Myanmar army made ‘systematic’ Rohingya crackdown plan — Rights group

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military engaged in ‘extensive and systematic’ preparations for a bloody crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, a rights group said yesterday, in a damning new report that it says justifies a genocide investigation. A bloody military campaign that started last August forced some 700,000 of the effectively stateless minority over the border into Bangladesh, where […]

Turnbull calls on Pope to sack disgraced archbishop

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday called on Pope Francis to sack disgraced archbishop Philip Wilson after he was convicted of covering up child sex abuse but remains employed by the church. One of the highest-ranking church officials to be convicted on the charge, the Adelaide archbishop was found guilty in May of concealing […]

Pakistan says election rally blast culprit identified

QUETTA, Pakistan: The perpetrator of one of Pakistan’s worst ever suicide bombings has been identified as a jihadist who spent at least two years fighting against foreign troops in Afghanistan, authorities said Thursday.

Last week’s attack killed at least 149 people and was the latest in a series of deadly blasts at various election campaign events ahead of national polls on July 25.

A DNA test on the attacker’s hand, found at the scene of the blast, identified the bomber as Pakistani national Hafeez Nawaz, authorities told reporters in provincial capital Quetta.

Nawaz’s family “confirmed their son had been in Afghanistan for the last two years to wage jihad against the international coalition” backing the Afghan government, senior counterterrorism official Aitzaz Goraya said.

The bomber must have worked with others to execute the attack in southwestern Mastung district and police were hunting his accomplices, Goraya added.

Last week’s blast targeted a rally by local politician Siraj Raisani, in an attack claimed by Islamic State. Raisani was among those killed.

Attacks at election campaign events have killed at least 156 people, including one other local politician, ahead of next week’s elections.

Violence has dropped significantly since the country’s deadliest-ever militant attack, an assault on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed more than 150 people, most of them children.

Pakistan’s military intensified operations against militants in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan in the wake of that attack, leading to dramatic security improvements.

But analysts have long warned that Pakistan is not tackling the root causes of extremism, and that militants retain the ability to carry out spectacular attacks like the Mastung blast. — AFP

Indonesia’s ‘child’ of Krakatoa spews ash and lava

JAKARTA: An Indonesian volcano known as the ‘child’ of the legendary Krakatoa erupted yesterday, spewing a plume of ash high into the sky as molten lava streamed down from its summit. Anak Krakatau – a small volcanic island that emerged from the ocean a half century after Krakatoa’s deadly 1883 eruption – has rumbled back […]

‘Treasure ship’ claim raises eyebrows in South Korea

SEOUL: A company claiming to have found the wreck of a Russian warship with US$130 billion in gold ‘treasure’ off the coast of South Korea has drawn scepticism from researchers and regulators in Seoul. Shinil Group, which lists a Singapore address on its website, said it had discovered the wreck of the Dmitrii Donskoi, a […]

Putin slams US forces ready to ‘sacrifice’ Russia-US ties

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday slammed ‘forces’ in the US who were willing to sacrifice Russian-US ties, two days after a summit with his US counterpart Donald Trump who has since faced a storm of criticism. “We see that there are forces in the US that are easily ready to sacrifice Russian-American relations for […]

Thai cave boys pray for good luck after first night home

MAE SAI, Thailand: Members of the ‘Wild Boars’ football team rescued from a cave in northern Thailand prayed for good luck at a Buddhist temple yesterday morning after spending their first night back home with family. The teammates and coach were discharged from hospital Wednesday after recuperating for a week from their 18-day ordeal inside […]

Three Californias? Court rejects vote on carving up state

LOS ANGELES: Californians won’t be voting after all this November on whether the Golden State should be carved up into three separate states.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a move that would have put the controversial initiative on the ballot for the mid-term elections.

The measure, known as Proposition 9, had earned enough signatures to be placed on the Nov 6, 2018 ballot but the state’s highest court torpedoed the move.

In a unanimous decision, the court said it opposed the proposal because of “significant questions” about its validity and “potential harm.”

Proposition 9, also known as “Cal 3,” would split the sprawling western state into three states: California, Northern California and Southern California, each with a population of around 13 million.

Supporters claimed this would result in a “more effective education system, more sensible taxes and more reliable roads.”

The measure was backed by Timothy Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who expressed disappointment that “tens of millions of voters won’t have a chance to make this decision.”

“The establishment doesn’t want to find out how many people don’t like the way California is being governed,” Draper said in a statement.

Proposition 9 was opposed by both the Democratic and Republican parties and the Los Angeles Times praised the court decision.

“In a welcome bit of relief, California will avoid a convoluted, messy and completely unnecessary battle this November over breaking up the Golden State,” it said in an editorial. — AFP

Russian MPs approve pension reform in first reading despite protests

MOSCOW: Russian lawmakers tentatively approved a hugely unpopular government plan to hike the state pension age that has led to protests and a record slump in Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings.

In a rare move, usually pliant Kremlin-friendly nominal opposition parties — the Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia — rejected the legislation to raise the pension age to 65 for men and 63 for women.

A total of 328 lawmakers in the lower house or State Duma voted in favour of the bill in its first reading, with 104 against, according to results released by the State Duma.

Just one lawmaker of the ruling United Russia party voted against the bill.

The planned pension age hike — a first in nearly 90 years — has led to a rare outburst of public anger.

A legacy of the USSR, Russia’s retirement age — set at 55 for women and 60 for men since Stalin — is currently among the lowest in the world.

Given Russians’ low life expectancy, many will not live long enough under the new system to receive a state pension but the government says the burden is simply too much for its stretched finances.

Analysts say that growing popular discontent over the reform amid plunging living standards may present the most serious challenge to Putin during his nearly 20 years in power.

‘Enemies of the people’

In early July several thousand people rallied in dozens of Russian cities in protests organised by Kremlin-friendly political parties and Putin’s top critic Alexei Navalny.

On the eve of the vote around 1,000 people protested in Moscow and on Thursday around 200 people gathered outside the Duma itself.

“We are living quite badly, people’s patience is running out,” said 54-year-old accountant Natalya, declining to give her last name.

“We are sick of bearing this,” she added at Thursday’s protest ahead of the vote.

Valery Rashkin, one of the many Communist MPs who came out to support the protesters, called the measure “a vile, inhumane law.”

Navalny called lawmakers “enemies of the people” for backing the legislation.

“The Duma passed a bill according to which tens of millions of Russian citizens will be stripped of several hundred thousand rubles,” he tweeted.

The government says the pension age increase is unavoidable as the current system represents a growing weight for the cash-strapped federal budget.

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Maxim Topilin defended the bill, saying the country’s current pension system was rooted in the 1930s when life expectancy was “completely different.”

“Times are changing. The economy is changing,” Topilin said. “We cannot be stuck in the 1930s.”

MPs challenge Putin

On Wednesday, the liberal daily Vedomosti reported MPs were “advised” not to criticise Putin — who has sought to distance himself from the bill — during the debate.

But some MPs from the Communist Party, which occasionally challenges the government on social issues but generally supports the Kremlin, demanded Putin take a public stance on the proposed legislation.

“This is one of the most important laws in the last 14 years, it cannot be debated without such an important person in our political life,” Communist lawmaker Oleg Smolin said.

He quoted Putin, who famously said in 2005 that there would be no pension age hike in Russia “while I am president.”

A poll released by the independent Levada Centre this month showed that the level of the Russian public’s trust in Putin had fallen below 50% for the first time in five years, to 48% last month from 60% in January.

According to the VTsIOM state pollster, the Kremlin leader’s approval ratings slumped by a record 14 percentage points in the space of nearly two weeks — to 64% on June 24 from 78% on June 14.

According to the Levada pollster, 89% of Russians oppose the reform and more than 2.8 million people have signed a petition against it.

Russian life expectancy is low for a developed country, at about 65 years for men and 76 years for women.

Unlike in Western democracies, pensions in Russia are meagre and many have to work past their state pension age to survive or rely on financial help from their children. — AFP

Bus plunges into Indian gorge, 14 dead

DEHRADUN, India: A bus plunged into a gorge in a Himalayan state of northern India on Thursday, killing 14 people and injuring 17 others, a disaster official said.

The driver lost control of the vehicle as he tried to negotiate a narrow bend in the picturesque Tehri district.

“Thirty-one people had boarded the bus. Rescue workers have pulled out 14 bodies. Seventeen others are injured, nine of them have serious injuries,” disaster official Piyush Rautela said.

Those nine have been flown by helicopter to a hospital in the nearby city of Rishikesh, he told AFP.

India has some of the world’s deadliest roads, claiming the lives of more than 150,000 people each year.

Earlier this month, 44 people were killed in Uttarakhand when a bus crashed into a gorge. — AFP