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Western diplomats warn Myanmar military that ‘the world is watching’

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By Helen Regan and Chandler Thornton, CNN
Updated 5:16 PM ET, Mon February 15, 2021

(CNN) — Armored vehicles on the streets of major Myanmar cities, an internet blackout and nighttime raids on prominent critics on Sunday, did not stop protesters taking to the streets for a tenth consecutive day on Monday to oppose the recent military coup.

In some instances, authorities appeared to respond with force. A protester from the city of Mandalay told CNN he saw uniformed security forces firing rubber bullets and using slingshots in the direction of a crowd of peaceful protesters, causing them to flee.
He also said some of the people firing at protesters were not in uniform. CNN is attempting to reach out to military in Myanmar for response.
“More than anything I was angry that they are shooting at people who are not armed. I am more angry than scared,” said the protester, whom CNN agreed not to name due to his fear of reprisal.
    The military had escalated its crackdown on dissent over the weekend, with security forces in the country’s northern Kachin state also firing on protesters at a power plant Sunday. A crowd had gathered there believing the military would cut off the electricity, according to social media video and local reports.
    In the confrontation, broadcast live on Facebook, soldiers and police in the state capital Myitkyina fired shots to disperse protesters, though it is unclear whether live rounds were used. Video shows security forces using water cannon and then protesters fleeing as several rounds of fire can be heard. Five journalists were reportedly arrested while covering the incident.
    A witness at the scene said that the situation was “stable” until around 11 p.m. local time when the security forces used water cannon against protesters, who had built a barricade of tires and oil drums. Protesters started throwing stones, to which the security forces responded by firing rubber bullets, he said.
    “It was very loud and people got really scared. It was quite horrifying to see because people were running with fear and screaming at the same time,” said the eyewitness, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation.
    The weekend’s events marked an escalation in the military’s continued crackdown on demonstrators and opposition leaders, since it seized power in a coup on February 1, ousting democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, detaining key government officials and forming a new ruling junta.
    Suu Kyi’s detention, due to expire Monday, will be extended until a court hearing Wednesday, her lawyer said. Khin Maung Zaw said he has still not been able to see Suu Kyi but has discussed the issue of representing her with the judge.
    Western diplomats on Sunday warned Myanmar’s junta that “the world is watching” and advised the military not to use violence against protesters.
    “We call on security forces to refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians, who are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government,” read a joint statement signed by the US, Canada, and the European Union that was published on the official Facebook pages of their embassies.
    Since the takeover, hundreds of thousands of people have joined protests and civil disobedience campaigns. People could be seen on the streets in Yangon, Dawei and Myitkyina holding “Civil Disobedience Movement” signs and “Free our leader” banners, showing pictures of detained leader Suu Kyi. People also marched holding signs saying: “Stop arresting people illegally at midnight.”
    The protests have swelled to include people from all sections of society, including a strike by government workers as part of a mass civil disobedience movement.
    While there have not yet been many reports of injuries, police have been recorded using water cannon against protesters on previous days and have also faced allegations that they have deployed live rounds.
    A young woman named Mya Thweh Thweh Khine remains in critical condition at a hospital in the capital Naypyidaw with a gunshot wound in the head, a source with direct information about the victim told CNN Friday. Video of the incident circulated online showing a young woman suddenly falling to the ground while taking cover from a water cannon at a protest. Her image has been held up at protests as a symbol for those resisting the coup.
    In response to the protests, the military has sought to limit access to the internet and news services, as well as floating a potential new cyber security law that observers fear could further limit the flow of information.
    Internet and mobile services were disrupted overnight Sunday into Monday, and Monitoring NGO NetBlocks said network connectivity across the country had dropped to only 14% nationwide since 1 a.m. local time. Mobile services from all carriers were also disrupted, according to residents. By 9.30 a.m. local time Monday, some areas reported internet has since been restored.

    Fear when the sun goes down

    Residents have reported a palpable fear for their safety after dark, with many scared they will be dragged out of their houses by police in nighttime raids, or are terrified of reports of arson and crime following the release of thousands of prisoners in an amnesty on Friday.
    Reuters reported that residents in some neighborhoods have banded together to form patrols and provide some security for their streets at night.
    “All the streets near me are also making groups to defend themselves from these troublemakers,” Myo Thein, a resident of the South Okkalapa township, told Reuters.
    Hundreds of people have been arrested since the coup, and most held without charge, according to the United Nations human rights office. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB) said at least 400 people have been detained in relation to the coup and other reports suggested some activists and journalists had gone into hiding following news of their potential arrest.
    One journalist in Yangon, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of arrest, said rights defenders and reporters are struggling to let the people know what is actually going on.
    “Journalists are in remote working and in hiding as they are scared of night arrests and their homes going to be raided. They can be arrested anytime for what they are reporting although (it’s the) truth,” the reporter said.
    On Saturday, the military announced the arrest warrants for seven high-profile activists for using “their popularity on social media … to undermine the peace and order of the country,” according to the military’s information page on Facebook.
    Among those named is leading democracy activist Min Ko Naing, an organizer for the “Civil Disobedience Movement” Facebook page, which has more than 200,000 followers. Min Ko Naing spent more than 20 years in prison following the 1988 student uprising in Yangon that was brutally suppressed by the military.
    In a Facebook post Sunday, Min Ko Naing called on people to continue their civil disobedience campaigns, saying the military was inciting anger to stir unrest.
    “Last night, we had to face the horrifying events across the country. They are doing it with all they are capable of. They provoke our anger, and use people including police,” he said. “This week is the most important week, this week will decide for us.”
    Over the weekend, the military suspended three laws that were aimed at constraining security forces from detaining suspects or searching private property without a court approval.
    Reuters reported that among the three suspended sections is the law that mandates a court order to detain any prisoner beyond 24 hours and limits security forces’ ability to enter private property to search it or make arrests.
    The suspensions also free up spying on communications, according to the Reuters report.
    In addition, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday announced several penal code amendments that appear to target protesters, journalists and critics of the coup.
    The changes impose a maximum 20-year prison term for anyone who attempts to or incites hatred of the government or military “by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise.” Anyone who is found to “sabotage or hinder the performance” of military personnel or law enforcement agencies can also face up to 20 years in jail. Those who hinder or disrupt the military and government employees can be imprisoned for up to seven years under the updated laws.
    The AAPPB said the suspensions were ways to instill “fear of police raids into the general public during the night” as it means that the Myanmar authorities can search houses “without the presence of the ward administrative officers and unlawful acts during inspection can be committed.”
    The human rights organization said these amendments display how the military “violates inalienable human rights and intensifies the suppressive apparatus towards the general public.”
      UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews warned in a tweet that the military would be held accountable for its actions.
      “It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people of Myanmar: late night raids; mounting arrests; more rights stripped away; another Internet shutdown; military convoys entering communities. These are signs of desperation. Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable,” Andrews said.

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      Nigeria crashed aircraft was on rescue mission for kidnapped schoolchildren

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      By Nimi Princewill, CNN
      Updated 10:13 AM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

      Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigeria’s airforce has said its plane, which crashed shortly after take-off from Abuja airport on Sunday morning — killing everyone on board — was on a mission to rescue the schoolchildren kidnapped last week.

      A spokesman told CNN the aircraft was on surveillance operations in Niger State as part of efforts to rescue at least 42 schoolchildren and staff members taken by gunmen from the Government Science School Kagara last Wednesday. One student died during the attack.
      Air Vice-Marshal Ibikunle Daramola told CNN on Monday afternoon that the air force had donated the military plane to a joint task force coordinating the rescue operation in Kagara.
      “The rescue effort is being coordinated by a multi-agency team… the crashed aircraft was part of the air force’s contribution to the rescue mission,” he added.
        Daramola told CNN that the airforce would continue to support the rescue operation.
          He added that all families of the personnel have been informed, and an investigation launched.
          The ongoing rescue efforts followed a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces and police to ensure all captives are rescued.

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          Protests in Haiti as political standoff continues

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          By Caitlin Hu and Etant Dupain, CNN
          Updated 7:44 PM ET, Sun February 21, 2021

          (CNN) — Large crowds of Haitians took to the streets again on Sunday, as a standoff between President Jovenel Moise and the country’s opposition movement stretched into its third week.

          “Those of us fighting, who want another Haiti, a Haiti pearl of the Antilles, say no to the dictatorship,” one protester told Reuters in capital city Port-au-Prince, where Haitian opposition and civil society groups had called the demonstration. Another criticized the United States and international organizations for supporting the President.
          At the heart of protests is a dispute over the President’s term limit: Moise has served only four years of the usual five, and says his term ends in 2022 — a stance backed by the United States, United Nations and Organization of American States.
          Protesters, however, say he should have stepped down February 7, citing a constitutional provision that starts the clock once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office.
            “We want the international community (to) understand that the Haiti people won’t back down on their demands. Jovenel Moise must leave the national palace for a peaceful transition that can lead us to the elections,” opposition leader André Michel told CNN on Sunday.
            This month’s protests also reflect years of increasing bitterness in Haiti over the country’s economic pain and violent crime. Killings and a wave of hundreds of kidnappings in particular have driven public outrage, according to a recent United Nations report, which recorded a monthly average of 84 demonstrations in the second half of 2020.
            Moise has blamed his administration’s poor record in dealing with such fundamental issues on the country’s system of governance, and on complications and lack of clarity in the constitution itself. “Since the beginning of my term, the country has never known stability,” he acknowledged in a February 12 tweet.
            With an eye toward empowering the office of the president for the future, he has vowed to hold a referendum on changes to the constitution in April. This will be his legacy project, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told CNN.
            However, critics are skeptical of the legitimacy of any constitutional changes made in the current political climate and without institutional checks and balances in place. General elections are expected to follow in the fall.
              In a speech last Sunday, amid celebrations for Carnival, which he celebrated with large crowds of supporters and revelers, Moise expressed his determination to see the country through another year.
              “Haiti is for me, for my kids, for the people here dancing. The people who don’t want me to do the people’s work will stop, or I will make them stop. I was elected to do a job, and I will do it,” he said.

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              Oil spill leads Israel to close beaches as it faces ‘severe ecological disaster’

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              By Sharif Paget
              Updated 1:41 PM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

              (CNN) — Israeli authorities are trying to locate the source of a suspected oil spill that has been described as one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit the country, threatening wildlife, forcing beaches to close and prompting a mass cleanup.

              Blobs of sticky tar started washing up on the country’s Mediterranean shores last week. Images posted on official government accounts showed sea birds and turtles covered in tar and sticky oil.
              “The enormous amounts of tar emitted in recent days to the shores of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit Israel,” the country’s Nature and Parks Authority said Sunday.
              The extent of the pollution is so bad, Israel’s Ministry of Interior issued an advisory Sunday urging people to stay away from the country’s beaches.
                A massive cleanup is underway but the Nature and Parks Authority said it would take a long time to make the marine area safe again. It has established a registration and information center for volunteers who wish to help.
                “I was very impressed by the exemplary voluntarism of the citizens who came to clean up the beaches. We must maintain our beaches, our country and the environment,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office.
                “I have just spoken with the Egyptian Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister who has come to us, and we proposed that every ship that you see here be powered by natural gas instead of polluting fuel, as happened here,” he continued.
                Gamliel said it was their “moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event,” according to the statement.
                  “We have the possibility of suing the insurance company of the ship that is responsible for the pollution and we will do everything to locate it,” she said.
                  In a separate statement posted to her Twitter account, Gamliel said, “We are making every effort to find those responsible for the disaster, and we will bring to the government’s approval tomorrow a proposal for resolutions to rehabilitate the environment.”

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                  Seven dead in Nigerian military plane crash

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                  Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) Seven people were killed when a Nigerian military plane crashed on approach to Abuja airport on Sunday, a spokesman for Nigeria’s Air Force said.

                  “All 7 personnel on board died in the crash,” Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola said on Twitter.
                  He added that the Chief of the Air Staff has ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.
                  “A military aircraft King Air 350 has just crashed short of our Abuja runway after reporting engine failure enroute [to] Minna. It appears to be fatal,” said the country’s aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, confirming the incident in a statement.
                   

                  AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT

                  This is to confirm that a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja Airport after reporting engine failure enroute Minna. First responders are at the scene. Sadly, all 7 personnel on board died in the crash

                  — Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola (@KunleDaramola3) February 21, 2021

                   
                  In a follow-up communication Sunday afternoon, a spokesman at the Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, said the “aircraft reported engine failure at time 10:39 and crashed landed on the final approach path of Abuja Runway 22 at time 10:48UTC.”
                  Odaudu said fire fighters have been deployed to the scene to put out a raging blaze that had engulfed the airplane.
                  An aviation worker who asked not to be named — citing lack of official clearance to talk to the press — told CNN that he witnessed the crash.
                  “The crash occurred not very far from the runway. The pilot had tried returning to the runway after taking off,” he said.
                  The worker said the pilot swerved the plane to its crash site which is in a desolate area. He said the aircraft narrowly avoided warehouses and makeshift settlements around the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport.

                   

                   
                   
                   
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                  Why Britain’s anti-immigration politicians are opening the doors to thousands of Hong Kongers

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                  By Tara John, CNN
                  Updated 7:29 PM ET, Sat February 20, 2021

                  (CNN) — Eighteen months ago, Malcolm was at the vanguard of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

                  Full of bravado and often clad in black, the 21-year-old oversaw a group of 60 combative front-liners who embraced confrontational tactics against the police while demanding greater democracy in the former British colony.
                  Today, he is applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, and separated from his family in Hong Kong where he feels he can longer visit. Malcom believes if he returns to the Chinese city he could be arrested under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong last June, which scaled up penalties against dissent to include punishments as severe as life imprisonment.
                  Since then, nearly 100 activists have been arrested under the new law. When Hong Kong police apprehended a protester friend of Malcolm’s in October, he booked a red-eye flight to London. Malcolm asked CNN not to use his real name, for fear that his family — who remain in Hong Kong — could face repercussions.
                    The British government has called the security law a clear violation of the “one country, two systems” policy meant to ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing until 2047. In its wake, the UK has opened a six-year pathway to British citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) passports (BN(O)), a special visa category created for Hong Kong nationals before the 1997 transfer of power.
                    Sze has settled into London life: She already has strong opinions on the snail’s pace of London buses and is counting the days to when lockdown ends and she can go shopping on Oxford Street.
                    While it can be hard to find the authentic Cantonese cuisine she grew up eating in Hong Kong, Sze marvels at how much cheaper food is at British supermarkets.
                    “The food quality is better, the price is cheaper and the rent is cheaper,” she told CNN.
                    Sze cannot get a job until her BN(O) visa is approved, but she is optimistic that the UK’s coronavirus-induced economic slump will not get in the way of her finding work. “I am open to any [job] option — it really depends on how much savings I have,” she said.
                      But her biggest concern is the fate of fellow dissidents going through the asylum process, and whether her compatriots who move to the UK will give up the fight for independence back home.
                      “Hong Kongers should never give up, no matter if they’ve left Hong Kong or not,” she said.

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