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Gunman fires at anti-CAA protest rally in Delhi

A gunman has fired at a protest rally against India’s new citizenship law near the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university in capital New Delhi, witnesses and officials said.

The alleged assailant, identified by the police as a 17-year-old teenager, brandished a single-barrel weapon and shouted slogans against the protesters before firing at them, wounding a JMI student on Thursday.

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The deputy commissioner of police in Southeast Delhi said the teenage suspect has been arrested and an investigation was being conducted into the incident.

‘Who wants freedom?’

“He [the gunman] was shouting, ‘Delhi Police Zindabad’ [long live Delhi police] and ‘Who wants Aazadi [freedom], come, I’ll shoot you’,” said witness Nazim Qazi, who was also part of the protest.

“And then he shot one fire. A student named Shadab was hurt and has been taken to the nearby Holy Family hospital,” he added.

Another witness told Al Jazeera that JMI students were marching towards the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence struggle, when the attack happened.

The march was organised to coincide with the death anniversary of Gandhi, who was shot dead by a member of the Hindu far right, Nathuram Godse, in 1948.

The victim has now been moved to the trauma centre of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, sources said.

A photograph taken by the Reuters news agency showed the suspect, dressed in a black jacket and brandishing a single-barrel weapon, standing metres away from dozens of policemen deployed outside the university, where protesters had gathered for the march.

Witnesses said the assailant shouted slogans against the protesters before firing at them.

“The police stood nearby,” Ahmed Zahir, a witness, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah posted on Twitter that Delhi Police officials have been ordered to conduct a “detailed inquiry” into the incident.

Who is the suspect?

The suspect’s purported Facebook page, now suspended, showed that he called himself a “Rambhakt” (devotee of Hindu god, Lord Ram). He was live on Facebook just before the attack, the page showed.

The teenager’s Facebook account also revealed his apparent hatred towards Muslims and his sympathies for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

His social media profile suggested he is a member of the far-right Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the World Hindu Council, which forms a part of what is called the Sangh Parivar (Sangh Family) in India.

The Sangh Parivar is named after their parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or National Association of Volunteers), which draws its inspiration from the German Nazis.

On Thursday, hours before he shot at the JMI student, the suspect made several posts on his Facebook page, in which he threatened the protesters and asked his friends to follow his activities.

Shaheen Bagh, tera khel khatm (your game is over),” read one of his posts, referring to a peaceful protest being led by women in a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in New Delhi, a stone’s throw from where he incident happened.

In another Facebook post on Thursday, he wrote: “Meri antim yatra pe mujhe bhagwa me le jaiye aur Jai Shri Ram ke naare hon (On my final journey, drape me in saffron clothes and chant Hail Lord Ram).”

Weeks of protests

Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries, have flared since last December.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insists the law is required to help persecuted minorities who fled to India before 2015 from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

However, protesters insist the law – as well as a proposed national register for citizens – discriminates against the country’s Muslim minority and violates India’s secular constitution.

In recent days, BJP leaders have called for action against the protesters, whom they call “anti-nationals”.

This week, India’s Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur, encouraged supporters at a state election rally in New Delhi to chant slogans, calling for “the traitors to be shot”, drawing a reprimand from the country’s election commission.

Last month, Delhi police officers stormed the JMI library and beat students who were protesting against CAA. Dozens of students were injured in the police action that caused a public outcry.

Source: Aljazeera

Palestinians push for UN action over Trump Middle East plan

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Trump’s plan the ‘slap of the century’ after it was announced [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will visit the United Nations within two weeks to address the Security Council on his rejection of the new US Middle East plan, his ambassador to the body has said. 

At that time, a draft resolution will be submitted to the council, Riyad Mansour told reporters on Wednesday, without specifying a date for the visit.

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US President Donald Trump unveiled his long-delayed plan – referred to as the “deal of the century” – to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday, but Palestinians called the proposal dead on arrival and Abbas reacted with ” a thousand no’s” to the announcement. 

“We will try our best with our friends to have the strongest possible draft resolution and to receive the strongest and largest possible voting in favour of that resolution,” Mansour said. He did not give details of what might be in the text.

“Of course we would like to see a strong, large opposition to this Trump plan,” he said, with Tunisian Ambassador to the UN  Moncef Baati, currently serving a two-year term on the 15-member Security Council, standing beside him.

However, the US is likely to veto any such resolution, diplomats said, allowing the Palestinians to take the draft text to the 193-member UN General Assembly, where a vote would show how Trump’s plan has been received internationally.

Mansour said Abbas would use his visit to the UN to “put before the entire international community the reaction of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership against this onslaught against the national rights of the Palestinian people by the Trump administration”.

Netanyahu in Russia

Israel’s UN mission signalled on Tuesday that it was preparing for UN action to be launched by the Palestinian delegation, saying in a statement that it was “working to thwart these efforts, and will lead a concerted diplomatic campaign with the US”.

Trump’s plan, which he announced alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, DC, describes Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel and promises a new capital on the outskirts of eastern Jerusalem for a proposed State of Palestine.

It would also give Israel control over the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and the strategic Jordan Valley.

On Thursday, Netanyahu arrived in Moscow, where he is expected to present the Middle East proposal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I’d like to speak to you and hear your insights and see how we can combine all our forces for security and peace,” Netanyahu told Putin at the start of their meeting.

“You’re actually the first leader I’m speaking with after my visit to Washington about President Trump’s deal of the century,” he added.

The Russian leader did not mention the plan in his public remarks.

Russia has been pursuing a greater role as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians in recent years. Putin met with both Netanyahu and Abbas last week in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, respectively.

Reporting from Moscow, Al Jazeera’s Step Vassen said the Russian government has so far taken a “very soft tone” since the US-Israeli plan was announced.

“Russia has always supported the Arab peace initiative, which included Israel’s withdrawal of territories that it occupied since 1967, and had always promoted a role in mediating in the conflict together with the UN, European Union and the US and definitely wants to include the Palestinians, but its very careful tone shows that Putin doesn’t seem to want to go on a collision course with Netanyahu right now,” she said.

Source: Aljazeera

Argentina issues food cards to low-income families

Argentina’s new government has begun issuing food cards to low-income families in an attempt to fight malnutrition.

The card gives them between $50 and $90 a month to buy certain food items.

The country is in the midst of an economic crisis and is gearing up to restructure about $100bn in debt.

Source: Aljazeera

After UK leaves EU on January 31, what will change?

On Friday evening, as the clock strikes eleven, Britain will leave the European Union.

More than three and a half years since the EU referendum, during which the country has seen two general elections and much political wrangling, the wishes of 17.4 million Britons will be realised.

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But do not expect an end to the drama. January 31 marks a single page-turn in the Brexit odyssey and the next chapter could be just as fraught.

A transition period will run for at least 11 months, Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s ideal timeframe, while negotiators thrash out the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU.

Unpicking 40 years of integration promises to be a testing process and there is scepticism on both sides of the English Channel.

Many are simply wondering: What next?

Here are five things to know:

What actually happens on February 1?

Little will change immediately. The UK will enter the transition period and it will be out of EU political institutions but still – for at least the next 11 months – ruled by EU laws.

Britons and EU nationals will continue to benefit from free movement and live in their countries under the rules and regulations they are used to.

When the divorce is finalised, free movement for British immigrants in EU countries will end, according to the Withdrawal Agreement, but they will be afforded rights.

EU nationals living in the UK are being urged to apply now for the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme, but they can wait until the deadline – June 30, 2021, if a deal is reached, or December 31, 2020, if the conclusion is a no-deal Brexit.

Will there be a UK-EU trade deal?

A trade deal is likely but not certain.

A comprehensive trade deal with the EU, the UK’s largest trading partner, is the British government’s ultimate goal. But negotiating one will not be easy, especially in the UK-mandated 11-month timeframe.

Before talks can begin, both sides need to publish their negotiating objectives. The EU’s chief Brexit figure, Michel Barnier, must also obtain a formal negotiating mandate from the bloc’s leadership. This is unlikely to happen before the end of February.

At that point, talks can start in earnest.

Reports have said discussions will begin early March.

If industry really creates a fuss about loss of market access, extending might look nicer to Mr Johnson than slogging it out.

Johnson is pushing for a “Canada-style” agreement, one modelled on the EU’s arrangement with Ottawa. CETA, as the deal is known, removes 98 percent of tariffs on traded goods, though sizeable restrictions remain. Despite being less ambitious than the proposed UK-EU pact, it still took seven years to be finalised.

Johnson has also ruled out alignment with European regulations.

Barrier-free trade is an aim Brussels shares with London, but only if a level playing field can be agreed – code for convergence on the likes of labour, taxes, the environment, and state aid.

Having already removed former Prime Minister Theresa May‘s promise to safeguard workers’ rights in line with EU standards, Johnson faces a fight.

Alan Winters, economics professor and head of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, said the sticking point is one of enforcement.

Brussels will demand the invocation of EU law when solving commercial disputes, but the UK has been unwavering: No European Court of Justice (ECJ) involvement post-Brexit.

It is a contentious area that will “require a unique solution, and therefore time”, said Winters.

If no compromise can be reached, the UK will leave without an agreement. That would mean regulatory barriers, tariffs, and quotas.

In all likelihood, the UK will strive for at least a bare-bones deal that covers the trade of goods – and perhaps some services – by December.

That is unless Johnson backs down on extending the transition period. This is unlikely but not inconceivable, said Winters.

“If industry really creates a fuss about loss of market access, extending might look nicer to Mr Johnson than slogging it out,” he said.

Does UK now have full control over immigration?

The argument to bolster Britain’s borders was crucial in the Leave campaign’s victory.

In terms of migration, little will change on January 31. A member of Europe’s single market for the duration of the transition period, Britain must keep its frontiers open to EU citizens. No passport impediments, no visa requirements – complete freedom of movement.

But Brexit’s chronic uncertainty will likely see EU arrivals continue to fall, said Sophie Barrett-Brown, a London-based immigration lawyer.

“The general trend of dwindling numbers will continue for the majority of the year due to uncertainty and also lack of awareness of the relevant EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) deadlines.

“Unless the government agrees to an extension of the transition period, there is likely to be a significant drop in the number of arrivals from January 2021 onwards,” she said.

In 2019, net migration from Europe fell to its lowest level since 2003. Fewer than 50,000 EU nationals moved to Britain last year – a fraction of the 200,000 that arrived in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.

The shortfall is cause for concern for British industry. There are deficits at every level of the UK job market, business groups have said, caused in part by the decline in EU arrivals.

Johnson’s plan for post-transition period immigration has been met with equal unease from rights groups and some businesses. A three-tier points-based system is in the works: Exceptional talent, skilled workers, and temporary staff.

The government says it will be fair, but not all are convinced.

Johnson “should waste no time” in providing thorough details, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, which has warned of costly delays for businesses anxious to plan their post-2020 employment programme.

Will UK still be subject to EU law?

During the transition period, the UK will continue to obey EU rules, for example, employment regulations, consumer standards and competition legislation.

On areas of EU law, the European Court of Justice will continue to exercise its jurisdiction – though the UK will have no say in the creation of new laws, nor will the ECJ feature a British judge.

In time, Brexit will see the repatriation of laws governed by Brussels to London. But not in the short term – and in some cases, not for years.

Beyond the transition period, Johnson is adamant that the Luxembourg-based body holds no further sway over the UK.

Michael Dougan, a professor of European law, said the prime minister’s Withdrawal Agreement allows for continued EU oversight on specific policy areas.

“After the transitional period, the Withdrawal Agreement provides for the ECJ to continue to exercise certain forms of jurisdiction in relation to the UK, for example as regards interpretation of the provisions on citizens rights [and] the Protocol dealing with Northern Ireland.”

Likewise, for up to four years after the end of the transition period, the European Commission will be able to bring infringement cases against the UK for breaches of EU law prior to December 2020.

What will happen with Northern Ireland?

On Saturday morning, the UK will share a 483-kilometre (300-mile) land border with the EU: The frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It will remain open and free-flowing for the duration of the transition period.

Soon after Brexit day, special committees of British and EU representatives will meet to thrash out a future settlement. The Northern Ireland Protocol – the arrangement designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – will be fleshed out and, all going well, agreed without delay.

But the talks promise to be tough. The Protocol seeks to keep Northern Ireland in the UK’s customs territory while simultaneously applying EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods.

This will remove the need for a customs border on the island, a politically tense proposition given Ireland’s history of sectarian violence, but means a de facto regulatory frontier emerging in the Irish Sea.

Northern Ireland could suffer financially in this scenario, said Katy Hayward, an author and reader in sociology at Queen’s University Belfast.

“We can expect to see a rise in paperwork and thus in costs for the movement of goods across the Irish Sea, and consequently a rise in prices for consumers in Northern Ireland, plus the risk of a disruption to supply chains,” she said.

“It will require new levels of political maturity among elected representatives here to ensure that this period of flux does not give rise to growing polarisation and recriminations,” she added.

EU UK Brexit

Source: Aljazeera