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Romania nightclub fire death toll rises as protests continue

The death toll following a fire a nightclub in Romania's capital has risen to 44. Anti-government protests continued over the weekend on a smaller scale, despite Prime Minister Victor Ponta's resignation. The director of Romania's burns hospital in Floreasca, Cristian Nitescu, said on Sunday that most recent deaths were as a result of burns-related injuries. Some of them had been transferred to the Netherlands for treatment. "The next seven days will be the most difficult with regards to treating the wounded," Health Minister Nicolae Banicioiu said on Saturday. "We welcome any help, any medical teams coming from abroad," Banicioiu added. A fire broke out at a club, the "Collectiv" nightclub in Bucharest, last Friday after fireworks were let off during a band's performance. The pyrotechnics set fire to flammable sound insulation, triggering a stampede as revelers ran to the sole exit. In addition to the deaths, some 180 people were injured - many with severe burns. Romanian authorities have since detained the nightclub's three bosses on manslaughter charges. The trio had no authorization to hold either concerts or pyrotechnic shows. Mass protests The blaze sparked mass anti-government protests in Romania, with many demonstrators saying that the sub-standard safety measures at the club reflect the country's wider corruption concerns. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta - who is currently on trial facing corruption charges - stood down with his cabinet on Wednesday. Christian Popescu Piedone, the district mayor of Budapest's Sector 4 also resigned, saying he was "morally guilty" for the disaster.

The death toll following a fire a nightclub in Romania’s capital has risen to 44. Anti-government protests continued over the weekend on a smaller scale, despite Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s resignation. The director of Romania’s burns hospital in Floreasca, Cristian Nitescu, said on Sunday that most recent deaths were as a result of burns-related injuries. Some of them had been ... Read More »

World Bank: Climate change could push millions more people into poverty

Global warming could drive 100 million more people into poverty, the World Bank said in a new report. Climate change may also reduce crop yields, increase risk of malaria and diarrhea, and drive migration up. Poor people bear the brunt of extreme weather and lower rainfall, both linked to the rise in temperatures, the World Bank said on Sunday. "Without rapid, inclusive and climate-smart development, together with emissions-reductions efforts that protect the poor, there could be more than 100 million additional people in poverty by 2030," the Bank said in a report. But the report also warned that action on climate change can do little to reduce global warming between now and 2030, and urged policies to cushion the worst of the effects. Such measures would include upgrading flood defenses and planting more heat-tolerant crops, as well as providing better health care and social protection for poor people. "We have a window of opportunity to achieve our poverty objectives in the face of climate change, provided we make wise policy choices now," said senior World Bank economist and one the report's authors Stephane Hallegatte. Diseases on the rise The document, entitled "Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty," was partly based on surveys of 1.4 million people in 92 countries. It projected crop losses of five percent by 2030 and 30 percent by 2080 globally, and warned that 150 million people could be at risk from malaria, diarrhea and stunted growth. In addition, climate change could force more poor people to emigrate, requiring new and expanded social services. There are now 702 million people living below the poverty line in the world, according to the World Bank. Even if the negative effects of climate change are reduced, the number could reach 900 million by 2030, officials said. 'Unavoidable' crises The Sunday release comes just weeks ahead of a major climate summit in Paris, with activists around the world calling for tough action. "The statistics in the World Bank report are suitably shocking and I hope they force world leaders to sit up and take notice," said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid. "The Paris deal needs to support the poor and vulnerable communities to cope with unavoidable climate crises better, and to be more resilient to a changed climate," he added. The US and other countries have pledged to scale up climate financing to developing nations to $100 billion (93 billion euros) annually by 2020, helping them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Climate financing reached $62 billion in 2014, according to a recent report.

Global warming could drive 100 million more people into poverty, the World Bank said in a new report. Climate change may also reduce crop yields, increase risk of malaria and diarrhea, and drive migration up. Poor people bear the brunt of extreme weather and lower rainfall, both linked to the rise in temperatures, the World Bank said on Sunday. “Without ... Read More »

Independent journalist arrested in Egypt

Hossam Bahgat has been arrested on charges of publishing false reports against the military. His detention has heightened fears over the state of free expression in Egypt. Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights advocate and journalist, was arrested in Egypt on Sunday, security officials said. According to Mada Masr, the website Bahgat writes for, the 37-year-old is being held on charges of publishing false information under a new law which has sparked intense fear over the future of press freedom in Egypt. "The arrest of Hossam Bahgat today is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of expression in Egypt," said Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa chief Philip Luther. "The Egyptian military cannot continue to consider itself above the law and immune from criticism," Luther added. The charges stem from an October report Bahgat filed about 26 military officers who had been convicted in a court martial for plotting a coup against the state. Security officials confirmed the arrest, saying Bahgat was given a summons last week to report for questioning on Sunday. Following the interrogation, he was arrested and transferred to the jurisdiction of the military prosecutor. Bahgat was also the founder of the independent organization the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Human Rights Watch also condemned the incarceration of the "leading defender of civil rights and liberties in Egypt." Human rights groups have consistently accused Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of exploiting a fragile security situation in Egypt to revoke personal freedoms won in 2011 with the overthrow of former dictator Hosni Mubarak. El-Sissi himself came to power when the democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was deposed in 2013. Morsi, the first democratically elected head of state in Egyptian history, is now on death row for his role in a prison break during the 2011 revolution.

Hossam Bahgat has been arrested on charges of publishing false reports against the military. His detention has heightened fears over the state of free expression in Egypt. Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights advocate and journalist, was arrested in Egypt on Sunday, security officials said. According to Mada Masr, the website Bahgat writes for, the 37-year-old is being held on ... Read More »

Volcano ash grounds flights in Bali

Indonesia has been forced to close two airports until Thursday because of ash from an erupting volcano on a nearby island. More than 100 flights have been grounded. Meteorological authorities say both Bali's international airport and Selaparang airport in West Nusa Tenggara will remained closed until at least Thursday. "The wind has blown the volcanic ash towards Bali in such a way that it covers the sky around the airport, making conditions unsuitable for flying," Bali airport official Yulfiadi told the AFP news agency. A total of 106 flights scheduled to take off Wednesday were canceled, including 59 international flights. Ash from a different volcano had stranded thousands of passengers on Bali for days during the peak holiday season in July. Airlines are concerned that ash could damage jet engines, even causing spontaneous failure in some cases. The eruption began Sunday. "Volcanic ash, even if it's invisible, is very dangerous for aircraft," transport ministry spokesman Julius Barata told the DPA news agency. Air traffic is regularly disrupted by volcanic activity in Indonesia, which is located in a basin of the Pacific Ocean home to about 130 active volcanoes, the greatest concentration in the world.

Indonesia has been forced to close two airports until Thursday because of ash from an erupting volcano on a nearby island. More than 100 flights have been grounded. Meteorological authorities say both Bali’s international airport and Selaparang airport in West Nusa Tenggara will remained closed until at least Thursday. “The wind has blown the volcanic ash towards Bali in such ... Read More »

Snowden gets European support but still remains in limbo

A European Parliament vote calling for the protection of whistle-blower Edward Snowden from prosecution and extradition is more than symbolic, supporters say. But the resolution is unlikely to help Snowden anytime soon. In what supporters called a more than symbolic move, the European Parliament on Thursday passed a non-binding resolution calling on EU governments to protect NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden from prosecution and extradition. In a vote of 285 to 281, the European Parliament urged EU member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender.” Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked millions of documents showing the extent of US and British government bulk surveillance, said on Twitter the vote was a "game-changer." However, as a non-binding resolution, the vote has no legal impact on EU member states and is unlikely to allow Snowden to leave Russia, where he has been holed up for more than two years. Snowden faces multiple charges under the Espionage Act, which could land him in prison for the rest of his life if he were ever to face trial in the United States. 'Validation of Snowden's disclosures' Jans Phillip Albrecht, a German MEP with the Green bloc that sponsored the resolution, told DW the vote was more than a symbolic gesture. "If we wanted to do something symbolic, we would have voted on something that just thanks him," Albrecht said. "This is not a nongovernmental organization like Amnesty International, it is the parliament of the EU," he added. "My impression is that member states can't just ignore this." The European Parliament resolution comes three weeks after the European Court of Justice voided an agreement used for the past 15 years to deal with the big variances between EU and US data privacy rules. The so-called "Safe Harbor" agreement between the EU and US did not sufficiently guarantee the protection of Europeans' personal data, the EU's top court ruled. Albrecht said the "Safe Harbor" ruling has changed the dynamics because the court's decision was based on information that came to light from the troves of documents revealed by Snowden, including about US government surveillance of European citizens' data held in servers in the United States. "This should be reason enough for EU states to determine that he shouldn't be treated as a criminal," Albrecht said. A former senior NSA executive turned whistle-blower, Thomas Drake, told DW he considered the European Parliament's vote "further confirmation of the Snowden Effect and validation of his concerns and disclosures made in the public interest." Snowden brought to the public and lawmakers' attention "the secret practices of state-sponsored surveillance and mass spying regimes justified under the zero sum game of national security and the real risk they pose to democratic governance, individual privacy and human rights," said Drake. Snowden still in limbo As a non-binding resolution, however, the European Parliament's bold statement is unlikely to allow Snowden freedom of movement or asylum in Europe anytime soon. Klaus Dienelt, a German migration and asylum expert who directs the Internet portal Migration Rights, told DW that "the declaration doesn't really change the legal situation." Dienelt recalled the fact that Snowden had previously considered testifying before a German parliamentary committee on the NSA's surveillance program - including the spy agency listening in on Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone conversations. Ultimately, Snowden did not come to Germany because it was unclear whether he would be arrested and extradited to the United States. The problem for Snowden, even if he can claim to be a whistle-blower in fear of persecution, is that EU countries require asylum requests to be made inside the country where the asylum seeker would like to take refuge. Snowden also needs to be careful of airspace, as evinced in 2013 when the US pressured Italy, Spain and France to close their airspaces to Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane on its return from Moscow, after Morales said his country would grant asylum to Snowden. Morales' plane was diverted to Austria and allowed to travel on after it was found Snowden was not on board. One wrong step and you are in prison "If you are Edward Snowden you got to be extremely cautious about making any decisions because if you misjudge what a country is going to do you'll end up spending the rest of your life in prison," Peter Zeidenberg, a former US District Attorney, told DW. Zeidenberg was part of the prosecution team that indicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who leaked sensitive CIA information. Zeidenberg said that from Snowden's perspective, the resolution "might be nice to get a show of support and sympathy," but that beyond the legal considerations within the EU, the United States had a lot of leverage over European countries to force them to hand over one of the US government's most wanted men. "The fact is when push comes to shove, we know the US has a lot of power and influence over these countries," Zeidenberg said, adding he thinks Snowden will be in "no-man's land in Russia for a very long time."

A European Parliament vote calling for the protection of whistle-blower Edward Snowden from prosecution and extradition is more than symbolic, supporters say. But the resolution is unlikely to help Snowden anytime soon. In what supporters called a more than symbolic move, the European Parliament on Thursday passed a non-binding resolution calling on EU governments to protect NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden ... Read More »

Re-integrate Donbass? No, thanks!

While the Ukrainian leadership tries to implement the Minsk agreement, opposition to a re-integration of separatist-controlled areas is growing. Experts warn of a new internal political crisis. In October, the conflict in eastern Ukraine saw more signs of easing tensions than there'd been in a long time: both the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists pulled back more tanks and heavy weapons from the dividing line. The separatists postponed local elections until 2016, while Ukraine presented a draft bill which is to make those elections possible. The Minsk agreement (Minsk II )is being implemented slowly, and not without setbacks. It stipulates that the Donetsk and Luhansk areas located in the Donbass coal-mining region should be granted more rights and eventually become Ukrainian territory again. What appears to be the greatest challenge on that path to re-integration still lies ahead for Ukraine. In Minsk, Kyiv pledged to enshrine special rights for the separatist areas in its constitution before the end of 2015. The vote on the first reading at the end of August was overshadowed by heavy rioting in front of the Kyiv parliament. Four policemen died when a protester launched a grenade. Right-wing populist party "Svoboda" (Freedom) was one of the driving forces behind the protests. In parliament, the "Radical Party" under right-wing populist Oleh Lyashko tried to block the vote. After the ballot, Lyashko's party resigned from the coalition government. Observers predict that the vote on the second reading - scheduled for December - will see a similarly fraught situation. Greek-style referendum As early as 12 February - the day when the Minsk agreement was signed - critical voices could be heard in Ukraine. They blamed Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko for having been hoodwinked by Russian head of state Vladimir Putin. Serhy Rahmanin, deputy editor-in-chief of renowned weekly "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia," put it thus: the agreement facilitated the creation of pseudo-republics in eastern Ukraine that were hostile to Kyiv and had their own police forces and judicial systems, but were to be financed by the central government. He added that a comprehensive amnesty for separatists was questionable as well. His colleague Serhiy Harmash, editor-in-chief of the online newspaper "OstroV," had similar views: "I'm against the Minsk agreement," the Donetsk-based journalist , who had fled from the separatists and escaped to Kyiv, told DW: "It imposes a conflict solution on Ukraine which could destroy the country in the end." The greatest danger was that the Russia-fueled conflict could spread from the level of foreign policy to that of domestic policy, he continued. Trying to re-integrate the separatist areas into Ukraine could "provoke a civil war," Harmash warned, and stated what he sees as the two possible ways out of the situation: Poroshenko either had to "let the people decide" and - in analogy to Greece and the EU's austerity demands - hold a referendum on the Minsk agreement, or he had to step down. Anatoliy Hrytsenko even recommends canceling the Minsk agreement. "There are plenty of reasons to do this, because it wasn't adhered to for many months, the ceasefire being a prime example," the opposition politician, who formerly served as defense minister under pro-Western president Victor Yushchenko, told DW: "The Minsk agreement is not to be implemented under any circumstances, beause otherwise Ukraine will be in danger of ceasing to exist." Kyiv, he went on, had to restart negotiations on Donbass with Moscow, inviting the European Union as well as the United States to the negotiating table. And this time, he said, Russia-annexed Crimea could not be excluded, as had been the case in Minsk. Majority does not believe in peace after Minsk Oksana Syroyid, deputy speaker of Ukraine's parliament and member of the governing party "Samopomich" (Self Reliance), is considered to be the most influential and prominent critic of the Minsk agreement and its implementation under the constitution. "Samopomich" is a new, liberal, pro-Western party, with its stronghold in western Ukraine. In August, her parliamentary group voted against the constitutional reform. In local elections held on 25 October, "Samopomich" gained votes, establishing itself as the third-strongest political power across almost the entire country. In many interviews, Syroyid warns of a "virus of separatism" which could infect Ukraine via the Minsk agreement. Critics such as the journalist Harmash or the politician Hrytsenko are by no means isolated voices, says Volodymyr Fesenko. Talking to DW, the Kyiv-based political scientist cited an open letter submitted to President Poroshenko in August by around 30 Ukrainian intellectuals, asking him not to enshrine a so-called "decentralization" in the constitution. "This is Putin's plan - legitimizing an Russian enclave on Ukrainian territory," the letter said. The plea, however, had no consequences. "This reflects public sentiment," Fesenko said. The majority of Ukrainians (60.7 percent) do not believe that the implementation of the Minsk accord will lead to peace, according to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute for Sociology (KMIS) at the end of September. Only one in four of those polled gave a different opinion. Another polling institute, the Kyiv-based Razumkov Centre, determined in its survey that there were more opponents than advocates of a constitutional reform in Ukraine (32 versus 21 percent). Potential to stop the constitutional reform The adversaries of the Minsk accord have neither a political leader nor a coordination center, but they have still the potential to stop the reform of the constitution, according to Fesenko. "At this point, the Ukrainian parliament cannot come up with the 300 votes required to adopt the constitutional reform on the second reading," the expert says. "If Minsk was implemented to the letter, this could lead to a serious political crisis," he warns, saying that some political parties were suspected of trying to provoke early parliamentary elections by this very means.

While the Ukrainian leadership tries to implement the Minsk agreement, opposition to a re-integration of separatist-controlled areas is growing. Experts warn of a new internal political crisis. In October, the conflict in eastern Ukraine saw more signs of easing tensions than there’d been in a long time: both the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists pulled back more tanks and heavy ... Read More »

Locals caught between army and militants in Sinai

In Sinai, the Egyptian army is battling an Islamist uprising with links to the "Islamic State" group. Amidst the crackdown, the local population is suffering, as Naomi Conrad reports. In an air-conditioned café in central Cairo - one of the many uniform international chains that beckon brightly from street corners on the city's traffic-choked roads - Saed Ateek , a slight man with a broad smile and slightly receding hairline, shrugged nonchalantly: Well yes, he did know at least one of the leader of Sinai Province quite well. "Shadi al-Manaei grew up in a town close to mine, I used to see him at tribal meetings. Look, he was just a normal guy, like all of us." Ateek, a man in his mid-30s who sports a fashionable grey T-shirt and expensive-looking watch, hails from Shabana, a small Bedouin border town in northern Sinai, not far from the Israeli-Egyptian border. He belongs to the Sawarka tribe, the second largest of the Bedouin tribes that populate the deserts of Sinai. Today, though, Ateek's home has been turned into "a war zone:" His village is almost deserted, 90 percent of its inhabitants have been forced to flee, he says. He sighed and shook his head: "It's a ghost town now." 'They know how to disappear!' And that is in part due to men like Shadi al-Manaei, largely Egyptian Islamist militants who have been active for years in Sinai and staged a full-blown uprising against the Egyptian state following the ousting of President and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi by the army in 2013, following mass protests against his rule. The main militant group Ansar Bait al-Magdis, which recently pledged alliance to the leader of the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) and now goes by the name of Sinai Province, has carried out repeated deadly attacks on security forces mainly in Sinai, killing hundreds of soldiers, but also claimed responsibility for attacks in Cairo. The army, in turn, has responded with crackdowns and curfews and launched large-scale attacks against the militants, which it claims have killed more than 500 militants so far. Sinai Provinces' fighters - whose number Middle East Analyst Zack Gold, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, puts at between 300 and 700 active fighters - emerge from their hideouts in the desert to launch attacks or set up temporary checkpoints, only to melt away again into the desert they know so well. Ateek scrolled through his white smartphone to show a grainy picture of a four-by-four car, almost completely buried in the sand: A storage place for weapons and supplies, he said and grinned wryly. "These guys know how to disappear without a trace." Chronic underdevelopment Given that there are few employment opportunities in Sinai - unemployment runs high in the region, as does drugs and arms smuggling - IS can draw on a support base of local helpers, Gold says. "They will watch out for police for say 50 dollars or lay down IEDs." For decades the government has failed to develop the peninsula, leaving much of the region and its mostly Bedouin population to its own devices, which includes excluding them from the country's mandatory military service: The few resources that have been directed towards northern Sinai, have been mostly mismanaged and squandered in corruption, according to a source who until this summer worked for the governmental Sinai Development Authority and chose to remain anonymous. That, the man told DW, was fuelling resentment - and militancy. Gold agrees: "Many Bedouins do not feel like they are part of the Egyptian state. After all, they are not treated as if they are Egyptians." That is why it is not surprising, he says, that the Bedouins "have on many occasions looked the other way and not been willing to turn on those groups for a state that does not seem to care much about them." Forced displacement The government's response to the Islamists' increasingly sophisticated attacks has been harsh: Egyptian forces have evicted some 3,200 families in a campaign of mass demolitions on the border with the Gaza Strip in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch recently reported, with mostly inadequate compensation. Satellite images published by the New York-based human rights group showed entire blocks of buildings in the Rafah area razed to the ground. Authorities contend that adequate compensation was paid and that the clearing of a kilometer-wide strip along the border with Gaza is necessary to eliminate smuggling tunnels running under the border to the Gaza Strip, which the government says the militants use. They have also imposed strict curfews and roadblocks, coupled with frequent power cuts and telecommunications blackouts. Earlier this week, the authorities extended by three months the state of emergency imposed on the towns of Rafah, Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and the surrounding areas, which were introduced a year ago after a major attack on a checkpoint. "They're suffocating us with so many security measures", a student in her early 20s who lives in Arish, northern Sinai's largest settlement with a heavy army presence, complained: "Look, where once it used to take five minutes to go to, now it takes more like 30." Northern Sinai has been virtually off-limits for foreign journalists since 2013, so DW interviewed her and other residents on the phone and via Skype. Revenge killings and disappearances It was normal, another resident who is in his 30s told DW, to see cars piled high with furniture leaving the city. There was a palpable fear in the air, he added. "Everyone's suspicious of everyone - anyone could be an informer either for the army or the militants." Both sides have been targeting alleged collaborators - and residents talk of ongoing forced disappearances and revenge killings. Back in Cairo, Ateek had his own gory story to tell: Some 10 months ago a close friend of his, he told DW, was abducted. A few days later, his mutilated corpse was dumped outside al-Tagey's house. His friend, he said, "was just too outspokenly against IS." For his is a close-knit community, Ateek says, where everyone knows who supports the militants - and who, like Ateek, doesn't: He's a well-known activist, who works with local youths, trying to convince them not to join the militants. Ateek says he is constantly on the move, never spending more than a couple of nights in one house. "I fear for my life," he told DW, his voice calm and measured. He's not sure he's safe in Cairo, either: Another friend of his from Sinai was recently shot dead in front of his house not far from the café where he is sitting. He is sure Sinai Province was behind the shooting. He shrugged, maybe remembering the IS leader he used to know: "I never thought they would be so vicious," he said. Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this report.

In Sinai, the Egyptian army is battling an Islamist uprising with links to the “Islamic State” group. Amidst the crackdown, the local population is suffering, as Naomi Conrad reports. In an air-conditioned café in central Cairo – one of the many uniform international chains that beckon brightly from street corners on the city’s traffic-choked roads – Saed Ateek , a ... Read More »

China, South Korea leaders meet ahead of trilateral summit

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has begun talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, likely to focus on North Korea. The two leaders will also attend a regional summit with Japan on Sunday, aimed at improving relations. North Korea was expected to be high on the agenda during Li and Park's bilateral talks in Seoul on Saturday, amid fears Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct another nuclear test. The pair were meeting ahead of a three-way regional summit, which is due to begin on Sunday, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Tensions on the Korean peninsula have eased in recent months after North Korea abandoned plans to conduct a long-range rocket launch during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the ruling Workers' Party. While China and South Korea already have strong trade ties, Seoul wants Beijing to exercise its considerable leverage over Pyongyang to curb the North's nuclear ambitions. Beijing is one of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's few allies. Multilateral tensions Following a recent flare-up between Washington and Beijing over the US Navy's operations close to a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea, analysts said Li may also seek assurance from Park that Seoul, a key US ally, will retain its neutral stance. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, but Washington says the waters are international territory and earlier this week, sailed a warship close to the islands. Relations between Northeast Asia's three largest economies have remained tense over the past three years. After the last trilateral summit in 2012, regional talks were shelved as Japan's ties with its two neighbors deteriorated over Tokyo's wartime aggression. A Sino-Japanese dispute over a separate group of islands in the East China Sea has also been a source of ill-feeling. Warmer ties ahead Diplomats agreed to renew contact last November, when Chinese President Xi Jinping briefly met and shook hands with Abe. Park will separately meet Abe on Monday in the first formal bilateral summit in more than three years. Seoul's ties with Tokyo have been persistently icy, stemming from Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. China has similar gripes with Japan. While the talks are unlikely to bring about any major policy change, analysts believe they are the first step toward overcoming some bitter differences.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has begun talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, likely to focus on North Korea. The two leaders will also attend a regional summit with Japan on Sunday, aimed at improving relations. North Korea was expected to be high on the agenda during Li and Park’s bilateral talks in Seoul on Saturday, amid fears Pyongyang could ... Read More »

Fraud claims in Tanzania as vote counting continues

Tanzania’s opposition is saying that Sunday’s election was rigged after they claimed election monitors were arrested. Official results are scheduled for Thursday. Chadema party, Tanzania's main opposition party, said police on Monday had detained 40 volunteers who were monitoring the vote counting process. The incident puts a dent in an election largely viewed as peaceful. "Police also confiscated computers and mobile phones of our volunteers who were tallying results of the presidential election," John Malya, a Chadema lawyer, said. The Civic United Front, another opposition party, said police had fired tear gas at a crowd of its supporters in Tanzania's Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar. CUF said the attack on its supporters was meant to "intimidate the opposition." Apart from the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar which has often experienced violence during elections due to strong separatist sentiments, the East African nation of 52 million people remains one of Africa's most stable democracies. Self-declared winner Zanzibar's main opposition presidential candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, who ran under CUF on Monday, declared himself the winner of elections in Zanzibar ahead of any official announcement of results. Sharif Hamad told DW he had seen official documents of final voting figures and asked his opponent, Ali Mohamed Shein, to accept the people's verdict. ''We want the commission to announce the official results. But I urge Shein, to be a gentleman so as not to put the country into chaos,'' Sharif Hamad said. He said it was important to seek ways of diffusing the political tension in the country. ''The commission therefore should not do anything against the decision of the people. '' The hotly contested race for the presidency has pitted John Magufuli of the ruling CCM against former prime minister Edward Lowassa, who for the first time is leading a united opposition. Lowassa, who quit the CCM after the party overlooked him as their preferred candidate, said he would not concede defeat if he deemed the election as being not free and fair. "There are allegations of electoral fraud," Chadema spokesman Tumaini Makene told reporters late Sunday. The opposition claims could not be independently verified. British High Commissioner Dianna Melrose said she was impressed with the way the election was conducted. "We witnessed thousands of people with high enthusiasm turning out and reporting at polling stations," Melrose said. "However, we are concerned with some cases where voting materials were delayed. This left many people frustrated." CCM's election coordinator Yusuf Makamba warned the opposition against making "inflammatory statements" adding that such comments "may spark unrest." Unfounded allegations? Bana Benson, a political analyst in Dar es Salaam, told DW that allegations of voter rigging were unfounded. ''Generally the election has been conducted in a manner that is credible but every party has expectations. The opposition [Chadema] has invested a lot in terms of preparing candidates and they are gaining a number of seats," he said adding that it was still too early to talk of the presidential results. According to provisional results which started trickling in on Monday , Magufuli was slightly ahead of Lowassa. Opinion polls and observers have predicted a win for Magufuli but expect the ruling party's parliamentary majority to dwindle considerably. Benson said both Chadema and CCM parties managed to conduct successful campaigns. The two parties used the word "change" as their campaign tool. "The opposition capitalized on the fact that CCM has stayed in power for a long time and they thought it has outlived its usefulness," he said. "On the other hand, the ruling party was a little bit fragmented, we have seen some of their strong cadres defecting to the opposition, however given its history and its organizational capacity, and they have managed to influence many voters. Many people think at the presidential level they have done very well."

Tanzania’s opposition is saying that Sunday’s election was rigged after they claimed election monitors were arrested. Official results are scheduled for Thursday. Chadema party, Tanzania’s main opposition party, said police on Monday had detained 40 volunteers who were monitoring the vote counting process. The incident puts a dent in an election largely viewed as peaceful. “Police also confiscated computers and ... Read More »

South Africa bows to student pressure

South African President Jacob Zuma has said that there will be no increase in university fees for students in 2016. The students had been protesting for more than a week that they couldn't afford the higher charges. South African President Jacob Zuma dropped plans for increases in university fees on Friday (23.10.2015) after student protests led to clashes with police who fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas outside government premises in Pretoria. Some demonstrators tried to force their way towards Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, tearing down a security fence, setting fire to portable toilets and hurling bricks at police lines in chaotic scenes. Zuma had been due to address the volatile crowd after meeting with student leaders and university officials inside the buildings, but instead he read a short statement at a televised press briefing. "We agreed that there will be a zero increase of university fees in 2016," he said. DW's South Africa correspondent Thuso Khumalo said Zuma did not address the crowd directly "and that angered a lot of students." Zuma said the government understood the difficulty faced by students from poor households, and urged all affected to "allow the process to unfold to find long-term solutions in order to ensure access to education." Mixed response Professor Linda Chisholm from the University of Johannesburg, who is a former government advisor on education, told DW the reaction from the students was mixed. "Some were saying, yes, this is fine, this is what we came there for and so the problem is resolved. For others, this is just one step on the way towards free education for all. So the struggle will continue because not all students will be satisfied with what has been agreed on," she said. Kgotsi Genge, a 22-year-old student at the University of Pretoria, told AFP "the government thinks we are playing, they think it's because we want to run away from school. But we will keep fighting. South Africa needs to invest more in education. This movement is because we are being oppressed." University fees were set to rise up to 10 percent next year, with a general Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) currently costing 46,000 rand ($3,400, 3,000 euros). 'Heard their cries' Zuma's remarks targeted "institutional autonomy" in a reference to universities' right to set their own fees, in an apparent attempt to steer criticism away from the African National Congress (ANC) government. Campus activism has been increasing this year as students, many of them so-called "born frees" who did not experience the struggle against apartheid, vent their anger over continuing racial inequality. "We should be having free education," 18-year-old Bongani Shabangu, who is studying education at a Pretoria university, told AP. "Most of us are from poor families." DW's Thuso Khumalo said that overall "the students were excited that the country and the universities had at least heard their cries for fees to fall."

South African President Jacob Zuma has said that there will be no increase in university fees for students in 2016. The students had been protesting for more than a week that they couldn’t afford the higher charges. South African President Jacob Zuma dropped plans for increases in university fees on Friday (23.10.2015) after student protests led to clashes with police ... Read More »

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