Archive for July 22, 2013

July 12, 2013

MEDAN, Indonesia (AP) — Authorities were searching for scores of inmates, including terrorists, who escaped a crowded Indonesian prison that was still burning Friday after prisoners set fires and started a deadly riot at the facility in the nation’s third-largest city.

Thousands of policemen and soldiers are deployed around Tanjung Gusta prison to blockade roads linking Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, to other provinces were blockaded while fire brigades were battling the fires.

About 200 prisoners escaped following the riot late Thursday in which three prison employees and two inmates were killed. Officers deployed to hunt the escaped inmates have re-arrested 55 of them and still searching for remaining inmates who still at large, said local police chief in Lt. Col. Nico Afinta. Three of 22 convicted terrorists have been recaptured.

He said the prison employees who died, including a woman, were trapped and killed in an office building that was burned by prisoners during late Thursday’s riot. The riot appeared to have been triggered by a power blackout that knocked out water pumps, leaving inmates without water since Thursday morning.

Inmates forced their way out from the prison while others set offices on fire and held about 15 officers captive inside the prison, prison directorate spokesman Akbar Hadi said. None of the hostages was still being held Friday morning.

The facility holds nearly 2,600 prisoners while its normal capacity is 1,500, Hadi said. Witnesses said gunshots were heard from inside the prison, and television footage showed security forces carrying a white body bag into an ambulance from the burning prison. The fire sent raging orange flames jumping several meters (yards) into the air and a huge column of black smoke billowing over the jail.

Hadi estimated about 500 inmates were resisting calls to stop the riot and said an evacuation was planned for the safety of inmates who could become hostages as tensions showed no signs of easing. Vice Minister of justice Denny Indrayana, who is in Medan overseeing the operation, has requested evacuation of all inmates and appealed those remain escape to give themselves to the authorities.

“Legal action will be taken to chase them, and tougher action will be applied to those who refuse to surrender,” Indrayana said. No further information was available on injuries.

July 12, 2013

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 16th birthday on the world stage at the United Nations, defiantly telling Taliban extremists who tried to end her campaign for girls’ education in Pakistan with a bullet that the attack gave her new courage and demanding that world leaders provide free education to all children.

Malala was invited Friday to give her first public speech since she was shot in the head on her way back from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley last October. She addressed nearly 1,000 young leaders from over 100 countries at the U.N.’s first Youth Assembly — and she had a message for them too.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons,” Malala urged. “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

The U.N. had declared July 12 — her 16th birthday — “Malala Day.” But she insisted it was “the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.” The Taliban, which has long opposed educating girls in Pakistan as well as neighboring Afghanistan, said it targeted Malala because she was campaigning for girls to go to school and promoted “Western thinking.”

In what some observers saw as another sign of defiance, Malala said the white shawl she was wearing belonged to Pakistan’s first woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 when she returned to run in elections.

Malala recalled the Oct. 9 day when she was shot on the left side of her forehead, and her friends were shot as well. She insisted she was just one of thousands of victims of the Taliban. “They thought that the bullets would silence us,” she said. “But they failed. And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

Malala began her speech with a traditional Muslim prayer and later accused terrorists of “misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits.” She wore a traditional pink patterned South Asian dress and pants called a shalwar kameez and a matching head scarf.

Malala said she learned to “be peaceful and love everyone” from Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and other global advocates of non-violence; from the compassion of religious figures Mohammad, Jesus Christ and Buddha; from the legacy of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who led Pakistan to independence in 1947.

“I’m not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban, or any other terrorist group,” she said. “I’m here to speak about the right of education for every child.”

“I want education for the sons and daughters of all the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hands and he stands in front of me. I would not shoot him,” she said.

Malala said her main focus was on the education of girls and the rights of women “because they are suffering the most.” “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back,” she said, urging all communities to be tolerant and reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, religion or gender.

A report by UNESCO and Save the Children issued just before Malala’s speech said 57 million youngsters were out of school in 2011, down from 60 million in 2008. But it said the number living in conflict zones rose to 28.5 million in 2011 and more than half were girls.

Malala said extremists kill students, especially girls, and destroy schools because they are afraid of the power of education and the power of women, “and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our society.”

She also decried the fact that wars, child labor and child marriage are preventing boys, and especially girls, from going to school. Malala received several standing ovations and everyone joined in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” In U.N. corridors, her speech got rave reviews with some diplomats and observers predicting a future political career.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, the U.N. special envoy for global education who helped organize the assembly, called Malala “the most courageous girl in the world.” She was airlifted to Britain for treatment and returned to school in Birmingham, where her family now lives, in March.

He said she was doing exactly what the Taliban didn’t want her to do, and announced that 4 million people had signed an online petition calling for education for everyone. One of the main U.N. goals set by world leaders at a summit in 2000 is to ensure that every child in the world gets a primary education by the end of 2015.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged stepped-up efforts to get 57 million youngsters into school in the next 900 days. He said it won’t be easy given the first decline in international aid for basic education in a decade and recent attacks on students and schools in Nigeria, Pakistan and elsewhere.

“No child should have to die for going to school,” Ban said. “Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change this picture. … And together let us follow the lead of this brave young girl, Malala. Let us put education first.”

July 20, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s interim president selected a team of legal experts Saturday to rewrite controversial portions of the Islamist-drafted constitution, as the military-backed leadership moved quickly to try to capitalize on the coup that ousted the country’s first freely elected leader.

While supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi still protest in the streets, Egypt’s new prime minister called for consensus and participation of all political groups. But Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group officially has refused to negotiate with the new government, saying they are open for talks only after he is reinstated.

The persistent protest and clashes, however, continue to rock hope for stability in the country. Moves to amend the constitution are the latest push by the country’s new leadership to move ahead with a military-backed timetable for a return to democratic rule to Egypt. The drafting of Egypt’s constitution was one of the most divisive issues that came to characterize Morsi’s first and only year in office.

In his decree Saturday, interim President Adly Mansour appointed the 10-member committee of judges and law professors that will propose amendments to the constitution. They have 30 days to suggest amendments. A second committee, comprised of 50 public figures including politicians, unionists and religious figures, then will have 60 days to review those amendments.

After that, citizens will vote on the proposed amendments in a referendum, according to the military-backed timetable. Parliamentary elections are to follow. In an interview with Egyptian state television aired Saturday night, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said it is vital that Islamists take part in the political process, though none of Morsi’s supporters are in the new Cabinet he leads.

“We cannot write a constitution when the country is divided. The country needs consensus,” he said. “It is important we return to a country of laws.” The Brotherhood say the only legitimate constitution is the one approved in a nationwide vote and ratified by Morsi in December. The military suspended the constitution after the July 3 coup.

El-Beblawi also denied that the country’s army chief, Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, was pulling the strings from behind the scenes, saying he only spoke to the interim president regarding the formation of Cabinet.

Liberals twice walked out of committees drafting the constitution under Morsi, complaining that the Brotherhood and its allies dominated the process and stifled their suggestions. Protests over the constitution and the direction of the country turned deadly after Morsi issued temporary decrees in late November that put himself and the drafting committee above judicial oversight. The charter was then finalized in a rushed overnight session and passed in a referendum.

Unlike the previous drafting committee under Morsi, at least 20 percent of the second committee is to be represented by young Egyptians who helped galvanize street movements and women. Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a leading figure in the Tamarod petition drive that mobilized the massive street protests that led to Morsi’s ouster, said his group has launched a new initiative to collect suggestions from Egyptians on the constitution.

“We want to reach a constitution that is representative of the people’s will,” Abdel-Aziz told The Associated Press. He declined to comment on which articles the group wants amended. Meanwhile Saturday, a security official said unidentified assailants threw a bomb at a police station in the governorate of Ismailiya, between Cairo and the volatile northern region of the Sinai Peninsula. Part of the building and a police vehicle were damaged, but no injuries were reported, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

Clashes between protesters and security forces have erupted into violence several times since Morsi’s ouster, killing more than 60 people. The most recent incident occurred Friday night in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura when unidentified assailants opened fire at a Brotherhood-led march, sparking a melee that killed three female protesters, authorities said.

The Brotherhood said two were killed by gunshot and one died after suffocating on tear gas. Medical officials said the protesters’ bodies were examined Saturday. The prime minister and Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei condemned the incident in separate posts on Twitter.

The Brotherhood said the killings “shed light on the bloody nature of dictatorship and the police state under a military coup.” Authorities are clamping down on the group, with eight top Islamist figures are under arrest. Prosecutors issued another arrest warrant Saturday for the Brotherhood’s top figure, Mohammed Badie, and four others. The latest warrants accused them of inciting violence with police that led to the deaths of seven pro-Morsi supporters in Cairo this week.

Morsi has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed military facility since his ouster. He has not been charged with any crime. The Brotherhood’s television channel and others sympathetic to the group have been taken off the air. On Saturday, security officials said that police raided the Iranian Alalam TV station and arrested its manager. Authorities said the station did not have the proper permits to operate in Egypt. An employee at the station told BBC Arabic that they had applied for permits, but, as has happened with other stations in the past, authorities delayed issuing them licenses to operate.

Rights groups have criticized the clampdown and Morsi’s detention, as well as the deaths of dozens of protesters in recent weeks. In another sign of the interim government’s drive to move on with the transition, Jordan’s King Abdullah met with the country’s president, army chief and other top figures Saturday in the first visit by a head of state to Cairo since the coup. The king’s visit highlighted his support of the coup that ousted the Brotherhood from power.

Additionally, Egypt’s new foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said Egypt continues to support the Syrian uprising but has no intention of supporting a jihad — or holy war — in the nation. Fahmy said that “everything will be re-evaluated” regarding the country’s stance toward Syria. Morsi had severed diplomatic ties with Damascus just weeks before his ouster.

Fahmy also said Cairo is also “seriously assessing” its relations with the Syrian regime’s key regional backer Iran. Morsi moved to improve diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report.

July 20, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — After three weeks, some local residents have started to have enough with Islamist supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi camped out outside a Cairo mosque in their neighborhood to demand he be restored to office.

Residents are complaining that the sit-in camp is blocking the roads leading to their homes, garbage has piled up on side streets and parks have been trashed. Speeches from the stage blare late into the night in the neighborhood around Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque.

At the same time, the complaints have been sucked into Egypt’s bitter polarization over the military’s removal of Morsi on July 3. Anti-Islamist media have taken up the residents’ backlash as evidence the country has turned against the protesters, who vow to continue their street campaign.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, in turn, has sought to show it has the backing of its neighbors, announcing that residents have been bringing the camping protesters sweets and food. The protest camp also issued a statement this past week offering nearby residents “24-hour medical, electricity, plumbing or other services.”

Morsi supporters have been gathering in the broad intersection in front the mosque since just before the giant protests by millions nationwide against the president that led to his ouster began on June 30.

Now they have settled in for a seemingly permanent presence on the edge of the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City. At least a thousand people camp there in tents overnight and crowds swell at times to tens of thousands for evening rallies. Throughout the day, speakers ranging from ultraconservative clerics to Brotherhood figures to people from the crowd deliver speeches from the stage to rally the audience.

“We thought they were just having a protest for the day … we assumed they’ll leave after the revolution (Morsi’s fall) but they didn’t and life started becoming a tragedy,” Sarah Ashraf, a 25-year-old resident, told The Associated Press.

Constant noise from fireworks and the speeches is one big issue for the residents. Another is the tone of some of the speeches, with hard-liners denouncing their opponents. “On their stage, Christians are constantly being threatened and insulted; this is scaring us,” said Ashraf, who is Christian. She said she has to wear long-sleeve shirts and more conservative clothing because otherwise she feels uncomfortable passing by the crowd, largely made up of ultraconservative Islamists, with men in long beards and many women veiled.

Sandbag walls have gone up at some parts. Fearing attack by opponents, the protesters have a “self-defense” contingent of young men with sticks and makeshift armor. Those entering or passing through the sit-in section must show IDs at protester checkpoints, and the tents are spread across sidewalks in front of building entrances. In nearby gardens and garages, protesters have put up structures of blocks and bricks as toilets.

“They took off the paving stones from the sidewalks and used them to build a wall where they stand behind with their primitive weapons,” resident Mohammed Wasfy said. “They have sticks in their hands all the day as a show of force; the youngest of them is holding a stick as long as he is,” he added.

Several dozen residents held a counter-protest near the pro-Morsi encampment late Thursday, chanting “the Brotherhood is a shame on us.” They held signs reading: “You are free unless you harm me.” There were no frictions between the two groups. But the protesting residents issued a statement with a list of demands and gave Morsi supporters until Saturday night to carry them out. Among the demands, move the stage, clear side streets, stop using fireworks, turn speakers off, clean the area regularly and make sure no one has weapons in their crowds.

Some residents have moved out to live elsewhere temporarily. Others stick to their homes. “We’ve been trapped here for three weeks; my parents don’t allow me out except to the supermarket under my house,” Ebtihal Hazem, a 21-year-old business student, said over the telephone from her nearby home.

Nora Mohammed, a 30-year-old woman among the pro-Morsi protesters, insisted they were being good guests. “This street was full of garbage and the Brotherhood protesters came and cleared it,” she said. “They have no right to complain. It’s the military trucks that are making the problem and blocking some of the main roads.”

The military is blocking at least two of the main roads leading into and out of the sit-in area. Residents also complain that other nearby mosques are being used by protesters for shelter, sleeping and showering. “A nearby state school was also used for shelter and cooking purposes. … It’s a usual scene to see them in pajamas with towels on their shoulders,” said Karim Hazem, a 21-year-old resident.

Looming over the situation is the fear of violence — by either side. More than 50 Morsi supporters were killed by troops last week amid clashes at another sit-in not far away. Other sites have seen violence between protesters and police or local residents.

“We don’t feel safe anymore,” Hazem said.

July 20, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — With the military beefing up security, tens of thousands took to the streets Friday in a determined push for the return to power of Egypt’s ousted Islamist leader, while Mohammed Morsi’s opponents staged rival rallies, raising fears of a fresh round of clashes.

In the only reported deadly violence Friday, angry residents of the delta city of Mansoura clashed with pro-Morsi protesters. Gunshots and birdshots were fired, though it was unclear by whom, security officials said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said a 25-year-old woman and a young girl were killed in the late night violence. A local rights activist who was at the hospital, Abdullah el-Nekeity, said three women were killed, including a 17-year-old girl, and 13 other people were injured.

El-Nekeity said a mob attacked the pro-Morsi demonstrators with dogs, gunfire birdshots and knives. The marchers fled, some hiding in residences until the police arrived, el-Nekeity said. A statement from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party said those killed were supporters of the ousted government and blamed hired thugs for shooting them.

The army warned it wouldn’t tolerate any violence and sent fighter jets screaming over the capital and helicopters hovering over the marches. Publicizing their protests for days, Morsi’s supporters vowed Friday would be decisive in their campaign to try to reverse the military coup that removed the country’s first democratically elected president after a year in office, following massive protests against him.

Unlike other demonstrations held in the evening after breaking the daylong Ramadan fast, the pro-Morsi rallies took place throughout the day. Organized by the Muslim Brotherhood party and dubbed “Breaking the Coup,” they included marches in Cairo’s streets, outside military installations and in other cities, including Alexandria and several Nile Delta provinces.

The rival gatherings came just days after a new interim Cabinet was sworn in that includes women, Christians and members of a liberal coalition opposed to Morsi, but no Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood has refused to take part in talks with the interim leadership.

The country has been deeply polarized since the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, following massive rallies. The divisions only deepened over the July 3 military coup supported by millions who accused Morsi of abusing his power and giving too much influence to his Muslim Brotherhood group.

Friday’s rallies coincided with the 10th day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which Egyptians celebrate as the day their armed forces crossed the Suez Canal in the 1973 war with Israel. The surprise assault led to the return of the Sinai Peninsula, which had been occupied by Israel.

The occasion was a chance for the rival camps to focus on the military, which was instrumental in removing Morsi. At pro-Morsi gatherings, protesters extolled the virtue of the armed forces but drew a distinction with its leadership, which they accused of treason for turning against Morsi.

Waving Egyptian flags and pictures of the ousted leader, they chanted slogans against army chief Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi. “El-Sissi is a traitor!” they shouted. “Morsi is our president!” Organizers played Morsi’s old speeches, referring to him as the nation’s leader and the supreme commander of the armed forces.

“The problems of the first years could have been solved by dialogue, but the opposition always refused,” said 28-year-old Osama Youssef, who traveled to Cairo from the eastern province of Sharqiya to show his support for Morsi. “The opposition didn’t succeed in getting power through constitutional measures, so it chose to take power by staging a military coup.”

Sayed el-Banna, a 45-year-old Brotherhood member who came to Cairo from the Delta province of al-Sharqia, said it was important to have many people in the streets. “It is to send a message to those in the army who disagree with el-Sissi to stand with us and support us,” he said.

Meanwhile, several thousand anti-Morsi protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and outside two presidential palaces to celebrate their gains. “The people and the army and the police together against terrorism,” declared a banner stung across a stage set up at the presidential palace.

Army choppers flying overhead dropped gift coupons and Egyptian flags on the gathering in Tahrir Square and a police choir performed nationalist songs in a party that lasted late into the night. The presence in the streets of the rival sides had raised fears of clashes, and military and police were deployed heavily in areas where the two crowds might collide. In one incident, near the presidential palace, security forces lobbed tear gas at an approaching march by Morsi supporters to prevent it from reaching an area where anti-Morsi demonstrators were holding their own rally.

Only minor incidents of violence were reported in the capital. Pro-Morsi supporters and opponents shouted at one another after Friday prayers in the main Al-Azhar Mosque and police detained six Islamist protesters for throwing rocks. Separately, a man was stabbed and hospitalized when a crowd of the deposed president’s supporters questioned his identity and found out he was a policeman in civilian clothing.

In the Sinai peninsula, where militants long active in the area have intensified their attacks against security forces following Morsi’s ouster, two civilians were killed when armed militants fired rockets at a military checkpoint, but hit a residence nearby.

In a clear attempt to widen their base of support, Brotherhood members appealed to people join their rally, insisting the coup was about to be reversed. “To those hesitating, wake up, the time for the end of the coup is nearing,” senior Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian wrote in a posting on his Facebook page.

Yasser Meshren, a Brotherhood supporter who came to Cairo from the southern province of Bani Sueif, accused the military of tricking the people by overseeing the elections only to then remove Morsi, disband the country’s interim parliament and suspend the constitution, which was approved in a referendum.

“You stole my mother and my sister’s voice,” Meshren said of the military leadership. During their marches, the protesters made a concerted effort to distinguish between the leaders of the military and the troops. At one point, a group of pro-Morsi supporters approached a military checkpoint offering them flowers.

Police and military troops and armored vehicles were deployed heavily in Cairo around security and military installations, court houses, and the capital’s entrances. Fighter jets flew over the protesters and military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali issued a stern warning on Facebook, telling civilians not to pose as military personnel or approach military installations or troops, saying anyone doing so risked death.

The military also dropped flyers warning against violence as a crowd of some 400 pro-Morsi protesters marched through northern Sinai’s main city of el-Arish. The flyers urged people to protect the Sinai Peninsula from “terrorists” and provided two numbers for people to call to report suspicious behavior.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood said seven leaders of its parent group, including the former speaker of the parliament and an ultraconservative Salafi preacher, were transported to a heavily guarded prison, a move the group said was illegal because the men have not yet been charged. They have been accused, among other things, of inciting violence.

The ousted president, who has been replaced by interim leader Adly Mansour, has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed military facility since his ouster. He has not been charged with any crimes. The Brotherhood’s TV channel has been taken off the air along with other Islamic channels seen as sympathetic to the group. Al-Jazeera’s Egypt affiliate was raided by security forces, and on Friday, the channel’s signal, along with its flagship English and Arabic news channels, were intermittently interrupted. The reasons for the disruptions were not clear.

Pro-Morsi protester Mostafa Fathi, a 33-year-old accountant, said he viewed Morsi’s ouster and the closure of the TV channels as signs the country was targeting Islamists, as it did during Mubarak’s near three-decade-long rule.

“We don’t want to go back to a police state or a state of injustice.”

Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed to this report.