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Defense Secretary Resigns As New Details Emerge Following Attacks in Sri Lanka

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  • ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack that has now killed at least 250 people, while investigations to verify their ties are ongoing.
  • Authorities are still searching for suspects and fear that more attacks could follow.
  • As a result, citizens have been warned to avoid all places of worship.
  • The Defense Secretary has also resigned after reports revealed that authorities received several warnings leading up to the attacks.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the death toll of the terrorist attack stood at 359. The country’s Health Ministry has since reduced the number by about 100. Sri Lankan Deputy of Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said morgues had provided inaccurate figures. The Director General of Sri Lanka’s health services, Anil Jasinghe, said, “It could be 250 or 260. I can’t exactly say.”

Defense Secretary Resigns

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary resigned Thursday, following the terrorist attack that killed at least 250 people on Easter Sunday.

Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando‎ handed in his resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena, following the president’s request.

A government spokesperson confirmed that security forces had been warned of the attack at least 10 days before it occurred. Several reports also alleged that one of the suicide bombers had been previously arrested, then released.

After learning the news, President Sirisena asked for the resignations of Secretary Hemasiri, as well as the National Police Cheif, saying he could find replacements in as soon as 24 hours.

I am confident that with such reorganizations of [the] security sector and with the assistance of foreign expertise, the threat of terrorism could [be] curbed soon,” President Sirisena said in a statement.

The National Police Chief has not yet turned in his resignation.

Previous coverage of the attack in Sri Lanka.

ISIS Claims Responsibility

While the government initially said the bombings were orchestrated by a local extremist group by the name of National Towheed Jamaath, they also believed a larger organization must have been behind it as well. On Tuesday, ISIS posted a video, claiming the attack.

The video featured men that they claimed were the attackers. While most of the men had their faces covered, one could be seen. He was identified as a man who was known as an extremist in Sri Lanka with ties to NTJ.  They posted no other evidence to support their claim, and authorities are investigating their ties to the attack.

Government officials also said that the bombings were a response to the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques, marking the worst shooting in the country’s history.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed, however, that she had received no information to support this.

“Look, I have seen reports of those statements,” she said during a press conference. “We haven’t received anything officially, nor have we received any intelligence reports that corroborate what has been said in Sri Lanka.”

Officials Warn of More Potential Attacks

Investigations into whether or not more attacks might be carried out are also ongoing, particularly in the capital city, Colombo.

On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo tweeted out a warning, telling citizens to refrain from going to places of worship this weekend

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that suspects of the attack could still be at large. Police have been shutting down streets in Colombo while searching for two people they believe were supposed to carry out suicide bombings on Easter Sunday. They suspect they might have plans to carry out potential upcoming attacks.

Despite this, the government is advising citizens not to be alarmed, and to work with authorities as they investigate. They issued a statement from a Police Spokesperson telling people the public to “not panic.”

“Sri Lanka Police advises the general public not to panic as security forces are conducting search operations across the country,” the statement read. “The public is requested to cooperate with security forces personnel carrying out the searches.”

The country is also re-issuing a nation-wide curfew that applies from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. The ban on social media sites, which is supposed to help stop the spread of misinformation, is still active.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession

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Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.


First Conviction Under National Security Law

The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.

A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”

“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.

More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights

A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.

That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.

It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)

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Tunisian President Fires Prime Minister, Suspends Parliament Over Deadlock and COVID-19 Response

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President Kais Saied claims his actions are constitutional and have the support of the military, which has already blocked off government buildings. His opponents, however, call the move little more than a coup.


President Makes Massive Changes to Government

Tunisia’s government received a major shakeup after President Kais Saied fired the Prime Minister and froze parliament late Sunday.

The move, according to Saied, was meant to break years of parliamentary deadlock between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and various political parties that have sturggled to find common ground. However, the timing comes just after a massive protest over how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic turned violent earlier on Sunday.

Either way, the move risks sparking a confrontation between Saied —who is backed by the army — and various political parties that view his actions as a coup.

The President’s actions have proven cotnroversial. Despite that, he has widepsread support after being elected in 2019 on a platform to fight corrupt politicians.

After the announcement, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in support of his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and parliament, with many cheering as he appeared among the crowd Sunday night.

In recent months, anger at the ruling government has only increased as many feel the ruling coalition, largely made up of the Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party, have been ineffective.

It’s a common belief in Tunisia that Ennahda’s rule, alongside its tenuous coalition, helped exacerbate problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the economy shrinking by 8% as tourism plummeted.

One of the President’s supporters told Reuters and other outlets during Sunday’s demonstration, “We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong presence in Egpyt after the Arab Spring, becuase Ennahda has longstanding relationship with the group, although it has sought to distance itself as a more moderate political group over the last few years.

Now, for their part, the ruling coalition has argued that Saied’s move is clearly unconstitutional. Rached Ghannouchi, leade of Ennahda and Parliamentary Speaker, said that he is “against gathering all powers in the hands of one person.” His position isn’t without supporters eithers. Both sides have already gathered throughout the capital and have thrown rocks at each other.

Legalities of Article 80

The question across many minds is whether or not Saied’s actions are actually constitutional.

He claims that under Article 80 of the constitution, he can fire the Prime Minister, suspend parliament for 30 days, and appoint a premier to rule — all of which is true.

However, in order to do that, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker need to be consulted; something Parliamentary Speaker Ghannouchi said was never done. It’s unclear what Mechichi’s position is as he’s stayed inside his home all day, though the army says he is not under any kind of arrest.

In addition to those requirements, a Constitutional Court needs to approve the move, and one hasn’t been set up. As the German Foregin Office put it on Monday morning, it seems like Saied is relying on “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution.”

International observers hope a solution will soon be made to keep what seems to be the last functional democracy to come from the Arab Spring from devolving into civil war or dictatorship.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (BBC)

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South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys

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The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.


Government Recognition

The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.

The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.

The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.

Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.

Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.

Longstanding Policy

BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.

Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.

The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.

Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.

See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)

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