man and his 23-month-old daughter lay face down in shallow water along the bank of the Rio Grande, his black shirt hiked up to his chest with the girl tucked inside. Her arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments.

The searing photograph of the sad discovery of their bodies on Monday, captured by journalist Julia Le Duc and published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada, highlights the perils faced by mostly Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the United States.

According to Le Duc’s reporting for La Jornada, Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to US authorities and request asylum, swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria.

I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home

He set her on the US bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away.

The account was based on remarks by Ávalos to police at the scene – “amid tears” and “screams” – Le Duc told The Associated Press.

Details of the incident were confirmed on Tuesday by a Tamaulipas government official who was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, and by Martínez’s mother back in El Salvador, Rosa Ramírez, who spoke with her daughter-in-law by phone afterward.

Deadly border crossing

“When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further … and he couldn’t get out,” Ramírez told AP. “He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”

From the scorching Sonoran Desert to the fast-moving Rio Grande, the 3,200km US-Mexico border has long been an at times deadly crossing between ports of entry. A total of 283 migrant deaths were recorded last year; the toll so far this year has not been released.

In recent weeks alone, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead on Sunday, overcome by the sweltering heat; elsewhere three children and an adult from Honduras died in April after their raft capsized on the Rio Grande; and a 6-year-old from India was found dead earlier this month in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The search for Martínez and his daughter was suspended on Sunday due to darkness, and their bodies were discovered the next morning near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, several hundred metres from where they had tried to cross and just a kilometer from an international bridge.

Tamaulipas immigration and civil defence officials have toured shelters beginning weeks ago to warn against attempting to cross the river, said to be swollen with water released from dams for irrigation. On the surface, the Rio Grande appears placid, but strong currents run beneath.

Ramírez said her son and his family left El Salvador on April 3 and spent about two months at a shelter in Tapachula, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

“I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home,” Ramírez said. “They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house.”

El Salvador’s foreign ministry said it was working to assist the family including Ávalos, who was at a border migrant shelter following the drownings.

The bodies were expected to be flown to El Salvador on Thursday.

Comparison to Syrian boy

The photo recalls the 2015 image of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean near Turkey, though it remains to be seen whether it may have the same impact in focusing international attention on migration to the US.

“Very regrettable that this would happen,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday in response to a question about the photograph.

“We have always denounced that as there is more rejection in the United States, there are people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing” the river.

There was no immediate comment from the White House.

US “metering” policy has dramatically reduced the number of migrants who are allowed to request asylum, down from dozens per day previously to sometimes just a handful at some ports of entry.

The Tamaulipas government official said the family arrived in Matamoros early on Sunday and went to the US Consulate to try to get a date to request asylum. The mother is 21 years old and the father was 25, he added.

But waits are long there as elsewhere along the border – last week a shelter director said only about 40 to 45 asylum interviews were being conducted in Matamoros each week, while somewhere in the neighborhood of 800-1,700 names were on a waiting list.

It’s not clear what happened to the family at the US Consulate, but later in the day they made the decision to cross. The Tamaulipas official said the father and daughter set off from a small park that abuts the river.

Civil defence officials arrived at the scene at 7pm on Sunday and later took the wife to the shelter.

“I was drawn to the girl’s arm on her father,” Le Duc said as she described arriving at the scene. “It was something that moved me in the extreme because it reflects that until her last breath, she was joined to him not only by the shirt but also in that embrace in which they passed together into death.”

“It’s a horrifying image,” Maureen Meyer, a specialist on immigration at the Washington Office on Latin America, which advocates for human rights in the region, said of the photograph.

“And I think it speaks so clearly to the real risks of these US programmes that are either returning people back to Mexico seeking asylum or in this case limiting how many people can enter the US every day.”

The United States has also been expanding its programme under which asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in US courts, a wait that could last many months or even years.

This week Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas, the same state where Matamoros is located, said it will become the latest city to receive returnees as soon as Friday.

Many migrant shelters are overflowing on the Mexican side, and cartels hold sway over much of Tamaulipas and have been known to kidnap and kill migrants.

Meanwhile, Mexico is stepping up its own crackdown on immigration in response to US pressure, with much of the focus on slowing the flow in the country’s south.

Source: Aljazeera

UK suspends new arms export licences to Saudi-led coalition

Campaigners celebrate the court of appeal’s ruling last week [Simon Dawson/Reuters]

The UK government has said it will not grant any new licenses for weapons exports to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners fighting in Yemen, after a court ruled last week that such sales were unlawful.

Britain’s Department for International trade issued a formal notice on Tuesday saying it would abide by the ruling made by the court of appeal, but that it will also appeal the judgment.

“While we do this, we will not grant any new licences for exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners (UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt) which might be used in the conflict in Yemen,” read a statement from the department. 

“Extant licences – those granted before this judgment – are not immediately affected by the Court Order. Exporters may continue to export under extant licences. But we are required by the Court to reconsider the decisions we made about those licences.”

The court ruled on Thursday that the process by which arms export licenses had been issued was unlawful, in what was heralded as a landmark decision by campaigners.

The decision followed a challenge by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) that accused the UK government of licensing arms sales despite a clear risk their use could breach international humanitarian law.

The UK’s arms sales have significantly bolstered the Saudi-led coalition’s capability to carry out air attacks in Yemen. The final six Typhoon jet fighters of 72 ordered in 2007 were delivered in 2017. The following year, Riyadh signed a memorandum of intent to buy an additional 48 Typhoons from the UK.

Source: Aljazeera

Egypt arrests activists over alleged anti-government plot

Critics accuse Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government of a crackdown on dissent, which authorities deny [Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via Reuters]

Egyptian authorities have arrested at least eight people, including prominent activists who were part of the country’s 2011 uprising, accusing them of a plot to bring down the government.

The arrests drew condemnation by Amnesty International, which described Egypt as “an open-air prison” where no opposition or independent reporting was allowed.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior said Zyad Elelaimy, a former legislator and member of the secular Egyptian Social Democratic Party, was held along with seven other people.

The ministry said those arrested were loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt designated a “terrorist” group in 2013.

It added that the eight suspects were the most prominent figures arrested, but did not specify how many others were arrested.

Authorities said they had also identified and targeted 19 companies and “economic entities” run via “secret methods” by Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the “provocateur elements” loyal to it.

Elelaimy’s party was one of the main protest groups in the 2011 uprising that led to the departure of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, but it also opposed the government of Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who became the country’s first freely elected president in 2012.

Morsi was toppled a year later in a military coup led by then-army chief and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and was promptly arrested.

Last week, he collapsed during a court appearance in the capital, Cairo, and shortly afterwards was pronounced dead.

Morsi’s death prompted criticism of el-Sisi’s government, with human rights groups accusing it of mistreating the former president and failing to provide adequate medical care or prisoner rights, charges the Egyptian authorities have denied.

Secular activists

In its statement, the interior ministry accused Elelaimy and other detainees of involvement in a plan financed through leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood abroad “to carry out violent and disorderly acts against state institutions simultaneously with creating a state of revolutionary momentum”.

It accused five individuals outside Egypt, including former presidential candidate Ayman Nour and prominent TV personalities Moataz Matar and Mohamed Nasser of involvement in the alleged plot.

Economist Omar el-Shenety and journalists Hossam Monis and Hisham Fouad were also arrested, it said.

Monis was the campaign manager for opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi, the candidate who ran against el-Sisi in the 2014 presidential election. El-Sisi won that vote with almost 97 percent.

Abdelaziz el-Husseini, a senior leader in the Karama, or Dignity party, said Elelaimy and Monis took part in meetings with political parties and opposition legislators to discuss possibilities to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections. Their latest meeting was late on Monday in Cairo, he added.

“These public meetings are legitimate. They are members in legitimate parties and absolutely have no ties to the Brotherhood,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

The meetings included the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), a coalition of liberal and left-leaning parties, which called for their release on Tuesday.

In a statement, the CDM denied Elelaimy and the others arrested had any connections with the Muslim Brotherhood.

One of Elelaimy’s colleagues said he believed the arrest was linked to the coalition’s move to seek more members to prepare for next year’s elections.

“We have nothing to do with the Brotherhood … I am truly astonished and I don’t know why security would be upset that we want to take part in the elections in the framework of the law and constitution,” CDM member Khaled Dawoud told Reuters news agency.

Amnesty criticised the arrests as part of “the Egyptian authorities’ systematic persecution and brutal crackdown on anyone who dares to criticise them.”

Source: Aljazeera

Outrage over Ethiopia's continuing internet blackout

An internet shutdown has been in force across Ethiopia since Saturday, after a group of soldiers staged a failed coup in Amhara state, the birthplace of many of Ethiopia’s emperors as well as its national language, Amharic.

The outage has frustrated citizens who rely on online services for information and for conducting business in one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing economies.

Alp Toker, executive director of NetBlocks, a nonprofit organisation that monitors internet censorship, condemned the decision to shut down the internet on the anniversary of a set of reforms that were announced by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and that aim to facilitate free speech.

“On 22 June 2018, his government declared free expression a foundational right and ordered the unblocking of over 200 websites. Instead, exactly one year later, the entire internet has been blocked and Ethiopia is digitally isolated from the world,” Toker said.

“At a time when the nation should be reflecting on the weekend’s events and coming to terms with the loss of life, they are instead denied information and a voice. The loss of dignity and symbolism couldn’t be more striking,” he told Al Jazeera.

‘Can’t check messages’

Ethiopia was sub-Saharan Africa’s second fastest-growing economy last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. With an estimated population of 110 million people, its projected growth rate for 2019 is 7.7 percent. 

Internet access is key to unlocking the country’s economic potential. But access to online services remains highly restricted, according to a report by independent watchdog Freedom House.

The roughly 16 million internet users in Ethiopia have experienced internet shutdowns since 2015.

On Tuesday, Ethiopians were still unable to access the popular social messaging app Telegram as well as Facebook, Twitter and other online services.

Text messaging was also disrupted without any warning, sparking anger and frustrating many.

“I can’t check my messages. Even when I try to make phone calls, it is not very clear. It looks like the signals have also been affected. This is not nice at all,” Addis Ababa resident Makda Gebru told Al Jazeera.

“I have some very important emails to send to people outside Ethiopia, but I have to wait for the internet to be restored,” Gebru added.

Internet cuts in Ethiopia are nothing new, and residents aren’t sure when the practice will end.

On June 11, many Ethiopians woke up to an online blackout. At the time, no explanation was offered by the state-run Ethio Telecom, the sole provider of internet services in the country.

A week later, internet and text messages services were restored. While Ethio Telecom offered apologies to its subscribers, again, there was no explanation for what caused the disruption. 

News reports said the internet blackout was meant to block the leak of national exam answers.

Intermittent internet outages have taken a toll on Ethiopia’s fledgling economy. Hardest hit are businesses that rely heavily on online services.

“After a series of unexplained internet cuts spanning earlier this month, internet users and businesses were already losing patience and money,” Toker said.

“NetBlocks estimates that Ethiopians lose at least $4.5m each day the internet is cut. The true price is probably higher because hard-earned investor and consumer confidence has now evaporated.”

The internet blackout that followed the failed coup on June 22 forced Ethiopians to rely on national television and radio for information and updates.

There have been claims and counterclaims by authorities since Saturday’s killings.

The failed coup is seen as the biggest challenge yet to sweeping political and economic reforms that Abiy kick-started after he took power in April 2018.

“Switching off access will only delay and radicalise critical voices as the government is likely to realise when the shutdown ends and Ethiopia’s internet users start coming back online,” Toker pointed out.

The Ethiopian government said it is back in control of the northeastern state of Amhara after the failed coup.

Source: Aljazeera

Cold Australian nights, even in the tropics

The far north and far south of Australia both registered their lowest temperature in more than five years on Tuesday morning, according to Weatherzone.

In Tasmania, Hobart’s -0.2 degrees Celsius shortly before 5am on Tuesday was the city’s lowest temperature since 2013. It was also its third coldest morning in the last 20 years.

In the tropical north, Darwin Airport dipped to 12.7C just before 4:30am on Tuesday, which was their lowest temperature in eight years. Just to the ease of Darwin, Middle Point’s 4.8C was its lowest temperature since at least 2001.

While cold mornings are common in Australia during winter, the chill on Tuesday morning was given a boost by dry air in both Tasmania and the north. Dry air allows much more cooling of the ground because it prevents the formation of mist or dew, both of which act as insulation for the surface.

Darwin Airport’s coldest morning on record is 10.4C during July 1942, while Hobart’s lowest was minus 2.8C, from July 1981 and June 1972.

South Australia has seen temperatures plummet well below zero, severely damaging soft crops. The Bureau of Meteorology said Monday’s low of -5.7C at Renmark, in the state’s Riverland, was the equal-second lowest temperature on record for the town.

Meteorologist Matthew Bass said it was the region’s sixth consecutive day below zero.

“Those sort of temperatures are not what we see very frequently in South Australia … It’s a very significant, severe low temperature.”

Source: Aljazeera

Jared Kushner on Israel-Palestine deal: Time to try something new

US President Donald Trump‘s “deal of the century” – his administration’s proposal for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – kicked into gear in Manama, Bahrain this week as officials from the region gathered for the so-called “Peace to Prosperity” workshop.

Already, sceptics are voicing concern, saying the American side is using money to bribe the Palestinians. 

The initial economic stage of the deal hopes to drum up $50bn in investment, money that primarily is expected to come from other Arab nations, principally in the Gulf. Participants of the Manama meeting will discuss projects and conditions for investments in more detail. Then, based on the outcome of this meeting, the next step would be to fashion a political settlement that would translate financial commitments into reality on the ground in Palestine.

However, Palestinians have derided the plan as an “economy first” approach that is doomed to fail. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is arguing for a reverse order: a political settlement first, money later – an approach that would tackle the difficult questions of establishing a Palestinian state, end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and allow refugees to return.

Palestinian leaders boycotted the June 25 and 26 workshop, saying the gathering circumvents a political settlement based on a two-state solution, and is an ill-fated attempt by the US administration to “liquidate” the Palestinian cause.

However, the senior adviser to the US president and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – who has been tasked with leading the process – told Al Jazeera the reaction was “fairly predictable”. He said he believed the event would be a success despite the boycott, citing the presence of delegates from regional countries and a large number of international investors.

“What [the Palestinian leadership] have been saying is a lot of hot rhetoric about rejecting everything before they even see it, which is, in my opinion, not a very responsible position.” 

When questioned about why the proposal did not want to settle some of the political questions that could stave off conflict before it pours money into infrastructure, Kushner said: “That’s been the traditional thinking, and that has not worked.”

“The president is not a traditional politician. He wants to do things in a different way. If we can get people through this process to look at this problem differently, to see what the future could be, then I think that could be a very very successful thing.”

Outlining the Trump administration’s “different” approach, he said: “What we have tried to do is help people identify what a future could look like. And hopefully we get people to all agree … and then we get people to look at, maybe, let’s commit to the future in the event that there is a peace agreement. Perhaps that will create a different condition through which people can then approach some of these political issues that have been unresolvable for a very long time.”

“It’s a problem that has been unsolved for many, many years and I think that a lot of the criticisms we get are from people who have tried to do this in the past and have failed and then they criticise us for not doing it the same way that they’ve done it,” he said.

Kushner called the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative “a great effort” but said it is not possible to solve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a deal along those lines.

“I think we all have to recognise that if there ever is a deal, it’s not going to be along the lines of the Arab peace initiative. It will be somewhere between the Arab peace initiative and somewhere between the Israeli position,” he said.

He also defended Trump’s 2017 decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying: “Israel is a sovereign nation; a sovereign nation has the right to determine where their capital is and America has the right to recognise the decision.” He said the relocation of the embassy should not affect final-status negotiations with the Palestinians.

Kushner said that on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, there are voices who accuse the other of having no interest in peace. But he added that peace needs to come from compromise and negotiation.

“If we want to find a pathway forward, it means that both sides need to find a place where they both feel that they can gain more than they give, and move forward and have the opportunities to live better lives,” he said.

Source: Aljazeera