At least 20 people have been killed in southern Somalia in clashes between militia from rival clans fighting over land, officials and witnesses said on Thursday. Tensions between fighters from the Owrmale and Majerten clans, which live about 30km outside the southern city of Kismayo, have been rising in recent weeks. “The fighting intensified today, and 20 people from the two sides were killed and dozen others including civilians wounded. This is a horrible situation that needs to be stopped,” local government official Abdikarin Mohamed said. “The dead bodies are strewn in the battle zone and civilians are fleeing as the fighting has affected several villages. We have been informed that 20 people died and more than that were wounded during the past three days,” Kismayo elder Adan Jama said. Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo called on both sides to show restraint and end the bloodshed. “I call on the brotherly people who are fighting in the western Kismayo to stop the bloodshed urgently and unconditionally,” the president said in a statement published by the Somali National News Agency. “It is unfortunate today that people are fighting among themselves instead of uniting to fight al-Shabaab terrorists and liberate their territories,” he added, referring to Islamist militants linked with al-Qaeda who carry out regular attacks in the country. Intra and inter-clan clashes are common in Somalia, many relating to land disputes and water resources.
As countries try to slash air pollution and step up action on climate change, many are looking at a key culprit: tailpipes. India in 2016 put into effect its first fuel-economy standards for passenger vehicles and by 2021 is expected to have lowered planet-warming carbon emissions from new vehicles by 30 percent. Mexico similarly launched pioneering regulations to cut emissions in 2014, focused on reducing pollution from its millions of vehicles. Supporting those efforts — and dozens of other cleaner air standards worldwide — is a quiet group of engineers few have heard of, but whose efforts could help decarbonize the global transport sector by the middle of the century. The Washington-based International Council on Clean Transportation — which on Thursday won a US$1.5 million prize from the Skoll Foundation — gathers and crunches data to give countries the ammunition they need to draw up effective policies, council executive director Drew Kodjak said. However, what the council might be best known for is discovering — as its engineers tried to make sense of unusually high diesel pollution levels in tests — that Volkswagen had installed an emissions “defeat device” on millions of its vehicles. The software, which let vehicles pass emissions tests and then produce vastly more nitrogen oxide pollution on the road, eventually led to a US$2.8 billion fine by a US judge in 2017, and an embarrassing admission of guilt by Volkswagen officials. “The ripple effects are still being felt,” Kodjak said, with Europe, for example, passing new regulations to rein in pollution from diesel vehicles. Besides providing data, the council also guides bureaucrats through the long and often politically arduous slog of introducing tougher policies, and links them with colleagues in other places to share expertise. Since 2013, the group has helped drive the creation of more than 20 major national rules, from China to Brazil,
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,” Reporters Without Borders said, adding that the government was “taking advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to settle scores with independent journalism.” The statement also called for the immediate release of journalists Belkacem Djir and Sofiane Merakchi. Merakchi, a correspondent for Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadeen, has been in jail since Sept. 26 last year and is accused of “concealing equipment,” and providing images of the protests to al-Jazeera and other foreign media. The reasons for Djir’s imprisonment are unknown. Last month, Algerian Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati said that Djir and Merakchi were both being prosecuted for “common law acts,” without giving details. On Wednesday, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune pardoned 5,037 prisoners, but the amnesty was not extended to the dozens of supporters of the anti-government protest movement.
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities
Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society, fueled by online posts stereotyping returning students as ungrateful and even dangerous — using the irresponsible behavior of a few individuals as proof. “Right now, public opinion in China is very unfriendly towards Chinese overseas students, and quarantine facilities there are mixed,” Yale University master’s student Hestia Zhang said. She has decided to stay in self-isolation on campus rather than go back, despite the US now accounting for almost a quarter of reported global infections. “There are also a lot of risks on the journey home, so I might as well stay here and wait it out,” she said. Meanwhile Cathy, who landed in China on Tuesday morning, is resigned to the fact that she might encounter prejudice. Using her English name to conceal her identity, she said she had “no choice but to bear it.” Nearly half of the country’s 800 imported virus cases are overseas students. Most returnees need to spend two weeks in isolation, and a widely shared video of a returned student who tried to escape her quarantine accommodation in the city of Qingdao has prompted outrage online. A similar angry reaction met clips showing another returnee angrily demanding bottled mineral water from quarantine facility workers in Shanghai. “They eat food from our bowl, yet
The members of the New Japan Philharmonic orchestra tune up for their latest recital, more than 60 musicians ranging from trombonists to violinists and percussionists — but this is no ordinary performance. In a musical twist on the telework trend forced on the world by the COVID-19 pandemic, they appear in tiny blocks on screen, recording their parts separately before technology brings them together in joyous harmony. The on-screen mosaic shows some musicians performing in their tiny apartments, others playing their instruments outside under a bright blue sky. In scenes familiar to millions working from home globally, one veteran violinist has two toddlers — apparently his grandchildren — larking about in the corner. A trombone player has a pet bird perched next to him as the orchestra belts out not Beethoven or Mozart but Paprika — probably Japan’s most popular children’s song. Tuba player Kazuhiko Sato said he was incredulous when the idea of the teleworking orchestra was first floated. “I didn’t think this would work. I felt as if I was being tricked into something,” Sato, 44, said. With all orchestra members stuck at home and concerts canceled or postponed, this was the only way to make their music heard. Sato confined himself in a soundproof room and filmed on a smartphone his tuba part — mostly a rhythmical low-pitched “da-da-da.” Second violinist Sohei Birmann, 35, was more bullish about the teleworking trial initially. “We have played together for years and years to create music, so I thought we could do it with no problem,” Birmann said with a smile. “The result of it was totally out of rhythm,” he said. “Usually when we play in the orchestra, we harmonize ourselves using the breath or eye movements of other members,” he said. They had to do several takes of their respective videos, he said, fine-tuning the rhythm and pitch. The mastermind of the
POVERTY CONCERN: As nations on the continent impose lockdowns, officials said they were concerned about the millions of low-income people who may lose work
Some African countries will have more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of this month, health officials said on Thursday, as the continent least equipped to treat serious infections has an “enormous gap” in the number of ventilators and other critical items. While cases across Africa rose above 6,000 at what has been called the dawn of the outbreak, the continent is “very, very close” to where Europe was after a 40-day period, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director John Nkengasong told reporters. The virus “is an existential threat to our continent,” Nkengasong said. All but four of Africa’s 54 countries have cases after Malawi on Thursday reported its first and local transmission has begun in many places. Nkengasong said that authorities are “aggressively” looking into procuring equipment such as ventilators that most African countries desperately need, and local manufacturing and repurposing are being explored. “We’ve seen a lot of goodwill expressed to supporting Africa from bilateral and multilateral partners,” but “we still have to see that translate into concrete action,” he said. The WHO does not know how many ventilators are available across Africa to help those in respiratory distress, regional WHO director Matshidiso Moeti told reporters. “We are trying to find out this information from country-based colleagues... What we can say without a doubt is there is an enormous gap,” Moeti said. Some countries have only a few ventilators. Central African Republic has just three. A small percentage of people who are infected will need ventilators and about 15 percent need intensive care, WHO official Zabulon Yoti said. The health officials pleaded for global solidarity at a time when even some of the world’s richest countries are scrambling for basic medical needs, including masks. “Countries like Cameroon just reached out yesterday, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, asking: ‘Look, we need tents because we’re running out of
SEEKING PERMANENCE: Experts said there might be a 5% drop this year, but warned that a rebound was likely unless substantial changes were implemented
Carbon dioxide emissions could fall by the largest amount since World War II this year as the COVID-19 pandemic brings economies to a virtual standstill, according to the chair of a network of scientists providing benchmark emissions data. Rob Jackson, who chairs the Global Carbon Project, which produces annual emissions estimates, said that carbon output could fall by more than 5 percent year-on-year — the first dip since a 1.4 percent reduction after the 2008 financial crisis. “I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 5 percent or more drop in carbon dioxide emissions this year, something not seen since the end of World War II,” said Jackson, who is a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University in California. “Neither the fall of the Soviet Union nor the various oil or savings and loan crises of the past 50 years are likely to have affected emissions the way this crisis is,” he said in an e-mail. The prediction — among a range of new forecasts being produced by climate researchers — represents a tiny sliver of good news in the middle of the pandemic: Climate scientists had warned world governments that global emissions must start dropping by this year to avoid the worst predictions of climate change. However, the improvements are for all the wrong reasons, tied to a global health emergency that has shuttered factories, grounded airlines and forced hundreds of millions of people to stay at home to slow the contagion. Experts warn that without structural change, the declines could be short-lived and have little effect on the concentrations of carbon dioxide that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades. “This drop is not due to structural changes, so as soon as confinement ends, I expect the emissions will go back close to where they were,” said Corinne le Quere, a climate scientist at
Ice cream vans are normally a common sight on Britain’s residential streets and in parks when warmer days arrive in the spring and summer months, but with the country in lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no customers to buy their cones, ice lollies and choc-ices. However, in Belfast at least one van is still operating — bringing essential supplies to elderly and vulnerable people forced to stay at home. “When we had seen that the current situation was starting to arise, we knew that there would be problems for some families and elderly who cannot get access to food,” Steven Pollock of the Greater Shankill Action for Community Transformation group said. The group asked an ice cream van owner to carry supplies to under-served areas with at-risk residents in self-isolation to avoid infection. “The community are totally over the moon with it,” Pollock told reporters. “They’re just concerned about shops and going out in general.” “It gives them a bit more peace of mind that it’s basically on their doorstep so they’re not leaving anything to chance,” he said. Parked in west Belfast on Wednesday, two workers in rubber gloves and masks sold toilet rolls, bread, milk and eggs through the hatch. For the duration of the pandemic, whipped ice creams are off the menu on the side of the van as its fridges are stocked with essential foodstuffs. Drivers still play the cheerful music, which in normal times is the sign for children to pester their parents for a sweet treat. This year it lets elderly and vulnerable people know that they will not go without potatoes, cornflakes and even hand sanitizer as they wait out the pandemic. The British government has advised elderly and vulnerable people to self-isolate. “The critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households,” said British Prime Minister Boris
The Hong Kong government on Thursday said that public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) breached its charter by asking the WHO about Taiwan’s membership, a move democracy advocates criticized as a new government effort to muzzle the press. The Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said that RTHK’s interview with WHO official Bruce Aylward violated the principle that Taiwan belongs to “one China.” A now-viral video of Aylward’s awkward exchange with the RTHK presenter put renewed focus on China’s efforts to prevent Taiwan from cooperating with the global health agency during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The secretary holds the view that the presentation in that episode of the aforesaid program has breached the one China principle and the purposes and mission of RTHK as a public service broadcaster as specified in the charter,” the bureau said, referring to Hong Kong Secretary of Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau (邱騰華). “It is common knowledge that the WHO membership is based on sovereign states. RTHK, as a government department and a public service broadcaster, should have proper understanding of the above without any deviation.” An RTHK spokesperson said that the station had reviewed the program and found no violation of its charter. Taiwan was referred to as “a place” in the episode and no stance was taken, the spokesperson said. RTHK, which is government-funded, has come under scrutiny for its critical coverage and commentary about the administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥). Hong Kong Police Commissioner Chris Tang (鄧炳強) last month said that he was filing a complaint against the station to the Hong Kong Communications Authority, saying that RTHK’s satirical show Headliner was misleading people about the work of his officers. The latest commerce bureau statement prompted criticism from pro-democracy advocates, such as Hong Kong Legislator Claudia Mo (毛孟靜), who called it “political censorship.” The bureau
The Jewish holiday of Passover has long inspired intense debate, with favorite topics including whether Moses actually parted the Red Sea or if the plagues in ancient Egypt were an ethical response to enslavement. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, a previously unthinkable question has consumed Jewish debate less than a week before the holiday starts: Is it permissible to hold the traditional Seder meal over Zoom? The videoconferencing application has emerged as an essential tool during a crisis that has confined people across the globe in their homes, but the app and similar tools that have connected people through the pandemic have created divisions among Jewish leaders. Passover, an eight-day holiday that marks the Jewish people’s Biblical exodus from Egypt, begins on Wednesday evening with a Seder, one of the most important events of the year for Jews. A typical Seder involves large gatherings of relatives crowded around a table, who recount the Exodus story through song and prayer while sharing a multicourse meal. Israel, which has more than 6,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases, has banned people from straying more than 100m from their homes except for essential activities. A benefactor floated the idea of donating 10,000 computers to confined elderly people, allowing them to join loved ones in digital Seders. He asked a group of Orthodox rabbis from the Sephardic tradition, which is rooted in southern Europe and North Africa, to assess if the plan was consistent with halacha, or Jewish law. Rabbi Rephael Delouya, one of the 13-member panel that studied the issue, told reporters that the answer was “easy.” Digital Seders were permissible to alleviate loneliness that isolated elderly people were experiencing during the pandemic. “Loneliness can lead to a weaker mind, which causes lower immunity,” Delouya said. “Mental health and physical health are connected.” The Sephardic rabbis also issued a formal ruling, or posek, declaring that
‘CLIMATE OF UNCERTAINTY’: Fifteen states and one territory have postponed their primaries, but a Wisconsin court refused to delay its primary, despite health warnings
The COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday disrupted the US presidential race when the Democratic Party was forced to postpone its national convention until Aug. 17, delaying the likely nomination of former US vice president Joe Biden to challenge US President Donald Trump for the White House. The party was also faced with another wrinkle when a Wisconsin court refused to delay the state’s primary on Tuesday, despite warnings that the vote could put the health of thousands at risk. Several other states have postponed their primaries due to coronavirus concerns, leaving the Democratic nomination in limbo just when it should be coming to a high-profile climax. The Democratic National Committee said that the coronavirus crisis has forced a five-week postponement of the convention, a grand affair that brings several thousand party luminaries together in one arena. “In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” committee chief executive Joe Solmonese said in a statement. The decision came after Biden said the convention originally scheduled for July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, would probably need to be delayed. Convention planners are to use the coming weeks to assess all options to reduce risks to health. “These options include everything from adjusting the convention’s format to crowd size and schedule,” the statement said. The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 24 to 27 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Biden, 77, signaled that his party would need to be prepared for alternatives if the pandemic persists or worsens. “We don’t know what it’s going to be unless we have a better sense of whether this curve is going to move down or up,” Biden told NBC on Wednesday. The Democratic nomination race has boiled down to moderate Biden,
The Mexican government has been sanitizing a public hospital in northern steel town Monclova that has become the center of a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened at least 26 members of the medical staff and killed one of its doctors. The outbreak raised questions about the preparedness of the public health system to confront a pandemic that is just beginning to gain steam in the nation. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said that 80 public hospitals were being converted to handle people diagnosed with COVID-19. Later he clarified that just segments of 80 hospitals were being isolated, with on average eight beds and ventilators reserved for COVID-19 patients. “We are preparing ourselves to have the beds, the equipment, that is required,” he said. He was scheduled to visit hospitals yesterday and today, bit it was unclear if Mexico is prepared for the pandemic. Mexican Undersecretariat of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the government’s coronavirus spokesman, on Thursday said that only about 14,000 tests had been carried out nationwide since the start of the pandemic, adding that a donation of 50,000 tests arrived from China on Wednesday. Epidemiologists on Sunday began retraining the staff at the hospital in Coahuila state on how to handle COVID-19 cases and personal protective equipment arrived at the hospital Wednesday, one day after the doctor’s death, Mexican health officials said. The hospital accounts for 26 of the 39 reported cases of medical personnel infected with COVID-19, said Manuel Cervantes Ocampo of the public health system. Three have died. There was no immediate explanation for why personal protective equipment was only sent to the hospital this week. Mexican health officials have said they have been preparing for the coronavirus since early January. The national health system also said that the hospital’s director had been removed from his position and put into isolation because he
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne after a NATO meeting on Thursday criticized COVID-19 disinformation campaigns spread by state actors, of which Russia has been accused. “Disinformation was a big topic amongst NATO allies” at the meeting held by videoconference, Champagne said. “We stand united against a common enemy which is invisible and knows no borders, and we need to also stand ready to respond to the disinformation campaigns that we’re seeing around the world.” Champagne, although asked about it, did not specifically mention Russia in his remarks, but a researcher earlier identified Russia as the main source of disinformation about COVID-19 aimed at undermining faith in Western governments. “Unwittingly, Canadian audiences will be exposed to fake news coming from Russia, potentially China and other players,” University of Calgary public policy researcher Sergey Sukhankin told Canadian broadcaster CTV. “We are concerned about what we’re hearing,” Champagne said. “Certainly, this is not the time for a state actor or non-state actor to spread disinformation, at a time when basically humanity is facing one common challenge, which is the virus.” “We need to stand together as liberal democracies to make sure that we inform our citizens and equip them to make fact-based decisions, science-based decisions, and that we call out those who would be engaging in disinformation as a tool to exert influence at a time of crisis,” he said.
‘NEW ASSAULT’: About 30 officers dressed in black and with heavy weapons took part in the operation to arrest Demostenes Quijada, a spokesman said
The opposition on Thursday claimed that two members of Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido’s team were arrested on the same day that he was due to appear before prosecutors investigating an alleged “attempted coup d’etat and magnicide.” Demostenes Quijada and Maury Carrero were arrested at their homes on Thursday morning by military intelligence agents, Guaido’s office said in a statement. “With this new assault by the dictatorship, there are now 10 members [of Guaido’s team] who have been detained by security forces. Five of them in the past 72 hours,” Guaido’s office wrote on Twitter. Neither the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, nor police or military authorities confirmed the arrests. About 30 officers “dressed in black, masked and with heavy weapons” took part in the operation to arrest Quijada, said Guaido’s human rights representative Humberto Prado, who accused the agents of “ransacking the home and arbitrarily confiscating” two vehicles. A similar operation was conducted against Carrero, opposition lawmaker Delsa Solorzano said. The arrests happened on the same day Guaido had been called to appear before the public prosecutor. The subpoena is based on an alleged seizure of arms in Colombia that were due to be sent to Venezuela as part of a plot to assassinate Maduro and other high-ranking officials, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab said. Guaido was apparently implicated in the alleged plot by Cliver Alcala, a retired military leader who was close to former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, but fell out with his successor, Maduro. Last week, Alcala turned himself in to the Colombian authorities after he was listed as one of more than a dozen present and former Venezuelan officials — including Maduro — accused by the US of drug trafficking. Washington had offered a reward for information leading to Alcala’s capture. He had been living in Colombia since falling out with Maduro. Guaido has
After her husband was shot dead while running for mayor of Apaseo el Alto, Mexico, in 2018, Maria del Carmen Ortiz took over his campaign and, pushing through her grief, won the vote after becoming a symbol of residents’ hunger for justice. A year and a half after taking office, Ortiz must now be accompanied by three police bodyguards wherever she goes, as her home state of Guanajuato has emerged as the most murderous in Mexico, caught in a battle between rival criminal cartels. Three town officials have been killed during her tenure — her transit director, tax chief and a city councilor. Like her husband’s killing, none of their murders have been solved. Now Ortiz is using her position as mayor to call for thorough investigations by prosecutors of the killings and dozens more in the hilly town. “They file the cases away,” Ortiz, 34, said in her office at the two-story municipal palace beside photographs of her late husband, Jose Remedios Aguirre, who was 35 when he died, and their three children. “They should do their job, but do it well, so there’s justice — for my husband, for my colleagues, for everyone.” The streets of Apaseo el Alto, home to about 70,000 people, are narrow, yet bustling, lined with mom-and-pop businesses and foreign-exchange stores serving locals with family members who bring earnings back from the US. The number of killings in the town jumped to 87 last year from 10 in 2015, Mexican government data showed. Local records, kept at the fenced-in police station on the outskirts of town, paint an even grislier picture — 120 murders last year and none of them solved. A security crisis inherited by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has worsened in many parts of the nation since he took office in December 2018, as he eased back on
PERU New restrictions unveiled President Martin Vizcarra on Thursday announced a new measure restricting public movement by gender, as the nation tries to curb the spread of COVID-19. Men would only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while women could step outdoors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No one would be allowed out on Sundays. “We have 10 days left, let’s make this extra effort to control this disease,” Vizcarra said. He said the restrictions would apply until April 12, the original end date to a lockdown he imposed on March 16. Panama announced a similar measure on Monday that went into effect two days later and was to last for 15 days. Vizcarra said the new measure aims to reduce by half the number of people circulating in public at any one time. “The [existing] control measures have given good results, but not what was hoped for,” he said. The restrictions do not apply to people employed in essential services, such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and hospitals. Security forces tasked with patrolling the streets have been told to be respectful toward the gender identities of homosexual and transgender people, Vizcarra added. UNITED STATES NRA sues Andrew Cuomo The National Rifle Association (NRA) on Thursday sued New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for closing gun shops during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the restriction is unconstitutional and leaves citizens defenseless while prisoners are being released early as a result of the crisis. The March 20 executive order that included firearms retailers as non-essential businesses that must close is a “pointless and arbitrary attack on the constitutional rights of New York citizens and residents,” the complaint said. New York ordered most businesses to close to prevent the spread of the virus, but deemed grocery stores, liquor stores, pharmacies and restaurants that
MANIPULATION: The suspension was to ‘prepare for the possibility of an issue that can affect impartiality’ in South Korea’s legislative election on April 15, Naver said
South Korea’s biggest Internet portal Naver yesterday suspended its real-time “trending topics” feature ahead of an election this month, after controversy over politicians and their supporters trying to manipulate the results. Accusations of misinformation and “fake news” have tainted political processes around the world and in South Korea almost every adult citizen owns a smartphone. Naver said in a statement it had suspended trends temporarily — the first time it had done so — to “prepare for the possibility of an issue that can affect impartiality,” with South Korea holding a legislative election on April 15. The portal and its ilk are highly influential platforms, as almost 80 percent of South Koreans are known to access news via search engines, rather than directly visiting media outlets’ Web sites. “Trending words on portals have a tremendous impact on South Koreans,” said Shim Mi-seon, a professor at Soon Chun Hyang University’s department of mass communication. “Many will click on the trending words, rather than browsing news Web sites, to learn what’s new. The words also give an idea of what the majority is thinking. Both as individuals and when deciding to vote, it’s hard not to be influenced by it, especially when you don’t have much time.” When the nation was rocked by an elitism scandal involving then-South Korean minister of justice Cho Kuk last year, Naver was accused by opposition lawmakers of deliberately making some trending words rank higher than others, such as “We support you, Cho Kuk.” Naver denied the allegations, saying its algorithm was impossible to manipulate. Aside from the top trending words, Naver’s most-liked comments on news stories have also been used for political gain. Last year, a provincial governor was jailed for his part in an online opinion-rigging scandal ahead of the 2017 presidential election. He was found guilty of colluding with a blogger to artificially
An Australian graduate student arrested for spying and expelled from North Korea last year said that he was threatened with a firing-squad execution and told not even US President Donald Trump could save his “sorry arse.” Among the crimes Alek Sigley was accused of committing was posting a picture of a toy tank on Instagram, which his interrogators told him was military espionage. Sigley, 30, was studying for a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang when he went missing in June last year, sparking alarm. A fluent speaker of Korean, he had written articles for several publications and posted apolitical content on social media about everyday life in one of the world’s most secretive nations. He was detained at the university and taken to an interrogation facility in a Mercedes-Benz with a black plastic bag covering its license plate. A North Korean man “with a crazed expression and bulging, bloodshot eyes” began screaming at him, Sigley wrote in a column published by the Guardian on Wednesday. “You son of a bitch,” he was told in an expletive-laden rant. “Coming into our country and committing all these crimes. You think Trump or [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo will save your sorry arse?” Sigley recalled him saying. Sigley was interrogated “in a room completely cut off from the outside world,” with no sense of time as the lights were kept on permanently and there was no clock. “Every day was spent writing forced confessions of my ‘crimes,’ which became only more fanciful as time went on,” Sigley wrote. If he denied the allegations,” they began yelling at me, reminding me that I could face execution by firing squad if I didn’t carry out my ‘reflection’ and do it ‘sincerely,’” he wrote. One of his offenses, he was told, was posting on Instagram a picture of a
Guinean President Alpha Conde’s party won more than two-thirds of the seats in a legislative election last month that was boycotted by the main opposition party, the Guinean Independent National Electoral Commission said on Wednesday. The government had already declared victory in a referendum held the same day on changing the constitution, which opposition groups allege was a plot for Conde to extend his grip on power. Conde’s Rally of the Guinean People won 79 of 114 seats in the Guinean National Assembly, the commission said. The vote was marred by violence, with scores of polling stations ransacked and, the opposition says, dozens of people killed. The US and EU have cast doubt on the credibility of the vote and the opposition has demanded a UN inquiry into police violence. Conde’s proposal to change the constitution has been hugely controversial, spurring demonstrations in which at last 32 people have been killed. The government argues that the constitution needs to be updated to usher in badly needed social changes, especially for women. Reforms would include banning female genital mutilation and under-age marriage, and giving spouses equal rights in a divorce. However, critics fear the reforms would also reset the presidential term, potentially enabling Conde to govern for another 12 years.
A Pakistani court has commuted the death sentences of the main person accused in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and acquitted three others accused in the matter, two lawyers said yesterday. At least four people were convicted in connection with Pearl’s murder, including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for masterminding the murder. He has been in jail for 18 years awaiting the outcome of an appeal. “The court has commuted Omar’s death sentence to a seven-year sentence,” defense lawyer Khawaja Naveed said by telephone. “The murder charges were not proven, so he has been given seven years for the kidnapping.” “Omar has already served 18 years, so his release orders will be issued sometime today. He will be out in a few days,” Naveed said. A two-member bench of the High Court of Sindh issued the order in Karachi, Naveed said, adding that the three others, who had been serving life sentences in connection with the case, had been acquitted. Pearl was investigating militants in Karachi after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US when he was kidnapped in January 2002. Video emerged a few weeks later of his murder. A Sindh prosecutor said he would consider appealing the decision. “We will go through the court order once it is issued, we will probably file an appeal,” Sindh Provincial Prosecutor-General Faiz Shah said by telephone. Sheikh, who was born in Britain and studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science, was arrested in India for his involvement in the kidnapping of Western tourists in 1994. He was one of three men released from an Indian prison after militants hijacked an Indian airliner in late 1999 and flew it to Afghanistan, where the then-Taliban regime helped negotiate an exchange.