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Sri Lanka Implements Social Media Ban After Anti-Muslim Riots

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  • After a Muslim shopkeeper posted something on Facebook that many Christians perceived as a threat, anti-Muslim riots broke out in Sri Lanka.
  • According to Reuters, one person died in the riots.
  • Sri Lanka has now implemented its third social media ban since the terror attacks on Easter Sunday that killed over 250 people.

Riots Breakout

Sri Lanka has implemented another social media ban after a Facebook post caused anti-Muslim riots to break out on Sunday.

Groups of Christians threw rocks at mosques and local businesses owned by Muslims in Chilaw. According to reports, the violence spread to other areas of the country. These groups broke windows, vandalized property, and burnt copies of the Quran.

Police used tear gas to disperse crowds and regain control of the areas. Reuters reported that a 42-year-old-man died from stab wounds as a result of these outbursts.

The riots started after a Muslim shopkeeper allegedly left a comment on Facebook saying, “Don’t laugh more, 1 day u will cry.” Christians interpreted this as a threat of another attack targeted against them following the attacks on Easter Sunday that killed over 250 people. Several churches, as well as other tourist locations, were targeted in the series of bombings later claimed by ISIS.

Social Media Ban Implemented

After the Easter attacks, Sri Lanka enforced a social media ban that lasted for over a week. The government then imposed a second one on May 5 for one day after anti-muslim riots broke out in Negombo.

Following the violence in Chilaw, a third social media block has now gone into effect.

Dialog Axiata, one of Sri Lanka’s largest mobile networks, confirmed the block in a tweet saying that Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and other sites would be affected.

The Director General of the Department of Government in Sri Lanka gave a statement to Reuters, saying that this block was for the safety of Sri Lanka.

“Social media blocked again as a temporary measure to maintain peace in the country,” he said.

The government also issued an island-wide curfew that lasts from 9:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. Both the curfew and social media ban are temporary, but it is unclear how long each will last.

Spike in Anti-Muslim Violence

Anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence has grown since the attacks on Easter. In many cases, this violence is led and carried out by Christians.

In Sri Lanka, both Christianity and Islam are minority religions. Christians total a little over six percent of the population, while Muslims make up over seven percent. The largest religion in the country is Buddhism.

Last week, mobs broke out in the city of Negombo, where people burned the property of Muslims in the area, and damaged and ransacked their homes. Troops were deployed to stop the violence, and at least two people were arrested

Amnesty International brought attention to this trend, calling on government leaders to hold the right people accountable.

“Authorities must hold perpetrators to account & ensure the safety of vulnerable groups,” they said in a tweet.

According to a briefing, Presdient Maithripala Sirisena wants to emphasize that “the faith of the people of a whole nation cannot be put at stake due to terrorist acts of few extremists.”

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Netanyahu’s Future Uncertain After Israeli Election. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • Israel held its second election in five months, which came after its parliament dissolved itself and triggered new elections in May when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government.
  • With 95% of the votes counted, Netanyahu has won 32 seats, while his main opponent, Benny Gantz has won 33 seats. Neither have gained enough votes to meet the 61-seat majority required to be prime minister.
  • Once all of the votes are in, Israel’s president will decide who has the best chance to form a government.
  • Many have viewed the election as a referendum on Netanyahu, who is facing indictment over corruption and bribery charges on Oct. 2.

Israel Election

Results are still coming in from Israel’s second election in five months, which many have viewed as a referendum on long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu and his Likud Party won the first election in April by a fraction of a percent, beating out Benny Gantz, the leader of the new White and Blue party.

The election, held Tuesday, comes after Netanyahu failed to form a government in the allotted time period back in May. As a result, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted to dissolve itself and hold new elections.

With 95% of the vote counted, right now it looks like Gantz’s Blue and White party has just a one-seat lead over Netanyahu’s Likud party. Gantz currently holds 33 seats and Netanyahu holds 32.

Now, there are two main options for what happens next.

Option 1: Unity Government 

The first option is for the Likud and the Blue and White parties to form what’s called a national unity government. Under that system, the two parties would come up with a power-sharing agreement and pool their seats to form a majority.

But there’s a big catch here: Gantz has said he would not form a unity government with Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud as long as Netanyahu faces indictment.

Netanyahu is currently facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust that stem from three different corruption cases against him. He has denied the charges and is set to have a pre-trial hearing starting in just two weeks on Oct. 2.

As a result, Netanyahu is unlikely to agree to a unity government where he is not the leader. Especially because many believe he would try to get parliament to pass a last-minute immunity deal for him, something many experts say could be his only shot at avoiding possible indictment.

Option 2: Coalition Government

The second option is for Netanyahu and Gantz to try to piece together coalitions with the smaller parties to form a majority.

For that to happen, we have to look to the blocs– the alliances that parties form based on their political and ideological opinions.

There are two main blocs in Israel’s parliament: the center-left bloc, which includes the Blue and White Party, and the right-wing bloc, which includes Likud.

According to the current unofficial election results, both Gantz’s center-left bloc and Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc are expected to get 56 seats each.

Again, not enough seats for either to have a majority.

That leaves the other eight seats, all of which are expected to go to one party– Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular ultranationalist party led by Avigdor Lieberman. 

Yisrael Beiteinu’s political leanings would normally place them with the right-wing bloc. In fact, Lieberman even served in Netanyahu’s cabinet in the past. However, Lieberman has been at odds with Netanyahu and is unlikely to throw his weight behind him.

Lieberman refused to join forces with Netanyahu after he won the election back in April unless Netanyahu supported a bill that would require ultra-Orthodox men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military conscription.

But if Netanyahu had supported the bill, he would lose the support of the ultra-Orthodox, which held 16 seats he needed. All of that, of course, ultimately resulted in Netanyahu dissolving the government and holding new elections.

Again, so much power to decide the next prime minister is in Lieberman ’s hands, which is why the Israeli media often refers to him as the “kingmaker.”

Lieberman, for his part, has said he wants a unity government between his party, the Blue and White Party, and the Likud.

Netanyahu’s Hold on Power

Netanyahu remains adamantly opposed to a unity government.

Speaking in an announcement after meeting with members of his right-wing bloc, Netanyahu said the bloc “decided unanimously that we’re going forward together to negotiations that will establish a government led by me.”

“Now there are only two possibilities — a government led by me, or a dangerous government that depends on the Arabs,” he continued. “Now more than ever, with the vast security challenges that lie ahead for the country, a government must not be established that depends on anti-Zionist Arab parties. That’s our commitment to the country and to our voters.”

It should not come as a surprise that Netanyahu will try almost anything to cling to power, especially because the stakes have arguably never been higher for him. That has only been reflected in his efforts and rhetoric leading up to the election.

Last week, Netanyahu announced that he would annex part of the West Bank if re-elected. After that statement, Israel’s Central Election Committee fined the Likud $8,500 for illegal propaganda.

On Thursday, Netanyahu’s Facebook page’s chatbot was shut down for violating hate speech rules, after sending a message that said Israel’s Arab politicians “want to destroy us all.”

The Facebook bot was later brought back, only to be suspended again on Tuesday after it violated regulations that prohibit the publishing of voter surveys on Election Day.

The day before the election, Netanyahu gave two radio interviews, breaking a law that bars candidates from promoting themselves from 7 p.m. and on starting the night before the election.

The Likud party also allegedly persuaded an Israeli television station to report that surveillance cameras were being installed at “dozens” of polling places in Arab areas, which experts have said was part of an effort to suppress Arab turnout.

However, if that was the intent, it did not work. The turnout from Israel’s Arab population, which composes about 20% of the whole country, was much higher than the last election.

Once the final votes are in, Israel’s president will choose the candidate he thinks will have the best chance of forming a majority government. Usually, that goes to whoever has the most seats, but not always.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (Times of Israel) (Haaretz)

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US Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Dying From Neglect in Jordan

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  • A new federal report said that at least 10 bomb-sniffing dogs sent to Jordan as part of an anti-terrorism program died from medical issues related to inadequate care between 2008 and 2016. 
  • Despite becoming aware of the mistreatment and neglect in 2016, the State Department continued to send dozens of canines to Jordan. 
  • After the latest report was issued, the State Department agreed to follow some recommendations, including more frequent wellness checks but refused to stop sending dogs to Jordan until there was a sustainability plan in place. 

Federal Investigation

The State Department sent dozens of bomb-sniffing dogs to Jordan even after it was aware of severe neglect and mistreatment, a federal investigation found.

After a year-long investigation, the Inspector General’s Office of the State Department released a report last week, saying at least 10 dogs died in Jordan between 2008 and 2016 from “various medical problems” out of at least 100 canines that were sent. The investigation, which was launched after a hotline complaint, found that surviving animals were suffering after being overworked and forced to live poor conditions. 

The specially trained dogs were found living in feces-covered kennels, with insufficient food, water, or medical care. In some facilities, the handlers fed dogs by throwing food on the ground as there were no dog bowls available. Photos released from the report show emaciated animals with their ribs protruding from their sides. Many had overgrown nails and ears infested with large ticks.

The majority of the canines were described as being well beyond their working years and in need of being retired and replaced immediately. “Several canines were observed to have hip dysplasia and obvious arthritis, and have lost the will to work,” the report said.

Images Included in OIG Report

The U.S. sent these specially trained animals to partner nations as part of an anti-terrorism program. The report concluded that despite spending “millions of dollars” training and dispatching the animals, State Department officials failed to ensure their health and welfare.

As far as the major issues that allowed this problem to form, the State Department cites loose regulations and a lack of concrete policies. The department said it could not provide investigators information for other dogs in countries besides Jordan. They also said there often weren’t any written agreements with countries that outlined how to care for the canines

Jordan, the largest recipient of the program, has 61 active bomb-sniffing dogs. Other counties like Thailand, Morocco, Indonesia, and Bahrain have less.

The report says that the first dog to die in Jordan was Zoe, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois. Zoe died from heatstroke in 2017 after less than a year. Investigators described her passing as a “terrible death” that was not an accident, but rather, caused by inadequate care and negligence. 

In a separate case, 2-year-old Athena became severely emaciated after being starved and forced to live in filthy conditions. Photos of Athena show dirt and feces all over her kennel, along with an empty water bowl. Athena was sent back to the U.S. in 2018 to recover. 

A 3-year-old named Mencey was overwhelmed by ticks and sandflies under Jordanian care. He was evacuated to Virginia in 2018 but by then it was too late. While at the Virginia facility, he suffered from vector-borne disease and kidney failure. Less than a year after he left, Mencey was euthanized at the same facility where he was trained before heading to Jordan. 

Dogs Sent Despite Reports of Mistreatment 

Perhaps the most concerning information in the report was the fact that canines were still sent despite previous reports of neglect. The investigation noted that concerns were raised as early as April 2016, when U.S. canine training staff visited Jordan for a welfare check. There, officials noted the high death rate, lack of medical care, and poorly maintained facilities.

Despite those 2016 findings, more dogs were sent to Jordan and the program continued to receive funding. Some new measures were put into place. For instance, full-time mentors from the U.S. were deployed to monitor the dogs in Jordan, but the problems carried on. In fact, two mentors were stationed in Jordan during the “entire time” of Athena’s declining health, the new report says. However, those on the ground officials reportedly failed to intervene until a site visit in 2018.

The report says that for two years the State Department knew Jordan was unable to adequately care for the dogs, yet at least 60 more were sent in six waves through 2018. The Inspector General’s office said it “remains concerned that Jordan is not able or willing to provide adequate care for working dogs without the Department’s intervention and that any improvements that have been made were simply a reaction to pressure ” from U.S. officials.

Recommendations

The report laid out five recommendations, including more frequent welfare checks and the creation of a written agreement with partner nations. The State Department agreed to four of the recommendations but did not agree to the suggestion that it stop sending dogs to Jordan until there was a sustainability plan in place. 

After the report was released, U.S. officials began demanding action. Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Committee of Finance, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, asking for more information on the issue.

“It is important for Congress to know whether the [Explosive Detection Canine Program] is operating effectively and efficiently and whether animals involved in the program are being treated according to the humane and ethical standards that the American people undoubtedly expect,” Grassley said. “The best-trained dog in the world is still ill-equipped to protect American interests if it is sick or starving.”

See what others are saying. (CNN) (The Washington Post) (CBS News

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Iran Blamed for Strike on Saudi Oil Plants

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  • A massive attack on Saudi oil plants Saturday wiped out nearly 5% of global oil supplies.
  • Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran was behind the strikes.
  • President Donald Trump did not directly name who launched the attack but said the U.S. was  “locked and loaded” to respond. He later indicated Iran may have been behind the attacks in a tweet Monday morning.
  • Saudi officials said on Monday that Iranian weapons were used.

Saudi Arabia Says Iranian Weapons Used in Attack

Saudi Arabia said Monday that Iranian weapons were used for drone strikes that decimated a group of Saudi oil facilities Saturday.

According to reports, the attack wiped out nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Saudi Arabia produces about 10% of the world’s oil, meaning that the attacks singlehandedly knocked out 5% of all global oil supplies. 

Some have argued it is one of the most significant military operations against Saudi Arabia’s critical infrastructure ever.

Shortly after the strike, Houthi rebels in Yemen issued a statement claiming that they were behind the attacks.

Since 2015, Yemen has been engaged in an incredibly violent civil war between Houthi rebels backed by Iran, and the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

Saudi Arabia has received a lot of international backlash for launching airstrikes in Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians, also prompting many to question the relationship the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia.

Now, Houthi leaders are describing Saturday’s strike on Saudi oil plants as their “right” to retaliate the airstrikes that have targeted their civilians.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also echoed that sentiment Monday, while speaking at a joint news conference.

“Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defense,” he said. “The attacks were a reciprocal response to aggression against Yemen for years.”

U.S. Response

Despite the fact that the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter Saturday to blame Iran.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” he wrote. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

Pompeo also called on other nations to “condemn Iran’s attacks,” and added that the U.S. was working to make sure “Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”

The following day, President Donald Trump also addressed the incident on Twitter, though he did not directly blame Iran like Pompeo.

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” he wrote. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

However, Trump seemed to reference Iran more specifically in another tweet on Monday, where he noted an earlier incident involving a U.S. drone being shot down in contested airspace.

“Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their ‘airspace’ when, in fact, it was nowhere close,” the President wrote. “They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”

Iran for its part has denied any involvement in the attacks. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded to Pompeo’s claims in a tweet on Sunday.

“Having failed at ‘max pressure’, @SecPompeo’s turning to ‘max deceit’ US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory,” he said.  “Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ’15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.”

Implications Moving Forward

While announcing that Saudi officials claim Iranian weapons were used in the attack, a Saudi military spokesperson also said that the strikes did not originate from within Yemen.

U.S. officials have separately confirmed to the media that they are operating on the assumption that the strikes did not come from inside Yemen. A number of officials and experts have also claimed that the Houthis do not have the capabilities to initiate a strike of this scale on their own.

Some U.S. officials have additionally told reporters that they do not believe the strikes originated in Iraq, debunking an earlier theory.

Neither U.S. nor Saudi officials have not provided evidence that Iran launched the strike or that Iranian weapons were used. However, on the other side, Houthi leaders have also not provided any evidence that they carried out the attack.

Currently, senior U.S. officials are reportedly deliberating about how to respond.

Many foreign leaders are again warning the U.S. not to get drawn into a war. Leaders in both Britain and Germany condemned the attacks on Monday but did not directly blame Iran.

“In terms of who is responsible, the picture is not entirely clear,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “I want to have a very clear picture, which we will be having shortly.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a news conference that his country was working to find out who carried out the attacks. China’s Foreign Ministry also warned world leaders against naming a culprit “without conclusive facts.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry took a bit of a firmer stance and warned the U.S. against blaming Iran, saying in a statement that “jumping to conclusions” as the United States often does is “counterproductive” and also calling military retaliation “unacceptable.”

Regardless, many experts are now saying that the attack undermines any kind of hopes for diplomacy between Iran and the U.S. Though to be fair, those chances were fairly slim before this happened.

Iran, for its part, has repeatedly said it will not meet with Trump or any U.S. officials as long as sanctions are in place

As for the Houthis, a military spokesperson said in a statement that foreigners in Saudi Arabia should leave the area near Saturday’s attacks, saying that those facilities could be attacked again at “any moment.”

“We assure the Saudi regime that our long hand can reach wherever we want, and whenever we want,” the spokesperson added.

Oil prices meanwhile skyrocketed following the attack. However, it appears as though Saudi Arabia and oil experts do not expect any long term impacts.

President Trump, however, seemed to be more skeptical of Saudi oil reserves

“Based on the attack on Saudi Arabia, which may have an impact on oil prices, I have authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed,” the President said in a tweet Sunday. “I have also informed all appropriate agencies to expedite approvals of the oil pipelines currently in the permitting process in Texas and various other States.”

“PLENTY OF OIL!” the President tweeted shortly after, seemingly in reference to the attacks on Saudi oil.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

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