Weekly Global Newscast | March 4 - March 10, 2019
India’s Supreme Court Orders Mediation Over Disputed Ayodhya Site
India’s Supreme Court has appointed an arbitration panel to mediate in a decades-long dispute over a religious site in northern Uttar Pradesh state’s Ayodhya city. The court on Friday ruled that the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, as the contentious case is known as, will now be mediated through a panel headed by retired Supreme Court judge FM Kalifulla.
‘The other members of the arbitration panel include senior advocate, Sriram Panchu, and self-styled Hindu godman, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The 70-year-old case involves a dispute over a one-hectare site in Ayodhya, where right-wing Hindus plan to build a temple dedicated to Lord Ram on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque demolished in 1992. The Supreme Court-appointed arbitration panel has been given eight weeks to come to an agreement, which coincides with India’s national elections, due in April and May. Hindu nationalist forces affiliated with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have ratcheted up their long-standing demand for the construction of a temple in the run-up to the election.
‘PM Modi’s visit was part of a series of public meetings in the region. Tens of thousands of hardline Hindu protesters have marched in India’s capital city, calling for a grand temple to be built on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque destroyed by a mob 26 years ago. The protesters, along with dozens of Hindu monks, gathered in New Delhi on Sunday under the banner of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) and similar groups linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Trident-waving devotees clad in saffron filled the sprawling Ramlila Maidan grounds under tight security, warning Modi that they would not let up until the temple was sanctioned. Causing a frenzy in a crowd of more than 200,000 people, Hindu monks made a series of fiery speeches laced with religious overtones as demonstrators chanted “Praise be to Ram”.’ Associated Press reports for Al Jazeera.
‘India’s top court ordered petitioners to mediate and find a solution to a land-ownership case in the northern city of Ayodhya, the latest attempt to solve the nation’s most polarizing religious dispute over construction of a temple on the site of a demolished mosque. A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi appointed a panel to begin proceedings within a week. The decision came amid a Supreme Court hearing on an appeal against a 2010 lower court verdict that gave Muslims one-third of the land and the rest to Hindu groups. The Hindu groups claim the site is birth place of Lord Ram. The top court’s order for mediation, which could potentially influence the outcome of the general elections due by May, pushes the hearing on the emotive issue beyond the polls. Hindu nationalist groups affiliated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have reinvigorated their pitch for expediting the temple’s construction. The three-member panel will comprise former Supreme Court judge F.M. Khalifulla, spiritual leader Ravi Shankar and advocate Sriram Panchu, the constitution bench said in its verdict. The proceedings will be confidential and media cannot report on it. In 1992, Hindu mobs razed a 16th-century mosque in Uttar Pradesh state’s Ayodhya, triggering deadly riots that killed at least 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. The site remains at the heart of India’s most politically divisive row. Hindu groups say the Babri mosque at the disputed site was built over the ruins of a temple that marked the birthplace of their god, Lord Ram.’ Upmanyu Trivedi writes for Bloomberg.
In Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, a Shrinking Pro-Freedom Space
Political parties seeking independence for the entire disputed territory of Kashmir from both Indian and Pakistani control are facing a fresh round of intimidation and legal action in the Pakistan-administered portion of the region, political activists said.
‘The government of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, known locally as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), denied that it was restricting space for pro-freedom parties, while electoral analysts said those parties have historically had marginal support in the territory. The same parties in India-administered Kashmir regularly face arrests, arbitrary detentions and other alleged human rights abuses while in custody, activists told Al Jazeera in late February. Last month, court hearings were held in a “treason” case lodged against 19 activists of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a Srinagar-based pro-freedom party, for allegedly shouting slogans calling for both India and Pakistan to leave Kashmir. “Our slogans were that Kashmir should have the right of self-determination and that Indian and Pakistani forces should both leave Kashmir,” Toqeer Gilani, the Pakistan-administered Kashmir chief of JKLF, told Al Jazeera. “They objected to us saying that Pakistani military forces should leave Kashmir.” Gilani said the slogans were shouted during a conference organised by the student wing of his party in the town of Kotli, 80km east of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, in November. A fresh case was lodged following the latest hearing, he added. Since gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir, which both claim in full but administer separate portions of. Since 1989, thousands have fought in an armed movement for the separation of Kashmir from Indian control. Some armed groups demand accession to Pakistan, others advocate complete independence for the territory, home to 16 million people. Indian security forces have carried out an increasingly intense crackdown on separatist groups on their side of the Line of Control, which separates the two portions of Kashmir, resulting in scores of detentions, extrajudicial killings and alleged human rights violations.’ Asad Hashim writes for Al Jazeera.
‘China on Monday reiterated its stance regarding tensions between India and Pakistan that it supported all efforts conducive to peace and stability in the region. Responding to question whether the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation would serve as a platform to discuss the India-Pakistan faceoff, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said, “Both are important countries in South Asia and we believe they can resolve the issue through consultations and dialogue. As for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) platform, we support all efforts that are conducive to peace and stability in the region.” On whether China would play the role of a mediator to ease the tensions between India and Pakistan, Lu said Beijing was in close contact with both the nations and would continue to play a constructive role. “China welcomes all efforts that are conducive to easing tension and promoting peace and stability. We are in close contact with the two countries from the beginning and we will continue to do so and play a constructive role,” the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said at a press briefing. Sowmiya Ashok writes for The Indian Express.
Middle East & North Africa
Algerians Mobilise for Mass Anti-Bouteflika Protests
Tens of thousands of Algerians have defied large contingents of riot police and resumed mass demonstrations against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid to extend his 20-year rule.
‘A rally on Friday in the capital, Algiers, was slowed to a near-crawl by the huge numbers taking part, with participation swelled by women marking International Women’s Day. Train and metro services were suspended without explanation. While the rallies were mostly calm, police used tear gas in several areas of the city, including to block the road to the presidential palace, news agencies reported. Later on Friday, state TV said security forces had detained 195 protesters, citing offences such as looting as grounds for the arrests. Anti-Bouteflika protests were also staged in several other cities, including easterly Oran and westerly Constantine, according to Algeria’s TSA news website. The demonstrations marked the third consecutive Friday on which Algerians have taken to the streets in a bid to press the 82-year-old president to step down. The largest display of discontent in the North African country since the 2011 Arab Spring was sparked by the wheelchair-bound leader’s announcement last month he would stand for a fifth term in office in a presidential election scheduled for April 18.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Rallies inside and outside campuses in the northeastern city of Annaba also drew hundreds chanting “anti-Bouteflika” slogans, a local journalist said on condition of anonymity. The TSA news website reported other protests in Algeria’s second and third cities, Oran and Constantine, as well as in Bouira, Skida and Gelma in the east and Tiaret and Mostaganem in the southwest. Bouteflika’s announcement in February that he would seek another five-year term despite his failing health has unleashed angry protests. In France, Algeria’s former colonial power, at least 2,000 people joined anti-Bouteflika rallies in Paris and other cities. “Out out”, shouted crowds in central Paris, where protesters waved placards and some wrapped themselves in Algerian flags. Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, has remained silent on the demonstrations since they broke out last month. The 82-year-old flew to Switzerland on February 24 for what his office described as “routine medical checks”. The presidency has not detailed when he will return from the Geneva hospital, which was calm when AFP visited on Sunday. On Saturday, Bouteflika sacked his campaign manager Abdelmalek Sellal, a former premier who successfully oversaw the president’s past three re-election bids, state media said, without giving a reason. Sellal was removed ahead of a deadline of midnight (2300 GMT) on Sunday for contenders to register for the April 18 election, and replaced by Transport Minister Abdelghani Zaalene.’ Associated Press reported for The News International.
Sub Saharan Africa
Ethiopian Airlines Crashes Leaving No Survivors
Investigators have recovered both flight recorders from the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 that crashed just outside Addis Ababa, killing all 149 passengers and eight crew, the carrier said on Monday. “The Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) of ET302 have been Recovered,” the state-owned airline announced on Twitter.
‘The aircraft manufacturer Boeing faces further questions over the safety of its 737 Max 8 jet as Ethiopian Airlines joined carriers in China and elsewhere in grounding the planes after a crash on Sunday that killed all 157 people onboard. Ethiopian Airlines said on Monday that the cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder had both been recovered from the wreckage of flight ET302, meaning the cause of the crash could be soon determined. Its plane, on its way to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, crashed six minutes after takeoff, ploughing into a field near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu, 40 miles south-east of the Ethiopian capital. Boeing’s shares fell 13% within minutes of Wall Street opening on Monday morning. More than 300 Boeing 737 Max planes are in operation and more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide since 2017.’ Gwyn Topham, Lily Kuo and Kate Lyons write for Guardian.
‘ The flight route from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to Nairobi, Kenya, is sometimes referred to as a “U.N. shuttle” because of how often United Nations staff members take it.
On Sunday, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 plummeted to the ground shortly after takeoff, killing more than 150 people, the plane had a particularly high concentration of United Nations employees: At least 22 staff members died in the crash, a United Nations official said on Monday. The airline said the flight had passengers from at least 30 countries, some of whom were aid workers for other humanitarian organizations. The dead included at least 32 Kenyans; 18 Canadians; nine each from Ethiopia and France; eight each from the United States, China and Italy; and seven from Britain, according to the airline, officials and news accounts. The identities of many of the victims, including the Americans, have not been released.’ Julia Jacobs and Dionne Searcey write for The New York Times.
Russia Officially Suspends INF Treaty With US
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree suspending Moscow’s participation in a key Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty, following a similar move by the United States. In a statement on Monday, the Kremlin said the suspension would last until the US “ends its violations of the treaty or until it terminates”
‘The White House announced its decision to stop complying with the 1987 arms treaty in a statement from President Trump on Feb. 1. The Trump administration has accused Russia of violating the treaty, which bans the creation and maintenance of nuclear and conventional ground-launch ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles, since 2014. The European Union has also accused Russia of violating the treaty. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations. Arms control advocates have expressed concern that the bilateral withdrawal from the treaty could trigger a Cold War–style arms race. Putin has said that if the U.S. places ground-based intermediate-range missiles in Europe, then Russia will retaliate. “Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons which can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centers of decision making are located,” Putin reportedly said in a meeting of Russian elites.’ Chris Mills writes for The Hill.
‘Anatoly Antonov was speaking on the day Vladimir Putin followed Donald Trump’s example in suspending participation in the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which is due to expire entirely in August unless there is an 11th-hour effort to save it. That would leave the 2010 New Start treaty as the last constraint left on the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, and that agreement is due to expire in 2021. Moscow has signaled its willingness to extend New Start, but the Trump administration has said it has not yet made up its mind on the issue. “The situation in strategic stability as well as in arms control is very bad. We are in crisis,” Antonov said at a rare public appearance in Washington since taking up his role as ambassador in August 2017. “Today, I’m scared that some politicians and generals in Washington, and maybe in other capitals, they start thinking about the possibility to be a winner in a nuclear war. I would like to use this opportunity to send a message that it is impossible to win a nuclear war.” But Trump and Putin have unveiled plans to make significant upgrades to their nuclear arsenals, leading many advocates of disarmament to warn about the dangers of returning to a costly and dangerous arms race once the treaties expire. Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the INF last October, citing longstanding US allegations that a new Russian missile violated the limits imposed by the INF treaty, which was signed after a nuclear standoff in Europe in the 1980s between US and Soviet medium-range missiles. Antonov did not address the allegations about the Russian missile, which Moscow has previously denied. In his remarks at the Stimson Centre, a Washington thinktank, Antonov held up maps he said were prepared by the Russian military which showed that much of European Russia and all of Europe would be within missile range of each other, if the demise of the INF led to the deployment of new missiles on the continent.’ Julian Borger writes for Guardian.
Peru’s PM Cesar Villanueva Resigns Amid Falling Popularity
Peru’s Prime Minister Cesar Villanueva has stepped down, the government said on Friday, amid calls for President Martin Vizcarra to shake up his government and revive falling approval ratings. Villanueva, the prime minister for the past year, handed in his letter of resignation to Vizcarra, the president’s office said in a statement, confirming media reports earlier on Friday.
‘The statement did not say the resignation was accepted but said Vizcarra thanked Villanueva for his services. A new prime minister has not yet been chosen but two government sources who asked not to be named told Reuters news agency that Justice Minister Vicente Zeballos was under consideration for the position. Vizcarra will likely make several cabinet changes to revamp his team and shore up slipping support, the sources said. A survey by Datum Internacional published in local daily Peru 21 on Thursday found Vizcarra’s approval rating dropped seven percentage points from February to 56 percent. Presidents in Peru often reshuffle the cabinet when their approval ratings fall, though all recent presidents have ended their terms widely unpopular. Vizcarra’s approval rating rose to a high of 66 percent in January after he confronted the opposition-ruled Congress and pushed for passage of measures aimed at fighting corruption which had passed easily in a national referendum in December. In the past week, he has faced criticism that he has not done enough to tackle other problems, and for travelling to Spain and Portugal on a state visit instead of visiting regions affected by flooding and landslides. A former vice president, Vizcarra took office a year ago to replace Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned after a corruption scandal. Peru is the world’s second-biggest copper producer and one of Latin America’s most stable economies.’ Reuters reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Peru’s Prime Minister Cesar Villanueva has stepped down, the government said on Friday, amid calls for President Martin Vizcarra to shake up his government and revive falling approval ratings. Villanueva, the prime minister for the past year, handed in his letter of resignation to Vizcarra, the president’s office said in a statement, confirming media reports earlier on Friday. The statement did not say the resignation was accepted but said Vizcarra thanked Villanueva for his services. A new prime minister has not yet been chosen but two government sources who asked not to be named told Reuters that Justice Minister Vicente Zeballos was under consideration for the position. Vizcarra will likely make several cabinet changes to revamp his team and shore up slipping support, the sources said.’ Associated Press reported for The Indian Express.