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DUBAI: This picture taken yesterday shows the Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked at Mina Rashid cruise terminal. – AFP

TEHRAN: The “resistance axis” of Tehran and its regional allies may have been behind an explosion that hit an Israeli-owned “spy” vessel four days ago, an ultraconservative Iranian newspaper said yesterday. The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier, was travelling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore when the blast occurred on Thursday, according to the London-based Dryad Global maritime security group.

Citing unnamed “military experts”, Kayhan, Iran’s leading ultraconservative daily, wrote in a front-page report that “the targeted ship in the Gulf of Oman is a military ship belonging to the Israeli army”. It was “gathering information about the (Arabian) Gulf and the Sea of Oman” when it was targeted, the newspaper said. “This spy ship, although it was sailing secretly, may have fallen into the ambush of one of the branches of the resistance axis,” it added, without offering further details.

The term “resistance axis” usually refers to the Islamic republic and its allied forces in the region. Israel’s defense minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday that the Jewish state’s “initial assessment” is that Iran is responsible for the explosion aboard the vessel. “This… takes into account the proximity (with Iran) and the context” in which the blast occurred, he added. “This is what I believe.”

Rami Ungar, an Israeli businessman who owns the Helios Ray, told Israeli state television Kan on Friday that the explosion caused “two holes about a meter and a half in diameter”. It was “not yet clear” if the damage was caused by missiles or mines attached to the ship, Ungar added. He said that the explosion did not cause any casualties among the crew or damage to the engine.

Israel has long accused arch-foe Iran of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, a charge always denied by Tehran. Iran blamed the Nov 27 assassination outside Tehran of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on the Jewish state. “The Zionist regime’s attacks and crimes in the region, which have been going on publicly for some time, seem to have finally made it a legitimate target,” Kayhan said.

The US and Saudi Arabia in mid-2019 alleged Iran used limpet mines to blow holes in Gulf-area ships, and then US president Donald Trump came close to ordering an attack on Iran in retaliation. Tehran strongly denied those allegations. – AFP

In this image taken from video footage run February 19, 2021, by China's CCTV, Indian and Chinese troops face off in the Galwan Valley on the disputed border between China and India, June 15, 2020. — AP

Dramatic footage released by Chinese state media purportedly shows deadly clashes between troops at the Indian border last year — a rare insight into violence at the tense, remote frontier.

China's defence ministry on Friday named four soldiers killed in the brawl, in the first confirmation of deaths by Beijing from an incident that had also claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers.

Footage later released by state broadcaster CCTV appeared to show Indian troops wading through a river towards Chinese soldiers in the barren and ice-covered Karakoram Mountains, carrying sticks and shields reading “police”.

A bilateral accord prevents the use of guns by either side, and brutal clashes between the two sides on the ill-defined border often involve sticks, rocks and fist-fights.

“They have now moved another new tent here,” one soldier says in the video, which claims the Indian side broke the consensus and crossed the line to “provoke” the Chinese soldiers.

Later footage shows a large melee of troops from both sides and clashes in the dark, before Chinese soldiers are seen treating a man on the floor whose head is covered in blood.

The high-altitude border battle in the Galwan valley in June was one of the deadliest clashes between the two sides in recent decades.

Beijing acknowledged that the clash had resulted in casualties but did not confirm if any Chinese soldiers died until this week.

The CCTV voiceover said the Chinese soldiers were “heroically sacrificed”.

Battalion commander Chen Hongjun and three other soldiers have been given posthumous awards, the defence ministry said. State media reported that the youngest soldier to die was 19.

India and China fought a border war in 1962 and have long accused each other of seeking to cross their frontier — which has never been properly agreed — in India's Ladakh region, just opposite Tibet.

Beijing and New Delhi later sent tens of thousands of extra troops to the border, but said last week they had agreed to “disengage” along the border area.

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: A soldier stands guard on a blockaded road to Myanmar’s parliament yesterday after the military detained the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s president in a coup. – AFP

YANGON: Myanmar’s military seized power in a bloodless coup yesterday, detaining democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and imposing a one-year state of emergency. The intervention ended a decade of transition from outright military rule in Myanmar, with the generals justifying the power grab by alleging fraud in the November elections that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won in a landslide.

The coup sparked global condemnation, with the United States leading calls for democracy to be immediately restored. Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained in the capital Naypyidaw before dawn, party spokesman Myo Nyunt told AFP, just hours before parliament was meant to reconvene for the first time since the elections.

Late yesterday, Myanmar state television announced the removal of 24 of Suu Kyi’s ministers, and 11 new appointments. Former foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, who served under ex-general Thein Sein, will return to that role after five years – taking over a job that Suu Kyi had held while she was de facto national leader.

Earlier the military sealed off roads around the capital with armed troops, trucks and armored personnel carriers. Military helicopters flew across the city. A putsch had been expected for days, yet when it came it left Myanmar stunned – with roads to its main international airport blocked and communications cut – a country once more isolated from a world it only rejoined a decade ago. “It’s extremely upsetting – I don’t want the coup,” said a 64-year-old Burmese man in Hlaing township, standing with a crowd outside a grocery stall.

The military declared, via its own television channel, a one-year state of emergency and announced that former general Myint Swe would be acting president for the next year. It alleged “huge irregularities” in the November polls that the election commission had failed to address. “As the situation must be resolved according to the law, a state of emergency is declared,” the announcement said.

The army later pledged to hold fresh elections after the year-long state of emergency. Suu Kyi had issued a pre-emptive statement ahead of her detention calling on people “not to accept a coup”, according to a post on the official Facebook page of her party’s chairperson. The military moved quickly to stifle dissent, severely restricting the internet and mobile phone communications across the country.

In Yangon, the former capital that remains Myanmar’s commercial hub, troops seized the city hall just ahead of the announcement, according to an AFP journalist. AFP saw several trucks in Yangon carrying army supporters, with Myanmar flags and blaring nationalist songs, and some NLD members reported that security forces had ordered them to stay at home.

People rushed to their neighborhood grocery stores to stock up on rice, oil and instant noodles. Banks were temporarily closed by the communications freeze, but some were expected to reopen today. Elsewhere, the chief minister of Karen state and several other regional ministers were also held, party sources told AFP.

Washington was swift to react to the news. “The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union, Britain and Australia were among others to condemn the coup. China declined to criticize anyone, instead calling for all sides to “resolve differences”. Myanmar’s November polls were only the second democratic elections the country had seen since it emerged from the 49-year grip of military rule in 2011. The NLD won more than 80 percent of the vote – increasing its support from 2015.

But the military has for weeks complained the polls were riddled with irregularities, and claimed to have uncovered more than 10 million instances of voter fraud. Myanmar has seen two previous coups since independence from Britain in 1948 – in 1962 and 1988.

Suu Kyi, 75, is an immensely popular figure in Myanmar for her opposition to the military – which earned her the Nobel peace prize – having spent the best part of two decades under house arrest during the previous dictatorship. But her international image was shredded during her time in power as she defended the military-backed crackdown in 2017 against the country’s Muslim Rohingya community.

About 750,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into neighboring Bangladesh during the campaign, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide. Suu Kyi was only ever de facto leader of Myanmar as the military had inserted a clause in the constitution that barred her from being president.

The 2008 constitution also ensured the military would remain a significant force in government by retaining control of the interior, border and defense ministries. But to circumvent the clause preventing her from being president, Suu Kyi assumed leadership of the country via a new role of “state counselor”. “From (the military’s) perspective, it has lost significant control over the political process,” political analyst Soe Myint Aung said. – AFP

NEW DELHI: Workers set up a roadblock at the main entrance of the Red Fort yesterday, a day after farmers went on the rampage in the capital. – AFP

NEW DELHI: Indian police imposed heavy security and closed several main roads around New Delhi yesterday, a day after farmers went on the rampage in the capital, leaving one person dead and several hundred injured. The violence marked a dramatic escalation in a standoff between the government and thousands of farmers who have been camped on the outskirts of Delhi since late November demanding that new agricultural reforms be scrapped.

On Tuesday – during the annual Republic Day parade – convoys of farmers on tractors smashed through barricades to converge on the city center, seeing off police baton charges and volleys of tear gas. One farmer was killed in what police said was an accident when his tractor overturned after hitting a barricade.

Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava said in a press conference late yesterday that 394 policemen had been injured. “On 25th, we had mutually agreed on the terms, conditions and route of the farmer unions’ march (on tractors) in Delhi. But they backstabbed (us) on those agreements which led to the violence,” Shrivastava said.

Around the city, security forces fought running battles with demonstrators. Farmers also laid into police with branches and metal bars, and hijacked buses used to block their convoys. One video showed police jumping down a seven-meter wall to escape baton-swinging protestors near the historic Red Fort landmark. Farmers there broke through police lines and ran their own emblem up a flagpole to cheers from the large crowd, before being dispersed from the ramparts by security forces.

On one main road, people on rooftops threw petals on the tractor convoys. Elsewhere people cheered and applauded as farmers went past waving Indian flags and blowing horns. As night fell, the farmers retreated to the camps outside the city where they have been braving Delhi’s chilly winter nights for months now.

Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah ordered 15 companies of paramilitaries to boost security forces in the capital, according to media reports. Yesterday morning a number of major roads were blocked as police and security forces set up barricades, leading to major traffic congestion. Riot police were stationed near the Red Fort.

“We take this illegal protest, violence and damage to the protected heritage monument Red Fort, where they raised religious and farm union flags, very seriously. Video footage is being scrutinized to identify those involved. No one will be spared,” the commissioner, Shrivastava, added. He said that at least 19 people had already been arrested and 50 others were being questioned in detention.

The unrest was a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, for whom the farmer protests represent the biggest challenge since coming to power in 2014. Farming has long been a political minefield, with nearly 70 percent of the population drawing its livelihood from agriculture in the vast nation of 1.3 billion people.

Laws passed in September enabled farmers to sell to any buyer they chose, rather than to commission agents at state-controlled markets. But farmers, at least in northern states like Punjab where most of the protestors come from, fear this will leave them at the mercy of big agribusiness corporations. The government has offered to suspend the reforms for 18 months, but farmer unions want nothing short of the laws being binned.

The violence could prove to be a setback for the farmers as well, by costing them support both among their own ranks and the wider population. “What happened yesterday was not right. This is the pride of the nation and they took the flag down,” said Pramod Sharma, 35, a shopkeeper near the Red Fort. Farmer unions have condemned the unrest.

“For the last two months they had been conducting their protest in a peaceful and dignified manner,” said Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, a political analyst. “So even those who did not agree with them respected them. The violence has dented this a bit.”

At the Singhu state border crossing, one of the main protest sites, the mood was deflated yesterday, and some accused government elements of being behind the violence. “Our protest and movement was yesterday hijacked by the people who support the government, or wanted this to happen,” said Amritpal Singh, 36, a gym trainer from Punjab who has joined the protests. But he added: “What happened shouldn’t be seen as anything against our long and very peaceful struggle against the laws. We are here and not going anywhere.” – AFP

BELGRADE: People queue to receive the Chinese-made Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine outside the Belgrade Fairground turned into a vaccination center yesterday. – AFP

GENEVA: The coronavirus pandemic took a huge toll on global jobs last year, the United Nations said yesterday, with the equivalent of more than a quarter of a billion lost. In a fresh study, the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) found that a full 8.8 percent of global working hours were lost in 2020, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

That is equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs, or “approximately four times greater than the number lost during the 2009 global financial crisis,” the ILO said in a statement. “This has been the most severe crisis for the world of work since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters in a virtual briefing.

Since surfacing in China just over a year ago, the virus has killed more than 2.1 million people, infected tens of millions of others and hammered the global economy. The UN labor agency explained that around half of the lost working hours were calculated from reduced working hours for those remaining in employment. But the world also saw “unprecedented levels of employment loss” last year, it said.

Official global unemployment shot up by 1.1 percent, or 33 million more people, to a total of 220 million and a worldwide jobless rate of 6.5 percent last year. Ryder stressed that another 81 million people did not register as unemployed but “simply dropped out of the labor market”. “Either they are unable to work perhaps because of pandemic restrictions or social obligations or they have given up looking for work,” he said. “And so their talents, their skills, their energy have been lost, lost to their families, lost to our society, lost to us all.”

The lost working hours last year shrank global labor income by a full 8.3 percent, the ILO said. That amounts to a drop of some $3.7 trillion, or 4.4 percent of overall global gross domestic product (GDP), it added. The emergence of several safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 has raised hopes that the world will soon be able to rein in the pandemic.

But the ILO cautioned that the prospects for a global labor market recovery this year are “slow, uneven and uncertain.” The organization pointed to the uneven impact the crisis had had on the world’s workers, affecting women and younger workers far more than others. Globally, employment losses for women last year stood at five percent, compared with 3.9 percent for men. Women are more likely to work in the harder-hit sectors of the economy, and also have taken on more of the burden of, for instance, caring for children forced to stay home from school.

Younger workers were also far more likely to lose jobs, with employment loss among 15-24-year-olds at 8.7 percent globally, compared with 3.7 percent for older workers. Many young people also put off trying to enter the labor market given the complicated conditions last year, the ILO found, warning that there was truly an “all too real risk of a lost generation”.

Monday’s report also highlighted the uneven impact on different sectors, with accommodation and food services the worst affected, showing a drop in employment of more than 20 percent. By contrast, employment swelled in the information and communication fields, as well as in finance and insurance. Looking forward, the ILO called on countries to provide particular support to the hardest-hit groups and sectors, and also to sectors likely to be able to generate numerous jobs quickly.

It stressed the need for more support to poorer countries with fewer resources to promote employment recovery. The report sketched out three recovery scenarios for 2021, depending on support measures provided at the national and international level. The pessimistic scenario saw an additional 4.6-percent drop in working hours, and even the most optimistic scenario anticipated that working hours would contract by a further 1.3 percent this year, corresponding to 36 million full time jobs. – AFP

They are still deciding what to call the events of January 6. Riot? Insurrection? Coup? From the Wilkes mob and the Gordon mob in 18th century London to our own Seattle and Portland mobs, hyperbole and euphemism have fought a close contest in this area. Consider two stock phrases that look synonymous but have come to mean very different things. “Law and order” may convey the preconditions of a free society, but the use of that slogan—by Richard Nixon’s campaign in 1968 and its successors in 1988 and 2016—gave the words a dubious odor. Repression of speech and assembly and ordinary freedom of action could be hidden under the seemingly harmless phrase. Yet no such opprobrium has ever attached to the instruction to abide by “the rule of law.” Why not?

In the absence of the law-abiding habit, we could hardly trust our fellow citizens in the commonest daily encounters. Civil society depends on self-restraint far more than on regulation by the authorities. A rational commitment to equality likewise depends on self-restraint. The axiom that all persons are equal under the law will only prevail where citizens restrain their desire for power. In a free society, the authorities can never enforce habits the people at large decline to practice.

No better analysis exists of the reasons to abide by the law than Abraham Lincoln’s “Lyceum Address” of 1838. The speech was one of a series commissioned by the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Ill., on the perpetuation of American institutions. Lincoln, who was just 28 when he delivered it, took as his occasion the recent accounts of “outrages committed by mobs,” which “form the every-day news of the times” and “have pervaded the country, from New England to Louisiana.” The outrages in question all involved the passions of a mob leading to the killing of persons. “Alike,” said Lincoln, these incidents “spring up among the pleasure hunting masters of Southern slaves, and the order loving citizens of the land of steady habits.”

Among the scenes “revolting to humanity” was the hanging of gamblers in Vicksburg, Miss., but the mob went on from there: “Next, negroes, suspected of conspiring to raise an insurrection, were caught up and hanged in all parts of the State; then, white men, supposed to be leagued with the negroes; and finally, strangers, from neighboring States.” Lincoln is still more shocked by a “horror-striking scene at St. Louis,” the lynching of “a mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh,” who was “seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business.” These episodes have in common the replacement of law by mob rule.

The lynchings in Vicksburg and St. Louis, said Lincoln, show what happens when “the lawless in spirit,” by going unpunished, are permitted to become “the lawless in practice.” Such outbreaks amount to more than a concern of certain localities: “By the operation of the mobocratic spirit, which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed—I mean the attachment of the People.”

In recounting the events of the preceding months and years, Lincoln deplores most of all the violence done to persons, yet he by no means exempts the destruction of property—“whenever the vicious portion of the population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores.” Then, as now, mob actions were not isolable to a single group or party cause. Their example was infectious because vice, as well as virtue, may catch by contact.

The date of the talk, January 27, 1838, reminds us that the bank and real estate panic of 1837 had seen many livelihoods destroyed, just as they have been during the Covid-19 lockdown and the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd. But Lincoln searched deeper. He spoke of a spiritual letdown in that fourth decade of the 19th century. The revolutionary generation had almost entirely passed away, but no substitute had been found for “the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of the revolution had upon the passions of the people as distinguished from their judgment.” It seems fair to draw an analogy with the generation of the Cold War and the mixed triumphalism and bewilderment that followed its close. Was a new enemy on the horizon required to secure our own habits of liberty? If so, the Global War on Terrorism has turned out to be a poor substitute. A Domestic War on Terrorism, if the Biden administration tries to launch one, will answer our present discontents just as ineffectually.

The enduring post–World War II confidence of, say, 1947—the year that saw the launching of Truman’s Loyalty Program—has finally slipped away altogether. As Lincoln said of 1776, “Those histories are gone…. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foemen could never do, the silent artillery of time has done.” The specter of world communism is gone. The wars fought in the name of defeating terrorism, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya to Syria to Yemen, have never ceased, but it has been a long decade since they made any kind of sense to most Americans.

Lincoln sought to remedy the violence of the mob spirit by inculcating piety toward the laws. Americans, he proposed, should swear on the memory of the Revolution “never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.” The law-abiding disposition should in fact become “the political religion of the nation.” What could a young lawyer in 1838, with no religious pretensions, have meant by a “political religion”? It was not quite the same as a superstition. After all, there are bad laws, which “if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible”; yet “while they continue in force, for the sake of example,” those laws “should be religiously observed.”



AMMAN: Jordanian youths using handcarts work in the capital’s Wahdat district on Jan 10, 2021. – AFP

AMMAN: Omar’s heart sinks when he trudges past his closed school gates in the Jordanian capital Amman – now part of his trip to work, to repair and clean kerosene heaters. The 14-year-old, who dreams of becoming a pilot, is one of many minors experts say have been forced prematurely into the labor market. Schools throughout Jordan have been closed for nearly a year now, and the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic has eaten into breadwinners’ ability to feed their families.

“As school is shut, I help my family financially,” said Omar, sporting a sweater and dirty jeans as he cleaned a heater with his blackened hands. He works exhausting 12-hour days at the workshop, and collapses into bed after a shower and a quick evening meal. Overall, the work “doesn’t bother me”, he said. “What is unbearable is the smell of kerosene… (it) doesn’t go away.”

He earns three dinars (around $4.25) a day, which helps pay the family’s monthly rent of 130 dinars. His contribution is vital because his father, a day laborer, has struggled to find work due to the coronavirus downturn. But Omar has not given up hope, and said he was determined to return to school as soon as possible. “I would love to continue my studies” and eventually become a pilot, he said. “I don’t want the coronavirus to destroy my dream.”

The education ministry has announced a return to classes next month for kindergarten and some elementary school levels, as well for students in their final year of high school. Everyone else will have to wait until March. UN children’s agency UNICEF said that while it had no hard statistics, it believed many Jordanian children had been forced into precarious work since the pandemic began – despite it being forbidden to employ those under 16.

Some 76,000 children were already working in Jordan according to the last official count, published in 2016. “When we see children and when we speak to people, we are concerned that the numbers are increasing,” said Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF’s country representative in Jordan. “It would seem logical… because we know the levels of poverty are increasing” during the coronavirus crisis, she added.

The official poverty rate in Jordan was 15.7 percent last autumn, but the World Bank has warned this will increase by 11 percentage points over “the short term”. Experts fear child labor rates will surge even higher. “I expect child labor to increase dramatically,” said Ahmad Awad, director of Jordan Labor Watch. He pointed to both the rise in poverty and the pandemic’s negative impact on Jordan’s education system as drivers of this trend.

Khader Abu Zaid has rented out hand-drawn carts at a market in the densely populated neighborhood of Wahdat for the last quarter of a century, but admitted he had seen a surge in underage clients. “Since the schools closed… the number of children renting my carts has increased,” the 58-year-old said. “Nowadays, it is only kids between the ages of 12 and 17 who load goods at the market.”

Their daily wage is about five dinars or a little more, he said. Twelve-year-old Mustafa, pushing along a brimming cart, said he has been transporting vegetables and chickens to the market for several months. “I rent the cart for one dinar per day and I give the other four dinars to my family to help with the expenses,” he said.

Experts say a decline in the quality and accessibility of education – now offered remotely where possible – in Jordan is also harming children’s futures. UNICEF estimates less than a third of schoolchildren in the country have internet access, making it impossible for the bulk of pupils to follow online classes during the pandemic.

Frida Khan, the International Labor Organization’s country coordinator, said distance learning was particularly problematic among poorer families. She said many have only one smartphone, which the main breadwinner generally takes to work. On top of that, parents often have a low level of education themselves. “Consequently, they cannot help their children learn,” she said. – AFP

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