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Four Palestinians killed during weekly protest and Israeli raid

A wounded Palestinian boy is evacuated during a protest at the Israel-Gaza fence [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Four Palestinians were killed and 51 injured by Israeli forces during the weekly Friday protests in the eastern Gaza Strip, medics and security sources said.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra told reporters that two demonstrators, Raid Abu Tair, 19, and Ramzi Abdo, 31 were shot dead in the eastern Gaza Strip, near the Israeli fence.

Friday’s protests broke out in the afternoon as part of weekly rallies and protests that have been going on since March 30 last year.

Qidra added that another two Palestinians, belonging to Hamas’ armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, were killed in an Israeli air raid on the central Gaza Strip, east of al-Mughazi refugee camp.

They were identified as Abdullah Ibrahim Abu Malooh, 33 and Alaa Ali al-Bubali, 29.

Hamas confirmed the deaths of its members and pledged to respond to what it called an “Israeli aggression”.

A total of 51 people were also injured in both incidents, the ministry said.

According to the Israeli army, two of its soldiers were injured at the Israeli fence east of Gaza.

The Israeli military said it had hit a base belonging to Hamas after shots were fired at its forces along the border.

An army spokesperson said about 5,200 Palestinians had taken part in the demonstrations throughout the day.

As part of the Great March of Return, protesters in the Gaza Strip demand the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in historical Palestine, from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel.

They also demand an end to Israel’s 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gutted the coastal enclave’s economy and deprived its roughly two million inhabitants of many basic commodities.

The Gaza health ministry said that since the outbreak of the weekly protests last year, the Israeli army has killed 275 demonstrators and wounded 17,000 others, who were officially referred to hospitals.

Israel has waged three offensives on Gaza since December 2008.

The last war in 2014 severely damaged Gaza’s already weak infrastructure, prompting the United Nations to warn that the strip would be “uninhabitable” by 2020.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Source: Aljazeera

Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn crowned as divine monarch

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, donning white robes, undergoes a purification ritual during [Reuters TV]

Thailand‘s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has performed intricate Buddhist and Brahmin ceremonies to symbolically transform him into a living god as the Southeast Asian nation officially crowned its first monarch in nearly seven decades.

The king was joined by new Queen Suthida on Saturday after a surprise announcement three days before the coronation that the thrice-divorced monarch had married for a fourth time.

The king appeared dressed in white as he underwent a royal purification ritual, sitting under a canopied fountain that poured consecrated waters over his head.

The country’s Buddhist Supreme Patriarch also poured sacred waters over the king’s body, followed by Brahmin priests and royal family members.

Hundreds of state officials in immaculate white uniforms lined the streets around the Grand Palace. 

King Vajiralongkorn, 66, became constitutional monarch after the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October 2016 after 70 years on the throne.

Bhumibol was seen as a figure of unity in the politically chaotic kingdom. His son Vajiralongkorn, 66, is less well-known to the Thai public, preferring to spend much of his time overseas and rarely addressing his subjects.

The king’s coronation, after a period of mourning for the late king, comes amid the uncertainty of an unresolved election battle between the current military government chief and a “democratic front” trying to push the army out of politics.

King Vajiralongkorn has inherited one of the world’s richest monarchies and a kingdom submerged in political crisis.

Thai kings’ coronation rituals are a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu Brahmin traditions dating back centuries. One of the many official titles King Vajiralongkorn will take is Rama X, signifying that he is the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty founded in 1782.

“The monarchy is the only institution in this country that has lasted for more than 700 years,” Sulak Siwarak, a historian in Thailand told Al Jazeera.

“I think the new king means well about his country. He wants to do something significant.”

Royal patron of Buddhism

Saturday’s rituals are about transforming him into a “Devaraja”, or a divine embodiment of the gods.

As the waters started pouring, ancient cannons from the 19th century, used specifically for the coronation, started firing 10 volleys each.

The king will then change into a full uniform and take a seat on an eight-sided, carved wooden throne to receive sacred waters on his hands in an anointment ritual.

Selected officials, including military government chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the National Legislative Assembly, and the chairman of the Supreme Court, will pour the waters from eight directions, representing the cardinal and ordinal directions on a compass.

The waters used in both rituals were collected from 117 sources last month and blessed by Buddhist monks and Brahmin priests in temples around the country before they were combined and consecrated.

Before noon, the purified and anointed sovereign will sit under an elaborate nine-tiered umbrella, where he will receive the royal golden plaque containing his name and title, the royal horoscope, and the royal seal, which were made in a three-hour ritual last week.

The king will also receive and wear five articles of the royal regalia from the chief Brahmin.

Once in full regalia, the king will give his first royal command, a short utterance that will highlight the essence of his reign.

The king will proclaim himself the royal patron of Buddhism later in the evening, and perform a private housewarming ritual at the royal residence where he will stay the night, as previous kings have done.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Source: Aljazeera

North Korea fires 'short-range projectiles' into East Sea

Kim held his first summits with the leaders of the US and South Korea last year [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

North Korea has fired several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said, a likely sign of Pyongyang’s growing frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament.

South Korea’s military has bolstered its surveillance in case there are additional weapons launches, and South Korean and United States authorities are analysing the details.

If it’s confirmed that North Korea fired banned ballistic missiles, it would be the first such launch since its November 2017 test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

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That year saw a string of increasingly powerful weapons tests from North Korea and a belligerent response from US President Donald Trump that had many in the region fearing war.

Analysts said that no matter what type of projectile was fired, the timing of North Korea’s latest action sent a message after the failed summit between North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump in February when the two disagreed over weapons dismantlement and sanctions relief.

“It is an expression of the North’s frustration over stalled talks with the United States. It is a message that it could return to the previous confrontational mode if there is no breakthrough in the stalemate,” Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, told Reuters news agency.

“We are aware of North Korea’s actions tonight. We will continue to monitor as necessary,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha agreed to “cautiously respond” to the latest firing and to continue communications during a phone call on Saturday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pompeo also held talks with Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono and agreed, together with South Korea, to cooperate and share information, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

“At this point, we have not confirmed any situation where Japan’s national security would immediately be affected,” Japan’s defence ministry said in a statement.

‘Undesired consequences’

The latest firing comes just a day after South Korean Foreign Minister Kang said Pyongyang should show “visible, concrete and substantial” denuclearisation action if it wants sanctions relief.

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North Korea’s vice foreign minister said on Tuesday the US would face “undesired consequences” if it fails to present a new position in denuclearisation talks by the end of the year.

North Korea did not carry out any missile or nuclear tests last year, as Kim held his first historic summits with the leaders of the US and South Korea.

During a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in late April, Kim said that peace and security on the Korean Peninsula depended on the US, warning that a state of hostility could easily return, according to North Korean media.

Source: Aljazeera

Lucky escape as Boeing 737 crashes into Florida river

The Boeing 737 ended up in St Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 3 [Reuters]

A charter plane carrying 143 people and travelling from Cuba to north Florida in the United States ended up in a river at the end of a runway on Friday night, though no critical injuries or deaths were reported, officials said.

A Boeing 737 arriving at Naval Air Station Jacksonville from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with 136 passengers and seven crew members slid off the runway into the St Johns River, an NAS Jacksonville news release said.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office posted on Twitter that a marine unit responded to assist. The plane was in shallow water and not submerged.

Everyone on the plane was alive and accounted for, the agency posted, with 21 adults transported to local hospitals in good condition.

A photo posted by deputies shows a Miami Air International logo on the plane. The company didn’t immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press news agency.

Liz Torres told the Florida Times-Union that she heard what sounded like a gunshot Friday night form her home in Orange Park, about 8km south of NAS Jacksonville.

She then drove down to a shopping centre car park where police and firefighters were staging to find out more.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry posted on Twitter that teams were working to control jet fuel in the water.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department posted on Twitter that approximately 90 personnel responded to the scene, adding that the department’s special operations team had trained with marine units for a similar incident earlier Friday.

Navy security and emergency response personnel were on the scene and monitoring the situation, the Navy release said. Family members who were expecting the arrival of passengers were instructed to stand by.

Officials did not immediately say what caused the plane to leave the runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration was referring media inquiries to NAS Jacksonville.

Source: Aljazeera

Journalist shot dead in Mexico on eve of World Press Freedom Day

Journalists hold up photos of slain journalists during a protest to call attention to the killings of journalists in Mexico [File: Marco Ugarte/AP Photo]

A journalist who founded a community radio station in an indigenous region in southern Mexico was shot dead, the fourth reporter murdered in the country this year, officials said on Friday.

Telesforo Santiago Enriquez was attacked by gunmen late Thursday in the town of Juchitan, Oaxaca state, where he founded the radio station El Cafetal.

He had recently received threats in an on-air phone call during his programme, where he was known for reporting on corruption by local authorities, his niece told Mexican radio network Formula.

“On the radio waves, Santiago Enriquez expressed his analysis and criticism of the government and recently publicly denounced the municipal authorities for alleged diversion of resources,” the National Human Rights Commission, Mexico’s ombudsman’s office, said in a statement.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists: more than 100 have been murdered here since 2000, amid a wave of violence linked to drug trafficking and political corruption.

‘They shot him in the mouth and heart’

Watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranks the country as the third-most-dangerous in the world for the press, after war-torn Afghanistan and Syria. 

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“This latest murder is a reminder of how dangerous it is to practice journalism in Mexico,” the group’s Latin America director, Emmanuel Colombie, said in a statement.

Santiago Enriquez’s niece, Aida Valencia, said she believed her uncle was killed in retaliation for his work as a journalist.

“They shot him in the mouth and heart,” she said.

Santiago Enriquez was also a school teacher, and was known for his work to preserve the region’s indigenous languages and traditions, she said.

The murder was confirmed on World Press Freedom Day, when journalists in Mexico typically hold protests against the dangers they face for doing their jobs.

“It is especially devastating that an indigenous radio host was killed on the eve of the World Freedom of the Press day,” said Jan Jarab, representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico.

Source: Aljazeera

DR Congo records 1,000th Ebola death in current outbreak

The DRC’s current Ebola outbreak, its tenth to date, emerged in eastern North Kivu province in August [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

The death toll in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak has risen to more than 1,000, according to the country’s health ministry, with a volatile security situation and deep community distrust complicating efforts to beat back the nine-month-old epidemic.

The Ministry of Public Health said in its latest update on Friday that 14 new deaths from the virus were recorded, taking the toll to 1,008 deaths from more than 1,450 confirmed cases registered since the epidemic erupted in August.

The ministry’s update came after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned earlier on Friday that health officials were “anticipating a scenario of continued intense transmission” after 126 confirmed cases were reported over a seven-day stretch ending on Sunday, a record for the current outbreak.

Health ministry spokeswoman Jessica Ilunga said the surge in cases was the result of attacks on health workers and treatment centres disrupting “response activities” in recent weeks.

“Security has been a big issue, and every time we have an incident, essential response activities such as contact tracing, vaccination and safe burials are suspended for an indefinite period of time, giving time and space for the virus to spread,” Ilunga told Al Jazeera.

Repeated attacks

The DRC‘s current Ebola outbreak, its tenth to date, emerged in eastern North Kivu province last year before spreading to the neighbouring Ituri province.

In a bid to contain the outbreak, health workers have inoculated more than 109,000 people to date as part of a government-backed vaccination programme. The vaccine is experimental, but is estimated to be 97.5 percent effective.

More than 1,450 confirmed cases of Ebola have been registered since the epidemic erupted in August [File: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]

Efforts to beat back the virus have been hampered by ongoing unrest in the eastern DRC, however, and widespread distrust among elements of the local population towards both the central government, which postponed presidential and legislative elections in parts of the region blaming the Ebola outbreak, as well as the medical strategies deployed by emergency responders.

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Scores of armed groups operate in the conflict-wracked region, including in the areas surrounding the North Kivu cities of Beni and Butembo, where the current outbreak is concentrated.

Ebola treatment centres and health workers have repeatedly been subject to attacks, with 119 such incidents recorded since January, according to WHO.

On Friday, Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, warned at a press conference in the Swiss city of Geneva that insecurity had become a “major impediment to ensuring that we can access, engage with and serve the communities we wish to serve in Ebola control”.

In April, heavily armed assailants raided a hospital in Butembo and killed Richard Mouzoko, a Cameroonian WHO doctor working on the Ebola response.

The assault came after  unidentified attackers in February torched two of Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) treatment facilities in North Kivu, prompting the organisation to suspend operations in the area and warn soon after that “a climate of deepening community mistrust” was taking a grip amid “various political, social and economic grievances” and an allegedly overly militarised response by authorities to the outbreak.

Widespread mistrust

Christoph Vogel, a former UN expert on the DRC and a researcher with the UK-based London School of Economics’ Conflict Research Programme, said there were a “host of different factors” complicating the medical response and warned the recent attacks showed the climate on the ground was “extremely poisoned”.

“It (the outbreak) is happening in an area that has witnessed entrenched armed conflict, massive violence and all sorts of distrust between different actors, communities and elites; this is probably the central factor that makes the outbreak so hard to tackle compared to other ones,” Vogel told Al Jazeera.

Health workers have inoculated more than 109,000 people to date as part of a government-backed vaccination programme [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Vogel cautioned it was not clear who was behind the attacks on health centres and medical professionals, but said international actors and DRC authorities should have done more to try and build trust with communities affected by the epidemic, pointing to widely held local views that the outbreak was fabricated to benefit business-owning local elites or further destabilise the region.

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According to a recent study by the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, some 32 percent of respondents in Ebola-hit regions of the eastern DRC said they did not believe the virus existed and was instead invented for financial gains. More than 36 percent believed the epidemic was fabricated to destabilise the area.

Fewer than two-thirds of the nearly 1,000 respondents said they would take a vaccine for Ebola.

Ilunga, for her part, admitted some people in the “historically neglected” eastern DRC “didn’t believe” Ebola existed and said there were “several types of attack” being committed against health workers, all of which were “detrimental” to efforts to defeat the virus.

“The majority of violence against the medical response is community violence, for instance when Ebola responders go to family homes because they have been alerted someone has died … but when responders arrive some people chase them away,” Ilunga said.

“But the attacks on the Ebola treatment centres are more coordinated, by some kind of organised armed groups,” she added. “It is worrying, especially because the future of the outbreak depends on factors outside of our, the Ministry of Health’s control.”

The failure to overcome the outbreak so far has seen it evolve into the second-deadliest in recorded history, trailing an epidemic between 2013-2016 that killed about 11,300 people in West Africa as it surged through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Source: Aljazeera