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Monthly archives: November, 2016

INDONESIA: CHRISTIAN GOVERNOR ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY

indonesia_161129Jakarta’s Christian Governor, Basuki Cahaya Purnama, also known as Ahok, is to be tried for blasphemy after around 100,000 Muslim radicals took to the streets and demanded he be prosecuted.

The governor has been accused of ‘desecrating’ the Quran when he said in a speech that Islamic groups who were using a verse from the Quran to discourage support for him were deceiving voters. The verse is interpreted by some as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. Islamic groups then accused him of criticising the Quran.

Despite a public apology, Ahok will now stand trial.

ONE DIES AS PROTEST TURNS VIOLENT

Initially, the rally of around 100,000 Muslim radicals from across Indonesia was peaceful, even though they were calling for Ahok be prosecuted for blasphemy. Later, though, it turned violent: one protestor died, police officers were injured, and two motorcycles were burnt.

President Joko Widodo, who inaugurated Ahok as governor, expressed his views on the protest: “I deeply regret the chaos later in the evening. Political actors are taking advantage of the situation.”

LOCAL ELECTIONS PUT PRESSURE ON AHOK

Ahok’s case is a classic example of how religion is used for political gains in Indonesia.

In February 2017, local elections throughout the country will see cities and provinces choose their mayors and governors. Ahok is running for a second term as Governor of Jakarta, along with two other candidates, one of whom is the former president’s son.

Religious unrest has clearly been been stirred to deter his candidateship and damage his rising popularity – despite the governor’s successes in reforming the capital.

REPERCUSSIONS OF THE UNREST: CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE

An Open Doors field researcher explains some of the implications of Ahok’s accusation: “In a recently circulated video clip, a hardline group leader was caught saying the same remark as Ahok about the Quran. Quite predictably, it wasn’t deemed as blasphemy.

“While persecution of Christians in Indonesia is nothing new, it’s perhaps the first time that it’s blatantly being used against a high-ranking public official at a national level. This will not happen without repercussions in the grassroots.”

It’s possible that those repurcussions included the recent church bombing in Kalimantan where a toddler died and three others were injured. This terrible attack took place nine days after the protest against Ahok.

Source: Open Doors



Syria’s war: Up to 20,000 flee Aleppo as government advances

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The Red Cross estimates that 20,000 Syrians have fled rebel-held eastern Aleppo [EPA]

Up to 20,000 people have fled eastern Aleppo over the past 72 hours as Syrian government forces continued to advance in the rebel-held part of the city, according to the Red Cross.

Situation is Aleppo is a ‘human catastrophe’

Terrified civilians have fled empty-handed into remaining rebel-held territory, or crossed into government-controlled western Aleppo or Kurdish-held districts.

The 20,000 figure is an estimate and could increase as “people are fleeing in different directions”, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Krista Armstrong told the AFP news agency.

United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien had earlier put the number of displaced people from eastern Aleppo at 16,000.

The city, which was Syria’s biggest before the start of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, has been divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east, where UN officials say at least 250,000 people remain under siege.

The Syrian government offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo has sparked international alarm as it intensified this week.

A voluntary rescue group known as the White Helmets reported at least 51 civilians killed in east Aleppo and more than 150 injured during the government assault.

Syrian government forces dropped “more than 150 air strikes from war planes and helicopters and [fired] more than 1,200 artillery shells”, the group wrote on its Facebook page.

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Syrian Civil Defence says at least 51 people were killed in attacks on eastern Aleppo on Monday [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

The attacks hit the neighbourhoods of Bab al-Nairab, al-Mayser and al-Salheen, among others.

SANA, the official Syrian state media arm, reported that Syrian government forces and allies on Monday took control of several areas in the city’s northeast, including al-Haidariya, al-Sakhour, al-Inzarat, al-Sheikh Khedr, Jabal Badro, and al-Halk.

‘Cannot remain silent’

France called for an immediate UN Security Council session on the fighting, which has seen the army capture a third of opposition-controlled east Aleppo in recent days.

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday on the dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in Aleppo, diplomats said.

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The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local NGOs are helping the displaced, the UN says.

Syrian Civil Defence says at least 51 people were killed in attacks on eastern Aleppo on Monday [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters] The 15 ambassadors of the UN Security Council will get a video-conference briefing on the situation in Aleppo by a UN official in charge of humanitarian operation and the UN mediator in Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

“France and its partners cannot remain silent in the face of what could be one of the biggest massacres of civilian population since World War II,” said France’s UN ambassador Francois Delattre on Tuesday.

He and his British counterpart Matthew Rycroft earlier in the day pushed for the emergency council meeting on providing humanitarian relief to the besieged Syrian city.
Eastern Aleppo has been under government siege for more than four months, with international aid stocks exhausted and food supplies running low.

Rycroft said the council would discuss plans for the UN to deliver much-needed food and medicine into Aleppo and evacuate the sick and wounded.

“Russia complained that the opposition had not agreed to this plan. Now they have, so I call on Russia to make sure the Syrian regime agrees,” Rycroft said.

“The future of Aleppo is in the hands of the regime and Russia, and we urge the regime and Russia to stop the bombing and let the aid go through.”

The Syrian conflict started as a largely unarmed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in March 2011. It has since morphed into a full-on civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands.

The UN refugee agency has registered more than 4.8 million Syrian refugees who have fled the fighting, while another 6.1 million people are internally displaced within the country’s borders.

 

Source: Aljazeera



Aleppo siege: Bana Alabed tweets photo of destroyed home

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Bana Alabed, 7, became internationally renowned for tweeting about life in East Aleppo

A seven-year-old girl who became internationally renowned for tweeting about life in East Aleppo has posted a photo of her destroyed home.

On Tuesday, Bana Alabed posted the picture on Twitter saying she was “happy to be alive”.

Bana, who tweets in English with the help of her mother, said her family had come under fierce bombardment.

Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, has been divided by clashes between government allied and rebel forces.

On Monday, government forces captured large swaths of rebel-held territory in the east of the city, following heavy bombing.

Meet the seven-year-old tweeting from Aleppo

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Image copyright@ALABEDBANA

Over the weekend, Bana’s mother Fatemah, fearing for her life, had bid farewell to her Twitter followers.

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But hours later, more tweets emerged saying the family was alive but their home had been destroyed.

Fatemah and her family were on the run following heavy bombings. “We are fighting for our lives. Still with you,” she said.

Fatemah, who studied journalism and politics, has been active on Twitter with her daughter since September and has posted details of daily life in the besieged city.

In a conversation with the BBC, she explained that she had taught her daughter English and that Bana’s tweets were genuine. “[Bana] wants the world to hear our voice,” she said.

The family has dealt with constant food shortages, a lack of medical care, and continual bombardments. Fatemah told the BBC bombs are dropped “without any mercy”.

Since the government’s advancements in Aleppo over the weekend, some 16,000 civilians have been displaced according to the UN.

Aleppo was Syria’s commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

It has been divided in roughly two for the past four years, with the government controlling the west and rebels the east.

Source: BBC News



Photos from Aleppo

Below are some of the faces of those who have been caught up in the conflict in Aleppo. Facing an uncertain future, most are setting out on a journey trusting that it will lead to some sort of security and a better life. They represent thousands who have had to flee for their lives. The besieged eastern districts of Aleppo came under intense airstrikes that killed hundreds in the past two weeks. More than 250,000 people are believed trapped there with limited access to food, water and medical supplies. They include more than 100,000 children, the U.N. says.

We can’t imagine what these people have been through. Our prayer is for their safety, health, and that they may find ways to rebuild their lives over weeks and months.

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Syrian families from various eastern districts of Aleppo, are evacuated by bus to a Kurdish-controlled enclave between the government-held west of Aleppo and the east, on November 27, 2016 (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)

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Syrian pro-government forces walk amidst heavy destruction in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood on November 28, 2016 (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)

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Pro-government forces stand on top of a building overlooking Aleppo on November 28, 2016, during their assault to retake the entire northern city from rebel fighters (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)

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Aleppo aftermath. Syrians look at civil defence workers using a digger to look for survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings following reported air strikes in Aleppo’s rebel-held neighbourhood of Tariq al-Bab (AFP Photo/Thaer Mohammed)



Aleppo residents flee in panic

By Zeina Karam and Philip Issa Associated Press

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This Sunday photo, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows people fleeing rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria, into the Sheikh Maqsoud area that is controlled by Kurdish fighters.

BEIRUT — Syrian government forces captured more than a third of opposition-held eastern Aleppo on Monday, touching off a wave of panic and flight from the besieged enclave as rebel defenses in the country’s largest city rapidly collapsed.

The dramatic gains marked an inflection point in Syria’s nearly 6-year-old conflict, threatening to dislodge armed opponents of President Bashar Assad from their last major urban stronghold.

Reclaiming all of Aleppo, Syria’s former commercial capital, would be the biggest prize of the war for Assad. It would put his forces in control of the country’s four largest cities as well as the coastal region, and cap a year of steady government advances.

It also would bolster his position and momentum just as a new U.S. administration is taking hold, freeing thousands of his troops and allied militiamen to move on to other battles around the country.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the opposition’s losses in Aleppo are the biggest since 2012.

“Aleppo city itself has also been a consistent base of moderate opposition activity, so its collapse spells what could be an existential blow to the moderate opposition from which it’ll likely struggle to recover,” he said.

Ever since it joined the uprising four years ago, eastern Aleppo tried to make itself a model for a Syria without Assad. It elected local leaders, ran its own education system and built an economy trading with the rebel-held countryside and neighboring Turkey.

Its residents kept life going amid ferocious fighting with the pro-government western districts, but four years of battles and airstrikes have reduced entire blocks in the territory to rubble.

Helped by massive Russian air power and thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, Assad renewed his push for Aleppo this month.

The besieged eastern districts came under intense airstrikes that killed hundreds in the past two weeks.

More than 250,000 people are believed trapped there with limited access to food, water and medical supplies. They include more than 100,000 children, the U.N. says.

“It is stinging cold, food is scarce and people are shaken in the streets,” Mohammad Zein Khandaqani, a member of the Medical Council in Aleppo, told The Associated Press in a text message from eastern Aleppo.

Some are taking refuge in mosques while others moved to homes of displaced people in safer areas, he added.

Thousands of civilians, many of whom had refused to leave despite the suffocating siege and bombardment that tested the limits of endurance, fled the enclave over the weekend and Monday.

“We’ve been under siege for the past three months,” said Alaeddine Hilal, a 45-year-old trader who lives between the Hulluk and Haidariyeh neighborhoods, speaking by phone. “I couldn’t find a tomato or potato, or even an egg to eat. There were no nutrients left.”

Pro-government forces began a push last week apparently aimed at slicing the territory in two. Over the weekend, rebel defenses buckled under simultaneous advances by the government and Kurdish-led forces, sending people fleeing inside the divided city.

Troops moved quickly Saturday into the Hanano neighborhood, the first time they had pushed that far into eastern Aleppo since 2012. On Monday, they moved into the Sakhour district, putting much of the northern part of the city’s besieged rebel-held areas under government control.

With the capture of Sakhour, the rebels are now boxed in mostly in central and southeastern Aleppo, encircled by government troops.

Ammar Sakkar, a spokesman for the Fastaqim brigade, said the rebels would continue to fight.

“The situation of the revolutionaries inside the city is good, from a military point of view,” he said. “We’ve redeployed and made fortifications. There will be an attempt to hold fast.”

Still, the collapse in Aleppo is a devastating blow to the morale of rebels in other parts of Syria. With Aleppo secure, Assad will be able to turn his attentions to the Damascus countryside and Idlib, the province next to Aleppo.

The northern province is a stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Fateh al-Sham Front and other Islamic opposition factions, and the loss of Aleppo is expected to be a defeat for the people holed up there.

It also potentially would free up Assad’s forces to advance on the Islamic State group, including the northeastern city of Raqqa, the extremists’ de facto capital.

Source: Denton Record-Chronicle