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The impact of China’s new crackdown on civil rights

In what seems to be a crackdown on public dissent, hundreds of Chinese rights lawyers have been detained or interrogated. While temporarily muzzled, the advocates' determination shouldn't be underestimated, say experts. They challenge their country's authorities over human rights violations, frequently reporting about harassment, detentions or abuse of power, and often refusing to back down when told to do so. Some, such as Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, have been engaged in this sort of work for over a decade. They have taken cases of people charged with speech crimes - such as "inciting subversion of the State" - and faith crimes - such as "using an evil sect to impede the implementation of the law" - at a time when almost nobody else dared to do this. In some cases, they would even enter "not guilty" pleas for their clients against the explicit instructions of the authorities. But while the work of China's human rights lawyers or "weiquan lüshi" has always been difficult in the one-party communist state, it has become even more dangerous over the past few weeks. According to the Hong Kong-based NGO Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG), a total of 249 human rights lawyers and activists have been taken either into custody, interrogated or temporarily detained across the country since July 10. Some of them have been accused of being involved with the work of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm - described in a report by the People's Daily as a "major criminal organization" which had "seriously disturbed order." China's Ministry of Public Security said the lawyers were using the firm as a platform to raise awareness about sensitive cases, in order to "extort money in fundraising" from online campaigns and overseas donors and "create social chaos." According to Amnesty International (AI), some rights defenders were taken from their homes at night and had their offices raided, while others were summoned for "tea" by the authorities - a euphemism for being interrogated. Some have even been paraded on national television, making "confessions of guilt." And while most of the advocates have been released after being threatened for supporting the firm, rights groups claim that some 20 lawyers and activists are either missing or at risk of torture in police custody. International criticism The crackdown has triggered widespread international criticism, with United Nations human rights experts expressing concern for the physical and mental integrity of those detained and underscoring that in societies governed by the rule of law lawyers "should never have to suffer prosecution or any other kind of sanctions or intimidation for discharging their professional duties." Margaret Lewis, a China criminal law expert at US-based Seton Hall University, who has been analyzing information on the treatment of those detained or otherwise contacted by the government, told DW that there were repeated reported violations of a number of rights guaranteed by Chinese law and supported by international human rights norms such as detention without proper legal notice and denial of access to counsel. Unprecedented AI China researcher William Nee told DW that the huge scale of the nationwide police operations and coordinated state-media attack on the lawyers and activists made this an unprecedented crackdown. "Given the scale, it is probable that the move is being led by the highest-level authorities, or at least has their implicit blessing." Eva Pils, an expert on Chinese law at King's College London, has a similar view. She argues that the use of very public denunciations all over the national media is meant to remind observers of the Mao Zedong era. "Those were not really held to determine whether someone was guilty. Rather, they were held to exhibit the accused to the public and show them being punished," Pils told DW. A political threat The expert explains that the authorities want to send out a message that these people acted wrongly by taking their advocacy efforts beyond the restrictive limits the authorities impose on lawyers, for instance, by engaging in social media advocacy or small-scale demonstrations. "They resisted the control of the legal process by the government and (ultimately) the Communist Party," said Pils, who characterized the crackdown as the latest step in a much broader effort by Beijing to defeat liberal forces within Chinese society. "The party-state has rolled out a wider campaign apparently aimed at eradicating independent civil society, and returning to a more Mao-Zedong-style form of political governance," said Pils, stating that the recent crackdowns on journalists, advocacy NGOs and initiatives such as the "New Citizen Movement" were also part of this drive. A similar view is shared by law expert Lewis who argues that since rising to the pinnacle of power in 2012, President Xi has demonstrated an increasingly hostile attitude towards anyone deemed a threat to the existing political system. "Lawyers were the target of government reprisals before Xi Jinping's rise to power, but the situation has worsened dramatically in the past few years," she told DW. In this context, Keith Hand, Director of the East Asian Legal Studies Program at the University of California, explained that China's Communist Party leaders had identified rights lawyers as a potential threat as early as the mid-2000s. "Chinese authorities have since worked to marginalize rights defense lawyers through harassment, the cancelation of law licenses, detentions, and questionable criminal charges. As the Party tightened its grip on the legal system and on political-legal discourse, even moderate rights lawyers who have tried to work within the system have found themselves targets." According to Hand, the latest crackdown is therefore only a crescendo in this decade-long effort to marginalize the group. But it is also a clear sign that while Beijing considers the legal system a useful tool to discipline lower levels of the bureaucracy, ensure the implementation of economic policy, and protect rights within limits, the Party will not allow lawyers to use it in a bid to weaken its power, generate system-wide reform pressures, or, in the view of Chinese leaders, contribute to social instability. Moreover, China's leadership recently enacted a new National Security Law, which experts fear may lead to legislation further narrowing civil society liberties, including revisions to Foreign NGO and Criminal Law. The latest developments have inevitably raised concerns within the legal community about the future of the profession in the East Asian country, with legal expert Lewis speaking of a "chilling effect." "By locking up many of the gutsiest criminal defense lawyers, who will be left to even attempt to take them on as clients?" she asked. "The government is sending a clear message to the broader legal profession that they should choose cases carefully." A temporary retreat? However, Dr. Teng Biao, a human rights lawyer and a visiting fellow at New York University's US-Asia Law Institute, believes the impact will only be temporary. "Many activists have been warned this time and forced to keep silent or a low profile. But some are still speaking up. These people run a high risk of being arrested. The majority of those detained will be tried and given long-term prison sentences and some more lawyers may face even face disbarment in the coming months. But the chilling effect will not last long," Teng told DW. Legal expert Pils is oft he same view. She argues that while some rights lawyers appear to be lowering their profile temporarily, she doesn't think they will back down over the long term, especially as there is an ongoing effort to rally around those detained and provide mutual support. "The human rights lawyers' social media groups are very actively discussing what can be done." said the King's College researcher. For instance, when one lawyer is detained or harassed, others in the loose network will publicize the case and speak up on their behalf. Structurally speaking, she added, the authorities have to face the fact that these lawyers are organized in a myriad of ways with no clear hierarchies and that much of their communication and coordination is fluid and almost invisible. Moreover, while only some 300 are willing to see themselves as human rights lawyers there are some 240,000 full-time licensed lawyers nationwide, and "some of them at least tend to take an interest in what happens to their colleagues," said Pils" Calling for support In the meantime, Maya Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), has called on other countries, including the US and UK - which President Xi will visit later this year - to take a tougher stance on the issue. "Unless these governments speak up for China's civil society in a forceful manner and seeking the release of these lawyers and an immediate stop to the crackdown, Beijing is likely going to maintain this current high level of pressure on civil society through implementing new state security laws and through the leadership of the new National Security Commission," said Wang.

In what seems to be a crackdown on public dissent, hundreds of Chinese rights lawyers have been detained or interrogated. While temporarily muzzled, the advocates’ determination shouldn’t be underestimated, say experts. They challenge their country’s authorities over human rights violations, frequently reporting about harassment, detentions or abuse of power, and often refusing to back down when told to do so. ... Read More »

Ireland’s crystal ball for Greek crisis

Ireland says it's possible to use austerity to a country’s advantage - and claims others should follow its lead. But should Greece really try to replicate the Celtic Comeback? Gavan Reilly reports from Dublin. "They want us to forget their debt," rages Liam, a caller to a radio phone-in show, hours after Greece is pressured into accepting a new package of reform measures in exchange for its third bailout. "Who forgot our debt? Nobody. Let the Greeks sink or swim... We got nothing off them." Greece's ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed countries like Ireland had been his "most energetic enemies" as he sought debt relief for his government. People like Liam might explain why. Ireland's government, led since the 2011 election by prime minister Enda Kenny, has won gradual relief on its debt from the 2010 bailout. Repayment has been delayed several years; interest rates cut significantly; some politically difficult requirements like the sale of state assets have been delayed or abandoned entirely. Kenny's only failure has been in a half-hearted bid to achieve a debt write-off - which could have been reinvigorated by Greece's campaign for concessions of its own. Ireland has opposed those efforts for two related reasons. The first is reputational: Ireland has been held up by more hawkish nations as a model for how harsh fiscal medicine can restart a sluggish economy. The second is electoral: Ireland's due a general election within nine months and the main rival to Kenny's coalition is Sinn Féin, which mirrors Syriza's attitudes on debt relief. Success for Greece, where Ireland had failed, would be disastrous for Kenny. "Good pupil of austerity" Paul Murphy, an MP for the Anti-Austerity Alliance and a supporter of debt write-down, is furious with Ireland's stance. "If Syriza was to have gotten a good deal," he argues, "it would have shown that [Ireland's] approach of being 'the good pupils of austerity' had produced a worse outcome than an approach of confrontation and struggle with the EU." Kenny has instead used his resistance to remind voters of Ireland's relative success, and claim that Greece is now following his lead. Last month he told journalists in Brussels that, despite its austerity programme, Ireland "did not increase income tax. We did not increase VAT. We did not increase [social insurance charges] - but we put up alternatives to those measures that were proposed, in order to keep a pro-growth policy and make our country competitive." It might appear to have worked. The Irish economy is growing faster than any other in the Eurozone, by 4.8 percent last year; unemployment has fallen by a third in three years and stands at 9.7 percent; retail sales have left stagnation and are up 7 percent in a year. Five years ago the budget deficit stood at 32.4 percent of GDP; this year it will be 2.7 percent. There is an intangible sense that the economy, while far from its peak, has at least returned to stable growth. Beyond the figures But headline figures do not tell the whole story. Ireland has increased its tax revenue by 28 percent in five years - increasing VAT and social insurance charges (despite Kenny's claims), and through new taxes on property and domestic water. At the same time, state spending has been lowered by 10 percent, with aggressive cuts in health spending, while welfare payments for parents and the disabled have also been trimmed. Unemployment benefit has also been cut - particularly for those under 25, who now receive less than their elder peers. Ireland's government believes workers need 11.65 euros an hour to achieve a decent standard of living, but jobseekers under 25 receive just 100 euros a week. Many have felt little option but to emigrate, in greater numbers than at any time since the famine of 1847. A net total of 112,600 citizens have left Ireland since 2011; for every four people who have found a job in that time, five have left the country, perhaps never to return. This is perhaps best reflected in the impact on the number of officially registered clubs of two of Ireland's most popular sports: gaelic football and hurling. As Ireland's economy peaked in 2008, emigrants had established 291 clubs outside Ireland; today there are 398. Back at home, the number has fallen from 1,908 to 1,355 during the same period, with longstanding rival clubs merging simply to ensure they have sufficient players. Perhaps the best people to advise on Ireland's economic model are the Greeks who have seen it first-hand. "It is unfortunate that sometimes politicians do not appear to do politics from the basis of realism, but rather on the basis of vengeance," says Konstantinos Drakakis, the president of the Hellenic Community in Ireland. Drakakis can understand why the Irish government might block Greece from achieving a deal it couldn't gain for itself. "Having lived in Ireland, and knowing this sense of fairness of the Irish people, perhaps the government only voiced this concern: 'Why did we have to suffer when in fact Greeks don't?' "What we don't know is that Greeks suffered a lot as well, because of reforms that weren't carried out."

Ireland says it’s possible to use austerity to a country’s advantage – and claims others should follow its lead. But should Greece really try to replicate the Celtic Comeback? Gavan Reilly reports from Dublin. “They want us to forget their debt,” rages Liam, a caller to a radio phone-in show, hours after Greece is pressured into accepting a new package ... Read More »

Ling Jihua, former aide to retired president Hu Jintao, to face trial on corruption charges

Ling Jihua has been expelled from China's Communist Party and will face trial on corruption charges. China's Politburo has accused Ling of bribery and trading "power for sex." A former top aide to retired Chinese President Hu Jintao has been arrested and will be put on trial after an investigation revealed he took bribes and engaged in other forms of corruption, Chinese state media announced. Ling Jihua, 58, has been handed over to judicial authorities and expelled from the Communist Party, China's official Xinhua news agency said on Monday. Ling had been demoted from a ministerial-level job in September 2012 following a scandal that erupted after his son was killed after crashing his Ferrari in Beijing. Despite a media blackout on reporting details of the crash, the incident proved a scandal because two young women - one nude and one only partially clothed - were injured in the crash. Many also questioned how Ling's son was able to afford the roughly $800,000 (737,000 euro) car. Ling was accused of covering up the scandal. The Politburo, one of the communist party's ruling bodies, accused Ling of adultery, damaging the party's image and trading "power for sex." "He or his family received and gave enormous bribes; he obtained a large number of the party's and state's core secrets, breaking discipline and the law," the government said in a statement according to Xinhua. Ling and his wife are alleged to have received money and gifts from unnamed people. "He took advantage of his posts to seek profit for others and accepted huge bribes personally and through his family," the report added. "Ling committed adultery with a number of women and traded his power for sex. He should bear major responsibility for his family members' acts of seeking profits with the influence of his position." It is unclear if Ling has a lawyer. His trial could potentially be held in secret. The case has proved politically sensitive due to Ling's close connection with former president Hu, Xi Jinping's predecessor. Government officials have denied Hu was being implicated in the Ling investigation. President Xi has pursued an aggressive campaign against corruption since assuming power in 2012, pledging to go after powerful "tigers" and lowly "flies" alike. Last month the government announced that 72-year-old former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang had been jailed for life following a closed-door trial for leaking state secrets, bribery and abuse of power.

Ling Jihua has been expelled from China’s Communist Party and will face trial on corruption charges. China’s Politburo has accused Ling of bribery and trading “power for sex.” A former top aide to retired Chinese President Hu Jintao has been arrested and will be put on trial after an investigation revealed he took bribes and engaged in other forms of ... Read More »

Witch-hunting villagers behead woman in India

بھارت میں مسلح دیہاتیوں نے تشدد کے بعد ایک 63 سالہ خاتون کا سر قلم کر دیا ہے۔ بھارتی پولیس کے مطابق دیہاتیوں کا الزام تھا کہ قتل کی جانے والی خاتون جادو ٹونے کرتی ہے۔ پولیس کے مطابق مونی اورنگ نامی پانچ بچوں کی ماں کے قتل کے الزام میں سات افراد کو حراست میں لیا گیا ہے۔ بھارت کی شمال مشرقی ریاست آسام میں ہندو مذہبی رہنماؤں کی طرف سے مذکورہ خاتون پر الزام لگایا گیا کہ جنتر منتر کر رہی تھی۔ اس کے بعد پیر 20 جولائی کو حملہ آوروں نے اس خاتون کو گھر سے باہر لے جا کر قتل کر دیا۔ سینیئر پولیس اہلکار مانابیندرا دیو رائے نے خبر رساں ادارے اے ایف پی کو بتایا، ’’خنجروں اور دیگر تیز دھار ہتھیاروں سے لیس حملہ آور گاؤں میں آئے اور انہوں نے مونی اورنگ کو اس کے گھر سے دور لے جا کر بے دردی سے اسے قتل کر دیا۔‘‘ پولیس اہلکار کا مزید کہنا تھا، ’’اس کا سر کاٹ دیا گیا اور اس کے جسم کے ٹکڑے کر دیے گئے۔‘‘ پولیس کی طرف سے لوگوں کو حراست میں لینے کے خلاف دیہاتیوں نے آج منگل 21 جولائی کو مقامی پولیس اسٹیشن کے باہر مظاہرہ بھی کیا ہے۔ اس گاؤں کے ایک رہائشی کا ایک مقامی ٹیلی وژن سے گفتگو کرتے ہوئے کہنا تھا، ’’مونی ایک جادو گرنی تھی اور وہ اپنے دشمنوں کے خلاف شیطانی اعمال کرتی تھی۔۔۔ اس طرح کے جادو گروں کے لیے کوئی جگہ نہیں ہے اس لیے اس کو قتل کرنا درست تھا۔‘‘ مقتولہ کے شوہر آر - اورنگ کے مطابق اس کی بیوی ’ایک معصوم عورت‘ تھی۔ اس نے مقامی ہندو مذہبی رہنماؤں پر الزام عائد کیا کہ انہوں نے شکوک و شبہات پیدا کیے اور لوگوں کو اکسایا۔ خبر رساں ادارے اے ایف پی کے مطابق بھارت کے بعض علاقوں میں آج بھی بڑے پیمانے پر جادو ٹونے پر یقین کیا جاتا ہے خاص طور پر غربت کے شکار اور قبائلی علاقوں میں۔ بعض واقعات میں خواتین کو برہنہ کر کے انہیں سزائیں دی جا چکی ہیں، یہ پھر انہیں زندہ جلایا اور گھروں سے نکال کر قتل کیا جا چکا ہے۔ بھارت کی بعض ریاستوں نے جن میں جھاڑکھنڈ بھی شامل ہے، ایسے خصوصی قوانین متعارف کرائے ہیں جن میں جادوگری کا الزام لگا کر کسی کے خلاف جرائم کی روک تھام کی کوشش کی گئی ہے۔

A 63-year-old has been beheaded in India’s eastern state Assam after she was accused of being a witch. Over 2,000 people have been killed in the last two years for allegedly being involved with the occult and sorcery. Moni Orang was attacked in Assam by around 150 villagers, who accused her of practicing witchcraft, police said on Tuesday. Regional police ... Read More »

As Burundi votes, neighbors fear for regional stability

Burundians have been voting in a postponed presidential election. Most opposition candidates have pulled out, leaving incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza with a clear run to victory. To vote or not to vote in an election in which there is no serious challenger to the incumbent president? That was the question facing Burundi's 3.8 million voters when polling stations opened early on Tuesday morning. Overnight violence which left three people dead - two policemen and an opposition official - marred the start of the election in which President Pierre Nkurunziza is seeking to win a third consecutive term in office. The opposition says the constitution allows for only two terms. Nkurunziza's supporters say that since he was chosen by lawmakers - and not elected - for his first term in 2005, he is entitled to run again. By midday turnout was low in most areas and voters interviewed for DW were divided over the merits of the election. One man in the capital Bujumbura said he was not planning to vote since his preferred candidate was not taking part, a reference to the decision by several opposition candidates to boycott the election. "As a citizen of Burundi, it is my duty to vote," another said. "It is no secret that the opposition and the government have different opinions on several issues, but voting is a duty, even when there is some shooting." At least 80 people were killed in demonstrations in the two-and-a-half months leading up to this election. Democracy improving? The chairman of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, Pascal Nyabenda, spoke to DW after casting his vote in Musenyi in the western province of Bubenza. He said the election had gone ahead peacefully and - contradicting international news agency reports - there had been a high turnout. "It is good that the election is taking place as this had not been entirely clear and there had been postponements," Nyabenda said, adding that his party was prepared to discuss forming a government of national unity. President Nkurunziza, who turned up on a bicycle to vote in his home district of Buye, said the elections proved that democracy was improving in the country. There, turnout was higher with voters queuing in long lines. On Tuesday, the US questioned the credibility of the elections. "The government's insistence on going forward with presidential elections risks its legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and of the international community," US State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters. In an interview with DW's AfricaLink program, Benjamin Chemouni of the London School of Economics said that Nkurunziza's authority will have been weakened by the poll as it was preceded by considerable violence, a failed coup and international criticism. Chemouni said the East African Community (EAC), which had called for the election to be postponed from the original date of 15 July, was worried about the possibility of instability in the region, underlined by the exodus of thousands of refugees to Rwanda and Tanzania where the situation was exacerbated by an outbreak of cholera. "I think what the leaders want is stability at any cost and if stability is better provided by Nkurunziza staying, I am sure they are ready to support this option," Chemouni said. Fear of reprisals Looking ahead to the time after the elections, Chemouni said much would depend on the reaction of the international community which provides more than 50 percent of Burundi's state budget. "If Burundi becomes isolated after the elections, it will be difficult for the country to sustain economic growth and foster development," he said, adding that he did not see much support within the African Union for limiting to two the number of terms a president may serve. This is the issue on which the dispute between the Burundian government and opposition hinges. Chemouni said that although Rwandan President Paul Kagame had not made any public announcement that he would seek re-election, "parliament is in the process of changing the constitution" and according to the media, "which is not entirely free, everyone is calling for Kagame to run for a third term." Meanwhile, in Burundi, many of those who did vote then spent some time trying to scrub off the indelible ink used to mark their fingers. They were scared of reprisals from opposition supporters who had called for a boycott by voters.

Burundians have been voting in a postponed presidential election. Most opposition candidates have pulled out, leaving incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza with a clear run to victory. To vote or not to vote in an election in which there is no serious challenger to the incumbent president? That was the question facing Burundi’s 3.8 million voters when polling stations opened early ... Read More »

Burundians vote in controversial presidential election

At least 70 people died during protests against Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to be re-elected president for a third term. As the poll goes ahead this Tuesday, the country is deeply divided. The choice of Ndora, in the north of Burundi, for the final phase of the election campaign, was no accident. A week earlier, it was the site of battles between the army and a new rebel group. President Pierre Nkurunziza went to Ndora with a clear message: "Whoever wants peace will vote for us." But the president's candidacy has plunged the country into its deepest crisis since the civil war. Nkurunziza stood on a truck to address the crowd, surrounded by heavily armed police and soldiers. The event was staged with precision. "Be courageous," Nkurunziza told his followers with his fist in the air. "We are courageous," supporters responded. Music and drums charged the atmosphere. The visitors raised balloons painted with the national colors. Others carried placards showing Nkurunziza holding a dove symbolizing peace. A leader of the youth party Imbonerakure confidently declared that they would "also win the elections in 2020, 2025 and 2030." Burundi has repeatedly experienced violence since its independence in the sixties. The first prime minister Prince Louis Rwagasore fell victim to an assassination. In the decades that followed, the country experienced a dozen coups. They were often accompanied by violence and massacres between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. In 1993 the country plunged into a civil war lasting twelve years. It is estimated that some 200,000 people died. It was only in 2005 that the reconciliation process brought both groups closer together and ushered in a democratic process. This process is now at risk. Fear in opposition strongholds At nighttime, gun shots are heard in the capital, Bujumbura. They come from neighborhoods whose residents back the opposition and who report revenge attacks by the government. Since May, when a group of senior generals tried to remove Nkurunziza from office through a coup, the government has tightened its control. Independent radio stations that voiced criticism were closed. In the meantime, the protests have died down. Fear has replaced anger in the opposition districts. In Musaga, where the protests were particularly strong, streets are still charred as a result of burnt tires. Using stones and sandbags, residents have built roadblocks to keep out vehicles used to carry out raids at night. "We are afraid of the police," said a resident, "but we are even more afraid that the Imbonerakure will come here." The Imbonerakure is the ruling party's youth league. The opposition considers them to be thugs. For months, there have been warnings that they were being armed as a militia group. Recently, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni indirectly confirmed the allegations. Shortly before the elections he undertook a moderately successful attempt to bring together the two sides. He said that the government had promised to disarm the Imbonerakure. The government has always denied that the Imbonerakure have weapons. Surprising alliances Given these circumstances, the main opposition candidates decided to boycott the elections. "We are heading for disaster," warned Agathon Rwasa, leader of the main opposition party Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL). The government's actions could make the country ungovernable, says Rwasa, himself a former Hutu rebel leader. His FNL had been a a rival to Nkurunziza's CNDD-FDD but was just as radical. Rwasa only consented to peace talks fairly late. But Nkurunziza's clinging to power has brought about some unexpected alliances among his opponents. For example between Rwasa and Charles Nditije, the head of the former ruling party UPRONA, who stood for the domination of the Tutsi minority for many years. None of this interests the close circle of power around Nkurunziza. Since the attempted coup, which came from within his own ranks, the circle has become smaller, but no less determined. International donors, mediators and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have on several occasions unsuccessfully tried to persuade the government to drop its plans. "I freed my country," said a senior military officer. "Ban Ki-Moon has no right to tell me what I should or should not do in this country."

At least 70 people died during protests against Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to be re-elected president for a third term. As the poll goes ahead this Tuesday, the country is deeply divided. The choice of Ndora, in the north of Burundi, for the final phase of the election campaign, was no accident. A week earlier, it was the site ... Read More »

US sent Guzman extradition request to Mexico two weeks ahead of jail break

Mexico has confirmed it received a request from the US for the extradition of jailed drug dealer Joaquin Guzman just over two weeks ahead of his escape from jail. Guzman is wanted on cocaine smuggling and other charges. The convicted Mexican drug baron, also known as "El Chapo," escaped from jail on July 11 and has been on the run since. A nationwide search has failed to find any trace of him. On Friday, a spokesman for the Mexican government confirmed it had received an extradition request from the United States for Guzman via a diplomatic note on June 25. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong suggested to reporters late on Thursday that such a request had been made. Guzman escaped the high security, Altiplano prison near the capital Mexico City through a mile-long tunnel that opened beneath his cell's shower. Two Mexican lawmakers said Thursday that at least 18 minutes passed before anyone in the jail was alerted. Mexican prosecutors have formally taken 22 prison officials into custody on suspicion of helping Guzman escape. The drug lord is head of the Sinaloa Cartel, a criminal organization named after the Mexican Pacific coastal state where it was formed. In January, Mexican authorities had indicated Guzman would not be handed over to the US as he would serve his sentence in Mexico. Guzman is also wanted in the US on a series of charges including cocaine smuggling and money laundering. Guzman had been arrested in February 2014, more than a decade after his last escape from a Mexican prison in 2001. A nationwide search for Guzman is underway with checkpoints on major highways. Police have distributed 100,000 photos of Guzman to toll booths and put 10,000 agents on high alert since the escape.

Mexico has confirmed it received a request from the US for the extradition of jailed drug dealer Joaquin Guzman just over two weeks ahead of his escape from jail. Guzman is wanted on cocaine smuggling and other charges. The convicted Mexican drug baron, also known as “El Chapo,” escaped from jail on July 11 and has been on the run ... Read More »

Indonesia closes three airports as two volcanoes erupt

The airport at Indonesia's second city of Surabaya and two others were closed after two volcanoes blasted ash and debris into the air. The closures come as millions of Muslims return home to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Mount Raung (photo) on the main island of Java sent ash and debris 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) into the air. The ash traveled through the air near the cities of Surabaya and Malang. Juanda International and Abdurrahman Saleh airports were closed on Thursday and only opened again in the evening. Transport Ministry spokesman Julius Adravida Barata said Surabaya's Juanda airport was not due to re-open until 7.20 pm (1220 UTC) and Malang's Abdul Rachman Saleh airport was to stay closed until 8.30 pm (1330 UTC). The ministry said Sultan Babullah airport in Ternate was closed after Mount Gamalama in eastern Indonesia sent volcanic ash as high as 1,500 meters into the sky. The shutdowns came as millions of Muslims in Indonesia tried to get home to celebrate Eid next Sunday, at the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. With 202.9 million people identifying themselves as Muslim, Indonesia has a larger Islamist population than any other country in the world. The figure represents 87 percent of the total population. Last week the airport on the tourist island of Bali was closed because of an eruption by Mount Raung. Four other airports in the region were also closed, leaving thousands of tourists stranded. Two domestic airports in the East Java towns of Banyuwangi and Jember have stayed closed since then.

The airport at Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya and two others were closed after two volcanoes blasted ash and debris into the air. The closures come as millions of Muslims return home to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Mount Raung (photo) on the main island of Java sent ash and debris 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) into the air. The ash ... Read More »

New law aims to boost French competitiveness

The French government has passed a new economic law that aims to make the country more competitive and business-friendly. However critics say the impact will be minimal, as Elizabeth Bryant reports from Paris. Lori Thicke still remembers the first time she fired an employee. The tipping point came after the young woman took yet another holiday without asking her boss. "When I challenged her, she told me, 'why should I ask you, when you don't ask me about your holidays?'" recalls Thicke, who owns a translation company located just off the capital's iconic Place de La Bastille. Then came the hard part. The formal letter laying out the reasons for the layoff. Months of negotiations. A final meeting with the staffer who was accompanied by a union representative. And then the expensive settlement package. "I had to pay that person five months' of salary to fire her," Thicke says ruefully. "And it's made me nervous to hire again, because French labor laws are so strict. Which doesn't really help France's unemployment rate." Stifling law Today Thicke, a Canadian who has been working in Paris for nearly three decades, is taking few chances. And she's not the only one. The country's stifling labor code makes it difficult for bosses to hire and fire workers and to grow their companies without steep costs. Now, newly passed legislation promises to ease some of those restrictions. Known as the "loi Macron" after the country's young Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, the law - which does not enter into force until August - tackles a hodgepodge of sectors. The overall goal; to make France a friendlier place to do business. "The country needs reform, the country needs to move forward," said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose government has vowed more reforms in the coming months. Among other measures, the legislation will extend the number of Sundays and evening hours that shops can open, deregulate France's inter-city bus industry and make it easier to become a notary public, advertise alcohol and get a driver's license. It would also reduce penalties for bosses like Thicke to lay off workers, under certain conditions. In June, the Socialist government also introduced measures making it easier for small- and medium-sized companies to hire employees, in a larger bid to reduce the country's 10-percent-plus unemployment rate. Thicke does not yet know the details of the legislation, and what it would mean for her 13-member company. Among other things, it sets caps on how much payout labor tribunals can award laid-off workers. But she is guardedly optimistic. "It's actually hard to hire someone, and its even harder to fire them," she says. "Just to loosen up the paperwork would actually help employers focus on growing their companies and performing better, rather than dealing with a lot of really restrictive laws." Minimal impact France's employer union, MEDEF, has also welcomed the legislation, calling it "a real step in the right direction." A number of economists agree it's a good start. Still, analysts like Tomasz Michalski, assistant economics professor at the HEC business school in Paris, suggest the overall impact of the measures will be minimal. "The intention is to basically increase competition in the French economy, modernize it, and also deliver some pro-investment stimulus," Michalski says. "But this is at a very micro level. Very small sectors are going to be affected." Areas like bus deregulation and Sunday shop openings may indeed create jobs, he said, but not in the big numbers that France needs. The government is taking baby steps, he argues, when it needs to make a giant leap. "What is lacking is a grand bargain, in which you would reform the whole structure of the French economy," Michalski says. "There should be lower government spending, tax reform, labor market reform and cuts on subsidies. The government is making small reforms, they're not rethinking the system." Despite the official rhetoric, Michalski also does not see much appetite by the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande to enact more ambitious measures ahead of the 2017 presidential elections. Even the reforms proposed in the current legislation have been sharply criticized by both the Left and Right. Twice this year, the government has been forced to use a special constitutional tool to ram it through parliament. Open door for abuses Following the bill's final passage last week, the main conservative The Republicans party appealed to the Constitutional Council, France's highest judicial authority. Members say it does not go far enough. On the other side of the spectrum, the far-left Front de Gauche party argues it threatens workers' rights. "It's an open door for all kinds of abuses," Florian Borg, president of the Lawyers Union told Le Monde newspaper, suggesting the bill would allow bosses to fire employees for fabricated reasons. Thicke disagrees. "I think French labor laws are created with the idea that employers are just waiting to fire people," she said. "Nothing could be further from the truth." She draws comparisons with her native Canada, where unemployment is just 6.8 percent - nearly four percentage points less than in France. "There's so much more dynamism in the labor market," she said. "It's easier to fire workers, but it's also so much easier to get a job - and there are so many more jobs available."

The French government has passed a new economic law that aims to make the country more competitive and business-friendly. However critics say the impact will be minimal, as Elizabeth Bryant reports from Paris. Lori Thicke still remembers the first time she fired an employee. The tipping point came after the young woman took yet another holiday without asking her boss. ... Read More »

Japan’s controversial security bills clear first hurdle

Legal pundits, in particular, have a negative view on the matter: "98 percent of experts regard the laws as unconstitutional," said Yasuo Hasabe, constitutional expert at Tokyo-based Wasena University. Tokyo University's Kenji Ishikawa spoke of a "coup d'état," and Sota Kimura of Tokyo City University referred to the move as "endangering the rule of law." And famed director and pacifist Hayao Miyazaki recently expressed what is probably in the minds of a silent majority in the country: "I think it's impossible to stop China's expansion with military force, and Japan has a pacifist constitution in order to think of other solutions." Miyazaki's statements strike a nerve of the conservative government, as Abe's new defense policy is actually about counterbalancing - alongside the United States - China's growing power and assertiveness in Asia. At the same time, Tokyo hopes that Washington is increasingly willing to fight alongside Japan in the case of a military conflict over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Nonetheless, Abe avoided directly naming China as an adversary in order to keep ties with Beijing from deteriorating further. So far the premier has only mentioned one scenario in which Japan's armed forces could be deployed abroad: a blockade of Japan's oil supply in the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. However, this scenario seems rather unrealistic given that Japan no longer depends as much on Arabian oil as it used to. Moreover, the PM's party comrades recently blocked the release of this year's defense white paper, arguing that the document should give more prominence to China's hegemonic ambitions in the region and Beijing's island-building in the South China Sea.

Despite opposition, a lower house panel has approved bills that would usher a change in Japan’s defense policy allowing troops to participate in collective self-defense. DW correspondent Martin Fritz reports from Tokyo. After more than 117 hours of deliberations stretching over several months, a special committee of the Japanese parliament’s lower house adopted a package of controversial security laws on ... Read More »

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