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BEIJING (AP) — Gunmen wearing North Korean military uniforms released a Chinese fishing boat Tuesday after holding its crew for two weeks, beating up the captain and stealing the vessel’s fuel, the boat’s owner said. He added that the hijackers did not get the 600,000 yuan ($100,000) ransom they had demanded.
The seizure May 5 in what boat owner Yu Xuejun said were Chinese waters was the latest irritant in relations between North Korea and a Chinese government increasingly frustrated with its neighboring ally over tests of its nuclear and rocket technologies in defiance of U.N. bans. One of China’s North Korea watchers said rogue border guards were probably responsible, rather than the Pyongyang government itself.
Yu said in an interview that the men were allowed to move around the boat while they were held captive, but were locked in a room at night. He said the captain suffered an arm injury when he was beaten, but he has since recovered, and that no other crew member was harmed. They now planned to stay out at sea for another 10 days.
“The North Koreans only left the crew with one sack of rice and one sack of flour. But this shouldn’t be a problem as there are a lot of boats in that region now, all from Dalian,” he said, referring to the northeast China port where his boat is based. “With their help, the crews will do OK for the next 8 or 10 days.”
Yu publicized the boat’s capture over the weekend on the Twitter-like Tencent Weibo as a ransom deadline neared. China then publicly demanded that North Korea release the men, though Chinese officials have not said whether they believe the armed captors were operating on their own or under North Korean government authority.
No ransom was paid, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news briefing Tuesday.
“We demand North Korea investigate this case fully and furnish China with details, and take measures to stop such cases repeating themselves,” Hong said.
Yu also said he hadn’t paid any ransom. “We were working in our country’s waters — why should I pay them?” he said. He had earlier written online that he couldn’t afford it.
He said the captors “looked like soldiers, and the captain said they had guns and used force to take over the boat.”
Yu posted coordinates on his microblog indicating the seizure took place about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the westernmost point of North Korea and about 190 kilometers (120 miles) from Dalian.
That area is outside both countries’ territorial waters — defined as 12 nautical miles from their shores — but within their overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones, which give them rights to resources including fishing. Jurisdictions in overlapping zones are not always clear.
Yu said the North Koreans took about five tons of light diesel oil and six barrels of gasoline and food, but navigation and communication equipment that was initially taken was returned, Yu said.
Yu’s pleas for help and his frets that his crew might be mistreated were forwarded thousands of times on the Internet, and a high-ranking Chinese military officer, Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, wrote on Sina Weibo of his fury over the detention.
“North Korea has gone too far! Even if you are short of money, you can’t grab people across the border and blackmail,” wrote Luo, who has more than 300,000 followers.
A similar abduction a year ago of Chinese fishermen by armed North Koreans caused an uproar in China. After their release, those fishermen said they had been starved and beaten, and some had been stripped of everything but their underwear.
Hong, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, had declined to answer a question Monday about who exactly China believed was behind the boat seizure, but he made clear that Beijing was looking for the North Korean government to secure the release of the boat and crew.
An expert on North Korea at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in northeast China said he doubted the North Korean government would have had any knowledge of the incident when it happened.
“This incident is purely about a lawless act by the North Korean border police to blackmail our fishermen,” said Lu Chao, adding that such things frequently happen to Chinese fishermen working near border waters.
“Sometimes, if the amount they are asking for isn’t too high, the boat owner would just pay it,” he said. This time, it might be related to spring food shortages, “so they are asking for a huge ransom.”
BEIJING (AP) — China’s new leader Xi Jinping will confer with President Barack Obama next month in California, months earlier than expected, as both sides seek to stem a drift in relations, troubled by issues from cyberspying to North Korea.
The June 7-8 meeting at a retreat southeast of Los Angeles, announced Monday by the White House, underlines the importance of the relationship between the countries as they work out ways for the U.S.-led world order to make room for a China that is fast accruing global influence and military power.
China President Xi Jinping is to visit the US next month. Pic: AP.
President Xi has said China wants its rise to be peaceful, but that Beijing will not compromise on issues of sovereignty — a stance that has aggravated disputes over contested East and South China Seas islands with several countries, including staunch U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines.
Among the other pressing items on the presidents’ agenda: the spotty global economic recovery, U.S. allegations of persistent Chinese cyberattacks and espionage and Washington’s desire for China to do more in international efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.
Washington has also criticized Beijing, along with Russia, for blocking tougher U.N. Security Council measures aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria. China, for its part, has repeatedly lashed out at the U.S. military’s ongoing strengthening of its presence in Asia, what it considers Washington’s support for Japan in its island dispute with Beijing, and the U.S. questioning of China’s human rights record and military buildup.
The meeting will be “of great significance to strengthening strategic communications, increasing strategic mutual trust … properly handling disputes, developing cooperative relations and building a new type of big-power relationship,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The issues are so many that the agenda was becoming crowded for any Obama and Xi meeting.
The two leaders have spoken by telephone since Obama was re-elected and Xi elevated to Communist Party chief in November. Xi was named China’s head of state in March for the first of what are expected to be two five-year terms.
The two met previously in February 2012, when Xi traveled to the U.S. as vice president and leader-in-waiting.
But before Monday’s announcement, their first face-to-face meeting as leaders of their respective nations had not been expected until September in Russia, on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 large economies.
“They needed more than 20 minutes on the sidelines of another meeting,” said Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “If they want to see U.S.-China relations on a solid footing, to manage the differences and find issues to cooperate on — North Korea, Iran, climate change — it has to start at the top. U.S.-China relations are not managed from the bottom up but from the top down.”
The White House, in its statement, said the two presidents will “discuss ways to enhance cooperation, while constructively managing our differences, in the years ahead.”
The decision to hold a working visit instead of a pomp-filled state summit underscores the government’s decision to put protocol aside to focus on substance. Xi will make the stop-off in California after traveling to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico.
“The engagement has become more flexible, and that helps keep the contact at the highest levels, which is conducive to understanding each other’s viewpoints and taking more effective measures,” Zhu Feng, deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University.
The Foreign Ministry’s Hong pointed to cooperation on issues including climate change, energy security, North Korea, and Iran. Disputes also exist, he said, without offering details, and require “proper handling and active controlling by both sides.”
U.S. diplomats have said that Chinese officials had wanted Obama to come to Beijing late this year or early next. His last visit was in 2009. Xi’s predecessor as president, Hu Jintao, was given a formal White House welcome in 2011.
To prepare for the California meeting, Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, will go to Beijing on May 26-28, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
CAVITE, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines has protested the presence of a Chinese warship and other vessels off a Filipino military-occupied shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said Tuesday the Philippines denounced the “provocative and illegal presence” of Beijing’s ships off Ayungin Shoal in the South China Sea.
Spokesman Raul Hernandez said the complaint was filed two weeks ago at the Chinese Embassy in Manila. It called the shoal “an integral part of our national territory.”
Dozens of Chinese fishing boats were also sighted nearby.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin says another protest might be lodged if authorities can confirm that two ships which chased a Philippine official’s ferry boat last week near Ayungin were Chinese government vessels.
It’s the latest territorial rift between the Asian neighbors.
MEIKHTILA, Burma (AP) — A Burma court sentenced seven Muslims to prison — one of them to a life term — in the killing of a Buddhist monk amid deadly sectarian violence that was overwhelmingly directed against minority Muslims but has produced no serious charges against the members of the country’s Buddhist majority.
At least 44 people were killed and 12,000 displaced, most of them Muslim, in more than a week of conflicts with Buddhists that began March 20 in the central Burma city of Meikhtila. A dispute at a Muslim-owned gold shop triggered rioting by Buddhists and retaliation by their Muslim targets, and the lynching of the monk after the gold shop was sacked enflamed passions, leading to large-scale violence.
Smoke and flames billow from a burning building set ablaze during sectarian violence in Meikhtila in March. Pic: AP.
While the violence is now contained, questions are arising over whether minority Muslims can find justice in overwhelmingly Buddhist Burma. Hundreds more Muslims have been killed, and tens of thousands have been made homeless, in violence across the country over the past year.
The issue of ethnic strife marred this week’s Washington trip by President Thein Sein, which was otherwise filled with praise for the first leader of Burma to visit the White House in 47 years.
(READ MORE: Obama vows US support as Burma leader visits)
President Barack Obama praised Thein Sein on Monday for his efforts to lead his country back on the path to democracy, but also said he expressed concern to his counterpart about violence against Muslims in the country. “The displacement of people, the violence directed toward them needs to stop,” he said.
Thein Than Oo, a lawyer defending the men sentenced Tuesday, said one of his clients, Myat Ko Ko, was given life in prison for murder. Myat Ko Ko was also sentenced to an additional two years for unlawful assembly and two for religious disrespect.
Of the remaining defendants, one received a two-year sentence while the others received terms ranging from six to 28 years.
Four of them, including a minor who tried in a separate court, were convicted of abetting murder and other lesser charges, while two defendants were sentenced only on lesser charges not involving murder. Mandalay Advocate General Ye Aung Myint confirmed the sentences.
The lynching of the Buddhist monk enflamed passions in Meikhtila, especially after photos circulated widely on social media of what was purported to be his body after he was pulled off a motorbike, attacked and burned.
Entire Muslim neighborhoods were engulfed in flames, and charred bodies piled in the roads.
The government declared a state of emergency and deployed the army to restore order, but the unrest later spread to other parts of central Burma. In parliament in Monday, Religious Affairs Minister Hsan Hsint gave the official figures for casualties and damage over March 20-28: 44 people killed, 90 injured, 1,818 houses, 27 mosques and 14 Islamic schools destroyed. He said 143 people were arrested in connection with the violence, out of which 47 have been formally charged. Parliament on Tuesday formally approved the state of emergency.
The gold shop owner and two employees, all Muslims, were sentenced in April to 14 years in prison each on charges of theft and causing grievous bodily harm.
Hsan Hsint did not break down arrests and charges by religion, but no major cases involving Buddhist suspects have been announced.
Asked why only Muslims have been charged in Meikhtila, Ye Aung Myint, the advocate general said the courts were starting with the initial incidents that triggered the violence, and those involved in later incidents would be charged subsequently.
“There is no discrimination in bringing justice. We dealt with the first two cases and 11 more cases involving Buddhists will be dealt with very soon,” he said, adding that about 70 people will face charges for murder, arson and looting.
Thein Sein’s administration, which came to power in 2011 after half a century of military rule, has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to protect Muslims or stop the violence from spreading since it began with clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in western Burma last year.
The violence has since morphed into a campaign against the country’s Muslim community in other regions. Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes have razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds dead and forcing 125,000 people, mostly Muslims, to flee.
In a speech Monday at a university in Washington, Thein Sein vowed to ensure that communal violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims will be brought to a halt, and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. He also called for a new era in U.S.-Burma relations.
Rights groups have criticized Thein Sein’s U.S. visit, saying human rights injustices are still rampant in Burma despite progress made in freeing political prisoners, and in granting more freedom to political opponents and the media, among other changes.
U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights released a new report Monday detailing a gruesome massacre carried out by Buddhist mobs who hunted down and killed at least 24 Muslim students and teachers from an Islamic school as Meikhtila descended into anarchy in March. The report, based on interviews with survivors, accuses state authorities and police of being complicit in the killings and standing idly by while they were carried out.
“President Obama must use this occasion to persuade Burma’s leader that the only path from tyranny to democracy is through the promotion and respect of human rights,” said Richard Sollom, the report’s lead author.
“One concrete step toward this goal is for President Thein Sein to support an independent investigation into these killings, bring perpetrators to justice, and speak out forcefully against ongoing anti-Muslim violence,” Sollom said.
Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that said it was seriously concerned about a “lack of accountability for crimes committed against Muslim communities.”
“The authorities need to demonstrate that investigations and prosecutions aren’t discriminatory and are in line with international standards, but they aren’t doing that,” said Matthew Smith, a researcher for the group. “What we are seeing in Meikhtila is consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere in the country — a failure to bring perpetrators to account.”
The political fallout has not only raised questions about Thein Sein’s commitment to justice, but has also tarnished the image of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticized for failing to speak out strongly in defense of the country’s embattled Muslim community despite her long commitment to human rights.
BP has already blogged on Yingluck’s speech in Mongolia and the insult directed at her (as made clear in this post it was directed at her) by the Thai Rath cartoonist who stated that Yingluck is an evil woman who sells the country, but also implied she is worse than a whore.
The issue was not over as Yingluck told her lawyers to file a complaint. The Nation:
The lawyers filed the complaint against the cartoonist at Dusit police station on Friday afternoon.
They charged Chai with three counts – insulting an official during an operation, defaming another person via publicity and violating the Computerrelated Crime Act, which prohibits posting defamatory comments against others on Internet
BP: BP has long viewed that such criminal defamation suits are a bad, and sometimes stupid, idea – see here and here. BP is also strongly opposed to defamation being criminal regardless of who is being sued – see here and here.
On all levels, this lawsuit is politically a very bad idea:
1. Most people are unknown to wider society and when the are defamed publicly the opinions that people have of that person, particularly those who didn’t know them before, will be formed. One of the purposes of defamation law is to set the record straight i.e. to correct the wrong. For public figures, the situation is not the same. Many people have already formed an opinion of someone who is so prominent. Yes, some attacks can hurt people’s reputation, but many of the attacks against Yingluck haven’t and have backfired? If anything, the insults directed at Yingluck over the past few years have not hurt her popularity. Interestingly, Chalerm, of all people, recognized this as per this tweet from Veena of The Nation:
Chalerm, on YL being attacked, The more she is attacked, the more popular she would be.
BP: Would agree to the extent that the attacks are insults particularly directly or indirectly stating that Yingluck is a slut/less than wholesome women – see here, here, and (to a much lesser extent) here. The best example of this was last year when the Democrats suffered a drop – it was a short drop – in public support and this coincided with attacks on Yingluck by some Democrats implying that Yingluck was having an extra-marital affair. Yingluck didn’t respond at all at the time which BP viewed infuriated some critics and led them to increase the suggestions of an affair until they eventually gave up because of the political fall-out of the comments. As noted in the post at the time:
Sometimes, silence makes more political sense. One could easily say that Obama could have silenced critics of him not being born in the US earlier by releasing the long-form birth certificate earlier, but by delaying he allowed the crazies to come out and this became a welcome distraction as it made the other side look bad.
BP: Of course, the birth certificate analogy doesn’t work completely as Obama can laugh about that, but in a country like Thailand (despite the large prostitution industry) which is still very conservative when it comes to sex, it wouldn’t be possible for Yingluck to laugh at it so silence/ignoring it would be the best policy. Of course, ignoring it completely may be difficult as reporters would likely ask questions, but there are ways to respond without filing a lawsuit.
2. The lawsuit – aside from what Anudith has said (that is for a later post) – also diverted attention away from the cartoonist. As BP stated in 2007, the cartoonist, Chai Ratchawatr, is (or perhaps, “had been”) the most influential cartoonist but as Thai politics has become more polarized BP is no longer sure it is the case. Interestingly, back in 2009, his neutrality was being raised in an article in The Nation when the Democrats filed a complaint against Thai Rath‘s other cartoonist:
In a press conference on Sunday, Satit said Sia’s cartoons were clearly biased against the PM and the Democrat Party.
“Sia did not exercise media ethics and professionalism in his work. He did not offer a professional, honest criticism or offer his opinions in a creative manner so it would lead to a straightforward consumption of news. He did not use his intellect either at a time when the country is facing problems,” he said. “I ask for Sia to be fair, unbiased, professional, ethical and work within media standards.”
He said he would put forward a compilation of pieces done by Sia when he filed complaint with the National Press Council of Thailand.
However, his remarks did not stop Sia from expressing his opinion. Yesterday’s cartoon showed Abhisit sitting in his chair with the messages “it is time a standard label was attached to the chair” and “muzzling the media means muzzling the people” in the background. And as usual, there is a cobra wound around Abhisit’s neck.
Actually, some Thai Rath fans say the newspaper’s cartoons are neutral and balanced by the work of another cartoonist Somchai Katanyutanan or “Chai Ratchawat”.
Chai was criticised by some as supporting the Democrat Party, something he denied. He challenged his fans to find a cartoon done by him that cheered the Democrats, adding that he could easily find one that openly criticised them.
BP: Despite the denials, it was becoming clear at that point that Sia was on one side of the political ledger and Chai on the opposite. Nevertheless, with Chai’s Facebook post it has become some obvious to the point that his cartoons will be seen by some through through the lens of the insult. Sure those on his side of the political divide will cheer on future cartoons that are critical of the government, but independent/swing voters remember the insult when looking at his cartoons (although do think the lawsuit negates this effect somewhat). The insult hurt Chai’s influence with the broader Thai public much more than it hurt Yingluck.
3. Aside from the defamation lawsuits, other complaints have been filed against Chai by the PM’s lawyers including breaching the Computer Crimes Act. This is serious overkill. We can start to draw comparisons with Thaksin and his numerous lawsuits and other actions against the media. The spectre of Thaksin will always be there but Yingluck’s mainly non-confrontational approach and lack of similar lawsuits meant it was clear that Yingluck was taking a different approach with the press. The lawsuit changes that and will hurt Yingluck more than it will ever hurt Chai.
Yingluck should drop the lawsuit..
BEIJING (AP) — The owner of a Chinese fishing boat seized for ransom by unidentified North Koreans says the boat and its 16 crew members have been released.
Yu Xuejun wrote on a verified microblog Tuesday that his captain called him at 3:50 a.m. Tuesday to say that the North Koreans had released them. He says most of their diesel fuel had been stolen and that it was too early to tell the condition of the crew members.
Xu says he was unable to pay a ransom, and he thanked the Chinese Foreign Ministry for negotiating on behalf of the boat and crew.
The official Xinhua News Agency also reported that the boat had been released, citing an unnamed Chinese consular officer in North Korea.
TIMIKA, Indonesia (AP) — Rescuers recovered another four bodies from a collapsed underground room at a giant U.S.-owned gold and copper mine in Indonesia, bringing the confirmed death toll to 21, mine officials said Tuesday. Seven others were believed buried under the rubble.
The Big Gossan underground training facility at the PT Freeport Indonesia mine collapsed last week when 38 workers were undergoing safety training. Ten injured miners were rescued.
A statement from the company said recovery efforts were continuing around the clock.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he had ordered two Cabinet ministers to personally investigate the accident, but their visits were rejected by the company because rescue efforts were still under way.
Mining operations at the Grasberg mine, owned by Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., have been suspended since the accident to pay respects to the victims and to concentrate on the recovery effort. The company said the accident was expected to have no significant impact on its operations.
“I will continue to order the ministers as well as other concerned officials to thoroughly discuss and investigate to find out what has to be done to ensure safety in the future,” Yudhoyono said after presiding over a meeting to discuss the accident. “We will evaluate all mining companies in the country, not only Freeport.”
Richard Adkerson, president and CEO of Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold, arrived Saturday at the scene and visited the injured workers and the families of those still buried.
“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this event,” Adkerson said, adding that “the entire Freeport family around the world joins Freeport Indonesia in grieving for our lost brothers.”
The Grasberg mine is one of the world’s largest single producers of both copper and gold.
More than 20,000 workers are employed at the mine, which has repeatedly been targeted by arson attacks, roadside bombs and blockades since production began in the 1970s. It is located in the remote mountains of resource-rich but impoverished Papua province, which is home to a decades-long, low-level separatist insurgency.
CANNES, France (AP) — Indian cinema is being feted in Cannes on its 100th birthday. But amid the celebrations, the B-word — “Bollywood” — remains controversial.
The French film festival has rolled out the red carpet for Indian cinema this year, with events including a gala dinner and screening Sunday of “Bombay Talkies,” a portmanteau movie with four directors and a star-studded cast including Rani Mukerji, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Randeep Hooda and Saqib Saleem.
Indian actress Aishwarya Rai poses for photographers in Cannes, Sunday. Pic: AP.
Several other Indian films are screening at the festival, which runs through May 26, including Amit Kumar’s police-corruption story “Monsoon Shootout” and Anurag Kashyap’s psychological thriller “Ugly” — though none is in competition for the coveted Palme d’Or prize.
Indian stars such as Aishwarya Rai, Freida Pinto and Amitabh Bachchan — who appears in festival opener “The Great Gatsby” — have a significant presence at Cannes’ red carpet galas and parties.
A hundred years after India released its first feature film “Raja Harischandra,” the country has the world’s most prolific film industry, turning out more than 1,000 movies a year and creating stars adored by millions around the world.
Now, its filmmakers want critical respect. Many feel the rest of the globe thinks Indian cinema is only limited to all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood extravaganzas.
“I just feel that the Indian film industry has its own identity and to be referred to in matching terms with Hollywood is perhaps not correct,” Indian film icon Bachchan told reporters at a “Gatsby” press conference.
Filmmakers in the country of a billion people are keen to stress that Indian cinema is far more diverse than Bollywood — both in terms of language and of style.
“If Indian cinema can break out of the shadow of Bollywood and be seen just as cinema from another country, like Thailand or Japan or Turkey, that would be the greatest achievement for Indian cinema,” said Dibakar Banerjee, one of the four directors of “Bombay Talkies.” ”And that’s started to happen, so that’s what I’m happy about.”
“Bombay Talkies” is certainly no Bollywood romp.
One of its four sections focuses on a man’s epic quest to meet Bachchan, while in another a young man longs to become a dancer. One centers on a failed actor struggling to prove his worth to his young daughter, and a fourth is about a man coming to terms with his sexuality.
That section features a gay kiss, a scene its director, Karan Johar, called a minor revolution for Indian cinema.
He said to have “two mainstream actors indulging in a scene like this … That hasn’t happened on a large scale like this before.”
The outlook isn’t that good, writes Asia Sentinel’s Sunil Kukreja
Never before have Malaysians ventured into such unchartered waters. The outcome of the May 5 general elections has revealed just how split and intensely divided the electorate in the country currently is, and it has set in motion a political and social scenario that is tantamount to having to confront new realities in this nation of some 27 million people.
The fact that the two main political coalitions Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) – spearheaded by Najib Abdul Razak for the former and Anwar Ibrahim for the latter – were tangled in an intense campaign leading up to the elections was emblematic of the fact that Malaysians found themselves divided between two distinctly divergent paths. Recognizing the lack of widespread enthusiasm for the several BN aligned parties, campaign strategists for BN made a distinct choice during the campaign to play up Najib’s relatively favorable public rating as a way to galvanize support. By contrast, Anwar’s popularity and his dynamic public presence set the stage for the campaign to be one about a popularity contest between Najib and Anwar.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a rally at a stadium in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, May 8. Pic: AP.
Yet, it was apparent from early on in the buildup to the elections, and since then, that the Malaysian divide is much more than one about two prominent political figures, it is indeed substantive and deep. The fact that Najib had to stem the political bleeding for the ruling coalition that first became most transparent after the 2008 general elections seemed obvious enough. The loss of their two-thirds control of parliament and several key states including Selangor, Penang and Kedah in 2008 was a significant enough blow to BN’s seemingly invincible political machinery. Indeed, one of the main goals of BN this time around was not just to reassert their domination in parliament, but also to recapture the aforementioned state governments from the PR coalitions.
Although BN managed to wrest Kedah from PR’s control, the much coveted states of Selangor and Penang once again remained out of the former’s grasp. Indeed, as is well-known by now, aside from suffering greater losses in these two significant states, Najib’s coalition ceded more ground to the opposition since 2008 as its majority in parliament dropped from 140 to 133 seats while it also lost the popular vote (52 to 48 percent). Yet, having garnered enough seats in a gerrymandered, first-past-the post electoral system, BN has managed to continue its historic streak of uninterrupted control of the federal government.
Most of the postmortems of this highly contentious and charged election have revealed some consistent findings. Of all the kernels of facts about the elections, we know that along with rural voters, a higher proportion of females also leaned heavily towards BN. On the other hand, the younger voters (particularly in those in their 20s and early 30s), for a significant number of whom this would have been their first foray into the electoral rolls, and non-rural voters were more enthusiastic and energized about the opposition.
The significance of this mobilization of younger and more agitated voters is being played out in so-called ‘Black 505′ rallies in various parts of the country in the days since the elections. Notwithstanding the fact that these rallies are far from spontaneous and have come to represent PR’s way of keeping the spotlight on their claims that BN’s parliamentary wins are attributable to gross electoral fraud, the response of PR’s supporters in coming out to these rallies is a telling barometer of the depth and intensity of the political divide.
Thus far, relatively large rallies – in the tens of thousands – not only in PR strongholds such as in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, but also in BN controlled states such as Johor and Negeri Sembilan – suggest that the opposition remains focused and agitated about making sure the issue of electoral fraud does not become a mere footnote.
While these rallies seem unlikely to result in any kind of process that might lead to a reconsideration of the validity of the results in various constituencies as singled out by PR for suspicious voting patterns and tainted ballots, let alone a reversal of the overall outcome as it currently stands, the rallies continue to symbolically undermine the BN government’s legitimacy. Just as critically, they reinforce the fact that the line demarcating the political divide between the two sides of the political divide has never been more tangible and profound.
Continue reading at Asia Sentinel
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — An international human rights group said Monday that respect for basic rights and liberties has declined in Sri Lanka in the four years since the government defeated separatist Tamil rebels to end a civil war.
Human Rights Watch said the Sri Lankan government has yet to follow through on its assurances to the United Nations to investigate allegations of war crimes by all sides.
“Many Sri Lankans await justice for the victims of abuses,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. He said the government has instead “rejected investigations, clamped down harder on the media and persisted in wartime abuses such as torture.”
A government spokesman, Lakshman Hulugalla, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the Human Rights Watch statement. The government has rejected similar allegations in the past, saying they were false and biased.
Sri Lanka’s quarter-century-long civil war ended in May 2009. The government held a military parade and war heroes memorial ceremony over the weekend to mark the victory over Tamil rebels who had fought for a separate state for their ethnic minority.
A U.N. investigation indicated the ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government might have killed as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians in the war’s final months.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government initially denied that any civilian deaths occurred but later agreed to investigate instances of alleged abuses identified by its own war inquiry. A Sri Lankan commission report, released in December 2011, cleared government forces of wrongdoing.
The Sri Lanka government has argued that its own investigation should suffice, but international pressure has been growing for an independent investigation into possible war crimes.
In March, the U.N. Human Rights Council approved a U.S.-backed resolution calling on Sri Lanka to more thoroughly investigate alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the war.