Junta urges restraint over royal insult suspects

BANGKOK — Thailand’s military government urged people not to take the law into their own hands yesterday after three videos surfaced on social media of angry mobs accusing people of insulting the monarchy following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The death of the revered king last Thursday after seven decades on the throne plunged the Southeast Asian country into mourning and heightened sensitivities to any negative comment.

Criticism of the monarch, the regent and the heir, known by the French term lese majeste, is a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years in Thailand.

On Friday, a crowd of around 400 people gathered in front of a soya milk shop in Phuket province to protest a Facebook post by the vendor’s son that they deemed insulting to the king.

“They wanted to make a stand that no one could insult the king they love,” said Police major general Teerapon Tipcharoen, commander of Phuket Provincial Police.

Video of an incident on the southern island of Samui that was posted on Sunday, resulted in a woman being made to prostrate herself before a portrait of the late king while an onlooking crowd jeered “Get out!”.

In the third incident, in the southern province of Phang Nga, hundreds of people gathered outside the house of a man, angry over a comment he had posted on Facebook.

The man remained inside as the people shouted at him. One was heard saying, “If you live in Thailand you have to love the king”, and then the crowd dispersed when police assured them that they would look into the case.

The junta last week urged citizens to report cases of lese majeste to authorities. Police are also monitoring online content and social media posts.

“We understand that some people will not be happy with royal insults. I want people to let authorities deal with the cases in accordance with the law,” said Suwapan Tanyuwattana, a minister attached to the prime minister’s office. — Reuters


Daughter of ex-Philippine dictator urges forgiveness

MANILA — The daughter of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos called for forgiveness yesterday as she led a rally at the Supreme Court urging it to approve a controversial hero’s burial for her father.

About 1,000 supporters gathered with Imee Marcos at the court, which may announce on Tuesday whether it approves President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to allow the burial at Manila’s National Heroes’ Cemetery 27 years after the strongman died.

Imee, governor of the family’s northern stronghold of Ilocos Norte, cited Pope Francis as she called for human rights victims and other critics of the dictatorship to abandon their campaign against the burial plan.

“To those who are criticising and who are not allied with us, I hope you set aside your grievances. All of us have anger and bitterness in our hearts but we should set that aside because, as the pope said: ‘When we forgive, you will be free and happy’,” Marcos told reporters outside the Supreme Court.

However, she maintained her family’s longtime position that her father, accused of plundering billions of dollars and overseeing widespread human rights abuses during his 21-year rule, was a positive force for the country.

“If in our view my father was great, others have many criticism, but let us no longer debate,” she said.

The dictator and his wife Imelda led their family into US exile in 1986 after a military-backed “People Power” revolution toppled him from power.

Marcos died in Hawaii three years later. His embalmed body was brought back to the Philippines in 1993 and placed in a glass-topped casket at his northern Philippine home.

Presidents since then refused family requests for him to be buried at the heroes’ cemetery, even as the Marcos clan enjoyed a remarkable political comeback.

Imelda Marcos is a congresswoman and her son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, remains a powerful politician with presidential ambitions after narrowly losing the election for the vice-presidency this year.

Duterte, who was elected in a landslide this year, has close ties to the Marcos family and has pushed for the burial.

Opponents of the Marcos regime have insisted this would just help to whitewash his crimes, and filed the petition with the Supreme Court to ban it.

One prominent opponent who was detained under the Marcos regime, Satur Ocampo, yesterday dismissed Imee’s appeal for forgiveness.

“It’s unfair they are asking people to forgive and forget without them making a formal acknowledgement of the crimes of the Marcoses to the people,” he said.

Unrest cripples school system in Rakhine

MAUNGDAW (Myanmar) — Buddhist teachers have been airlifted and trucked out of northwestern Myanmar to escape a new surge of violence in the ethnically divided region, another blow to persecuted Muslim Rohingyas already marginalised by a lack of opportunity.

Residents have fled their homes in the area near the Bangladesh border on military helicopters and other army vehicles over the past week, fearing a repeat of widespread bloodshed between Buddhists and Rohingya which ravaged Rakhine state in 2012.

Poor education has long been cited as one of the many ways Myanmar sidelines the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in the Buddhist-majority nation who are considered one of the most persecuted peoples in the world.

In the northern region of Maungdaw, where Rohingya are the overwhelming majority, Buddhist schoolteachers who fear becoming targets for their pupils are among those fleeing — a potential death blow to an already crippled school system.

Reports of Rohingya students killing their Buddhist schoolteachers in 2012 already meant few had returned to the area.

“We are scared because there are many Muslim villages around us. We don’t dare to go out,” said Aye Aye Oo, 28, a Buddhist middle school teacher among evacuees huddled inside a monastery in Maungdaw town.

“Many people have left the town. I still don’t know what to do, I only know I’m frightened,” she said tearfully.

More than 400 schools have been closed since raids on border guard posts on Oct 9, which the government has blamed on Islamist insurgents.

State media said security forces have killed at least 29 people in a subsequent military crackdown.

More than 1,300 teachers had been evacuated from around Maungdaw as of Friday, said district administrator Ye Htut. He did not know when they would return.

“We might not be able to reopen all schools in the region,” he said, adding that examinations due in a few weeks were in jeopardy.

“We have to try to reopen schools as soon as possible … We are also planning security for educational staff.”

The 2012 bloodshed in Rakhine left more than 100 people dead and drove tens of thousands of Rohingya into squalid displacement camps.

Some 60,000 children in the camps have no access to formal teaching, aid groups estimate.

Those who attend school are effectively barred from moving on to university in the state capital Sittwe, since only Myanmar citizens can enrol.

Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denied citizenship.

While not technically banned from becoming teachers themselves, few gain the necessary qualifications and even fewer are appointed to state schools, leaving Muslim areas chronically understaffed.

“There are not many Muslim teachers because it’s up to the government to appoint them,” local Muslim leader Hla Tin said.

In the Maungdaw region, less than half of the villages have schools, and teachers are so scarce that at primary level each has on average 123 pupils, according to a study released last year by Reach, a UN-backed NGO.

For parents of either religion, a collapsing education system could be one of the worst casualties of the recent unrest.

“More than half the people from the town left. Schools are closed,” said Mra Khaing, a 51-year-old Maungdaw housewife who fled her home to take refuge in the monastery.

She fears the disruptions will set back her childrens’ education. — AFP


HK mourns world’s oldest captive giant panda

HONG KONG — Visitors to a Hong Kong theme park mourned the world’s oldest captive giant panda Jia Jia yesterday, a day after she died there aged 38.

Jia Jia was put down at Ocean Park on Sunday after her health rapidly worsened and left her unable to walk without difficulty, the park said.

Yesterday, there were two buckets of flowers outside the panda enclosure and a sign commemorating Jia Jia’s death.

“Jia Jia was a member of the Ocean Park family who had spent 17 wonderful years with Hong Kong people and she will be deeply missed,” the sign said.

Visitors expressed sadness at the news.

“She was just lovely. So natural. She was just beautiful,” said one elderly visitor at the park with her granddaughter.

Another visitor who gave her name as Apple said she was disappointed.

“I was waiting to see the panda… (I) didn’t know the panda had died,” she said.

In a commemorative video from Ocean Park, those who had worked with Jia Jia mourned her loss.

“I wish her to rest in peace and know how much we appreciate all she has given us, to the people of Hong Kong and our visitors,” said Suzanne Gendron, executive director of zoological operations and education at the park, speaking on the memorial video.

The park has said it will set up a “memorial corner” for Jia Jia in time for the weekend.

Born in the wild in China’s Sichuan province in 1978, Jia Jia was given to Hong Kong in 1999 to mark the semi-autonomous city’s handover by Britain two years earlier.

In July last year, the giant panda was presented with a towering birthday cake made from ice and fruit juice with the number 37 carved on top.

Jia Jia, whose name translates as “excellence”, was the oldest panda ever living in captivity.

There are fewer than 2,000 pandas now left in the wild as their habitats have been ravaged by development. Given their low birthrate, captive breeding programmes have become key to ensuring their survival.

According to Ocean Park, Jia Jia gave birth five times to six cubs. — AFP


Two blast off as China eyes own space station

BEIJING — China launched two astronauts into space yesterday, official media said, on a mission to its orbiting laboratory as the country works towards setting up its own space station.

The Shenzhou-11 spacecraft blasted off early in the morning from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong will take two days to reach the Tiangong-2 space lab, or “Heavenly Palace-2”, which was launched in last month.

They will remain on board for 30 days — the longest stay thus far by Chinese astronauts — to conduct tests on spacecraft-related technologies and scientific and engineering experiments, Xinhua said.

Jing, the mission commander, was on his third trip into orbit and will celebrate his 50th birthday in space.

China is pouring billions into its military-run space programme and working to catch up with the United States and Europe, with hopes to have a crewed outpost by 2022.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to the mission yesterday, urging them to aim at taking great leaps for the Chinese nation, Xinhua said.

The mission should work to ensure “the Chinese people will take bigger steps and march further” in space, and contribute “to the building of China into a space power”, Xinhua cited him as saying.

The Tiangong-2 lab is in orbit 393km above Earth and has two cabins — an hermetically sealed experiment chamber which doubles as the living quarters, and a resources store holding supplies such as solar panels, engines and batteries.

The two astronauts on the Shenzhou-11 (“Divine Vessel”) mission will test their own health in zero gravity, cultivate rice samples, and conduct research on cold atomic space clocks that use laser cooling technology to improve accuracy, among other projects, China Daily said. — AFP


Sri Lanka’s top graft

prosecutor quits

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s top anti-corruption prosecutor resigned yesterday after President Maithripala Sirisena accused her of launching politically-motivated investigations into former military officials, including the brother of his predecessor. Sirisena, who came to power last year promising to end corruption and restore rule of law, took the unusual step of publicly condemning Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe last week over the prosecution of three retired admirals and the former defence secretary. Yesterday Wickramasinghe resigned as head of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), commission member Neville Guruge said. Sources close to her said the president’s public comments last week prompted her decision. — AFP

Quakes hit iff PNG,

northwest China

SYDNEY — A strong 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck off Papua New Guinea yesterday, officials said, but no Pacific-wide tsunami warning was issued with little damage expected due to the remote location. The tremor was estimated at a depth of 35km on New Britain island, 418km northeast of the capital Port Moresby, the United States Geological Survey said. The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre ruled out a widespread tsunami. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake also struck China’s northwestern province of Qinghai yesterday, the US Geological Survey reported, in an area frequently plagued with seismic activity. The quake was 32km deep, with its epicentre in a sparsely-populated area of Yushu prefecture. There was a “low likelihood of casualties and damage”, the US Geological Survey said. — AFP

Vietnam floods kill 25

in wake of new typhoon

HANOI — Severe flooding in central Vietnam has killed at least 25 people and destroyed thousands of homes, officials said yesterday, as the country braced for further destruction with a typhoon barrelling closer. Images from flood-hit provinces showed houses almost completely submerged and people paddling down waterlogged streets following heavy rain that started last week. Four people are still missing after the deluge, which destroyed or damaged more than 240,000 homes in several central provinces since Friday, the Natural Disaster Prevention office said on its website. — AFP


Iraq forces launch battle to liberate Mosul from IS

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces have launched a campaign to retake Mosul, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State, the prime minister said yesterday, in what the United States hailed as a “decisive moment” in the battle to crush the militant group.

Up to 1.5 million civilians remain in the city, the United Nations said, voicing fears the vastly outnumbered Islamists could use them as human shields as they seek to repel the assault on its last major stronghold in the country.

“Today, I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address, using an alternative name for the IS group.

Mosul fell to IS fighters two years ago and its recapture would shatter the group’s claim to be running a “caliphate” as well as all but end its presence in Iraq as a land-holding force.

That claim received another body blow on Sunday when Syrian rebels retook the town of Dabiq from the group.

The anti-IS alliance — including the US-led coalition, Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces — has recently been tightening the noose around Mosul.

But they will have to fight their way through IS defences to reach the city. Some groups are still dozens of kilometres from Mosul.

When they get there, the fighting is expected to be fierce.

UN deputy secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief Stephen O’Brien said civilians in the city were in real danger.

“I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted by military operations to retake the city from IS,” O’Brien said in a statement.

Depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as a million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario.”

“Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men may be under siege or held as human shields. Thousands may be forcibly expelled or trapped between the fighting lines,” O’Brien said.

In the two years since IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria, Iraqi forces, with the support of Iran and a US-led coalition, have battled to win back lost territory.

Prime Minister Abadi yesterday vowed only government forces will enter Mosul, a Sunni-majority city which IS seized with relative ease partly due to local resentment towards the Shiite-dominated security forces.

Shiite militia groups have been accused of serious abuses against Sunni civilians in the course of operations to reconquer territory from IS.

“The force leading liberation operations is the brave Iraqi army with the national police and they are the ones that will enter Mosul, not others,” Abadi said. — AFP


Daughter of US Olympic sprinter Gay fatally shot

WASHINGTON — The teen daughter of former United States Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay was fatally shot early Sunday, police said.

Police say 15-year-old Trinity, a star high school runner herself, was struck by a bullet during a shootout at about 4am in the parking lot of the Cook Out restaurant and pronounced dead at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.

Witnesses told police gunfire was exchanged between a gray Dodge Charger and a dark-coloured sports car with tinted windows. Initial investigations suggest the teenager was hit in the neck when she got caught in the crossfire.

Authorities found the Dodge and detained two people for questioning as they continue to search for the other vehicle.

Messages of support came to Tyson Gay and his family from the
athletics world.

“Sending our thoughts and prayers to @TysonLGay and his loved ones as they mourn the tragic and senseless loss of his daughter, Trinity,” USA Track and Field tweeted.

“Condolences to Tyson Gay and his family … 15-year-old girl dies after shooting at Lexington restaurant,” tweeted former Olympic sprint rival Ato Boldon from Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper, Trinity was a sophomore sprint star at Lafayette High School, where her father once ran. She was a fourth-generation sprinter who placed fourth in last year’s girls 100m state final.

“Our hearts are broken this morning over the loss of Trinity to this tragic and senseless act of violence,” Fayette County School Superintendent Manny Caulk said in a statement to the newspaper.

Tyson Gay is the fastest sprinter in history not to have an Olympic medal after a career nagged by doping disqualifications.

The 2007 world 100m and 200m champion and four-time US 100m champion suffered a hamstring injury at the 2008 Olympic trials and did not medal at Beijing.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Gay was on the US 4×100 relay which finished second to Usain Bolt-led Jamaica, but the Americans were stripped of the medal in 2014 based on a positive test by Gay in May 2013 which he blamed on an unnamed third party.

Gay served his suspension and returned to run again two months ago at the Rio Olympics where the Americans ran third in the 4×100 relay behind Jamaica and Japan, only to be disqualified because of a faulty exchange between teammates Justin Gatlin and Mike Rodgers. — AFP

25 inmates killed in Brazil prison clash

SAO PAULO — At least 25 inmates died on Sunday in clashes between two rival factions in a prison in far northern Brazil, local media reported citing police.

Seven of the dead were beheaded and six burned to death in fighting at a prison in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state, the news site G1 reported, citing local police.

The bloodshed began when inmates of one wing of the Agricola de Monte Cristo prison broke into another wing.

Inmates were armed with knives and wooden clubs, an inmate’s wife who was in the prison when the riot broke out told G1.

Roraima state Secretary of Justice Uziel Castro said the fight erupted during visiting hours, and some 100 relatives of inmates were briefly held hostage.

The rioters demanded a judge come to hear their demands. Instead Special Operations Police stormed the prison, released the hostages and regained control of the site by sundown.

“All the hostages were released,” Castro said, adding most of them were women.

The prison, some 3,400km northwest of Rio de Janeiro, is in a state which borders Venezuela.

Police and state officials did not immediately respond to phone calls from AFP.


Trump attacks, Clinton lies low as last debate nears

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump fired off an erratic new broadside at Hillary Clinton on Sunday, making more explosive claims that American media and a conspiracy to commit voter fraud are rigging the presidential election against him.

Amid the latest Twitter blasts from the Republican White House nominee, his running mate Mike Pence sought to lower tensions by insisting his camp would accept defeat if that’s what voters decide on Nov 8.

Two polls out on Sunday — and carried out in time to gauge voter reaction to the slew of sexual misconduct allegations against Trump which emerged last week — put Clinton ahead.

But they did so by vastly different numbers: an ABC News/Washington Post survey had Clinton four points ahead while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll put her margin at 11 points.

Trump, in a long stream of tweets on Sunday, said repeatedly US media are rigging the election by hammering away at what he calls fabricated accounts of him making unwanted sexual advances on women.

Trump has denied those allegations, which burst into the race last week in a steady, damaging stream.

“Polls close, but can you believe I lost large numbers of women voters based on made-up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Media rigging election!” Trump wrote.

In another tweet, he suggested — without offering evidence — voter fraud will be a problem on election day.

“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary — but also at many polling places — SAD,” he said.

Top Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani told CNN on Sunday Democratic districts are known for counting the votes of dead people.

“You want me to (say) I think the election in Philadelphia and Chicago is going to be fair? I would have to be a moron to say that,” he said.

“I’ve found very few situations where Republicans cheat. They don’t control the inner cities the way Democrats do. Maybe if Republicans controlled the inner cities, they’d do as much cheating as Democrats do,” Giuliani said.

Trump has been insisting for months the election is rigged — and has repeated the charge like a mantra since Clinton started to pull away in the polls a few weeks ago.

“He is swinging at every phantom of his own imagination because he knows he’s losing,” Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine told ABC on Sunday.

Pence tried to put the issue to rest Sunday, telling CBS News, “We will absolutely accept the results of the election.”

Pence was asked about a Trump supporter who told a newspaper he planned to go to polling places and make voters “a little bit nervous”.

Pence said he did not condone
such behaviour.

“I don’t think any American should ever attempt to make any other American nervous in the exercise of their franchise to vote,” he said, adding those concerned about voter fraud should volunteer at their local polling stations.

The nation’s top elected Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has declared he would no longer “defend” the party’s nominee, rebuked Trump over his comments questioning the validity of the election process.

“Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity,” his spokesman AshLee Strong said in a statement. — AFP

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